News Tidbits 8/11/18

11 08 2018

News Tidbits 8/11/18

1. It looks like the Mettler-Toledo facility has a buyer. Ongweoweh Corporation bought the 27,000 SF property at 5 Barr Road in Dryden for $3.24 million on August 3rd. Readers may remember that Mettler-Toledo decided to consolidate the Hi-Speed Dryden plant with a new facility in the Tampa Bay metro, taking 185 jobs with it. Founded in 1978 in Spencer, Ongweoweh Corporation is a Native American-owned pallet management company providing pallet & packaging procurement and design services, recycling services and supply chain optimization programs. The firm had only recently bought its existing 17,577 SF headquarters at 767 Warren Road in Lansing, for $2 million in September 2016 – as Ongweoweh moves to the larger space, it’s putting 767 Warren up for sale for $2.3 million. It’s not clear if this physical expansion will add jobs, and a request for comment was not returned. The company employs a little over 100 people according to a third-party profile, and 58 are based in the Ithaca area.

2. Let’s talk about another business expansion – Emmy’s Organics. The organic cookie producer’s new warehouse and HQ came one step closer to reality this week when the city’s Planning Committee gave its approval to let the full Common Council vote on the sale of 2.601 acres of IURA land to Emmy’s for $242,000. The land is towards the south end of Cherry Street, it’ll be the terminus of the extended Cherry Street, which will be lengthened 400 feet and create two new one-acre lots to sell to business that contribute to the IURA’s goals of job creation for LMI individuals. Examples include drilling tech firm Vector Magnetics, lab electronics manufacturer Precision Filters and the Crossfit Pallas gym. A fourth lot on the west side of the newly extended road would be deeded to the city as a natural buffer between development and the waterfront/Black Diamond Trail.

The initial phase of the $1.25 million development includes 4,000 SF of office/breakroom/entrance area, a 4,500 SF production area, and a 5,500 SF warehouse (14,000 SF total). If growth continues as it has, the plan is to implement a second phase in 2-3 years for a 20,000 SF expansion. The new facility will create at least five new jobs (total staff 24), and the potential expansion would likely add at least another twenty given that phase two called for the parking lot to grow from 22 to 41 spaces.

The rendering of the new HQ above, which is a STREAM Collaborative design, shows both phases. The section in the foreground is phase one, the shed roof structure at back is phase two. The section of parking lot towards the left is a phase two addition as well. No zoning variances are required. Whitham Planning and Design is leading the project through the city review process.

3. Let’s linger on Whitham for a moment. From their website is likely one of the runner-up proposals for the North Campus Residential Expansion over at Cornell. They were partnered with Ann Beha Architects and Baltimore-based Design Collective for a competing design that was ultimately not selected. Cornell interviewed four development teams before going with their final choice, Integreated Acquisition and Development, a firm associated with John Novarr and Phil Proujansky who did the Breazzano in Collegetown. Although owned and operated by Cornell, there is a developer’s fee IAD will earn for developing the NRCE project on behalf of Cornell. That fee varies per project and is usually confidential, but 3-6% is common in commercial builds, and by that yardstick, for a $175 million project IAD stands to make several million dollars.

With nothing more than a site plan, I’d be willing to guess that given the team members, the plan would have been a contemporary design, though perhaps more conservative than ikon.5 – Ann Beha designed the elegant if subdued first phase of the Cornell Law School addition.

4. The Hotel Ithaca is moving forward with the next phase of plans for its South Cayuga Street property. The next project is to tear down the vacated south wing, a 2-story structure built in the 1970s, and replace it with a surface parking lot. At a glance, this is not at all a welcome proposal for a downtown street corner. However, it comes with some promise of a hotel addition down the line. A development pad will be created for a “future market-driven addition”, meaning that if business grows and they decide to expand the hotel, they’ll have a level, stable, shovel-ready site. Until then, it’s seventeen fewer parking spaces the hotel will need in the Cayuga Street parking garage. The $550,000 project would be carried out from August to November, and NH Architecture is handling the landscaping, refinishing of the tower wall and overall application on behalf of owner Hart Hotels.

5. Visum’s not wasting any time on its affordable housing proposal for 327 West Seneca Street. The three-story, 12-unit building is planned for an October start and an April 2019 finish, and will be going before the planning board this month Declaration of Lead Agency and review of Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form.

The project is an interesting little case study of how maximum height isn’t necessarily optimal. The zoning allows four floors; they want to serve 70-80% area median income, which requires 18 bedrooms for economic feasibility at this site. But to have four floors, the materials need to be fire-rated, and the units would need either emergency exit stairs, or an elevator. Since it’s a small building lot, an elevator would eat into the square footage of units, about a bedroom per floor, so there’s no net gain in rentable space with a fourth floor, but there would be an increased project cost. One could save costs by putting in the stairs vs. the elevator, but the fourth floor units would be harder to fill because they would pose greater access difficulties – ask around and see how many people want to walk up four flights everyday. This is actually one of the major reasons why the Village Solars in Lansing are also three floors, the expense of elevators would have driven their budget higher than the mid-market segment Lifestyle Properties wanted to serve.

Net-zero energy use is being explored (electric heat pumps powered by off-site renewables), and yard and setback variances are being sought after the city seemed receptive to a variant sketch plan with a few more square feet in the units for the sake of livability. STREAM penned a traditional design fitting with the block, and the revisions added a few more windows into the sides of the structure.

Also in the projects memo for this month are final approval for Benderson’s 3,200 SF addition at 744 South Meadow Street and the Declaration of Lead Agency for Cornell’s new north campus dorms. The Benderson project’s landscaping plan was modified slightly, and a new rear exit door and front awning are being considered.

6. Out in the towns there’s not much going on next week. A special meeting of the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board will decide whether or not to defer to the city as lead agency in the environmental review of Cornell’s north campus expansion. The town of Lansing will be holding public hearings for a one-lot subdivision and a four-lot subdivision for single-family homes.

7. The Lansing Village Cottages plan has its work cut out for it. The design has been tweaked such that the first two home clusters were combined, and the road connecting to Craft Road was realigned. The Millcroft Way connection will have a vegetative buffer and the road would be for emergency vehicle only. However, Millcroft Way residents are still seething – they have $500,000-$700,000, 2,500 SF+ homes locked under a covenant, while the same person who sold their lots is now selling to a developer planning 800-1200 SF cottages. Concerns include traffic, home values, density, and too many senior housing developments, which is a bit of an odd one. Logan’s Run isn’t just a street in Dryden.

The village is pretty hesitant to support this – the Board of Trustees sent the proposal back over to the Planning Board, hoping that they could make some recommendation as to whether it meets the goals of the village. On the one hand, that would seem an easy yes at a glance, it’s senior housing close to urban areas in an affordable price range. However, after shelling out close to $50,000 for lawyers to fight Lisa Bonniwell over her lawsuit to stop the East Pointe Apartments, money that won’t be paid back (perhaps indirectly in property taxes in a few years), the village is afraid of another Article 78 lawsuit, and the residents of Millcroft are very deep-pocketed and willing to go to court. This is vaguely reminiscent of a study that shows wealthier areas are much more adept at stopping density and new housing in general because they have more leverage – one of those being that a fear of costly litigation is a strong municipal deterrent.

8. We’ll end on a positive note – after eight years of back and forth, it appears site prep has begun on the 20 senior housing units planned as part of the Lansing Meadows project. Since developer Eric Goetzmann had until July 31st or else face significant legal action (Goetzmann applied for and received a tax abatement for the BJ’s that was contingent on the housing, and it was at risk of being clawed back), I had dropped by August 3rd. After looking around, it did not seem to be under construction; a bit of upturned dirt and a bulldozer on site. The village decided it was, if barely, according to the Lansing Star:

Yes, he scratched the earth. Yes, he does have the soil fencing in,” {Village Code Enforcement Officer Adam} Robbs said. “He has hired a dedicated contractor at this time to do the site work. He has a culvert permit and approval to install a temporary culvert for construction use. I do have a preliminary set of plans. I am hesitant to say he has begun a significant amount of work… but he has begun work.”

>We’ll see if it merits an update in October.





News Tidbits 9/16/17: The Big Surprise

16 09 2017

1. Ostensibly, the biggest newsmaker of the past week was the announcement of the Green Street redevelopment in Ithaca’s downtown core. To be frank, I was freaking out at my desk. Even more astounding was that the city slipped it out so casually, embedding it in a monthly PEDC meeting file that typically focuses on more mundane legal and planning concerns.

All photos that follow are from Jolene – pardon the marginal quality, we were both in note-taking mode, and these presentation papers weren’t given out to the public. North is towards the top of the floor plan images.

While the documents have yet to be uploaded to the city’s website, some basic details were released during the meeting – the number of parking spaces for the whole complex is 525. There would be two towers with residential units, a U-shaped west tower and a boxy east tower with projecting corners. 15 floors apiece. 350 units, “designed to appeal to a broad demographic”. Abatement likely, with the details to be ironed out as the percentage of affordable units is determined. The middle portion will also have residential units on top of the existing garage. 30,000 SF of conference space is planned under the eastern tower, if my notes are right.

The first floor appears to have at least two retail spaces, a lobby area, and an office, probably for management of the complex. The middle section will retain access to Cinemapolis and the garage. On levels two and three would be rebuilt garage sections (note the center section was rebuilt ten years ago and unlike the ends, is in good shape). Another floor of parking will be added.

Cooper Carry is the architect, and the initial design looks fairly safe, attractive if not particularly inspired. After the Marriott, it’s good to be wary of potential value engineering. It appears to use brick veneer, Nichiha-like metal panels and maybe fiber cement. Also, with Harold’s Square and City Centre off to the left, this would arguably create a broad-shouldered if stubby skyline for downtown Ithaca, more impressive than many communities Ithaca’s size.

My notes are that Marriott co-developer Jeff Rimland had non-public information about the Green Street garage because he owns the ground facilities under the garage’s eastern deck, and would be impacted by renovations. He was made aware of city looking at their options and put something together. The city only learned about the plan four weeks ago, and mayor Myrick wanted to make sure it was brought forward for public discussion and to determine if it was a wise choice to move froward. Ostensibly, if this came out as a surprise, a hornet’s nest of opposition would be stinging. Being transparent now helps later.

It seems the intent is an RFP for the garage for the sake of fairness, but I dunno how effective that will be. Rimland has a big advantage as owner of a portion of the parcel, since any other developer would need to arrange legal agreements with him in order to carry out a project. It was suggested by Brock, who has never been a fan of development, and I cynically wonder if this was an attempt to ensnare or at least stall the proposal. An RFP does put the city in a more legally comfortable position, perhaps. On the flip side, I cringe at the thought of another Old Library-like mess.

On a final note, there’s also a name, seen in the lower right of the rendering – “Village on the Green”. Very punny guys.


2. The other big news item of the week was 311 College Avenue, more commonly referred to as “The Nines replacement”. The Nines is a much-loved restaurant and bar that has long been a part of Collegetown’s drinking and musical scene – in the late 2000s, if I had to describe Collegetown bars, where Johnny O’s was the “fratty frat” bar and Chapter House the erudite tweed-clothed crowd, The Nines was the laidback, indie band geek-turned-rocker. Add in its location in a ca. 1908 fire station, and one of the few sizable outdoor patios in Collegetown, and one can understand that a project on this site was never going to be warmly received.

Granted, I’ve been raked over the coals a couple of times for the article, whose first headline said The Nines was being kicked out. It was an honest copy-editing mistake. For breaking news I publish ASAP, like with the Green Street development. However, that’s discouraged because the business pieces are useful for filling slow periods during the day, or to give time for others to prep articles during the early morning. Many of my articles are written in the late evening, submitted to the schedule, and skimmed through before hitting the website. In this case, I submitted Sunday night, my editor Jolene read through it early Monday morning, she thought the opening lines implied an eviction and changed the title (the original was a generic “Apartments Proposed for The Nines”). Sometimes title get changed for clarity or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but this particular time it created a false statement. I didn’t see it until I was at work on Monday, and uncomfortable conversations ensued. Sorry all. The next article won’t wax poetic.

Anyway, with that error noted, it makes this next opinion segment more uncomfortable. I’m not a developer. But if I were one, and heard the property was being put up for sale, I’d probably have steered clear. With all due respect to Todd Fox, my gut feeling is that the cons outweigh the pros.

Ithaca is not an easy city to do a project in. A developer has to pick and choose their battles. In this case, the battle is taking a building with some degree of historic value, but more importantly a lot of local sentiment attached, and proposing to replace it with, frankly, a mediocre design with high-end student units. I understand the economics of the site, the market, and the unfortunate though economically necessary impacts building flush to lot lines has on the ability to install windows on the sides. My concern is external impacts, by creating an emblem for opposition to organize around, because it wraps several perceptibly negative impacts into one proposal. That may make future projects that much more difficult. I worry that whenever a controversial plan is brought forth in years ahead, it will be pejoratively described by NIMBY types as “just like that Nines replacement”.

It has taken years for Ithacans to become slowly more amenable to density and development. Proposals that inadequately address community concerns threaten that progress. Consider the case of Jason Fane. He toyed with the city plenty of times. Eventually it caught up to him and he got burned. The sad part is, 130 East Clinton was a solid project, and to this day I believe that had it been another developer, those apartments would have been built.

Anyway, the ILPC would like to preserve it as-is, which draws the question why the discussion never moved forward 18 months ago when they had the chance. I don’t think that’s likely at this stage, and an overbuild probably wouldn’t work due to development costs (foundation shoring, elevator if 4+ floors) with respect to developable area – the big front yard setback is an impediment to that. I heard that an offer was floated to Neil Golder to move his house at one point during the 201 debate, so maybe moving all or at least the front (1908 wing) of the old station No. 9 is possible, but the expense would be great. As for the new building’s design, maybe modest fixed windows in the north/south brick faces, or glass block features like on Sharma’s 307 design, or even something as minor as a mural on the CMU blocks would help.

But, all that might be grasping at straws. This was always going to be controversial. I won’t fault someone for seeing an opportunity, even if it’s not a plan I’d advocate. It all depends on one’s appetite for development opportunities, and sensitivity to potential blowback.

3. For sale: 405 Elmira Road. 0.74 acres of parking lot next to Buttermilk Falls Plaza. List price: $465,000, courtesy of Pyrmaid Brokerage. Also noting – the chain hotelier who bought the former Tim Horton’s next door from the same seller for $640k in January 2016. Timmy Ho’s 0.75 acres is a little small for a hotel on its own, but combined with this lot, suddenly plans start to look quite viable for a mid-sized chain in the city’s suburban-friendly SW-2 zoning. Someone else may come along and buy it, but let’s see what happens.

4. It appears the 24-unit Pineridge Cottages project is off the table. The project, planned for the corner of Mineah and Dryden Roads in Dryden town, was greatly scaled back by developer Ryzward Wawak after water tests led to concerns about having enough to supply all the units. At this time, the plan is for four cottages, each a two-bedroom unit.

5. The Times’ Matt Butler has a nice summary and brief interview with Lakeview Health CEO Harry Merriman regarding the 60-unit affordable housing plan for 709-713 West Court Street. Some of the obstacles the project faced wouldn’t be a surprise to readers of this blog – the soils require a more expensive deep (pile) foundation, and land acquisition costs are climbing, which increases the overall costs involved with bringing a proposal into reality, let alone a plan that focuses on affordable housing. The increase in units from 50 to 60 was driven by the need to balance out revenue with expenditures and make the affordable housing economically feasible. Incremental cost increases per unit are significantly less than overall structural costs, so the per-unit expense for 60 units is less than 50, making the project more appealing in competitive grant processes.

Of the 22 units to be set aside for formerly homeless individuals, six will be reserved for HIV-positive clients of STAP, the Southern Tier Aids Programs. Those infected with HIV tends to experience much higher homelessness rates than the general population, with at least 81 homeless HIV-positive individuals in Tompkins County alone. This makes it hard to do things like refrigerate medication. These six units are a small number perhaps, but for those six folks it will make a huge difference.

6. Another feather in the cap of the local STEM sector of the economy. Biotech startup Jan Biotech Inc., based out of the Cornell Business Park by the airport, has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that will be used in the research and production of an HIV diagnostic for detection and quantification of latent HIV-infected reservoirs in patients –  cells that have the virus but aren’t actively producing HIV, which current anti-retroviral therapies struggle with. Potentially, the diagnostic could help test new medicines for their ability to target those cells, and lead to a true cure for the virus before AIDS can occur.

Along with new equipment and renovated facilities, the grant is expect to result in the hiring of another 5 to 10 scientists and engineers for the four-person firm. Which is great, but truly, it’s their work to try and improve our treatment and medicine of a deadly virus that’s more important. The very best of luck to them.

7.  A bit of news from the Cornell Daily Sun regarding the additional 2,000 beds Cornell would like to build on its North Campus, as part of its freshman expansion and “Sophmore Village” plan. The university would like to begin construction on the first dorms in 2018, and start increasing student enrollment by 2020. For that to happen, the plans pretty much need to come forward for formal planning board review within the next few months. Presumably, they’d like to have the dorms ready by August 2019 – these will be used as flex space initially, so that existing dorms like Balch and Clara Dickson can start renovation. At a bare minimum, it takes three months to go through the city planning board. Given this project’s proximity to Cayuga Heights, the local patricians will want to have their say as well, even if it is just outside village lines. With the size of the project and a minor amount of inter-municipal complexity, four months from sketch plan to approval seems realistic. Considering the need to request and award contract bids, it would seem plausible that Cornell puts the dorms forward this fall for review, with approval expected by late winter. Bids would be requested and awarded during the Spring, and construction would start by June. Whatever the case, the first construction plans are likely not far off.





News Tidbits 12/31/16: For Ithaca, This Wasn’t A Half-Bad Year

31 12 2016

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1. Another fairly quiet week for that Christmas-New Year’s lull. There wasn’t anything too noteworthy in real estate transactions, but thanks to a construction loan filing, we have a figure for the construction cost of Modern Living Rentals’ 902 Dryden Road project – $1,192,550. The 8-unit, 26-bedroom townhouse project is being financed by Elmira’s Chemung Canal Trust Company, a regional bank which has been looking to expand its presence in the growing Ithaca market. Most mid-sized building loans like this are financed by Tompkins Trust, and this appears to be the largest project CCTC has financed locally; checking the records for the past 12 months, they’ve previously financed a few single-family homes and that’s it. A larger loan like this might be a sign that they’re building confidence in the project and the market.

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2. Sticking with MLR, a glance at their webpage gives an interesting detail – the 87-unit, 87-bedroom 815 South Aurora project is now described as having 125 bedrooms. The multi-story apartment project sought and persuaded the city to reduce cellphone tower no-build radii last spring so that it could be built near the South Hill telecommunications mast, but because the city only reduced to 120% of height instead of tower height plus 10 feet (meaning 206 feet instead of 180 feet in this case), the project has to be tweaked. No revised designs have been released, but should something come along, you’ll see it here.

Side note, the website has an easter egg – clicking on MLR’s Commons placeholder gives you the 2015 downtown market summary from the DIA.

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3. For those interested in learning more about Cornell’s north campus plans, video from one of their meetings can be found online here. The key takeaways – the first building, when it is built, has to be larger enough to function as swing space for Balch Hall, which appears to be first in line for renovations. Balch has 437 bedrooms, to give an idea of the potential capacity of the first new dorms. Dickson is larger (527 beds), but its renovation will be split up over two summers, allowing for partial occupancy while renovations are underway. Lot CC could potentially be replaced with 1,000 beds in multiple buildings, as well as a dining facility (a new dining facility is seen as less urgent and would be further down the line). Those new dorms would eventually be geared towards sophomores, multi-story but “contextual” in height. It sounds like the first concrete plans are expected to be ready by the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

4. The Common Council will be voting on some bond issues next week that will fund several municipal projects. $500k for street reconstruction, $367k for municipal building renovations, $653k for street lights, $600k for a replacement water tank on Coddington Road, $101k for bridge inspections, $181k for the Stewart Park pavilion, $51k for site improvements to the Hangar Theatre property, $134k for design and scoping costs for the Brindley Street bridge replacement, $340k for the Cascadilla Creekway project and a replacement ped bridge at Sears Street, water mains, traffic lights, traffic calming, new police cars, all totaling $6,464,450. A separate measure calls for an additional $950k in bonds to cover the costs of the Stewart Avenue bridge repainting and reconstruction.

Some of the money covers design studies for intersections – of particular note is a study considering a roundabout at the “five corners” intersection at Oak Ave/Dryden Rd/Maple Ave, which could be a welcome change from that awkward traffic light currently there.

The city issues bonds twice a year, in January and July, to cover its various construction projects. Some of it gets reimbursed with state and federal dollars.

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5. I cheaped out on my Voice summary of the top development stories of 2016 – there are only 5, but only because there was no way I had time to do ten this week. Here are five that missed the cut – the cancellation of State Street Triangle and the rise of its replacement, City Centre; the Tompkins County Housing Summit and the Danter Study, which are important but not really attention-grabbing; some progress in affordable housing, with Cayuga Meadows, 210 Hancock, Amici House and Poet’s Landing; the continued growth of Collegetown, with the opening of Dryden South, Dryden Eddy and Collegetown Crossing, and the entrance of the College Townhouses, 210 Linden and 126 College; and the growth of the local economy, which if the numbers hold up to revisions, 2015-2016 will have the second highest year-over-year gain in jobs since 2000 (#1 is 2011-2012).

When thinking about what’s in store next year, it’s a little sketchy because of impacts from the incoming Trump administration, and how that could impact the national economy – but if things stay consistent on a large-scale, than Ithaca can expect continued modest but steady growth, mostly in meds and eds, with a bit in tech and hospitality. We’ll probably see a couple new projects proposed in downtown and Collegetown, and maybe some smaller residential and commercial projects in other neighborhoods, like the Elmira Road strip and State Street Corridor. The town of Ithaca, it’ll depend on if they get their new zoning sorted out; if they do, there might be a burst of new proposals in some areas. The other towns, it’ll be hit or miss, maybe a larger proposal in Lansing or Dryden but otherwise scattered-site single-family, par for the course. Also, keep an eye out for more housing proposals from Cornell.

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6. It’s quiet week, so let’s finish this up with a little water cooler gossip. From the rumor mill, some of the potential tenants being discussed for the Masonic Temple include a microbrewer (good thing the city just updated their zoning to allow microbreweries), professional event space, and a church. That last one seems a little unusual, but to each their own. The renovation plans call for three rental spaces, one of which is geared towards restaurant tenants.





News Tidbits 10/1/16: Sketchy Details

1 10 2016

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1. Over in Lansing, it looks like Park Grove Realty is having a rough time getting their plans rolling. Legions of angry homeowners turned out at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a requested zoning change for a 20-acre Bomax Drive property that Park Grove seeks to build 140 apartments upon. The meeting wasn’t about the project, which will follow the zoning change once approved. For the record, the meeting was only about the zoning change, which is currently zoned for office park business/technology and has been owned by Cornell since 2008.

The unusual thing is that the primary opponent seems to be the Jonson family, of development company IthacaHome, formerly known as Forest City Realty. They built some of Lansing’s 1990s subdivisions and the Heights of Lansing project at the end of Bomax Drive, which is stalled out due to a lack of interest and Ivar Jonson’s passing. The claim from Janet Jonson is that if left commercial office/tech, then maybe an office building would be built and executives would build homes on some of their vacant lots. Even Larry Fabbroni was there to say an office building would generate less traffic than housing would. The meeting was very heated, according to the Lansing Star’s Dan Veaner.

The village planning board was there to listen, but not especially sympathetic. For one, there’s plenty of undeveloped commercially-zoned land; but there is a housing shortage. For two, although some complained “transients” would lower their housing values, these units will be going for $1,400-$1,900/month. The board’s not focused on the project just yet, that will come in due course. Meanwhile, the trustees moved to schedule public review for the zoning change, with that meeting planned for October 17th.

A couple miles away, Park Grove has also been getting flack for taking down willow trees as part of a plan to reduce root damage and mold issues, and to expand parking and add a 425 SF rental office on the Triphammer Apartments (former Chateau Claire) property. The heavy-handed approach was not well received. In short, Park Grove’s principals are the village pariahs at the moment, though they have brought some of it on themselves.

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2. Just a brief check-up on the Maplewood Park redevelopment. The project team has been busy over the past month making revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of its determination of adequacy, and the DEIS was just accepted for public review as of the town of Ithaca planning board meeting on the 20th.

A digital copy of the revised DEIS can be found on the town’s website here. A public hearing will also take place on October 18th. The SEQR review period is 45 days from acceptance, so public comment will be accepted on the document up to 4 PM on Halloween.

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3. As part of their campus housing study, Cornell launched an extensive survey of their students. A summary and a link to the full results can be found on their webpage here. The university also held public forums this past week on campus to hear opinions from the community and explain what happens next (what needs work, how much campus housing is needed, where on campus, what student segments, strategies for the next 25 years, and so on).

Among the grad and professional (MBA/JD/MPH/etc) students, more anticipated living on campus when they arrived, than actually did – 32% vs. 18% of respondents. On average, G/P students felt they should pay about 7% less than they do. They want Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, on-site laundry and package/mail delivery. Outside, they want wider sidewalks and more frequent bus stops/service, and parking fees should be bundled in rent if parking is offered.

Those off campus preferred Downtown (26%) and Collegetown (24%). Grads and domestic students preferred Downtown, professional and international students preferred Collegetown. Grad students tended to be more satisfied with their housing than undergrads.

Similarly, more undergrad respondents want(ed) to live on campus – 56% do or have, 78% want/wanted to. That stat’s a little weird, since freshmen are required to live on campus. Only about 45% describe an apartment as ideal housing, vs 88% for grad/prof students. They also want Wi-Fi and laundry, as well as study areas and dining nearby. 49% selected Collegetown as their preferred housing choice, with another 36% preferring an on-campus location if available.

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At the public forums, the university presented a few potential building sites for new campus housing. The goal was to have sites away from full-time residential areas (less hassle), easy to prepare (less physical hassle), accommodate 300-500 students (scale efficiencies) and be near existing facilities (quality of life and infrastructure). Three north campus locations were presented – CC parking lot, the side lot at RPCC, and the fields next to Appel Commons. The RPCC and CC locations show up on the 2008 Master Plan as well, 3-6 floors and up to 200,000 SF of space. So it seems those two locations have a more sustained interest. The city of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights have a boundary line that straddles those sites, a latitudinal line just south of Jessup Road. If something were proposed, most of the land is in the city, but the village would have to vote to defer decision-making to the city. That is a potential complication that Cornell has to keep in mind.

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4. The Evergreen Townhouses project in Dryden will be the subject of a special meeting of the town planning board on Wednesday October 5th at 7 PM at the Varna Community Center. The full suite of documents, including county review, planning board notes for the town board (recall that in Dryden, the town board votes to approve projects instead of the planning board), sewer capacity report and concept plan description can be found here. SEQR has been reviewed and a traffic study has been completed. The project will need a PUD approval, since 36 units exceeds what the zoning allows (28). If the PUD is approved, land will be deeded to the town for its recreational rail trail. Like the Park Grove project in Lansing, this rental proposal has seen a fair amount of opposition, due to traffic and concerns about renters, and the possibility of encouraging suburban sprawl east of Varna. Oddly enough, for being this far along in the process, there still haven’t been any detailed renders of the townhouses released to the public.

5. Here are a few details about the 607 South Aurora project. Readers might recall the sketch plan was presented at the August Planning Board meeting.

As I discovered this week, sketch plans are actually off the record. Meaning that a developer doesn’t have to give it to the city for publication if they don’t want to. Apparently, John Novarr is going this route – although images for his townhouse project on the 100 Block of College Avenue were presented last week, the city has no official record of them, and he said he has no intent to share plans until he’s ready for the city to declare itself lead agency. For what it’s worth, the project, geared towards Cornell faculty and staff, was well received by the Planning Board.

On the one hand, not sharing the sketch plan limits public exposure and the risk brought by exposure, and it allows the board to eliminate the most controversial aspects before the public can see them. On the other hand, it’s less transparent, and makes me an unhappy camper.

Back to the topic at hand, 607 South Aurora as initially conceived calls for 4, 2-family, 2-story houses on the property, while retaining the existing house. That’s a total of 8 units, and 24 bedrooms total. Parking would be in two sections tucked back from the street. The project is not unlike the one approved for 312-314 Old Elmira Road in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. Although STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest presented the project at the August meeting, STREAM is not in charge of this proposal. The project is being designed by Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma for local developer Charlie O’Connor.

607_s_aurora_1 607_s_aurora_2

Charlie O’Connor is a part of Modern Living Rentals, and regardless of how one might actually feel about their work, it is probably the most transparent development/rental company in the local market. True to form, a quick check of their website turned up images of 607 S. Aurora. It looks like the same general design will be used for each building, and each unit will be 3 bedrooms and about 1,122 feet. I hope they change up the exterior colors for variety’s sake. The board and planning department was fine with the buildings, but suggested revisions to the site plan, so the next iteration will likely have a different site layout.

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6. Sorry, didn’t realize the lens was smudged. This very subtle duplex is underway in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, behind an existing duplex at 512-14 West Green Street. Because it fits in all the setbacks (it’s a very large, deep lot for an inner city parcel) and the rear of the property falls into the State Street Corridor’s CBD-60 zoning (i.e. no parking required), this project never needed more than staff-level approval from the city. Honestly, were it not for a small disturbed area at the curb-cut from construction vehicles moving in and out, one would never know this duplex was under construction.

The property is owned by the Ciaschi family, and appears to have been passed between family members since at least the 1960s. A building loan filed on June 17th indicates that Tompkins Trust lent $330,000 towards the project. As with many smaller builds, this a modular by Ithaca’s Carina Construction. Carina is supplied by Simplex Homes, and it looks like this 3-bedroom/2-unit is based off Simplex’s “Elkton IV” plan (but that could be wrong). Give how far along the outside is, it would not be a surprise if renters move in by the start of October.

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7. The near-death Black Oak Wind Farm could actually happen, if they pay Enfield the money they want for FOIL costs. Using the original EIS, they’ve reverted to the initial plan, including use of the landowners’ properties who tried to pull out in the face of the project’s rancorous opposition. The BOWF project team had been attempting to move two of the turbines to accommodate property owners who changed their mind about being associated with the project, but the Supplemental EIS had been caught in legal red tape with the town of Enfield and the town of Newfield to its south, where one of the alternative sites was planned. So the new plan is to just go forward with the original signed contracts and build what was proposed before the 2015 SEIS. The project team has requested final approval, but the town has said they want to be paid $19,000 for the cost of handling all the FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) requests, of which they’re not sure who’s actually required to cover the cost.

This project and its manager, Marguerite Wells, have probably been put through a greater Hell than any other proposal in this county, which is really, really saying something. Let’s recall, apart from the opposition that has demonized the project manager and the investors (successfully, one could unfortunately argue), that when they considered the alternative site, Newfield’s town board rewrote their wind farm law to implicitly but effectively ban wind turbines from the town. The BOWF project has been incubating for nine or ten years.

According to Marguerite Wells, if they can’t get approval at the Enfield town board’s October 12th meeting, the wind farm proposal dies. And with it, pretty much any commercial wind turbine plans for Tompkins County (looking at Newfield, maybe single-family turbine plans as well – the way the 2016 revision is written, a homeowner can’t even hook up a little one to their roof, as it’s too close to an occupied structure).

8. Here’s a little kick in the pants to end the week. It was reported in Bloomberg of the five Ivies that have released results so far, Cornell’s endowment did the worst in the past year, with a -3.3% loss (which comes out to a drop of about $200 million). The university is taking reactive measures, including moving its investment offices to New York City. “The investment committee believes over the long term the relocation to New York City gives us even better access to potential staff who might not be willing to move to Ithaca,” said Cornell CFO Joanne DeStefano. That’s a bit deflating.

 





A Protest in Cayuga Heights

26 08 2014
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About as close as I have to a picture of the townhouses (left, brown roofs).

I’m going to take a break from my Collegetown writeups to write an apropos history piece. A couple weeks ago, the project for 7 Ridgewood went on indefinite pause. I’m a little disappointed, sure, though not nearly as much as I would be if the city hadn’t lifted the parking requirements on Collegetown. With several of the parcels south of Cornell Campus being primed for redevelopment and at least a few hundred more bedrooms, some of the edge will be taken off the housing cost and supply problems that plague Ithaca and Cornell.

The debate with 7 Ridgewood has a historical predecessor. I’m going to spin the clock back in time, to the era of Ford Pintosbell bottoms and when everybody was kung fu fighting: 1974.

Cornell’s campus proper spans three communities – the city of Ithaca, the town of Ithaca, and the village of Cayuga Heights. The line for Cayuga Heights doesn’t quite line up with campus roads, but it could be treated as the portion of Cornell north of Jessup Road and west of Pleasant Grove Road. Today, that would be Jessup Field, the “A” parking lot, the Daycare Center, and the freshmen townhouses.

Cornell was, not surprisingly, facing another housing crisis in the 1970s. The enrollment was climbing hundreds per year. The lack of dorms, even for freshmen, was acute. Collegetown was still seen as a drug-ridden hellhole. The university was cash-strapped, having difficulties with the build-out of its new north campus community (the low-rise and high-rises; the university would eventually give up on trying to build low-rises 2, 3, and 4 due to tight finances). Even with the difficult finances, Cornell was still trying hard to find a way to accommodate its burgeoning student population.

Enter the Richard Meier proposal. Launched in Fall 1973, the design by the class of 1956 (B.A. Arch 1957) alum called for two four-story buildings, “serpentine” in shape, to be completed by late 1975. They were to be at least 60 percent glass, with a yellow “stucco-like” exterior. The two buildings as designed would accommodate 542, and then 547 students at a cost of $4.4 million (about $21.3 million today). Most of the dorms consisted of 105 units of 4-6 bedroom suite-style (then called  “townhouse” and “duplex-style”) units, each with its own kitchen, living room and bathroom. It was to be built north of Jessup Road, between the athletic fields and “A” lot. I have only found one dark photo of a model of the project, included below.

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Well, the prospect of hundreds of students in Cayuga Heights put many a pair of panties in a bunch in the wealthy suburban enclave. More than 175 turned out at a village meeting to speak out on the proposal, saying that their children often played there, and that the traffic would overwhelm the town. The breakdown of against vs. for the project was about 9 to 1. The Sun quotes one woman as saying that she hears that “students listen to their rock music morning, noon and night” and that it was sometimes impossible to sleep on summer nights due to noise from the North Campus Union (now RPU). In the summer. When students are, and were, away from campus. Another speaker, a Cornell professor, apologized for his neighbors speaking as if the students were inferior beings. But some students weren’t fans of the project either, calling it too cramped, too expensive, and bothered by the lack of dining or dorm-wide commons areas. The Cornell Sun Op-Ed of March 20, 1974 accused both Cornell and the villagers of Cayuga Heights of high-handed arrogance unbecoming of both parties.

Legally, the project had to get a zoning variance – Cayuga Heights only permitted buildings in that area that were less than 30′, 60 feet from Triphammer Road. The project called for 33’9″ (the dorm ceilings were only 7’6″), but the university felt that because it was 230 feet away from Triphammer, it was acceptable. The number of occupants was eventually whittled down to 497 units, with a construction start planned for the summer. But it ended up being delayed. Cayuga Heights demanded detailed plans for all future development projections of Cornell property within its boundaries, but the university wasn’t game. Eventually, faced with ballooning construction costs well north of $5 million, Cornell found itself unable to break even if the proposal went forward and was built. The project was quietly mothballed, swept into the dusty files of campus history.

With the gift of 40 years, it would appear neither side won. Cornell never built its serpentine dorms, but the townhouses, with heights under 30′, would be built on part of the same site in 1988-1989, with occupancy for 310 students. Originally housing grad students, it was opened to undergrads in the mid-1990s, and then became freshman housing after 2000-01. Cayuga Heights still had to deal with hundreds of students and the loss of the coveted green space, and Cornell couldn’t cram as many students on that swath of land as they initially hoped. Do we have any victors? Maybe Richard Meier and serpentine buildings in Ithaca, both of which have left their mark on the city of today.

EDIT 10/2016: images of the Meier proposal:
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Random North Campus Photos

20 07 2008

For the prefrosh—

Clara Dickson Hall (left interior corner)

Bauer Hall

Court Hall (left) Kay Hall (right)

Mews Hall

Balch Hall (NE corner)

Risley Hall (with a berry tree in the front, and new brick entry ways)

Akwewon (prononuced Ah-GWAY-go, I think). 

Jameson (High-Rise 5 looks exactly the same).

Hurlbert House (EcoHouse)

The Low-Rises; since they all look the same, one photo is all that is necessary.

Appel Commons (left) and Helen Newman Gym (right).

For more info on these buildings, please see the north campus blog entry.