News Tidbits 8/9/14: Can You Infill Me In?

9 08 2014

1. The city’s trying to balance its budget with the help of some land sales. In this instance, the property in question is 707 E. Seneca, a property just outside inner Collegetown, in the East Hill Historic District. The land was conveyed to the city in 1982 for use as a park/green space (it had been a school playground), but the land wasn’t maintained, and ended up become an unkempt vacant lot. After a few rounds of voting during the spring and early summer, the city has voted to put it to sale through the IURA (Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency). According to the county, the lot’s assessed price is $100,000, not bad for 1/6th of an acre. The site would be sold with deed restrictions to keep it from becoming a parking lot, and any new build (likely a single family or student house) will have to match the rest of the neighborhood. But it’s future infill, it’s money in the city’s pocket, and it’s less tax-exempt property.

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2. Speaking of infill, a project that fell to the back-burner due to neighborhood opposition is making a comeback. Revised 128 West Falls Street plans here (original plans here). Readers might recall this Fall Creek infill project by Heritage Builders hit a wall when neighbors complained that the project was just too much. In the revised proposal, which architect Larry Fabbroni says was designed with neighbor input and support, the number of units remains the same (5), but the two large houses next to 13 have been completely redesigned. House #2 is now designed to look like two separate houses (but they share a foundation, so they aren’t), and House #3 is shorter and less, uh, avant-garde. A lot variance is still required, so if this project finally received approval, expect it to be no earlier than this fall.

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3. More than one person pointed out to me the Ithaca Times’ article regarding the Ithaca hotel boom. It’s actually a pretty thoughtful piece, but for those with not much time or short attention spans, here’s the spark note version:

-There’s still demand for more hotel rooms in Ithaca, but it’s getting closer to market saturation. R0om-nights (occupancies) are down, but rates are up, and compared to neighboring metros, Ithaca is still pretty damn lucrative, and demand is relatively strong for the time being.

-The convention center as part of the Hotel Ithaca is on hold. Major boo. The convention center has major potential to grow Ithaca’s hospitality market by giving the city the ability to host medium-sized (500+ person) conventions, because multiple hotels are required to adequately host those events. It would also help ease the weekend-weekday disparity, where demand is red hot for weekends, and tepid during the week.

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4. On the topic of Times articles, here’s a piece about Fane’s 12-story juggernaut. I’m just curious, do I qualify as the “local media” they cite? If yes, I’m flattered. But, at least their article isn’t just a rehash of what’s already been written. Called “Collegetown Tower”, the building would house 250-300 tenants, easily making it the highest capacity private building in inner Collegetown (I phrase it like that because Cornell’s Cascadilla Hall is in the same range). In an email to the Times, Fane envisions a “high-quality” food retailer and two other stores.

Although Fane says it’s a serious proposal, I still find it curious that there were no interior layouts created for the residential floors yet; I still think he’s just testing the waters to see what reactions are. Whatever the case, I can’t say I’m a fan of this:

“He stressed that if the project does not garner the necessary support at this time, he would wait until that time arrives.”

In other words, get used to that empty storefront. A 12-story, ~140′ building is unlikely to pass in a location where there was very contentious debate over 90′ (and even that had setbacks after 60′). 90′ feet barely passed the Collegetown Committee, and the opposition was so vocal that the city tried to reduce the zoning (and failed).

But don’t my word for it. The Ithaca Times came out against the height increase.

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5. I remember being confused about this when I saw it in the news, and my confusion was merited – the town did not deny Greenways, because it was never formally presented and voted on…also, per the Times article I quoted, I was wrong about it being approved in July, but it has received preliminary approval as of the 5th. The inherent risk in writing about these projects is misinterpretation, and I’m as guilty as the rest.

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The Elephant in the Room: 330 College Avenue

23 07 2014

Note: After Jeff Stein of the Ithaca Voice sent me a photo of the rendering last night, I quickly wrote up and published this entry. Shortly after that, he mentioned that he wished to have the “scoop“, and since it was his photo, I obliged and rescheduled this for noon today. This updated version has the uploaded render from the city website. So if you saw this last night, then saw it was gone, you’re not going crazy. -BC

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Let’s be clear: this will not happen. What Jason Fane was thinking in proposing a 12-story building for the Green Cafe site has everything to do with seeing what he can get away with. The calculating businessman as always, shocking the board and meeting attendees with a massive proposal…my only guess is that he is willing to negotiate down. The likely goal is to end up with something still above the 80′ 6-story limit for that site, and apparently the way to do that is shock and awe.

A copy of sketch plan can be found here. Mostly site photos, but we can see the first floor layout (6,000 sq ft in three retail units, and some apartment space; the building also shares a rear corridor with Fane’s Collegetown Center next door) and a render from the angle of the third floor of the Ciaschi Block, but set too far back from the street to actually exist.

I mean just look at it, it overwhelms the large 312 College and Collegetown Center buildings next to it. This thing is a goddamned behemoth of a building, as Ithaca standards go. It’s a lovely design, I think, I’d love to see this downtown on the old Tetra Tech/Rothschild’s property. Of course, that’s like saying a Mercedes SLS is the car you’d like to buy, but you make only 30K/yr. It’s not reasonable.

For the record, the never-to-be-built design is by Fane’s preferred architect, Jagat Sharma of local firm Sharma Architecture. The current site is that of the vacant Green Cafe, and before that short stint as a restaurant in 2009/2010, the one-story structure was used for meetings and storage by Bank of America. Built in 1998 and occupying 0.97 acres (including the apartment building attached), it has an assessed land value of $2.5 million, as it sits on what is probably the most expensive corner in the city. Everyone expected a redevelopment, just not this large.

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I can hardly believe I’m even writing about this. It’s so spectacularly overboard that it defies all common sense and logic.

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