This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs the blog “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”
1 — West Falls Street development
A trio of notable articles from The Ithaca Journal. The first one is about the 128 West Falls Street development (previously discussed here), and the negotiations done with neighbors in order to make the project acceptable to the neighborhood. The developer (Heritage Builders) and the neighbors worked together for a compromise, according to The Journal.
The Journal reports that some of the neighbors are still upset about there being any development at all (in which case, I must ask why does one live in an inner city neighborhood with vacant land), but if most of them are on board, I’m glad they and the developer were able to address each other’s needs and concerns and come to a reasonable solution. There are still people willing to make compromises, thankfully.
2 — Pedestrian-friendly makeover on old Elmira Road
Article number two has already been foreshadowed by Ithaca Builds, namely that old Elmira Road is getting a more pedestrian-friendly makeover. Bike lanes, sidewalks (only on the north side due to budget cuts), curbing, all in an effort to make it more friendly to all street users, from walkers to bikers to drivers. And it’s only going to take three days? Color me surprised.
At least one building on Elmira Road will be getting a makeover soon – a renovation prepared by local firm STREAM Collaborative will turn the old BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road into the the Finger Lakes ReUse Center’s new headquarters.
3 — Cost of living assumptions reaffirmed
Piece number three is that, surprise surprise, Ithaca has a higher cost of living than most other upstate cities, according to The Ithaca Journal. Most upstate cities are a little below the national average (4–12 percent less). Ithaca is nearly 6 percent above. Ithaca has the highest cost of living outside of the New York City and downstate metros. If anyone feels uncomfortable using numbers from a conservative think tank, here’s their government source. Personally, I always just go with Sperling’s. Taking a closer look at those numbers gives a big clue why Ithaca is more expensive – the housing cost is over 31 percent above the national average. Every other parameter is virtually average except that one.
I’ll give an example: Syracuse and Ithaca are only about 50 miles apart. On a scale with 100 equaling the national average, Syracuse has a score of 88.9, Ithaca 113.4. Quite a difference. Food, utilities and transportation are cheaper in Ithaca. But housing is astoundingly different – Ithaca’s 131.2 to Syracuse’s 45.4, which is what causes the disparity. Granted, I know that for many, living in the Syracuse area is undesirable (and I say this as someone originally from the Syracuse metro). Ithaca is in demand; ergo, prices for homes and apartments go up. But as middle-income families feel the pinch, spiraling housing costs pose a serious concern to the region’s economic well-being.
4 — Pat Kraft and Dryden Road
Now for a piece from the Cornell Daily Sun, an informative story they did about the recently approved 205 Dryden (Dryden South) project by Pat Kraft. No shocking revelations, but the interview with Kraft is a nice asset. I do take some umbrage with his complaint that the Collegetown form zoning makes it feels like he’s not developing anything, and he’s being told what he can build. There are reasons for that. Certain landowners have a blemished track record, and this is better than years of bickering with city agencies because of someone’s artistic license, or more likely, profit maximizing through value engineering.
5 — Stone Quarry still being debated
Stone Quarry is getting really nasty, really fast. INHS has retained the services of Philips Lytle out of Buffalo (the same law firm that handled the indefinitely postponed 7 Ridgewood project). Meanwhile, neighbors are demanding that the HUD funds for the subsidized project are withheld on the grounds of environmental issues, not having enough time for community notice and comment, and that the project is “incompatible” with the neighborhood.
They’re considering a legal challenge to stop the project, which was approved during August’s PDC meeting. There’s a ton of documentation that’s been uploaded in recent days – a 1,189-page environmental assessment report for the site, public notices, and so on. The city has also released point-by-point rebuttals to the filed complaints and formally requested that HUD release the approved funds. If I had a workday where I just had to write rebuttals all day long, I might be hitting the bottle when I go home. IJ news summary of it all here, Voice summary of the events of the PDC meeting, including angry neighbors and the mayor’s outspoken support for the project, here.
I’m going to call out one statement, this being from a group called the SRNA (Spencer Road Neighborhood Association) – they describe the neighborhood as being full of affordable housing, and run off some examples. The first is an 18-unit townhome project at 324 Spencer Road called the Belmont Apartments.
I’m familiar with this development because they advertise their townhomes as “NEW” on Craigslist, even though they were built in 1995. Rents there run from $1100 to $1250, which is about equal to or a little above the area mean. It’s middle-income, market-rate housing. Affordable in context is the cute word agencies substitute in for low-income housing, so using it to describe a market-rate, middle-income project seems misleading.
The second is the primary reason why I’m writing this whole thing – discussions of a 14–15 townhome development at 661–665 Spencer Road by local low-income services group TCAction (that address also happens to be their headquarters). I checked the minutes they cited and I can’t find any record of that. It could have been said and just not recorded in the minutes, but that seems like an odd thing to leave out. The three duplexes at 634, 636 and 638 Spencer check out, and they were built in 2008/2009.
6 — A look to the next planning board meeting
Here we have the projects memo for proposals to be discussed at September’s Planning and Development Board meeting on the 23rd. No curveballs here; the project memo only reviews projects that have already been seen and have had initial comments (sketch plan), so everything here has come up at least once before. 128 West Falls Street will be looking for PDB declaration of lead agency (the board’s agreement to conduct formal design and environmental review) and recommendation to go to the BZA for zoning variance. The Hampton Inn downtown is looking to obtain PDB declaration of lead agency, as is the Chain Works District on South Hill. The Chain Works is probably the vaguest proposal they’ve had to review, because it’s over 15 years and the developers have only a couple ideas fleshed out on the Emerson site’s redevelopment. It also makes a few voters wary because once the environmental review is complete and the developer’s T1, T4 and T5 zones are approved, the developers have an enormous degree of freedom to develop the site as they see fit because it’s a PUD, a Planned Unit Development. They’re also using the town’s equivalent, called PDZ, for the portion of the 95-acre site in Ithaca town. For more about these details, Jason at Ithaca Builds offers a great summary here.
307 College and 323 Taughannock are up for final approval, and 327 Eddy for preliminary approval. There’s also a couple of minor zoning changes up for review.