News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.



7 responses

18 01 2018

Hey Brian, I’m a cornell student that enjoys following your blog.

I’m concerned that affordable housing initiatives will make rent worse. For starters, affordable housing is generally very unaffordable to build for private developers:

I’m originally from NYC where a significant percentage of affordable housing is subsidized. Many landlords take advantage of tax breaks like J-51 or 421-a. In a year where a tax break is expiring you might see 30k-40k permits for multifamily housing filed, otherwise you’ll have barely 10k:

If you ask economists about rent control, they tell you it doesn’t work. Rent control housing units sell very fast, and rent control in general leads to an undersupply of housing.

IMO the main issue stopping affordable rent is **zoning laws**. 40% of the buildings in Manhattan could not be built today because of zoning.

I think Ithaca should abolish the zoning codes and let people build as much as they want to, wherever they want to, as long as the normal safety and fire codes are met. Until then, rent will will only go up.

18 01 2018
B. C.

You are right. One of the issues raised with things like inclusionary zoning is that it forces developers to build more in order to get the same ROI, and many local developers don’t have the capacity to build more. Rent control is sometime offered as an option, but in practice it’s virtually unheard of outside of the the New York City area, and has to be approved/managed by the state, which may not be as keen on the idea as Ithacans are. and

When you talk about zoning laws, you are also right in that relaxing them would probably help. It’s not an end-all, be-all, say for example if a developer tears down existing LMI housing for luxury condos (there was a similar incident with 602 West State a few years ago, ). But it would make developing housing easier. But the reality is that many existing home and property owners will not entertain increased density or upzoning in their neighborhoods, and up until the past several years, the few politicians that supported such moves were quickly voted out in retaliation. Residents tend to be parochial when it comes to zoning and development. They’re more focused on their block than the city as a whole, and it’s really hard to change minds. The NYTimes recently did a piece about this attitude:

At this point, the city’s done with trying inclusionary zoning, but they’re hoping that relaxed zoning (a PUD) if they get affordable housing or other benefits will help the issue. To be honest, most developers will be too wary to try, but if the zoning is virtually set in stone, then this PUD approach is worth a shot. I mostly agree with you, but unfortunately it’s just not feasible in practice, when there are so many antipathetic stakeholders.

19 01 2018

These are all very good points. Thankfully Mayor Myrick has been very pro-development. I know he wanted to get rid of minimum parking requirements a while back. Would that be more feasible?

19 01 2018
B. C.

In some places, yes. But it comes with fighting the expectation that people will just park in adjacent areas. Removing minimum parking requirements can be done (and has been in inner Collegetown and Downtown), but it involves a “carrot-and-stick” approach – allowing the parking reqs to go away, but mandating a TDMP, a transportation demand management plan, that has to be approved by the planning board before a building permit can be granted. A TDMP usually offers bike racks, bus passes or car share as part of rent, notification of the nearest rental parking spaces, and an explanation of why they expect car use will be minimal for their project.

19 01 2018
B. C.

To Myrick’s credit, he was an advocate for the removal of parking reqs in Collegetown back when he was their Common Council representative. Under his tenure as mayor, the downtown area without minimum parking reqs has been expanded, and the waterfront zones just had their parking reqs removed as well.

20 01 2018

I’m still deeply skeptical of the purpose and viability of the Tompkins History Center (and I say this as someone who studies history!) but at least they’ve made a concession to “culture” and I can get on board with the street art.

20 01 2018
B. C.

It will also host some County Visitor Bureau offices for tourists. I think of it more as a combo history museum and welcome center, neither of which is a driver of tourism in themselves, but could encourage people to linger a bit downtown.

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