ITHACA, N.Y.—By and large, 2021 is not going to be remembered fondly. With new COVID variants, everyone is uneasy. Economically, while fears of inflation, supply chains and labor issues dominated national airwaves, the bigger picture was notably brighter, with the economy expected to clock in with a 5.5% growth rate, a much quicker recovery than the one that followed the Great Recession. Public sentiment about the economy is the worst since 2009, and yet in the same October Gallup poll, respondents said it’s the best time to find a good job in over 20 years.

From a real estate standpoint, the big story nationally is that the cost of housing is shooting up just about everywhere. Some of that is due to inflation, but not most of it – home prices nationwide have shot up 20%. The same goes for rent in many cities. Changes in lifestyle due to the pandemic, demographic impacts (millennials entering prime home-buying age), and a slowdown in delivery of newly-built homes due to supply chain hang-ups are all factors.

Looking on the local level, a similar story is playing out. As of November, the Ithaca Board of Realtors was reporting a 19.3% rise in closed home sales compared to the same span in 2020, a 3% drop in total listings, and a 12.1% spike in median sales price. Lack of supply + many eager buyers = prices rocketing higher. On the rental side, an increase in new supply has helped stem the long-standing housing shortage, but the 4% vacancy rate is still lower than the 5% that’s considered healthy, and rental costs have risen much faster than most renters’ incomes.

Since some reflection is healthy and it can be difficult to keep tabs on everything going on, let’s take a look at the five biggest development topics of the past year.

Dan Burgevin’s Mural, “Sunrise on the Green New Deal,” located on the corner of West Buffalo Street and North Fulton Street in downtown Ithaca, NY. (Ithaca Murals)

Ithaca Institutes Green Building Policy

Formally known as the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement (IECS), the Common Council adopted the city’s new Green Building Policy back in May, after many months of debate, and came into effect in August. The IECS is part of the city’s proposed “Green New Deal” that aims to bolster local sustainability and meet the goal of being carbon-neutral by 2030.

The IECS will enforce code requirements for new buildings and major renovations that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while “emphasizing affordability.” It requires that all new buildings are constructed in such a way to produce 40 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than New York State code requires and will require that new construction be net-zero by 2030. More recently, the push has included plans to decarbonize all existing buildings through private equity grants.

With information overload, city taps brakes on Green Building Policy – The enormity of the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement, a.k.a. the Green Building Policy, seemed to weigh on the City of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) last night. The Ithaca Voice

PEDC Recap: Ithaca’s Energy Code Supplement heads to Common Council for Final Approval – It was St. Patrick’s Day, but the only ‘green’ on the minds of the Ithaca Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) last night was the Green Building Policy. The Ithaca Voice

City officially adopts Energy Code Supplement; Green New Deal progresses – Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick called Wednesday’s unanimous vote “history-making,” adding also that the new code is an, “enormous and impressive accomplishment.” The Ithaca Voice

IGND: Ithaca’s $100M plan to decarbonize its building stock headed to Common Council – The council will soon vote to give Mayor Svante Myrick the power to authorize an unprecedented relationship between government, business, and private equity. The Ithaca Voice

The Agora proposal.

All Eyes on the Waterfront

It was another busy year for development in and along Ithaca’s waterfront. Construction continued at the mixed-use City Harbor site and work got underway for the Cayuga Park mixed-use project across the street. The two projects will bring about 130,000 square feet of medical office and service space, retail including a waterfront restaurant, and about 250 residences to the area when fully completed, as well as permanent community gardens space, shoreside amenities and the usual complement of parking and landscaping. The NYS DOT forced the Cayuga Park to downsize over concerns it would back up traffic coming in from outside of Ithaca, a point of conflict with city planners and some electeds.

Not as far along but in the minds of local officials are plans for another mixed-use project on the site of a city-owned parking lot on Inlet Island, and plans for a fourth mixed-use development called “Agora” just over the water to its east. Should they come to fruition, those projects will add a “hometel,” a boutique hotel, a concert center, over 100 more housing units, and enhanced waterfront and boating amenities to Ithaca’s long-overlooked waterfront.

Further to the north, the Chamber of Commerce sold its waterfront office space, and the Ithaca Farmer’s Market launched plans for a multi-phase rebuild of its lakeshore digs.

IURA to review three competing proposals for Inlet Island site – With the Request For Expressions of Interest closed, the city of Ithaca now has its contenders for the redevelopment of the 2.65-acre city-owned parking lot along the waterfront next to Taughannock Boulevard. Three competing teams, in fact. The Ithaca Voice

“Agora” mixed-use project seeks to establish waterfront “entertainment hub” – In the villages of ancient Greece, the agora was a public open space used for assemblies and markets. t’s a presence that Ithaca’s Lambrou Real Estate and its business partners hope to capture with their “Agora” proposal for Ithaca’s waterfront. The Ithaca Voice

IURA recommends Rimland/Flash proposal for Inlet redevelopment – It was a difficult decision, but the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency has made its recommendation, narrowly scoring the Finger Lakes Development proposal by developers Steve Flash and Jeff Rimland as their preferred choice for the redevelopment of a city-owned parking lot on Inlet Island. The Ithaca Voice

Ithaca Farmer’s Market files plan for expansion and rebuild – The Ithaca Farmer’s Market is in the midst of a reconstruction and expansion plan for its waterfront site in the city of Ithaca. The Ithaca Voice

PEDC Recap: State, city still struggling with how to handle Route 13 traffic – There were concerns from council that while making movements in that area more efficient, that it would increase traffic congestion at adjacent intersections – a “Tetris, spill-over effect.” The Ithaca Voice

County revises plans, chooses new site for new office building

It’s slow and steady when it comes to government affairs – and then once in a while, everything changes in a moment. Plans for a new county office building suddenly changed to a new site closer to Ithaca’s Downtown core when the county saw a choice site open up that it didn’t want to pass up. Of course, now it owns two sites, one to be built on in the coming couple of years, and one to be used for construction staging and sold off as it wishes.

In surprise move, County plans vote to purchase another Downtown site for new office building – At last check, the county had purchased a combination of properties at 408 and 412-414 N. Tioga St. and 117 and 119 Sears Street for $1.8 million, with the intent of building a new county office building on the site. It appears those plans have suddenly changed. The Ithaca Voice

New county office building plan heads to legislature for approval – Plans for a new county office building in Downtown Ithaca have taken a step forward this week, as the Tompkins County Legislature’s Downtown Facilities Committee voted unanimously to both accept the environmental review and send land acquisition plans to the full legislature for approval and execution. The Ithaca Voice

Legislature weighs affordable housing for county-owned property in downtown Ithaca – On the one hand, Tompkins County has made significant progress in its plans towards a new office building to host its departments. On the other hand, it is now the owner of two sites: the original site they planned to build upon at the 400 Block of North Tioga Street, and the more desirable site one block to the south they managed to pick up earlier this year. The Ithaca Voice

Committee advances Sears Street sale to build below-market, for-sale homes – In a unanimous 5-0 vote yesterday afternoon, the Downtown Facility Committee approved a deal to sell a portion of its land to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) for the construction of low-moderate income owner-occupied housing. The Ithaca Voice

Collegetown Innovation District takes more incremental approach

The Collegetown Innovation District proposal from developers Phil Proujansky and John Novarr had been brewing for years, but the initial unveiling received a lukewarm reception. The initial proposal stumbled, but the developer duo instead decided to bring forward their plans piece-by-piece and as the market allows, starting with “Catherine Commons”, a large mixed-use project planned on several parcels in Inner Collegetown. The largely-residential project is quite substantial itself, with 265,000 square feet of space in six buildings, and if all goes to plan, about 360 new apartments and a small amount of street-front retail will hit the Collegetown rental market by August 2024. From there, any future phases are anyone’s guess.

Collegetown “Innovation District” goes publicThe Voice has been following this project’s quiet behind-the-scenes movement for years. Finally, it’s ready to see the public eye. The Ithaca Voice

Collegetown Innovation District developers hope to persuade city with reduced-scale plans – When the Collegetown Innovation District was first proposed after years of anticipation and incubation, it promised many benefits to the city. It was also, in terms of those community benefits, distinctly underwhelming to the eyes of Common Council. The Ithaca Voice

Developers re-think Collegetown Innovation District – The developers decided to “focus on getting this area revitalized,” Wolf said. The proposal is designed to predominantly comply with existing zoning. The Ithaca Times

Plans submitted for “Catherine Commons” Collegetown development – John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s dreams of a Collegetown Innovation District might have fizzled, but the developer duo is pressing forward. The long-awaited first phase, called “Catherine Commons,” has been submitted to the city of Ithaca for Site Plan Review. The Ithaca Voice

Bell Station land avoids auction block, to be conserved

Sometimes, the development story is actually about not developing something. In this case, the “Bell Station” property, which includes about 470 acres of undeveloped land near the county’s northern boundary in the town of Lansing, was slated to be sold at auction by its owner, the power company NYSEG. Amid public pushback and bipartisan calls to cancel the auction and allow conservation groups to purchase the land to keep it undeveloped, and an effort from the governor’s office, the auction was cancelled and a land deal to preserve the undeveloped land was brokered and finalized earlier this month. A rare but appreciated “happy ending” to a conflict.

Amid controversy, NYSEG plans auction of Lansing property – At present, it’s undeveloped forest and rented farmland. In the future? The forecast is uncertain, pending the results of a planned auction later this month. The Ithaca Voice

Following public outcry, NYSEG auction for Lansing property canceled – In a press release Friday afternoon, advocates for protecting the “Bell Station” property in Lansing received the news they were hoping for. Governor Kathy Hochul’s office has secured an agreement with the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) to cancel the planned auction of the property next month. The Ithaca Voice

NYSEG, Finger Lakes Land Trust Finalize “Bell Station” land deal –  For some folks, the news comes as some relief. New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) and the Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT) have come to an acquisition agreement on the “Bell Station” property in the town of Lansing. The property is now under contract. The Ithaca Voice

Brian Crandall

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