News Tidbits 11/7/15: All the Small Things

7 11 2015

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1. The Chapter House project is finally beginning the first stages of design review with the ever-stringent (or picky, pending your view) Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council. As seen in the render above, gone is the fourth floor, and gone for now are plans to build a new structure at 408 Stewart, after some members of the ILPC expressed opposition to a tear-down, even though the exterior has been butchered and the architect called it a “fire trap”.

The committee also had disagreements over which version of the Chapter House is more historic, the original ca. 1903 design evoked above, or the 1920s renovation that everyone remembers. The September minutes showed intent towards the four story design seen previously, but the design shown above is three floors – whether that be to the committee’s persuasion, or concerns over a zoning variance isn’t clear. It might be in October’s minutes, but those haven’t been approved, and are therefore not available yet.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee is planning “Property Condition Review and Potential Action” for the decayed carriage house at 312 West State Street. The board was also set to provide “Early Design Review” for a project at 315 North Cayuga Street, probably some kind of renovation/restoration of the First Presbyterian Church, but the item has since been pulled.

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2. Wait long enough and history repeats itself. In March 2009, I did a post called “Warren Real Estate Tries to Sell a Frat House“. It looked at 210 Thurston Avenue in Cornell Heights, when it was on the market for $950,000. The house has historically been a Cornell fraternity house, built around 1900, re-purposed not long thereafter for the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity until WWII, when the brothers left for service and the chapter never reopened. It was then used by other GLOs over the decades (Alpha Omicron Pi in the 1940s, Sigma Alpha Mu from the late 1940s to early 2000s, and Phi Delta Theta’s annex in the late 2000s).

After sitting on the market for a couple of years, the house sold in December 2011 for $677,500 to an LLC representing the wealthy parent of a Cornell wrestler, who had the house renovated for the team in 2011/12. The legal occupancy increased from 33 to 40 persons as a result of the reno.

So now it’s on the market again, this time for $2,750,000. That must have been quite a renovation. An open house will be held 1-3 PM this Sunday.

I’d recommend it to the Phi Mu ladies given their recent rejection by Cayuga Heights’ zoning board, but the asking price is almost four times the house they were looking at 520 Wyckoff. The house on Wyckoff was also intended for 16 occupants rather than 40. Oh, and I suppose those urinals the owners installed would be a bit out of place.

We’ll see what happens. This one could be on the market for a while. Again.

3. Also new to the market this week, two parcels in the town of Ithaca that have the potential for development.

The first, 1564 Slaterville Road. The sale includes four parcels – 1564 Slaterville Road itself, a 19th century home on 1.52 acres, and the other three are vacant parcels with frontage on Slaterville Road and Park Lane, which serves as an entrance to the Eastern Heights neighborhood, and has seen a number of higher-end single-family homes in the past several years (there have been plans for a 16-lot housing development on the adjacent land to the north, but nothing has been approved). Altogether, the sale comprises 9.2 acres of land, on the market for $995,000. The properties are valued at $297,300 total, so if the owner is asking such a high price, either they’re delusional, or purposely going after developers. The land currently falls under Ithaca town’s Medium-Density Residential (MDR) zoning, which is single-family homes and duplexes only. The Comprehensive Plan calls for “Established Neighborhood” use, with an average of 2-4 units/acre, either homes, townhomes or apartments (sensitive to neighboring uses), and the possibility of low-intensity commercial (home office). Expect any potential form-based code to accommodate those details.

The other parcel up for sale is 969 East Shore Road, one of the few properties in the town’s lakeshore exclave. This one is also asking a huge premium, $1.45 million for a 2.09-acre property assessed at $300,000. The property was used as the headquarters for the John C. Lowery construction company until they moved to Freeville; it had been built in the 1960s for a chemical company. The seller, the CEO of a local manufacturer, picked up the property for $300,000 in December 2013.

Although it falls under the town’s Lakefront Commercial (LC) zoning, which in itself says only marinas and wind turbines are okay, special use permits allow for mixed-use, hotel, and other non-water options. Like the Slaterville parcel, this one also falls under the “Established Neighborhood” use guidelines.

If they sell, and it bears mentioning, it’ll be mentioned in a later news roundup.

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4. It’s house of the week. This week, 319 Oak Avenue in Collegetown. The lot was created by a subdivision of the existing lot, 424 Dryden Road, in February of this year. What was once a parking lot is now the foundation for a duplex with 3-bedrooms each. Foundation and stem walls have been poured and cured, and given that this photo is a couple weeks old, the foundation has probably been backfilled already, and rough framing may even be underway.

The site falls into the CR-2 Zone of the Collegetown Form District, meaning 2-3 floors, and pitched roofs and porches are required. The architect is Daniel Hirtler of Ithaca, and the developers are William and Angie Chen, also of Ithaca.

5. It’s a quiet week. The city of Ithaca’s projects memo has absolutely nothing new (not even new attachments to the three projects subject to review), and the town of Lansing has nothing interesting either. So we’ll wrap this up with some economic news:

A Lansing technology firm will be seeking sales tax abatements this month as part of a planned expansion project.

Advanced Design Consulting USA (ADC), located in a 15,000 SF facility at 126 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing, has submitted an application to the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) for review at their November 12th meeting.

The company is applying for a one-time sales tax abatement on the cost of construction materials, and is valued at $54,880.

ADC specializes in the design and manufacture of high-precision scientific instruments, especially those used in physics research. The firm states in their IDA application that their small size has limited their ability to gain large contracts, and it is necessary for them to expand in order to expand their business. The 5,000 SF expansion is valued at $910,000, and would retain 14 jobs and create 7 additional jobs in their Lansing facility, with a median salary of $40,000. If approved, the expansion project would be completed by June 2016. With the expansion, ADC’s revenues are predicted to increase from the current $2 million, to $2.7 million in three years. The company did not commit to local construction labor in their application.

In an interview in 2014, ADC President Alexander Deyhim explained that the company declined a business incentive to move to Oak Ridge, Tennessee because of Tompkins County’s high quality of life, and proximity to Cornell’s nano-fabrication facilities.

For ADC, which was founded in Tompkins County in 1995, it will be the third expansion in twelve years. The company had previously applied for and received tax abatement approvals for a larger, 20,000 SF expansion project, but according to the current application, the firm reassessed its needs and decided to go with a smaller plan for the time being. The original abatement was never utilized. Supplemental documents indicate the town of Lansing has approved the physical plans for the expansion.

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So does one force the company to use local labor, or does one risk turning the company down and sending the whole operation to Tennessee? Tax abatements are hardly ever a black-and-white decision.





ATO and Campus Living Are Awkward Partners

13 03 2014

When this blog started, I think Alpha Tau Omega (henceforth ATO) was the first renovation in progress that I had ever taken note of, in mid-summer 2008. Here was a before pic, which dates from July 3rd, 2008.

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Here’s an after pic, which dates from August 15th, 2008.
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The house had had structural issues that were fixed before this blog started, and the external renovations were finishing up when the first photo was taken. I assume the repaint was all that was left to do.

ATO was one of two fraternities that closed in the summer of 2013, the other being Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT). In both cases, the closing was called for by their nationals, who were displeased with the quality and conduct of their Cornell chapters. This article notes that ATO’s alumni group hoped to rent the house to graduate students while they wait for the chapter’s return (generally, that means that all the once-current members have graduated). ZBT is targeting a return in 2014/2015. The process isn’t new, Kappa Sigma did the same thing from 2010 to 2012. I’ll even go as far as to suggest that someday, another couple years from now, Sigma Alpha Epsilon will make a return to Cornell, though Hillcrest is being used as a dorm in the meanwhile (I dunno if they’ll ever be back in 122 McGraw, which is owned by Cornell; I tried checking Kappa Sig’s house for reference, and couldn’t find anything. But I do see that they liked my photo so much it’s on the front page of their website, guy standing on the roof and all).

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Anyway, reading the Cornell is leasing the house for the upcoming year is no big surprise. In fact, it brings back memories of my friends in 112 Edgemoor. Edgemoor was a fraternity house until 1985, when Triangle closed. Being purchased by Cornell some time earlier, it became a small dorm. The fact that most of my meteo friends even ended up in Edgemoor is kinda my fault. A bunch of my meteorology classmates wanted to go in together on a suite on West Campus. When I found out I would have to be on a Cornell meal plan, I balked; I wanted to be on my fraternity’s meal plan for dinners and manage my own (cheaper) lunches. When I caused that suite plan to fall through, a lot of them went into Edgemoor, and a couple others gravitated towards that group and moved in as well. I think meteorologists and their friends made up about half of Edgemoor’s residents, and there were about 21 at the time. I spent more time there than my own dorm (and Cascadilla and Edgemoor were close to each other at least). It was a nice house, but from my own observation, almost everyone else in Edgemoor saw it as just a place to sleep.  For the student in the article that hopes for more intimate social connections, I would set the expectations low but hope for the best. For the record, I don’t have high opinions of ATO either. Some years back, ATO thought it was a good idea to take my freshman roommate to Kuma Charmers as a rush activity. He came back with bruises on his legs from what he described as the worst lap dance ever. My roommate ended up joining a different house. Furthermore, I went there once to meet him after one of their events, and the inside of the house was in shambles, with a giant pile of wood furniture tossed helter-skelter in a corner, and broken glass everywhere. So someone describing the house as a health hazard is no surprise either.

I think that unless people already have connections to their housemates, that the intimacy of non-specialized small group housing is overrated; upperclassmen have generally built their social networks and have their coteries. I don’t imagine Cornell’s thrilled to have to clean house, nor ATO to have it occupied by someone that’s not an active membership. But this is better than an empty house, the cleanup is appreciated, and I suppose that at least a couple dozen fewer people won’t have to do the manic search for off-campus housing.





News Tidbits 2/6/14: A Sorority Totally New To Cornell

7 02 2014

Image Property of Phi Mu sorority.

Courtesy of the Cornell Sun and Cornell Chronicle comes news of the latest addition to Cornell’s Greek Life – social sorority Phi Mu.  According to the news articles, sorority interest has increased in the previous few years, from 670 registrants in 2010 to 873 in the latest rush (Chronicle claims 871…don’t know which is correct). This moved the Cornell Pan-Hel system to add a 13th sorority. If one views Phi Sigma Sigma as a replacement for the departed Alpha Omicron Pi, then Phi Mu would mark the first time there have been 13 Pan-Hel sororities on campus since 2003, when Delta Phi Epsilon and Chi Omega closed, and were replaced by Alpha Xi Delta the following year. If you go a little further back, there were 14 as recently as 1996, before Alpha Gamma Delta closed (comparing the old photo in that link to my 2008 shot, their physical house went downhill fast).

Given that there are a number of sororities that used to have a presence at Cornell, it’s rather unusual to see a colonization rather than a re-colonization; Phi Mu has never previously been installed on Cornell’s campus. Lookins at their wikipedia page, it would seem that most of their 117 chapters are based out of the South and Mid-Atlantic; so being in the northeast is unfamiliar territory for this sorority.

A new sorority is all and well and good, but my primary interest lies in this sentence from the Sun article:

According to [Katherine-Rae Cianciotto, dean of students], Phi Mu is currently researching housing options and will likely have a house beginning in Fall 2015.”

There are options ladies. It will be interesting to see where the sorority ends up making its physical home, and hopefully build upon a house’s history.

 





News Tidbits 1/23/2014: Cashing in One’s Chips

23 01 2014
Property of O'Connor Apartments

Property of O’Connor Apartments

About six weeks ago, I made a quick little news tidbit entry regarding 115 The Knoll, which had turned to Craigslist to try and fill its quarters starting this June. Now, we can also mention that the house is not only looking for renters, it’s also looking for buyers. From Warren Real Estate:

Gorgeous arts & crafts mansion steps from Cornell. Built circa 1915 with up-to-date sprinkler & fire alarm. Living room, chapter room, dining room, commercial kitchen. 13 rooms for up to 25 occupants. There is also [a] 1 bedroom cottage with a separate driveway. Approximately 18 parking spaces.

The real estate listing uses the same photo from the rentals website, so this is indeed the same house (the listing agent is Edelman Real Estate’s John O’Connor, who by my guess is likely associated with the family-run O’Connor Apartments). If interested, this house could also be yours for a cool $1.35 million (Ex-Ithacan take note). Taking a stab in the dark, my assumption is that the current owners have finally given up the ghost, and no longer want to be responsible for the property and its taxes.

Notably, this isn’t the first time the house has been on the market, but in summer 2009, it was only asking for $795,000. The house waited until January 2010 for a sale to be finalized. Whether it ends up a private home, home to another GLO, or yet another parcel owned by Cornell, remains to be seen. If 210 Thurston was any indicator, this one could be on the market for a while.

Around and around and around she goes, where she ends up, nobody knows.





More Than Just Cherries On Top: The Purity Redevelopment Plan

11 01 2013

Now, a part of me was tempted to write something up about a Cornell fraternity that just was thrown off campus for “sexually humiliating” hazing…but then, I realized I’m too far out to care for the stupid crap of the current crop of students. No matter how absolutely, unfathomably asinine it is. Stay classy TEP, it’s a miracle your trashed house didn’t collapse first.

So onto something that catches my interest in a more positive way. I have to issue a slight mea culpa on this, because the news regarding the Purity Ice Cream project has been floating around for a good six weeks already. For those who have yet to experience it, Purity is a fairly well-known local ice cream company, in operation since 1936. The current building, a rather plain one-story brick structure, was completed in 1953.

Of note and of particular relevance here, Purity is in a high-traffic but fairly low density area, on the Corner of Meadow and Cascadilla Streets, west-northwest of downtown. In what I would describe as a rarity for Ithaca, I don’t believe I’ve ever taken a photo of the store. Thank Heaven for aerials and Flickr.

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Purity’s parcel is outlined in red in the above image from Bing Maps. It lies on the cusp of low-to-moderate density residential district (Northside), part of a small commercial district of mostly retail and warehousing. So it lies quite a ways outside the traditional dense clusters of development.

The plans are still pretty conceptual at this point. The owners, Bruce and Heather Lane, seek to keep the original structure and build vertically; rental office and retail space on the lower floors, with 13 to 26 1 and 2-bedroom apartments on the third and higher floors. The facade, in keeping with the original structure, will be brick. The number of stories is to suggested at 4-5, but the first floor would have 16′ ceilings, so it would be fairly likely to top out around 60′, and the new building would be a visual focus point in the generally low-rise neighborhood. Although the area is less built up than some other parts of the city, the owners are seeking to tap into new urbanist concepts, touting the walkability to Greenstar and the Waterfront Trail. The goal is to get the project underway in fall 2013, and the ice cream store will remain open throughout the duration of construction. A structure like this would have a 12-to-18 month time frame.

Not all of the structure would be saved, as the manufacturing space for the Ice Cream would be eliminated; but then, Purity has contracted out the ice cream manufacture to Byrne Dairy since 2006. It seems it would be a loss of underused space at worst.

Now here’s the consequence of my inattentiveness; the rendering is missing. I can come up with some ideas, since John Snyder Arch. is in charge, and they’ve been prolific in the area as of late (their flavor of choice being geometric forms/ modern design). But even with that knowledge, and knowing it was just a sketch plan, I would have liked to have seen the render. But unfortunately, it is missing from the IJ and its sister pubs, and even the article has been deleted (at least there were cached versions; but those did not have the render). Granted, it’s not like I’d be able to post it anyway, given the whole paid subscription thing. But, as the project continues to evolve over the next couple of months, I will attempt to stay on top of this for once, and post a rendering as a soon as a free version becomes available.

Update 1/17: And in fact one has, from Google image search. Sweet. Pun intended.

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News Tidbits 10/11/12: Kappa Sigma Reopens its Doors

11 10 2012

Even though I’m old and way out of touch from Greek Life (apart from the overly sentimental newsletter I get each semester from my fraternal alma mater), I’m sharing this because it happened my last semester at Cornell. From the Cornell Daily Sun:

After being shut down for more than two years, the Cornell chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was recently reinstated on campus.

According to Brett Musco ’13, the fraternity president, Kappa Sigma lost its charter from its national chapter in Spring 2010 after violating sanctions that the chapter imposed on them.

A year and a half before it was shut down, the Cornell chapter of Kappa Sigma was found in violation of its national organization’s “risk management policy” and told that it could no longer host events with alcohol, Associate Dean of Students for Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Travis Apgar told The Sun in May 2010.    The fraternity was also required to have any events approved by a regional manager from the national organization, according to Apgar.

When it was discovered that the fraternity hosted an unregistered party with alcohol, the chapter was shut down by the national organization for breaking Kappa Sigma sanctions.

The fraternity house, a property on 600 University Ave., is owned by Cornell and was renovated and turned into student housing by the University for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years. However, it was agreed that if Kappa Sigma were ever reinstated on campus, fraternity members could occupy the building again, Musco said.

As part of the process of rebuilding the chapter, Kappa Sigma brothers petitioned for members of the classes of 2012 and 2013 –– who had been expelled from the fraternity –– to be reinstated as brothers.

“Once we got those core guys from those two years reinstated, we could become an interest group,” Musco said. “And then, from an interest group you become a colony, and we became a colony [in] July of 2011.”

According to Musco, while the chapter was not recognized by the IFC or the University, it still participated in rush events and informed potential members of their status.

Though it was not a chapter at the time, the Kappa Sigma colony –– or probationary body of brothers –– participated in formal rush in 2012, according to Musco.

After Rush Week, the members had to follow certain guidelines and submit a petition to regain its status as a chapter.

“A lot came down to learning from the mistakes that the older guys had made and the former chapter had made,” Musco said. “And a lot came down to recruitment and getting new guys to carry the fraternity.”

As a result of Rush Week, the majority of the fraternity’s membership comes from the Class of 2015, Musco said. Kappa Sigma will be participating in Rush Week in January 2013, he added.

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So, this is an unusual case in the world of GLOs. The chapter was shut down by their national and lost recognition from Cornell. But, they were allowed to recolonize and petition for reinstatement. They also regained their house, because their agreement with Cornell allows them to move back in once they are reinstated (I like to imagine a closet in the dorm where they hid all the lettering and regalia). Now from here, it could go two ways – they fade into obscurity and failure a la Theta Chi in the early 2000s, or they build themselves back up and move on, like Psi Upsilon in 1979.

Speaking personally, about two-thirds of the people I’ve stayed in close contact with post-undergrad have been my old fraternity brothers. And I know that when something happens to the chapter that we don’t like, for instance a poor rush, we try and write it off as “it’s their house to run now”, but it still casts a bittersweet pall over our memories. So from an alumni perspective, I’m glad for their graduated brethren, and I wish them the best.





News tidbits 1/6/2012: If You Screwed Up Once, You Can Screw Up Again

6 01 2012

As time has gone on and I become more removed from my days at Cornell, this blog focuses less and less on student-specific events, such as Greek Life. But then, news articles like this pop up:

http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2012/01/06/after-hospitalization-tke-may-lose-recognition

After Hospitalization, TKE May Lose Recognition

January 6, 2012
By Jeff Stein

Cornell will revoke its recognition of Tau Kappa Epsilon following reports of an alcohol-related hospitalization of a freshman unless the fraternity succeeds in its appeal of the decision, according to multiple sources.

In a memo obtained by The Sun on Thursday, University administrators faulted TKE for reportedly failing to ensure the safety of a highly intoxicated individual — the same oversight that officials say led to the death of George Desdunes ’13 last spring. Sixteen former pledges of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the fraternity in which Desdunes died, joined TKE a few months later.

The freshman, who had been consuming alcohol before attending TKE’s event, arrived at a recruitment dinner hosted by TKE at the China Buffet on Nov. 11. While it “remains unclear if he continued to consume alcohol at the dinner,” TKE did provide both beer and hard alcohol at the event, the report states.

But as early as September, the University had reason to believe “rumors that SAE has been operating through TKE,” according to the report, when administrators learned of plans for the “White Party” — an event “historically hosted by SAE [as a] social activity attracting hundreds of community members.”

“Out of great concern for the safety of attendees, considering that TKE would not be prepared to host a large event such as this, due to their inexperience, we placed the chapter on interim suspension,” the report states.

The memo then notes that, in a meeting with administrators, fraternity leadership agreed to cancel the event, terminate plans they had to “induct ‘little sisters’” and work with the TKE national organization toward building TKE “traditions that the community could support, as opposed to adopting SAE traditions.”

Despite these promises, “it became clear in that meeting that SAE’s former members, those who were fully initiated and have no affiliation with TKE, have significant influence on TKE as an organization,” the report states.

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I read stories like this and I cringe. I’m a fairly avid supporter of Greek Life at Cornell. But stories like this make me rethink my stance. I understand that the person may or may not have consumed beverages at their recruitment dinner. Okay, innocent until proven guilty. But you’d think for a group of pledges that watched some of their pledgebrothers be indicted for killing someone, they’d use a little more precaution than “we’ll just drop him back off at his room and hope he’ll be fine”.

But that seems to merely be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The administration was bothered by how the chapter became SAE with a different set of letters. I couldn’t agree more. I am strongly bothered by the open flaunting of the SAE connection, and figuratively (maybe literally?) pissing on TKE’s original brotherhood and traditions (not that it wasn’t expected). I don’t know how much of the comments on the article to believe, but I don’t think they’re far from the mark. Calling yourself “Epsilon” because you feel the fraternity that took you in is so inferior you still have to tie it in to SAE (stating the obvious here, but it’s a nod to the fact that both Tau Kappa Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Epsilon share that letter). It just disgusts me. You’re not SAE. SAE of Cornell was doomed the moment George Desdunes died due to alcohol poisoning administered during a pledge kidnapping.

It’s sad. Sad that TKE was so desperate for social status and growth that they sold out everything their brotherhood was. Sad that SAE let someone die. Sad that one organization is gone completely and the other one is about to be kicked off campus. Sad that this reflects on the whole system, which is in a percarious enough position as it is.

What an ignominious way to go. I hope as a Greek alumnus that if my fraternity was ever in TKE’s position that they would just close instead of selling out.