News Tidbits 7/7/2018

7 07 2018

1. The infill project at 209 Hudson has been revised and reduced in size. The new plan from the Stavropoulos family of developers calls for just one new duplex at this time, on the existing lawn and swimming pool of the extra-large lot. The rear duplex was eliminated in the revised plan. A small zoning variance is still required for the subdivision (side yard deficiency), but it’s less likely to catch the ire of BZA members this time around because more mature trees are preserved in this reduced-size iteration. Modest bay window projections, fiber cement panels and wood trim will help create a higher quality product.

The duplex would be a quick build since it’s modular, but it’s not going to be ready in time for fall semester – spring (January) would be feasible, if the individual units are assembled before the snow flies. The Planning Board will make their recommendation this month, and the BZA will have their vote in early August, with potential final approval in late August. Quick note, as this has fallen under the threshold for the Ithaca project map (3 units or more), it has been removed.

Also due for review this month are final approvals for 128 West Falls Street (above) and a 3,200 SF endcap addition at South Meadow Square, and approval of a subdivision at 508-512 Edgewood Place.

2. Recently, Visum Development posted photos on their Facebook/Instagram taken during setup for an interview with Park Productions, and Ithaca College student media group. Normally, that’s not something to write about, but this caught my attention:

327 West Seneca is the new all-affordable project they introduced at last month’s planning board meeting. As for the others, I don’t have much of a clue. Ithaca does not have a Main Street, so that’s likely another community. 409 State may refer to an older building at 409 West State or 409 East State, but 409 East State is Travis Hyde’s Gateway Center property (and who at last check had no plans to sell).

As for the others, it looks like the first number was erased. Also of note, there is no East Cayuga, it’s just North and South. So I dunno quite what to make of it – hints of projects with some red herrings, it seems. Worth a look, but it’s not much to work with just yet.

3. Time for a little more speculation. A vacant lot east of 404 Wood Street in the city of Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood sold for $70,000 on June 26th. The buyers were a husband-and-wife pair who also happen to work for Taitem Engineering, a prominent local consulting engineering firm with specialties in structural engineering and associated branches in the context of green/sustainable building operation. The pair previously did a LEED Platinum, net-zero energy home in Ulysses two years ago. The likely guess here is that they’ll be building their next net-zero energy residence on this lot.

As previously noted when the property went up for sale in January 2016 (it was later subdivided from 404 Wood, which was sold a while ago), “(p)laying with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.”

TL;DR – if they want to do a small infill net-zero apartment building, they can. If they want to do a sizable single-family residence, they can do that as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

4. On the policy side, the Ithaca Common Council voted Wednesday night to move forward with a CIITAP stipulation stating projects pursuing the tax abatement must have a mandatory affordable housing component of 20%, available to those making 75% Area Median Income, affected all residential projects with ten units or more.The extension of CIITAP applicable properties along the Waterfront was also approved.

The policy comes forth after considerable debate over the right percentage and right income to apply. It’s the Goldilocks principle – too little and you don’t add an appreciable amount of affordable housing and may even decrease the amount once redevelopment occurs in lower-income blocks, too much and developers just won’t build (the Portland problem), and those who stick around will renovate existing buildings instead, meaning less supply overall, fewer existing lower-income units and accelerated gentrification. Among things discussed Wednesday night, a proposal to modify the mandatory size requirement of affordable units from a minimum of 80% the square-footage of the market-rate to 100% failed 5-4 (needed six), the % of affordable units went from 10% to 25% (the 25% was the First Ward’s George McGonigal, who has a history of being opposed to new market-rate and affordable housing, and did not get a second to open discussion).

It’s too early to say if this is too much or not enough – the City Harbor folks were in attendance for the discussion (they were at the meeting for a different topic), but didn’t raise concerns to 20%, so it seems likely their project is able to continue. The county IDA is the grantee of abatements with the city in an advisory role only, so they’ll have the final say on the application of the new law.

5. Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Childcare Center has the funds it needs to move forward. The project, first proposed in February 2016, calls for an 8,000 SF, $4 million building, plus a $1.5 million endowment for operating costs. State funds support much of the cost, as well as a $2 million donation from Ithaca CEO and major TC3 donor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the center will be named.

According to Jamie Swinnerton over at Tompkins Weekly, the project includes six classrooms with two infant rooms, three playgrounds, and be, in part, staffed by students studying to be teachers and childcare providers. 12 jobs will be created, and since it’s for faculty, students and staff, those jobs are expected to be full-time and all year-round. The building is expected to be partially opened by the start of the Spring semester, and fully occupied by the Fall 2019 semester.

Design-wise, the latest design in Tompkins Weekly shows smaller windows and the loss of some hipped roof bumpouts at the rear of the building (older version here). Value engineering noted, but the goal of helping students with children stay in school, and get the degrees they want to build their professional foundations on outweighs any shade thrown at the design changes.

6. Also finally moving forward – Lansing Meadows. There was an 11th-hour holdup for the 20-unit senior housing project when the village expressed discomfort with accepting future ownership of Lansing Meadows Drive, feeling the turns were too sharp and posed a liability. Developer Eric Goetzmann relented and agreed to maintain the road as a private road, and the village board approved the project 3-2; there are still a lot of sore feelings about the often-delayed and arguably underwhelming final proposal. Goetzmann has until July 31st to obtain permits to begin construction, or else the county IDA will recommence seeking clawback reparations from abated taxes, most of which went toward the BJ’s that was built in 2011-12.

7. Let’s slay some inbox rumors. East Hill Village is not cancelled. Nor is Trinitas’ Dryden Townhomes project. I checked with the project teams – both are still active projects. However, East Hill Village is waiting on the town of Ithaca to finish updating its zoning to a more form-based code, and the project will not move forward until that happens.

8. For fun: here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet on how the Ithaca metropolitan area lines up with other metros on new home construction permits since 1980. Key takeways – Ithaca/Tompkins County was in the top 10% of metros in 2017 for multi-family housing permits per capita (30th of 381), but it lags quite a bit in the construction of single-family homes, so its overall rank is only the 64th percentile (137th of 381). Even then, it’s still one of the fastest growing housing markets per capita in the Northeastern United States. 2016 and 2017 have been strong years, while 2015 and earlier were generally well below the national average.

The multi-family number per capita is arguably skewed higher than a typical year thanks to large projects like 441-unit/872-bed Maplewood, but the message seems to be that the community is seeing real results from its push for housing. However, with a lack of single-family being built, Ithaca and Tompkins County need to figure out ways to compensate for what single-family provides (i.e. home ownership). It’s not necessarily “we should build more single-family homes” although that is part of the answer. It’s also encouraging suitable single-home substitutes (condos) in desirable areas while maintaining a strong, steady flow of new units as the local economy continues to grow.


Ten Years Later

19 06 2018

It’s hard to believe that this blog has been around for ten years.

Most years, I’ve done a modest update highlighting some statistics and some things that have happened over the past year. Except last year, where it just totally fell off the radar and I didn’t even remember the anniversary day until the end of the month. Even the best time management fails to keep track of everything.

Since I’m not 100% sure how many views I had at about 6 PM on June 18th of last year, it’s a little hard to gauge precisely how many views a day I’ve been averaging. If we assume it was consistent for the month of June, then there were about 103,652 views from 2017-18 (just about one visit for every person in Tompkins County), which comes out to about 284 views per day. Over the years, the annual averages have looked something like this:

2008-09: 82

2009-10 166

2010-11 199

2011-12 216

2012-13 182

2013-14 155

2014-15 219

2015-16 266

2017-18 284

Or, going by the WordPress calendar year stat, 2016-17 was down a little bit, but 2017-18 has seen a tick upward. Nothing has yet surpassed the infamous spring of 2010, when a series of high-profile suicides at Cornell dominated the news both locally and nationally.

The function of this blog has definitely changed over the years. The primary focus in its earlier years was history, mostly Cornell-focused. A look at how the physical imprint of the university evolved into a greater interest into the way the greater urban network of buildings and streets evolved, and from there, an increasing interest in business and real estate and economic news. As a result, reading through blog posts from 2009 is a very different experience than reading through posts from 2014.

To be honest, I had planned to shut the blog down in June 2014. It had seemed to run it course, and Ithaca Builds was in full swing. But on April 28th, a day I only remember because it was the evening before my mother’s birthday, Jeff Stein had reached out asking if I would be willing to help him out with his attempt at local news. I was incredulous in our first conversation, but the Journal was slipping pretty quickly by that point, and that’s how I became a part of the Ithaca Voice.

Since I’ve started writing for the Voice, I’ve chosen to divvy up what ends up in the blog, and what ends up in the Voice. Smaller news details or things that are too vague or lacking in information to make into a full article usually make into the Friday night/Saturday roundup, “News Tidbits”. Same goes with most of the photo galleries, although I will often select a set to share on the Voice first, while sharing other sites first on the blog. For example, most of my Lansing construction photos will be used in a gallery piece this week, and after that they will show up with only a brief description here (because the longer description will be in the article, and it’s in the interest of time management).

The blog has taken on a utility that I never expected it to. Every day, I’m surprised when visitors email me and say this is their go-to for real estate and development news in Ithaca and Tompkins County. It’s flattering, but it’s also a bit worrying. When this blog launched, there were still over 20 writing staff at the Ithaca Journal. Today, it’s two, and Gannett advises them to not live in Ithaca and commute in, because Ithaca is too expensive.

Unfortunately, we’ve been watching a major decline in local journalism. A few bigger organizations can sustain themselves on reader subscriptions, but many smaller news outlets have had to cut to the bone or make major layoffs. The Voice is no-frills. No full-timer makes a living wage there, and the same goes for the Times (except the editor position IIRC, but it isn’t by much). They all have side gigs to survive. I’m always considered myself really lucky to be the opposite, where I have a “high-pay, low-stress, boring job” to counteract my “low-pay, high-stress, exciting job”.

Both of these organizations face an uncertain future. In lieu of any support of the blog, which is purely a labor of love, please consider donating or even becoming a member or sponsor of the Voice. Not only are you supporting a worthy cause of an informed community, it makes getting screamed at on the phone for being “fake news” (twice already) more tolerable.

Anyway, with nearly three-quarters of a million views, I’d like to take a moment out and say thank you for taking the time out to visit. Thank you for your emails, your comments, your thoughts and tweets. I would have never imagined where this blog would have gone over ten years, when I was 19 and writing from a dimly-lit Cornell Heights apartment, the skies still dark from bouts of thunderstorms that day, and deciding that evening to share my interests and cultivate my “weird little hobby”. I hope this blog has been and continues to be a valuable resource, with some entertainment along the way.


Fraternal Publicity

23 12 2010

This entry is a bit unorthodox, but since the Greek houses are gearing up for rush in a few weeks, it’s apropos. I was curious to see what houses came up were most frequently requested in the search bar, and what Greek house photos were most popular. Give two and a half years and about 125,000 houses, there’s a good-sized chunk of data to work with. Any combo of the house’s name, with or without Cornell, is considered. Plural searches or searches geared towards chapters at other schools are excluded.  Since wordpress gives the option, I’m dividing the results into two groups: all time (since June 2008) and the past 90 days.

Here’s the top five search entries for specific Greek houses in the past three months:

1. Psi Upsilon – 201 searches, henceforth called “hits”

2. Sigma Chi – 191 hits

3. Delta Chi – 183 hits

4. Delta Kappa Epsilon – 120 hits

5. Chi Phi – 99 hits

…and for all time:

1. Sigma Chi – 816 hits

2. Chi Psi – 605 hits

3. Delta Chi – 562 hits

4. Psi Upsilon -631 hits

5. Chi Phi – 362 hits

Interestingly enough, Psi U splits its hit almost evenly between “psi upsilon cornell” and “psi u cornell”. Sigma Chi, Delta Chi and Chi Phi are dominated in searches by their full name (“sigma chi cornell”), and Delta Kappa Epsilon was mostly searched for as “dke cornell” or “deke cornell”. Only about half of houses on campus had more than ten hits in the past three months. At least five had no hits at all. My old house has a grand total of seven hits in the past 90 days. Looking at search entries, it seems that the recent favorites are in general perennial favorites. DKE had a total around 350 hits and was sixth on the all time list.

Sororities are apparently unpopular searches. The highest all time was Delta Gamma, with 113 hits. If it were a frat, it would be about 19th on the search bar popularity list. Hell, Telluride had more hits (123).

Looking at the images, the results play out a bit differently for the past 90 days. They’re a bit harder to classify, since I can only go by the number of times people downloaded the full-size photo of a house. But, if we make the assumption that the number are roughly similar, then we can make some form of a conclusion. Anyways, here’s the 90 day results, followed by the “all time” results:


1. Chi Phi’s house (23 full image downloads)

2. DKE’s house (15)

3. FIJI’s house (13)

4. Pi Kappa Phi’s house (10)

5. Alpha Delt’s goat house (10). Their house photo had (9) hits.


1. Chi Phi (118)

2. DKE (82)

3. Sigma Chi’s house (77)

4. Zeta Beta Tau’s house (63)

5. Delta Chi’s house (61)

So, it’s obvious that there’s a flow and ebb of publicity going on here. Like for search bar entries, some houses are much more popular than others, although it looks like every house photo had at least 3 downloads. Keeping in step, my own house had an almighty 11 downloads over the past two and some odd years.

Partly out of curiosity, I decided to commit the sin of going to collegeACB to do a quick search to see what were the most popular houses.

Psi Upsilon, searching for “psi u” alone, came up in 256 threads (aside: what the hell? Don’t you psi u obsessed folk have lives?). Searching Psi Upsilon spelled out fully and making a half-hearted attempt to pull threads where psi u is already mentioned pulled in only a couple more hits.  Sigma Chi was mentioned (either as “sigma chi” or “sig chi”) in over 170 threads. Delta Chi appeared in 127 threads.

In comparison, Alpha Delta Phi, which would’ve rounded out the top ten in the search bar, comes up in over 250 threads, and SAE, which was also in the upper part of the top ten, had 278 threats threads. Less searched houses drew relatively few threads from the gossip site (generally 50 or less; of the five houses who had no searches in the past 90 days, none returned more than a couple dozen gossip threads). So, there might be a very general correlations, but it definitely doesn’t match up perfectly.

Well, whether it’s raving or ranting, publicity is still publicity, I s’pose. I hope those who search are mindful that the info here is sparse, and that the opinions of collegeACB are about as respectable as a hooker in church.

Devil’s in the Details: Fraternity GPAs

16 07 2009


Since this is one of the more clicked-upon data sets on this blog, I figured I would include the latest update: Fraternity House GPAs.



So, let’s see what we can pick out concretely from the data:

1. In the fall, Pi Kappa Phi had the highest average GPA, and Sigma Alpha Mu took the academic crown this past spring. 

2. Number of IFC members: 2220. Number of organizations in IFC: 42. Number of people per house: about 53 on average (52.8). The largest IFC house is Sigma Alpha Epsilon with 91 members, and the smallest is Sigma Chi Delta with 12 members. Perhaps unsurpringly, Sigma Alpha Epsilon also saw the largest increase from fall to spring, adding 27 members, and Lambda Chi Alpha (26) and Theta Delta Chi (25) also posted large membership gains (I had been hearing about Theta Delta Chi’s big success since February).

3. The recently reinstated Theta Xi and Kappa Alpha Society continue to eke out a small but notable presence beside larger houses. I hope they continue to thrive.

4. Statistically, the MGLC members have lower GPAs. The average MGLC GPA is about 2.993, and only one organization, Pi Delta Psi, is in the top half of the general fraternal body academic list. Historically black fraternities fare much worse, averaging about 2.73. This data is only readily apparent when pulled from the rest of the values.

Here’s some thoughts:

A. Considering the IFC’s big push for higher GPAs within houses (epsecially during pledging), one imagines that the drop in GPA during the spring will not be looked upon kindly when members reconvene in the fall.

B. The MGLC’s academics are lacking. An average of only 2.99? Only would be acceptable if they were all engineering students.

C. Assuming about 6850 male undergrads (assuming a school that’s half male and has 13,700 students in total), fraternity membership rate approximately stands at 33.99%. However, since two of the house are co-ed, we’ll assume that they’re half-and-half and take off accordingly (-33), reducing our percentage to 33.50%.