ITHACA, N.Y. — As another year comes to a close, we have another year to reflect on Ithaca’s development. 2018 continued the trends of the past few years – economic and population growth have led to development being a hot conversation topic in coffee shops and around office water coolers.
Since some reflection is healthy, let’s take a look at the five biggest stories of the past year.
Historic Preservation: A boon, or a burden?
Advocates for historic preservation will look back on 2018 as something of a mixed bag. The first half of the year was dominated by the debate over the future of 311 College Ave., a former fire station better known by its longstanding restaurant owner-occupant, “The Nines.”
The owners of the Nines wanted to retire, close up the 40-year-old restaurant and sell the building to fund their golden years. However, as demonstrated by a (now canceled) proposal from Visum Development Group, most of those potential buyers want to redevelop the site, and landmark protection would have put very restrictive measures in place that would have greatly reduced the price the owners could ask for. Suddenly, the owners’ retirement nest egg looked a lot more uncertain. On the other hand, 311 College Ave. is also a rare throwback to the early days of Collegetown, and a beloved structure among the apartments and boarding houses of Collegetown.
It became a debate over historic value versus personal property rights and expectations, and there was no easy answer. Common Council seemed to agree, splitting 5-5 on historic designation, with the mayor quickly casting a tie-breaking vote to deny the landmarking. For what sting the defeat might have brought, there were some notable positives this year for historic protections of local buildings – the Tibbets-Rumsey house at 310 W. State St. has been saved and is being turned into a housing co-op, and as of the start of 2019, the former train depot and Greyhound bus station at 710 West State Street is now an individual historic landmark.
- A Strange Situation for The Nines – It’s been an odd and perhaps awkward few months for 311 College Ave., informally known by its occupant, The Nines. Like smoke from the fires it crews once fought, its future appears to be up in the air. The Ithaca Voice
- A final stand: The Nines owners, landmark commission taking opposite sides in historic designation vote tonight – Longtime Ithaca business owners Mark and Shirley Kielmann want to retire and spend more time with their daughter and grandchildren. A Commons Council vote Wednesday night will determine if they’re able to do that soon or if they have to sideline their retirement, possibly by years. The Ithaca Voice
- No historic designation for The Nines in Collegetown, Mayor Svante Myrick breaks tie – The public opinion expressed Wednesday night was clear: Ithacans love The Nines but are happy to see co-owners Mark Kielmann and Harold Schultz retire with a nest egg they invested in 38 years ago. The Ithaca Voice
- Historic protection sought for former Bus Terminal – With the planned closure of the Ithaca Greyhound Bus Terminal at 710 W. State St., one of the more common questions we’ve received here at The Ithaca Voice is whether the building is historically protected as an individual city landmark. The answer is no, but the city is trying to change that. The Ithaca Voice
The Saga of the Green Street Garage
My, what strange paths some plans weave. In the fall of 2017, developer Jeff Rimland, working with Peak Campus, proposed a massive mixed-use project that would rebuild the decaying city-owned Green Street Garage along with hundreds of apartments, conference center space and other amenities. At the insistence of some city staff and officials, the proposal was slowed so that a Request For Proposals (RFP) could be issued. At the time that RFP period closed, there was only one submission, Rimland/Peak. However, at the meeting where the IURA was to declare Rimland/Peak the preferred developer, there was a major public outcry over what was felt to be an insufficient amount of time for the RFP, and so the city decided to give it one more try.
This time, four proposals came in, each with their own pros and cons. Through scoring of features and weighing of each submission’s pros and cons, the four entries were whittled down to two by the end of October. Finally, a preferred developer, the Vecino Group with their Asteri Ithaca proposal, was selected by the IURA. At this point, the city and Vecino are in a 90-day exclusive negotiation period, but should the city find Vecino’s plans are no longer feasible or to their liking, they can always give a second look to the runner-up proposal jointly submitted by Visum Development and Newman Development.
- City receives one application for Green Street Garage Redevelopment – With the deadline for applications passed, it looks like it won’t be much of a competition for naming a preferred developer of the Green Street Garage – only one submission, the proposal first shown by Ithaca Properties LLC last autumn, was filed. The Ithaca Voice
- Amid public outcry, Green Street Garage RFP reopened – In an unexpected turn of events, the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Green Street Garage was reopened last Thursday at the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s monthly meeting. The Ithaca Voice
- First look: Four choices in Green Street Garage redevelopment – The time to work on submissions has closed for the Green Street Garage redevelopment. After having their qualifications approved by the end of May, four competing groups went forward with designing their plans for what they would do if awarded preferred developer status. The Ithaca Voice
- Final proposals in hand, city to decide on preferred Green Street Garage developer this week – It’s going to be a big week for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. The board is poised to select its preferred developer for the Green Street Garage at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in City Hall. The Ithaca Voice
- IURA chooses Vecino Group as preferred Green Street Garage developer – The Vecino Group has been selected as the preferred developer for the Green Street Garage Project. The Ithaca Voice
Cornell Thinks Big(ger)
On East Hill, Cornell moved forward with long-brewing plans to add to its campus housing stock and house more of its expanding student population with the addition of more than 2,000 new dormitory beds for its North Campus housing, allowing the university to house (and mandate) all freshman and sophomore students in campus-owned facilities. The proposal has not been without controversy. While the addition of the new housing has been generally welcomed in supply-strapped Tompkins County, concerned have been raised about the new buildings’ energy sources. The structures are designed to tap into Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system that heats and powers most of its main campus, but the CHP system relies on natural gas as its primary energy source. Cornell has stressed that more renewable sources are in the pipeline and the plan is to have all their energy be renewable by 2035, but that far-flung timeline has not been welcome news to many local environmental advocates.
The Cornell plans are still in the review process, with the city planning board having declared the environmental review satisfactory with adequate mitigation measures in place or proposed as part of the project. Cornell’s goal is to obtain site plan approval in early 2019 and begin construction next summer for the completion of phase one in 2021, and phase two in 2022.
- Cornell releases details on 2,000 bed expansion – The gears are finally turning on Cornell University’s massive North Campus dormitory expansion. The town of Ithaca will preview the plans tonight at its Planning Board meeting. The Ithaca Voice
- Cornell readies massive dorm project for review – It’s one of the largest projects in Tompkins County history, and it looks like its ready to begin the arduous task of site plan review – Cornell has submitted the filings for its approximately 2,000 bed dormitory project, and the city of Ithaca Planning Board is expected to declare itself lead agency for environmental review at its meeting Tuesday night. The Ithaca Voice
- Community members question energy impacts of Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion – Cornell University’s proposal to add 2,000 beds to campus with the North Campus Residential Expansion project has been moving forward. On Tuesday, more than 30 community members showed up to the Town of Ithaca Planning Board meeting to dig into the project’s energy plan. The Ithaca Voice
- Cornell’s North Campus expansion clears environmental review hurdle – The City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board declared Tuesday that Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion project will not have a significant adverse environmental impact, clearing the way for the project to move forward. The Ithaca Voice
Not all of the bid development news has been confined to Ithaca. Over in Dryden, debate continues over “The Village at Varna,” a 550-bed proposal from Trinitas Ventures, which specializes in student housing. The proposal has proven highly controversial, with many Varna residents expressing serious concerns over its scale, number of rental units, and whether a student-oriented developer can design something that appeals to a broader population beyond students. Still, the Dryden town board has been willing to entertain the proposal; concept plan approval was given in October, with a number of stipulations regarding project size, unit features and overall project features. Trinitas has submitted paperwork indicate how they intend to meet those stipulations, but whether the two sides agree will be something to be discussed in site plan review next year.
Trinitas hopes to obtain approval by next spring. Construction would start shortly thereafter, with full completion expected in Fall 2020.
- Student housing developer plans open house in Varna – Varna residents, mark your calendars: a student housing developer is eying the community for a potential development, and would like to have an open house meeting on Monday to determine what the hamlet is and isn’t comfortable with. The Ithaca Voice
- Is Varna’s future going according to plan? – Anecdotally speaking, Varna is a favorite for the uninitiated but aspiring developers of the Tompkins County real estate scene. At a glance, it checks off a lot of boxes. Then they get around to proposing their project in Varna. The general advice is this – tread carefully. The Ithaca Voice
- Residents rebuff Trinitas’ Townhome plans – At a meeting of the Dryden Town Board Aug. 16, Trinitas presented its plans for a new housing development in the Hamlet of Varna and was met with very little enthusiasm from members of the public and local lawmakers. The Ithaca Times
- One of the largest proposals ever to have come forth in Dryden’s town lines received conceptual approval late last month – but actual site plan approval is contingent on meeting some stipulations set forth by the town board. The Ithaca Voice
- Trinitas submits $50 million Varna proposal for town review – 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. The Ithaca Voice
The Old Library Debate Continues
The Old Library debate has been running for years, but new issues have continued to arise.
Tompkins County sold off the former library to preferred developer Travis Hyde Properties in Fall 2017, and then…the site went quiet for a while. Developer Frost Travis announced a partnership with local senior care provider Bridges, but site preparation got underway several months later than first anticipated, and when it did, there was a major problem – consulting engineers deemed the roof structurally unstable and in response to the engineers’ report, the city’s building division condemned the building in September.
THP’s approach was to then change their asbestos abatement plan from, “contained” abatement” in which the building is sealed up in a plastic bubble and the asbestos is removed before the structure is demolished, to a “controlled” abatement, which involves tearing the condemned building down as-is and using water hoses to suppress any potential airborne dust. That hasn’t sat well with neighborhood residents and local environmental activists, including Toxics Targeting’s Walter Hang, who circulated a petition calling for the building to be renovated and re-stabilized to allow the original asbestos abatement plan to take place.
The city opted to seek the services of a third-party structural engineer, who also deemed the building unstable, and so THP’s “controlled” demolition plan was allowed to proceed. Driving by today, demolition continues, and some neighbors have sealed up their porches and windows in plastic wrap, the lack of faith in the city and developer as clear as the plastic around their doors.
- Plans to redevelop Old Library site into senior housing move forward – Plans to turn Ithaca’s old library site on Cayuga and Court streets into senior housing are moving along. After a few quiet months, last week the developer announced it has partnered with Bridges Cornell Heights, a local senior living provider. The Ithaca Voice
- Demolition of Tompkins Old Library will start soon – After years of debate and vacancy, the former Tompkins County library on the corner of Cayuga and Court streets will begin to come down piece by piece soon. The Ithaca Voice
- Hundreds sign letter opposing demolition of Old Library without asbestos removal first – More than 200 people have signed on to a letter requesting that Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and the City of Ithaca take emergency action to make sure asbestos is removed from the Old Library building before it is demolished. The Ithaca Voice
- Mayor to leverage tax abatement to get further asbestos investigation at Old Library – Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick promised a crowd of about 50 on Thursday that he would withhold his recommendation for a tax abatement for the Travis Hyde Properties development of the Old Library site until asbestos removal plans are reevaluated. The Ithaca Voice
- Old Library demolition to start Monday, despite continued asbestos concerns – The demolition of the former Tompkins County Library building at the corner of Cayuga and Court streets is slated to start Monday, Dec. 3, despite public outcry over planned asbestos abatement procedures. The Ithaca Voice
Looking for more recaps? Be sure to look at “2018 in Review: A Year in Photos” that show the photos that told some of the biggest stories of the year.