The “Greenways” Project

23 12 2013
Image property of Greenways at Eastwood Commons

Image property of Greenways at Eastwood Commons

Back around September 2012, I posted an entry detailing a project proposed for the Eastwood Commons area southeast of Cornell’s campus, off of Honness Lane. The project, which involved the construction of 67 townhouses, was the result of a partnership between Cornell and a private company, the land would be bought from Cornell, and Cornell employees would get first dibs on the housing. At the time, the project didn’t have a name, so colloquially I had referred to it as the “Cornell townhomes project”.

Fast forward to this past spring. From someone who owned a townhouse in Eastwood Commons, I had been told that the project was a stalled proposal; the infrastructure costs had been underestimated, and would have priced the townhouse units out of the $200k price range that they were intended for. Not feasible, therefore no development. Which apparently made the nearby residents very happy.

Last week, I had noticed INHS had revamped their website. One of the projects listed was Greenways, described as “a new townhome community in the town of Ithaca”. I was not familiar with the name, an initial internet search didn’t turn up anything, Jason at Ithaca Builds wasn’t familiar with it, so my first inclination was to think this was some sort of new proposal along the lines of INHS’s Holly Creek.

A second search, playing with different search terms, turned up a Cornell Sun article on the Cornell townhomes project. It mentioned two details I had long-since forgotten – one, INHS was offering subsidies to the developers for construction costs (to keep the units in the affordable range), and two, the developer’s name was “Greenways at Eastwood Commons”.

So, maybe the project isn’t a stale proposal, and some work is going on behind the scenes to allow the project to come to fruition. It’s supposed to have a 5-year buildout, but there have been enough projects cancelled or postponed in recent months to make me cautious until I at least see shovels start going into the ground.

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News Tidbits 11/5/16: Condemnation and Praise

5 11 2016

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1. The Maguire waterfront plan has been rejected. By an 8-2 vote, the Ithaca city Common Council voted to discontinue consideration of the state-of-the-art Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, with most citing concerns about the project’s marginal or poor fit with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for an urban mixed-use form of development in the Carpenter Circle area where this dealership is proposed. The votes in favor of the proposal, from the third ward’s Donna Fleming and first ward’s George McGonigal, cited ways it could be conceived as fitting with the plan (greener alternative, local business expansion), and challenges the site offers to the city’s urban plan (poor soils, trains, chemical storage, power lines).

Although this shuts down the current proposal, this may not be the last we hear from the Maguires or the Carpenter Business Park site. At the meeting, company President Phil Maguire offered a teaser, saying they may partially liquidate their land holdings to bring in mixed-use development that would share the CBP space with the dealership. Given the heavy alterations that would need to occur, the council decided to vote down the existing proposal and send a message that it doesn’t fit the city’s goals. However, the council said they and the planning department would expedite review of an amended proposal, should it come forth.

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2. If you’ve ever wanted some explicit discussion of the challenges of doing affordable housing in Tompkins County, here’s a great summary courtesy of the the town of Ithaca. Back in August, the town’s Planning Committee (of town board members, similar to the city’s PEDC Committee) met with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Director Paul Mazzarella for a Q&A. The town is considering regulations for inclusionary housing, and after INHS’s Greenways project fell through, they would like guidance and input on to make an effective code that promotes affordable housing without killing all residential development. Here are some of the highlights:

– Ithaca is a market of smaller builders. Local developers aren’t able or interested in doing huge projects, and most outsiders don’t see Tompkins County as a big enough or profitable enough market to tap into. So that leaves it to smaller builders who don’t have scale efficiencies, and are inclined to build luxury housing because the return on investment is more likely (i.e. less risky). The strong local economy also means that the local construction labor pool is largely tapped out, and additional crews have to be imported.

– Mandated affordable housing tends to work best in expensive, hot markets where the Return on Investment (ROI) for the market-rate units is more likely – your Seattles, San Franciscos and New Yorks. Even there, it is often paired with incentives such as height or square footage. Mazzarella noted he doesn’t think the city’s voluntary program will work very well. One thing to note with mixed-income projects is that the market-rate units will often be higher priced to cover the cost of lower-priced units. Simplified example – say you’re building ten houses for a sale price of $250,000. To meet an affordable mandate you sell two at $200,000, but to still obtain adequate ROI, that $100,000 is going to spread among the other eight – so you have two for sale at at $200,000, and eight at $262,500.

– We talk about modular homes as lower-cost alternatives, and for rural locations they often are, due to materials and labor costs. However, INHS found that in their experience for sites in the city and town, the cost is comparable to stick-built, although at larger scales, cost efficiencies may be achieved (ex. the Belle Sherman Cottages).

Another interesting read is the committee’s September meeting with city historic preservation planner Bryan McCracken and Historic Ithaca’s Christine O’Malley about protecting historical resources. As it turns out, the city cannot designate an individual landmark without the owner’s permission, and historic districts require the approval of 60% of affected property owners.

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3. Seems like Tiny Timbers had a well-attended open house. On their blog, the Dolphs have shared a cross-sectional diagram of an exterior wall – beneath the hemlock siding and copper trim will be ZIP sheathing and polyiso (thermoset plastic foam) insulation. ZIP is everywhere in residential construction, polyiso less common – locally, it was used extensively with the Boiceville Cottages in Caroline. On the inside, one has sheetrock and bamboo flooring. Exposed hemlock posts and ceilings will complement the sheetrock.

Also being rolled out is a fifth home design, a larger two-bedroom, two-bath home with a hipped roof. Variety is the space of life, as the saying goes.

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4. It was exciting to finally see the release of renderings for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue. Links to the Site Plan Review document, historical documentation and drawings can be found in the Voice write-up here. There have yet to be images released for the garden apartment building to be built at the rear of the property, but look for the same general design features as the rowhouses. As expected from ikon.5 Architects, the design is modern and glassy, and given the Facebook comments and a couple of emails that came in, some neighbors are less than happy about that. However, this isn’t a historic district, so long as it meets zoning regulations, Novarr is free to hire whoever he darn well pleases. As mentioned in previous write-ups, he had ikon.5 design his guest house, so this isn’t strictly a cost thing, he genuinely likes their work. It was a bit surprising but interesting to see the well-researched history of the three 19th century boarding houses currently on the property, and it makes me wonder if that was a requirement. Novarr’s proven to be accommodating in the past, perhaps he’ll deconstruct rather than demolish, and the salvageable parts can be reused.

The project team will meet with members of the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon for Design Review – about the only thing that stands out at initial glance is the lack of windows or visual interest with the north face, barely noticeable in the rendering. That probably won’t fly with the board, but we’ll see if it gets changed up as it goes through review. City Centre, the 8-story Trebloc site redevelopment, will also undergo further design review at the meeting.

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5. The Chapter House is going to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) yet again. The changes are subtle and few, but the rules are the rules. A service door will be added to the west (rear) wall, the inset vestibule is being reconfigured a bit, and the third-floor dormer windows are being changed from double-hung to casement – meaning that instead of sliding up and down, they’ll open with a crank. The ILPC will vote on the changes in November, which will probably sail through without much debate, and hopefully, just maybe, quite possibly, the Chapter House project can get underway.

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6. A couple quick updates from the town of Ithaca Planning Board minutes – after some discussion and a bit of praise for the redesign effort, the board opted for timber-trimmed Design “A” for the Sleep Inn proposal on Elmira Road. The minutes from Maplewood’s EIS meeting were also uploaded, and it is rare to see this much positivity in discussion of a project – not to say there weren’t dissenters, but the alternative energy source and efficiency initiative, use of local labor, and softening of the design on Mitchell Street won most of the speaking audience over. Public comment closed on Halloween, and now the project team must respond to all the reasonable comments received as part of the review process.





Eight Years Later

18 06 2016

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It’s kinda hard to believe eight years have passed since this blog was started. Last year, I drafted this post up on the early side, but this year, I’m kinda waited until the “last moment”, mostly because I wanted to figure out just what exactly I wanted to write.

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In previous years, the blog averaged 82, 166, 199, 216, 182, 155 and 219 hits daily. Over this past year, 97,401 hits were recorded, just over 266 hits per day, leap day noted.

The blog has its niche. Photo sets for construction projects run every month – Collegetown, Downtown, and projects in Lansing/Dryden occupy even months, while Cornell, Fall Creek, South Hill, West Hill and the rest of the county run during odd-numbered months. Fall Creek and Lansing/Dryden switched places this year to balance the workload. Nearly every Saturday at 0000 UTC, there’s “news tidbits”, the weekly news roundup, and if I’m motivated and have time, the other weekly topical post goes up Tuesdays 0000UTC. I like regularity.

One of the things that changed up over the past year was with role in the Voice. For the first year of so, most of it was Jeff pulling things he thought would work well for Voice content, and using it nearly word-for-word. But, over the past year, the Voice has had a greater proportion of unique content, so one has to read both to get all the development news.

Writing for the Voice on the side of my primary job has its fun times and its stressful times. There’s a lot of curious readers out there, and it’s great to engage with them. The stressful part is time management and just trying to stay on top of everything.

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In the past year, some projects have finished up – the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek, 206 Taughannock, the Carey Building is virtually complete (what a difference a year makes), 707 East Seneca wrapped up on East Hill, and Ithaca Beer finished their addition. Cornell finished Klarman Hall, and the lakeside mansion at 1325 Taughannock was also finished. The modulars at 804 East State were approved, built and finished by the end of the winter. HOLT Architects completed the renovations for their new HQ, Texas Roadhouse wrapped up, and the Belle Sherman Cottages just sold their last house.

Other projects are only just starting their construction journeys. 210 Hancock and Varna’s 902 Dryden were approved, last summer and this spring respectively. Both are expected to start construction this summer. Cornell has started work on the new Breazzano Executive MBA Center in Collegetown, and several block away, John Novarr is building Phase III of Collegetown Terrace. Work is just starting up on Conifer LLC’s Cayuga Meadows affordable senior apartments building on West Hill, while down the road the Brookdale facility is well underway.

Some things are still plodding along through review, like the Travis Hyde plans for the Old Library site, and the Chain Works District. Other proposals are still trying to figure out financing, such as 323 Taughannock and Harold’s Square. Then there are projects that are just big question marks right now, like the Chapter House Rebuild. Maybe there will be some solid development there next year.

There are also new plans presented during the past 12 months – 815 South Aurora and 201 College from developer Todd Fox, Cornell presented plans for renovations to Hughes Hall, and to redevelop Maplewood Park. 1061 Dryden will be sparking the latest development debates in Varna.

Lastly, a few plans bit the dust. State Street Triangle is probably the most well-known, but there were others such as INHS’s Greenways townhouse project, and College Crossings on South Hill. The owners of the SST site still want to redevelop it, but Campus Advantage won’t be involved.

This past year definitely had its share of debates and controversies. Virtually every project from home lots to big buildings has some level of opposition, but some are particularly contentious. State Street Triangle, the Maguire plans, the bar once planned for 416-418 E. State, Black Oak Wind Farm. BOWF is especially worrying. With goals such as affordable housing and renewable energy, there are times Tompkins County’s residents seem to be their own biggest enemies.

Some of my favorite posts this year include the two-part write-up about Ithaca’s Urban Renewal, and the analysis of 30 years of Tompkins County new construction permits. There were looks at the Fall Creek housing market and the NYSDOT Waterfront feasibility study. The Newfield UFO and the tour of STREAM Collaborative’s net-zero house offered diversions from the typical posts.

Eight years is a long time, and there will be some major announcements later this year. Stay tuned.

 





News Tidbits 2/6/16: Good Ideas and Bad Ideas

6 02 2016

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1. Let’s start with the big news this week, Cornell’s long-incubating plans to redevelop Maplewood Park. Official write-up on the Voice here. Personally, looking at the viewer stats, I’m a little disappointed that this has gotten as little attention as it has, since it’s a very large, very important project. But I suppose it’s a double-edged sword, because invariably, when a project does get a lot of attention, it’s because it’s a huge controversy (State Street Triangle, Black Oak wind farm, 210 Hancock, and so on).

There’s a lot to like about the plan (found here on the town’s website). Dense, walkable, a little mixed-use (more office or retail would be nice, but given that it’s tax exempt space, the more space there is the more controversial this project would likely be). Buildings aren’t too likely to cause controversy, since they’re 4 floors at most and they’ll be designed to blend in (“echo the surrounding neighborhood with the use of contemporary features”, per the narrative). Most of the comments on the Voice article describe Cornell as the great Satan, but one reader did express desire for the bigger, taller buildings to be central to the parcel, with townhouses on the outside. As a relatively untrained observer, it would seem that would be best from the perspective of trying to minimize appearance as much as possible, but it would also encourage vehicular traffic towards the center of the parcel, and negatively impact its pedestrian orientation. I haven’t seen any reactions from local planners, but I am curious what their first impressions are.

When writing up Tuesday’s article, my thought was that this was “Phase I”, Ithaca East/Maple Hill was “Phase II”, and East Hill Plaza/East Hill Village was “Phase III” with a 2019 or later start; but the rumor mill is circulating that work on the first parts of East Hill Village may be concurrent with Maplewood Park. We’ll see what arises in the coming months.

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2. When those units come online in 2018, it’ll be a big step towards reducing the deep housing deficit. But in the meanwhile, the housing market will be uncomfortably tight. Which is why it’s good to see some pooled city/county/Cornell money being disbursed for affordable owner-occupied housing. The Community Housing Development Fund proposes that the city give $80,000 towards Habitat for Humanity‘s “Breaking Ground” duplex at 101-107 Morris Avenue in Northside (208/201 Third Street), and $85,000 to INHS for the seven moderate-income owner-occupied townhouses at 210 Hancock, and an affordable 1368 SF single-family home at 304 Hector Street on West Hill. Cornell will give $235,000 towards the townhouses and Hector Street home, but $100,000 of that is a re-allocation of funds from the cancelled Greenways project. The county is giving $100,000 towards six rental units at 210 Hancock.

Claudia Brenner has designed most of INHS’s homes in recent years, but this time around it looks like Noah Demarest of  STREAM Collaborative penned the home design. This is a revision of the previous render, if memory serves correctly; INHS had wanted to build the home last year, but construction costs as high as they are, the non-profit held off.

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3. In other news, the county’s Government Operations Committee was to make a decision on the Biggs Parcel this week, but decided not to. It’s set to the return to the county’s agenda at the meeting on March 2nd. The ICNA has submitted a purchase offer (sum undisclosed) for the 25.5 acre parcel. The offer from Roy Luft to combine the parcel’s cluster zoning rights to build senior housing on his property at 1317 Trumansburg Road still stands, as far as I’m aware. Update – From the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas, the Luft proposal has been dropped due to “size and complexity”.

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4. Courtesy of the city, some more details on Cornell’s Ag Quad renovation. Site Plan Review (SPR) application here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, project specs here, drawings here. Formally, the project is referred to as the “Cornell Ag Quad Utility & Landscape Project”, since the project also involved major utility upgrades and repairs under the quad. The work planned calls for new steam lines, a telecom duct bank, new sanitary piping and water lines underground, and above ground there will be new paths, light posts, pedestrian plazas with stone benches, fire apparatus access path, blue light phones and a loosening of the soil compacted by other construction projects (such as the staging area for Warren Hall while it was under renovation). Most trees will be preserved, except for a few that stand where the new utilities and fire lane will go.

The project cost is $3 million on the SPR, with a rehabilitation period from April 2016 to July 2017, divided into two phases. No new permanent jobs, but about 25 construction jobs will be created. MKW + Associates LLC of New Jersey is serving as the consulting landscape architect.

On a side note, at least we can be fairly sure now that Cornell does plan on taking down the surge academic buildings at some point for a future permanent building.

5. Ithaca wants to build bridges. Physically, anyway. The city will hold a public information meeting next week 2 PM Wednesday on replacing the deteriorated single-lane Brindley Street bridge on the west side of the city. The bridge, which dates from 1938 and was last modified in 1952, is functionally obsolete and in dire need of rehabilitation.

Currently, the city is weighing two plans – a $2.43 million replacement of the old one-lane steel bridge with a two-lane bridge with sidewalks and shoulders for walkers and bikers, and a $2.59 million plan that extends two-lane Taughannock Boulevard through a parking lot, over a wider span and intersecting with Taber Street, leaving Brindley a single-lane bridge. While more expensive, this option diverts most traffic away from the awkward six-way intersection Brindley has with West Seneca and West State Streets. The nitty-gritty can be found in the design report here. It would also be of significant benefit to the Cherry Street industrial park and future waterfront development by improving access to the area.

Whichever plan moves forward will be decided by April, with construction from May-November 2017. Most of the project costs will be covered with federal funds, with some state funds and municipal bonds covering the balance (80/15/5% respectively).

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6. Some progress on 902 Dryden, perhaps. From the town of Dryden Town Board minutes, The number of new units is down, from 12 to 8, and only 26 new bedrooms from the previous 38. The overall square footage is also down, from 18,000 to 11,000 SF, with 26 parking spaces, 1 per bed. So that render above from December is outdated (although the color scheme is nice and bright, hopefully that carried over), there are two units on the right and six on the left, as well as the existing duplex.

As a result of the smaller project, one of the casualties is the net-zero aspect, because the initial cost for installing the solar panels outweighs the decreased revenue. Heat will be all-electric with the opportunity to install solar at a later date, if it pencils out. As for the opposition, it definitely sounds more muted in the town minutes, one neighbor seems intent on forcing enough site studies to break the bank, but overall the commentary reads muted to positive. The minutes don’t indicate if the public meeting is finally closed and if a vote to approve the project can be taken later this month.

7. Looks like Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times was able to get the Maguires to open up about their plans for Caprenter Business Park. In a phone call with Brokaw, Phil Maguire confirmed plans for a $12 million, 40,000 SF Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, which will then allow them to proceed with renovations of their properties down by Wegmans. While they estimate about 70 jobs would be created and that it will be designed to be “inlet-worthy”, the problem remains that a car dealership flies in the face of the mixed-use urban environment that the city had been envisioning for the waterfront. One valid point does get raised though – side-by-side NYSEG power lines overhead would have to be buried for many building projects on the Circle (but not for parking lots), which gives any developer an extra several hundred thousand dollar expense in the development process.

Sketch plans are expected to be shown at the March Planning Board meeting later this month, about the same time the Common Council is expected to adopt the temporary PUD zoning that would give them say over any projects proposed in the waterfront area. Expect this dealership proposal to be a very heated and occasionally uncomfortable debate.

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8. What’s on the agenda for next week? Not a whole lot new. The city’s projects memo doesn’t have any new projects, unless you count Island Fitness redoing their parking lot. There are a few more renders for the Cherry Artspace, as well as some project details – $200,000 construction cost, 1,944 SF building by Claudia Brenner with seating for up to 164 on the lower level, 2 jobs created, May – October 2016 buildout.

The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission has some minor old business to attend to, and what likes some discussion over the recently-purchased home at 410 North Cayuga will be introduced (chances are, it’s something like window or roof replacement, maybe an add-on room). Discussion is planned for 311 College Avenue, the old firehouse home of the Nines, but this is also likely to be minor.

The town of Lansing’s planning board also has a meeting next week, but the only item of discussion is the Mirabito petroleum storage facility on Town Barn Road.

 





Ithaca Projects Map

5 01 2016

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Soft roll-out on this little project, but one that will hopefully be useful. New for 2016, the Ithaca Projects Map. The map can be reached with this link, or by clicking the label next to the Welcome tag at the top of the blog column.

Taking a page from Jason Henderson over at Ithaca Builds, the map is color coded by for-profit (red), not-for-profit (green) and public projects (blue). A couple further details –

~Single family home and duplex sites are not included. There are well over 100 houses under construction in Tompkins County in a given year. Given their number and individually limited impacts, it wouldn’t be a good use of time to try and track them.

~For now, I’m leaving off recently completed projects. I’m also leaving off informal rumors or projects still in the early stages of development. The map only shows formal proposals, approved projects, and projects currently under construction. If a project is confirmed to be cancelled (ex. INHS’s Greenways, Collegetown Crossings on South Hill), it will be removed from the map.

~The information presented when you click on each polygon is a brief project description, the developer, and the project status. Links are provided to background reading on a given project.

~ Disclaimer: While I make an effort to make sure everything is accurate, there are possibilities that renders are outdated (old versions) or something may otherwise be incorrect. If you have questions or comments, leave a comment or shoot an email to ithacating*at*gmail.com.

Now for part II – clearing out my photo stash. Sometimes, I end up with photos that I never use, mostly massive single-family homes in established subdivisions. Along with modulars on the fringes of the county and the occasional large-acreage stick-built, these homes make up the large portion of the new single-family home builds in Tompkins County. Not the most environmentally friendly, and questionable urban/land planning, but it’s what zoning allows and what’s easiest to build.

There’s a few for reasons for that – on the builder/developer’s end, the Return on Investment (ROI) tends to be greatest on luxury home builds, and land’s cheaper in rural areas. On the municipal/community end, one-lot single-families don’t need board review unless they require zoning variances, and as a general rule of thumb, smaller projects, more rural projects, and projects targeting wealthier buyers face less neighbor opposition (the wealth effect is somewhat muted with rentals).

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Larisa Lane, Town of Ithaca (Westview Partners LLC)

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Southwoods Drive, Town of Ithaca (Heritage Builders)
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Old Gorge Road, Town of Ithaca (J. Clark Construction)

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Larisa Lane, Town of Ithaca (Westview Partners LLC)

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Blackchin Boulevard, Village of Lansing (Avalon Homes)

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Birdseye View Drive, Town of Ithaca (Birds-Eye View Properties, LLC)

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Southwoods Drive, Town of Ithaca (Heritage Builders)

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Beardsley Lane, Town of Danby (Westview Partners LLC)

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Loomis Court, Town of Danby (Jepsen Romig Development Inc.)
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Eldridge Circle, Town of Ithaca (TRJ Properties LLC)





News Tidbits 11/30/15: It’s like the 1990s All Over Again

30 11 2015

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1. I want to start this oddly-timed roundup with a big thanks to the readers and commenters who encouraged me to write last Monday’s op-ed. If it wasn’t for you guys, I would have held off. I’m not looking to make waves, but there is a significant, valid concern over Cornell’s housing shortage, and it merited a rebuke.

I also want to thank you guys because the emails I received (about 10 separate readers) were pretty much offloading on how much they hate Cornell, which completely missed the point the article. Worse still, one went into a rant on not only students, but on how much they hate racial minorities, and a second went off into a density rant (followed by stomach-churning quote “if nurses, police and teachers can’t afford to live here, they shouldn’t be living here”). If I thought they were representative of Ithaca for even a moment, I’d hang up my keyboard. But I know that there are good people like the readers here, who are more thoughtful, knowledgeable and arguably less crazy.

So, with all that noted, here’s the actual news – someone familiar with the Cornell Campus Planning Committee wrote in to say that the Maplewood replacement is expected to have 600-700 beds, and that the committee is still hopeful for an August 2017 opening, which would mean it would have to presented fairly soon (that would still leave a year-long gap in housing, but better late than never). They also acknowledged that “Cornell didn’t do such a good job” with planning for a possible housing shortage, which although not an official statement, seems as good of a justification for Monday’s piece as any.

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2. Then there was the other piece that dovetailed the affordable housing setbacks last week – Greenways, INHS’s 46-unit affordable owner-occupied townhouse project in the East Ithaca neighborhood, is being abandoned. A part two article with some hard data is being planned. There’s no real silver lining here. It’s Cornell land and the university could potentially revive it, but there’s no indication that will ever happen.

It’s just been a crappy week for housing affordability in Ithaca.

3. Over in Collegetown, several rental homes are being offloaded at once. The properties, 120-134 Linden Avenue, consist of six student apartment houses, with a listed price of $6.5 million. A check of the county website indicates the properties are assessed at $2.75 million, and a cross-check of the Collegetown Form Zoning shows most of these properties are CR-1 (the southern two homes) and CR-3 (the four northernmost homes). CR-1 is the least dense zoning, and CR-3 is a little denser, but mostly maxed out by the existing properties. In short, the code suggests significant redevelopment is unlikely, so the price seems to be based off of potential rental income.

The Halkiopoulos family currently owns the properties, which make up a sizable portion of their multi-million dollar Collegetown portfolio (they’re one of the medium-sized landlords). The Halkiopouloses’ M.O. has been to buy single-family homes and convert the property to student rentals, rather than building their own apartment buildings. It seems likely that the high price indicates they’ll go to one of the other big landlords, or to someone with really deep pockets looking to break into the Collegetown market.

4. A couple folks might be concerned this week after Jason Tillberg’s latest piece about Ithaca’s deflating economy. But there’s a caution light before this data is taken to be hard truth. Frankly, the BLS estimates suck.

A lot.

The numbers are subject to big revisions. Case in point, here are the pre-revision and post-revision 2013 and 2014 data:

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It’s not uncommon for the numbers to be changed by thousands, because it’s based on a random sampling of non-government multi-person employers. 500,000 are sampled over the whole country each month, but only about 55 of the 3,300 or so orgs in Tompkins and Cortland Counties are included in the Ithaca metro sample (Cortland’s jobs numbers are included with Ithaca’s because jobs are measured by Combined Statistical Area [CSAs]. However, Ithaca is considered a separate metropolitan area [MSA] from the Cortland micropolitan area [µSA], so population stats are always distinct). The overall trend of the selected orgs is then applied to a base number. For places like Ithaca where the local economy is dominated by a few employers, random sampling isn’t the best approach because it misses crucial components of the local economic picture. But the BLS sticks with its current approach for consistency’s sake across regions and time periods.

During the first quarter of each year, the BLS conducts a full analysis and re-analysis of data going back the last three years. The general rule is, the data from three years ago is very good, the data from two years ago is okay, and the data from the previous year is…very, very preliminary. Tompkins County hasn’t had any large layoffs reported the state’s WARN database this year, and the only major retail closings recently have been A.C. Moore and Tim Horton’s.

In short, don’t let it keep you up at night, and wait until March before passing judgement on the 2015 economy.

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5. Over in Dryden town, the townhouse project proposed by local firm Modern Living Rentals (MLR) at 902 Dryden Road in Varna is a little smaller – 13 units and 40 bedrooms, versus the previous 15 units and 42 bedrooms; these numbers include the duplex with 6 bedrooms that currently exists on the site. Meanwhile, the procession of hate continued at the latest town meeting. The arguments are the same as before. To the earlier, larger proposal, some town councilpersons had given a tentative positive response, while at least one was opposed to the original proposal (in Dryden, the Town Board votes on projects rather than the Planning Board). MLR hopes to request approval at the town’s December 17th meeting – if approved, the construction period is planned for January-August 2016.

For those interested, the Stormwater Plan (SWPPP) is here, revised Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, revised site plan here, project description courtesy of STREAM Collaborative here. No new renders, but presumably it still looks the same in terms of materials and colors.

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6. Next up on the suburban tour, the fighting over the Biggs Parcel in the town of Ithaca. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA) presented a plan for the property – and the plan is, maybe we can find a way to force the county to keep it, but if not please don’t sell the land to anyone who will build on it. All the county wants is to sell the land so it pays taxes, and the ICNA plan seems to have failed to really address that point. Tompkins officials countered by saying that they’re not keeping it and that if the ICNA cares about this parcel of land so much, buy it. There was then some back and forth about doing a new assessment to account for the developmentally-prohibitive wetlands on site – in other words, decreasing its current $340,000 assessment, with the exact amount to be determined by the county assessment department. At 25.52 acres, of which some is still developable, the price will likely stay above six figures.

So the county’s doing its new assessment, because all it wants is to sell the land so that someone is paying taxes on it. Meanwhile, the ICNA has taken to venting on their web page, angry that the county still plans to sell, and that they may have to actually buy the land in order to dictate its future use.

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7. To wrap up a thoroughly depressing week, a couple of demolitions by neglect. 327 West State Street and 404 West Green Street will both be demolished by the end of the year, according to the Ithaca Times. Both are older, likely century-old structures, but too far gone to be salvageable. According to county records, the City Health Club, which abuts and owns both properties, purchased 404 West Green in 1987, and 327 West State Street in 1993. The porch on 404 came down sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and the only change since then was painting the plywood on the boarded-up door and windows. County photos suggest 327 was in bad shape but possibly occupied up until 2000 or so, and steadily grew worse from there. Offhand, the procedure is to bill the owner for the demo. 404 West Green is B-2d zoning, 327 West State is CBD-60. But don’t expect any redevelopment anytime soon.

Hmmm…bad economic news, projects being cancelled, decay and demolitions in the city and fighting over suburban projects. For Ithaca and Tompkins County, it’s like the 1990s recession all over again.





News Tidbits 11/21/15: Building and Rebuilding

21 11 2015

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1. Starting off this week with some eye candy, here are some updates renders of the townhouses proposed for INHS’s 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood. Details and project status here. 210 Hancock has been approved by the Planning Board, and Cornell, the city and county do have dedicated funds ($200,000 total) going towards the affordable housing units, but still needs to be seventeen conditions prior to receiving a construction permit, one of which required revised townhouses to better reflect the neighborhood. The Common Council also need to vote to discontinue using the sections of Lake Avenue and Adams Street on which the new greenways and playground will be constructed, which apart from the time needed and paperwork generated, isn’t expected to encounter any obstacles, with formal conveyance to INHS anticipated by March 2016. INHS is shooting for a May construction start.

The Planning Board will be voting on “satisfaction of site plan approval” at its meeting next Tuesday, which should be a fairly smooth procedure, if the paperwork’s all correct.

Personal opinion, the townhouses, with more color and variation in style, appear to be an improvement over the previous version. These five will be rentals, while the other seven will be for-sale units, and built in a later phase (government funding for affordable rentals is easier to obtain than it is for affordable owner-occupied units, so it could take a year or two for those seven to get the necessary funding). The apartments have not had any substantial design changes since approval.

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For what it’s worth, here’s the final site plan. The rental townhomes will be on the north corner of the parcel, furthest from Hancock.

2. Turning attention to the suburbs, someone’s put up some sizable chunks of land for sale in Lansing village. The properties consist of four parcels – 16.87 acres (the western parcel) for $500,000, right next to a previously-listed threesome of 28.07 acres (the eastern parcels) for $650,000. The eastern parcel also comes with a house, which the listing pretty much ignores. Lansing has it zoned as low-density residential, and given the prices (the western parcel is assessed at $397,600, the eastern parcels at $561,100 (1, 2, and 3)) and being surrounded by development on three sides, these seem likely to become suburban housing developments, possibly one big 30-lot development if the parcels are merged. For the suburbanites out there, it’s something to monitor.

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3. House of the week – or in this case, tiny house of the week. The 1-bedroom, 650 SF carriage house underway at 201 West Clinton Street draws inspiration from 19th century carriage houses, which makes sense given that it’s in Henry St. John Historic District. It and the main house are owned by former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández and her partner, TWMLA architect Zac Boggs. The two of them did a major and meticulous restoration of the main house, which used to house the local Red Cross chapter, a couple of years ago (more info on that here).

Anyway, the framing is underway and some ZIP System sheathing has been applied to the exterior plywood. No roof yet and probably not much in the way of interior rough-ins, but give it a couple of months and that 1960s garage will be given a new life as a tiny house.

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4. Time to take a look at the Planning and Development Board agenda for next Tuesday. For reference, here’s what a typical project guideline looks like:

PDB (Sketch Plan) -> PDB (Declaration of Lead Agency) -> PDB (Determination of Env’tal Signif., PDB BZA reccomendation if necessary) -> BZA (if necessary) -> PDB (prelim/final approval).

Here’s the meat of the agenda:

A. 210 Hancock – Satisfaction of Conditions of Site Plan Approval (see above)
B. 215-221 Spencer St. – Consideration of Prelim/Final Site Plan Approval  – this one was first presented as sketch plan in March, to give an idea of how long this has been in front of the boards
C. 416-418 East State Street – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – “The Printing Press” jazz bar is a proposed re-use for a former printshop and warehouse that has seen heavy neighbor opposition. The bar has changed its emphasis, redesigned the landscape and moved itself to a more internal location to mitigate concerns, but the opposition is still strong, mostly focusing on noise and traffic. The board has simply and succinctly recommended that the BZA grant a zoning variance.
D. 327 Elmira Road – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – The Herson Wagner Funeral Home project. This one’s had pretty smooth sailing so far, only a couple complaints that Elmira Road isn’t appropriate for a funeral home. The Planning Board, however, applauds the proposal, which replaces a construction equipment storage yard, for better interfacing with the residential neighbors at the back of its property. It has been recommended for BZA approval.
E. Simeon’s on the Commons Rebuild – Presentation & Design Review Meeting – Before anyone throws up their arms, this is only to talk about the materials and design of the reconstruction, and to get the planning board’s comment and recommendations.
F. The Chapter House Rebuild – Sketch Plan – The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) must have come to some kind of acceptance on the proposed rebuild if the Chapter House is finally at the sketch plan stage. the Planning Board will have their own recommendations, which will have to be coordinated to some degree with the ILPC (the ILPC is arguably the much stricter of the two). We’ll see how it looks next week.
G. Hughes Hall Renovations – Sketch Plan – more on that in a moment
H. DeWitt House (Old Library Site) – Sketch Plan – originally slated to be seen a couple months ago, but pulled from the agenda. The 60-unit project is not only subject to Planning Board review, but ILPC review since it’s in the DeWitt Park Historic District.

5. So, Hughes Hall. Hughes Hall, built in 1963, has dorm housing and dining facilities for Cornell students attending the law school, but those 47 students will need to find alternative housing once the hall closes in May 2016 (yes, with Maplewood closing as well, Cornell is putting 527 graduate and professional students out on the open market next year…it’s gonna be rough). However, this has kinda been known for a while. Cornell has intended to renovate Hughes Hall since at least 2011, as Phase III of its law school expansion and renovation. The building was used as swing space while Phase I was underway, and then the phases were flipped and Phase II became Hughes Hall’s renovation, while Phase III became Myron Taylor Hall’s renovation. According to Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, who designed the law school addition (Phase I), the Hughes Hall renovation will “house offices, administrative support spaces, academic programs and meeting spaces.” Well see how the renovated digs look at Tuesday’s meeting.





Stone Quarry Apartments Construction Update, 6/2015

17 06 2015

Here’s another project that’s in the home stretch – INHS’s 35-unit Stone Quarry Apartments project on Spencer Road. On the outside, the buildings themselves are pretty much done. A small playground has been installed and the asphalt for the parking area has been laid. A few sidewalk slabs still need to be poured, light poles still need to be erected and the landscaping still needs to be finished out, but otherwise, this is very close to the final product.

A look at the interior of one of the townhome units (not included because the image also included my reflection in the glass) showed that the drywall has been hung, but carpeting and interior finishes are still on the to-do list. Tenants can expect to move in during September 2015.

As this project wraps up, INHS will still be carrying a full schedule for the near future – their townhouse project in East Ithaca, Greenways, will be starting construction shortly. And while Greenways builds out its three phases over the next few years, work will begin on 210 Hancock‘s 53 apartments at some time well into 2016 (assuming no big hangups occur).

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The Stone Quarry project consists of 16 two-story townhouses (2 rows, 8 each), and a 19-unit, 3-story apartment building on the northern third of the property. Specifically, the breakdown of unit sizes is follows:

16 three-bedroom Townhouses
2 three-bedroom Apartments
11 two-bedroom Apartments
6 one-bedroom Apartments

As with all projects by INHS, the units are targeted towards individuals with modest incomes, with rents of $375-$1250/month depending on unit size and resident income. While affordable housing is generally welcome and sorely needed, Stone Quarry had a number of complaints due to size, location and lingering environmental concerns.

The build-out is being handled by LeCesse Construction, a nationwide contractor with an office in suburban Rochester. The design is by local firms HOLT Architects and Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects.

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News Tidbits 4/4/15: And They Called It “PlanIthaca”

4 04 2015

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1. According to Ithaca Builds and those on a VIP list-serve, the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek have released tentative rental prices. $1,220/month for a studio to $2,655/month for a top-notch 2 bedroom. Using the affordability rule (30% of monthly income), one gets $48,800-$106,200 year – given the median income in Tompkins County of just over $53,000/yr, these prices could be described as upper-middle tier. I can already hear the grumbling from commenters on the Ithaca Voice if a construction update gets posted.

The 45 units are set to be completed this summer, but those looking to take a sneak peek can sign up for an April 18th tour of the building, courtesy of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

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2. Here’s an updated aerial site rendering of INHS’s 210 Hancock redevelopment. The changes to the affordable housing proposal are largely in site landscaping and layout, the biggest changes being the closure Lake Avenue and moving the playground (which is not rendered in the aerial). Traffic studies, stormwater management plans, and parking studies can be found here (it turns out that compared to the old supermarket, there will be slightly more AM traffic, and a lot less PM traffic), revised site layout here, and about 18 other documents in the April site plan review planning board directory on the city’s website. 210 Hancock will be undergoing review by the city Planning and Development Board at their April meeting.

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3. Turning to another INHS project, the Greenways development is going for final approval with the town of Ithaca’s Planning Board next Tuesday. The full suite of documents can be found here. The designs above, for buildings A, B, C, D, and E in Phase I, are very nearly final, though Building C looks like it was accidentally uploaded in grey-scale. B-E will have three units each, 2 2-bedroom (1,100 sq ft) and 1 3-bedroom (1,300 sq ft). Building A will have 2 2-bedroom and 2 3-bedroom units. In sum, Phase I has 16 units and 38 bedrooms. Assuming the other units are the same configuration, the final product will have 46 units and 110 bedrooms. Build-out could take 6-8 years according to the docs, and Building K in Phase II interferes with 0.09 acres of wetland, which the Army Corps of engineers requires to be filled in before development (wetlands under 0.1 acres and not contiguous with any other wetland can be filled in without need of replacement).

The designs are by local architect Claudia Brenner. The floorplans are designed with nearly identical layouts to save money, but the varied use of exterior architectural details and colors does a nice job of giving each building a unique appearance.

Readers might recall that these for-sale owner-occupied units are being developed for the affordable housing segment (individuals/families with incomes of $38k-$57k), and that Cornell is giving INHS the property for below market price on the condition that Cornell employees that fall into the income restraints have first dibs on the units as they hit the market. The property also makes use of “woonerfs“, so-called living streets that are shared by bikers, pedestrians and vehicles, and typically have a speed limit of no more than 10-12 MPH.

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4. The city of Ithaca’s draft Comprehensive Plan is now online. The 66-page draft, called “PlanIthaca”, can be looked at here, and the proposed land use map here. Over the past year, the Comprehensive Plan Committee has been busy fleshing out the original 16-page draft document to the full-fledged PlanIthaca document above. The city will be hosting a series of open houses throughout the city during April for interested parties to look through the plan and comment, with the first open house on Monday April 13th from 3:30-5 PM at St. Luke’s in Collegetown. Comments can also be submitted by email to city planner Megan Wilson at mwilson@cityofithaca.org.

I’ll probably expand on the plan in a future post, but readers of the blog won’t be surprised by anything it says. The map appears to be lacking the neighborhood mixed-use zoning, which from reading the plan appears to be an accident. Otherwise it’s the exact same map from last spring’s write-up.  There’s a couple of interesting concepts that will be explored as things move forward beyond the plan – ideas such as city-wide form-based zoning and a transfer of development rights between properties would make for a large departure from current policies.

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5. If you’re looking for a little more light weekend reading, feel free to check out the double feature article on the Tompkins Financial HQ plans running the weekend on the Ithaca Voice. Summing up a few salient details here, the total project will cost $26.5 million, add 77 new jobs downtown over the next decade, and run from about June 2015 to January or February 2017. The new headquarters will be about 110,000 square feet in size, 7 stories and 100 feet tall, the maximum allowed by zoning. The first floor will have a 6,600 square foot (66 feet x 100 feet) bank branch, with parking for 20-25 cars behind the first floor and under the overhanging upper floors. A basement floor will also add 6,600 sq ft of space, and floors 2-7 will have 16,300 square feet each. Across the street at 119 East Seneca Street, a new drive-thru will be built underneath the existing building, consisting of revised drive-thru lanes, surface parking, an ATM and a 985 square foot teller building.





News Tidbits 12/6/14: Looking Forward, Looking Back

6 12 2014

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1. Not exactly a development, but this will make things interesting: As reported by the Ithaca Journal, INHS and Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) are merging. Both of them have the same purpose, which is to provide low-to-middle income housing and structural rehab services, but INHS has traditionally focused in Ithaca city, and Better Housing in the rural towns. INHS also holds far greater assets, $24 million including 241 rental units , vs. BHTC’s $3 million and 121 rental units.

Over the past few years, INHS has put a lot of feathers in their cap. $2.13 million in grants has been awarded to the non-profit in just the past few months. Breckenridge Place and Holly Creek are complete and nearly complete respectively (total 74 units), while Stone Quarry and Greenways are prepping for site clearing and construction (total 81 units). Along with Cedar Creek and several single-family and duplex units, INHS has had a hand in over 120 units of housing in the past five years alone. With the Neighborhood Pride site undergoing concept design and the recently-awarded grant money, that number will almost certainly be greater in these next five years.

The story for BHTC has been quite the opposite. The 65-unit Lansing Reserve proposal failed due to neighbor opposition, and the 58-unit Cayuga Trails project for West Hill failed due to wetlands on site being greater than anticipated (and the neighborhood opposition didn’t help). BHTC has five older facilities in Trumansburg, Newfield and Slaterville Springs.  With any hope, the merged non-profit will qualify for larger grants, and BHTC can finally get some shovels in the ground in the hamlets and villages outside Ithaca.

On a separate note, it looks like INHS did its annual website update, formally announcing plans for a single-family home at 304 Hector Street on West Hill. The lot was purchased in late October after a plan to buy and renovate a home in Northside fell through. Stone Quarry will begin occupancy next September, and Greenways hopes to start in 2015.

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2. Here’s the site plan for 112 Blair Street. I’d include renders, if the sketch plan had any. Two buildings with two units each and three bedrooms per unit -> 2 x 2 x 3 = 12 bedrooms. Nothing large, just an infill project tucked away from the street. The design will be created by local firm Schickel Architecture, the same ones doing the Maguire project in Ithaca town. As noted by Planning Board member John Schroeder in a recent Sun article, projects like these won’t alleviate the housing crunch by themselves, but every little bit helps, and all the better if it recaptures living space from an underused parking lot.

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3. Final design for the proposed Canopy Hotel? Possibly. In comparison to the last design, this latest incarnation adds more windows to the east face. I’m not going to lie, after six or so sets of designs (include three complete re-dos), I’m starting to lose track of the changes. On the upside, the latest project plan from the city’s documents includes some neat context views, renders of what the building would look like from various vantage points in the city.

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4. 114 Catherine has been approved, its Spring construction date looks good to go. When completed in August 2015, 17 more bedrooms will enter the Collegetown market – a drop in the bucket, but a valuable drop nevertheless.

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5. Towards South Hill, review of the draft generic environmental impact statement (DGEIS) continues for the massive Chain Works District proposal at the former Emerson Power/Morse Chain site. A scoping document of that DGEIS can be found here. In a nutshell, a DGEIS is part of the State Envrionmental Quality Review (SEQR), where the leading agency looks at a project, determines if any adverse project impacts are properly mitigated, and if so, issues a statement giving a negative declaration (approval). In this case, the NYS DEC also needs to be on board, approving the contaminated site for residential use. This is a pretty complicated project. There’s 800,000 sq ft of space to be removed or re-purposed, in an environmentally compromised site split between two political entities who are conducting joint meetings with their planning boards in an effort to try and move this project forward (the town of Ithaca board deferred to the city of Ithaca for lead agency; and both have been evaluating using their respective specialized mixed-use zones).

So far, there have been no nasty surprises on the polluted site. The site is mostly clean but still needed a little more for residential use, and Emerson will be flipping the bill for that. The comment period on the draft runs through the 10th, and the DGEIS will be finalized on the 16th. According to the project website, developer Unchained Properties LLC hopes to start Phase I, the renovation of four on-site buildings (21, 24, 33 and 34) into mixed-use and manufacturing space, during summer 2015. The mixed-use was initially proposed as office space only; but the developer behind the LLC (David Lubin) has struggled to fill the proposed office space in his Harold Square project, and seems to realize that having less office space would be a better plan for Chain Works as well.

6. The Cornell Daily Sun is reporting that the owner of CTB (Collegetown Bagels) is buying the Rulloff’s property and reopening the restaurant after it abruptly closed over the Labor Day weekend. The property was on the market for $395,000, and it’s fair to say the price was probably close to that figure. The murderous Edward Rulloff lives on.