The Tompkins County Housing Strategy

18 05 2017

The County’s Housing Strategy draft was originally going to be in the next news roundup, but it’s large enough to do separately, and my colleague Kelsey is tackling this meeting for the Voice. For those who couldn’t attend the Housing Strategy hosted by the county last Wednesday evening, the presentation is here and the outline is here. Comments can be sent to the Planning Department here from now through the end of the month.

First, quantities. This was touched on in the news round-up a couple of weeks ago, but the county would like at least 580 units coming online each year, plus specialty student and senior housing. For comparison’s sake, the county hasn’t exceeded that value since 1994, when Kendal was permitted in Cayuga Heights, and prior to 2016, the last time it exceeded 500 units was in 2000.

In more recent years, the value bounced between 200 and 300 units in a given year; during the recession, it dropped into the mid-100s. The article linked above is older, so it lacks the 2015 values, which were 279 units countywide, consistent with 2012-2014. Then we get to 2016, which was just finalized by HUD. There were 575 units, of which 121 were single-family homes, and 454 were multi-family structures. Let’s present that by community (click on the table to expand):

Cayuga Heights and Freeville didn’t approve a single unit, while the 271 units in Ithaca city is their highest stat since 2000, and the second highest in the 35-year online record. Dryden village’s growth can be attributed to Poet’s Landing Phase II, Ithaca town’s to Cayuga Meadows, and Lansing town’s to the Village Solars.

The point of this is to illustrate that 580 units annually is a lofty figure, but it is an attainable goal.

Then we get to locations. The ideal is to focus the growth in the city of Ithaca – since these stats are non-student housing, the targeted areas in the city include Downtown, the State Street Corridor, West End/Waterfront, and anything they can displace from the big box corridor on the southwest side. If a good opportunity for infill presents itself elsewhere in the city, that’s great, but it’s not the focus.

However, not everyone wants to live in Ithaca. Land in the “nodes” is cheaper and oftentimes the approvals process is easier. The county envisions 50-100 in the villages and growing hamlets like Varna and South Lansing, were a town center concept is in the RFP review process. Rural hamlets would see a handful of units annually (30 or less), and other locations basically just refers to Lansing’s suburban sprawl between the village and South Lansing. The town is hellbent on development any which way it happens, conventional approaches are the easiest to get financed, and the county’s not going to fight them.

The county’s housing strategy is three-pronged: Information/Collaboration, New Units and Existing Units.

  • Information and Collaboration includes a virtual housing office for resources and a collaborative network to formulate and pitch housing solutions. It’s kinda vague in the notes.
  • New unit strategies include support for targeted new development, streamlining zoning and examining potential incentives through the IDA.
    • Targeted new development can include RFQs for government-owned surplus property, early community engagement regarding DFAs (Development Focus Areas) and assistance in producing “shovel-ready” sites through things such as sewer access and energy hookups.
    • Streamlining zoning is to make it easier to get an initial product that will look like the final product – less uncertainty, less money spent on revisions. Inclusionary zoning seems pretty much dead in the water, as the county doesn’t seem to know if the community will support incentives for affordable housing, or if will even be effective. Done wrong, an inclusionary ordinance could actually result in less housing, if the burden is too great for the incentives offered.
    • Additional IDA incentives could include mixed-market or all-affordable rentals being eligible for abatements, and possible an abatement for any neighborhood or community who builds in inclusionary zoning. Looking at you, Trumansburg.
  • Existing unit strategies include the encouragement of rehabs (especially from rentals to owner-occupied), code enforcement and fair housing enforcement. Airbnb is still a tricky issue, so expect some tweaks to regulations on what constitutes rentals, hotels and legal occupancy.

There’s also a strong support/monitoring component in the strategy, which basically is a tracker of all projects underway, what stages, what they consist of, and so on. Beat you to the punch guys.





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 3/25/17: Out in the Wild

25 03 2017

1. Let’s start by touching real quick on this past week’s Ithaca town meeting. The Bundy subdivision and the renovation of the former Wings Over Ithaca space at East Hill Plaza were approved, per Matt Butler at the Times. The Greentree project was reviewed and the board granted itself lead agency to conduct environmental review. Greentree owner John Gaunt is still unsure whether he’ll keep the Elmira Road building, which is where Ithaca Beer got its start in the late 1990s. Although primarily a warehouse/ag industry project, there will be some potentially public-friendly features, namely a garden park and picnic area. The board expressed a desire to see Greentree work with neighbor Ithaca Beer for landscaping between the two buildings.

2. I followed up with Lansing town planning consultant Michael Long regarding English Village. As readers might remember from last week, that’s the 58 single-family home lots and 59 townhouses proposed somewhere in Lansing – didn’t know where because that was the first anything has been published about it. Here’s Long’s response:

“The English Village is a concept developed by Jack Young to build a network of single family homes and apts. /condos that surround the existing soccer fields along Water Wagon [sic] Road. It is still very early in the conceptual phase so there has not been an formal application made as yet, but a project that has been talked about for many, many years. We don’t have anything specific yet but is a project “In-progress”.”

Jack Young is a Cayuga Heights businessman (and chair of their zoning board of appeals), who owns a sizable amount of undeveloped land in Lansing; most of it is used for farming. The soccer fields on Waterwagon Road are just east of The Rink, which is putting in a new climbing tower. There’s been plenty of conventional suburban development up this way since the 2000s, although in recent years the new starts have slowed as conventional suburban layout have lost some of their allure to walkable urban or truly rural properties. We’ll have to keep an eye out and see what happens.

3. Now turning attention over to Dryden. Apparently the town of Dryden thinks I’m with the Ithaca Times. Anyway, two new projects have popped up on the radar this week.
The first is a 6,016 SF, 8-unit apartment on the 500 Block of Etna Road just east of the airport. All units will be 1-bedrooms. The developer is Ithacan Salim Kasimov; with partner Yelena Kurbanova, they’ve picked up some properties in and around the area for home construction over the past few years, although this might be their first multi-family building. Simple, maybe a little bland – a floor-separating exterior lap band and two different colors of siding would do wonders.

The project exceeds zoning, where 2 units/acre is allowed, and this is pursuing 8 units on 1.78 subdivided acres (the other lot holds a two-family home). SEAF here, floor plans hereThe argument was that these are all one-bedroom units, and a typical house is 3+ bedrooms, so it’s not a substantial variance. The project was in planning before the rural zoning code was updated, which complicates matters.

According to Dryden town planning director Ray Burger, the ZBA asked for more information, but the application has been withdrawn. This project is in limbo for the time being.

The second is called the “Pineridge Cottages”, and went to the Dryden Planning Board for a sketch plan review this week. This one came up on this blog a long time ago – it’s a proposal for about 20 single-family rental homes on about nine acres on the corner of Dryden Road/Route 13 and Mineah Road. At the time, the logic was that the density requirements would let it slip under the radar, since the project is under 4 units/acre and could have avoided triggering most site plan review regulations. But maybe with the revised zoning laws, that’s no longer the case.

4. It’s a Tiny Timber out in the wild! Not something that was expected while covering the Maple Festival, but there it was on the property. This would be the very first one, according to the Tiny Timbers blog. The TT blog says it’s in Hector (which is correct, it’s 500 feet from the Tompkins/Schuyler County line), but the Wellspring Farm advertises itself with a Trumansburg address, so this was really just fortuitous circumstance. The model is a Model L Lofted with optional green corrugated metal roofing.

It’s looks like sales are off to a good start – the 14 Farm Pond Circle lot is pending, as is the Ellis Hollow Road lot. A Tiny Timber Big Cube is also expected to replace a dilapidated home at 104 Grandview Place on Ithaca’s South Hill. Prospects are so good, Buzz Dolph plans to rent a warehouse on Dryden’s Hall Road to serve as an assembly facility for the modular components, and is looking for construction partners in neighboring markets. Modest, affordable owner-occupied housing is an under-served but big potential market, and to its profit, Tiny Timbers looks to be part of the solution.

5. According to documents filed with the county this week, the construction loan for 607 South Aurora is $1,920,000. Tioga State Bank is the lender on record, with Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals as developer. The documents give a March-August build-out for the 4-building project; each building will host 2 three-bedroom units, and utilize modular components. These will look pretty similar to the pair that just opened on Old Elmira Road.

The two-family directly on South Aurora is designed with a full-length porch and sculpted brackets, with Hardie Plank fiber cement boards to look more aesthetically pleasing. The trio tucked away from road will use vinyl siding. Advertisements targeting Ithaca College students are already posted on MLR’s website, saying that the 3-bedroom units will rent for $2,250/month, or $750/bedroom.

6. One of those rare interesting things from the slimmed down Ithaca Journal – it appears CFCU has been doing pretty well this decade. Not only were they recently approved for an expansion into Cayuga County and Seneca County (that’s where Geneva is, guys), the Lansing-based credit union and financial services firm has added 40% to its financial holdings and 42 jobs since the start of the decade. Not too shabby at all, keep up the good work.

7. Interesting planning board meeting shaping up. Here’s the March agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:
Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place Tax Parcel 9.-3-11

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:
Apartments (11 Units) 6:20
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

B. Project:
Schwartz Performing Arts Center Plaza Improvements 6:40
Location: 430 College Ave
Applicant: Ram Venkat for Cornell University
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency .Public Hearing . Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

C. Project:
Apartments ( 5 Units) 7:00
Location: 118 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

D. Project:
Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartments 7:20
Location: 214 Elmira Road
Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

E. Townhomes- 238 Linden Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This proposal was removed right before the February meeting. Same details as before: 238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

F. Apartments 232- 236 Dryden Road – Sketch Plan 7:50

Another CR-4 proposal is slated for what is currently a parking lot at 232-236 Dryden Road. Given that the parking lot address is 232-238 Dryden, it seems plausible a small, remnant component is being kept. The owner is James Rider, the 57-year owner of the Hillside Inn budget hotel in Collegetown. Going out on a limb, it’s likely he is not the developer, but someone else who happens to have a purchasing option. Four floors, no parking required, on a parking lot – seems like a good opportunity for an infill project without much risk to the city’s historic fabric.

5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3059, Appeal of Determination, 742 Cascadilla At (Carpenter Bus. Park) – Yes, Maguire has filed the lawsuit and this is related. Carpenter is the Plan B at this point, but they want to make sure that Plan B is legal if that’s what it boils down to.
#3060, Area Variance, 322 Park Place – small addition to an existing house.
#3062, Area Variance, 104 Grandview Place – the Tiny Timber mentioned above.
#3063, Sign Variance, 505 3rd Street (Aldi) – Aldi is renovating and expanding stores across the country, a massive 1,300+ store project that’s liable to cost more than $1.5 billion over the next few years (prototype shown above). Ithaca will be one of the first to get the new layout, adding 2,700 SF to its Aldi outpost. The move is to allow expanded fresh food offerings (meat, dairy and produce), and install new energy-efficient refrigeration units. Note that the expansion is to allow a slightly larger combined store signage area than what’s legally allowed (total 272.9 SF vs 250 SF). Victor-based APD Engineering and Architecture is in charge.

6. Old/New Business 8:30

7. Reports





News Tidbits 3/4/17: Oh Hey, Tax Season

4 03 2017

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1. It’s that time of the year where the Tompkins County Department of Assessment goes through its assessment process in preparation for adjustments to property values for 2017, known as “Annual Equity Maintenance”, or AEM for short. Since there are 35,249 tax parcels in Tompkins County with a total value of $11.9 billion, not all are reassessed every year – most places are reassessed every three years, except for areas of rapid change (for instance, Fall Creek is every two years at present), or individual properties that are being undergoing change, whether it be a new construction, sudden property damage, or a sales transaction. The state has their own system, called Cyclical Reassessment Program (CRP, but the county docs refer to it as CRAP), but the county opts out to do their own valuations.

Some properties are easier than others – for example, a purchaser of a big-box property isn’t buying just the building, but a long-term lease from a tenant like BJ’s in Lansing. Student houses in parts of Collegetown are worth less than the property they sit on, which the tax system cannot accommodate. They provide one example of a $500,000 house sitting on $3 million of land – that’s not something the tax system is designed to handle, so the house is overvalued, but the property as a whole is very undervalued.

The department notes that sales were strong this year. According to their records, average sales are up 4.5% from $228,442 to $238,796, and the median sale is up 2.5%, from $200,000 to $205,000. The document also only notes 677 sales, which would be the lowest since before 1990, and is lower than the 681 sales noted by the Ithaca Board of Realtors (and IBR represents most but not all agencies). Someone is mistaken, it’s just hard to tell who. Assessments are on average about 8% lower (9% median) than home sale prices.

Some of the other takeaways are a modest softening in the student housing market in 2016 (Cornell enrollment in Ithaca did drop slightly from 2015-16, before renewing its upward trajectory in 2017), the city and Dryden’s Ellis Hollow continue to be strong markets but the other suburban neighborhoods are regaining interest, and Groton’s a mixed bag due to the poor state of some village properties. New assessments for 2017 (including parts of Ithaca town, Caroline, Freeville, Enfield, lakeside properties, restaurant properties, and manufacturing facilities) will be publicly available on July 1st.

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2. The redesign of Schwartz Plaza has started the formal review process. Cornell submitted the sketch plan at the February meeting, and hopes to have approvals for the renovation by next month. The properties would lose the walls and open up to the surrounding Collegetown, in what Cornell and Ithaca hope will give the densely-populated neighborhood a needed public gathering space. As reported by the Cornell Daily Sun’s Nick Bogel-Burroughs, project manager David Cutter hopes that the project leads to further public space enhancements near the stone arch bridge and down by Eddygate – this includes additional pedestrian and bike facilities, electronic boards with bus information, and a possible realignment of the Oak/College intersection into a T-configuration.

But for now the focus is on Schwartz Plaza. Cornell intends to have approvals within 1-2 months, start construction in June, and have the new plaza ready by August 2017. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects is the design firm of record.

Postscript, Novarr’s townhouses at 238 Linden were pulled from the meeting before the sketch plan was due to be presented at the city planning board meeting last Tuesday. As for 301 Eddy, still trying to dig up information.

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3. Nick Reynolds has a very interesting profile and interview of Jason Fane over at the Times. Definitely worth a read about one of Ithaca’s most prominent landlords.

Speaking personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, if only because it takes a blog quote I made about 330 College Avenue in 2014, and in the article’s context, I sound like an arthouse snob. Fane has always been serious about building on the property, and that’s great, but I stand by my quote on 330 – after the years of negotiations on the new form district code, there is no way a 12-story building was going to be built on the corner of College and Dryden, even if Jagat Sharma, Fane’s favored architect, brought his A-game. It’s not a matter of economics or taste, it’s a matter of very real opposition from the Belle Sherman and East Hill neighborhoods. Any politician who considers signing off would be voted out of office ASAP. Any city staffer who consents will be shown the door. Look at what happened with State Street Triangle. In a city where people have many gripes about development, this is one project that is truly stopped in its tracks. I think Fane could negotiate 7 or even 8 stories if he gives the city a donation towards affordable housing, or some other community benefit. but not 11 or 12.

I like grand buildings and imposing structures, but I’m also a realist. End rant.

4. Todd Fox’s Visum Development has a couple construction updates on their Facebook page. Exterior stud walls are being installed on the lower floors of 201 College, and two of the three townhouse strings at 902 Dryden Road have been fully framed and sheathed, with siding installation underway. At a glance, it looks like the exterior will look more like the elevations on Modern Living Rentals’ listings page rather than the STREAM Collaborative renders – the renders had horizontal lap siding, the elevations show vertical lap siding as seen above.

If more developer could post updates as Visum and Carina Construction do, that would be swell.

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5. Wrapping up a quiet news week, here’s the agenda for the town of Ithaca planning board next week. A lot subdivision for a new house, a pair of communication towers, and the final approvals for the Sleep Inn proposed by hotelier Pratik Ahir at 635 Elmira Road. True to the sketches presented last fall, the design has that rustic look on all sides of the structure, and all the town’s requests have been met, which should allow for a smooth final approval meeting on Tuesday. The design will be unique among the 320 locations of the Sleep Inn chain. It should be noted that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals was very split on the height and size variances, approving them with just a 3-2 margin.

In the other towns, the only one with anything new to report is Danby, whose planning board is looking at a special use permit for a property management company’s offices at 1429 Danby Road, and a 3,535 SF expansion to the Ithaca Waldorf School at 20 Nelson Road.





News Tidbits 2/25/17: Creating a Place to Call Home

25 02 2017

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1. It looks like the homes designed for Tiny Timbers won’t just be limited to Tiny Timbers. The company has partnered with realtor Brent Katzmann for a to-be-built house in Lansing’s Farm Pond Circle housing development touts a Tiny Timbers-based home design by STREAM Collaborative. 1.09 acres and a 2 bed, 2 bath 1,430 SF house for $219,400. The relatively low price compared to most new builds is in part due to Tiny Timbers’ modular approach – the “Big Cube” retails for $156,900 with a finished basement, and the Farm Pond parcels go for $39k-$45k, so not counting the soft costs (permits/marketing), that pretty much sums up the costs.

Farm Pond Circle is a 19-lot subdivision in Lansing town that was the brainchild of the late Jack Jensen. All homes have to exceed state energy code by 20%, cannot exceed 2600 SF, and cannot use aluminum or vinyl siding. A couple lots have been aside for affordable single-family home construction. After Jensen’s passing in 2014, another local homebuilder, Bruno Schickel (Boiceville Cottages), picked up the undeveloped lots (10 of the 19) for about $165k last February, and intends to follow through on Jensen’s plans.

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2. Speaking of Tiny Timbers, it appears the budding modular timber-frame builder is expanding their offerings into a full line of homes. Tiny Timbers now has 16 different models in five series. Prices range from a completed 600 SF model with no basement at $109,900, to a 1,950 SF model with finished basement at $197,900, land and well/septic not included.

In a blog post on their website, Caleb Dolph, builder Buzz Dolph’s son and the guy in charge of marketing, says that the first sold house is underway in Hector (if Ithaca had exurban areas, Hector would be it), at least five others are in contract, though it’s not clear if any of those are for the 15-lot Varna site. Given that they planned for ten houses in 2017, the Tiny Timbers staff might have underestimated the market, which is more a fortunate challenge than a complaint.

3. A local non-profit is looking to expand its real estate footprint a little bit. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) is seeking to buy a run-down house at 626 West Buffalo Street and renovate it into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The county would provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the house is for sale for $99,999, the purchase offer is for $95,000, and a further $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

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4. Staying on the topic of special needs housing, the Second Wind Cottages is looking to add another three cottages in Newfield this year. The cottages are modest, ~200 SF and costing $12-$15k each to build. As reported by the Times’ Jaime Cone, every unit provides shelter to a formerly homeless male. Rents are “pay as you can”. A small community facility provides services like a kitchenette, office, washer and dryer. Three more cottages are planned for 2018, which will round out the “campus” with 18 units. A similar facility is planned up the road, one that will house homeless women and children. Although Newfield is a ways out, both sites are on the bus line into Ithaca.

The Second Wind Cottages are a private endeavor by businessman Carmen Guidi, and paid for through grants, fundraisers, and donations (money, furniture, etc). Volunteer labor similar to that used for Habitat for Humanity is utilized and welcomed. Like with the OAR house, by providing a safe, warm space to live, these units may help reduce homelessness and the issues homelessness creates.

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5. Work has yet to start on the new two-family home planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown, but it looks like developer/landlord Nick Lambrou is seeking major changes to the project. Lambrou wants to replace the approved design at top, with the one below, which is copied from a Craigslist posting. The designs are both by Jagat Sharma, but the new plan is a variant of the two-family homes that Sharma’s doing for Charlie O’Connor at the recently-approved 4-building 607 South Aurora project.

The property falls into the East Hill Historic District, which is under the ILPC’s jurisdiction. According to Bryan McCracken, the city’s Historic Preservation Planner, the design will be heading for review within the next month or two.

The design has been used before so there’s familiarity with the design and lower risk, plus there are possible cost efficiencies if using the same contractors as O’Connor, because they’ll move quicker as they’ve done it before. On the other hand, unlike 607 South Aurora, this property is in the East Hill Historic District, and full-time neighbors on Orchard Place have been watching these plans very closely – they’re wary of students, and will likely not be fans of the projecting second-floor porch, as the previous version was tucked into the building. Not sure using a slightly more decorated version of a design being deployed elsewhere will get the ILPC’s blessing, but we’ll see what happens.

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6. Why yes, Lansing town is still hopping mad about the natural gas issue. The town supervisor cites the tap-out as the cause of delay for Robert Weinstein’s 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, although the previous documentation says it’s a sewer issue – the developer has to deploy an Orenco modular sewer system, which has to be approved by the NYS DEC.

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7. Here’s a copy of Maplewood’s buildout timeline. The first Maplewood apartments should start construction in May 2017, pending no issues. Generally, the crews will be working from the outside in; buildings closer to Maple Avenue and Mitchell Street have earlier construction schedules, while those interior to Maplewood will start in the fall or early winter. Also, street names. Veteran’s Place will continue to be the main thoroughfare, but from north to south, it will intersect with “James Lane”, “East Sylvan Mews”, and “Lena Street”. James Lane wraps around to form the secondary N-S thoroughface on the east side of the parcel. James and Lena Mitchell were the original owners of the property when Ithaca was first settled in the early 1800s.

The Stormwater Property Protection Plan (SWPPP) still needs to be okayed by the town of Ithaca, but that’s about the only thing left before final approval is granted.

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8. It looks like the Planning Board meeting should be interested. Not a whole lot being decided, but some sketch plans have been submitted. For rental projects aiming for August 2018 openings, Feb-Apr is going to be the primary submission period, as they seek approvals by May or June so that construction can run on a Summer 2017 – Summer 2018 schedule.
AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time
1.Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place, Tax Parcel 9.-3-11
Applicant: Lee and Elizabeth Ambrose
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

4.Site Plan Review
A. Project: Apartments (11 Units) 6:30
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

B. Schwartz Plaza Redesign- Sketch Plan 6:50

More on that here.

C. 238 Linden Avenue – Townhomes – Sketch Plan 7:10

238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

D. 372 Elmira Road – McDonalds Rebuild – Sketch Plan 7:30

If Ithaca’s lucky, it’ll have upscale features like the one finishing up in Dryden. Otherwise, a modern update to the 1980s design is plausible. A number of older McD’s restaurants nationwide have been upgraded to the new design in the past few years.

E. 301 Eddy Street – Student Apartments 7:50

This is intriguing. 301 Eddy is a Nick Lambrou property in an MU-2 zone – a four-story, 8-unit/37 bed apartment building built in 1995, and it’s also the address for Collegetown Park’s parking lot. One possibility is replacing part of the parking lot with another apartment building – Lambrou may push to six floors, but it’s not his style. He’s described his offerings as “boutique” buildings, properties with less than 20 units and 20-50 bedrooms. Recent examples include 2015’s 116 Catherine Street, and 2012’s 309 Eddy Street. If the past is any precedent, this will be a Jagat Sharma design.

5. Zoning Appeal: #3057, Area Variance, 109 Dearborn Place 8:10

6. Old/New Business: Special Meeting Chainworks District DGEIS – Transportation 8:20

7. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal) 8:30
B. Director of Planning & Development(verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)





News Tidbits 1/20/17: A Week Late and A Day Early

20 01 2017

1. In the town of Ulysses, work continues on a rezoning and reimagining of the hamlet of Jacksonville. The town held a meeting for public feedback this past Thursday. For those who are unfamiliar, Jacksonville is a cluster of a few dozen houses and a few small businesses about two-thirds of the way up Route 96 from Ithaca to Trumansburg. The town is working with local urban planning firm Randall + West to redevelop the hamlet, which has been plagued in recent decades with not just the standard rural upstate flight, but total disinvestment in some parts as a result of a massive gas spill in the late 1970s that poisoned the wells of neighboring properties, which Exxon bought and left in a state of low, sporadic maintenance.

However, some areas are served by municipal water systems, and the town is looking at expanding the hamlet zone, and creating a hamlet center zone in the hopes that they can give the hamlet “quality growth” and a Trumansburg-like flavor – small shops and density at the core, and somewhat walkable for basic errands, with sidewalks and interconnected streets. It’s a bit reminiscent the old “nodes” concept pushed by the county about a decade ago, but with more emphasis on walkability. The zoning brief shows participants have expressed a preference towards small-lot houses and 2-4 floor mixed use. With the latest public meeting completed, the plan is to have a zoning draft ready by March.

For the record, Ulysses permited 11 new homes in 2016, so even if the revised Jacksonville hamlet zoning becomes more accommodating, don’t expect a boomtown.

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2. From the IURA Neighborhood Investment Committee agenda, a few more details about Habitat for Humanity’s plans for 402 South Cayuga Street. Four units, $720,000 construction cost, about $799,500 with soft costs. Savings from volunteer labor reduce the cost to $709,500. Funding comes from $100k in cash equity attained by the sale of the Morris Avenue townhouses, $300k in grants and $120k in HUD funding. Private donors and grants are expected to contribute about $189k. The initial design and land purchases expenses are being covered with funds from the $50,000 sale of a 32-acre parcel in Trumansburg for public green space. With multiple transactions required before anything can move forward, the plan is to break ground in June 2018 with construction lasting from 18-24 months.

The units will be sold to families making 30-60% of local AMI (i.e. $16-$32k/year) who put in the requisite sweat labor and take approved home-ownership and finance courses. The units will be solar-capable, though they’re still debating if the panels will be installed by Habitat or the responsibility of owners. By the way, the bright colors of the units are intentional.

The committee has said this project pretty much checks off every box on their want list, and Habitat for Humanity has been named preferred developer; contingent on approvals, the IURA will sell the property to the non-profit for $32,000.

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3. For those that might have missed it, the Times’ new journo, Matt Butler, did a nice piece on TCAction’s Amici House development. The 23-unit project will be up for prelim approval at this month’s Planning Board meeting. In the piece, TCAction Director Lee Dillon notes that it’s not strictly for drug rehab, it’s for homeless youth regardless of the presence of addiction. The project also provides a low-cost childcare center with five HeadStart classrooms able to support 40-45 kids. Apart from a couple of concerns and complaint, reactions have been generally receptive to the plan, which will be located at 701 Spencer Road on the southern edge of the city.

As a former Head Start student, I never knew it was geared towards low-income families until I was in high school. There’s a lot of real, tangible value to Head Start as an early education program, especially in a community like Ithaca where the school district the kids enter into is capable and well-regarded. I applaud the Amici House project and look forward to its construction.

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4. Tiny Timbers is getting quite creative. In addition to the five existing designs, Buzz Dolph’s team, working with architect Noah Demarest, have rolled out two new designs. The first is a one-story, two-bedroom house which looks to be in the 630 SF range, with the option of deleting the second bedroom available. The second design is called “big cube”, with a 21′ x 21′ footprint (two stories, 882 SF), slightly larger than the 18′ x 18′ regular cube. The website seems to be down for an update at the moment, but the 3D panorama still works.

The town of Dryden has granted approval to the Varna site, so at this point marketing and sales of the home sites should be getting underway soon. If successful, Tiny Timbers could be a solution to meeting an underserved and difficult-to-serve segment of the Ithaca market – new, modestly-priced homes.

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5. Here’s the funding application for the first stages of the Tompkins County Heritage Center. The request is for $35,500 from the legislature. That would cover community presentations, legal fees for partnership agreements, a retail space plan, branding language and design, concept overview, website, floor plans, exhibit design and the launch of a capital campaign later this year (May for the silent campaign, October for the public campaign). Along with the capital campaign, primary funding may come in part from the $500 million URI fund that the state awarded to the Southern Tier back in 2015. The History Center and its partners are exploring some of the way they can reuse the 18,000 SF space currently occupied by Tompkins Trust; for example, multimedia presentations in the former bank vaults. STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the new floor plans, STREAM will work with St. John Design Group to do the branding, and Todd Zwigard Architects will handle exhibit design. The Solstice Group will be providing guidance in assembling and running the capital campaign.

To be frank, I’m still not sold on the idea of the Heritage Center being a driver of tourism itself, but I could see it being an enhancement to downtown Ithaca’s other offerings, as well as a gateway for visitors staying at the new hotels near or soon to be open within a couple blocks of the site: “Come for the colleges, wineries and gorges, but check this out while you’re here, you just might find other things you want to do and see”.

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6. The initial December 2016 jobs reading of 73,800 rounds out the 2016 jobs reports. Tallying up the average, the initial estimate for the Ithaca metro for 2016 is 71,600, an increase of 1.7% from last year’s average of 70,400. As always, take the initial estimates with a grain of salt, since they’re liable to be adjusted a fair amount in the big March revision. However, should they hold up, it gives Ithaca the highest percent growth of any New York State metro in the past year (although for the record, NYC added 1.1%, or 109,000 jobs in the past 12 months, basically an Ithaca and a half). For reference, the 2011 jobs average was 66,200, and the 2006 estimate was 62,600.

With the exception of those neighborhoods closest to the universities, the biggest driver of the housing affordability crisis is not student population growth, which was about 196 over the past year (+285 Cornell, -89 IC). It’s the people relocating to/near Ithaca for work. That doesn’t capture the imagination and emotion as much as saying the city’s being overrun by obnoxious 20-year olds.

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7. Not everything recorded in an interview makes it into Voice articles due to space constraints. Here are some transcribed notes from the “State of the State Theatre” piece that didn’t make the final cut:

Q: Where do you see things going in the next 15 years? What will the State Theatre of 2030 be like?

Doug Levine: We’d be fresh off celebrating our hundred year anniversary! They don’t build theaters like this anymore, we’ve made a lot of improvements to the building, we’ve completely renovated the restrooms. Technologically, we’ll be a lot more advanced, paperless ticketing will be a seamless transaction. We want to maintain the building charm, it’s just a grand palace, but behind the scenes, we’re getting more efficient and innovative, we’ve upgraded to LEDs, and the stage sound and lights will be a lot more cutting-edge, and we’d like to be more energy efficient. I would like to see more flexible seating in 15 years. We’d stay with DSP [Dan Smalls Presents] long-term, that’s worked out really well for us. We’re going in a good direction and I want to keep building on that success.

Q: Dovetailing off that, Ithaca is one of the few growing areas of upstate, and it’s increasingly seen as a tourism and leisure destination. Do you see ways for the State to tap into that? What other opportunities do you see (I noticed something called Ticketfly)?

DL: Conferences are a growing opportunity, the growing economy has led to a spike in conferences from all over the state wanting to come here, and those thinking creatively reach out to us, we had 2-3 last year and [we have] more planned, they’ll use us and Cinemapolis, it’s never going to be a big component but it’s nice to have those groups coming in. We average over 50,000 a year through our doors, 40% from beyond Tompkins County – New York, Philadelphia, Canada.

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8. It looks like the town of Ithaca wants to extend their two-family home moratorium beyond the initial 9 months. 9 months was explicitly chosen after considerable concern from developers and homebuilders last Spring stemming from the initially-proposed 12 months, which would have impacted two construction seasons. The town doesn’t even provide a new timeline, it leaves a blank next to 2017. Really burning through the goodwill here.

 

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8. Looks like a rather luckluster agenda for the planning board next Tuesday. A bunch of projects up for preliminary and/or final approval. These meetings could start becoming very light on substance if there isn’t more in the pipeline. Here’s the schedule:

1. Agenda Review              6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor    6:01

3. Site Plan Review
A. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center                               6:10
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (TC Action)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
B. Project: City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)       6:30
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Consideration of Preliminary Approval

C. Project: College Townhouse Project 7:00
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

D. Project: Apartments (5 Units) 7:30
Location: 126 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

E. Project: Apartments (9 Units) 7:50
Location:210 Linden Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

F. 107 S Albany St – Sketch Plan 8:10

Presumably, the Stavropouloses are heading back for some type of major revision to their 6-unit, 9-bedroom proposal. The previous plan was an addition onto the back of the existing century-old property. We’ll see what is changed, and by how much. Zoning is CBD-60 – five floors, no parking.
G. 821 Cliff Street – Parking for Business in a Residential Zone 8:30

Parking for the medical office building at 821 Cliff Street; perhaps an expansion to help market it, as I see postings for its space scattered throughout commercial listings. Nearby properties are vacant land.

4. Zoning Appeal: 8:50
#3056, Area Variance, 301 E State St.

5.Old/New Business:
A. Sidewalk on Worth Street -Planning Board Resolution to Board of Public Works
B. 2017 Planning Division Work Plan – Planning Board Comments
C. Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House)

Regarding 5B., Apparently the city is still having discussions with Fane regarding a development of 330 College Avenue, the former Green Cafe on the SW corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road in inner Collegetown. I write “a” redevelopment because the previous 12-story proposal didn’t look like it was going to make friends and influence people. Also on the long-term agenda are the Maguire plans for the Carpenter Business Park, Ithaca Gun, and Chain Works, which is still undergoing environmental review. Those are going to be long slogs, so don’t worry about missing anything.





News Tidbits 1/7/17: Storage and Storefronts

7 01 2017

1. Like a phoenix, it looks like Wings Over Ithaca is coming back. The franchise, whose Ithaca location was shut down after the owner was charged with 26 counts of tax evasion, will be operated under a new ownership consisting of four young Cornell alumni from the New York City area. However, while the ownership is changing, the management team for the eatery will be largely the same. The new incarnation will also be in a new location – Wings, which called East Hill Plaza its home for fifteen years, will now be located in a 1,743 SF retail storefront at 119-121 Dryden Road in Inner Collegetown. The property, owned by Ithaca Renting, previously held a Greek restaurant and then a tobacco shop, but it’s been more often vacant than occupied over the past ten years. A new kitchen is being installed in the retail space to accommodate. Expect an early Spring opening.

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2. This sounds promising, but I’m not comfortable with the precision of the details. According to Cassie Negley over at the Times, Washington D.C.-based Distributed Sun LLC, a rapidly-expanding solar energy company, wants to build two large-scale solar installations in the town of Dryden. One would be on Cornell land south of Route 366 on Turkey Hill Road, the other near the Willow Glen Cemetery on non-Cornell private land. The company is familiar with the area, as they are Cornell’s partner on the large-scale array recently installed near the county airport. The company also has plans for seven arrays on four parcels in Spencer in Tioga County, and they’re working with Cornell on solar installations for the tech school down on NYC’s Roosevelt Island.

The topic of discussion is whether or not a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) could be reached for the installation – solar installations are already exempt from NYS taxes, but school districts and towns can levy their own. Since the Cornell property doesn’t pay taxes, a lump PILOT that covers both could actually pay more than taxing the non-exempt proposal at full value. The construction timeframe at present is April-October 2017; and, here’s the imprecise part, the arrays would create 200-250 local jobs and another 100 jobs nationwide – and, from the town minutes, that doesn’t appear to be a typo. Presumably, most of that is construction, and a few in maintenance. I’d like to see the numbers for permanent local jobs, because along with the renewable energy growth and reduced electricity costs for nearby residents, the permanent jobs would be one of the big economic selling points. Given the Mettler Toledo news a few months ago, new jobs in Dryden would be welcome.

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3. Time for some sad news – 722 University Avenue is gone. The university demolished the 5,738 SF, 116 year-old house it earlier this week. The property has a storied history as the home to several fraternities and sororities; it’s kind of a shame it wasn’t renovated to provide student housing. The university has no long-term plans to redevelop the lot.

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4. Dryden, the storage capital of Tompkins County. Across the street from the 79,000 SF Storage Squad self-storage facility under construction, 4 Season Storage is busy putting up their own addition. According to a loan filing on the 3rd, 4 Season’s new building is 12,000 SF, and the hard construction costs come in at $481,172. CFCU is the lender. The structure is already framed and is being roofed, the cross trusses already separate the exterior units (not sure if those will be climate-controlled like the interior ones). Storage Squad is further behind, a graded site and a couple of reinforced concrete walls at the moment.

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5. In case you were wondering, here are some of county administrator Joe Mareane’s planning and development goals for 2017 –

– Negotiate the purchase of the Tompkins Trust Building for use by the History Center and Heritage Education Center. Also, develop a “governance”, or operations, plan for how the facility will be managed and maintained; how space will be allocated; how rent will be determined, etc.
– Work with NYS DOT and local agencies (Planning and ITCTC) to secure funding for a Route 13 traffic study.
– Facilitate the development of a realistic business strategy that allows the Airport to continue to
serve the community and be financially self-sufficient.
– With TCAction, put plans in place for a new residential project aimed at providing a meaningful
amount of housing for the chronically homeless.
– Bring alternative plans to re-use the rear portion of the Human Services Annex to the Legislature; implement its recommendation.

There’s a possibility, based on the 2016 notes that follow, that the 24-unit Re-Use project and the housing for the chronically homeless may be two different projects – the Re-Use housing project is described as transitional re-entry housing, while the housing for the chronically homeless is said to be in the property acquisition phase – i.e. still scouting out sites, with the goal of construction within two years. They might be the same, they might not, it’s not 100% clear from the notes. As for the Human Services Annex, there have been talks for additional space for Cayuga Medical Center’s services, or space for courthouse functions, and a decision is expected in Q1 2017.