ITHACA, N.Y. — Consider it the latest vote of confidence in a post-pandemic Collegetown. Local student housing landlord and developer Josh Lower will be taking a trip to the the city of Ithaca Planning Board this month with his latest housing proposal.

The site of the project is 121 Oak Avenue, currently a sloped, rectangular 0.192 acre vacant lot. The Lower family purchased the property from the neighboring Cascadilla School back in 2006, and Josh Lower, who runs Urban Ithaca Real Estate, purchased his way into sole ownership of the property eight years ago. The latest plan would actually be the Lowers’ second attempt at developing the lot. A proposal in the late 2000s gained approval, but was halted due to construction costs.

The latest proposal is designed to wholly conform to the 2014 Collegetown Area Form District rezoning. Zoning on the site, CR-4, allows for a four-story, 45-foot tall building with 50% lot coverage, and no parking requirement so long as the applicant submits and approved Transportation Demand Management Plan for and new buildings or expansions to existing structures. The proposal, financed by Lower with business partners and designed by prolific local architectural design firm STREAM Collaborative, calls for a four-story building plus basement that fit’s within the maximum allowed footprint.

Initial plans call for a 35-unit apartment building, with 30 studio units and five two-bedroom units. Unsurprisingly given the location at Cornell’s southern entrance, the building is intended to be market-rate student housing. Since the site slopes downward from east to west, the building will be built into the slope such that the ground floor will be completely beneath grade on the east side, and at-grade on the west side. As a result of the slope, retaining walls will be needed to accommodate stairs and walkways around the building. The development also includes the usual complement of of landscaping improvements, lighting, bike racks, and sidewalks. The building will use electric heat pumps and be Green Building Policy compliant.

The building’s design, by STREAM Project Managers Craig Modisher and Brandon Ebel, is fairly simple if quite a bit more colorful than most. The choice of colors for the fiber cement panels, Sherwin-Williams “Gusto Gold”, “Oceanside” and “Cherry Tomato”, is deliberate. The harlequin appearance has become a form of branding for Josh Lower, who painted 205 College Avenue in a similar scheme back in 2013. 226 Linden Avenue, another Urban Ithaca property, was painted in a similar scheme a few years later.

Development in Collegetown has been relatively more subdued over the couple of years due to Cornell’s expansion of its Maplewood and North Campus student housing, and more recent uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The only new construction projects currently underway are Visum’s small apartment building at 126 College Avenue, and Student Agencies’ new mixed-use building at 411-15 College Avenue. A third project, an eight-unit apartment building for 238 Dryden Road, has been approved but has yet to start construction. That could change very quickly with the new Collegetown Innovation District proposal, but proverbially speaking let’s not count chickens before they’ve hatched.

As projects go, this one is planned for a fairly quick timeframe from start to finish. The $3 million apartment building would begin construction in May 2021, with completion twelve months later. As site plan review usually takes about 3-4 months minimum, that means construction would potentially begin very shortly after final site plan approval is granted.

Correction: It was originally stated that the late 2000s apartment proposal was declined as the Collegetown neighborhood plan was beginning to be developed. According to Lower, it was approved, but halted due to high construction costs. The Voice regrets the error.

Brian Crandall

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