The De-Evolution of the Purity Project

29 10 2014

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I figured that so much has happened with this one, that it merited its own post.

When the Purity Project was first proposed in November 2012, it was something of a surprise, and a welcome one. Developers Bruce and Heather Lane were proposing a five-story apartment building on the site, with purity on the ground-level. A mid-rise mixed-use building for the historically overlooked West End of the city. It seemed like win-win, and another sign of Ithaca’s burgeoning residential growth.


Then came the first downgrade. The apartment tower was gone, and the reasons weren’t explicitly stated at the time. In its place was a small second-story office addition of 2,600 sq ft. A disappointment, certainly. With some reservations (discussed in a great write-up by Jason at Ithaca Builds), the project was approved last December. The first phase, which was a renovation Purity’s customer service area, opened in May.


No we have the third version, which is another scaling back of the proposal (they use the term “value engineered”, which are curse words in my book). There are no additions; the letter from the project engineers say it would be better characterized as “a gut renovation”. According to their study, the soil on site, which is lake sediment, compresses very easily, and is so difficult to build on that just about any addition would be cost-prohibitive. The extent and severity of the soil issue only became apparent when detailed analysis was being conducted for the next phases. The soils/foundation issue was also a major factor in dooming the apartment tower.

The latest iteration renovates the vacated western portion of the building for about 3,834 sq ft of office space (called “Cascadilla Corner”), which they anticipate being held by a tenant with 18-23 employees, according to the parking study. As someone that once worked in a 4,000 sq ft office with 20 others, that sounds about right to me. I do have concerns given Ithaca’s generally-lackluster office market, but the space is small enough that it’ll probably be easier to fill than the large floorplates once proposed by Harold’s Square.



Here are the latest renders. At least the renovated space will be nicer than the industrial warehouse’s present form.

News Tidbits 10/18/2014: Disturbia in Suburbia

18 10 2014

1. The town of Lansing finds itself in a conundrum. The dilemma deals with a property known as Kingdom Farm, a 500-acre property owned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the business branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the Lansing Star, The land is being put up for sale with an asking price of $3 million, or $6,000/acre . That’s a little too rich for most of the farmers in the region (the average sale price in recent year is about $2,850/acre), especially since the property’s soils are marginal. There have been rumors or developers looking at the land, and some of the more activist locals are calling for the town to step in to help local farmers buy the land to keep it as an agricultural use. There’s no rush, the church group pays no taxes on the land, and their plan to build a massive development on the site faded away when the town sewer plan was cancelled. As one town official noted, Lansing only has a few dozen homes built per year, so the property would likely see some residential build-out near the road, but otherwise be unused if turned over to development. The debate is whether or not the town should step in, which has local politicians taking sides for and against, and I imagine that telling townspeople that their tax dollars are going to preserve farm land will be rather contentious.

2. Another news piece from Lansing/suburbia, this time dealing with the parcel of land next to the BJ’s Wholesale Club off of Triphammer.  Some readers might recall that senior housing was to be included with the project; in fact, it was a stipulation for approval of the BJ’s back when it was approved in 2011.

According to the Ithaca Times, that is still underway, but the developer (Arrowhead Ventures) wants to make the parcel denser. The current plan is for four buildings facing Oakcrest Road with three units each, so 12 total. I’m not sure if it’s just a repositioning of structures (the parcel has wetlands in the vicinity and is waiting on the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers for permission to build) or more units. The site is part of a PDA (Planned Developed Area, just like PDZ and PUD…heaven forbid we stick with one county-wide acronym), so it’s pretty flexible.

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3. Apparently, this is Lansing’s week of news in the Times. Bill Chaisson did some excellent research for his article analyzing development in the town of Lansing. Not only does it reveal the scope of development in the area, it also reveals the dysfunction of Lansing’s town government when it comes to discussing growth and development.

I do have one qualm with the piece – the city-data building permits say they are for the village of Lansing, not the town. According to the HUD’s SOCDS building permit database, In 2013, the town issued permits for 19 single-family homes and 10 multi-family units, and the village issued 4 single-family home building permits. The number was 25 in 2012, all in the town. There were 25 units built in the town (21 homes/4 multi-unit) in 2012, and 22 in 2011, with six more in the village.’s data is from the town for 2012, and from the village for 2010 and 2011. Although SOCDS is more reliable, their numbers are often low biased because some numbers are “imputed”, which means they were assigned by inference. The town itself estimates 30-35 units per year, which given the population growth of about 500 from 2000-2010, is probably more accurate. Truly reliable building permit data for the Ithaca area is still rather hard to find.

Aside: Ithaca city had two single-family home permits issued in 2013, and 69 multi-family units (for 71 total); Ithaca town 2013 had 45 units issued permits in 2013 and 45 more in 2012, with 21 single-family homes in 2012 as reported by Bill’s piece.

Anyway, the piece notes hundreds of units in various stages; some are still proposed, some are approved, and a few of which are underway. The Woodland Park townhomes now number 16 (it was 6 a year ago), and the Lucentes have 12 units underway as part of their Village Solars expansion. On a matter of personal opinion, I despise the gated entry to Woodland Park, which to me is antithetical to the inclusive nature of the Ithaca area, and outright silly in an affluent town like Lansing.

More interesting is the sniping between town officials apparent in the article. Lansing was looking for a full-time town planner before the town board turned a little more to the political right. Now it’s part-time, and one of the councilmen “knew of interested parties” who will do the job. Looking at the Kingdom Farm issue, and the planner issue, and the recent stormwater problems reported in the town…Lansing has all the attributes of terrible planning at work.

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4. Now turning our attention to the city again: the city’s project review meeting, one of the necessary steps for projects going through the approvals process.  The Wegman’s retail building will begin the formal review process and get environmental review as well, 114 Catherine and the Patel Hotel (Hampton Inn Boutique Hotel thing) take the plunge with the board’s “Declaration of Lead Agency” to formally review those projects, Chain Works’s first phase gets lead agency and environmental review (which also needs to be orchestrated with the town planning board as well), and 128 W. Falls Street’s 5-unit infill project seeks final approval.


Then we have the Purity project, which has drawn the city’s ire. The agenda succinctly says they are seeking to modify the site plan. From the looks of the version of the agenda with attachments, there’s a pretty substantial change to the exterior facade (note the dark shading in the new version is brick texture, which doesn’t show up well at low resolution), though the massing is roughly the same. The other part of it might have something to do with a parking issue that arose that may have violated the approval terms of the Purity project…the planning board has been none too enthused since the midrise apartment tower was cancelled, but additional parking was still in the proposal. In order words, the Purity owners may have broken the rules of a city board that is already angry with them. No one’s going to enjoy this meeting.

The Purity Project Design

14 05 2013

So, I know I’m playing “catch-up” here, but the guys at Ithaca Builds have shown me a potential source for renderings – the specialized google search of city documents. Lo and behold, elevations for the Purity Project. From John Snyder Architects, it’s boxy and glassy and rather restrained as modern designs go.



The design would have a 5-story structure that tops out at 64 feet – more than enough to make it a visual focal point for the surrounding neighborhood.


The rendering from Ithaca  Builds suggest the building will use brickwork for some of the lines of the facade. Also, personal opinion, the curved-wall two-bedroom units facing the inlet and West Hill would arguably be some of the coolest apartments in Ithaca. Construction is anticipated for commencement in September, going through to summer 2014.



More Than Just Cherries On Top: The Purity Redevelopment Plan

11 01 2013

Now, a part of me was tempted to write something up about a Cornell fraternity that just was thrown off campus for “sexually humiliating” hazing…but then, I realized I’m too far out to care for the stupid crap of the current crop of students. No matter how absolutely, unfathomably asinine it is. Stay classy TEP, it’s a miracle your trashed house didn’t collapse first.

So onto something that catches my interest in a more positive way. I have to issue a slight mea culpa on this, because the news regarding the Purity Ice Cream project has been floating around for a good six weeks already. For those who have yet to experience it, Purity is a fairly well-known local ice cream company, in operation since 1936. The current building, a rather plain one-story brick structure, was completed in 1953.

Of note and of particular relevance here, Purity is in a high-traffic but fairly low density area, on the Corner of Meadow and Cascadilla Streets, west-northwest of downtown. In what I would describe as a rarity for Ithaca, I don’t believe I’ve ever taken a photo of the store. Thank Heaven for aerials and Flickr.


Purity’s parcel is outlined in red in the above image from Bing Maps. It lies on the cusp of low-to-moderate density residential district (Northside), part of a small commercial district of mostly retail and warehousing. So it lies quite a ways outside the traditional dense clusters of development.

The plans are still pretty conceptual at this point. The owners, Bruce and Heather Lane, seek to keep the original structure and build vertically; rental office and retail space on the lower floors, with 13 to 26 1 and 2-bedroom apartments on the third and higher floors. The facade, in keeping with the original structure, will be brick. The number of stories is to suggested at 4-5, but the first floor would have 16′ ceilings, so it would be fairly likely to top out around 60′, and the new building would be a visual focus point in the generally low-rise neighborhood. Although the area is less built up than some other parts of the city, the owners are seeking to tap into new urbanist concepts, touting the walkability to Greenstar and the Waterfront Trail. The goal is to get the project underway in fall 2013, and the ice cream store will remain open throughout the duration of construction. A structure like this would have a 12-to-18 month time frame.

Not all of the structure would be saved, as the manufacturing space for the Ice Cream would be eliminated; but then, Purity has contracted out the ice cream manufacture to Byrne Dairy since 2006. It seems it would be a loss of underused space at worst.

Now here’s the consequence of my inattentiveness; the rendering is missing. I can come up with some ideas, since John Snyder Arch. is in charge, and they’ve been prolific in the area as of late (their flavor of choice being geometric forms/ modern design). But even with that knowledge, and knowing it was just a sketch plan, I would have liked to have seen the render. But unfortunately, it is missing from the IJ and its sister pubs, and even the article has been deleted (at least there were cached versions; but those did not have the render). Granted, it’s not like I’d be able to post it anyway, given the whole paid subscription thing. But, as the project continues to evolve over the next couple of months, I will attempt to stay on top of this for once, and post a rendering as a soon as a free version becomes available.

Update 1/17: And in fact one has, from Google image search. Sweet. Pun intended.