ITHACA, N.Y. — A pair of large housing developments will be heading to the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA) this week, in an effort to gain approval for tax abatements needed to move forward with their plans.

Ithaca Arthaus (Vecino Group, 130 Cherry Street)

The first of the two projects scheduled is the Ithaca Arthaus project. Newcomer Vecino Group is planning 124 units of affordable housing at a site currently occupied by an auto body shop at 130 Cherry St. The units would be available to those making 50 to 80 percent of area median income. The project would be the largest addition to the city of Ithaca’s affordable housing offerings since the 1970s.

Plans call for a five-story, 97,500 square-foot building with 52 ground floor covered parking spaces, and apartments on the floors above, a mix of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The ground floor will also include 8,800 square feet of commercial space and amenity space geared towards artistic pursuits (hence the name Arthaus). Among the features are support service office space, a community room, a gallery/studio and a fitness room. The housing will be available to anyone who meets the income requirements. The project will also host bike racks, access to Ithaca CarShare, and be built to state (NYSERDA) “Performance Path for Energy Star” standards for sustainable housing (Tier II, >25% energy savings above code).

According to a memo provided in the application by project consultant Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design, Vecino is partnering with social services non-profit Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) to provide 40 units of supportive housing for formerly foster care, homeless or at-risk youth in the 19-26 age range. “Vecino and TC Action are discussing other populations to make the largest impact possible; supportive services for these residents will be included as part of overall property management, with offices and staff on site.”

The abatement request includes a one-time sales tax exemption request on building materials, a one-time mortgage tax exemption on the mortgage recording fee, and a non-standard property tax abatement request. In lieu of the typical seven-year or enhanced ten-year abatement, Vecino is requesting a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement that would save them about $3.54 million off the lifetime of the tax deal. With the sales and mortgage tax exemptions, the total tax savings comes to $4.54 million, while generating an additional $3.73 million in new tax revenue over the life of the PILOT (note that the $3.73 million figure does not include existing tax payments, and is calculated using the current property taxes as a baseline; the PILOT would not eliminate existing property tax revenue, it reduces the rate of new tax revenue growth). The total project cost is $28.8 million. The PILOT approach has been used previously, with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

If the abatement is issued, which would be in May or June, the project hopes to line up affordable housing grants in time to being construction near the end of this year and open for occupancy in late summer or early fall of 2021.

So far, public comment on the Arthaus proposal has been fairly quiet, which may in part be a result of the project’s rather secluded location on Cherry Street, a neighborhood of mostly commercial and light industrial uses. Cherry Street was recently rezoned to allow for residential projects, and several developers have begun making plans. A trio of local businessmen purchased the Aeroplane Factory a few building away with an eye towards residential uses.

Library Place (316 N. Cayuga St., Travis Hyde Properties)

In contrast, Library Place is likely to be much more controversial. This is the project replacing the Old Library site; for the long-winded history, check out our archives or read the summary here. Among the controversies with the project by Tavis Hyde Properties include the contentious selection process in response to the county’s original Request for Proposals, the eight designs the project submitted before passing the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission by a single vote, and the demolition, in which the “contained” demolition was replaced with a “controlled” demolition as a result of the building’s roof being structurally unstable prior to site preparation. Rather unusually, the site has already been cleared and prepped for construction. Most tax abatement applicants apply for IDA approval prior to any construction work taking place.

In the IDA memo, it states “(t)he project will provide 66 market rate, age-restricted residential apartments for renters older than 55 in the heart of downtown Ithaca. The first floor will contain a 30-space parking garage for use by residential tenants in the building. The first floor will also include a community room that will be administered and operated by the Tompkins County Senior Citizens Council a.k.a. Life Long. Tenants on the first floor will also include a 60 seat public restaurant, a private spa and wellness center, and an office intended for a home health care agency that residents may elect to contract with for a-la-carte home health care services.”

Rents in Library Place are expected to range from $1,900/month for a one-bedroom, to $3,000/month for a three-bedroom unit.

Like Arthaus, Library Place will be built to state (NYSERDA) “Performance Path for Energy Star” standards for sustainable housing, but Library Place is seeking a higher certification, Tier III (>40% energy savings above code). The project will utilize electric heat pumps in place of conventional gas heating and complies with Ithaca’s Green Building Policy. No job creation is stated in the application, though the applicants note that an undetermined amount of indirect job creation is expected through staffing of the restaurant, wellness center and health care agency.

The development team is applying for the IDA’s 10-year Energy Incentive enhanced property tax abatement for the project, as well as sales tax and mortgage recording tax exemptions. The exemptions would reduce the tax revenue growth and save the project about $5.32 million in new taxes, while generating $1.7 million in new taxes on what was previously a tax-exempt property. The developers bought the property from the county for $925,000.

Included in the agenda packet are a number of letters regarding the Library Place project, nearly all in opposition. The most frequent factors cited are opposition to an abatement for high-end housing, and a perceived lack of civic responsibility in the development team’s approach and overall handling of the asbestos issue.

Should the abatement be approved in a decision next month, construction would begin immediately thereafter with completion by the end of August 2020.

For anyone who wants to weigh in on the plans for Arthaus or Library Place, the meeting will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 10th in the County chambers at 121 East Court Street. E-mails and e-mailed letters may be sent to Heather McDaniel at Tompkins County Area Development,

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