News Tidbits 4/15/17: Good and Bad Decisions

15 04 2017

1. It looks like the Lansing Meadows issue is being resolved. Village mayor Don Hartill has issued a sort of mea culpa for not sending the project to the Planning Board before inviting it to the Village board of Trustees, saying the Planning Board was caught off guard and it was his and the village attorney’s fault. So the project will visit the Planning Board with Hartill and developer Eric Gortzmann on hand to answer any questions the planning board might have. A workable solution is possible – the planning board isn’t necessarily opposed, they would prefer more housing but could be willing to hear out a commercial component so long as it’s set back from the road and screened from the homes by foliage. Optimistically, the cafe/diner and twenty senior housing units might be good to go within a month.

2. The Biggs Parcel is up in the air. There have been no offers since going on sale last July, and the contract with realtor CJ DelVecchio has expired. The county has decided not to renew while they weigh options. Options being weighed for the three-month hold include a smaller housing development on eight of the acres on the corner of Indian Creek and Harris B Dates Drive, and/or a solar farm, which may split neighbors between a low-intensity, eco-friendly project, and losing a portion of the woods so that the solar panels could operate. There is no plan for another Cayuga Trails-type project like what NRP proposed before the discovery of more extensive wetlands convinced them to cancell the project in September 2014.

3. The town of Ithaca has selected its firm of choice to conduct the economic development study and strategic plan for its Inlet Valey corridor southwest of the cityConsultEcon, Inc. of Cambridge, in partnership with Behan Planning and Design of Saratoga, was selected from six applications. Behan has previous experience in the area; in fact, they won an award for their work on the 2012 Varna Master Plan over in Dryden. The town will pay $30,000, and the state will pay $30,000 through its Empire State Development division. Although not state in the town agenda, I believe the time frame to perform and submit the study is six months.

According to Ithaca town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, the goal is to turn Inlet Valley from an auto-centric hodge-podge with no overarching character, to a semi-rural neighborhood with an agribusiness, “artisanal industrial”, and tourism focus, capitalizing on Ithaca Beer and the existing and proposed lodging. The Sleep Inn proposal submitted a potential rustic streetscape that gives an idea of the aesthetic the town seems to be going for.

4. From the PEDC, the Southside housing plan is ongoing, and the IURA has hired their new planner after Lynn Truame left for INHS. There was considerable discussion over the Waterfront rezoning, with general conceptual support, although the First Ward councilors are not fans of mixing housing with light industrial areas, or forcing businesses to compete with housing developers for waterfront sites. Councilwoman Brock (D-1st) was opposed to housing in the Cherry Street Corridor. The proposal was granted by vote the permission to circulate for review and comment, so there’s still time for thoughts and opinions to be contemplated and discussed.

5. On another note, many of the speakers at the PEDC meeting were there to speak out against the City Centre project at 301 East State Street, not because they didn’t like the building (well, most of them), but because it didn’t have affordable units, which they felt should be a requirement for abatements.

I support that to a degree, but I’m also aware that, all other things equal, the revenue loss from the affordable units has to be made up for somewhere, usually by passing the costs on to the other tenants. In that case, the city ends up with a lack of units for those with middle incomes. I like the idea of modestly more generous zoning as a tradeoff to the inclusionary housing component, but as a proposal, that didn’t go over so well – developers didn’t like it (because to build more they need bigger loans, so it hurts smaller developers), anti-development folks didn’t like it (because affordable or not, it’s more of what they don’t like), and there was significant uncertainty on whether it’d be effective.

The county IDA had its vote for the sales/mortgage/property tax abatements the following day, and they decided to grant the abatements 5-1, with legislator Will Burbank opposed. The 192-unit mixed-use project is expected to begin construction with the next couple of months, for an early 2019 completion.

6. Once in a while, you get a project so despised by neighbors, they decide to run for office as single-issue candidates – namely, to stop the project. That’s what happening in Lansing village. Mayor Donald Hartill and two incumbent trustees, Ronny Hardaway and Patricia O’Rourke, are being challenged in the May election by mayoral candidate Lisa Bonniwell and two trustee candidates, Gregory Eells and John LaVine. Their goal is to overturn the rezoning of the Park Grove property on Bomax Drive, which rezoned commercial/tech office space to multi-family, enabling a 140-unit apartment project to move forward with planning board review.

This is not the first time something like this has happened in Lansing. When the Lansing Reserve affordable housing project was proposed in 2011, two residents opposed to the project, Yasamin Miller and Brian Goodell, ran against incumbent trustees on a single-issue platform of stopping the project. They lost by 2:1 margins, but Lansing Reserve never moved forward, and since then the land has been bought by the village for park space.

Although in a Voice capacity I can’t formally take sides, I have big issues with the challenger’s platform. I’m not a big fan of the Park Grove as a project, but the rezoning makes sense. As the county’s airport business park study demonstrated, the demand for new commercial and industrial space is very limited, while from the Denter study, it is clear the demand for housing is quite strong (5,000 units in the next decade). It amazes me that the challengers are saying the project will lower property values in a village with substantial price appreciation and major affordability issues (but as noted by the Star, Bonniwell’s family developed the expensive and still incomplete Heights of Lansing project nearby, so she has a vested interest in limiting housing).

Not only that, in the interview with the Lansing Star, challenger LaVine suggests the village should look at eventually merging with the town of Lansing, which is completely contrary to the village’s formation in 1974 as a reaction to the mall, when residents demanded for stricter zoning that the town didn’t want to accommodate. The town has much looser zoning than the village. If voters think for one moment that the town wouldn’t seek to change zoning in the village to build up the tax base and cope with the likely loss of the power plant, they’re in for a rude surprise.

7. On the agendas, nothing too exciting this week. The town has a couple of telecom towers and a 600,000 gallon water tank for Hungerford Hill Road. Over in the city, it’s project review week, but zoning variances suggest another nicely-detailed garage from STREAM Collaborative (STREAM does really nice garages), a couple of home additions, and a new 1,695 SF house at 412 Worth Street in Belle Sherman designed by Jason Demarest. The property is a flag lot that straddles the city-town line, so it would be neigh impossible to do anything without a variance. Ulysses will just be discussing zoning, and the other towns and village will be doing their regular meetings later in the month.

 





News Tidbits 7/9/16: Land Ho

9 07 2016

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1. Starting off this week, a couple of new pieces regarding Ithaca’s waterfront. First, the city’s chances of picking up some prime waterfront real estate at a low, low price are gone, though not any fault of their own. Readers might recall that back in late May, the properties were about to be foreclosed on for unpaid taxes, and the county was discussing selling the parcels, worth over $630,000, to the city if the city paid off the $42,844 tax bill. Pretty sweet deal for the city, right?

But the owner, an LLC that has held the parcels since the late 1990s, managed to pay off the tax bill and an attached penalty fee, which means they get to keep the land. So, if the city had any plans for those parcels, they’ll be filing those away for a long while.

2. However, it looks like several properties are being put up for the sale in the city’s West End near the Waterfront. Local realtor Brent Katzmann has four properties listed – 321 N Fulton, a duplex on 0.11 acres for $144,800; 319 N Fulton, a single family on 0.04 acres for $109,875; 626 W Buffalo, a single family on a narrow and deep 0.15 acre lot, for $124,999; and 622 W Buffalo, a duplex on a narrow and deep 0.19 acre lot, for $134,800. The prices generally run at or up to 10% over the tax-assessed value ($130,000/$100,000/$125,000/$125,000). The currently owner is a Long Island-based LLC, led by a pair of New York City real estate lawyers, who acquired the properties from 2010-2012. Prior to them, many of the properties have been through a merry-go-round of owners over the past 10-15 years.

The properties are in fair to rough shape, and the marketing tactic being used isn’t renovation, but rather development potential. The four properties all fall within WEDZ-1a zoning, which is the city’s attempt at encouraging development on the West End. WEDZ-1a permits residential, commercial and mixed-use 2-5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage (100% if less than 50 feet on two sides – the Buffalo parcels and 319 N Fulton), and no parking requirement. The properties are not affected by the city’s TM-PUD.

The West Buffalo lots could be tough since the house in-between is owned by someone else, but deep lots and the corner of North Fulton and West Court offer some potential. Worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who they sell to.

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3. One less homebuilder around. Avalon Homes is closing up shop. The Ithaca-based company is selling off its lots and trying to wrap up the homes they have underway. Rumors abound as to why, but if firm, verifiable information can be obtained, there will be more to follow.

Avalon made its name doing stick-built built, with a focus on affordability and green construction. Avalon, a certified Living Wage employer, was the general contractor for INHS’s Holly Creek townhomes (shown above), and employed at least a dozen back in 2010.

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4. The Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be conducting another joint meeting on Tuesday the 12th at 5:30 regarding the Travis Hyde Properties’ proposal for the Old Library. HOLT Architects responded to comments from the ILPC at its last meeting that the design needed to be “quiet” by submitting the revised elevations seen below.

Mission accomplished? Armchair architect comment here, but the revised design is too far the other way. There’s a joke about the color beige, coincidentally similar to the new brick, being an adjective for “dull, boring, indistinctive“. I like the previous design with its wood-like fiber cement and characterful roofline, and I wonder if perhaps a revised color palette of that design, with maybe a few less full-sized balconies, would be a happy medium.

5. As announced on city of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be the site of a library and museum of the Dalai Lamas, the first of its kind outside of Tibet. The facility would be located on the 28 acres Namgyal owns on South Hill at its Du Khor Choe Ling monastery complex. Architectural plans and costs are still being determined, but a quote from Ngawang Dhondup, administrator for Namgyal’s facility, says that it will be larger than Namgyal, which has been underway since 2007 and will be about 14,500 SF when completed.

All in all it’s a great feather in Ithaca’s cap, but two things to be a bit wary of moving forward are the reactions and possible opposition from neighbors to what will be a very high profile religious facility, and given geopolitical issues, the reception to the Library of the Dalai Lamas may not be so warm from some denizens of cosmopolitan Ithaca.

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6. Way back in 2010 and early 2011, when the BJ’s Wholesale club was proposed in Lansing, one of the components of the proposal was to build 12 units of senior housing on land north of the then-proposed store. The project also called for wetlands, walking trails and a bird sanctuary on the undeveloped portion of the 11-acre property. Developer Eric Goetzmann (Arrowhead Ventures/Triax Group) faced considerable opposition to the plan since it involved big box retail and was housing outside of the density corridor, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application calling for a smaller PILOT was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (some of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

Well, the BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was just approved by the Army Corps, and the final permits expected shortly. With the wetlands taken care of, Arrowhead can begin to look towards the housing component, which they plan to put forward later this year for a 2017 construction date. As part of these plans, they want a one-year extension on the legal construction start for the housing from the IDA. Given that Arrowhead has met the other criteria and can demonstrate proof of progress on the wetlands, this probably won’t face much opposition. But eventually, it looks as if the village of Lansing will finally get those 12 units of senior housing.

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7 It looks like the Biggs Parcel is officially listed for sale. Local realtor CJ DelVecchio was selected by the county to manage the listing for the 25.52 acres near Cayuga Medical Center. The asking price is $275,000. The land comes with a conservation easement on the northwest side due to its proximity to a stream, and the wetlands near the center would be tricky to work with, because wetlands typically can’t be developed unless new wetlands are created, which is not cheap or easy to do.

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Readers might remember that this parcel has quite a history behind it. Declared surplus land by Tompkins County, the county had set up a tentative deal for a 58-unit affordable housing complex on the property, but the deal fell through after the wetlands were discovered to cover more area than previously thought.

Neighbors, via the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), have tried to force the county to hold onto the land to keep it from being developed. One of the big sticking points had been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county isn’t especially concerned at this point if the land gets developed or not, but they have made it clear that they want to sell it to a private owner that will pay taxes. The problem is, proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The ICNA did end up making a closed bid for the property, but the offer was rejected.

A neighbor to the south did propose reconfiguring the property to preserve the woods and build cottages on his back lot – by adding the Biggs land, he could have built more units under the regulations of the cluster zoning. But the plan fell through due to “size and complexity”, according to the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas.

The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the revised 2016 assessment brings that down to $240,000.





News Tidbits 3/26/16: Big Plans and Small Town Intrigue

26 03 2016

 

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1. Starting with with the new project of the week. In case it was missed, the write-up for the new 5-story apartment building proposed for 201 College Avenue can be found here. 201 College is being proposed by Todd Fox under his new development entity, Visum Development Group; Modern Living Rentals will continue to exist as a rental property management company. Excluding perhaps a small question with where the average grade is to determine the 70′ max height, is looks like the proposal fits the MU-1 zoning; and apart from a couple of the usual grumblings against students and/or density, there isn’t likely to be too much of an issue with the proposal. Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is responsible for the design, which will make be faced with colored metal panels.

On a related note, the Journal broke this before the Voice, and it appears they may have used to the city’s Site Plan Review pre-application as a source. That’s not online for public viewing; someone would have had to give it to them. Which seems a bit dodgy, given one of the goals of the now-mandatory pre-application is to offer initial thoughts to make sure a project is palatable, and to avoid another public controversy like State Street Triangle.

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2. Meanwhile, the other partner in Modern Living Rentals, Charlie O’Connor, is pursuing a small project of his own on the other side of the city. O’Connor has submitted subdivision plans to merge two lots at 312 and 314 Spencer Road, and subdivide two legally-buildable lots from the merged property for a total of three, one of which will contain the existing houses. The new lots would be on vacant land behind the existing houses, which are currently owned by the Lucatellis (the same folks who ran Lucatelli’s next door). O’Connor would be purchasing the home and land pending approval of the subdivision. Each of the two new lots would then be developed into a 2-family home. Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is handling the application. Drawings can be found here.

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3. The Biggs Parcel will be put up for sale. As the county notes in its press release, the county administrator has been given permission to procure a realtor and market the property on the condition that any offers from the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association and/or the town of Ithaca be entertained (though not necessarily selected). The ICNA had offered some unknown amount for the property, which they have sought to keep undeveloped, but the offer was rejected. Previously, the site was the location of a proposed 58-unit affordable housing development, but the project was discontinued when more extensive wetlands were discovered on the property.

One of the big sticking points has been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county wants to sell to a private owner that will pay taxes, but proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the reassessment value will become available on May 1st.

Realtors will apply to the county to list the parcel, and a realtor is expected to be chosen by the county by May 4th.


4. A large property in Trumansburg village noted for development potential has sold after being on the market for two and a half years. Local architect Claudia Brenner picked up the 19.27 acres in two adjacent parcels for $240,000 on the 22nd, about 25% off its original $300k asking price. 18.77 acres is registered to 46 South Street, the other 0.5 acres is a small L-shaped lot between 209 and 213 Pennsylvania Avenue. The previous owners used the property as cropland, and it had been in the same family since the 1940s.

In an email, Brenner said it’s too early to comment, but that future plans are being considered. The site has the village’s R-1 zoning, which allows home lots as small as 15,000 SF (~0.35 acres), and small scale multi-family residential and commercial services.

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5. Talk about big delays. Tompkins Financial will be pushing their $26.5 million project back a whole year, according to an interview a Cornell Sun staffer conducted with JoAnn Cornish, the city’s planning director. The project was supposed to start this quarter and be completed in Q1 2017. Now it will be completed in Q1 2018.

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6. A few months ago, the Summit Enterprise Center proposal in Danby was described in one of the weekly news roundups. Docs filed by STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest on behalf of owner David Hall call for modifications of a Planned Development Zone for the property at 297-303 Gunderman Road. Danby’s PDZ is not unlike the city’s PUD and town of Ithaca’s PDZ, where the form and layout is regulated rather than the use. The original PDZ for the property dates from the mid-1990s.

Well, after months of vociferous debate, the project has officially gone into bureaucratic Hell, complete with political turmoil and accusations a-flyin’. My colleague Mike Smith has the full story on the Voice. Rather than rehash Mike’s detailed explanation, let’s just leave it at this – Summit probably isn’t moving forward anytime soon.





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.

 





News Tidbits 1/9/2016: Better Late Than Never

9 01 2016

Call it the big news round-up. This is what I get for not writing my weekly roundup last week.

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1. We’ll start off with some bad news. The plans for a boutique hotel at 339 Elmira are very likely done and over with. The 37-room, 6,468 SF hotel announced in February 2014 was planned for the 0.59 acre former Salvation Army property on the Southwest side of the city. For whatever their reasons were, the developer, (Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Buffalo, decided put the property up for sale for $395,000. After several months, it finally sold at the discounted price of $300,000 to its next door neighbor, Arizona-based Amerco Real Estate, the parent company of U-Haul. Discounted is a relative term, by the way – Rudra had acquired the vacant property for $143,000 in a land auction in 2013. Back when Salvation Army was still there in 2009, the site sold for $175,000.

So with that sale to Amerco, it’s likely the property will be used for an expanded U-Haul parking lot. It’s unfortunate, but them’s the breaks. For what it’s worth, Rudra has commenced work with the other hotel they had planned, the 79-room Holiday Express at 371 Elmira Road, just down the street.

2. In modest but notable projects, the William George Agency in Dryden received a $2 million construction loan to conduct renovations and roof repairs to its cafeteria area. The non-profit residential treatment center for adolescents had secured building material sales tax abatements from the county to help cover their expenses (the project has originally been planned to start in Q1 2015). The agency, established in the 1890s, employs over 340, making it one of the larger private employers in Tompkins County.

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3. Thanks to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal for reminding readers that not every construction project is private. Noted in his writeup of projects that the city intends to fund this year – $430k in road repair projects, another $407k for parking stations, $1.3 million to replace Cass Park rink’s roof, $214k for design work for the new North Aurora street bridge, and $735k for design work for city dam reconstructions.

Perhaps most interesting to readers here will be the $500k that the city intends to spend on design and planning the new Station No. 9. With the awarding of funding from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the city can formally explore the possibility of a new fire station on a Cornell parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue. Once a new station is complete, the city could then sell the current Station No. 9, nearly 50 years old and in need of major renovations, to a private developer for redevelopment (the developer who expressed interest in the site is still unknown, but given Collegetown’s expensive real estate market, they must have really deep pockets).

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4. More talk of the Biggs Parcel. Jaime Cone at the Ithaca Times provides more details regarding neighbor Roy Luft’s proposal to build for-sale senior housing using the site. Luft is arguing his project is more environmentally friendly than the NRP project, it would take two to three years to come to fruition, that the units would be 700-1,000 SF, and he’s serious about building the senior housing, which is an under-served market. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, which has actively fought any sale, seems to at least be open to the idea, if not necessarily a fan of it.

For the record, since the ICNA doesn’t clarify it in their blog post, the county didn’t develop the NRP project. The county put out a request for proposals (RFP) just like they do with every other large development study or offering. Better Housing for Tompkins County and NRP happened to think they had a good project idea and responded to the RFP. It’s been made clear, multiple times, that the county has approached neighbors, Cayuga Medical, INHS and others for months, shopping the land around, and no one has made offers. To be completely honest, even if this land hit the real estate listings, it’s not as if anyone is clamoring to snatch this up; there’s demand to live in and near Ithaca, but land still takes several months to sell on average, and it’s not a stretch to think that developers would avoid this one after the NRP flaying. The county plans to start the listing process later this month if the ICNA doesn’t make an offer by the 15th.

Just a thought, but if $340,000/25.52 acres = $13,333/acre, and the acreage closest to Dates Road is probably developable, than shouldn’t that allow a ballpark fair-value estimate? I know NRP was to pay $500,000, but that had some transit and pedestrian cotingencies attached. Has the ICNA contacted NRP to ask how extensive the wetlands were, is the information on file with the county?

1317 Trumansburg is 10.17 acres, The Biggs parcel 25.52. Combined, they would be 35.69 acres. From the sound of it, Luft would like to reform the parcel boundaries to let his project, however big it may be, to move forward. The site is zoned low-density residential, which means a cluster subdivision can be 2.3 units/acre at maximum. Each structure can have up to 6 units. Taking a guess here, but Luft may be looking at more than 20 units, because anything less than 20 could be done with a subdivision of his current property. For comparison’s sake, the BHTC/NRP project was 58 units.

There is at least the potential that the county gets additional tax dollars from Luft’s project, and the woods would be protected, and there would be a happy ending to this story. But that’s dependent on both sides’ goodwill. Given the years of acrimony, that’s a big leap of faith.

5. For the restaurant-goers out there – Fine Line Bistro’s old spot at 404 West State has a new tenant called “The Rook” opening this month. Mark Anbinder provides the foodie rundown at 14850.com. Mid-tier American bistro/pub fare.

More importantly to this blog is the economic rundown, provided thanks to their application for a loan courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA). The three co-owners, all local restaurateurs, are seeking a $40,000 loan (3.5% interest, 6 year length) to complement their own dollars and a private loan. 8 hired staff (cooks/servers/dishwasher), but none living wage. With cash flow statements, restaurant plans, the menu, loan filings and resumes of the owners, this looks like a Cornell Hotelie’s senior class project.

It’s the IURA’s decision make, but at least it’s nice to know that good restaurant space in Ithaca is in strong demand.

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6. Out for bid, Cornell’s Ag Quad renovations. The bid filing estimates the budget at $6.6-6.8 million, and a construction timetable of late March 2016 to Summer 2017. Quoting the first write up from October:

“The $9.6 million project will be broken down into two phases, one that focuses on infrastructure, and one phase on landscape improvements (and being that much of the infrastructure is underground utilities, phase one could be described as churning up the ground, and phase two is making the upturned dirt pretty again). The renovations, which are set to start next summer and run through 2017, will include additional emergency phones, a rain garden, and outdoor gathering spaces in front of Mann Library and Roberts Hall (upper right and lower left in the above render).”

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7. Folks love a good rumor, and the Times’ Josh Brokaw had an interesting one to report in his 2016 futurecast regarding State Street Triangle

“Don’t think that the Austin-based developer is abandoning Ithaca, though a look at their previous projects shows this sort of downtown, mixed-use development is a new frontier for a company accustomed to building student housing mostly in green fields in the South and Midwest. CEO Mike Peter was spotted downtown at Mercado in December talking to consultant Scott Whitham; it wouldn’t surprise if the company came back this year with something conceptually similar—lots of rooms, ground-floor retail—but a much different look.”

Brokaw makes a reference to the inclusionary zoning slated for discussion next month, which is rumored to mandate affordable units in return for a larger footprint (rundown of how that works here). I also wonder if it will make reference to the “pillar” that Myrick mentioned previously – a taller, skinnier building, not as massive and perhaps only 3-4 floors over most of the site, and maybe a quarter of the site has a taller tower that’s 12 or 13 floors, whatever is permitted by the inclusionary zoning (strictly hypothetical, just one guess of many). Campus Advantage has plenty of time since they missed their original start date, but maybe later this year in the spring.

8. It’s always a brow-turner when a real estate listing is advertised as “a large corner lot ideal for a multi-unit development. In this case, it’s a 0.2 acre double lot at 404 Wood Street in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. The listing offers the ca. 1938 house and lot for $250,000 (tax rolls say the property is assessed at $125,000; the current owner picked it up for just $34,000 in 1993).

Playing with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.

If one were more brazen and tear down the 1938 house, one gets about 3,485 SF per floor, 13,940 SF at max height. That allows about 14 units using the same figures as above. But that might be tougher for neighbors to swallow. Anyway, if it sells and it looks like there’s a possibility, it’ll get a followup in a future news post.

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9. Nothing to exciting on municipal planning agendas this week. The town of Lansing cancelled their meeting, and all the town of Ithaca had was a cell phone tower on West Hill. The city has a little more interesting. The duplex at 424 Dryden is examining unusual parking arrangements to save trees, and Habitat for Humanity is planning an affordable-housing owner-occupied duplex for vacant lots at 101-107 Morris Avenue in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

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Morris Avenue has always had a focus on worker housing. As described in Ithaca’s Neighborhoods by Carol Sisler (1988), local businessman Morris Moscovitch built 16 nearly identical houses in 1908 to house worker’s families. But, with the effects of urban decay and urban renewal, only one of those 812 SF houses (109 Morris) is still standing today.

What Habitat for Humanity is proposing is to take the vacant lots at 101-105 Morris and 107 Morris (total 0.138 acres), combine them and create two new lots that will face Third Street. The new lots would need a zoning variance since they’re not wide enough (30′ and 30.98′, 35′ required). Being Habitat, these might take a little while to build and they probably won’t wow anyone design-wise, but there’s a lot of value to be placed in their “sweat equity” approach, and affordable owner-occupied housing is in severe need in Ithaca. Planner George Frantz is handling the application.

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10. Lastly, for what is a very long post, the Hotel Ithaca’s revised CIITAP application to the Tompkins County IDA. Now that the project is approved by the city, they can work on a revised tax deal. According to the project memo, the sales, mortgage and property tax abatements will total $1.781 million on the $15 million project. The property tax abatement is the standard 7-year abatement, and will generate almost $1 million in new tax revenue during the abatement period. The project would retain 71 positions and create 21 new jobs, most of which appear to be less than living wage. The application does note, perhaps ominously, that non-approval would result in functional obsolescence – the hotel shuts down. The IDA plans to examine the application at their meeting in the county office building next Thursday.

 





News Tidbits 12/26/15: Do You Hear What I Hear

26 12 2015

1. Not as visible, but still important – Student Agencies Inc. has secured a $3 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company for a major renovation of its building at 409 College Avenue. Although details about the project itself are a bit scarce in the paperwork filed on the 18th, it is likely the eHub entrepreneurial space being built for Cornell students, faculty and staff. The eHub space will include space for PopShop (a space for student business planning and development), the eLab business incubator, conference space, mentors-in-residence, and basically all the physical space and things a budding businessperson would like to help them succeed.

According to a previous write-up by the Cornell Chronicle, the lab should be open later this Spring, with 10,000 SF on the second and third floors of 409 College Avenue, and 4,000 SF of space in Kennedy Hall on the Ag Quad. STREAM Collaborative of Ithaca will be the interior architect for 409 College, and Ithaca-based Morse Project Management LLC is the general contractor.

Now, this could be a great thing for Ithaca, because it leverages Cornell’s presence to foster business development. Sort of like a Cornell-centric Rev. And Rev, for what it’s worth, has had several successful associated firms in the past couple of years – Ursa Space Systems was named a STARTUP-NY partner and will be hiring 22 people, and Ithaca Hummus is looking at hiring 50 over the next five years. Even the Ithaca Voice grew from what was basically a one-person operation when it launched in June 2014 (hat-tip to Jeff Stein), to having several full-time staff as well as giving Ithaca a higher profile through viral hits like the Key West promotion and the Harry Potter Wizarding Weekend.

Anything that allows Ithaca to grow and diversify its economy is a great thing, and if it can utilize Cornell’s presence to help that cause, all the better.

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2. The Lansing Star is reporting that 2015 was a banner year in Lansing, with 200 single-family homes, apartments and townhouse in the works. Along with the 20 or so plans reviewed, the town is also looking at revising its Comprehensive Plan, and the town may even consider the adoption of form-based codes in certain locations such as the proposed and stalled Lansing Town Center.

One caveat I’d add is that the key word is reviewed, meaning approved. Not underway. The 102-townhome Cayuga Farms project still had major issues to work out with its proposed package sewer system. If one were to look at permits, it’d probably be 36 or so units with the Village Solars, and probably as many with scattered single-family homes and duplexes, which would make for an average-to-above average year – final 2015 values will be available from the HUD in March. The village could see a big boost from its usual single-digit permit total, if the Cayuga View project gets its construction permit this year.

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3. Speaking of Cayuga View, the price point came up at a Lansing village meetings, the minutes of which came online this week. Drumroll please—

The targeted price point is $1600/month for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit (of which there will be 12), and $2700/month for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit (of which there will be 48).

That’s quite a high figure. Applying the standard 30% affordability threshold, the targeted income bracket for seniors is $64,000-$108,000/year. That’s comparable, or a little more than, the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek. It also draws parallels to inner Collegetown projects like Dryden South, where rents will be $1350/bedroom. But those projects fall in traditionally high land-value areas.

If it’s financed, then a lender must believe there’s a market for it, and given the general difficulty in financing projects in this region, that really is saying something. Increased affluence and number of retirees moving in? Hoping to capture the older, richer Cornell faculty/staff crowd? Bad judgement? Who knows.

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4. In the briefest of blurbs, the Times’ Josh Brokaw, who I applaud for attending even the less interesting city Planning Board meetings, reports that the Tompkins Trust HQ has been approved, with a permit likely once they get a minor curb-cut issue worked out. The contentious Printing Press Lounge debate also received the Planning Board’s go-ahead, if not necessarily its blessing. Expect a late winter or early spring construction start with the Tompkins Trust HQ, with completion the following year.

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5. A couple of interesting developments for the Biggs Parcel in Ithaca town. According to the Times’ Jaime Cone (new writer, guys?), a member of the ICNA, Roy Luft, is prepared to make an offer for the Biggs Parcel that would preserve the vast majority of the land. Luft owns a 10-acre parcel to the south (street address 1317 Trumansburg Road). He proposes to take a non-wetland portion on the southern end of the Biggs Parcel, combine it with the open field behind his house, and pursue a cluster subdivision of homes intended as owner-occupied senior housing, which on the surface seems like a decent plan and location, given that owner-occupied senior housing is in demand and the land is adjacent to Cayuga Medical.

With this offer aired, the county, in a 4-1 vote, is giving the ICNA until January 15th to make an offer, otherwise they’ll put the land for sale on the general market. There is no assessment figure publicly available (though a new value has been determined); the ICNA says that’s unfair, while the county legislators have countered by saying not having the assessment value doesn’t stop the ICNA from making an offer, and that the neighbor group has already had a year and a half to make an offer.

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6. Once again, a double-feature house of the week. The theme of this week – high-end homes. Here we have home #1, 8 Pleasant Grove Lane in Cayuga Heights. The house has been mostly framed and the sides have been sheathed, but from the looks of the exposed roof trusses, if would seem that when this photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, the dormers still needed to be decked and the interior was still just stud walls and rough openings.

Design-wise, the home seems to fit in pretty well with its neighbors, which were mostly built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The property was purchased in 2012 for $132,500 by an LLC traceable to a coach for a Cornell athletics team. Previously, the lot had been owned by its Pleasant Grove Road neighbors, and was sold in an estate sale.

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7. House of the week #2. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the one house under construction that seems to have the entire lakefront mansion community so utterly pissed off. For the record, this house on the Captains Walk cul-de-sac has been under construction for years – you can see it in the satellite imagery for Google maps, which dates from 2013. It also appears to be even larger than many of its million-dollar neighbors. Three-car garage? Check. Courtyard-type entry? Check. Windows have been fitted, the roof has been shingled and the exterior has been sheathed with Huber ZIP System panels. A spring finish would be a good guess. Records indicate a couple from Pennsylvania, the founders of a chain of assisted care facilities, bought the undeveloped parcel for $213,800 in 2013.





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.