News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

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4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

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7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





News Tidbits 8/6/16: Big Ideas and Small Additions

6 08 2016

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1. Some of you might remember that Chemung Canal Trust Company was embroiled in a legal battle with Ithaca Renting (Jason Fane) over the terms of their lease of 12,000 SF on the first floor of Bank Tower on the Commons. Welp, the courts have issued their decision, and it looks like Chemung Canal lost. The Elmira-based bank had to revise their quarterly earnings report after losing the dispute with their former landlord. The terms of the payout have yet to be determined, but Fane was seeking $4 million, which is in the same ballpark as the cost of Fane’s renovation of the top floors into 32 apartments. CCTC is still looking into an appeal.

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2. It hasn’t been a secret that the price of real estate in Collegetown is getting enormously expensive. First John Novarr dropped $5.3 million on 215 College Avenue. Then Todd Fox forked over $2.65 million in June for 201 College Avenue. Now it’s Novarr’s turn again, handing over $4.75 million on the 2nd for 119, 121 and 125 College Avenue (or more specifically, an LLC filed to an address used by Novarr for his many LLCs). The three houses are collectively worth about $1.655 million, per the county assessor. Here’s a tip for readers – if you’re looking at a built property that’s recently sold, if it was purchased for more than double the existing tax assessment, the property was most likely sold based on its development potential. Less than that but still well above assessment, and it’s more likely major renovations/gentrification/Fall Creek/not being torn down.

Anyway, we already have an idea what’s planned – Novarr wants to do 50-60 units of faculty townhouses on the site, a 3-4 story, $10 million project.

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3. The other big sale this week (using that term subjectively, since someone just paid $1.25 million for a Cayuga Heights mansion) was 1015 Dryden Road out in Varna. Modern Living Rentals (Todd Fox/Charlie O’Connor) has had this 5-unit rental property on the market for a little while now, initially for $650,000, then $599,000.  The buyer “Finger Lakes Wrestling Club Inc.”, agreed to purchase the property on August 2nd for $555,000. MLR purchased the property for $425,000 in 2014. The wrestling club is listed as a non-profit serving youth training and competing in wrestling, and their plans for the property are unknown – the sale comes with plans for a pair of duplexes (4 units total), and the triplex designed by STREAM Collaborative shown above. I’ve heard of non-profits renting out real estate assets to fund their endeavors, so maybe that’s the plan.

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4. A pair of housing newsbits. Per the ILPC, the former Paleontological Research Institute  at 109 Dearborn is ready for its next phase of renovation into a rather swanky two-family residence. Background on the property from last August here. Long story short, it’s a gut renovation of a non-contributing structure of a historic district, the commission didn’t have much to say when it presented last year. This time around, the applicant wants to trade out the lower-level shingles for stucco, and the west entrance bump-out has been eliminated; anecdotal evidence says the ILPC won’t be excited, but it’s probably acceptable, since non-contributing buildings generally have an easier go with the commission.

A little further south on East Hill, local landlord Nick Lambrou wants to subdivide the large lot of 125 Eddy Street in order to build a new two-family residence. Jagat Sharma is the architect-of-record for the proposed 123 Eddy Street, which is a part of the East Hill Historic District and would have to go through ILPC approval. It will also need to pay a visit to the BZA because it’s proposed without parking (although the CPOZ was removed last year, an East Hill property still requires a parking space every 3 bedrooms) and will need a variance. Offhand, the Planning Board likely won’t be roped in on this one, since one-and-two family homes usually only need to be approved by planning department staff. Lambrou and Sharma are frequent contributors, and have faced the ILPC together before, for the reconstruction of 202 Eddy Street after it was destroyed by a fire in early 2014. The focus right now is just getting the subdivision approved, the ILPC presentation and vote will come at a later date.

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5. STREAM Collaborative sent out their bi-annual newsletter, and there are a couple of interesting pieces worth re-sharing. There were brief items about the “Urban Cottage” at 228 West Spencer, Tiny Timbers and 409 College Avenue, as well as some info about 215-221 West Spencer. STREAM writes that Ed Cope has broken ground on the STREAM-designed 12-unit, 26-bedroom condominium complex. This must have been fairly recent, as the hillside was undisturbed during a site check a couple weeks ago. Anecdotally, a condo project in Ithaca needs 50% pre-sales (i.e. 6 units) in order to secure a construction loan, but there isn’t any loan on file with the county yet, so I can’t say with any certainty what the funding arrangement looks like. On the fully revamped webpage are some nifty interior renders, including the image above. Anyone interested in the 1-3 bedroom condos can contact Ed Cope at PPM’s website here.

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Also in the newsletter was an image from the latest set of Form Ithaca charrettes. “Buttermilk Village”, a working title for the South Hill neighborhood plan. The render above is looking northeast from the intersection of 96B and East King Road, with Ithaca College’s Circle Apartments to the upper left. Among the design features are a walkable town square, 2-4 story buildings, complete streets, and mixed uses with less dense residential further from the main roads. Some of the businesses like Sam Peter and Dolce Delight are in there to give that sense of familiarity. Most of this land is owned by Evan Monkemeyer, who’s still fuming from the College Crossings debacle. But rumor has it he’s working with another developer on a plan. It would be quite a feather in Form Ithaca’s cap if it looked something like this.





News Tidbits 10/31/15: The word of the week is “No”

31 10 2015

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1.  We’ll start off with about the only affirmative news this week, that of the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board Meeting last Tuesday. The tweaks to the now 79-room Holiday Inn proposal at 371 Elmira Road were approved, and the project expects to have building permits in hand next week, according to the Times‘ Josh Brokaw. When I spoke to the development company’s president, he said “the project is already underway”, but it seems he meant demolition permits for the existing buildings, rather than construction permits. Expect a construction update sometime next month.

Also approved was the new north wing for the Hotel Ithaca at 222 South Cayuga Street in downtown. A tweak of the facade, glazing and balconies was enough to placate the board into approving the revisions for the $9.5 million, 90-room project, which replaces a two-story wing dating from 1972. The north wing will have the potential for another three floors, and on the other two-story wing, the long-awaited Conference Center may come to be if financing plays in developer Hart Hotels’ favor. The Buffalo-based company hopes to start construction early next year and have the new wing ready for its first guests in Fall 2016.

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Meanwhile, in the strike column is the proposed jazz bar at 416 East State Street just east of downtown. According to the Cornell Daily Sun, a decision is being deferred until updated, more thorough information is provided regarding sound attenuation of bar patrons gathering outside the building while getting their fresh air or nicotine fix. Neighbors have mounted substantial opposition to the project for being out of character and for parking concerns, but the planning board has played neutral, receptive but cautious. The project is a legal use and will not change the square footage of the one-story warehouse/office building, but will need zoning variances.

2. The county had discussion, but made no judgements on the Biggs Parcel next to Cayuga Medical Center. The county is mulling plans to sell the parcel on the open market after years-long and heavily-fought plans to sell it to affordable housing developers NRP and BHTC fell through on the discovery of extensive wetlands on-site in 2014. As written about in the Voice this week, the county wants the 25.52 acres of land (previously valued at $340k) back on the tax rolls, while the neighbors and some other West Hill residents, under the umbrella of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, want the county to hold it as “public woodland”. The county has countered (time and again) the land has no use for the public.

Depending on which account one chooses to follow (ICNA’s or the county’s, the two vary on the details), the county’s Government Operations Committee is giving the neighbors one month to come up with a viable alternative for the land. The ICNA wanted an RFP for land preservation, but the county’s planning commissioner, Ed Marx, says the county doesn’t have time to write-up another RFP. They also pushed for subdivision of the land, which the planning department is also discouraging. The county has wanted the ICNA, Cayuga Medical or BHTC to buy the land, but no one’s made offers.

To this semi-trained eye, the only “happy” solution would be for the ICNA or someone sharing its interests to buy the property for the re-assessed value and arrange to donate it to an organization like the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The county gets their tax money, and the neighbors get to keep the land undeveloped. Outside of that option though, either the neighbors are going to feel shorted, or the county’s tax watchdogs will be up in arms.

EDIT: And now I’ve been informed that the land would be tax-exempt if given to the land trust. So there’s no happy solution unless a private landowner buys it agrees to not develop it. Which, given the property tax, is not very likely.

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3. Farm Pond Circle is still for sale. Only now, it’s on the market for $125,000, $30,000 less than the original listing. As previously written here back in March:

“The second phase of Lansing’s 21-lot Farm Pond Circle development is up for sale. Jack Jensen, the original developer, passed away last fall. Of the ten lots in phase two, four have already been reserved; there are also two lots left in phase one. The second phase is being offered for $155,000.

The Farm Pond Circle development is fairly stringent. Current deed restrictions limit the size of each housing unit to 2600 sq ft, vinyl or aluminum siding isn’t allowed, and only very specific subsections of the lots can be developed. Buyers aren’t limited to green energy, but there is a strong push in that direction. Also, at least four of the lots are earmarked for affordable housing (single-family or duplexes, buyers muse make less than 80% of median county income of $53k)). The affordable units, at least two of which have already been built, are being developed in partnership with Jack Jensen’s non-profit, Community Building Works!.”

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4. Mayor Myrick made some thought-provoking comments (or provocative, depending on your view) in a phone interview with the Times’ Josh Brokaw about State Street Triangle. For one, the inclusionary zoning topic has come up again, something likely to make an appearance in his second term. And for two, calling for a distinctive “pillar” with fewer units, and smaller units sizes to appeal to a wider, non-student part of the market. As previously stated, the 11-story height isn’t the issue.

I wrote about inclusionary zoning as part of an interview with Community Planner Lynn Truame in the Voice – it can be done one of two ways, either saying a builder/developer can’t build anything without having units or paying into a fund, or by giving them an extra incentive, like reduced permit fees, being able to build one floor higher or a reduction in parking requirements if they include affordable housing. Most opt for the latter approach.

The pros are an integration of affordable units into market-rate developments and a supply of affordable housing. The cons are that, if handled the wrong way, it can stop all development, affordable and market-rate, and on the other end of the spectrum, if the benefits are too generous than it can reduce the supply the affordable housing by tearing down older, lower-cost buildings in favor of new higher-cost ones with a small number of affordable units. In sum, nothing in an inclusive zoning ordinance can be taken lightly.

An inclusionary zoning program requires the support of neighboring communities so that developers don’t just skip to the next town over to escape the burden, and the program must be designed to encourage developers to build while ensuring there’s plenty of affordable units on the market. For example, here’s Burlington, Vermont’s ordinance:

“The program applies to all new market-rate developments of 5 or more homes and to any converted non-residential structures that result in at least 10 homes.  The affordable housing set aside is 15 to 25% of the units, depending on the average price of the market-rate homes – with the higher percentage placed on the most expensive developments.  The ordinance does not allow fee in-lieu payments or land donations, but will allow developers to provide the affordable housing off-site at 125% of the on-site obligation.  The ordinance provides a range of incentives including fee waivers and a 15-25% density and lot coverage bonus. Affordable homes are targeted to households earning 75% or less area median income (AMI) and rented at 65% or less AMI.  Developers can sale or rent the homes for more as long as the average of affordable homes sold or rented are at or below the target household income.  Affordable homes are price controlled for 99 years.

Burlington partners with a nonprofit – the Champlain Housing Trust – in the administration of its program and is able to minimize in-house administrative staff time for the program (committing only 10% of one full time employee). However, more funds are needed to support the monitoring and enforcement of affordable homes.”

So if this were Ithaca for the sake of equivalent example, let’s say a developer downtown is thinking of a 40-unit market-rate non-luxury apartment building, that maxes out the lot area and height of a currently-existing (hypothetical) zone. They would be able to build 46 units/15% larger as a bonus, but 6 units would have to be affordable housing. They could also build 46 market-rate units on-site, and build 8 affordable units off-site at a location okayed by the city.

The affordable units would be targeted at individuals making 65% or less of AMI, which in Tompkins is 65% of about $53k, or $34,500/year. Some units could be more or less affordable, as long as they average to 65% AMI. It stays that way for 99 years. The units would be managed by an organization like INHS.

Or, the developer could build a hotel, office, or non-residential building without giving up money or space for affordable housing, but they also get no zoning bonus. Burlington’s law isn’t designed to be a barrier for development, it’s designed to be an incentive to include affordable housing in new projects. However, there are definitely opponents to inclusionary zoning even among affordable housing advocates, who say that a revised and expanded Section 8 program would be more effective.

Note that Burlington’s law is just one example. No one ordinance fits all municipalities, and each community has its own aspects to address  – in Ithaca’s case, that means tailoring the inclusionary zoning for each neighborhood, determining what size and types of projects have to pay into the fund (because Cornell will probably file a lawsuit if it affects their projects), establishing affordability guidelines that encompass both poor and middle-income families, and whether fees can be paid into a housing fund in lieu of housing. What works in Downtown probably won’t work in Belle Sherman, and what works in Fall Creek wouldn’t be effective in Collegetown. It’s going to be an intensive design process.

So, back to the original question – is Campus Advantage willing to play? It’s not one that anyone can answer just yet. The Austin-based company is still determining their next move. The Times, as well as commenters on this blog, have raised the possibility that this might be the mayor playing politics to stave off his write-in opponent and the anti-development crowd that supports many of the independent candidacies. But, barring some left-field shocker on Tuesday, expect Myrick to be sharing more of his and his staff’s zoning ideas in the next couple years.

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5. Speaking of zoning, the city is mulling over a zoning tweak to make buildings on the Commons have mandatory active street-level uses. A copy of the memo is here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, county memo here,  copy of code revision here. It seems like an easy sell from both the angle of developers and the city, but the steps to codify it are only now underway.

It will be similar to inner Collegetown’s MU-2 zoning. Permitted are stores, restaurants, banks, entertainment venues, public assembly areas, libraries, fire stations, and anything approved by the Planning Board on a case-by-case basis. The last part comes into play because the Finger Lakes School of Massage proposes a student-staffed massage parlor on the first floor of the Rothschild’s Building. Not included – schools, certain office lobbies and apartment/condo lobbies. But most building owners moved to active-use on the Commons a long time ago. The public hearing will be November 19th.

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6. Looks like there are still some hang ups with the Storage Squad and 902 Dryden projects out in Dryden, according to the town’s latest meeting. For the Storage Squad project, it has to do with their concerns with a stream that showed up on a DEC map in 1940 but hasn’t appeared since (they have to prove doesn’t exist, and proving it requires DEC acknowledgement). The business owners were also concerned about spending $30k on a Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan, with the possibility that the town may have them redo it at no small price.

Now, the Dryden town board is feeling a little heat right now because there have been accusations the town isn’t doing enough to help small businesses, allegations the “rainy day” fund’s depleted, and there’s a 13% tax levy increase planned, none of which sit well with voters. Plus. lest anyone forget, elections are coming up. So it’s perhaps with those things in mind that the town board is making an effort to try and help the owners of the Storage Squad before they throw in the towel. They invited them to the town’s meeting on the 29th to discuss the SWPPP further, and we’ll find out if it was fruitful.

Also, the 13-unit, 36-bedroom (15 units/42 bedrooms if you count the existing duplex) 902 Dryden project was berated by its potential neighbors once again. There are a couple comments attacking the potential students that would live there, but most seem to be against the location and concerns about flooding. Then you have the guy who called it a cancer.

One speaker says that residential development is a tax burden on the town, but really that depends on the type of housing – infill lots and denser acreage can be cost-efficient. New, low-density “greenfield” housing requires more pipes, power lines, new roads…infill has much of that already in place, and less acreage per unit can yield greater cost efficiencies. Plus, the commercial development the speaker touts also requires police and fire, and indirectly schools for its employees’ families. Yet, he didn’t offer a single word of support for the Storage Squad proposal.

Then the talk turns to taxes, and a guy references how we took land from Native Americans, Socialism will cause our nation’s collapse, and how Muslims are trying to institute Sharia Law. Now, how does one type those town board minutes and keep a straight face?

7. One last no for the week, this one for the Phi Mu sorority from Cornell. I still have a soft spot for the histories and houses of Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs), although I’ve happily aged out of college life.

The sorority (technically a fraternity), which arrived to Cornell’s campus last year, had intended to buy the $725,000 house at 520 Wyckoff Road, but the village board shot down the change of use required. Noise, traffic and “detriment of character” were cited as reasons not to let the ca. 1924, 3,473 SF home be used for group housing.

The Ithaca Journals’ Nick Reynolds offers this passage in his write-up:

Following the decision, the board broke protocol and began a philosophical dialogue between its members and the public.

Board member Sean Cunningham suggested the village has become anti-change and anti-sorority, and was at risk of “burying their heads their heads in the sand” to the point where the village wouldn’t be able to maintain its quality of life from an unwillingness to change.

Jeff Sauer, of 107 Overlook Road, offered the residents’ stance:

“The issues brought up tonight were the right issues,” Sauer said. “It’s not that we’re opposed to change; we’re for managing change.”

Historically, the neighborhood of Cornell Heights, split between the city and the village, has been fiercely opposed to any change of uses, let alone new buildings. Cornell sued residents in the 1980s, and won, over a similar issue. The university had planned to move its 15-member “Modern Indonesia” research program and literature collection from 102 West Avenue to a house on Fall Creek Drive, but neighbors convinced the city of Ithaca that it would greatly damage the neighborhood’s character. The state supreme court disagreed.

Cornell Heights and Cayuga Heights have been used as a textbook study in Blake Gumprecht – The former, for which this blog is named after, was founded as an elite faculty and businessmans’ enclave. But after the Alpha Zeta fraternity was donated a house in 1906 (for which the developer threatened legal action to no avail), and Cornell built the all-ladies Risley Hall in 1912, the local elite turned their noses and mostly turned tail for Cayuga Heights, selling out to Greek organizations but making deed restrictions in their new community to keep them from moving in. Cayuga Heights refused annexation in Ithaca by 1954 in part because they didn’t wish to attract students, and even prohibited a restaurant from opening for fear it would attract students as well. While the village isn’t as virulent as it once was, the sorority never really stood much of a chance. One long-term problem may be that if the existing GLOs do ever sell their properties, it’ll be to Cornell and Cornell only, where the use will be maintained, but the taxes won’t.

Well ladies, better luck next time around. You could always ask Cornell about those houses on University Avenue.

9. PSA? Sure.

Vote. Local elections matter. Your vote on Tuesday could make the difference for a lot of things –  for another 210 Hancock, waterfront development plans, zoning changes, or if a future downtown project gets an abatement. It will play a role in whether Ithaca, the county and other govs make an effort on affordable housing. Tuesday’s decisions will affect the city and county’s decisions.

Polling sites here, sample ballots here.





Two Sides to an Argument

18 03 2014

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I generally try to stay on the sidelines when it comes to promoting or opposing for Ithaca projects. I’m not about to get involved in favor of the West Falls Street proposal, the Stone Quarry proposal, or Cayuga Meadows, or any other local project that neighboring residents want shot down. NIMBYism (NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” , a reference to when people accept a community has a need for a project but they oppose it in their neighborhood) is ever-present, just about every project in the city and town has had some degree of opposition (the only exception I can think of offhand is the convention center/hotel planned for downtown). My own opposition arises when I feel a proposal threatens something of historic value. Regardless, the planning board is good at staying neutral. I may not always agree with the planning board, but I generally respect their judgement.

I’m going to make an exception to my non-partisan stance for 1 Ridgewood, thanks to Walter Hang.

As much as it bothers me to do it, to explain my issues, it is best if I provide a link to the petition and its partially-labelled map of square footages.  A large chunk of those appear to be people who have little or no connection to Ithaca. Token disclaimer: I’m not for or against his fracking work, my concern is focused squarely on this project. In an attempt to keep this project from being railroaded, I decided to examine the petition’s arguments.

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Here’s the area Mr. Hang wants his moratorium, Cornell Heights, split between the city and Cayuga Heights. For the record, the dark grey represents Cornell-affiliated properties, mostly GLOs and a few Co-Ops in the CHHD. Looking at the city section specifically:
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The red X is the Ridgewood apartment parcel, for three buildings between 5578, 5710 and 6662 square feet, with mostly below-grade parking. One of my issues is that some of Mr. Hang’s assertions are misleading. For example:

Due to recent development, the Historic District is clearly transitioning from its original turn-of-the-20th century “residential park” to a densely developed area that bears little resemblance to the community that warranted special historic district protection approximately 25 years ago.”

It’s hardly changed. There have been two three projects built since 1989. A single-family home at 116 Dearborn Place that was built in 2005, the Tudor house of the Bridges Cornell nursing home was built in 2005, and the new apartments currently going up on Thurston. If you want to push the envelope, Alpha Zeta (214 Thurston) replaced half of its original structure in 1992-1993 when it was renovated. A couple buildings (Kappa Delta, and 111 Heights Court) have received renovations, which were approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC).

 

Approval is being sought for an apartment complex proposed for 1 Ridgewood Road. Three buildings would be built on the largest undeveloped property in Cornell Heights, a spectacular forested setting enjoyed by hundreds of local residents who walk along and through it each day.

The proposed buildings would dwarf nearby structures. Figure One illustrates that the buildings would be 300% larger than the adjoining structure on Highland Avenue and at least 200% larger than all the immediately surrounding structures.

Out of a total of more than 200 structures in the Cornell Heights Historic District, only six are bigger than all three proposed buildings. Those six were built before the Historic District designation.

What’s not being told about that “spectacular forested property” is the abandoned swimming pool or dilapidated poolhouse. Also, as seen in at Mr. Hang’s map, the project is shifted to the west (left side) of the parcel, where many its nearby neighbors tend to be larger, ranging from 3000-8600 square feet (Westbourne to the north is a contiguous complex with 10,800 sq ft of space). To call this “dwarfing” is to take it out of its full context.

It concerns me that a petition with emotionally-charged language, gathering signatures from people that are not stakeholders in the Ithaca community, is being pushed by someone who has a history of aggressive tactics. It bothers me that an underutilized parcel with great public transit access in a highly populated area is going to have its zoning changed after the developer has been sensitive to planning board concerns and returned with a proposal within current regulations, which sets a terrible precedent for the community and opens up the possibility of legal action against the city. Lastly, in a period where Cornell continues its enrollment growth, I’m worried that if projects like this will be prohibited, it will only encourage more rental conversations of existing housing, more subpar housing situations, higher rents and increased sprawl.





Another Apartment Complex Considered for Cornell Heights

26 12 2013

100_1394

Original concept description with renderings here, meeting minutes here. The project is a in-the-works proposal by Campus Acquisitions LLC, the design by Shepley Bulfinch Architects of Boston. Campus Acquisitions, if I have this correct, looks to be a Chicago-based investment group with projects generally clustered around Chicagoland, and a number of college towns along the West Coast and Interior West.

The parcels of land in question are “150 and 152 Highland Avenue”, an underutilized lot (152), and a bungalow built in 1920 (150). The bungalow appears to be a 2-unit home owned by Travis Hyde properties. 152 Highland is a heavily wooded, steeply graded vacant parcel, but has a little bit of Cornell lore associated with it, as it was home to Phi Kappa Sigma’s swimming pool (the house, named “Greentrees”, is now Pi Kappa Phi, the pool is now unused and decaying). The 2.49 acre parcel was originally bought in 1996 by Travis Hyde properties with the intention of apartments, but nothing came of the parcel. The property was on-again off-again in local real estate listings (asking for 200k), and was last delisted (sold?) in June 2012.

ridgewoodapts3

The image above uses one of the old design concepts. The bungalow is proposed for renovation, though I am not sure what role, if any, Travis Hyde properties has in the development (something in conjunction with the other parcel, maybe?). The original conceptuals for “1 Ridgewood” proposed as many as 70 units, later reduced to 64 units (four floors over an underground garage) in the first design proposal, released this past fall:

ridgewoodapts1

ridgewoodapts2

This didn’t work for multiple reasons. For one, many of the deep-pocketed local land owners are strongly opposed to more development; I’ve known for years that the venerable widow who owns the house south of the property on Highland (she was a fixture at my fraternity’s annual wine-and-cheese event, and a pleasure to chat with) has been fiercely opposed to any construction on that site. For two, the property is in the Cornell Heights historic district, which subjects it to more stringent and evolving design and massing guidelines. The latest concept calls for 45 units in 3 smaller structures, with a mix of surface and underground parking. At some point in the near future, the formal proposal will likely appear on the planning board’s agenda.

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Another Random Cornell Heights Tour

23 07 2008

The house of Acacia fraternity. It was built in 1907 for a prominent professor, and designed by architect Arthur Gibb in the Prairie House style.  Gibb was also responsible for the design of Baker Lab on campus (which was technically designed around 1910, even if it wasn’t completed until 1921) [1]. The house, called “Northcote”, was first occupied by Acacia in 1934, with an additional dorm wing constructed around 1958. Today, in terms of distance from campus, Northcote is probably one of the farthest.

Greystone Manor, the house of Sigma Chi fraternity. It is been my observation that Sigma Chi is probably one of the most low-key fraternities of Cornell. There’s only a flag to announce their existence at their house, they have no house web site, etc. However, this doesn’t mean that the house doesn’t have a history worth sharing. The house was the home of silent-film star Irene Castle around 1919, when the silent-film industry was still thriving in the Ithaca area. It was bought by Sigma Chi in 1923, and has been in their possession ever since.

EDIT: So, a kind reader was generous to share this extra bit of information about the history of the house:

“The Greystone house was built by Alice G. McCloskey (of the Nature Studies department and editor of the Rural School Leaflet) and another woman. By the time Alice died 19 Oct 1915 she was the owner of the house. She left the house to her assistant, Edward Mowbray Tuttle (my husband’s maternal grandfather). Edward married in October 1919 and sold the Greystone to the silent film start in 1919. So there is more history than you think.”

On that note, Irene Castle was married to one of Treman family, but left Ithaca (and him) in 1923.

Not a frat house, but this is an amazing looking house regardless. Zillow.com indicates it was built in 1910. It’s across the street from Sigma Chi.

The house of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity on Ridgewood Road. The house dates from the 19th century, but Phi Delta Theta has made it home for the vast majority of its life. Phi Delta Theta is a dry fraternity, meaning that in its house, there is no alcohol consumption; for that, they can go to their annex at 210 Thurston. The house went dry in 2000, and all 40 current brothers at the time resigned in protest. If any of you are familiar with author Scott Conroe’s It Takes Just Pride, then you’ll recognize that this is one of the fraternities covered in the book. I also want to say that this is one of the two houses where someone chased me off the property for taking photos. Someone was in a foul mood, I guess.

The house of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. AOPi moved in in fall 2006. Prior to that, this house served as the home of Theta Chi for about 25 years. Theta Chi was expelled from campus in 1999, and then the house was briefly occupied by AEPi and former Theta Chi pledges, and finally AEPi moved back to their Thurston house in fall 2001. Theta Chi attempted a reorganization in 2003 but it did not last, and the house sat vacant until AOPi bought the facility. AOPi first came back to Cornell in 1989 after a 25-year hiatus; they lived briefly in AXiD’s house and 210 Thurston before moving into 14 South Avenue on West Campus in 1991 [2]. Prior to Theta Chi, this house was the home of a fraternity by the name Tau Delta Phi. While the house has been home to a number of GLOs, it was originally built in 1925-26 for Professor Ernest T. Paine[3].

Continuing up Ridgewood is Pi Kappa Phi. The house is affectionately known as “Greentrees”, a name that hails from its days as the house of Phi Kappa Sigma before they folded in 1991. The name comes from the seven forested acres the house sits on. The property also at one point maintained an in-ground pool, a rarity for Ithaca. The house was originally home to George Morse of Morse Chain Company (now Emerson Power Transmission, a major private-sector employer in Ithaca). Phi Kappa Sigma, the Skulls, lived in the house from 1935 to 1991. In the meanwhile, Phi Kappa Phi lived at 722 University Avenue from 1949 to 1986, when the chapter closed; it was reorganized in 1990, and moved into this house the following year [4].

Across the street is Beta Theta Pi fraternity. Now, I must say that this house is spectacular from the outside; but I was appalled the few times I’ve been in there (a couple of my friends are brothers at Beta). Anyways, Beta (originally Alpha Sigma Chi), lived in Pi Kappa Alpha’s house until about 1906, when “Castle on the Rock” was constructed [5].

Venison Anyone?

Wrapping up Ridgewood is Sigma Delta Tau sorority. The Alpha chapter was founded in 1917 as Sigma Delta Phi, but changed when it was founded the letters conflicted with another organization (that seems to happen quite a bit) [6]. The house has a stunningly unattractive addition that probably dates from the 1960s, and I tried my best to not photograph it. The rest of the house looks very classy, dating from 1900-1910.

[1]http://www.cornellacacia.org/index.php?a=info

[2]http://www.aoiiepsilon.com/centennial.html

[3]http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct12/GreekTour.html

[4]http://www.cornellpikapp.com/history.php#Psi

[5]http://www.betadelta.org/about.html

[6]http://www.dos.cornell.edu/dos/greek/chapter_details.cfm?id=3282