ITHACA, N.Y. — 201 College Avenue, the site of a disputed apartment building proposal, has been put up for sale.

“The decision by the planning board to send us to the BZA forced us to miss our September 1st starting date. At this time we need to keep all of our options open, which is why we are putting the property on the market,” said Todd Fox of Visum Development.

According to Fox, the sign went up earlier this week. He had proposed a 5-story, 44-unit apartment building for the site, which had received initial approvals from the city planning board earlier this summer. Final approvals were contingent on a Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) determination due later this month.

The project has also been the subject of contentious opposition spearheaded by its next-door neighbor, long-time Collegetown resident Neil Golder. Golder has gone as far as filing a lawsuit against Fox and the Planning Board to stop the project, on the grounds that it merited an Environment Impact Statement (EIS). Filing an EIS is a lengthy and work-intensive process for developers, subject to additional public feedback. It’s a level of SEQR analysis typically reserved for much larger projects that are likely to have a much greater impact, such as the Chain Works District and Cornell’s Maplewood Park redevelopment. The lawsuit had been dismissed by the court on the technicality that project approval was preliminary and not final. Golder had stated intent to re-file on the granting of final approval.

In a rather unusual case, after granting initial approval to 201 College Avenue in June, the Planning Board, led in an effort by member John Schroeder, voted in July to send the project to the BZA to see if it was legal for its zoning. Typically, projects that go to the BZA are already “illegal”, and are requesting variances to break some aspect of the zoning code, such as parking requirements or height.

According to Schroeder at the July meeting, there are ambiguities on the length of the street facade in Collegetown’s zoning code. At the August meeting, the project team made a renewed case to approve the project, saying the project was behind schedule. The planning board offered final approval, contingent on the BZA judgement next week for whether or not the project was legal. Were it deemed legal, approval would be granted. The project is not on the September agenda, so that will remain unresolved for the time being.

The review process has not been without its controversies. At the August meeting, Fox made accusations of politicking against John Schroeder. Schroeder helped write the new Collegetown code earlier this decade, and he previously served with Golder as a co-representative for Collegetown on the Common Council. In response, Schroeder said at the August meeting “(m)y concern is that after all that hard work, so many people contributed to it, all the open meetings we had — that the intent of the plan and the explicit wording of the ordinance should be respected and reflected in the actual, built results…That’s why I raised the concern, not out of any ulterior motive.”

Further complicating the matter is that the project went through the city’s newly-mandatory pre-application site plan review, a meeting with the city Planning Department that helps determine a project’s appropriateness before it undergoes public scrutiny. The pre-application process was created after controversy regarding the now-cancelled State Street Triangle project from last year.

The site, which includes the plans for Fox’s building, is being offered at $3.2 million. Pyramid Brokerage is handling the listing. It’s a very high price, but not unheard of in Collegetown – Fox paid $2.65 million for 201 College Avenue earlier this summer in June, and John Novarr paid $5.3 million for a property a few doors up at 215 College Avenue.

In the meanwhile, the project has been suspended. Fox says there are no further plans to invest in the property, meaning the partially-deconstructed (or as the ad calls it, environmentally remediated) house will continue to stand for the time being. In theory, a different developer could pick up and pursue the project, though it would be unusual. The only recent instance of that occurring is a housing subdivision in Lansing.

Brian Crandall

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