News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





News Tidbits 8/21/17: Insert Eclipse Pun Here

21 08 2017

1. Quite the sight in the latest Tiny Timbers update. The nascent kit-based homebuilder plans to roll out several new designs, many of which will be incorporated into the 15-unit Varna project on the corner of Dryden and Freese Roads. That brings their total number of home design options up to about 21 or so, in several general styles from four-square to prairie-style to bungalow. It is not clear if the layout will be pre-set at is was with the Belle Sherman Cottages (relatable because STREAM Collaborative designed both), or if it will be left to the buyers.

Tiny Timbers is a bit of a misnomer because the designs are a modest but still sizable 1,000-1,500 square feet, with two or three bedrooms. Prices will be in the mid 100s to low 200s, depending on unit and features. I’d be more inclined to compare them to the starter homes of the 1950s in terms of market appeal and affordability.

Tiny Timbers has yet to get permission to start marketing for the community (the state needs to sign off on all new Home Owner Associations), but marketing has started for some scattered site development on Hector Street in Ithaca’s West Hill, and there is work underway on a few custom builds for landowners in other parts of the county.

2. Last week was not a good showing for the Inn at Taughannock. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals denied the lot variances, the heights variances and even the sign variances. The only one they outright permitted was the height variance to allow a rooftop cupola on the existing inn. The sign variance is kinda weird, because it sounds like they were okay with some individual signs, but not the sum of parts, so they’re doing another meeting.

While this isn’t what owner/developer Carl Mazzocone was hoping for, there were alternative plans drafted that did present an alternative design that, while the same style, fit within the zoning parameters. So this is a setback, but this project isn’t off the table yet.

3. Sure, most readers outside the Cornell bubble avoid Collegetown like the plague, but it’s worth noting when new businesses are coming in. Old Mexico, the restaurant that replaced Manos Diner in Southwest Ithaca, will be opening a modest to-go operation at 119 Dryden Road (Collegetown Plaza) in what used to be a barbershop (at least in my time in the late 2000s). Meanwhile, where the Collegetown tobacco shop used to be at 221 Dryden (Collegetown Center), will now be a “Chinese street food” restaurant called Beijing Jianbing. Best of luck to both. At least restaurants aren’t being driven out of business by the internet anytime soon.

4. In the same vein, it was noted a few weeks ago that a $415,000 construction loan was filed for Hancock Plaza, the strip retail plaza at the corner of Hancock and Third Streets in Ithaca’s Northside. A quick check showed an interior renovation underway with new metal stud walls and sheet-rock going in, and the somewhat uncertain workers said that the storefront next to Istanbul restaurant would be a “medical service facility”.

5. Earlier this month, it was mentioned that a 4.5 acre parcel at 452 Floral Avenue in Ithaca was sold to a local homebuilder for $100,000. Now he’s trying to flip it. The asking price is $239,000. The tax assessment is $68,400.

The real estate ad notes the potential of an R-3a zone, which allows for homes, townhouses, small apartments and small-scale commercial with a special permit. The zoning permits four floors and 35% lot coverage, with a minimum of 5,000 SF per lot for a home, plus incremental increases for additional units.

On a side note, with thanks to the city for uploading about 470 documents from the IURA’s microfilm stash, here’s what the 1992 affordable for-sale proposal looked like for that same property. There appear to be 27 home lots, but a few may have been designed for accessory or two-family units. This gives an idea of what could reasonably be done under the existing zoning, but there are many possibilities.

Side note, I found this by chance. If anyone has time to pick through 470 documents from the 1960s to 2000, more power to you.

6. Also for sale, to the deep-pocketed investor looking for a safe investment – multiple East Hill apartment houses. 5-unit 119 Stewart Avenue for $995,000, a two-family home at 208 Stewart Avenue for $695,000, and $2.25 million for a 23-bed (20 SRO, 1 studio, 1 2-bedroom) property at 717 East Buffalo Street. The Stewart Avenue properties are owned by a Long Island-based LLC representing a higher ed professional now located in Massachusetts, and were purchased just a few years ago – 119 for $625k in 2014, and 208 for $513k in 2012. 717 East Buffalo was purchased by a Brooklyn investment group in 2003, and is taxed at $1.05 million. The positive is that they’re close enough to Cornell to easily take advantage of the student market. The negative is that they are all in the East Hill Historic District, which means redevelopment is off the table, and exterior renovations have to go through the ILPC.

7. Pretty slow month for the Planning Board. Finger Lakes ReUse is seeking preliminary approval for their expansion project and final approval for the warehouse portion. 709 West Court Street, the 60-unit affordable project from Lakeview, will have its DEIS finalized, potentially allowing for city approval in September. There are no new projects though, unless one counts the six-bedroom duplex at 217 Columbia, which is so minor from the state’s perspective that it only qualifies for city review. The Times is reporting that O’Connor is willing to prohibit student tenants, but permanent residents are still opposed to new student housing in their neighborhood.

There could be some interesting discussion at the meeting, not only with South Hill development, but with historic preservation matters. For instance, Student Agencies is upset that they city is likely to landmark its building at 413-415 College Avenue, which it says it had intent on redeveloping. Unfortunately, timing is everything. Likewise, the shoe is on the other foot with the Nines at 307 College Avenue, for which there has been an unpublished sketch plan of a redevelopment project. The ILPC is expressing frustration that it wasn’t landmarked already, but with the development plans already presented, the city would be acting reactively instead of proactively as it’s doing on College Avenue, and that could make the difference if a legal situation were to arise. So while the Chacona Block is likely safe and soon to be under ILPC purview, the Nines will not be protected for as long as the redevelopment plan is active, and the best the ILPC can do is recommendations.

Here’s tomorrow’s agenda:

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

  1. Agenda Review 6:00
  2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01
  3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Mixed Use Apartments – Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartment 6:10

Location: 214 Elmira Road

Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary Approval Overall & Final Site Plan Approval for Phase 1

Project Description:

The applicant proposes to expand the existing office and retail center with a new +/- 26,100sf
attached 4-story mixed-use building to include retail, office, and 22 units of transitional housing fronting Elmira Road. A 7,435 SF covered outdoor inventory building and a 600 SF pavilion are also proposed. The new parking and loading layout will reduce the number of curb cuts on Elmira road from 5 to 2 and provide 70 parking spaces. An improved sidewalk will be constructed to provide a safer link between the existing pedestrian bridge that connects the Titus Tower property to Elmira Road. The building will have landscaped entrances facing Elmira Road and these will be connected to the new building entrances giving residents and patrons arriving on foot direct access to the street. The project site is in the B-5 Zoning District and has received the required area variance. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (I), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.
Ed. note – the first phase is the warehouse addition for lumber storage. Phase 2 is the supportive apartments.

B. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:30

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:

The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 10,860 SF
and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will contain sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ-1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1) (k) and (n), and the State
Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: Duplex 6:50

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Public Hearing

 

 

Project Description:

The applicant is proposing to install a modular duplex with one 3-bedroom apartment on each floor. The new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5 C.(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (C)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

 

 

  1. Zoning Appeals 7:20
  2. Old/New Business 7:30
    1. A. 412 East State Street – review and sign off on Argos Inn shared parking agreement with 418 East State Street.
    2. B. PB Report on Proposed Local Landmark Designation of 403 College Avenue and 411-415 College Avenue . There will be a short presentation by Scott Whitham regarding 411-413 College Avenue.
    3. C. Development Patterns of South Hill – Discussion
  1. Reports from PB Chair, Director of Planning and Development, and BPW Liaison 8:00
  2. Approval of previous minutes
  3. Adjournment




News Tidbits 8/12/17: Two Kinds of Rehab

12 08 2017

1. It looks like some Trumansburg residents want to build a recreational complex. According to the Ithaca Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, for the civic group Trumansburg Community Recration, “{t}he ultimate goal is to build a recreation center, soccer fields, baseball fields, a youth football field, a skate park, and a pool to the community. The first phase of the project would be building the sports fields and possibly a recreational campus. While the group is still searching for space for these amenities, it is raising funds through grants and donations. The fundraising goal right now is $750,000.”

Along with private donations, the community advocacy organization is seeking state funds, which state law requires be obtained via municipal entities, i.e. the village, school district, town and county. It’s not that governing bodies have to commit money, they just have to express support and sign off on applications, and allocate the awarded funds if/when they are received.

Phase two for the non-profit would be a community center, likely a re-purposed building, and phase three would be a pool, which is garnering significant community attention. Although the group hasn’t committed to a location (the rendering is completely conceptual), it is examining the feasibility of different sites in and around Trumansburg. Interested folks can contact or donate to the group here, or sign up for emails if they so like.

2. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has finally received the money from a July 2016 grant award. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) will be using it toward a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created. Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

While the location is quite rural, the nature of the facility (rehab, focus on opioid abuse) is getting pushback from at least one town board member who doesn’t want it in the town (link, scroll down to 7-25-TB minutes). The plan has yet to go before the Ulysses planning board.

3. INHS made its name on home rehabs, and it looks to be making a return to its roots. The non-profit developer is asking the IURA for $41,378 towards the renovation of an existing 3-bedroom house on 828 Hector Street, which will then be sold to a low-moderate income family (80% AMI, about $41,000/year) and locked into the Community Housing Trust.

The project cost is $238,041. $152,000 to buy the foreclosed property from Alternatives Federal Credit Union, $8,000 in closing/related costs, $60,000 in renovations, $5,000 contingency, $8,141 in other costs (legal/engineering), and $4,900 in marketing/realtor fees. The funding sources would be $144,163 from the sale, $15,000 from INHS’s loan fund (to cover the down payment for the buyer), $37,500 in equity and the $41,378 grant. A for-profit could renovate for cheaper, but federal and state guidelines say INHS has to hire those with a $1 million of liability insurance coverage, which takes many small contractors out of the equation.

Side note, the city’s federal grant funding disbursement was dropped by $50,000, because HUD is an easy target in Washington. Luckily, Lakeview decided to forego its grant funds because they found the federal regulations unwieldy, which freed up a little over $43k to move around to cover most of the losses.

4. Speaking of Hector Street, it looks like Tiny Timbers is rolling out a pair of new spec plans for two lots on the city’s portion of West Hill. The house on the left, for 0.27 acre Lot 1, is a 1,040 SF 2 BD/1BA design listed at 187,900, which is a good value for a new house in the city. 0.26 acre Lot 2 is a 3 BD/2 BA 1,370 SF home listed at $222,900. Taking a guess based on the lot sizes, these are the wooded vacant lots west of 920 Hector. There’s a third vacant lot over there, but no listing yet.

5. On the city’s Project Review Committee meeting agenda, which is the same as the memo…not much. Lakeview’s 60-unit affordable housing project on the 700 Block of West Court Street will have its public hearing and determination of envrionmental significance, the last step in SEQR and the one before preliminary approval. Same goes for INHS’s 13-unit project on the 200 Block of Elm Street.

Apart from related or minor zoning variances and review of proposed historic designation in Collegetown for the Chacona and Larkin Buildings (411-415 College and 403 College), the only other project for review is 217 Columbia, Charlie O’Connor’s. Which, as covered by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor and by Matt Butler at the Times, did not go over well, though Charlie seemed willing to change plans to avert a firestorm. From a practical standpoint, I’d imagine he’s much more focused on his much larger 802 Dryden Road project, and this is small if hot potatoes. The 6-bedroom duplex (three beds each) is designed by Ithaca architect John Snyder.

My own feeling is that a moratorium isn’t the answer, but if they wanted to roll out another TM-PUD so that Common Council gets to review plans as well as the Planning Board, then so be it. My issue with moratoriums is that local municipalities do a terrible job sticking to timelines and have to extend them again and again. Plus, there are projects like the Ithaka Terraces condos, or the new Tiny Timber single-family going up on Grandview, that aren’t the focus of the debate but would be ensnared by a blanket moratorium.

Meanwhile in the town, the planning board discussion for next week will mostly focus on the NRP Ithaca Townhouses on West Hill. The revisions will be up for final approval, which would allow NRP to move forward with their 2018-19 Phase 1 buildout (66 units and a community center). Phase II (39 units) will follow in 2019-20.

6. In sales this week, the big one appears to be 808 East Seneca – 5 unit, 4,125 SF historic property just west of Collegetown in Ithaca’s East Hill neighborhood. List price was $1.575 million, and it sold for modestly less, $1.45 million, which is well above the $900,000 tax assessment. The sellers were a local couple had owned the property since 1982, and the buyer is an LLC formed by the Halkiopoulos family, one of Collegetown’s old Greek families, and medium-sized landlords with a number of other houses in the area.

Perhaps more intriguing is the sale of 452 Floral Avenue for $100,000 to home builder Carl Lupo. The vacant 4.15 acre property had been the site of a 30-unit affordable owner-occupied project back in 1992, but given that the Ithaca economy was faltering in the early 1990s, the plans never moved forward.

7. A quick update from the Lansing Star about the Park Grove Realty lawsuit. While the Jonson family of developers may have lost the village elections by a large margin, their lawsuit accusing the village of an illegal zoning change to permit the project has been reviewed by the state’s court system – and they lost. The state supreme court ruled the zoning change was perfectly legal, appropriate to the revised Comprehensive Plan, and accusations of negative impacts on the Jonsons’ Heights of Lansing project are overblown and speculative.

The Jonsons intend to file an appeal, and have to send in their final draft by September 5th. At this point, the project is left in a waiting pattern – the village is leaving the public hearing open until the appeal is resolved. If the appeal overturns the ruling, than the project can’t proceed regardless of village approval. Given the basis for the initial ruling, an overturning seems unlikely, but it will be a few more months before any approvals can be granted.





News Tidbits 8/5/17: Having the Right Look

5 08 2017

1. Thanks to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, we have the first rough site plan for the proposed Cornerstone and Tiny Timbers projects at the Lansing Town Center site at the intersection of Route 34B and Triphammer Roads. Readers may recall that Tiny Timbers has proposed a development of 60 for-sale single-family homes (ten in the first phase) called “Lansing Community Cottages”, and Cornerstone is proposing up to 144 affordable apartments in two phases for the town center site.

Specifically, Tiny Timbers is looking to sell homes averaging about 1,000-1,200 SF in the $175,000-$225,000 range, which is a critical but tough-to-hit segment in the local housing market. With consultation from planner David West, the homes are designed in a traditional urban layout, with congregated parking spaces instead of garages, and community green spaces. None of the homes are more than 150 feet from the roads and parking areas, a safety requirement to ensure access for emergency vehicles. Ten units would be built in phase one, twenty in phase two, and thirty in phase three. About the only concern town officials have expressed at this point is a second means of ingress/egress to keep the traffic down on Conlon Road.

In contrast to Tiny Timbers’ site plan, the Cornerstone plan is a more conventional suburban layout with parking adjacent to each 8-unit structure. In fact, based on the above design, and the need for affordable developers to save on costs and therefore many reuse designs when they can, it’s likely that some of the Cornerstone apartments look something like the above image, which comes from a recent Cornerstone project near Brockport. The detailing and the colors may differ, but it’s a pretty good bet that’s how some of the finished units will look. Like Conifer, Cornerstone appear to be using a mix of their standard designs, and there are two distinct designs on the site plan, as well as a community center.

2. A redevelopment opportunity in downtown Ithaca has sold, but it looks like there are no plans. 110-112 West Seneca Street is a 538 SF salon with a large rental parking lot, and zoning is B-1a, meaning 4 floors 50% lot coverage, parking requirements in effect of about one space per unit or one space per 250 SF of commercial use. Tompkins Trust (Tompkins Financial Corp.) picked up the property on Friday the 28th for $600,000, below the $800k asking price but still quite substantial for what’s mostly land.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen here. Tompkins Trust had previously rented the 23 parking spaces on site for use by its own employees – whether they’re hedging bets or don’t trust the parking garage situation, they appear to be buying the property to use as parking. Boo. With any luck, after their new HQ opens up next spring and their parking situation settles down, they’ll find better uses or potential partners for the lot. With no historic attributes but proximity to major services and amenities, a parking lot on this property is a waste of potential.

3. The Harold’s Square project team has given their website a overhaul, and with that comes the official timeline. According to the web page, asbestos abatement is now underway, demolition will start in September, construction will last through January 2019, and marketing/lease-up for the commercial spaces and 108 residential units should will start in January 2019.

The project description web page mentions 100 construction jobs, 50 retail jobs and 200 office jobs, which seems accurate for the square footage of each use (12k retail, 25k office). The estimate of 250 residents is way too generous though – the back-of-the-envelope is one person per bedroom, and there are about 144 bedrooms/studio units.

Side note, I reserve the right to grouse that the media links both go to the Times.

4. Dunno what’s going to happen with the Lansing Meadows senior housing up by the mall. Background story on the Voice here. On the one hand, the wetlands were an arduous and expensive undertaking, and Goetzmann did those to Army Corps of Engineers standards. It does make it tougher for the project to be financially viable. On the other hand, the village has a right to be frustrated, and it’s not unreasonable that they’re feeling that they’re being taken for a ride. Goetzmann received an IDA tax deal for what was largely a retail project, largely a no-no because most jobs in retail are low wage. He also received a variance for a community retail component, and multiple extensions from the IDA on fulfilling the housing component.

An increase in density spreads the fixed costs out among a greater number of units, and it’s encouraged by the village and county, so that’s not the issue. The design is what bothers them – while shared walls and utilities is a cost-saving measure, the village has expected smaller, house-like units since the project was first proposed in the late 2000s. Maybe the happy medium between this and the ten duplexes is a site plan with 3-4 unit structures with 20-24 units, with the buildings designed with pitched roofs, dormers, small porches and other home-like features. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months.

5. Plans for co-op housing on West State Street have been waylaid, perhaps permanently. New York City businessman Fei Qi had previously proposed to renovate the historic 3,800 SF property at 310 West State Street into office space, and more recently a 12-14 person co-op. However, there have been a couple of issues with both plans – the ca. 1880 building is in need of significant structural renovation. Years of deferred maintenance prior to Qi (who bought it from the Salvation Army for $195k last year) has left the building in rough shape, and asbestos and lead need to be removed. For the housing proposal to be permitted, fire suppression systems would also need to be installed. Some city officials have expressed concern that like the carriage house that once existed at the rear of the property, if the building gets mothballed again, its structural integrity may be at risk. Any external changes would need to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. It appears that Qi recently applied to the commission stating economic hardship, saying he was unaware the building was a historic property and was not communicated to him by the seller or real estate agent, and cannot afford to renovate it to ILPC standards. The designation went into effect in April 2015, a year before sale.

Concurrently, Qi has put the property up for sale. For an asking price of $278,000, one gets the building and the architect’s plans. I’ve seen ball-park estimates of $500k for the renovation into office space, but I never saw an estimate for the co-op. As a result of the structural issues, the building’s assessed value plunged from $250,000 in 2016 to $100,000 last year, most of that being the land. Fingers crossed, someone steps up to the plate to save this building before it’s too late.

6. Last month, I speculated that there was a plan for redeveloping 217 Columbia Street on Ithaca’s South Hill. Turns out there is, and it’s really upsetting the neighbors. The plan by Modern Living Rentals is to preserve the existing building, but build an additional two-family home on the property as well. For the neighbors, this is apparently one student-oriented rental too far. Some are calling for a moratorium, and others a zoning change to prevent rentals without an owner living in the property. Most of South Hill’s zoning is R-2 residential, which is one-and-two family homes, and most of the construction in South Hill these past few years has been one and two-family homes. The issue is that they’re upset they’re rentals, many of which appeal to Ithaca College students further up the hill in the town. In theory, you could make it an approval requirement that the renters be non-students, although I’m not sure that would placate the situation. We’ll see how it goes.





News Tidbits 3/18/17: Shoveling Snow to Dig Foundations

18 03 2017

1. A lot of Lansing stuff this week. Let’s start off with a brief update. It’s been about a year since the Thaler family received approvals for their 60-unit mixed-use Cayuga View Senior Living project on Cinema Drive in the village of Lansing. Well, it looks like they are finally ready to get under construction. The County Office of Aging included the project in their list of projects underway, and a check of the project’s Facebook page says they are starting construction this spring for a Spring 2018 opening. The upmarket project will contain 48 1-bedroom units and 12 2-bedrooms units, on a vacant parcel that is one of the last undeveloped high-density properties left in the village. Taylor the Builders will be the general contractor.

2. For a while now, the town of Lansing has been touting a figure of about 900 housing units being held up by the gas moratorium. Here are the statistics to back that up.

Now, the document from town planner Mike Long suggests that for multi-phase projects with some units already complete, the balance has been applied to the summation. If that’s the case, than Village Solars is shooting for a much larger buildout than originally anticipated. The doucment says that still plan on building 423 units. That’s a lot more than the ~310 currently on file. The first stage was increased from 174 to 206 as the result of unit-splitting, so the second set of phases may now have 217? That seems to be what’s implied here.

Note that the gas moratorium is a complication for the Village Solars, but not a project stopper. The newer buildings use electric heat pumps, which are a little more expensive than conventional gas, but they were able to pass the costs on within the rents (+$50/month) without much issue.

3. On another note with that town study, most of the projects noted have already been aired – Cayuga Farms on North Triphammer Road, the Pinney duplexes off of Scofield Road, Schickel’s Farm Pond Circle, and so on. However, a couple are new.

One appears to be a project called “English Village”. It consists of 59 townhomes and 58 single-family home lots. The other is “Cayuga Farms with Lake View”, which lists 30 units. The next has been cast for information, so watch this space.

4. Eric Goetzmann’s senior housing is finally ready to move forward, according to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star. Lansing Meadows looks to be aiming for about 20 units of senior housing on Oakcrest Road, and a small commercial retail component that complements the housing – an idea being tossed around in the Star article is a coffee shop.

Technically, a coffee shop isn’t allowed in the 2011 PDA that approved BJ’s and the units, but it’s a minor change from the neighboring zoning, and likely to pass without issue. The senior units have been delayed for several years because Goetzmann bit the bullet and built wetlands to replace those that would be disrupted by construction, as required by state law; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to review and sign off on the newly-created salt marsh as satisfactory. That only happened last October.

5. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is looking at options for a Collegetown Historic District. Initially, they wanted the 400 Block of College Avenue, the 100 Block of Oak Avenue, Cascadilla Hall, the College Avenue Bridge and 116 Summit Avenue. Then after consultation, they realized that may be a little too much to try and justify to the rest of the city, so it seems they want to move ahead with two individual designations instead – the CTB Building (403 College, the Larkin Block), and 411-15 College Avenue (Stella’s, the Chacona Block). Both are older buildings in the valuable MU-2 zone. The Avramises, who own the Chacona block, did talk about wanting to redevelop it at some point, but that was almost a decade ago, and there haven’t been any formal plans. I can see some kvetching from the ownership, but it seems unlikely that the city will argue against historic designation for these two properties if it moves forward.

6. Looking at the agendas for local planning boards – the town of Ithaca will be looking at a renovation at East Hill Plaza (former Wings into Sedgwick Office Interiors), a 2-lot subdivision on Bundy Road, and a 10,100 SF warehouse/industrial operation at Greentree Nursery’s new building at 142 Ithaca Beer Drive. The Bundy Road subdivision is the big purcahse mentioned a couple of weeks ago – the buyers want to subdivide a 2.27 acre section and have no plans for other 64.7 acres.





News Tidbits 1/28/17: Helping You Avoid Politics For Five Minutes

28 01 2017

1. Looking at sales, it looks like there were a couple of big ones this week in the Ithaca area. The first was on Friday the 20th, where 402-04 Eddy Street was sold for $913,000. The buyer was an LLC tied to Charles and Heather Tallman, who own several properties in Collegetown. The $913k price is above the 2015 assessment of $880k, but below the 2016 $1 million assessment. The Tallman historically have not been the kind to redevelop property, and the three-story mixed-use building is part of the East Hill Historic District, so don’t expect any big changes.

The next two were on Wednesday the 25th – Parkside Gardens on the Southside at 202 Fair Street, and Lakeside (Grandview Court) on South Hill, were sold for a whopping $10,450,000 from a Long Island landlord (Arbor Hill Homes) to an LLC based out of Delaware. Parkside has 51 units and was built in the 1950s, and is assessed at $2 million. It sold for $4.2 million, about double what the $2.145 million the owner paid in 2007. Lakeside has 58 units and was built in the 1970s. It is assessed at $2.8 million, the previous owner paid $2.58 million in 2007, and just sold it for $6.25 million.

Up until 2014, they accepted housing vouchers, but according to an email from the IURA’s Nels Bohn, The Learning Web handled the vouchers and the IURA has nothing about the complexes on file after 2014. It might be a case similar to Ithaca East, where the affordable housing lease period ran out and the owner converted to market rate. The Voice tried to do a story on it in Fall 2015, but it went nowhere, and then again in January 2016, and it went nowhere. I did research but Jeff and Mike were going to be the respective writers. Here are my notes from September 21, 2015:

The two complexes were recently offered for sale, but the listing was deactivated. According to 2011 IURA minutes, the owner is kind of a sleazeball, uses them as an investment property but doesn’t do maintenance. Another company (Rochester-based Pathstone, they’ve done work with INHS) considered buying Parkside in 2011/12, but backed out when problems arose.

One could argue that the two complexes had a shady owner who just cashed out big. The buyer can be traced through its unique name to a Baltimore company called Hopkins Holding, and a LinkedIn profile of a partner in the company saying their specialty is student housing. At the high price paid for Lakeside, I could easily see a redevelopment happening, though I’m not as certain about Parkside’s future.

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2. There were also a couple of construction loans filed this week. Tompkins Trust lent Collegetown Crossing $500,000 according to a filing on the 23rd, but the type of work is unspecified in the county docs. Tompkins Trust also lent INHS $1,581,796 in a separate filing on the 23rd, to finance the seven for-sale townhouses underway at 202 Hancock Street in Northside, part of the 210 Hancock affordable housing project.

3. A few weeks ago, the pending sale of the former Phoenix Books barn at 1610 Dryden Road came up. Now we what the plans are. It appears a local businessman wants to renovate the barn and use it for automotive trailer sales. The plan requires a special use permit from the town because it’s a residential zone, and the project is seeking a landscaping outdoor area to showcase trailers for sale. It doesn’t read as if the barn itself will be greatly altered in appearance, although its structural stability is in question, so it will need its north wall shored up, and roof repaired so that rainwater stops pouring into the basement. The town will be going through the project over the next couple of months, but there don’t appear to be any big obstacles that will prevent a permit from being issued.

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4. For the sake of acknowledgement, the ILPC approved of Jason Fane’s renovation plans for the Masonic Temple. There was a little back-and-forth about window replacements, and they made sure to note that the “for rent” signage was not grandfathered and would have to come down once the three commercial spaces are rented out, and the signage would not be allowed to go back up even if the spaces were vacated at a later date. The ILPC also seems inclined towards a historic district on the north edge of Collegetown along Oak Avenue and Cascadilla Place, but that still has yet to take form.

5. Out in the towns and villages, there isn’t anything too exciting on the agenda. Cayuga Heights had a one-lot subdivision for a new home site at 1010 Triphammer for their latest meeting. The town of Dryden had a 5-lot subdivision off of 1624 Ellis Hollow Road, and a 7-lot subdivision at the former Dryden Lake Golf Course.Dryden also received the sketch plan for the 12 Megawatt solar array planned by Distributed Solar at 2150 Dryden Road (12 MW is enough for ~2400 homes). Ulysses had to review a special permit for turning a nursery business into a bakery/residence, and a 2 Megawatt array at the rear of 1574 Trumansburg Road. The town of Lansing had a meeting scheduled, but nothing was ever put online, nor was there a cancellation notice.

6. The townhouses at 902 Dryden are starting to rise up. Visum Development’s facebook page notes that the foundations for all structures are complete, and framing is underway; you can see roof trusses on the right of the photo. Looks like a typical wood frame with Huber ZIP sheathing, which has become the popular (and arguably more effective) alternative to traditional plywood and housewrap. According to the hashtag overkill, the 8-unit, 26-bed housing plan is still on track for an August 2017 occupancy.

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7. Quick wrap up, we now have addresses for the two-family homes going up on Old Elmira Road. They will be 125 Elmira Road and 129 Elmira Road. This means the end of the awkward Spencer Road/Old Elmira Road disclaimer in the next (and probably last) update in March, although for the sake of continuity the title of the post won’t change – continuity was the same reason 210 Hancock was co-tagged with neighborhood pride site for about a year. Just trying to make it easier to follow along.





News Tidbits 11/12/16: Oof.

12 11 2016

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1. Starting off this week in Lansing, the village has okayed a zoning change that would allow the planning board to move forward with consideration of a 140-unit upscale apartment project on Bomax Drive. Neighbors came out to oppose the zoning change for the 19.5 acre parcel from office park business/tech to high-density residential, saying it would create additional traffic and hurt property values. The village board, however, responded in dissent, noting a lack of housing, a fit with the 2015 village comprehensive plan, and that this was about the zoning and not the project, which the planning board will critique as a separate action. The zoning change was approved unanimously. Park Grove Realty is now free to submit plans to the village, and planning board review will go from there. Expect it to take at least a few months.

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2. A couple quick notes from the town of Ithaca – Therm Inc. has commenced construction on their 20,000 SF addition at their South Hill plant. It’s a few months later than originally anticipated, but underway nevertheless. The $2.5 million project is expected to create 10 manufacturing jobs, according to the county IDA.

Also underway at this point is the renovation and expansion of the Rodeway Inn on Elmira Road. The plans call for expanding the existing 25 motel units, adding 2 new units on the ends of the main structure, and renovating a house on the property for a 1,146 SF community room to serve guests. Landscaping and lighting would also be updated. The town pegs the construction cost at about $679,000.

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3. Here’s some good news – it looks like someone has taken up the Iacovellis on their offer of a free historic house at 341 Coddington Road, providing that the taker moves it. It appears NYSEG was creating some hangups since the power lines have to be moved out of the way (NYSEG is infamously difficult to work with), but with any luck, the house itself will be saved. My colleague Mike Smith is doing the legwork on a story, so hopefully more details on the “buyer” will come forth shortly.

4. Back in July, several West End properties owned by an out-of-area LLC hit the market. Now, at least one of them has sold. The duplex at 622 West Buffalo (blue in the map above) was sold for $90,000 to a gentleman from suburban Syracuse. Immediately after, paperwork was filed with the county for a $179,145 building loan courtesy of Seneca Federal Savings and Loan, a small regional bank out of Syracuse. The paperwork does not indicate if it will be renovations/additions to the existing building, or a new structure (sometimes the sale price is a part of the building loan, but in this case the buyer paid separately, with $171,187 set aside for hard costs).

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5. Sticking with county filings, the construction loan for the third phase of the Village Solars was filed with Tompkins County this week. $6 million is being lent by Tompkins Trust to fund construction of 42 units, 21 in each building. Initially they were slated to have 18 units each, but because the three-bedroom properties don’t have quite the same appeal as smaller one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) has broken up the units without significantly changing the exterior appearance and layout. Actual Contractors LLC, another Lucente company, is the general contractor, with Albanese Plumbing, T. U. Electric, and Bomak Contractors (excavation/foundation) rounding out the construction team.

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6. This is one of those unusual months were the city projects memo and the project review meeting agenda go out in the same week. Apart from the Collegetown Townhouse project, there are no new projects being presented, but there is new information and new renders.

In the projects memo, Novarr’s project is the new shiny, while Amici House, the8-unit project at 607 South Aurora and City Centre are being carried over as old business. Regarding City Centre, it doesn’t look like any particular points of contention have been raised by city planning, the framework for mitigating Historic Ithaca’s design complaint is already included, and most of the other requests are for more information/paperwork. From the Design meeting, it looks like the debate on the townhouses project is minor, mostly with where to locate the trees out front, and window details. They will not be putting windows into the north face because it’s on the lot line, but they will vary the materials for visual interest. The Design Committee requested that City Centre insert more windows in some areas, and less signage, as well as consideration of decorative elements to highlight the curved facade facing Aurora and East State Streets.

The project review committee meeting has all of the above, plus updated submissions from the Maplewood project team. Although no substantial development will occur in the city, the Maplewood project crosses municipal boundaries and the city has deferred to the town for lead agency. The meeting will also have a few zoning variances to comment on. The only notable zoning variance is for local realtor Carol Bushberg, who wants to do a one-story 812 SF rear addition at her office at 528 West Green Street, which is in a WEDZ zone and requires two floors.

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Looking at the Maplewood submission, the new dormer/gable style will be for the building strings that front Mitchell Street, and the two strings most visible from Walnut Street. More modern designs will be used for the remaining structures. Looking closely, the designs do vary from string to string, which will give the site some character and additional visual interest. The project timeline is pretty tight with submissions, meetings and approvals, aiming for preliminary approval from the town on December 20th, demolition to start immediately thereafter, and final site plan approval by January 3rd.

For links, here’s the Collegetown Townhouse updated submission, engineering narrative, site plan render, and cross section render. Here are the updated materials for 607 South Aurora (no significant changes, just a summary of submission materials),  here’s a new site survey for Amici House, and the project update for Maplewood.

7. Meanwhile, there’s nothing too exciting on any of the town boards next week. Lansing town will consider additions to a self-storage facility, a one-lot subdivision and a climbing wall facility next to The Rink. Ithaca town will be conducting their own analysis of Maplewood, and a one-lot subdivision.

Now, after this week’s election news, one might wonder if this has any impacts on local housing/development. Arguably, there are a few. Expect federal funds for affordable funding to be cut drastically, and grants for mass transit projects to also take a major hit. While those are major losses, the state has far greater control, so there will still be some funding available, but definitely not as much as would have been expected under a Democratic administration. Most land use and building issues are decided at the local level, so don’t expect significant impacts there.

More of a question would be infrastructure investments. The president elect wants to launch a massive rebuilding program, but the Republican Senate majority leader has already said that’s not something they’re interested in, so we’ll just have to see if he can force it through or not. If there’s any silver lining to all this, it might come in some form of deregulation, but while he might be a fan of urban environments, most of his cabinet will likely not. We also have to keep in mind the disdain for elite colleges like Cornell, so research funding, and the economy built off it, is probably going to take a hit. For the Ithaca area, the change in administrations is likely a net negative.