An INHS rendering of the proposed project

ITHACA, NY – The city’s planning department has released its summary of projects proposed and approved in 2015. The Voice is here to boil that information into five talking points for your next coffee break.

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1. There’s a lot of cash moving around, but it’s less than 2014.

During 2015, site plans were filed for 16 projects; 5 were withdrawn before a vote on approvals could be taken. The remaining 11 have an estimated construction cost of $66.8 million, down somewhat from the $77.5 million in projects filed in 2014. The general trend has been upward since the Great Recession.

The city collects fees on a sliding scale of project costs, and just as the total cost is down, so is the total in collected fees – about $155,000 in 2015, a drop from $168,000 the previous year.

2. For once, Cornell doesn’t dominate the list of projects.

In most years, Cornell makes up the majority of construction costs. 2015 was not one of those years. There’s only one project they have the university has their name on, the $12 million 209-215 Dryden Road project they’re renting from John Novarr. The most expensive approved project is the new headquarters building Tompkins Financial Corporation is planning for downtown, worth $26.5 million. The largest residential project is INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development, with a price tag of $13.77 million.

3. The number of apartments and homes approved is down, but commercial space is up.

95 housing units were approved in 2015, a decrease from 129 in 2014. But the amount of office space is way up because of Tompkins Financial’s 110,000 square-foot project; add in other, smaller projects, and 2015’s approved office and retail space is about 123,500 square-feet, a sharp rise from 25,800 square-feet in 2014. No new industrial facilities were approved.

Since 2006, 749 units of housing have been built in the city and 249 are under construction. About 207 of those (27.6%) qualify as affordable housing, meaning that it’s specifically marketed to low-to-moderate income (LMI) individuals –  those who make less than 80% of the county’s median household income, or $42,000/year and less.

4. Want to buy a new house or condo? Keep dreaming.

Of those 95 residential units approved in 2015, an almighty 8 of those will be for sale. 7 of those are part of the 210 Hancock project and will only be offered to buyers who fall within INHS’s moderate-income guidelines (typically $42,000-$53,000/year).

Since 2006, only 37 of the 749 new residences built (5%) are for-sale to potential buyers; and of those 37, 25 units (68%) are meant for LMI households. Expect that percentage to decrease though, as LMI owner-occupied housing keeps getting cancelled due to skyrocketing costs. As of right now, not a single for-sale house or condo is underway anywhere in the city.

5. At least more affordable housing was approved this year.

For what it’s worth, the 210 Hancock affordable housing project, with its 59 apartments and 7 for-sale houses, was approved and plans a 2016 construction start. In contrast, most of the housing plans approved in 2014 were apartments geared towards college students, and as a result, 224 of the 249 apartments currently under construction (90%) are in or near Collegetown and aimed at the student housing market.

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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.