News Tidbits 8/18/2018

18 08 2018

1. Here’s the latest update to “The Village at Varna” the Trinitas proposal for the hamlet of Varna. The project had originally started with 224 units and 663 beds, and this latest iteration is down to 219 units and 602 beds. The most notable changes in this new layout are the incorporation of a three-story parking garage to conserve green space, and a larger retail area fronting Dryden Road – there’s nothing in the filing, but at a glance it’s about double the previous size, so from 800 to something around 1600 SF.

With the inclusion of a garage, that frees up more green space – at 55% of the site, it’s now only 4% lower than the requirement (59%, the site is a mix of Varna Hamlet zone types). 541 parking spaces are provided, vs. the 549 required by zoning, and there are some setback variances requested for setbacks from the property line buffers (the buffers themselves are the required 20′ width).

One thing that stands out to me as a potential issue isn’t shape or scale, but unit mix. Of those 219 units, 110 are four-bedroom units. Beyond the argument that four-bedroom units are clearly student oriented (the demand simply isn’t there within the general market), I’m doubtful the demand for 110 four-bedroom units exists outside of Collegetown. Most grad students who take a shine to Varna also opt for smaller spaces, and the undergraduates who fill 4 bedroom+ units generally aren’t interested in living this far out. What modest demand there is for four-bedroom units, is identified and met – projects like 802 Dryden have already incorporated a number of four-bedroom units in their plans. I understand that from a cost per square foot perspective, it’s more efficient to do four-bedroom units (one four-bedroom doesn’t need two kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms like two two-bedroom units would). But it would likely be tougher sell than Trinitas realizes, especially with Cornell planning to expand their campus offerings in the next few years.

To be frank, I’m firmly in the camp that Trinitas could do something good here, but I’m not sure this is it.

2. Let’s just throw another piece of bad news out there – even with the project redesign, PPM Homes cannot make the Ithaca Glass redevelopment work financially. That’s unfortunate not just because of the ten units of infill housing that may not be built, but it and the Wyllie Dry Cleaner redevelopment had received a $500,000 RESTORE NY grant. While that money is untouched, it doesn’t look good to the state that a project that the city vetted and advocated over competing projects has stalled out. To be fair, apparently not even Ed Cope knew of the structural issues at the time of application. The later revision for the Ithaca Glass site removed Wyllie’s from the grant award, and the status of that project isn’t clear. The IURA notes that Cope has talked with INHS about possibly selling them the site so they could go through with the original smaller and modern-looking overbuild, but the issue was that the overbuild wasn’t structurally feasible without a huge investment, and INHS has a lot of coals in the fire at the moment (offhand there’s the Salvation Army site, 209-213 Elm Street, 402 South Cayuga, the Green Street Garage, and Hamilton Square). It’s not looking good at the moment.

3. Speaking of which, quick update on the Salvation Army rebuild and expansion – it’s still in the works between them and INHS, but going slower than first anticipated. The project probably won’t be applying for construction funding this fall, but instead it’s expected to be reviewed by the city, approved and seeking affordable housing funds sometime next year.

 

4. At least the airport expansion project seems to be moving along. According to airport staff, the state has a heavy hand in it, and there have been weekly meetings to source fund to fill the $8 million gap needed to bring the $22 million project forward. Bids have already opened on phase one, the construction of the new main terminal, and the bidding period will close by the end of the month. Phase two, the geothermal power and new concourse, will be bid in early 2019, as will the third phase, the new solar array and U.S. customs facility.

5. Some good news on the affordable housing front, the county is set to disburse joint Cornell-Ithaca-Tompkins Community Housing Development funds funds to help Cornerstone Group’s Milton Meadows proposal move forward in Lansing, eventually totaling $256,875 towards the 72-unit apartment project. Milton Meadows would serve 14 households at up to 50% AMI (area median income, 100% = $59,000/year for a single person), 42 at 60% AMI, and 16 at 80% AMI.

In the next round of funding to be awarded this fall, it looks like the county will award two grants – one to INHS, $140,000 from the CHDF to help pay for two of the four for-sale townhouses at 402 South Cayuga Street (the 80% AMI ones, as the two 100% AMI middle-income units aren’t eligible), and $300,000 to Visum for the twelve units of affordable housing planned at 327 West Seneca Street. The Visum project is conditional since the administrative committee for the funds is awaiting additional details, and the project needs to be approved by the city. Perhaps PPM Homes should reach out for a discussion about whether an application could make its West Seneca project (item #2) work.

6. Developer Scott Morgan’s 16-unit Cayuga Vista Townhomes aren’t in formal review yet, but the land has exchanged hands – $139,500 on the 15th, every penny the sellers wanted. This makes it considerably more likely that the rental project (2 one-bedroom, 12 two-bedroom, 2 three-bedroom) will be coming forward to the town of Lansing planning board over the next few months.

7. For those who dream of owning a B&B, the William Henry Miller Inn is for sale. The building dates from 1878 and served as the private residence of the Osborn family from 1914 to 1996. In 1998, innkeeper Lynette Scofield purchased the property and renovated it into the Inn, which opened the following year. The Inn has enjoyed rave reviews on travel advising websites.

For $1.499 million, you too can be an innkeeper – the sale includes all furnishings, future bookings and  “infinite good will”. It definitely reads as if a very strong preference will be given to those who maintain the inn and its high standards vs. other uses. The inn has nine beds and eleven bathrooms, with an accessory owner’s cottage with one bed and bath. It’s something to fill out your daydreams this weekend.





News Tidbits 8/11/18

11 08 2018

1. It looks like the Mettler-Toledo facility has a buyer. Ongweoweh Corporation bought the 27,000 SF property at 5 Barr Road in Dryden for $3.24 million on August 3rd. Readers may remember that Mettler-Toledo decided to consolidate the Hi-Speed Dryden plant with a new facility in the Tampa Bay metro, taking 185 jobs with it. Founded in 1978 in Spencer, Ongweoweh Corporation is a Native American-owned pallet management company providing pallet & packaging procurement and design services, recycling services and supply chain optimization programs. The firm had only recently bought its existing 17,577 SF headquarters at 767 Warren Road in Lansing, for $2 million in September 2016 – as Ongweoweh moves to the larger space, it’s putting 767 Warren up for sale for $2.3 million. It’s not clear if this physical expansion will add jobs, and a request for comment was not returned. The company employs a little over 100 people according to a third-party profile, and 58 are based in the Ithaca area.

2. Let’s talk about another business expansion – Emmy’s Organics. The organic cookie producer’s new warehouse and HQ came one step closer to reality this week when the city’s Planning Committee gave its approval to let the full Common Council vote on the sale of 2.601 acres of IURA land to Emmy’s for $242,000. The land is towards the south end of Cherry Street, it’ll be the terminus of the extended Cherry Street, which will be lengthened 400 feet and create two new one-acre lots to sell to business that contribute to the IURA’s goals of job creation for LMI individuals. Examples include drilling tech firm Vector Magnetics, lab electronics manufacturer Precision Filters and the Crossfit Pallas gym. A fourth lot on the west side of the newly extended road would be deeded to the city as a natural buffer between development and the waterfront/Black Diamond Trail.

The initial phase of the $1.25 million development includes 4,000 SF of office/breakroom/entrance area, a 4,500 SF production area, and a 5,500 SF warehouse (14,000 SF total). If growth continues as it has, the plan is to implement a second phase in 2-3 years for a 20,000 SF expansion. The new facility will create at least five new jobs (total staff 24), and the potential expansion would likely add at least another twenty given that phase two called for the parking lot to grow from 22 to 41 spaces.

The rendering of the new HQ above, which is a STREAM Collaborative design, shows both phases. The section in the foreground is phase one, the shed roof structure at back is phase two. The section of parking lot towards the left is a phase two addition as well. No zoning variances are required. Whitham Planning and Design is leading the project through the city review process.

3. Let’s linger on Whitham for a moment. From their website is likely one of the runner-up proposals for the North Campus Residential Expansion over at Cornell. They were partnered with Ann Beha Architects and Baltimore-based Design Collective for a competing design that was ultimately not selected. Cornell interviewed four development teams before going with their final choice, Integreated Acquisition and Development, a firm associated with John Novarr and Phil Proujansky who did the Breazzano in Collegetown. Although owned and operated by Cornell, there is a developer’s fee IAD will earn for developing the NRCE project on behalf of Cornell. That fee varies per project and is usually confidential, but 3-6% is common in commercial builds, and by that yardstick, for a $175 million project IAD stands to make several million dollars.

With nothing more than a site plan, I’d be willing to guess that given the team members, the plan would have been a contemporary design, though perhaps more conservative than ikon.5 – Ann Beha designed the elegant if subdued first phase of the Cornell Law School addition.

4. The Hotel Ithaca is moving forward with the next phase of plans for its South Cayuga Street property. The next project is to tear down the vacated south wing, a 2-story structure built in the 1970s, and replace it with a surface parking lot. At a glance, this is not at all a welcome proposal for a downtown street corner. However, it comes with some promise of a hotel addition down the line. A development pad will be created for a “future market-driven addition”, meaning that if business grows and they decide to expand the hotel, they’ll have a level, stable, shovel-ready site. Until then, it’s seventeen fewer parking spaces the hotel will need in the Cayuga Street parking garage. The $550,000 project would be carried out from August to November, and NH Architecture is handling the landscaping, refinishing of the tower wall and overall application on behalf of owner Hart Hotels.

5. Visum’s not wasting any time on its affordable housing proposal for 327 West Seneca Street. The three-story, 12-unit building is planned for an October start and an April 2019 finish, and will be going before the planning board this month Declaration of Lead Agency and review of Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form.

The project is an interesting little case study of how maximum height isn’t necessarily optimal. The zoning allows four floors; they want to serve 70-80% area median income, which requires 18 bedrooms for economic feasibility at this site. But to have four floors, the materials need to be fire-rated, and the units would need either emergency exit stairs, or an elevator. Since it’s a small building lot, an elevator would eat into the square footage of units, about a bedroom per floor, so there’s no net gain in rentable space with a fourth floor, but there would be an increased project cost. One could save costs by putting in the stairs vs. the elevator, but the fourth floor units would be harder to fill because they would pose greater access difficulties – ask around and see how many people want to walk up four flights everyday. This is actually one of the major reasons why the Village Solars in Lansing are also three floors, the expense of elevators would have driven their budget higher than the mid-market segment Lifestyle Properties wanted to serve.

Net-zero energy use is being explored (electric heat pumps powered by off-site renewables), and yard and setback variances are being sought after the city seemed receptive to a variant sketch plan with a few more square feet in the units for the sake of livability. STREAM penned a traditional design fitting with the block, and the revisions added a few more windows into the sides of the structure.

Also in the projects memo for this month are final approval for Benderson’s 3,200 SF addition at 744 South Meadow Street and the Declaration of Lead Agency for Cornell’s new north campus dorms. The Benderson project’s landscaping plan was modified slightly, and a new rear exit door and front awning are being considered.

6. Out in the towns there’s not much going on next week. A special meeting of the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board will decide whether or not to defer to the city as lead agency in the environmental review of Cornell’s north campus expansion. The town of Lansing will be holding public hearings for a one-lot subdivision and a four-lot subdivision for single-family homes.

7. The Lansing Village Cottages plan has its work cut out for it. The design has been tweaked such that the first two home clusters were combined, and the road connecting to Craft Road was realigned. The Millcroft Way connection will have a vegetative buffer and the road would be for emergency vehicle only. However, Millcroft Way residents are still seething – they have $500,000-$700,000, 2,500 SF+ homes locked under a covenant, while the same person who sold their lots is now selling to a developer planning 800-1200 SF cottages. Concerns include traffic, home values, density, and too many senior housing developments, which is a bit of an odd one. Logan’s Run isn’t just a street in Dryden.

The village is pretty hesitant to support this – the Board of Trustees sent the proposal back over to the Planning Board, hoping that they could make some recommendation as to whether it meets the goals of the village. On the one hand, that would seem an easy yes at a glance, it’s senior housing close to urban areas in an affordable price range. However, after shelling out close to $50,000 for lawyers to fight Lisa Bonniwell over her lawsuit to stop the East Pointe Apartments, money that won’t be paid back (perhaps indirectly in property taxes in a few years), the village is afraid of another Article 78 lawsuit, and the residents of Millcroft are very deep-pocketed and willing to go to court. This is vaguely reminiscent of a study that shows wealthier areas are much more adept at stopping density and new housing in general because they have more leverage – one of those being that a fear of costly litigation is a strong municipal deterrent.

8. We’ll end on a positive note – after eight years of back and forth, it appears site prep has begun on the 20 senior housing units planned as part of the Lansing Meadows project. Since developer Eric Goetzmann had until July 31st or else face significant legal action (Goetzmann applied for and received a tax abatement for the BJ’s that was contingent on the housing, and it was at risk of being clawed back), I had dropped by August 3rd. After looking around, it did not seem to be under construction; a bit of upturned dirt and a bulldozer on site. The village decided it was, if barely, according to the Lansing Star:

Yes, he scratched the earth. Yes, he does have the soil fencing in,” {Village Code Enforcement Officer Adam} Robbs said. “He has hired a dedicated contractor at this time to do the site work. He has a culvert permit and approval to install a temporary culvert for construction use. I do have a preliminary set of plans. I am hesitant to say he has begun a significant amount of work… but he has begun work.”

>We’ll see if it merits an update in October.





Amici House Construction Update, 8/2018

10 08 2018

One of the things that stands out about the new Amici House project – or rather, doesn’t – is that the five-story residential building under construction doesn’t really stand out for a structure of its size. The hillside to the east keeps it from being prominent, and the section of Spencer Road on which its sits is tucked away from most neighboring structures – the building is hardly noticeable from South Meadow Street.

The structure is fully framed, nearly fully sheathed with fire-resistant National Gypsum eXP panels, and then layers with Dow Thermax panels, which stand out somewhat because of the reflective aluminum facer. The Thermax panels are glass-fiber reinforced polyiso insulation, a lighter duty but fire-resistant material, and bonus, it’s made at facilities powered by 100% renewable energy and has “zero ozone depleting potential”. The blue material is a liquid sealant to fill the spaces between panel edges (Dow LIQUIDARMOR), and it looks like metal rails are being attached at the ground level, where the exterior finish will be attached. I’ve kinda assumed this will be fiber cement panels, but to be honest I have not seen a materials sheet in the city’s online files.

The same could be said for the new Harriet Giannelis Childcare Center, which looks nothing like the plans on file and presumably is filed somewhere, just not online. To be fair, it doesn’t look bad at all. Perhaps a bit plain, which isn’t a surprise given TCAction’s tight budget, but Schickel Architecture did attempt to dress it up by varying the colors and playing with the architectural details. Given the goals of the project, as long as its appearance doesn’t actively repel visitors and scare the kids, then it’s A-OK. Landscaping, colorful children’s projects and plantings will make it even better.

Note that one of the primary parking areas will be behind the new stone retaining wall at the rear of the property. Another will be along the section of Spencer Road across from the TCAction offices.

More info about the project can be found here.

 





Cayuga Medical Associates Construction Update, 8/2018

7 08 2018

The new Cayuga Medical Associates office building at Community Corners is topped out – I’m a little hesitant to call it fully framed since it appears some minor work remains at the southwest corner of the new 28,000 SF building. Steel stud walls are being sheathed in Saint-Gobain CertainTeed GlasRoc, one of the major suppliers of fiberglass mat gypsum board. True to name, the boards consist of a sheet of woven fiberglass sandwiched between gypsum panels; brands like GladRoc and Georgia-Pacific DensGlass are fairly common for commercial construction where fire-rated walls are a necessity, like medical spaces, offices and hotels, and it does show up in some apartment buildings. The exterior will be finished with an off-white brick veneer, a nod to neighboring structures. Interestingly, the entirety of the gable roof sections appears to be standing seam metal over some kind of base layer. More expensive, but definitely making it such that in the event of fire, there is as minimal ability to spread and put vulnerable individuals at risk. Ward Steel of Liverpool appears to be the subcontractor for the structural steelwork.

The interior work doesn’t seem to be too far along yet, with interior framing underway, and maybe fireproofing of the structural steel or sprinkler installation underway. The construction work hanging out by the rough window opening in the photos below said that they hoped to have the building finished by late fall. McPherson Builders of Ithaca is the general contractor for this project, and Chemung Canal is financing it to the tune of $7.8 million – a better use of funds than the million bucks they had to pay out to Jason Fane when they lost the Bank Tower lawsuit last year.

 





Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center Update, 8/2018

6 08 2018

I don’t typically follow renovations, but figured I’d play the role of curious alumnus and drop in to the newly renovated Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center at Noyes Lodge on the north shores of Cornell’s Beebe Lake.

The 7,646 SF Noyes Lodge originally opened in 1958 as a womens’ dining hall, and over the years was re-purposed to become the Language Resource Center, with audio carrels and other equipment for those with linguistic coursework. Cornell decided to shift facilities, moving the LRC to Stimson Hall and renovating the lodge into a campus welcome center, which opened in June. This is now where student tour guides gather their broods, vs. the old days when they would congregate at Day Hall. The lower level hosts conference space, utility rooms and offices.

The Tang family have long been trustees and major donors to the university. The $3 million gift in October 2016 was in response to a challenge grant created by mega-donor Atlantic Philanthropies (funded by Charles Feeney ’56), which offered up to $3 million in matching funds to donations towards the new welcome center – so with $6 million secured, the renovation’s financing was secured and will be able to move forward. Cornell has long considered a reception and exhibition space by the gorges, having mulled over but ultimately backing away from a plan penned by architect Richard Meier in the late 1980s. Tang, Class of 1970 and now retired, was a venture capitalist based in Hong Kong, and the regional chairman of a recruitment firm for business executives.

JMZ Architects of Glens Falls, a favorite of the SUNY System, was the design firm in charge of the renovation and re-purposing. The exhibition space is the work of Poulin and Morris Inc. of New York City.

With that all said, here’s a story.

When I first visited Cornell, it was for Cornell Days: cold, windy and kinda desolate. My mother and my uncle made the trip with me, since I had just been accepted to the university – my family did not have the money or time to visit schools unless I was already given an offer. Out first stop was RPCC on North Campus. On a Powerpoint on a TV screen were two sailors kissing; it was part of a promotion for a campus LGBTQ organization.

Having come from a blue-collar and fairly conservative town north of Syracuse, my mother was shocked into silence, and my uncle proceeded to have a crisis of moral conscience on whether his nephew should attend such a school. You have to keep in mind, it was still controversial for many of our town’s older generation that the high school A.P. Government teacher was openly gay. The kids didn’t care, and I couldn’t have cared less that day either.

Anyway, what warmed my mom up to Cornell were “the castles”. Sage Hall. The Arts Quad. Uris Library. But as for me, I didn’t feel like I fit in. My tour group was a bunch of wealthy kids, one of whom loudly grumbled his disappointment that he didn’t get into Yale and his mother didn’t like Dartmouth. Why would a 17 year-old want the constant reminder that he’s not cut from that cloth or a part of that world?

So I wrote out a deposit check with my money from waiting tables to SUNY Geneseo. And Geneseo was the check that had been put out in the mail. Until my mom took the envelope out of the mailbox and tore it up, putting one out to Cornell in its place. We had some fights after that. She wanted me to give “that big money Ivy League school” a chance, I was not as keen.

When I first arrived at Cornell, I was pretty sure I’d transfer to Geneseo after the first semester. I didn’t feel comfortable there. But then I started to meet other people who didn’t feel comfortable there or fit that upper-crust Cornell image, and we became friends. Suddenly, the urge to leave was much weaker. Mom had resigned herself to the idea of me transferring by Thanksgiving, but when she found out I hadn’t completed the paperwork, she was pretty happy.

As for me, well, I was required to attend a fancy dinner a few weeks earlier where an older gentleman who had funded one of my scholarships urged me to visit his old Cornell fraternity, and I went to their Thanksgiving dinner as a polite gesture. I found it to be a down-to-earth place filled with people with backgrounds like mine, that’s how I ended up coming back for rush week and in Greek life – something I managed to hide from my mom until graduation day. I steadily came to know more people, get involved in different activities on campus, and things went from there. And a growing fascination with “the castles” and their history led to Ithacating. I guess in some sense it all worked out eventually.

 





South Meadow Square Construction Update, 8/2018

6 08 2018

It looks like the new south retail endcap is using a standard EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finishing System) for the exteriors. EIFS, also known as synthetic stucco or by the brand name Dryvit, is a pretty common choice for commercial builds. Readers might remember when it was used with the Holiday Inn Express built a couple of years ago on Elmira Road. Over the plywood there’s a dark grey moisture barrier. This is being overlaid with an adhesive and insulation board, which will then get a reinforcing mesh, base/scratch coat, and a finish coat. Drainage cavities are then built over the barrier to allow water that has penetrated the surface to exit the wall without wrecking it (a big problem with early EIFS systems).  The north endcap looks like it already has insulation boards in place, as well as a base coat for the primary moisture barrier, and a white coat that might be a primer for the finish coat. New curbing, lighting and a fire hydrant have been installed.

Although the south endcap is 14,744 SF, the listing on commercial real estate website Loopnet says there are two spaces, one about 15,000 SF, and a second 3,400 SF. The property doesn’t show a 3,500 SF space, and the north endcap is 7,315 SF, so it’s not clear what that refers to. It could be the 3,200 SF space that is planned for a the pad parcel next to Firehouse Subs, but that hasn’t started yet. If that is the case, however, that implies Benderson Development may have a tenant under contract for the north endcap that they just haven’t yet announced.

 

 





East Pointe Apartments Construction Update, 8/2018

6 08 2018

No one can say DGA Builders is wasting time. A visit on Friday showed three sets of CMU foundation walls have been assembled and mortared, each for a ten-unit townhouse string. A few crewmen kept an eye on a material placement truck, also known as a stone slinger, as it launched rocks into the footprint encased by the foundation walls. This may be a crushed stone base (hardfill) for a concrete slab pour, given the stacks of rebar with surface rust sitting nearby. A shallow foundation would work fine here because two-story buildings aren’t especially heavy as structures go, and it would be less expensive and time consuming than a deep foundation. Elsewhere around the site one sees PVC sanitation pipes (sea green), water pipes (blue), and pieces for utility junctions.

Meanwhile just a stone’s sling away on Nor Way, Forest City realty continues work on the six-unit string (hexplex?) of townhouses. Two are fully framed and roofed, two have had their first floor framed though not fully sheathed, and the other two are only partially framed on the first floor. As with all the townhouse strings, these will incorporated some unique design features while keeping the general unit layout the same. I know they’re not happy about the East Pointe townhomes, but it could be a good synergy – the price points ($1,400-$2,000/month fr East Pointe, $350k for the Heights of Lansing townhouses) are such that renters who may wish to stay in that neighborhood may look at the Heights townhomes as an option.

A website is now up and running for East Pointe. It’s mostly stock images and bland corporate-speak, but they do have floor plans and some new renders. Here’s the advertising pitch:

“This apartment community is located on 20 acres in Lansing, NY, which is part of the Ithaca, NY, market. This is new construction of 140 state-of-the-art apartments. There will be 36 one-bedroom units, 90 two-bedroom units, and 14 three-bedroom units. The project will include fourteen apartment buildings with 10 units in each building that will be walk-up garden style with private entrances and a community building. All units will have high end finishes and amenities, including stainless finish appliances, microwave, dishwasher, washer and dryer, ice maker, granite counter tops, wood cabinets, vinyl plank flooring and wall-to-wall carpeting, tile showers, high end plumbing fixtures and lighting fixtures. All apartments will include a patio or deck. The community building will include the leasing and maintenance office, Great Room and warming kitchen for gatherings, and a fitness center. The project also includes an outdoor pool with changing rooms and shower.”

I have no idea what a warming kitchen is, but my very Sicilian mother is pretty good at turning kitchens into warming spaces around the holidays. A photo of the community center is included below.

UPDATE: I’m just going to add this here since the timing was ever so slightly off- on Monday the 6th, the construction loan was filed with the county. M&T Bank is lending Park Grove (represented by an LLC) $22.6 million for construction of the East Pointe project.