News Tidbits 12/4/2016: Not Forgotten

4 12 2016

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1. It looks like the Old Library proposal will be coming up to bat one last time. Developer Travis Hyde Properties and its project team will present one last major revision at the January Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) meeting. Things are well behind schedule at this point, as the ILPC continues to take issue with the old library proposal – which at last check, has had seven separate designs proposed and shot down for one reason or another. The Times reports that senior services non-profit Lifelong is one again involved in the project, although it had never really left – they will control the community room on the first floor, and will receive the revenues generated from renting it to outside entities. The last iteration may once again include first-floor interior parking, since that was the sticking point at the October ILPC meeting – the plan for design #8 is to increase parking from the proposed 10 spaces, to 25-30 spaces. If the January concept is acceptable, or at least close to ILPC approval, Travis Hyde will pursue the 55-60 unit plan; otherwise, it’s over.

The county had hoped that the sale of the property would generate $925,000 at the outset, as well as future tax revenues; the current building’s mechanical systems are past their useful life and in need of replacement, a cost likely to exceed a million dollars. With no sale, and a perceived “toxic” site for development due to opposition both during the RFP stage and during this review process, the county and city will be in a less than enviable position if things fall through.

At the housing summit, the old library came up as a point of concern and contention; JoAnn Cornish, the city’s planning director, suggested at one that if the county had been willing to part with the property for a token $1, than the need to build up on the site wouldn’t be so great. I happened to be taking notes next to a county legislator and Old Library Committee member who muttered that that was a terrible idea and Cornish had no idea what she was talking about. Anyone looking for common ground is going to have a real hard time finding it.

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2. It looks like Cayuga Medical Associates’ plan for Community Heights is nearly good to go. Only a couple minor revisions were presented at the Cayuga Heights Planning Board’s meeting on the 28th – a rear (east) driveway, sidewalk work and a detention basin. Cover letter here, updated site plan here, and a letter noting a potential change in hosted medical specialties here. The $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road is 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space. The initial presentation in March called for a 3-story, 39,500 SF structure. Two buildings, a one-story office building and a vacant drive-thru bank branch, would be demolished.

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3. Now for something that’s a little less certain – the 400-406 Stewart Avenue reconstruction. One can’t call it the Chapter House reconstruction, because there’s no certainty that that is what will happen. Nick Reynolds has the full story over at the Times. The Chapter House’s intended space on the first floor is being advertised by Pyramid Brokerage for $35/SF, double the bar’s rent from before the fire. The owner of the Chapter House referred to all this pre-development as a “money pit” as the building still has no anchor tenant, but he was still open to being a part of the rebuild. In short, it looks like we’re seeing some bickering between the developer and potential tenant spill out into the public domain, and we’ll see how it plays out.

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4. At the city planning board meeting last week, preliminary approval was granted to Charlie O’Connor’s four two-family homes at 607 South Aurora. City Centre also continued with its review, with comments focusing on sustainability and solar panels. Changes to the project are minor at this point, and we’re probably close to the final product at this stage. Amici House was also debated, with neighbors expressing concerns about the size, and uncertainty on whether TCAction can handle 23 homeless or vulnerable youth.

I’ll register a small complaint – the north stairwell of the residential building. I’d encourage TCAction and Schickel Architecture to explore using smoked or tinted glass to reduce glare, rather than bricking it in. It makes the building look cold and industrial, which seems just as unfriendly to neighbors as glare would be.

The board also went ahead with lead agency on Novarr’s College Townhouses project, and was shown brief presentation on two Visum Development Group projects, 126 College and 210 Linden. More on those here.

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5. The Times included a quick Collegetown construction rundown about a week and a half ago. Two quick addendums –
A. Still no plan for 330 College Avenue, since Fane did the development version of trolling by proposing a 12-story building in a 6-story zone, and was told there was “no way in hell” it would happen;
B. Nothing scheduled for 302-306 College Avenue, aka “Avenue 102”, until at least mid-2018. The rumor mill says the Avramis family, who proposed a two-building, 102-unit sketch plan in October 2014, are concerned about market saturation. Given Cornell’s plans to increase their enrollment by raising their incoming freshman class size from 3250 to 3500, it might be worth another look.

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6. The city has released the preliminary design guidelines from Winter & Company. The Collegetown guidelines are here, Downtown’s here. Although there are suggested rather than mandatory, in theory, a project team could use these guidelines to formulate plans that would be less likely to get hung up in the city’s project review process – one could call it “form-based code lite”. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in here, but the guidelines do promote urban-friendly and contextual designs. These are draft open to public comment – those who would like to can send their thoughts to city planner Megan Wilson at mwilson*at*cityofithaca.org by December 15th. there are some differences between existing zoning and these guidelines (for example, setbacks) that will need to be addressed at some point – the revised drafts will roll out in mid-January.

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7. Now that the county housing summit is behind us, I think that while there wasn’t any sort of huge breakthrough at the event, it was helpful to the community to have the obstacles and suggested goals shared with a large audience. Although, as county legislator Anna Kelles pointed out, it wasn’t necessarily a wide audience – renters, younger residents and lower-income individuals were not well-represented. At least for me, the big, exciting news was Cornell’s plans for new housing, which I will be writing about for the Voice later this week. While not perfect, the event did bring to light certain issues – NIMBYism can be a delicate topic in an audience like this, but one of the points that was stressed at the summit was, if you support a project, then let the governing body in charge know you support it and why. Heck, JoAnn Cornish was saying the city gets opposition emails from residents of California and Oregon. A little support from local residents, even students, reminds city staff and board members that there a variety of opinions.

I can definitely say that not everyone who attended was pro-development – after the woman behind me asked if I was a reporter (I said yes, for the Voice), she kept passing me notes like “since when did development bring property taxes down”, “developers are just in it for the money” and “Ithaca shouldn’t have to change”. I don’t think she liked my replies – the first one I wrote back a response about spreading the tax burden out with new infill development, the second I wrote “strictly speaking perhaps, but they don’t want to turn out a terrible product”, and the last, I perhaps unkindly wrote “[t]ell that to the families being priced out. Something has to change.” She got up and left shortly afterward.





210 Hancock Construction Update, 11/2016

2 12 2016

Plenty of progress at 210 Hancock. LeCesse has the foundation completed and the apartment building is out of the ground. The northern two segments have a parking garage on the first floor, hence the paving. Rebar poking out of the CMUs will tie into the steel structure. The southern two segments are a little further along. Steelwork is underway for both, with the first floor framed out. The southernmost structure, which will house the affordable daycare space, already has interior stud walls going up, as well as plywood with rough openings for doors and windows.

The five for-rent townhouses are much further along than I had anticipated. They are fully framed and it looks like tar paper is being applied to the rooftops. Looking at the sample wall at the corner of the property, there were a couple different housewraps in display – one was standard DuPont Tyvek commercial wrap, the other was Henry BlueSkin, which I’ve never before seen in a project around Ithaca. A little research suggests BlueSkin is a newer and more expensive product, but it seems to have its proponents. With fewer staples or button caps involved, it’s less labor-intensive to install, and less fastening comes with less of a risk of the vapor barrier being torn open and compromising its waterproofing abilities.

Both are fully synthetic plastic wraps with microscopic holes that allow moisture to breathe out without letting moisture in from the outside, preventing mold and wood rot. But in order for Tyvek to work effectively, all the joints and seams have to be taped tight to keep water from seeping in at the edges. Blueskin is created with an adhesive so that it doesn’t have to be taped down. However, BlueSkin still has to be fastened at window and door openings, the application surface has to be clean and dry, and it’s more difficult to apply in temperatures less than 40 degrees F – keep in mind, we’re at the onset of a northeast winter. I’m not sure which barrier will be applied where, but we’ll find out soon.
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Brookdale Ithaca Crossings Construction Update, 11/2016

1 12 2016

The Brookdale project is just about complete. It looks like most of the exterior is complete with only some minor trim left on the to-do list, and landscaping for the new 32-bed, 23,200 SF facility is underway. New trees and other flora will likely wait until early Spring, which will give them a chance to take root before dealing with an Ithaca winter. Occupants should begin moving in during January 2017.

It might not be architecturally daring or a planning masterpiece, but the need for memory care facilities is demonstrated, it will bring a couple dozen new jobs to the area, and positively contribute to the quality of life of local families and mature adults. Should one have a family member in need of a facility, it’s a lot easier and more convenient to hop over to West Hill than to travel up to Syracuse or Rochester. On the balance, it’s a benefit to the Ithaca community.

Background information on the project can be found here. An interview with Brookdale staff can be found on the Voice here. Syracuse’s Hayner Hoyt is the general contractor, and Wisconsin firm PDC Midwest is the architect.

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Cayuga Meadows Construction Update, 11/2016

30 11 2016

At the Cayuga Meadows site on West Hill, LeChase Construction has fully framed the new 68-unit apartment building. Windows and doors have been fitted into the wood stud walls. The roof looks to be pretty much complete, with the exception of trim pieces.The first floor is getting a brick veneer, and the balconies are built out but are also lacking their trim for the moment. The Tyvek waterproof housewrap will be covered over with Certainteed fiber cement “Savannah Wicker” Dutch Lap Siding and “Cypress Spruce” cedar-like shingle siding. Basically, beige and grey-green. Looks like the new access road has also been paved.

It might not be the most exciting design, but it’s one of Conifer LLC’s tried-and-proven approaches – an L-shaped structure with bumpouts, typically hosting small private balconies. One need only go a couple miles south to Conifer Village at Ithaca to see a similar example, albeit with some different material finishes. While Cayuga Meadows might not be especially unique, it does have its advantages – LeChase, who does nearly all of Conifer’s work through a partnership, has extensive experience with the design, and that familiarity should help with producing a high-quality and on-time product.

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602 West State Street Construction Update, 11/2016

29 11 2016

It’s been a busy period for construction starts. Elmira savings Bank has started work on their new branch office at 602 West State on Ithaca’s West End.

The project itself isn’t controversial. But the $1.75 million purchase in December 2015, followed by the very controversial eviction of three low-income families so that their homes could be turned into parking lots…well, that didn’t go over very well, nor should it have. Now with the chance to do some retrospective, it appears that the primary malefactor was the previous property owner, who signed new leases with the tenants but didn’t tell Elmira savings Bank when he sold them the properties. Elmira Savings Bank could have saved themselves many headaches if they had done some due diligence by meeting with the tenants of the properties they were purchasing, but, live and learn, sometimes the hard way.

Plans call for renovating the 5,000 SF building that once housed the Pancho Villa restaurant, a 1,600 SF addition on the north side of the building, and a new drive-thru for bank customers. 16 parking spaces will be included. Edger Enterprises of Elmira will be the general contractor for the $1.7 million project, which is expected to be completed in March 2017. HOLT Architects, headquartered just across the street, is the design firm on record. The primary change during the review process was to limit the house demolitions – the board strongly encouraged ESB to find a partner to develop those lots rather than convert them to parking. At the moment, one of the houses has been torn down to make way for the drive-thru, but the other two will be left as-is and vacant for the time being.

The new addition will incorporate a limestone base, red brick similar to that of the existing structure, Alucobond anodic satin mica colored metal panels above and below the aluminum window curtainwall, and Hickman sandstone-colored metal roof coping. The blue painted brick will be restored to more historically accurate grey-green, and the bricked-in windows will be restored. Bronze-colored metal sunshades will be installed over the windows, and the steel drive-thru canopy will be the same color. The roof will be a white single-ply membrane.

In the construction photos, the new addition has had its foundation excavated and it looks like the concrete is in the process of being formed and poured, with subsurface utility lines poking out in the excavated, yet to be poured portion. The small windowless addition and fire escape on the western wall of the existing structure have been removed as the building advances through renovation – the first and second-floor doors will be replaced with appropriately-sized and historically-accurate windows to match the bricked-in window towards the front.

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The Cherry Artspace Construction Update, 11/2016

28 11 2016

I don’t mind doing these summary posts – I just wish that several projects didn’t start in the same two month span.

The Cherry Artspace, to be located at 102 Cherry Street in Ithaca city, is a multidisciplinary theatre and arts venue planned by The Cherry Arts, a performing arts non-profit led by Artistic Director Sam Buggeln (Bug-ellen). The building is intended to not only house performances by The Cherry Arts, but other local and traveling theater groups, concerts, poetry and jam sessions, and just about anything else in the name of creative arts and artistic expression. The building will join Ithaca’s active and productive performing arts scene, including venues such as The Hangar Theatre and the State Theatre. College towns like Ithaca love their arts, be they visual, spoken or both.

The plan is for a one-story, 1,900 SF space designed by local architect Claudia Brenner to blend in with the industrial architecture that comprises the Cherry Street corridor. To do this, the building is basically the big brother to the former Renovus Energy building next door – similar colors, similar materials, and a shed roof, which Renovus put on to make the 1,154 SF building more amenable to solar panels. The space on which it is being built previously housed parking spaces and a utility shed, since moved. Buggeln purchased the building and lot in August 2015 for $240,000, and the construction and furnishing costs for the Artspace are estimated at $375,000. The Cherry, which can host up to 180 patrons during performances, has a parking agreement with the business next door to use their parking spaces, and it works out since the two organizations will be busiest at different times of the day.

The approval process was a bit lengthy, all things considered. The city created its TM-PUD zone as a way to legally deter the Maguire car dealership proposal for the waterfront, but the Cherry Artspace fell into the waterfront zoning overlay as well, so it not only had to go through the Planning Board, but the Common Council. The Artspace held its public information meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. One was concerned about noise, the other was kinda out of the blue. The project also had to apply for several zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Construction on the Artspace officially began November 7th. This was a few months later than originally anticipated, and according to Buggeln it was due to contractor delays. I a rather unusual setup, that’s a slab foundation going in, but it’s made of styrofoam blocks – given the waterfront location and high water table, the relatively light building will “float” on top of the blocks.

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312-314 Spencer Road Construction Update, 11/2016

28 11 2016

I’ll start off by saying I struggle with how to title this project. It has no official name, and the street address for the two new two-family homes has yet to be determined – presumably, they would be assigned addresses for the 200 block of Old Elmira Road. The developer, Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals, uses the address of the properties from which there were subdivided from – 312 and 314 Spencer Road, the two houses in the rear of the first photo.

Originally, 312 and 314 had three lots with some pretty unusual lot lines, but with .607 acres, there was a lot of unused backyard space, especially for city parcels. Seeing an opportunity, O’Connor negotiated a purchase agreement with property owner Giuliano Lucatelli, who ran a restaurant in the building adjacent to the houses (and perhaps a couple of readers remember Lucatelli’s Ristorante). With the benediction of the city, the project team consolidated the three parcels together, and then subdivided the newly-created parcel to create two buildable lots facing Old Elmira Road, and a third lot containing the two existing houses. The plans were approved back in June, and O’Connor officially purchased the houses and land for $193,000 in mid-July. On November 1st, the project received a $500,000 construction loan from local businessman Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate. That would seem to cover most of the hard costs; the site plan review application estimated the construction cost at $513,000.

Plans call for two two-story houses with footprints of 23.5 feet by 48 feet (1,128 SF). Each floor will contain a three-bedroom, two-bath unit. The houses, designed by prolific local architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, have been fashioned to blend into the early 20th century homes that comprise most of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood – gable roofs, window bay projections, shake and lap siding, and modest porches. An earlier design shown on Modern Living Rentals’ website shows a larger and more contemporary window design on the buildings’ front faces, but it looks like that was scaled back to two more-traditional looking windows as the project went through planning board review.

To accommodate the new homes, some trees were removed, but as a mitigation measure, new trees will be planted closer to the street. The western tip of the properties intrudes into the 100-year flood zone, but that part should remain undisturbed. Each three-bedroom unit will have one parking space, in line with the city’s R-2a zoning (one space per three bedrooms).

An ad on Craigslist suggests the 3-bedroom units will be run for $1700 total, a premium price point as new units often are, but well below the prices that one would see in Downtown or Collegetown. Advertised features include stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, in-unit washer/dryer, ample closet space and custom-tiled bathrooms. Parking will be in off-street gravel lots.

If the photos below are any indication, those tiled bathrooms and granite counter tops are still a ways off. The foundations have been excavated, formed and poured, but the framing has yet to begin. Subterranean utilities have been laid and prepped. Note that the foundation of the western house includes a bump-out for a window bay projection, but the eastern house does not.

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