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

6 05 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 6/27/15: A Bad week for YIMBYs

27 06 2015

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1. Starting this off with least controversial news-maker this week – John Novarr’s 209-215 Dryden Road project, which I wrote about for the Voice here and with site plan details and SPR/render links here. The first article’s a little helter-skelter as a write-up because there was a lot of frantic 11:30 PM fact-checking going on in an effort to get the news out.

The $12 million, 12,000 sq ft proposal is smaller than Collegetown Dryden, but more importantly, the project isn’t residential; it’s classroom and office space for Cornell’s MBA program, three floors for each of those uses. That definitely brings something different to Collegetown and its mostly residential focus. With assurances given that the property will be kept on the tax rolls, the initial opposition appears to mostly be related to the design, which to be honest, is rather avant-garde and an acquired taste (not one I’ve acquired, to be honest). However, bringing 200 staff and a few hundred professional students into Collegetown would be a real asset for businesses struggling to stay open amid the neighborhood’s 32/36-week profit window.

209-215 Dryden Road is within the MU-2 zoning from the looks of it, so a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seems unlikely at the moment. We’ll see what happens moving forward, this one could be a fairly smooth approvals process.

2. For a smaller developer, Ithaca-based Modern Living Rentals has been pretty busy this year. Along with 707 East Seneca Street and 902 Dryden, they have a modular duplex (3 bedrooms each, 6 total) currently under construction at 605 South Aurora Street in Ithaca city. A construction permit was issued back in 2014, according to the city planning report. The orientation is a little odd in that the new duplex is being built in front of the old home on the property, since the house is longitudinally centered but set back on its lot. Taking a guess, the intended market is likely IC students. The new units look like they’ll be ready for occupancy in time for the fall semester.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the Tompkins County Government Operations Committee – plans to sell a vacant lot to non-profit housing developer INHS. In its May minutes, the committee announced intent to sell a vacant, foreclosed parcel in Freeville for affordable housing. The property is described as a 1.72 acre parcel on Cook Street in the village, which through a little deductive searching, turns up the lot in the map above, just north of the Lehigh Crossing Senior Apartments. The minutes state that INHS is in the process of drafting up an acquisition offer for the county attorney.

Freeville is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This might be the first new rural project post-merger. The Lehigh Crossing Apartments have 24 units on 2.3 acres, so if INHS were to build at the same density, this site would be looking at something around 18 units. Not big, but not inconsequential, especially for a 520-person village.

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4. A decision to decrease sewer hookup costs in Lansing village also shares some details about a senior housing project in the works. The news comes from the Lansing Star, where the village voted to decrease its sewer hookup fee from $2,350 per unit to $1,000 for the first unit and $500 for each additional unit. Apparently the high fee was the result of the lack of a permitting process in the 1990s.

The article notes that the developer of a mixed-use request had requested a fee waiver because it would have cost $138,650 for their “59 units of senior housing”. Now it will be $30,000. Not as good as a waiver, but still pretty good. Lansing village only has one project that meets the description provided, the 87,500 sq ft Cinema Drive project covered here previously. The semi-educated guess back in May was 51 units, so the ballpark estimate wasn’t too shabby.

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5. It’s official, 327 Eddy is under construction. Asbestos removal has been completed and the Club Sudz building is coming down. The Fontanas hope to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by next August. In replacement of Club Sudz’ and Pixel’s 7 units and 2,500 sq ft of commercial space, the new 5-story building will bring 1,800 of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall the building was originally going to be six floors, but a floor was lopped off since it was approved.

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6. Updated renders for 215-221 West Spencer Street, coming right up. A little more detail on the facades, some window updates from the last version, and…well, honest personal opinion…it’s a very attractive design. Materials could underwhelm it, but as presented, it appears to be a lovely addition to South Hill. Good work STREAM Collaborative.

The 12-unit, 26-bed project plans to start construction next year. The project replaces an informal (dirt) parking lot.

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7. Touching on the Old Library decision briefly, a public meeting on the two proposals will be held Monday June 29th at 6:308:30pm at Greenstar’s “The Space” (700 West Buffalo Street). Douglas Sutherland will represent Franklin Properties (first image) and Frost Travis will be presenting for Travis Hyde. Should the County Legislature decide to take another vote to see if the stalemate will be broken, the next chance will be at their July 7th meeting.

EDIT: The public meeting scheduled for the 29th has been cancelled .

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8. Onto the thornier topics – Not sure what was worse this week, the reaction to the State Street Triangle project, or the INHS Hancock Street opposition. The objective, non-partisan write-up about the State Street project is on the Voice here. This and news piece #9 are opinion pieces, feel free to ignore them.

At least the State Street objections (latest renders here), I can understand the initial shock and recoil; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jive with that. Regardless, by Ithaca standards it is massive, 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms; if this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).

But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site. Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit”.

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, than a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely. Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:
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to this:

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Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

9. Now for 210 Hancock. Here is a project that’s been transparent, incredibly transparent, throughout their whole planning process. At first, there was little opposition. Now, it threatens the proposal, apartments, townhomes and all.

A wise man once told me in when I was preparing a piece, “There’s no point in talking about this with you, the public’s going to have issues with it either way”. At this point, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve read the petition, and I’ve read the facebook comments. It’s regrettable, to say the least.

A lot of the comments just seem to be misinformed. People saw the petition, thought that INHS was only building the apartments, and signed it. The petition was worded with charged and selective language. I’d like to take a few minutes out to refute and argue some of the commentary.

“there must be a safe place for children to play…”

“People need access to green space, yards and the ability to get outside directly from their living space.”

“I want my 3 year old to grow up in a neighborhood where he can safely ride a bike, play sports and walk his dog.”

You’re right. That’s why the project, as proposed by INHS and tweaked by the city Planning Board, builds a playground that blends into Conley Park without the threat of vehicular traffic (shown in the plan below). Adams Street and Lake Avenue would be removed, allowing kids living in the apartments and townhomes to go the playground without crossing any street.

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“I’m a lifelong resident, and I’m frankly getting tired of seeing all these areas getting bulldozed and developed…especially when we have dozens of empty/condemned houses and buildings just sitting around!”

The rental vacancy rate is 0.5%. A healthy market is 3-5%. Further to that, if there are dozens of homes, even if they were for sale, it’s still not enough to handle the demand, which is in the few thousands.

“inadequate parking planned.”

“The parking issue is already a problem. This will only make it worse.”

“I am a Fall Creek resident and do not want this area in our neighborhood to resemble Collegetown in density or difficulty in parking.”

84 parking spaces are required by zoning, 64 are proposed. However, only 22 spaces are expected to be used by the 53 apartments. In the parking study of INHS tenants, 41% of apartment tenants have 1 car, 12% of those have two. One of the reasons why INHS’s parking utilization is so low is that many of its apartments are rented by seniors – for example, Breckenridge Place is 60% seniors on fixed incomes. With limited mobility and/or income, many don’t maintain personal cars.

In a sense, although the Cornerstone project for affordable senior housing wasn’t selected by the Old Library site, the INHS project on Hancock Street may serve in some ways as a reasonable alternative.

“We don’t owe any developer a profit on their development.”

INHS is a non-profit community developer. The townhouses sold at Holly Creek over the past year were in the $105-$120k range. For comparison’s sake, the townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages sold for double that, and those aren’t even considered high-end (high-end would be the $410,000 townhomes in Lansing’s Woodland Park).

The reason why construction won’t start until Fall 2016/Fall 2017, with the apartments finishing up in Fall 2017/Fall 2018, is that they are completely reliant on government grants and donations from community supporters. The townhouses won’t start for a couple of years (their time frame is 2018-2020) because funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. Just like with the condominium debate, the government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. As for the rent-to-own option suggested by the petition writer, it’s speculative, complicated, and NYS/federal HUD will not provide grants for that type of property acquisition. INHS couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

“[need]assurance mixed income will be there”

It will. As I wrote in March:

“210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.”

“A 54 apartment high-rise is not the appropriate place for children to grow up, low income or not.”

“It is too dense and not suited to Fall Creek or Northside.”

“I moved to Ithaca and settled in Fall Creek to live in a small town.”

For starters, it’s harder to make housing affordable if there are fewer units on the a plot of land. Secondly, because the INHS project takes lead on the city’s right-of-way (ROW) on Lake Avenue and Adams Street, the calculated density per acre is 23.6 units per acre. Cascadilla Green, one block to the north, is 20 units per acre. Also note that units are 1 and 2 bedrooms per unit; most of the houses on blocks in Northside and Fall Creek are 3 bedrooms per unit.

What probably bothers me the most are some of the comments in the online petition for INHS.

“Shame on you “Ithaca Neighborhood Housing” for even thinking of creating something that will breed trouble…”

“This is an uncivilized proposal…”

“if all on welfare, this will invite crime…”

One of the reasons I harp on affordable housing is that I grew up in affordable housing. This 147-unit mixed-income complex in suburban Syracuse. Apartment 28E. I shared a bed with one of my brothers until I was 10, and even after my mother was finally able to buy a small ranch house, we shared a bedroom until he graduated and went to college two years before I did (by that point, we had moved on up to bunk beds). My mother did what she could. We were never more than working class, but she worked hard (still does) and made sure her kids worked hard.

At least some of the comments are kind enough to be “I want affordable housing but”. Others really make it sound like that those in need of affordable housing are a contamination of the community. Those statements aren’t worth debating. They’re just hurtful.

Anyway, this might be the longest news update I’ve done, so I’m going to wrap this up and detach from the computer for a while. There may or may not be a photo update Monday night, we’ll see.





News Tidbits 1/17/15: Capturing “The Essence of Local Surroundings”

17 01 2015

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1. Token PSA: The third meeting for INHS’s Hancock Street/Neighborhood Pride redevelopment is next Wednesday, the 21st, 4:40-7:30. Attendees are not required to be there for the entire time. The goal of meeting three is to discuss design concepts for the proposed buildings that comprise the two remaining/competing site plans. I look forward to writing a follow-up after the meeting.

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2. Finally, some drawings for the 102-unit Cayuga Farms townhouse project in Lansing, courtesy of the Lansing Star. They look like stereotypical “McMansions” that happen to have shared walls, and the rental price for the 2 and 3-bedroom units has the mansion part covered – $1800-$2200/month. If you use the 30% rule of affordable housing, that means the a household in the cheapest unit is expected to pull in $72,000/year. To quote the project engineer, Timothy Buhl:

“The idea is to capture the transient market of people coming from urban areas to work at the colleges,” Buhl said.  “They would ultimately buy a house, but don’t know where to locate.  We’re looking for young, two-worker families.  It’s an in-between type of rental of higher-end people that we’re looking for.”

In other words, “affordability” is not a word you’ll see in this conversation. The Cayuga Farms project was initially proposed several years ago as 144 townhouse condos (I miscounted and said 138 at the time), but the market for suburban high-end townhouse condos is pretty limited – there is Ivar Jonson’s Heights of Lansing which since 2006 has sold ~17 of the 70+ proposed townhouse units, and Woodland Park, which in three years has built ~6 of 48 planned. The market is virtually non-existent, hence rentals.

On the town’s website, there’s all sorts of other data uploaded: trail recommendations, on-site sewage system details, traffic generation estimates, erosion and sediment control plans, environmental review forms and so forth. Cayuga Farms is multi-phased, with 3-4 phases from 2015-2021; phase 1 will have 44 units. Since Lansing is at capacity on its natural gas pipeline, residents will be using propane appliances until the new natural gas pipeline from NYSEG is routed in. This project already gets dinged in my book for having 354 parking spaces when zoning requires only 153 (1.5 spaces per unit). Every unit gets 3.5 parking spaces. That seems like overkill. Anyway, the planning board reviewed the SEQR on the 12th, which is a big step towards approval of the townhouse development. My gut feeling is, while there’s no doubt Ithaca needs housing in most market segments, a high-end rental unit where you have to drive to everywhere bundles just about every criticism about local development into one convenient package.

Let’s be honest, I’m generally pro-development. But I do have a short list of projects I don’t support. This is one of them. With the sprawl, gobs of parking, and mediocre design, I question its value to the Lansing community.

 

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3. The Lofts @ Six Mile Creek project has posted preliminary unit sizes and floor plans on their facebook page. The “Studio +” and “1 Bed +” indicate bonus rooms inside the unit (suitable for another bedroom, home office, etc.). No word on rents just yet, but being new and downtown, expect an upmarket price for the 45 apartments due to enter the market late this spring. Their webpage notes they’ll be accepting reservations sometime prior to that.

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4. I think we’re up to version 7 now, but the differences in the proposed “canopy Hotel” are now so subtle that you’d have to be looking hard to spot the changes. The entrance facade is virtually the same, but the mechanical penthouse has been updated to better blend in the rest of the structure, and a couple of stylized wall inserts have been planted into the northwest wall to give the 7-story, 123-room hotel a little visual interest. More renders here, a geotechnical report here, a new cover letter here, and traffic study materials here and here. Thank goodness a lot of this work has gone paperless.

According to the documents, the new “canopy Hotel” brand by Hilton

“…is marketed towards the millennial generation (those born between 1980 and the mid-2000s), however, is relevant for the older generation of hotel guests. Each canopy Hotel is designed to incorporate the essence of its local surroundings and neighborhood feel; such as offering a local welcome gift and evening tastings of local food, beers, wines, and spirits to providing local fitness and recreation options in terms of jogging and bicycle routes (bicycles will be available for rent).”
Yes, ‘canopy’ is meant to be lower-case and ‘Hotel’ is capitalized. I’m sure the brand creators thought that was hip and edgy. Yet another reason why I would never be a good marketer. The 74,500 sq ft hotel includes a small restaurant space of 2,000 sq ft on the first floor, as well as standard hotel amenities like a small meeting room and a gym. The $19 million project hopes to start construction this spring.
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5. Looking ahead, here’s what the city Planning and Development Board seeks to do at its meeting later this month. For the canopy Hotel mentioned above, declaration of environmental significance and possible preliminary approval. INHS’s 402 S. Cayuga Street townhomes and the 6-unit 707 E. Seneca apartment project will be up for environmental review and recommendation to the zoning board for variances. The Planning Board will also declare itself lead agency for reviewing Cornell’s Upson Hall renovations, the 3 duplexes at 804 E. State Street (112 Blair). Board members will also consider approving a telecommuncations (cellphone) tower on top of a gas station at 214 N. Meadow Street, and weigh in on parking-related variances for 128 West Falls Street and 108-110 Eddy Street. It’s an interesting mix this month.




Craigslist, the Wild West of Ithaca’s Rental Market

14 05 2014

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All of the apartments I have ever lived in, I have found through Craigslist. I’ve explored the markets in Ithaca, Albany and the New York City area, and for the most part, I’d say the results were positive.

Sometimes, when I glance at Ithaca development projects, I look at the Ithaca branch of Craigslist postings. Where we once had those cute little printed apartment guides and phone books, now we have a website that shares housing ads with space occupied with postings for old CRT TV stands, scuzzy photos of human anatomy, and the inevitably creepy missed connections. Some of Ithaca and Tompkins County’s smaller projects, the token single-families, duplexs and triplexes that are the bread and butter of the community, are hardly noted in more prominent publications, and barely mentioned in bureaucratic paperwork.  It’s easier to find renderings and so forth through Craigslist (I’m lazy, and just use the keyword “new”, which seems to catch a lot of them).

With that acknowledgement of utility, I still roll my eyes at some of the ads. There’s no real policing of the ads beyond extreme instances, so looking for housing becomes a case of caveat empetor. Some don’t need policing so much as a proofreader, being a schoolteacher’s nightmare of horrific spelling and grammar (especially the dreaded ALL CAPS), but there’s a few out there that are just an outright crock. But someone new to the Ithaca market won’t know that.

To avoid confrontation, I’m not going to link to the culprits. But they’re easy enough to find.

I’ll use my keyword for example: new. There’s one local rental agency that uses the phrase “brand new” to describe a townhouse complex built in 2003. According to them, by care-worn boat of a car is “brand new” (and worth about two months of their rent), as are the Iraq War and rapper 50 Cent‘s first album.

Another example – describing any house as being “in Ithaca” when it’s actually in Newfield, Dryden or Caroline. The most egregious offenders aren’t even in Tompkins County. On a related note,  advertising a house on Coddington Road as “urban living” won’t fool anyone so long as they make an effort to visit the place.

Then we have adjective abuse, which isn’t a new thing but it merits every ounce of scorn it receives. Luxurious is the biggest offender, but affordable is rapidly catching up to it (resulting in the facepalm-worthy phrase “affordable luxury”). We also have “contemporary”, “upscale”, and even “trendy” pokes its ugly head every now and then.

While writing this entry up, I found something especially cringe-worthy, at least for me. Two photos of an apartment being advertised, which I have separated from their post out of politeness. Unless someone happened to rent the same unit and use the same shower curtain, that photo is from when I lived there during 2008-2010. The bedroom photo was my room. In fact, the desk on the left could very well be the exact same one from which I wrote the first post for this blog. Feel free to hate the bedroom color, I shared the room and we were trying to make each room its own color; this one had the soap opera name “Dylan Verdant”. I’m kinda surprised the room is still that color, since that was one of the reasons we left that apartment with our security deposit much, much lighter than when we moved in (the day we learned to have written and signed consent; on the bright side, I’ve always received my full deposit back ever since).

The last thing I’ve learned from Craigslist is that some folks make a veritable mint on graduation weekend. Looking there now, I see 2 nights in a home for $850, a three-night stay in a Cayuga Heights home for $1800 (for 2015, it’s already rented for 2014), and a few places going for more reasonable values of $150-200 per night. Now that’s what I call a vacation fund.





The 2010 Cornellian Yearbook

2 06 2010

So, my time at Cornell is wrapped up. It would seem fitting, not only as a graduating student, but for historical reference, to invest in a copy of the 2010 Cornellian yearbook.

Problem is, they suck.

First of all, if someone wanted to preorder, they make it pointless by offering no discount or advantage whatsoever. Not one dime, no personalization of the cover, nothing. There’s no incentive to order early so many people don’t. Of course, they print hundreds upon hundreds of copies anyway because they know over 3500 undergrads are about to graduate.

As Elie already noted, the historical accuracy and the writing are nothing short of atrocious. It would be one thing if they seemed to try at historical accuracy. But the mistakes are glaring, appalling, and most unfortunately, frequent.

I guess what I get hung up on are the photos of the students. Okay, so they sorted them by college (not done in older yearbooks). That’s cute. Rather pointless since everyone has friends spanning all schools and it makes them difficult to look up, but I digress. But it’s just a photo and a name. Could they at least make a half-hearted attempt to capture the glory of the old yearbooks?

The old yearbooks used to give a form to graduating seniors, usually when they had their photo taken, or sometimes submitted separately. The senior would give a very brief summary of their activities and accomplishments, no more than two of three printed lines. It usually went along these lines (and it varied depending on how much the person wanted to include):

HUXLEY, Martha. Ag. Ho-Nun-De-Kah. Cornell United Religious Work. Dean’s List.

HYMES, John.  Arts. Lambda Chi Alpha. Navy ROTC. Scabbard & Blade. Dean’s List. Graduate, Moorestown High School.

In earlier years, they were included in the space next to the photos. In later years, this section was moved to the back of the yearbook. In the past few years, it has been done away with completely. Which is a real shame. One of the things your yearbook should be memorable for is the inclusion of your accomplishments as well as those of your friends and classmates. Take that away and the yearbook loses a lot of its importance (especially to me, someone who would depend on those little bios for historical analysis of individuals).

On that note, the fraternity section — crap. The staff couldn’t get a group photo from each house as they have in almost every year prior? Bullcrap. Photos of the house are token, and all can be collected with a good set of wheels and a good camera within two or three hours at most. At least attempt to get a list of seniors from each house.

The yearbook tries to offset it’s cost (which, since it costs nearly $100, must not be working) by selling back pages to the parents of students seeking to lionize their children. I for one am not a fan of public displays of adulation. I have no desire to see full page ads of your son at ages 3, 8, 12, 17, and now and read about how proud you are. Couldn’t you have just bought a nice card instead? Back in the day, the Cornellian was more reliant on donations for ad space from companies in Ithaca – clothing and other retail stores, restaurants, B&B’s and the like. It was less egocentric and, in my humble opinion, more professional.

The photos in the Cornellian? Nice, but not nearly enough to make up for the steaming pile that comprises the rest of the book. Arguably, they can’t control the lack of hundreds of seniors from the yearbook either (which I felt uncomfortable looking through and not seeing their faces, but it’s their choice whether to get their photo taken or not).

I love history and I believe yearbooks are a valuable historical tool. Cornell has a fine tradition of quality yearbooks that are a great resource for research or even just the merely curious. But this was pathetic and shameful. This yearbook does not deserve to be associated with Cornell University and has diminished historical value.

In conclusion, the 2010 Cornellian Yearbook is absolute crap.





The Rush Week PR Disaster

24 01 2010

Pike being booted is bad enough. But it looks like sororities haven’t been able to avoid trouble either.

If anyone has read Ivygate or the Huffington Post lately, apparently Pi Beta Phi’s dress manual for sisters during rush week was leaked, substantiating just about every single embarrassing sorority stereotype known to man. Not that everyone didn’t know there was a dress code, but the shallowness of it all really echoes with the sister who wrote the six-page guide. It’s not something that Pi Phi will get in trouble for since they didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s an embarrassment and a public relations debacle.

Watch out for those dress checks, ladies.

Speaking of which, this puts Greek Life at Cornell in an unpleasant situation. We have Pike and Pi Phi caught committing activities that portray the darker side of Greek Life by exposing some of the excessive drinking and superficiality, the kind that anti-Greek zealots thrive off of.  I know I made the joke a couple of entries ago about how I hope my fraternity sends no one to the hospital during rush week, but this is ridiculous. The goal of recruitment is to invite those interested into Greek chapters, not embarrass ourselves in a stereotypical shit-show that will have repercussions through the system. The reputation of the greek system at Cornell has taken a major hit this week, and Panhel and the IFC need to something, now. Advertising the high points of Greek Life in Sun Articles and OFSA publications is only a small part of the answer. Open and extended discussion of these events will be required at the meetings of the respective councils, and ways to improve upon it. Even if they don’t (which I’m being honest here, and know that things won’t really change), it will offer some good PR.

I know that some of the comments I’ve seen on facebook and other sites question the harshness of immediately stopping Pi Kappa Alpha’s recruitment and kicking them off campus. Let’s be frank – they deserved it. Yes, they sought the freshmen medical attention. Congratulations, by not letting them die they just avoided persecution under NYS law. However, the brothers still let it happen in the first place. Did not monitor the situation, did not prevent the freshmen from drinking to the point of poisoning, did nothing until their lives were actually in danger. The freshmen were stupid, but regardless of that the brothers should have been smart and prevented the situation from occurring. But they didn’t. They deserve every punishment that Cornell, the IFC, their national org, their alumni and anyone else delivers upon them.





The Planning Board’s Lack of Logic

20 03 2009

http://www.theithacajournal.com/article/20090319/NEWS01/903190358/1002

Goody Clancy’s suggested plan:

goody-clancy-plan

The recommendations from the planning board

ithaca-plan

Note the differences. There are many. It’s as if they looked at the $200,000 study, said “it’s nice, but-“, and went the opposite direction.

So, the planning board has not only not accepted Goody Clancy’s advice, it’s doing the reverse – it’s making zoning even more restrictive, and (as suggested) making parking tighter in Collegetown in favor of garages in the city. I’m sure they’re patting themselves on the back for “preserving the neighborhood”. In my opinion, considering the parking and discouragement of multi-unit buildings, this seems to be a not-too-subtle suggestion to students from permanent residents: we don’t want you here.

My suggestion to permanent Collegetown residents: too bad. As Cornell’s class sizes increase, where do you think they’ll move? North is well protected as a historic district (Cornell Heights – and Cayuga Heights has had restrictions in place for years). West is largely undevelopable due to topography and the cemetery. Living outside the close proximity of Cornell will lead to students bringing cars with them, resulting in more traffic congestion, which is (and should be) discouraged.  Students will therefore move to Collegetown, and I’m willing to bet that as opprotunities arise, landlords will buy up the owner-occupied properties and turn them into student occupied houses, since there will be more demand. This may pass for now, but in the long term, the anti-development crowd is going to dwindle down. There’s nothing Mary Tomlan and the planning board can do about that.