This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs the blog “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”

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Documents filed Feb. 13 give us a new look at the design of the Neighborhood Pride site planned for Ithaca’s north side.

As previously reported, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services — a non-profit independent from the city — is converting a vacant lot that once housed a grocery store into an affordable housing development. A series of meetings to get public input for the site has concluded, and the project is now moving forward.

Here’s what we learned — and what we think — about the new development from the new documents:

What’s the timeline?

Perhaps a little bit to my dismay, the project is not going to be complete until September 2020, tentatively. This isn’t a huge surprise though, INHS is a non-profit and dependent on grant disbursements.

The buildout will begin in September 2016 and consist of three phases – my guess of the breakdown is the townhouses are one phase, the 2 southern apartment buildings are a second phase, and the northern two apartment buildings are the third phase, though not necessarily in that order.

At some point, INHS anticipated subdividing the parcel into apartment and for-sale portions, which might be useful when applying for affordable housing grants.

How big, and how much?

The apartments call for ~50 1 and 2-bedroom units, and 13 for-sale townhouses, although it still looks like 12 in the renders (who knows, maybe one is a small duplex). So about 63 units total, and about 8,200 sq feet or rentable commercial space in three spaces (proposed at 1,800, 2,500 and 3,900 sq ft, for a total of 8,200 sq ft).

The apartment buildings will be 65,000 sq ft, 4 stories and 48′ tall (zoning max 4 stories/50′). The demolition of a one-story office building (built 1975) and a vacant grocery store (built 1957) will be required.

Total construction cost is anticipated to be about $13.8 million.

Different schemes

What looks like the community favorite (the street scheme) doesn’t read as the county’s favorite (which reads as the alley scheme). But the county only advises: The city decides.

Lake Avenue will be what they call a one-way “living street” – a low-speed, low-capacity street shared by bikers and vehicles. With those features, it’s designed in a way that you’d only drive on the road if you live in one of the townhouses. Conley Park’s southern boundary will be opened up to flow freely into the property (it was blocked off with vegetation to begin with because of its proximity to the old P&C loading dock, which made for a loud, smelly experience).

Thoughts on the design?

As an honest personal opinion, the design – inspired by local 1900s industrial and manufacturing buildings, according to the application – is pretty nice.

It’s contextual, it’s appropriate, it fits in without being a total historical throwback. The townhouses are well-designed as well. I think INHS’s willingness to have heavy community input, and the community’s willingness to help shape the project, really came together to create a nice product.

Parking variance, vulnerability, concluding thoughts

A parking variance will be required from the city – the site will have about 70 parking spaces, but zoning requires 86. Will a new TCAT bus shelter and on-street parking nearby, INHS anticipates that they will be able to obtain the parking variance without too much hassle. INHS also needs to be be mindful of the flood zone, which they seem to have accounted for in the site plan.

The only portion of the site especially vulnerable to a 1-in 100 year flood event has covered parking on the first floor. The townhouses, which are in the 500-year zone, will be built two feet above the ground, and the commercial space, also in the 500-year zone, will be one foot above the ground.

In sum, we have a project that removes a vacant supermarket, fits well in the urban fabric and provides affordable housing. It might take forever and a day to build, but it’s a welcome resource in the city of Ithaca.


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Brian Crandall

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