Correction: The Tompkins County Legislature still has to approve this sale. The Downtown Facility Committee was the body that advanced the sale earlier this week.
ITHACA, N.Y. — 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 land is a swath of property along Sears Street in the city of Ithaca. It is part of the property Tompkins County bought in its initial plan to build a new county office building near Downtown Ithaca, on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street. Those plans were superseded when the county saw an opportunity to buy a more desirable site one block to the south, and proceeded to buy and shift its plans to the new location.
While long-term options are still being considered for what to do with the existing office buildings on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street, the short-term plan is to use the existing parking lot for county staff, and potentially for construction staging as the new building is built over the next few years.
However, residents of Sears Street have made it known they were not going to fans of having a sizable office building as a neighbor, and they don’t like the existing situation either. The parking lot was created by the demolition of several homes decades ago, and while it may be obscured by half-dead arbor vitae, it’s still a poor fit with the block’s dense, older residential fabric.
The county legislature had warmed quickly to the idea of selling off the Sears Street side of the property for smaller-scale low-moderate income housing, though there were questions of whether it should be single-family or townhouses, should it be for-sale or rental, the exact shape/depth of the land to be sold, who would be interested in developing it, and what a fair price was for the land. The county planning department reached out to both Tompkins Cortland Habitat for Humanity and INHS, but TCHFH declined.
“I’m going to vote for this same way I voted to sell the Old Library site,” said legislator Mike Lane (D-14th District). “Not because I think it’s the right thing to do, but simply because there’s a majority here that wants to do this, and I support our team.”
The resolution passed by the county stipulates that the land would be 68 feet deep and dividable into four single-family home lots, which would have to be approved by the city and upon which the sales deal is contingent. INHS had initially offered $120,000, but County Department of Tax Assessment Director Jay Franklin determined that a fair price for the land would be $210,000. The county paid $1.8 million for the entire property back in 2019, and the two office buildings make up the bulk of the property’s value.
The home lots would be developed into either detached single-family homes or two duplex strings (two side-by-side two-family homes), 2-3 bedrooms each, to be sold at a below-market rate price ($160,000 for a two-bedroom unit, $190,000 for a three-bedroom unit) to qualified homebuyers making around 80 percent of the area median income. The homes would be LEED Certified and comply with Ithaca’s Green Building Policy.
The county would retain a narrow stretch from Sears Street to accommodate a pedestrian footpath, which was the source of considerable debate during the meeting. After some back and forth, the legislature decided to keep the sliver of land for the footpath; Rich John (D-4th District) motioned for a vote to sell the sliver to INHS as well for an additional cost (in which case there would be no walkway), but it failed to even go up for vote due to the lack of a second legislator to support the motion.
The full Tompkins County Legislature is expected to vote on approving the sale at their next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 7. If approved, the planned timeline as coordinated by the county and INHS calls for the pursuit and approval of permits from the city of Ithaca next year, while INHS pursues grants to fund construction. The intended timeline for buildout and sale of the four units is later 2023 into 2024. The county figures that construction staging on the property for the new office building would happen during 2023, and that it would be finishing up by the time the homes are ready to be built.