Ithaca Builds

Mapping, photos and information for Ithaca construction and development projects

Chain Works District August Meeting

August 5, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

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Unchained Properties and the project team for the 95-acre Chain Works District (former Emerson site) held a second public meeting today (August 5th), primarily to discuss their approach to zoning and to give more information on proposed site layout. Mayor Myrick began the meeting by noting that the community involvement this early-on in a project bodes well for its development, and that the local economy is seeing some of the best numbers statewide as far as unemployment, job growth, and housing creation, so this project will inevitably become a major part of the change we should continue to see in the City.

Myrick and the project team explained the reasoning behind the developer’s decision to seek a Planned Development Zone (PDZ) in the Town of Ithaca, and a Planned Unit Development (PUD) in the City of Ithaca, since the parcel is split between City and Town. The PDZ and PUD are essentially the same thing: it’s a form of zoning and regulatory process that can be approved by the municipality in order to allow a project to develop outside of the current zoning on a parcel or set of parcels.

Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design observed that since the current zoning for the Emerson parcel is Industrial, it would not be applicable or realistic to a large mixed-use redevelopment, as is being proposed, so the project team is submitting zoning materials to both the City and Town to consider in their PDZ and PUD processes, which carry the same requirements as a rezoning of any other area: the community has input and commentary in public meetings throughout the process, and the rezoning would fall under the requirements of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), and review from the Tompkins County Planning Board. Once the zoning portion is complete, then the project team may submit Site Plan Review applications to the corresponding Planning Boards.

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Craig Jensen of Chaintreuil | Jensen | Stark Architects summarized some items from the previous presentation: several buildings would likely be demolished to create open spaces between mixed-uses, and the design team is studying similar projects that have incorporated adaptive reuse practices on former industrial sites. The 1/2 mile distance to downtown (closer than Collegetown) will make non-automotive transportation options an attractive prospect.

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In addition to working on the zoning proposal for this site, Noah Demarest of Stream Collaborative is working on combining the two Town and City Zoning Codes to conform with the Town Zoning & Comprehensive Plan and the forthcoming City of Ithaca Comprehensive Plan. The combination would be adapted into a Form-Based Zoning Code, with Transect Zones rather than the existing zones and codes we have today, which can be over-complicated and use-based, and contain more amended content than original content.

Transect and Form-based zoning seeks to establish allowable building massing as a priority over accepted uses, and emphasizes a logical transition from rural areas to urban centers, mimicking the transitions found in natural geography. More information is available from the Form-Based Codes Institute and the Center for Applied Transect Studies (which was founded by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who wrote the first form-based code for the town of Seaside, Florida). The zoning code suggested here is adapted from SmartCode template, which is a Transect-based subset of form-based codes.

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Transect-Based Zones are as follows: T1 (Natural) included in project, T2 (Rural) not included, T3 (Neighborhood Edge Zone) not included, T4 (Neighborhood General Zone) included in project, T5 (Neighborhood Center Zone) included in project, T6 (Central Business District Zone) not included.

The existing topography affects these zone decisions: a 15% or greater slope is not realistically developable, so there are several areas, especially towards the south end of the site that would not be developed.
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The question and answer session brought-up traffic concerns on surrounding streets. The Project Team has employed Steve Ferranti of SRF Associates to study the current and historic traffic and transportation patterns, along with trip generation estimates based on the proposal as part of the SEQR process. The team noted that mixed-use projects generally have different peak patterns than single-use, which should help with congestion. Concerns about environmental remediation and removal needs surfaced, which will be studied in detail by the team’s environmental consultant LaBella Associates throughout the same SEQR process, in both rezoning and site plan review. The response from the public was again, quite positive overall.

12-Story Building Proposed for 330 College Ave

July 27, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

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As reported by Ithacating and the Ithaca Voice, Jason Fane, property developer and owner of Ithaca Renting and The Fane Organization presented a sketch plan proposal at the last City of Ithaca Planning Board meeting to build a 12-story building on his parcel at the corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road (former home to the Green Cafe). The plans show a 12-story L-shaped structure with three ground floor retail spaces, a stairwell/elevator core, circulation layout, and apartments adjacent to Collegetown Center, a 6-story mixed-use building owned by Mr. Fane and managed by Ithaca Renting. The plans were done by Architect Jagat P. Sharma. In addition to Ithaca, The Fane Organization owns property in Harlem, NY, and is developing a 47-storey condo tower in Toronto, Chaz Yorkville (latest construction update with photos here).

The current zoning of the parcel is MU-2, which carries a height restriction of 80 feet at 6 stories maximum, so the proposal would need to seek and be approved for a zoning variance to build higher than current zoning allows.

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Amabel Zoning Resolution & Revised Site Plan

March 6, 2014 // by Jason Henderson

The Town Board of Ithaca will be deciding on a resolution at their meeting Monday, the 10th to recommend re-zoning for the parcels of New Earth Living‘s proposed Amabel project from Low Density Residential to Medium Density Residential, in order to allow for 31 housing units on the two parcels, 619 Five Mile Drive, and a 3-acre sub-parcel of 617 Five Mile Drive, which was divested by the City of Ithaca back in December.

The project has a revised site plan, showing that most of the 3-acre sub-parcel that was purchased will be kept as a natural area. Most noticeable is the change in the type of development: the previous plans called for rental or condominium shared housing units in five clusters of six or seven households, whereas the revised plans are for a lot subdivision, much like Belle Sherman Cottages, where the common utilities, roadways, and sitework are developed, then individual lots are developed and built as they are sold. This plan shows two pockets of eight lots each, and an L-shaped line of 15 lots on the southern and western borders, with two sections of parking and a shared roadway heading south off Inlet Road, then east.

The project letter states that the change resulted from consultation with their attorney and numerous bankers, and the financial implications of the previous plans could not be supported by the project, which is understandable: building-out the shared housing units, even in phases, would imply the development entity to hold construction debt obligations that may not have been sustainable, given that quick absorption of the housing units providing adequate revenue is not a sure bet (Belle Sherman Cottages, although a lot development, is a good example- it will eventually fill, but it takes time). In addition, shared housing implies an HOA-arrangement (Homeowner’s Association), a legal entity that shared owners pay into in order to maintain the grounds, common areas, etc.- which is commonly cost-shared with the development entity until a certain absorption percentage is achieved. For condominiums, the legal arrangements are even more complicated and costly, although it’s a novel development concept that has become a norm in urban areas, where strong pre-sales can be guaranteed.

Here’s the full resolution with attachments

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Amabel-Zoning

City Discusses Future Zoning of Waterfront, Carpenter Business Park Area

December 12, 2013 // by James Douglas

At last night’s Planning and Economic Development committee meeting, council members took a look at an initial proposal for rezoning the land that includes Carpenter Business Park, that of Community Garden fame, as well as Aldi, Rick’s Rental World, and Palisade.

There are two main elements of the potential change. Firstly, the proposed WF-3 zone would scale back the allowable industrial activity from potentially heavy industrial uses (think chemical processing or manufacturing) to light industrial (think food processing), and secondly, residential units as part of mixed-use buildings between two and five stories would be permitted.

Despite Ithaca’s tight housing market, there was push-back from several council members who were not convinced that either housing would be appropriate (or even legally permissible) in proximity to the industrial facilities present near the land in question, or that the City should be zoning away its scarce industrial space.

With those concerns noted, the committee still unanimously approved that the proposal be circulated for review. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes actually occur with the now mostly vacant land in Carpenter Business Park. There was a lot of talk during the community gardens discussion over the need for the City to think proactively about the desired uses of the land in question. We’ll get a better sense next month, after circulation and review, of how the City will proceed.

Here’s a map and memo for the proposed change.

Making Room Exhibit: Museum of the City of New York

September 13, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Swung down to the Making Room Exhibit in NYC this week and wanted to share some photos from this project put on by the Citizens Housing Planning Council. The Making Room initiative works on:

“cutting-edge housing and demographic research, new design proposals, and pragmatic policy recommendations that would expand housing options in New York City to meet the needs of our diverse and growing population.

The Making Room initiative is specifically focused on three new housing types for the New York City marketplace:

1. Small, efficient studios designed for single person households;

2. Legal shared housing options for unrelated adults;

3. Accessory units to make a single family home more flexible for extended families or additional renters.”

Many of the zoning and building codes in NYC and across the US were written under the premise that housing rules could enforce a lifestyle of traditional households and “the ideal American family.” Over time, it’s led to the development of a housing stock that leaves out a large portion of the population that would prefer to live in units or developments that have been made illegal. The mismatch of supply and demand primarily hurts housing consumers.

The plan has been to identify these specific issues, inform, and analyze what policies should change in order to allow for the development of a better housing stock.

By far, the most interesting thing in the exhibit is the micro-unit (it’s 325 square feet, but you’d be amazed by how big it actually feels, due to the clever design, and space-saving built-ins- here’s a link to better images of the unit). Parts of the showcase included information on other projects that are being planned or have been built all over the world. All in all, it was very interesting.

Ithaca-based Taitem Engineering is working on LEED, Commissioning and more in collaboration with nArchitects, the adAPT NYC Design Winners for the My Micro NY project [thanks Jan!].

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Land Assessment in Ithaca

May 23, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

I decided to post this since I have a hunch that folks interested in development in the area are also interested in zoning and taxation (I am too). The following post goes nowhere near a full analysis of the situation as far as land taxation in the City of Ithaca, but I hope it will provide some food for thought. It’s largely inspired and replicated from a talk I went to by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3, an urban design/analytics consultancy based in Asheville.

In the past 20 years Ithaca has seen an enormous amount of development happening where “the cars go.” I’m not going to argue the ethical pros and cons of this type of development, but every taxpayer should be aware of some of the incentives at play. One of them is taxation. All across the US, cities generally tax the land of large, strip-mall and suburban-style parcels at less per acre than downtown parcels, but still have to provide the same, or sometimes more infrastructure and public service.

Why land assessment?
Land assessment is synonymous with a “land value tax” or LVT, which is the levy on the land itself. LVT disregards buildings, fixtures, paving, etc., and all other improvements to the land.

This is an important distinction because it establishes an independent economic signal for the ownership of the land, thus a lower land assessment per acre signals a less desirable parcel, but a higher assessment per acre signals a more desirable parcel (if we were to use the assessor’s valuation as the basis for market price).

Many factors affect the land’s actual value, but land assessment can show us how governments view their value. Tompkins County assesses land values separately from the total assessment value, so when we look at our property tax assessment, there are two components: land assessment, and total assessment. Land assessment is lumped-in with total assessment, so if you subtract land assessment from the total, you get the assessed value of everything but the land.

The City and County both tax a flat rate on the total assessment. Unfortunately, it is not a split-rate system. What’s a split-rate? It’s when you shift the tax burden from the building assessment to the land assessment. Why would you do this? If more land is more expensive to hold, and more building is less expensive to hold, then you end up with more building on less land, meaning greater density. Density is important because it’s generally less expensive for cities to provide services to: fire trucks have fewer roads to travel, shorter water and sewer pipes provide more service to a greater number of people, fewer roads mean less potholes to fix, etcetera. Density also pays a greater share of tax revenue per acre. A one-family suburban-style home on one acre will pay less than a 30-unit garden style apartment complex on one acre. Cities rely on density for tax revenue.

From an urban design standpoint, there are also criticisms of taxing the non-land portion, since a higher finish-grade building will get taxed more than a lower finish-grade building since it has a higher value, meaning a higher risk for the developer (in future taxes, marginal construction expenses for higher finish-grade, and possible vacancy due to rent premiums to achieve a return on investment). It leads some developers to go with “run of the mill” designs, less expensive finishes, etc., but that’s another story. Many cities and school districts in Pennsylvania have actually turned to a split-rate system and have seen success- Pittsburgh is a notable example: in the midst of the steel decline, the city still fared quite well.

Henry George, an American writer and political economist from the late 1800s actually proposed that governments need only to establish a single tax on land; however, the idea never really took off in the US, but did in Denmark in 1903, and a few other countries around the world (this economic philosophy is referred to as “Georgism”).

Now the fun part: I have some images I took from a quick GIS analysis I did of Ithaca’s 2011 taxation and zoning. Each map is essentially a “heat map,” one for allowed maximum “zoning density,” and one for land assessment per acre. The zoning density measure is a bit crude- I just used allowed maximum building height multiplied by allowed maximum lot coverage, but it gives a rough idea of what sort of building volume is allowed on each parcel as dictated by 2011 zoning. The “zoning density” map is important to compare to the land assessment per acre map because, in a perfect and predictable world, each parcel (if flat and history and politics didn’t exist) should correlate with how it is zoned i.e., what amount of density is allowed.

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There are multitudes of other considerations in deciding land assessment on each parcel and those that take the time to fight their assessment rises probably fare better, but it’s clear that there is some discrepancy. The take-home point here is that regardless of the minor discrepancies in land taxation per acre, look at the parcels where the cars go!

In 2011, Walmart’s parcel (easy target, sorry) had a land assessment of $189,000/acre and consequently paid $3,611/acre in land taxes (if we use the total millage rate in the City of Ithaca for 2011: 19.109240)…. meanwhile, let’s take one of Shortstop Deli’s parcels (the west one) and do a comparison. Shortstop’s parcel’s simple zoning density measure is less than half of Walmart’s, but its land is actually assessed at $463,776/acre, and consequently paid $8,862/acre, more than 2.4 times per acre than Walmart paid.

Unfortunately, similar comparisons yield similar results- take the William Henry Miller Inn for instance: this parcel paid just shy of $11,000/acre, and the office building next door on Aurora? Over $7,200/acre.

Obviously, these are just a few examples, but this analysis begs an important question for long term urban planning in Ithaca, i.e. How can Ithaca better achieve its desired “Smart Growth” if not enough incentives are there to do it? What are the other parts to this equation and what changes need to be made now to create the community that Ithaca wants in the future?

City Proposed Re-Zoning May 2013

May 9, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

Proposed Re-zoning from Planning & Economic Development Committee Meeting on May 8th.  Proposal goes before Common Council on June 5th.

Parcels to note: Bottom of State Street we would have a new CBD-100 zone (proposed Hampton Inn project) where a municipal lot and mostly surface level parking currently exists, and a CBD-120 on the Trebloc Building parcel (currently housing the offices of Warren Real Estate and the Park Foundation, whom are moving into Seneca Way once completed).  The proposed CBD-140 stretches across the Harold Square project, the Green Street Parking Garage, and most of the Rothschild Building, and also westward across City Hall.  The proposed CBD-50 at Buffalo and Tioga Streets is the current First Niagara office (formerly HSBC, First Niagara bought all their upstate branches) and the County offices parking lot.  The other CBD-50 is the old County Library.

The CBD-85 stretches across the new re-development by John Guttridge for Life’s So Sweet, the Press Bay Alley and surface level parking for the former Ithaca Journal building.  And finally, the CBD-60’s all along the West State Street corridor coincides with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s (DIA) recommendation for further infill development along that thoroughfare, and would also entail an expansion of the CBD.


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