ITHACA, N.Y. — If one has the money, Collegetown is still a safe investment in the Ithaca real estate market. It has a captive market in the form of Cornell renters, the university has added 5,000 students locally since 2005, and the city has rolled out zoning that reduces the need for expensive parking in the most urban parts of the neighborhood.

However, the neighborhood also comes with its drawbacks. The most obvious one is that property isn’t cheap – in the 2000s, it was the most expensive in New York State outside of Manhattan. Secondly, you’re at the mercy of Cornell’s housing policies. Also important, Collegetown lots are split between any number of mostly smaller properties. Lacking the physical economies of scale, it often makes the costs of doing a project hard to pencil out.

For a firm like Ithaca’s Visum, though, some of those issues are smaller obstacles. The firm has projects going up not just in Ithaca, but in places like Boise, Idaho. It has a process towards development that tends to be streamlined, frankly because they’re doing so much. They have established partners and experience, which helps reduce risks for bad surprises. With this weighing of pros and cons in mind, here comes their latest project, another infill proposal for inner Collegetown.

As planned, “The Gem” is fairly unobtrusive urban infill. Located at 202 Linden Avenue, the project would replace an existing three-bedroom rental house and garage that Visum purchased for $1.635 million last December, several times more than its $275,000 assessed value.

A note of credit where credit is due. At the time, Visum Vice-President Patrick Braga readily stated the Linden project would have 27 bedrooms. In the Site Plan Review documents filed this month, it’s 26 bedrooms within ten apartments, which frankly is close enough given the intervening months. They did not apply the usual coyness of Ithaca developers when discussing their plans last year.

Perhaps most interesting from the development perspective is Visum’s addition of a new architect to their stable of partners. In their previous project, Ithaca’s STREAM or Rochester’s CJS Architects were collaborators. This time, it’s HOLT Architects on West State Street. The firm is already involved with a different developer’s infill housing project a block away, “The Ruby” at 228 Dryden Road.

Designs by HOLT show a contemporary design with three floors above ground level and a partially-exposed basement with storage space and a rear apartment. Exterior finishes appear to be a mix of fiber cement with aluminum trim pieces with an earth/wood-tone palette. The plan is to preserve trees on the west side of the lot while installing new terraced landscaping and paving on the corner. In other words, this apartment infill proposal isn’t likely to garner attention, especially as a five story building (201 College Avenue, which Visum developed) sits next door to the west.

One thing that will benefit the project during the review process is that it’s designed to be fully compliant with its CR-4 zoning – one of the rare projects where no variances are requested. This will spare the developers the time and uncertainty involved with a trip to the city Board of Zoning Appeals.

“The Gem” has an estimated hard construction costs of $1.55 million, and would be built from November 2022 to July 2023, if approvals are earned in the time frame the development team is hoping to achieve. But that’s up to the city of Ithaca to decide in the coming few months.

Brian Crandall

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