DRYDEN, N.Y. — The northeast corner of Dryden and Freese Roads has long been a problem property, one that the town has been keen to have developed ever since Mt. Varna was leveled.

Among the proposals over the years were plans for a 20-unit modular townhouse proposal, a mixed-use proposal from developer Todd Fox when he was just starting out, and Tiny Timbers’ “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, 15 for-sale houses planned by local businessman Buzz Dolph with local architect STREAM Collaborative (who did not one, but two of the proposed designs, Fox’s and Dolph’s).

The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing site as it appeared in May 2019.

Unfortunately, while the Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing were approved, they never moved forward. The site was prepped and a test tiny house sat on the property for some time, but the for-sale houses were never built, and the property and the home plans were put up for sale last fall. The $1.25 million offer includes both the land and plans and all the approvals, but also the single-family home and undeveloped acreage to the north, for which concept plans had been drawn up involving a second group of for-sale Tiny Timber homes.

Enter Maifly Development. The suburban Pittsburgh firm, managed by Cornell alumnus Matt Durbin, first entered the Ithaca/Tompkins market with the multi-million dollar purchase of 802 Dryden Road while it was under construction in September 2018. With the completion of the 42-unit/108-bedroom Ivy Ridge project, the company has been scouting out other sites in and around Varna, and it appears the Tiny Timbers site has caught their interest.

As initially proposed in a pre-development meeting, the Maifly Development proposal would build out fifteen single-family homes similar to the Tiny Timbers plan. However, in a request for comment, STREAM Collaborative principal architect Noah Demarest stated Tiny Timbers is not involved in Maifly’s project, and that the home designs are being done by someone else. Revised plans for the Tiny Timbers site show a 1,000 square-foot community center building in place of a pavilion, and some modifications to the site plan to allow for more parking. The uphill (eastern) portion of the site where Tiny Timbers was to be built has weak soils and can’t really support the weight of larger buildings, so even if Maifly wanted to do bigger buildings there, it’s just not feasible.

On the downhill (western) half of the property would be three townhouse strings, replacing the house at 13 Freese Road and filling out the adjacent vacant land. Two two-story townhouse rows would be built closer to Freese Road, while further in back, a three-story townhouse row would be built. The townhouses would face a courtyard parking lot, not unlike Maifly’s Ivy Ridge development. The project also includes the usual retinue of site grading, stormwater facilities, lighting, paving and landscaping.

All together, they comprise 32 rental units alongside the 15 homes, and would cost about $5 million to develop. Maifly is working with the local office of Marathon Engineering on guiding the project through the review process.

As designed, the project fits with currently allowed unit density in the core of Varna, assuming they get the redevelopment bonus and that the project design meets LEED standards as approved by the town planning office, a prerequisite to obtaining the “green” sustainable development bonus. It would be too dense for the revised zoning being reviewed, where Varna would be de-densified.

“There is a proposal to the town board to update the density table, but the current zoning is still in place,” said town of Dryden Planning Director Ray Burger. Asked what would happen in a scenario where the new, less dense were to be enacted during project review, Burger said “It has yet to be decided. I think there’s case law on both sides of that, but it would likely be reviewed under the current zoning.” In other words, if they start formal site plan review before the more restrictive zoning code goes into effect, they would be grandfathered in for this proposal only; if they came back with some new design after the new zoning was in effect, it would be subject to the more prohibitive zoning code.

According to Burger, the “Pre-Application Developer’s Conference” Maifly had with the Planning Board last month brought out “mixed opinions”, but they are welcome to submit a full-fledged site plan if they want. “The board wants to see more details put to paper so they can react to something more concrete.”

As always, in the early stages of a project proposal, much can change before a final product is approved, if a final product is approved. One thing that might please Varna residents, though, is that for now, Maifly intends to keep the Tiny Timbers lots as for-sale housing, though Burger cautioned that was ultimately dependent on marketability, and if that proved fruitless they would be used for rentals.

Rentals or for-sale, it remains to be seen if the fourth time is the charm for the beleaguered property. At this time, a construction time frame is not available, but as plans are fleshed out and debated, keep an eye out for a follow-up article.

Brian Crandall

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