ITHACA, N.Y. –For John Novarr and Philip Proujansky, things haven’t gone quite the way they planned in Collegetown. This month, they finally hope to move forward with their latest project, albeit with some changes.

The neighborhood, often a hotbed of real estate development, has been conspicuously absent from city planning board agendas for the past few months. Some of that can be tied to recent issues with the revised state fire code, namely that buildings on streets with above-ground power lines can no longer be taller than 30 feet (with all due fairness, the bigger reason for the Collegetown slowdown is because many landlords are waiting to see Cornell’s plans for 2,000 new beds).

Normally, projects find out before any kind of review takes place whether they’re legal for construction and occupancy. Both the city and their own architects review the code for any potential problems. Unfortunately last fall, developers and city staff discovered the new code provisions after approval and site prep had started.

One of the projects caught up in this entanglement was 119-125 College Avenue, which called for 67 units of rental housing geared towards Cornell visiting faculty and researchers. The revised plans still provide 67 housing units, but in a much different layout.

Before, there were two four-story buildings designed in a townhouse-like format at the front of the site, and a rear four-story building separated by a narrow courtyard. The revised design removed the rear building because fire truck aerial apparatus couldn’t reach back there, and reshaped the front buildings to be narrower and deeper, separated by a large courtyard that a fire truck can navigate. Access to the courtyard would come via a mountable curb. If the day comes that the power lines are buried, the plan is to turn the access courtyard into landscaped green space. The decorative entry shown in the rendering at top would be built after the power lines are buried.

Design-wise, the boxy, modern motif, which comes courtesy of ikon.5 architects of Princeton, is largely the same as it before, and uses the same metal and fiber cement panels – think of it as wrapping a differently-shaped box with same gift wrap. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects is in charge of design for the landscaping and courtyard space, as well as representing the design team at city meetings.

In a request for comment, Novarr released a brief statement saying “I think the changes we made have made the project a little better.”

According to revised Site Plan Review (SPR) document, the $10 million project will tentatively start construction in March of this year, for a March 2019 occupancy.

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at