Correction: The planning board in Dryden is not expected to be lead agency. It serves in an advisory role, and the town board will be lead agency. Further, while rentals by-the-room were strongly discouraged, they were not formally prohibited. 

DRYDEN, N.Y. — With the sketch plan concept greenlighted, and the town’s stipulations for approval made clear, it was Trinitas Ventures’ decision whether or not to move forward. It appears that they’re giving it a shot, though some of the components will be up for debate.

Let’s review – with the approval of “The Village at Varna” sketch plan, the town stated that full project approval was contingent on the following:

  • reducing the number of four-bedroom units to no more than sixty;
  • no more than 552 bedrooms, with interior plans to demonstrate family-friendly features;
  • single-family homes along the north side of Dryden Road;
  • and a number of community features, including a bus stop, carshare and electric vehicle charging stations, a small parking area and kiosk for the Rail Trail, a pocket park, and last but not least, traffic control features and landscaping.

The written response to the town, submitted to the town planning department late last week by Michael Keith of project partner Hunt Engineers, states plans to meet most of the conditions put forth for approval. Trinitas is including sidewalks and that two bus stops are planned on each side of  Route 366 / Dryden Road. Carshare and electric vehicle charging stations are included. Five parking spaces for the rail trail are included. Instead of a trail to the planned community garden, Trinitas is offering a sidewalk due to topography (they say stairs are needed for the slope grade). Traffic control features and landscaping plans, as well as the other requested drawings, are included in the submission package.

Meeting one of the key requests from the town board, it does look like the unit breakdown meets the town’s demands – there are no more than 552 bedrooms, in 219 units. The unit breakdown gives 66 one-bedroom units, 33 two-bedroom units, 60 three-bedroom units, and 60 four-bedroom units. Floor plans can be seen here. 2,112 square feet of retail space and 428 parking spaces are included.

The project fits zoning density and parking requirements if green development and site redevelopment bonuses are awarded. The only zoning variance sought is to eliminate the setback from the property buffer. The buffer is the 20′ wide no-build space within a property line; legally, zoning prohibits buildings within 15 feet of the buffer, but Trinitas wants to build next to the buffer.

The one potentially insufficient response was to the town’s stipulation for single-family homes along the small, vacant parcels on the north side of Dryden Road. The Lucente family is planning to include those with the sale of the rest of the land to Trinitas, and Trinitas planned to leave them undeveloped so as to count towards their green space requirement. Trinitas skirted the request, and rather than agreeing to build single-family homes there, they wrote that they would donate the land to the town as park space or for donation to a housing non-profit to build on (i.e. Habitat for Humanity or INHS, though both are busy with other plans at the moment).

Perhaps surprisingly, the designs submitted don’t look all that different from previous site plans. The buildings, penned by Studio M Architecture, keep the same traditional design motif, clustered in three-story and four-story townhouses. The four-story townhomes, three floors with a partially-exposed basement, are internally split with a one-bedroom unit on the ground floor, and a three-bedroom unit on the upper floors. To minimize surface parking and conserve green space, the development includes a three-level parking garage tucked into the hillside and accessed from within the site and from Mount Pleasant Road (right turns only).

In a letter to the town board, Trinitas Design and Development Manager Kimberly Hansen argues that a “focus on green amenities” and blend of physical and tenant market characteristics sought in the 2012 Varna development Plan allow the project to fit with the town’s goals. “These townhomes will provide additional housing options to Varna capable of serving multiple populations including families, seniors, young professionals, and students … care has been taken to ensuring the architectural design of the community fit in well with the character of the existing structures currently located in the hamlet.”

Proponents of “green amenities” might find one area of concern, however – nowhere in the documentation does it say anything about electric heat pumps. For all practical purposes, it looks like heating will be through conventional sources.

With a price tag of $50 million, if built this would be the largest single-phase residential development to ever be built in Tompkins County outside of Ithaca city and town. The construction timeline calls for an April 2019 start and staggered move-ins as townhome strings are finished, with the first tenants moving in during April 2020, and the last buildings welcoming their occupants in September 2020.

The next step in this process is for the planning board to review these plans in an advisory capacity; the town board declares itself lead agency to conduct the environmental review and will decide whether or not any environmental impacts created by the project (stormwater runoff, traffic, quality of life concerns) are appropriately mitigated. Expect this process to play out over a few months as the planning board makes its recommendations and the Dryden town board gets the final word on the issuing of site plan approvals.

Brian Crandall

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