The approved preliminary design for 201 College Avenue.

ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s that time of the year again. Just like the post-season analysis in sports, the city’s planning department has released its summary of projects proposed and approved in 2016. The Voice is here to look at and behind those numbers so you have something for your next water cooler conversation.

1. At first glance, it looks pretty weak.

For the second year in a row, the number of approved housing units dropped. In calendar year 2016, only 62 housing units were approved. That’s down from 95 units in 2015, and 129 in 2014. Of the 62 units, 52 were student apartments, and 10 were market rate. There was not a single unit of affordable housing approved in 2016.

Another way to look at it is through the value of the projects. The projects that were approved in 2016 were collectively valued at about $27.7 million, far less than the $113.8 million approved in 2015, and $56.3 million in 2014.

2. However, several major projects were approved in January 2017.

This is one of those cases where you have to read into the data a little bit. The number of site plans filed with the city in 2016 was 16, of which one was later withdrawn (107 South Albany Street, which has been replaced with a larger 11-unit apartment building proposal). That’s the same number as 2015. The value of these sixteen projects was $86.8 million, higher than either 2015 ($66.8 million) or 2014 ($77.5 million). At that point, one realizes there’s more to the story.

The answer can be found by glancing through the tables. A number of large projects that the city spent months reviewing were approved in January 2017. That means that 2016 looks really like a slow year, but really it’s because a bunch of major projects were approved right after the year ended. That includes City Centre (190 units), 119-125 College Avenue (67 units), Amici House (23 units for homeless youths), and the student apartments at 126 College Avenue and 210 Linden Avenue (14 units), collectively worth over $50 million.

Here are your spark notes – if you wanted to say development was way down, the 2016 planning report numbers might support that. But you’d still be lying.

3. Cornell’s construction only makes up a small portion.

During Ithaca’s economically-distressed years, Cornell was the primary driver of construction – the city might have been decaying, but there was always a shiny new building planned for the Big Red’s campus.

These days, it’s the other way around – in 2016 and the past few years, Cornell’s construction made up only a small proportion of everything underway. Of the sixteen plans worth $86.8 million filed in 2016, Cornell supplied three of those – the Hughes Hall renovations, the city’s portion of Maplewood Park, and the Ag Quad renovations, cumulatively worth $16.6 million, 19% of the total.

4. Collegetown and Downtown make up the lion’s share of development.

This is a surprise to no one, right? In the past year, a pair of two-family homes were approved in Fall Creek, another pair of two-family homes on Spencer Road, and 8 units of student housing on South Hill at 607 South Aurora Street. So far in 2017, there’s Amici House on the 700 block of Spencer Road. Everything else is downtown or in Collegetown. Since 2009, 1,410 housing units have been approved in the city – only 249 of those were outside of Collegetown and Downtown. So five out of every six new housing units have been or are being built in just those two neighborhoods.

5. There’s more in the pipeline for 2017.

So, what do we have to look forward to in 2017? Well, there’s DeWitt House over at the Old Library site. The Chain Works District is still undergoing environmental review. Finger Lakes ReUse will continue pushing forward with their plan for 24 units of special needs housing.

We’re also starting to get into submission season for Collegetown projects that hope to be underway by this summer and finished by August of the following year. It looks like at the February meeting, the city planning board will be looking at plans for new apartments at 301 Eddy Street (owned by Collegetown developer/landlord Nick Lambrou), and townhouses at 240 Linden Avenue (owned by the perpetually busy John Novarr).

Brian Crandall

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