More Student Housing for South Hill?

31 12 2014

Polite observation – South Hill has two types of housing being built these days: luxury single-family housing (Westview, Southwoods), and student housing. Most of the student housing tends to be concentrated close to Ithaca College, in the vicinity of Pennsylvania and Kendall Avenues. There have been a number of new, small apartment buildings built in recent years, many of them by local company Heritage Builders. I’d estimate offhand that in the past three years, Heritage has added about 60 bedrooms to the neighborhood, and while they aren’t explicitly student housing, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that’s their purpose.

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I initially photographed these buildings as part of another post planned for some construction updated for South Hill. But then I noticed something earlier this week that changed my mind.

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According to the county records for the 29th, someone bought an unusually high number of building lots. All but 2 of the 9 tax parcels (totaling 14 lots) are undeveloped, the remainder being a house and swimming pool. All of the sales were registered to an entity called “Kendall Avenue Corporation”. Kendall Avenue Corporation was created in November, according to the Ithaca Journal, with a registered address at 680 Ridge Road in Lansing – an address used by Heritage Builders. The undeveloped lots sold for $5,000-$9,000 each because they’re small and lack road access. But lots can be consolidated per zoning board approval, and new roads can be built by a developer and deeded to the town, which the town board typically accepts so long as they meet certain requirements.

I’m going to take a stab at this and say that Heritage is planning a lot more student housing over the next few years, at least enough to fill several small apartment buildings. Given previous complaints, I don’t think the permanent residents of South Hill will be pleased about the new neighbors.





206 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 12/2014

30 12 2014

Okay, I’ll be completely honest – I don’t know what’s going in here. I don’t know what the mix of uses is, or many residential units there are. Here’s what I do know.

206 Taughannock was until earlier this year the site of the Unfinished Furniture Store (otherwise called the “Real Wood Furniture Store“) owned and operated by the Zaharis family. From the county records, the building itself is a 9,156 sq ft structure originally used for retail and warehouse space and dated to sometime in the 1970s. The store closed in April when its owners retired, and a building permit shown in a ground-floor window was issued in July to the Zaharises. I ran this past IB’s Jason on Twitter, and his guess was about as good as mine; residential units on top and maybe some of the bottom, with a reduced retail space. Photos of the store before renovation can be seen here at Ithaca Builds – the Lehigh Valley House next door is being renovated by its owner (Tim Ciaschi) into 6 condos and ground-floor commercial space. With the 323 Taughannock project approved just up the road, Inlet Island has been seeing increased interest from both current owners and prospective developers. Perhaps the biggest loss is the removal of a rather attractive mural from the front of the structure.

The work itself looks like a complete gutting of the original two-story building, with new windows punched into the walls and sedate exterior (fiber cement?) siding attached to the more complete exterior sections.

I reached out to the owners but have yet to hear a reply; if anyone has some info to share, feel free to reply to this post or send an email. These projects are the most fun for me, because they go without fanfare, but are just as important as any other project of equal size; they lie in wait for discovery and publication.

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EcoVillage Construction Update, 12/2014

29 12 2014

Heading over to West Hill, construction continues slowly but steadily on EcoVillage’s 4-story Common House/apartment building as part of its third neighborhood, TREE (Third Residential Ecovillage Experience, following its first two, FROG and SONG).  I can’t seem to find any specific values for the number of bedrooms in the apartment building, but there are 15 units ranging from studios to 3-bedrooms. However, using a little math and deduction, a rough estimate can be established. EcoVillage claims 160 residents in its first two neighborhoods, which have 30 units each (total 60), and they expect 240 residents when the 40-unit TREE neighborhood is complete. That gives 80 residents in 40 units, of which 25 of those units are houses. Houses tend to have more occupants than apartments (2.1/house vs. 1.7/apartment from the 2010 county census), so I think 25-30 residents is a fair estimate for the apartment building.

Interior work is underway and all the windows and doors are fitted into place. Exterior finishes and balconies have yet to be installed. The houses are all complete and occupied. Construction is being handled by a local firm, AquaZephyr, which received an award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy for a “zero energy ready” home constructed as part of TREE. The apartment building is scheduled to be finished this spring. Setbacks stemming from building code requirements pushed it away from its original fall 2014 completion date.

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Stone Quarry Construction Update, 12/2014

28 12 2014

Like it or not, construction is well underway at the site of the future Stone Quarry Apartments on South Hill’s Spencer Road. Foundation walls and pilings are visible at the site of the townhomes, and the cinder block wall for the elevator shaft and stairwell of the apartment building is clearly visible from the street. A closer inspection of the apartment building shows that a concrete slab foundation has been poured. I’m not sure if the white slabs in the last photo are some type of insulated concrete form like the Fox Blocks used at the Thurston Avenue Apartments earlier this year, or something else (Ithaca Builds’ Jason Henderson is far more knowledgeable about these types of things than I am).

The Stone Quarry project consists of 16 two-story townhouses (2 rows, 8 each), and a 19-unit, 3-story apartment building on the northern third of the property. Specifically, the breakdown of unit sizes is follows:

16 three-bedroom Townhouses
2 three-bedroom Apartments
11 two-bedroom Apartments
6 one-bedroom Apartments

As with all projects by INHS, the units are targeted towards individuals with modest incomes, with rents of $375-$1250/month depending on unit size and resident income. While affordable housing is generally welcome and sorely needed, Stone Quarry had a number of complaints due to size, location and lingering environmental concerns.

With a theoretical capacity of 82 residents (assuming one per bedroom), the project is the largest non-student oriented project currently under construction in the city (Lofts @ Six Mile has more units with 45, but with 3 studios, 21 1-bedroom, and 21 2-bedrooms, for a theoretical max of 66 residents). The apartments are expected to be completed in October 2015. The buildout is being handled by LeCesse Construction, a nationwide contractor with an office in suburban Rochester.

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The Brains of Uris Hall

27 12 2014

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I feel that for all the attention the Wilder Brain Collection gets in Cornell promotional material, the display itself is relatively tucked away in the bowels of Cornell’s Central Campus. The brains are featured in the “welcome” display of the Department of Psychology, on the second floor of Uris Hall (third if entering from the auditorium side).

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The display itself is pretty modest – eight brains, with page-long biographies of each of the individuals featured, seven male and one female. Perhaps thankfully, none of the brains featured belong to children or young adults, sparing anyone from a fun, happenstance conversation about youth mortality. The collection actually numbers about 70 specimens currently, most of which are stored in a basement closet in Uris Hall (unfortunately, Cornell is not accepting donations from the newly departed).

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The brain collection used to be much larger, however. It was started by Cornell professor Burt Green Wilder in 1889. Prof. Wilder established the “Cornell Brain Society” with the goal of determining if differences in the size, shape, weight and appearance of the brains could be established between the grey matter obtained from “educated and orderly persons” versus women, murderers, the mentally ill and racial minorities. I’ll give female readers a moment to roll their eyes. The eventual conclusion was that there were no detectable differences, at least none apparent to 19th century methods or the naked eye. This might seem obvious now, but in the 19th century, this was still a largely unexplored realm. For instance, phrenology, a psuedoscience where skull measurements were used to determine ones traits and behaviors, was still accepted in some quarters in the late 1800s.

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Over time, the number of full and partial specimens collected by Wilder and his successors numbered over 600. Unfortunately, as the years wore on, the brains fell into obscurity, and were not well maintained. By the time Prof. Barbara Finlay assumed the curator role in 1978, many of the brains had “dried up” or were “carried out of the basement via buckets“. This led to the purging of most of the specimens, and the eight selected for display were chosen if only because the psychology department was able to find enough information to write brief biographies on each of the donors.

Briefly, the eight donors are:
Burt Green Wilder (1841-1925) – The founder of the collection, Wilder was a surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War, and a professor of neurology and vertebrate zoology at Cornell from 1867-1910.

Helen Hamilton Gardener (1853-1925) – An author and prominent suffragette, Gardener donated her brain to the collection to prove that a woman’s brain was in no way inferior to a man’s.

Edward Titchener (1867-1927) – A prominent psychologist and Cornell professor, Titchener coined the word “empathy” in a 1909 publication.

Henry A. Ward (1834-1906) – A naturalist who pioneered the business of collecting specimens (specifically rocks and minerals) and selling them to colleges and museums. He was also Buffalo’s first automobile fatality.

Jeremiah Jenks (1856-1929) – An economist and Cornell professor from 1891-1912.

Sutherland Simpson (1863-1926) – A Cornell physiology professor (1908-1926). Simpson had intended in his younger years to become a ship captain, but depending on the source, either a hand injury or a letter from his mother caused him to rethink his plans, and instead he applied for the position of laboratory boy in the physiology department of the Univ. of Edinburgh, which started a long and fulfilling academic career.

Simon Henry Gage (1851-1944) – the most recent of the displayed brains, Gage was associated with Cornell from his 1873 enrollment to his death 71 years later. He was an anatomy and physiology professor and co-designed Stimson Hall on Cornell’s campus.

Edward Rulloff (1819/1820-1871) – The famous murderer, previously written about here and here. Wilder collected his brain after he was hanged, and declared it to be the largest on record.

There are a lot of brains on Cornell’s campuses, though perhaps they’re a little busier than these.

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Boiceville Cottages Update, 12/2014

23 12 2014

Work continues out in Caroline at the site of the Boiceville Cottages apartment complex. Passing through Ithaca’s southeastern commuter town on the 21st, it appeared that a large number of apartments were underway – three were undergoing interior work and exterior detailing, four were being framed, and the concrete slab foundations of at least nine more had been poured, their wooden forms still in place. Since my last visit in September, a maintenance garage and three more cottages have been completed. It would appear from my photos that about 25 units (15 cottages and 2 5-unit gatehouses) have been completed so far in 2014.

The Boiceville Cottages, built and managed by the Schickel family, are rather unusual as apartment complexes go. For one thing, there are the bright paint jobs, a sort of hallmark of the cottage units since the first set of 24 houses was built in 1996/97. The bright paint and the ornate woodwork have led to a nickname, “The Storybook Cottages“, which holds some weight, according to an article in Life in the Finger Lakes:

“Schickel said he was inspired to build his colorful cottages by a children’s book he read to his daughters almost 20 years ago. The book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, tells of a girl who, at her grandfather’s urging, travels to faraway lands seeking adventure. Later she moves to a cottage by the sea and works to make the world more beautiful by spreading seeds of blue and purple lupine. An illustration by the author shows the Lupine Lady’s house on a hill overlooking the sea. The small cottage is replete with finial and gingerbread. Seeing that illustration was the eureka! moment, Schickel recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got to design something like this!’”

Since the initial 24 units were built, a further phase of 36 units was undertaken pre-recession, and in the past couple of years the town of Caroline signed off on the next phase, a group of 75 that would more than double the size of the complex. The cottages have been built out at a steady pace, and at completion of this current phase, 135 units will be present on the Boiceville property. Most of the units are 1 and 2-bedroom cottages, built in clusters of three, although a few “gatehouse” rowhouses offer studios and 3-bedroom units. The Boiceville complex may be the largest population center in the 3,300 person town.

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News Tidbits 12/20/2014: Many Homes, One Community

20 12 2014

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1. Starting things off, here’s an update on Ithaca College’s Master Plan-in-progress, courtesy of the Ithacan. According to a presentation given by representatives of lead planning firm Perkins Eastman, the master plan will include a climate-controlled walkway connecting several buildings from the Gannett Library through the Center for Health Sciences, the removal of the upper and lower dorm quads and replacing them with academic lab/research space, an amphitheater just below the Dillingham Center fountain and a new entrance on Danby Road closer to Ithaca’s downtown.

Now, before residents in South Hill begin to panic that their neighborhood is about to be invaded by students displaced by IC’s decreased housing, I’d like to point out that master plans are rarely built out as designed, but are great for identifying academic needs. I don’t imagine that IC will start tearing down 11 buildings and 1,235 beds unless they really feel like getting into a fight with the town, or throwing up temp housing, neither of which ranks high on the to-do list. At least I get something to write about for a week or two when the new plan comes out this Spring.

2. What is known about Manos Diner’s future occupant: They’re leasing the space from Bill Manos, not buying. It’s a restaurant with owners who already own several restaurants, all outside NYS. It’s not necessarily a chain. It’s apparently a family operation and the food will be Mexican. And whoever it is must have really, really wanted to pry their way into the Ithaca market. I don’t see why they wouldn’t have chosen any number of other sites they could renovate…it seems really strange that an offer so fortuitous would come up that Manos would close his diner with hardly a notice to his employees (which is completely tasteless, for the record). New restaurants in Ithaca aren’t usually big news-makers by themselves, but the entry of this Manos replacement draws more questions than answers.

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3. Looks like New Earth Living LLC has released some updated site plans and sketches of their approved Amabel project just southwest of the Ithaca city-town line. The houses on the northern two-thirds have been rearranged from the previous site plan, and if it’s still 31 units, then the center buildings must be two-family houses. I’ve been told that there will be six different house designs available, so don’t expect all the houses to look the same as in the concept sketch. One thing that the all designs will share are roof configurations that will allow enough solar panels to result in net zero energy use for each home. The city has approved the sale of its surplus land to the developer, and this project is due to start marketing in summer 2015.

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4. Here’s a map, courtesy of real estate website Zillow, that prices out how much it would take to afford the median rent in a given metropolitan area, if paying no more than 30% of monthly income to rent (the federal affordable housing standard). Ithaca/Tompkins County comes in at $32.74 an hour, assuming a 40-hour week and 50-weeks working in a year. In other words, $65,480 ($1,637/month average rent). The number is skewed high from the number of expensive multi-bedroom units in Collegetown, but it’s still high when compared to Elmira ($28.08) or Syracuse ($27.74). For comparison’s sake to Ithaca-type communities, Boulder ($41.72) and Ann Arbor ($34.28) are higher, Charlottesville ($29.24), Madison ($27.54) and Asheville ($22.98) are lower.

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5. Would you believe this is actually the first render I’ve ever seen for the Village Solars project in Lansing? This comes courtesy of their Craigslist ads. The Village Solars take their name from being designed with passive solar design with large amounts of natural light; I don’t know if they will have solar panels. For being a large project, this one has sailed under just about everyone’s radar, partially because it was approved 18 months before construction started. Since there has been so little news about this project, info comes in the form of government and business memos. Depending on the source, final build-out is between 292 and 320 units, which is enormous for the Ithaca area.

Rent’s not cheap with these new units – the minimum is $1235 for a first-floor 2-bedroom, going up to $1369 for a “penthouse” third floor 2-bedroom unit. The Craigslist ad says the first units (36 of them) will be ready for occupancy by March 1st 2015.

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6. Updated doc and drawings for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga Street have been filed with the city. Application, FEAF and project description here, drawings here. According to the docs, the cost of construction will be $740,000 for the four units, and go from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016 (March 2016 in the FEAF). Some slight metal pollution from Emerson/Morse Chain has been noted in soil tests from below the foundation area, due to the Morse Chain subterranean pollution plume (metals, VOCs) that affects much of South Hill. Although the DEC requires no further action at this time, there will be an active sub-slab depressurization system in place as a safeguard. In other words, a fan blows air into the basement, and it gets vented back out.

The design of the townhomes has been revised by architect Claudia Brenner to include more architectural detail – bay windows on the north and south ends, and larger/full porches vs. the stoops of the previous design. The siding has also been changed to all earth-tones. It’s an improvement, but I’d rather see two separate windows above the porches. This project will be presented at the January Planning Board meeting.

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7. Here are some drawings for 707 E. Seneca. Readers might remember this is the 6-unit building proposed by Todd Fox for a derelict playground recently sold off by the city. The 18-bedroom design by local firm Schickel Architecture has already been critiqued thoroughly by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council, since the site is within a historic district and needs to look the part. I’d say that they’ve done well, it’s a bit bulky but otherwise a tasteful addition. An area variance will be required from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Construction is expected to cost $220,000 and run from April to July 2015. For more info, the application is here, drawings here.

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8. Since we’re talking about East Hill housing, here‘s the project application and here are the drawings for the duplexes proposed for the parking lot at 112 Blair Street. The Blair Street site will be combined with 804 East State Street, and the duplexes will have State Street addresses. The spartan design of these buildings is also by Schickel Architecture, and will add 12 bedrooms in 4 units. Cost is estimated at $213,000 and construction will start in April for a summer completion. The developer is Matthew Nestopoulos.