ITHACA, NY – Development continues to be a hot-button topic in Ithaca. 2015 was certainly no exception, with it’s fair share of controversial projects.

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To get a full breakdown of all the development highlights and fights, we asked housing and development guru Brian Crandall — who runs the blog “Ithacating” — to look back and give us his picks for the ten biggest Ithaca development stories of the year.

1. The 210 Hancock debate

Arguably the biggest development-related news piece this year was INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing apartment and townhouse project on the city of Ithaca’s North Side. The project was probably the one most reflective of the current environment – the difficulties in addressing the affordable housing crisis while trying to accommodate the quality of life concerns of current homeowners, and the conflicts created by the spectrum of opinions on where that balance is.

After much debate, the project was approved by the planning board and BZA, and the state awarded funding to INHS this month. A May 2016 construction start is planned for the 54 apartments and 5 townhouses, which will be available to individuals with incomes ranging from $25,000-$60,000. 7 owner-occupied townhouses have yet to receive construction funding.

Citing Ithaca’s high rents crisis, speakers (mostly) back new project – “To come from some place where you think you’ll never be able to get somewhere decent to live, it means a whole lot.” Ithaca Voice
After heated meeting, Ithaca board does not make decision on housing complex – More than 50 people showed up at City Hall, but an Ithaca board did not make a decision on the Hancock Street project. Ithaca Voice
Ithaca board gives green light to $14 million North Side project – The Hancock Street housing project on Ithaca’s Northside won its biggest approval Tuesday night and is now poised to
be built. Ithaca Voice
North Side housing feud a reminder of what’s great about Ithaca – An opinion column from Ithaca Voice Editor Jeff Stein about the fight over a $14 million Northside development project. Ithaca Voice

2. The State Street Triangle controversy

State Street Triangle is probably a bigger lightning rod than 210 Hancock, but also unlikely to be built anytime soon since the Mayor announced his opposition to tax breaks for the proposal. The 11-story, 582-bedroom tower planned for the 300 Block of East State Street faced significant opposition from residents for a number of reasons, including its student-centric market, size, height, and likelihood of applying for tax breaks. Advocates pointed out the boost in downtown business it would provide, lessening some of the pressure on the housing market, and that even with a tax break, it would provide millions of tax dollars.

“It doesn’t look like Ithaca” 11-story building plan criticized at City Hall – Texas-based developer Campus Advantage has proposed a $40 million, 620-unit building project for the Trebloc site at 301 East State Street. Ithaca Voice
Downtown Ithaca Alliance backs 11-story building for Trebloc site – The vote suggests the Texas-based developer is winning support for its $75 million building proposal for downtown Ithaca. Ithaca Voice
Does Myrick’s position spell end of 11-story building proposal? – “I think from Day 1 it was pretty clear that the developers and the mayor would need to be on the same page if it were to proceed.” Ithaca Voice


3. City of Ithaca passes new comprehensive plan

While not as eye-catching as a new building, the passage of a new comprehensive plan is important because it guides the city’s approach to zoning and future development. It may not result in any specific changes, but it will be an important reference as zoning gets revised and new projects are debated in the chambers of city hall. The plan passed this year was the first since 1971. A neighborhood-specific Part II is expected to begin research in the next several months.

What’s the philosophy driving Ithaca’s new comprehensive plan? – An interview the Ithaca Voice’s Brian Crandall recently conducted with Megan Wilson, senior planner for the City of Ithaca’s planning division. Ithaca Voice

Official: Women, minorities crucial to new blueprint for Ithaca’s future – “In the early 70’s, it was done by a group of men sitting around table deciding what they were going to do with the city. So much has changed since then. We really have come so far.” Ithaca Voice

Unhappy council passes comprehensive plan – The long, slow road to the first new comprehensive plan for the city since 1971 ended on Sept. 2, when Common Council approved “Plan Ithaca” by an unanimous vote. Ithaca Times


4. The Old Library redevelopment

As close as it gets to drama in the development world, months of inconclusive votes by the Tompkins County legislature to name a preferred developer put the sale of the vacated site into question. The affordable senior housing project proposed by Cornerstone Properties never gained traction with legislators, but a proposal by Franklin Properties for senior condos and a proposal for senior apartments by Travis Hyde fought for votes until the Travis Hyde proposal squeaked through with an 8-6 vote. At this point, the Travis Hyde project has presented a sketch plan to the city, and the planning board and city preservation council are planning to review the project further next month.

Three proposals emerge for prime real estate in Downtown Ithaca – At the site of the “Old Library.” Ithaca Voice

With county deadlocked, Ithaca Council wades into ‘Old Library’ fight – “The city has had months and months to weigh in on this,” said the chair of the county legislature, which is considering competing proposals. Ithaca Voice

After months of debate, county breaks deadlock on Ithaca development
– It took several attempts, but the Tompkins County Legislature finally broke a deadlock on competing proposals for the “Old Library” site in downtown Ithaca on Tuesday. Ithaca Voice


 

5. What Cornell is building, and not building

By virtue of making up the majority of new construction by size and cost, Cornell deserves its annual mention. However, it also deserves mention because of the hundreds of students being displaced as they shut down and reconfigure their student housing. With hundreds of more bodies vying for rooms in the private market, expect rents to surge in the upcoming year.

Home stretch for construction on $61 million Cornell humanities building – Klarman Hall is entering the home stretch now, just a few months from its anticipated January 2016 completion. Ithaca Voice

Cornell plans renovation for Hughes Hall – There is almost never a period without construction at Cornell. Don’t expect that to end anytime soon. Ithaca Voice

Opinion: Cornell’s decreasing housing options hurt Ithacans – Ithaca has an affordable housing problem. Cornell can’t be bothered with it. Ithaca Voice



6. Tompkins Trust Company plans new Ithaca HQ

Bucking the trend of the past 50 years, Tompkins Trust Company decided to build their new 7-story, 110,000 square foot headquarters in downtown Ithaca, keeping 400 jobs in the city and promising dozens of new positions in upcoming years. This is a big deal because they could have easily bought several acres in Ithaca town, Dryden or Lansing and built a sprawling office complex for a lower cost. But, their decision to stay in downtown is a sign of renewed interest in Ithaca’s urban core, and that the suburbanization of Tompkins County might be slowing down. The final approvals were granted in December for a 2016 start.

Tompkins Trust Company proposes major new 7-story building in Downtown Ithaca – The Tompkins Trust Company is proposing to build a major new seven-story headquarters in downtown Ithaca next to the Dewitt Mall on Seneca Street, according to city officials. Ithaca Voice

Why the Tompkins Trust Company is building a 7-story HQ in Downtown Ithaca – Macro-trends suggest that people increasingly want to live in downtown environments, and the Tompkins Trust Company’s centuries-long history in the area.Ithaca Voice


7. City begins studies into “Inclusionary Zoning”

This is another thing that isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s important. The city is considering mandating a certain number of affordable units in all major residential projects, with the possibility of certain density benefits in return. This is tricky, because if it’s too stringent it kills all projects in the city and worsens the affordability crisis, and if it’s too lenient it can reduce the supply of what affordable housing there is. But, the city is ready to present this in the next couple of months, and today’s studies will become tomorrow’s items for vote.

Understand new tool Ithaca may use to fight housing crisis – In this piece, Brian Crandall talks to Community Planner Lynne Truame about the proposed incentive/inclusionary zoning solutions — how it might work, how it might not, and where we go from here. Ithaca Voice

How might ‘inclusionary zoning’ change Ithaca housing market? – Since this will likely be coming up in the next several months, it’s a good time to explore in more detail what it is, and how it works. Ithaca Voice


8. Ithaca gets a slice of a $500 million pie

Now this is definitely going to get some wheels rolling in the next few years. With a number of business expansions, public and cultural constructions, and city and county objectives to be funded by the half billion from the state’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI, aka the “Upstate Hunger Games”), the money put towards Tompkins County and Ithaca will result in a number of new projects over the next 5 years.

What is Ithaca’s role in Southern Tier’s $500 million plan? – The Southern Tier’s plan would build an “innovation ecosystem” in the Binghamton area, with investments in advanced manufacturing, the food and agriculture industry and tourism and cultural organizations. Ithaca Voice

Ithaca seeks to relocate decades-old fire station – Plans are beginning to come together for a proposed relocation of Fire Station No.9 in Ithaca’s Collegetown neighborhood. Ithaca Voice

“Like winning the Powerball,” says Ithaca mayor on Southern Tier’s $500m grant –  The Southern Tier, which includes Tompkins County, was one of the three regions chosen to win $500 million in what’s been called “The Upstate Hunger Games.” Ithaca Voice

9. Simeon’s (Griffin Block) reconstruction

In the grand scheme, this isn’t a big project, it doesn’t have a big impact, and strictly by the numbers, it wouldn’t be a “top development story”. But, there is a major morale component, because it was a beloved building with a beloved restaurant that unfortunately suffered a tragic event. It’s $1.3 million reconstruction, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, not only says something about the value of the building to its owners and to Ithacans, but it’s a laurel bestowed by the strength of the local economy.

Simeon’s owner: We’re going through on the rebuild – Simeon’s on the Commons will reopen after it was badly damaged in a fatal June crash, according to the restaurant’s owners. Ithaca Voice

New balconies considered for rebuilt Simeon’s on Ithaca Commons – Could the rebuilt Simeon’s Restaurant include two new balconies? Ithaca Voice

A year after tragedy, Simeon’s looks to rebuild – The wreck destroyed the restaurant and part of the building where it was housed. Now a year later, the restaurant and building owners are looking to rebuild. Ithaca Journal

Reconstruction update for Simeon’s in Downtown Ithaca – The intersection of State Street and Aurora Street is a busy little hive of construction activity. Ithaca Voice


10. The Chapter House reconstruction

Like with Simeon’s, if it wasn’t for the strength of the market and the value Ithacans placed on the Chapter House and the building that held it, a reconstruction would not have been in the cards. But, in another silver lining to a dark cloud of tragedy (in this case, fire), plans are being reviewed and reconstructions for 400-404 College Avenue and 406 College Avenue are planned for late winter 2016 starts, with completions by August.

Update: Everyone safe in fire at Ithaca’s Chapter House; building lost – Two buildings declared a “total loss” by Mayor Myrick. Ithaca Voice

New Chapter House bar to open in August 2016 – The Chapter House is coming back. But don’t expect it to look as it previously did. Ithaca Voice

All you need to know about the Chapter House rebuild plans – You have questions about the Chapter House rebuild. The Voice has some answers. Ithaca Voice

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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.