News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.


7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.



15 responses

7 05 2017

Your point about the potentially loaded term “family friendly” is well-taken. What alternatives do your fellow journalist friends suggest? (Those who used the term in regard to the Varna project were searching for safe outdoor spaces that encouraged neighborly interactions and play areas.)–Fred

7 05 2017
B. C.

Fair question Fred. When it comes to meetings like this, the board and the planning department are looking for explanatory comments. Explaining that “I am concerned about this project because it has 108 bedrooms and I don’t feel it has enough safe outdoor playing space for that many people” is totally fine! That’s the kind of comment they’re looking for. They don’t really want vague catch-all terms, because every project is different.

Let me give another example – if a commenter says “it’s ugly”. That’s not useful to decision-makers. Saying things like “its design is too modern and out of context in the neighborhood”, “there are too many blank walls facing the street” , or “the building set back too far from the street to encourage social interaction” is. Boards are looking for strong explanations on why something is an issue, so that they can easily qualify it and get it addressed before granting approval. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it has to be somewhat detailed and thought-out.

7 05 2017

Brian, thanks. You did a good job of explaining why the term “family friendly” is vague, but didn’t address my question, which was, given that “family friendly” may be a loaded, politicized term (i.e., code for racist and classist desires), what neutral term is better used in the context of wanting, literally, comfortable and safe areas for families and neighbors? I’ll stop using the term “family friendly,” but what suits in its place?

7 05 2017
B. C.

More neutrally, you could say it lacks amenities for families. At least that way you’ve described what you feel is missing.

7 05 2017

So who counts as “the community” who get to decide what East Hill Plaza looks like? I’m having trouble finding out who is invited to that meeting (and generally with the principle that either people who live very close or anyone who feels strongly about it from anywhere will get a disproportionate say).

8 05 2017
B. C.

It’s open to all. Go if you can; otherwise the meeting might look like the Voice comments section.

8 05 2017

Sigh I wish I could; I’m out of the country. Hopefully Cornell knows what it’s up against and proposes 30 story buildings or something the locals will feel good about cutting down to five.

8 05 2017
B. C.

I think the maximum they would consider pushing is 6-7 floors/75 feet, if the masterplan is any indication. Most likely the average core structures will be 4-5 floors, with 2-3 floors on outparcels. Cornell et al. already have a good idea what they want, the meeting is just to make sure the community is on the same page, and if there’s a potential problem, the development team can remove it before the plan ever goes public.

8 05 2017

Judging from the IV comments lots of people will not be on the same page – literally won’t even have read what Cornell wants, just go in screaming and assuming it’s the worst in whatever way they define that. If I were Cornell I’d design knowing compromises were almost certainly going to be necessary if they want all parties to come out feeling good.

8 05 2017
B. C.

No one’s expecting them to appease the wildest NIMBYs, nor should they have to. But if they can please the major interest groups, they’ll be in good shape. That means local union labor for the trades, net-zero or at least heat pumps for the eco-conscious crowds, multimodal transit and walkable design for the urbanphiles/”bike lobby”, and more traditional design features and modest heights for the sake of neighborly relations. Maplewood was a good learning experience for them.

8 05 2017

Yeah, speaking of transit and Maplewood – I think the city/town are going to have to start thinking more concertedly about planning for a future when the whole southern rim of Cornell is much more built up than it is today. I don’t think a mere new bus route or claims that people will only shop locally in the plaza itself will deter fears and maybe the eventual reality of bad traffic on an already stressed Rt. 79 between these areas and downtown/the Route 13 corridor. Another good argument for an Ithaca Bypass?

8 05 2017
B. C.

It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think the community support is there just yet. And when it is, it will take a few years to allot funding for construction.

7 05 2017
Airtight Spray Foam, Inc.

Take a look at Architect Ms. Brenner’s plans for the 40 acre property between South Street and Pennsylvania Ave in Trumansburg.

SHE CAN SHIT IN HER HAT……………I own property that is adjacent to that property and IT AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN

Regards, Gregory Szabo 607-227-2313

8 05 2017
B. C.

Your comment aside, I want to write about it. But it’s my editor’s story – she was at the meeting, not me. I can’t say a thing until the article breaks.

3 12 2017
News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer […]

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