ITHACA, N.Y. — Cleveland-based NRP Group has revived a proposal for a 106-unit townhouse community on West Hill in the town of Ithaca.

The affordable housing developer plans to purchase the Holochuck Homes site, which has been on the market for nearly four years. The plan, first reported at an Ithaca town board meeting, has been confirmed by NRP Group Vice President of Development P. Christopher Dirr.

“It’s a site that we’ve been interested in for a while. It’s a townhouse site, 106 units. We think it’d be a great addition to the community. There’s a need for additional housing that is more affordable, and that’s what our focus would be on for that site. ”

Holochuck Homes received approvals from the town of Ithaca in April 2012 to build the two-phase, 106-townhouse project under stipulations that all tenants be given bus passes and that 10 percent of the units would be reserved for those with modest incomes, a sort of early precursor to today’s inclusionary zoning discussion. However, the Holochuck project never moved forward and was up for sale by early 2013. At the time, the site was for sale for $7.75 million, but according to Dirr, NRP will be paying far less than that for control of the property.

The townhouses are clustered in twenty groups along two roads that would intersect with Trumansburg Road/Route 96. The Holochuck parcel was originally 109 acres, but the Holochucks conveyed 69 acres in the rear of the property to the New York State Office of Parks in Fall 2013, and now hosts part of the Black Diamond Trail.

Dirr says all 106 units would be built as affordable housing in two phases. “This would be a two phase project. That’s based off of [the town] approvals, it was two phases, 67 in the first phase, 39 in the second phase. We would look to maintain that. We’re not looking for any modifications to previous site plan components.”

Similarly to their Biggs parcel proposal from a few years ago, the units would open as rentals, but have an option to purchase after a 15-year period due to the requirements of the tax credits that would be sold to investors in order to finance the project.

NRP Group has been seeking to make inroads into the Ithaca market for several years. NRP was the developer behind the terminated Cayuga Trails project previously proposed for the Biggs parcel. NRP was also one of the developers who sought to build housing for Lansing’s town center concept, but the town never held hearings on any of the proposals.

There might still be some additional review required before NRP can put shovels in the ground. “Holochuck didn’t have site plan approval, but rather subdivision approval, it’s a cluster subdivision, which is good for ten years. It sounds like there are some changes that would need to be looked at by the Planning Board. We would need to get a good understanding of the changes and how they would affect SEQR [State Environmental Quality Review],” said Town of Ithaca Planning Director Sue Ritter.

That means the project may need to seek re-approval, which given the area’s trend away from conventional suburban development and towards urban infill, could pose a tough situation not unlike what happened with South Hill’s College Crossings project last year. Being that all the units are affordable could complicate the debate – does one get accused of promoting suburban sprawl, or opposing affordable housing?

Dirr isn’t especially concerned. “We have it understood that the approvals that are in place are still valid. This plan will be an asset to the community, it’s been something that the area’s really been looking to attract.”

Brian Crandall

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