News Tidbits 2/20/16: Looking Forward, Looking Back

20 02 2016


1. The city of Ithaca released their 2015 Planning Board summary as part of the planning board agenda this month. Here’s some highlights –

Construction costs for projects filed in 2015 are expected to total $66.8 million. In something of a rarity, Cornell was not the big financier this year, only being attached to the $12 million Novarr/Johnson School project at 209-215 Dryden Road. The two most expensive projects are the $26.5 million Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ, and the $13.77 million 210 Hancock project.

The only other project that exceeded $2 million is the first phase of Chain Works, valued at $8.65 million for phase one, and deep in the throes of review. But for some reason, Chain Works also appears in the 2014 summary of site plan filings, so one of these reports is inaccurate. Chain Works was definitely being discussed in summer 2014, although I’m not sure when the site plan was filed.

Only 95 housing units with 155 bedrooms were approved in 2015, the majority of which were with 210 Hancock (66 units, 89 bedrooms). This is down from 129 units approved in 2014. Only 8 are owner-occupied units – the 7 owner-occupied townhomes with 210 Hancock, and 1 2-bedroom market-rate home. The other projects were the 12-unit 215-221 West Spencer Street, the 6-unit 707 E. Seneca project, 3 duplexes at 804 E. State, and the 5-unit 128 West Falls Street project.

The city pulled in $154,709 from site plan filings, down from $168,214 in 2014.

Rather uncomfortably, several projects – 416 E. State, State Street Triangle, the Herson Wagner funeral home project, a 4-unit apartment building at 525 West Green Street, and 4-story apartments at 815 South Aurora project were all withdrawn from consideration for various reasons, 5 of 16 of the site plans filed. For comparison, only 2 of the 27 filed projects were withdrawn in 2014, the cancelled boutique hotel at 339 Elmira Road, and the student housing project at 7 Ridgewood.

Although there’s less housing and the overall value of site plan filings are down, new commercial square footage is up, mostly due to Tompkins Financial’s new 110,000 SF. The increase was from 22,000 SF of retail and 3,800 SF of office space approved in 2014, to 20,563 SF of retail and 110,000 SF of office space approved in 2015.

On future projects, the city expects about 915 units of housing on the Chain Works site over 10-15 years. During 2016, the board expects that the Old Library site, the Travis Hyde proposal for Ithaca Gun, and phase III of Cornell’s Hughes Hall renovations will come up for review.



2. Looks like Cornell is starting to do some long-term planning of its housing needs. Over the course of the upcoming Spring semester, the university is expected to engage with students, staff/faculty and the wider community as it starts formulating its housing master plan for the next decade. Look at it as two things – an assessment/checkpoint on how the North and West Campus systems are doing since being completed in the early 2000s and late 2000s, and a gauge for where, when and what form new housing should take.

The nine-month meeting and planning process will be led by NYC-based U3 Advisors, who are also handling implementation of Cornell’s NYC Tech Campus currently under construction. Since 2013, U3 has also a consultant for Cornell’s plans for the long-incubating redevelopment of East Hill Plaza into the new urbanist East Hill Village.

3. Over in Dryden, Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3) has announced plans for a $5.5 million daycare center. Initial plans call for enough room for 80 children, and would allow the school to provide daycare for infants. Most of the children are expected to be the progeny of students, but staff and faculty would also be welcome to enroll their kids, and even members of the community if there’s still room in the new facility.

Funding to the project will come in a 50-50 split being state dollars and private donations, of which about $2 million has already been secured. A further $1 million campaign is expected to be launched by June.

The project is expected to be located on the west side of the main campus building, on undeveloped land between the classrooms and the pond. Construction is expected to begin in 2017. Approvals would have to be granted by the town of Dryden’s town board. As far as I’m aware, the Voice did not received the press release that the Times and Journal did, and no information is yet available on who the architect is, or the approximate square footage.


4. For those hoping for something big in the Planning Board meeting next month, well, keep waiting. Kinda. The new items on the agenda have already been covered – the Maplewood Development by Cornell (the northwest corner and two of the 3 to 4 story-apartment buildings fall at least partially into Ithaca city — just draw an imaginary line straight north of Vine Street to get the visual), and the Maguire waterfront proposal. Quick reminder, the general order is: sketch plan, Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance, BZA if necessary, prelim approval, final approval. Here’s the formal rundown:

I. Agenda Review
II. Special Order of Business – Adequacy Discussion – Chain Works District
III. Privilege of the Floor
IV. Subdivision review

A. Preliminary and final approval for the revision of lot lines permitting Habitat for Humanity’s “Breaking Ground” duplex at 208-210 Third Street

B. Preliminary and final approval for the revision of lots lines at INHS’ 210 Hancock – this would divide the parcel into for-rent and for-sale portions, which is crucial for funding allocation (government funding is earmarked either for rent, or for sale housing, but not both).

V. Site Plan Review

A. Brindley Street Bridge – Declaration of Lead Agency in concurrence with the Board of Public Works
B. Hilton Canopy Hotel – Project Update, Conditions of Site Plan Approval, and Requested Changes
C. Parking spaces for the new duplex at 424 Dryden – Public Hearing, Declaration of Env. Signif, and recommendations to the BZA
D. Cornell Hughes Hall renovations – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing
E. Cornell Ag Quad renovations – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing
F. Sketch Plan – Cornell Maplewood Apartments
G. Sketch Plan – Maguire Automotive Project at Carpenter Business Park


5. In case you missed it this week, the Washington Post wrote about a just-published California state Legislative Analyst Office study that found that communities that welcomed market-rate housing construction tended to have lower displacement of lower-income households than communities that did not add new housing.

A copy of the study can be found here. It might come off as counter-intuitive or too simple of a breakdown of supply and demand, but it appears that wealthier households tend to pursue the newest housing, and as shown with projects like the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek and Seneca Way, brand-new units do command a premium when they first hit the market. As time goes on and newer units come online, those well-off individuals tend to migrate towards the newer housing, while the aging housing moderates in price, making it affordable to downmarket income brackets.

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But, if there’s little new housing added, then the process breaks down. The moderating effect of age is much weaker, and the market encourages displacement as newcomers seek housing from the limited supply available. The California state study notes that inclusionary zoning appears to have only a small impact; even in communities with inclusionary policies in place, a lack of growth of market-rate housing resulted in greater displacement.

Note that none of this advocates for the tearing down of affordable housing, like the Elmira Savings Bank debacle. But it is a strong argument in support of the re-use of underutilized properties, like old industrial buildings, parking lots and so forth, where the cumulative effect of new supply can yield moderation in the market’s increasing costs. If affordable housing isn’t feasible for a site (for instance, the Waterfront with its high development costs), market-rate is not a bad alternative.

Looks like that editorial Jeff Stein wrote back in April holds a lot of weight.

News Tidbits 12/20/2014: Many Homes, One Community

20 12 2014

5-8-2012 347

1. Starting things off, here’s an update on Ithaca College’s Master Plan-in-progress, courtesy of the Ithacan. According to a presentation given by representatives of lead planning firm Perkins Eastman, the master plan will include a climate-controlled walkway connecting several buildings from the Gannett Library through the Center for Health Sciences, the removal of the upper and lower dorm quads and replacing them with academic lab/research space, an amphitheater just below the Dillingham Center fountain and a new entrance on Danby Road closer to Ithaca’s downtown.

Now, before residents in South Hill begin to panic that their neighborhood is about to be invaded by students displaced by IC’s decreased housing, I’d like to point out that master plans are rarely built out as designed, but are great for identifying academic needs. I don’t imagine that IC will start tearing down 11 buildings and 1,235 beds unless they really feel like getting into a fight with the town, or throwing up temp housing, neither of which ranks high on the to-do list. At least I get something to write about for a week or two when the new plan comes out this Spring.

2. What is known about Manos Diner’s future occupant: They’re leasing the space from Bill Manos, not buying. It’s a restaurant with owners who already own several restaurants, all outside NYS. It’s not necessarily a chain. It’s apparently a family operation and the food will be Mexican. And whoever it is must have really, really wanted to pry their way into the Ithaca market. I don’t see why they wouldn’t have chosen any number of other sites they could renovate…it seems really strange that an offer so fortuitous would come up that Manos would close his diner with hardly a notice to his employees (which is completely tasteless, for the record). New restaurants in Ithaca aren’t usually big news-makers by themselves, but the entry of this Manos replacement draws more questions than answers.



3. Looks like New Earth Living LLC has released some updated site plans and sketches of their approved Amabel project just southwest of the Ithaca city-town line. The houses on the northern two-thirds have been rearranged from the previous site plan, and if it’s still 31 units, then the center buildings must be two-family houses. I’ve been told that there will be six different house designs available, so don’t expect all the houses to look the same as in the concept sketch. One thing that the all designs will share are roof configurations that will allow enough solar panels to result in net zero energy use for each home. The city has approved the sale of its surplus land to the developer, and this project is due to start marketing in summer 2015.

4. Here’s a map, courtesy of real estate website Zillow, that prices out how much it would take to afford the median rent in a given metropolitan area, if paying no more than 30% of monthly income to rent (the federal affordable housing standard). Ithaca/Tompkins County comes in at $32.74 an hour, assuming a 40-hour week and 50-weeks working in a year. In other words, $65,480 ($1,637/month average rent). The number is skewed high from the number of expensive multi-bedroom units in Collegetown, but it’s still high when compared to Elmira ($28.08) or Syracuse ($27.74). For comparison’s sake to Ithaca-type communities, Boulder ($41.72) and Ann Arbor ($34.28) are higher, Charlottesville ($29.24), Madison ($27.54) and Asheville ($22.98) are lower.



5. Would you believe this is actually the first render I’ve ever seen for the Village Solars project in Lansing? This comes courtesy of their Craigslist ads. The Village Solars take their name from being designed with passive solar design with large amounts of natural light; I don’t know if they will have solar panels. For being a large project, this one has sailed under just about everyone’s radar, partially because it was approved 18 months before construction started. Since there has been so little news about this project, info comes in the form of government and business memos. Depending on the source, final build-out is between 292 and 320 units, which is enormous for the Ithaca area.

Rent’s not cheap with these new units – the minimum is $1235 for a first-floor 2-bedroom, going up to $1369 for a “penthouse” third floor 2-bedroom unit. The Craigslist ad says the first units (36 of them) will be ready for occupancy by March 1st 2015.

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6. Updated doc and drawings for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga Street have been filed with the city. Application, FEAF and project description here, drawings here. According to the docs, the cost of construction will be $740,000 for the four units, and go from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016 (March 2016 in the FEAF). Some slight metal pollution from Emerson/Morse Chain has been noted in soil tests from below the foundation area, due to the Morse Chain subterranean pollution plume (metals, VOCs) that affects much of South Hill. Although the DEC requires no further action at this time, there will be an active sub-slab depressurization system in place as a safeguard. In other words, a fan blows air into the basement, and it gets vented back out.

The design of the townhomes has been revised by architect Claudia Brenner to include more architectural detail – bay windows on the north and south ends, and larger/full porches vs. the stoops of the previous design. The siding has also been changed to all earth-tones. It’s an improvement, but I’d rather see two separate windows above the porches. This project will be presented at the January Planning Board meeting.


7. Here are some drawings for 707 E. Seneca. Readers might remember this is the 6-unit building proposed by Todd Fox for a derelict playground recently sold off by the city. The 18-bedroom design by local firm Schickel Architecture has already been critiqued thoroughly by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council, since the site is within a historic district and needs to look the part. I’d say that they’ve done well, it’s a bit bulky but otherwise a tasteful addition. An area variance will be required from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Construction is expected to cost $220,000 and run from April to July 2015. For more info, the application is here, drawings here.

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8. Since we’re talking about East Hill housing, here‘s the project application and here are the drawings for the duplexes proposed for the parking lot at 112 Blair Street. The Blair Street site will be combined with 804 East State Street, and the duplexes will have State Street addresses. The spartan design of these buildings is also by Schickel Architecture, and will add 12 bedrooms in 4 units. Cost is estimated at $213,000 and construction will start in April for a summer completion. The developer is Matthew Nestopoulos.


The Cornell Master Plan: Part 1 of 5

22 07 2008

So, now that I’m done with the fraternity rush booklet, I’m going to do a new multi-part feature, this one focusing on the Cornell master plan. Look at it this way; I love reviewing the additions to Cornell’s physical plant, so this is the equivalent of giving a hit to a crack addict (okay, maybe not as detrimental to my health. But anyways…)

So, a little background. The plan was first initiated in late 2005 and took about two years to complete the final product [1], which was the culmination of the third and final phase of development. Up to that point, some open sessions were held at Willard Straight and at the Hilton Garden downtown (in Sept. 2007) for members of the community to comment on the findings, needs and projected developments of the university. The work was done by a Toronto-based planning firm, Urban Strategies Inc.

The plan tries to encompass the needs and concerns of the university and its physical plant. Among the primary issues, transportation and parking were major concerns, as well as maintaining a cohesive campus community and spatially harmonious design concepts in the planning of space throughout the campus. Also important was the development of additional facility to maintain Cornell’s capacity to be a top research institution.

So, the plan is set on the time scale of the next 10 to 25 years. The plan considers some of the following parameters; an increase of faculty from 1,600 to 1,700-1,800; an increase in graduate student population from 6,000 to 6,500-7,000; an increase of 700 staff from 8,400 to 9,100; and undergraduate to hold steady arond 13,500. The plan accomodates for 1-2 million more square feet of space, to be constructed in and around the Ithaca campus.

So, my goal is to pick this plan apart, piece by piece, and analyze the crap out of it. But if you want to see and read through the process that led them to create the parameters and design guidelines for the comprehensive master plan, here’s the link: (click on part I).

Clicking on part II’s “Core Campus” link, and sitting through the time that it takes for 76.99 MB to download, it opens up to a picture of Olin Libe and McGraw Tower. How pretty. Anyways, it talks about the importance of Central Campus as the hub of university activity. Here, they first mention the new 24-hour hub on the east side; that’ll be discussed more thoroughly in a later entry. One last thing- unless otherwise noted, no building is a concrete plan; they are merely suggestions as to a good way to develop the site. If master plans were always carried out to a tee, we’d have completely gothic west campus [3].

Yay for Prnt Scrn buttons! I’m not doing this with every page, just ones i’m going to focus on. Seriously, I suggest you go to the masterplan website, click on “part II”, “core campus”, and take a look. Or go to the listed source [2].

So, this is the overall plan. It worries me just a teeny bit when they mispell Bailey as “Baily”, since it is a whole area of discussion for them; but I can’t comment, my blog entries are filled with typos.

The page for demolished buildings and removed parking lots. the general goal of the master plan seems to be to hide the parking as much as possible, since it isn’t good for aesthetics, and isn’t pedestrian friendly. However, we still need it, so they shove it underground where possible. Milstein Hall would be a good example of that.

Development focus areas! Notice the massive changes on the east side of campus. Like I said, I’ll discuss those later, but they really stand out here.

The 3-D image of the improved Arts Quad. Mistein sticks out like an ugly chick in a beauty contest, but there’s hope for the Goldwin Smith extension, for  which planning is currently underway. I’m holding out for something modern yet respectful to the older architecture, like the addition to Lincoln Hall in 1998. 

The overhead. As you’ll notice in the pdf, Milstein has these symmetrical roof features at the top; I feel as if that was an attempt to spice up the miracle box. I’m still not impressed, but you can notice an extension that goes behing Sibley and behind Tjaden. I really hope the arrow means you can still walk between them. An extension of Milstein’s design is perhaps nto the most ideal, but maybe Cornell can come up with something good for the back areas of Tjaden and Sibley. You can also just make out the Johnson Museum addition, which area-wise looks small and quaint compared to the rest of the buildings. At a mostly subterranean 16,000 sq. ft, I s’pose it is.

New stuctures with the thick gray border have been given the go-ahead for planning. The footprints in blacks are areas of potential development suggested by the plan. As we see, the area behind Sibley and Tjaden is seen as the only reasonable space left to develop without disrupting the harmony of the ag quad. The next page states that these buildings would have the same height and massing as their older counterparts, but considering they’re home to Arts and Architecture, I would not be surprised if Cornell were to push for cutting-edge designs if they ever developed those plots, being artistcially daring and all. However, it’s amazing how cutting-edge can be so offensive to the eyes sometimes.

Buildings in mauve-purple? They’re historic. As much as I have a personal vendetta against Rockefeller Hall, particularly Room 203, it would be a major hassle to structurally change it. No demo there anytime soon (I think the story goes that the money John Rockefeller gave to the building went mostly to the interior mechanics, and little on the exterior and finishings, hence the spartan design. He hated it so much when he saw it he vowed never to donate money to Cornell again). My personal wonder is how the hell could Uris Hall be architectually significant. Is that like the equivalent of a massacre monument, to mark that something terrible happened on the land and we should all know about it? Uris Hall could be taken as a massacre on the eyes.

Also on this page are the noted sightlines for the Arts Quad; sightlines will play a bigger role in some others buildings on campus, as to whether they remain or not.

to be continued…