Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 8/2017

18 08 2017

Cornell’s modest but useful renovation of Schwartz Plaza has made significant progress. Gone are the walls that kept the sunken plaza cloistered from passerby, and in its place are stone seats and durable granite setts, for what ideally serves as a visible, attractive public gathering space in Collegetown’s dense quarters. Ornamental grasses will be planted between the seats, and from the renders, it looks like recessed LED light poles will be added as well.

Wood benches will be installed on a granite base below the steel trusses of the far wall, and some of the stone seatings on the near/eastern side will be overlaid with wood benches as well. Hopefully the marble columns get a thorough cleaning; after a few decades, it could use a good scrub. New ornamental bushes and vines will be planted along the trusses and against the back wall of the sunken “forecourt”.

Originally, this was supposed to be done in time for classes, but that seems unlikely at this point. A September finish is likely a fair estimate.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 8/2017

17 08 2017

Some good news and some bad news. The good news is, the replacement building for 400-404 Stewart Avenue is well underway. No false starts, no rumor milling. The new structure is quite substantial for a modest three-story building – structural steel frame (currently up to the second floor), steel floor panels, finished basement, – all heavy duty, commercial grade construction, befitting for a mixed-use structure with possible food retail or general retail tenants on the 3,000 SF ground floor. Note the structural cross-beams; those well segments will not have windows. The exposed portion of the concrete foundation wall will be faced with bluestone later in the build-out. The fifth photo shows no concrete between the floor panels and foundation, presumably because the corner entrance will have an interior stairway that steps up to the ground level.

Now for the bad news. I chatted with a worker on the site, and when I said “the Chapter House site”, he chuckled, shook his head, and recommended I don’t use that phrase. “The Chapter House ain’t coming back,” he said before picking up a shovel. “People will forget all about it in four years anyway.” It hasn’t been a secret that the Chapter House likely isn’t making a return, but for many students and non-students, it’s still a disappointment to hear that.

The construction timeline for 400-404 Stewart called for a completion this year, which seems generous. The apartment building at 406 Stewart Avenue has been graded, but construction will not start until later this fall. Hayner Hoyt is the general contractor, with Taitem in charge of the structural engineering.

UPDATE: In the comments, John Hoey, the proprietor of the Chapter House, has written in the comments that he intends to reopen the bar, if not here then elsewhere in Collegetown.





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 8/2017

16 08 2017

201 College is a work in progress on the outside, but the inside is nearly complete. According to Visum Development’s Todd Fox, who happened to be at the site when the photos were taken yesterday, there are cleaning crews inside, and a certificate of occupancy is being obtained. Renters will be able to move in on Friday.

On the outside however, work is still coming along. From the looks of it, it appears all the woven bamboo siding has been attached. However, the overhead canopy has yet to be installed over the front entrance, and some of the decorative “iron ore” black metal rails and fiber cement panels (“Allura Snow White” and “Gauntlet Gray“) have yet to be clipped on over the structural metal rails. So while tenants will be able to move in for the fall semester later this week, construction on the exterior and landscaping finishes will extend into September. Similarly, the basement area, which will host the fitness room and bike storage, will need a few more weeks before it’s ready for use.

For what it’s worth, 201 College looks just like the renderings provided by its architect STREAM Collaborative, which one would think isn’t a big deal, but it is – there have been cases of developers building something that lacked details of features shown but not explicitly required in approval, which had led to consternation among the planning board and staff.

On another good note, I asked Fox how things were with neighbor Neil Golder, who led efforts to halt the project last year. Since the lawsuit failed, the two sides have been fairly amenable to each other – Fox still offered Golder solar panels on 201 to compensate for shadows, and Golder has let construction workers access his property when trying to maneuver equipment on and off site. Fox said that, in exchange for paying Golder’s water bill, he let construction crews hook up hoses from his spigots to spray down the dust and add water to the concrete.

As 201 wraps up, Fox has his eye on his other approved projects – 210 Linden Avenue, a 4-story, 36-bedroom building, has been excavated and padded (last two photos here), and is waiting on municipal permits to begin construction of the foundation. As with 201 College, William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton will be the general contractor, and STREAM is the architect. 232-236 Dryden Road, a pair of 4-story buildings with 191 bedrooms, is due to start site prep in September. Two smaller Visum projects, for 118 College Avenue and 126 College Avenue, have no firm construction dates at this time.





News Tidbits 8/12/17: Two Kinds of Rehab

12 08 2017

1. It looks like some Trumansburg residents want to build a recreational complex. According to the Ithaca Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, for the civic group Trumansburg Community Recration, “{t}he ultimate goal is to build a recreation center, soccer fields, baseball fields, a youth football field, a skate park, and a pool to the community. The first phase of the project would be building the sports fields and possibly a recreational campus. While the group is still searching for space for these amenities, it is raising funds through grants and donations. The fundraising goal right now is $750,000.”

Along with private donations, the community advocacy organization is seeking state funds, which state law requires be obtained via municipal entities, i.e. the village, school district, town and county. It’s not that governing bodies have to commit money, they just have to express support and sign off on applications, and allocate the awarded funds if/when they are received.

Phase two for the non-profit would be a community center, likely a re-purposed building, and phase three would be a pool, which is garnering significant community attention. Although the group hasn’t committed to a location (the rendering is completely conceptual), it is examining the feasibility of different sites in and around Trumansburg. Interested folks can contact or donate to the group here, or sign up for emails if they so like.

2. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has finally received the money from a July 2016 grant award. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) will be using it toward a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created. Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

While the location is quite rural, the nature of the facility (rehab, focus on opioid abuse) is getting pushback from at least one town board member who doesn’t want it in the town (link, scroll down to 7-25-TB minutes). The plan has yet to go before the Ulysses planning board.

3. INHS made its name on home rehabs, and it looks to be making a return to its roots. The non-profit developer is asking the IURA for $41,378 towards the renovation of an existing 3-bedroom house on 828 Hector Street, which will then be sold to a low-moderate income family (80% AMI, about $41,000/year) and locked into the Community Housing Trust.

The project cost is $238,041. $152,000 to buy the foreclosed property from Alternatives Federal Credit Union, $8,000 in closing/related costs, $60,000 in renovations, $5,000 contingency, $8,141 in other costs (legal/engineering), and $4,900 in marketing/realtor fees. The funding sources would be $144,163 from the sale, $15,000 from INHS’s loan fund (to cover the down payment for the buyer), $37,500 in equity and the $41,378 grant. A for-profit could renovate for cheaper, but federal and state guidelines say INHS has to hire those with a $1 million of liability insurance coverage, which takes many small contractors out of the equation.

Side note, the city’s federal grant funding disbursement was dropped by $50,000, because HUD is an easy target in Washington. Luckily, Lakeview decided to forego its grant funds because they found the federal regulations unwieldy, which freed up a little over $43k to move around to cover most of the losses.

4. Speaking of Hector Street, it looks like Tiny Timbers is rolling out a pair of new spec plans for two lots on the city’s portion of West Hill. The house on the left, for 0.27 acre Lot 1, is a 1,040 SF 2 BD/1BA design listed at 187,900, which is a good value for a new house in the city. 0.26 acre Lot 2 is a 3 BD/2 BA 1,370 SF home listed at $222,900. Taking a guess based on the lot sizes, these are the wooded vacant lots west of 920 Hector. There’s a third vacant lot over there, but no listing yet.

5. On the city’s Project Review Committee meeting agenda, which is the same as the memo…not much. Lakeview’s 60-unit affordable housing project on the 700 Block of West Court Street will have its public hearing and determination of envrionmental significance, the last step in SEQR and the one before preliminary approval. Same goes for INHS’s 13-unit project on the 200 Block of Elm Street.

Apart from related or minor zoning variances and review of proposed historic designation in Collegetown for the Chacona and Larkin Buildings (411-415 College and 403 College), the only other project for review is 217 Columbia, Charlie O’Connor’s. Which, as covered by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor and by Matt Butler at the Times, did not go over well, though Charlie seemed willing to change plans to avert a firestorm. From a practical standpoint, I’d imagine he’s much more focused on his much larger 802 Dryden Road project, and this is small if hot potatoes. The 6-bedroom duplex (three beds each) is designed by Ithaca architect John Snyder.

My own feeling is that a moratorium isn’t the answer, but if they wanted to roll out another TM-PUD so that Common Council gets to review plans as well as the Planning Board, then so be it. My issue with moratoriums is that local municipalities do a terrible job sticking to timelines and have to extend them again and again. Plus, there are projects like the Ithaka Terraces condos, or the new Tiny Timber single-family going up on Grandview, that aren’t the focus of the debate but would be ensnared by a blanket moratorium.

Meanwhile in the town, the planning board discussion for next week will mostly focus on the NRP Ithaca Townhouses on West Hill. The revisions will be up for final approval, which would allow NRP to move forward with their 2018-19 Phase 1 buildout (66 units and a community center). Phase II (39 units) will follow in 2019-20.

6. In sales this week, the big one appears to be 808 East Seneca – 5 unit, 4,125 SF historic property just west of Collegetown in Ithaca’s East Hill neighborhood. List price was $1.575 million, and it sold for modestly less, $1.45 million, which is well above the $900,000 tax assessment. The sellers were a local couple had owned the property since 1982, and the buyer is an LLC formed by the Halkiopoulos family, one of Collegetown’s old Greek families, and medium-sized landlords with a number of other houses in the area.

Perhaps more intriguing is the sale of 452 Floral Avenue for $100,000 to home builder Carl Lupo. The vacant 4.15 acre property had been the site of a 30-unit affordable owner-occupied project back in 1992, but given that the Ithaca economy was faltering in the early 1990s, the plans never moved forward.

7. A quick update from the Lansing Star about the Park Grove Realty lawsuit. While the Jonson family of developers may have lost the village elections by a large margin, their lawsuit accusing the village of an illegal zoning change to permit the project has been reviewed by the state’s court system – and they lost. The state supreme court ruled the zoning change was perfectly legal, appropriate to the revised Comprehensive Plan, and accusations of negative impacts on the Jonsons’ Heights of Lansing project are overblown and speculative.

The Jonsons intend to file an appeal, and have to send in their final draft by September 5th. At this point, the project is left in a waiting pattern – the village is leaving the public hearing open until the appeal is resolved. If the appeal overturns the ruling, than the project can’t proceed regardless of village approval. Given the basis for the initial ruling, an overturning seems unlikely, but it will be a few more months before any approvals can be granted.





News Tidbits 8/5/17: Having the Right Look

5 08 2017

1. Thanks to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, we have the first rough site plan for the proposed Cornerstone and Tiny Timbers projects at the Lansing Town Center site at the intersection of Route 34B and Triphammer Roads. Readers may recall that Tiny Timbers has proposed a development of 60 for-sale single-family homes (ten in the first phase) called “Lansing Community Cottages”, and Cornerstone is proposing up to 144 affordable apartments in two phases for the town center site.

Specifically, Tiny Timbers is looking to sell homes averaging about 1,000-1,200 SF in the $175,000-$225,000 range, which is a critical but tough-to-hit segment in the local housing market. With consultation from planner David West, the homes are designed in a traditional urban layout, with congregated parking spaces instead of garages, and community green spaces. None of the homes are more than 150 feet from the roads and parking areas, a safety requirement to ensure access for emergency vehicles. Ten units would be built in phase one, twenty in phase two, and thirty in phase three. About the only concern town officials have expressed at this point is a second means of ingress/egress to keep the traffic down on Conlon Road.

In contrast to Tiny Timbers’ site plan, the Cornerstone plan is a more conventional suburban layout with parking adjacent to each 8-unit structure. In fact, based on the above design, and the need for affordable developers to save on costs and therefore many reuse designs when they can, it’s likely that some of the Cornerstone apartments look something like the above image, which comes from a recent Cornerstone project near Brockport. The detailing and the colors may differ, but it’s a pretty good bet that’s how some of the finished units will look. Like Conifer, Cornerstone appear to be using a mix of their standard designs, and there are two distinct designs on the site plan, as well as a community center.

2. A redevelopment opportunity in downtown Ithaca has sold, but it looks like there are no plans. 110-112 West Seneca Street is a 538 SF salon with a large rental parking lot, and zoning is CBD-60 meaning 60 feet with 100% lot coverage, no parking needed. Tompkins Trust (Tompkins Financial Corp.) picked up the property on Friday the 28th for $600,000, below the $800k asking price but still quite substantial for what’s mostly land.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen here. Tompkins Trust had previously rented the 23 parking spaces on site for use by its own employees – whether they’re hedging bets or don’t trust the parking garage situation, they appear to be buying the property to use as parking. Boo. With any luck, after their new HQ opens up next spring and their parking situation settles down, they’ll find better uses or potential partners for the lot. With no historic attributes but proximity to major services and amenities, a parking lot on this property is a waste of potential.

3. The Harold’s Square project team has given their website a overhaul, and with that comes the official timeline. According to the web page, asbestos abatement is now underway, demolition will start in September, construction will last through January 2019, and marketing/lease-up for the commercial spaces and 108 residential units should will start in January 2019.

The project description web page mentions 100 construction jobs, 50 retail jobs and 200 office jobs, which seems accurate for the square footage of each use (12k retail, 25k office). The estimate of 250 residents is way too generous though – the back-of-the-envelope is one person per bedroom, and there are about 144 bedrooms/studio units.

Side note, I reserve the right to grouse that the media links both go to the Times.

4. Dunno what’s going to happen with the Lansing Meadows senior housing up by the mall. Background story on the Voice here. On the one hand, the wetlands were an arduous and expensive undertaking, and Goetzmann did those to Army Corps of Engineers standards. It does make it tougher for the project to be financially viable. On the other hand, the village has a right to be frustrated, and it’s not unreasonable that they’re feeling that they’re being taken for a ride. Goetzmann received an IDA tax deal for what was largely a retail project, largely a no-no because most jobs in retail are low wage. He also received a variance for a community retail component, and multiple extensions from the IDA on fulfilling the housing component.

An increase in density spreads the fixed costs out among a greater number of units, and it’s encouraged by the village and county, so that’s not the issue. The design is what bothers them – while shared walls and utilities is a cost-saving measure, the village has expected smaller, house-like units since the project was first proposed in the late 2000s. Maybe the happy medium between this and the ten duplexes is a site plan with 3-4 unit structures with 20-24 units, with the buildings designed with pitched roofs, dormers, small porches and other home-like features. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months.

5. Plans for co-op housing on West State Street have been waylaid, perhaps permanently. New York City businessman Fei Qi had previously proposed to renovate the historic 3,800 SF property at 310 West State Street into office space, and more recently a 12-14 person co-op. However, there have been a couple of issues with both plans – the ca. 1880 building is in need of significant structural renovation. Years of deferred maintenance prior to Qi (who bought it from the Salvation Army for $195k last year) has left the building in rough shape, and asbestos and lead need to be removed. For the housing proposal to be permitted, fire suppression systems would also need to be installed. Some city officials have expressed concern that like the carriage house that once existed at the rear of the property, if the building gets mothballed again, its structural integrity may be at risk. Any external changes would need to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. It appears that Qi recently applied to the commission stating economic hardship, saying he was unaware the building was a historic property and was not communicated to him by the seller or real estate agent, and cannot afford to renovate it to ILPC standards. The designation went into effect in April 2015, a year before sale.

Concurrently, Qi has put the property up for sale. For an asking price of $278,000, one gets the building and the architect’s plans. I’ve seen ball-park estimates of $500k for the renovation into office space, but I never saw an estimate for the co-op. As a result of the structural issues, the building’s assessed value plunged from $250,000 in 2016 to $100,000 last year, most of that being the land. Fingers crossed, someone steps up to the plate to save this building before it’s too late.

6. Last month, I speculated that there was a plan for redeveloping 217 Columbia Street on Ithaca’s South Hill. Turns out there is, and it’s really upsetting the neighbors. The plan by Modern Living Rentals is to preserve the existing building, but build an additional two-family home on the property as well. For the neighbors, this is apparently one student-oriented rental too far. Some are calling for a moratorium, and others a zoning change to prevent rentals without an owner living in the property. Most of South Hill’s zoning is R-2 residential, which is one-and-two family homes, and most of the construction in South Hill these past few years has been one and two-family homes. The issue is that they’re upset they’re rentals, many of which appeal to Ithaca College students further up the hill in the town. In theory, you could make it an approval requirement that the renters be non-students, although I’m not sure that would placate the situation. We’ll see how it goes.





Cornell Ag Quad Rehabilitation Construction Update, 7/2017

1 08 2017

If common spaces are what make or break a campus, then it’s a wonderful thing that Cornell hosts one of the best landscape architecture programs in the world.

With the new underground utilities in place, the remaining work is at or close to surface level. This includes the installation of new plazas, sidewalks, decorative pavers, concrete slab benches, stairwalls, bike racks and seeding. New lamp posts have been erected, a rain garden has been added, and new saplings (54 total) were planted to replace the trees lost to the utilities work. The sidewalks were widened to allow easier emergency access. The east half was finished this past fall, but the west half could only finish utilities work before winter put the kibosh on concrete pours and landscape work.

One of the goals of the refreshed ag quad is to make it a more inviting place to be during the warmer part of the year. By making use of removable furniture and adding seating areas along areas of high traffic and near buildings, the hope is that the space will be more lively and encourage social interaction among Cornell’s many students, faculty and staff. To be fair, it doesn’t look like a bad place to have an outdoor lunch.

At some point, the two temporary structures between Kennedy and Plant Science will make way for a new permanent structure; as for when that happens, your guess is as good as mine. The Pleasant Grove Apartments were built on North Campus as temporary housing after World War II and the influx of students on the GI Bill, but parts of the complex were maintained until the mid 1990s.

The $9.6 million project began last summer, and is scheduled for a completion before the 2017-18 academic year. MKW & Associates LLC of New Jersey is the lead landscape architect, Over & Under Piping Contractors Inc. of Auburn is the GC, and Albany-based CHA Consulting Inc. is providing civil engineering expertise. Background information on the project can be found here.





Cornell Law School Renovation Update, 7/2017

31 07 2017

On the outside, progress is modest – the windows and CMUs from the upper floors have been removed from the west face to make way for the future glass-encased stairwell. The steel beams sitting in the staging area are part of the Certainteed Drywall Suspension System and will be used in the construction of the new ceilings in the gutted interior, although some of the different gauges present may also be used for interior wall framing. There has been no visible progress on enclosing the loggia yet.