News Tidbits 7/25/15: To Reuse and Rejuvenate

25 07 2015

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1. Let’s just outright say it – the Tompkins County Legisltaure’s Old Library decision is a complete mess at this point. As covered last week, there were three separate individual resolutions – one from legislator Mike Lane for the Travis Hyde proposal (first image), and one each from legislators Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne for the Franklin proposal (second image).

They all failed. 8 yes’s are required. The Travis Hyde proposal failed with 5 yes and 7 no’s. The Franklin proposal failed with 5 yes and 7 no’s on Kiefer’s resolution, and 4 yes and 8 no’s on McBean-Clairborne’s resolution. Martha Robertson, a supporter of the Travis Hyde proposal, recused herself because she had received donations from Frost Travis during her failed congressional campaign in 2014. Legislator Glenn Morey, also a supporter of the Travis Hyde proposal, was absent from the meeting.

I don’t see any way this will ever get the eight votes required. Kathy Luz Herrera voted against the proposals because the resolution has a ground lease (meaning the county still owns the land but leases the property), and Dooley Kiefer has stated she refuses to support any of the projects unless they have a ground lease – in other words, these two have mutually exclusive votes. By voting against McBean-Clairborne, Kiefer’s made it clear she will vote against the Franklin project unless it meets her exact specifications. Shinagawa voted against Travis Hyde for not being what the community wanted, but won’t vote for the Franklin proposal unless they guarantee Lifelong’s involved. And Stein has come out in favor of the Travis Hyde proposal. There’s no solution on the horizon.

So now it heads back to the Old Library Committee. Sale to the highest bidder and demolition of the library are real options on the table.

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2. Turning to Lansing town, the planning board there has approved plans for the 102-unit Cayuga Farms townhouse project for a 31.4 acre parcel off of North Triphammer Road near Horvath Drive. First reported last Friday by the Lansing Star, the project received negative SEQR determination (meaning that, following the state’s environmental review guidelines, that the planning board decided the project will have no serious detrimental impact on the community) and issued preliminary site plan approval.

However, one issue still remains to be resolved before any shovels hit the dirt – sewer. The project currently has a modular package sewer treatment proposal that would work in place of the voter-defeated municipal sewer, and allow for denser development than the town’s rule on septic tanks. But the DEC’s interest in that type of treatment has been mixed. It could be a while before the situation gets sorted out.

Readers might remember this project because it’s one of the few I’ve openly derided. The 102 units are townhouse-style apartments marketed towards the upper end of the market. They would be built in phases over a period of several years.

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3. Now for some eye candy. Included with this week’s planning board project review committee agenda are additional renderings for John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road. Doing a quick visual cross-check with the initial renderings, there don’t appear to be any substantial design changes, and the colorful metal cladding appears to retain the same pattern as before. Getting a little poetic here, the cascading metal bars are reminiscent of water running down a wall.

The city’s Full Environmental Assessment Form doesn’t express many worries about the project; some concerns have been raised about too many pedestrians on the street (the building would add 420 people to Collegetown’s sidewalks at the outset, 600 when fully occupied), but that seems to be about it for now.

The $12 million project is moving right along in an effort to start construction this fall. Declaration of Lead Agency and some CEQR discussion (the city’s more stringent version of SEQR, State Environmental Quality Review) are expected at the July planning board meeting. Plans call for 76,200 SF building with three floors of classrooms and three floors of offices for Cornell’s Johnson School Executive MBA program. The building would be ready for the Big Red’s B-students in April 2017. The property would remain on the tax rolls.

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4. A couple of interesting news notes courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) Agenda:

First, popular downtown restaurant Madeline’s is looking to obtain an agency loan as part of a renovation project. The $470,000 project would add three jobs, only one of which pays living wage. The restaurant on the first floor of the Rothschild Building (the two-story building in the above photo) hopes to take advantage of the new hotels going up, and law firm Miller Mayer moving its 60 employees into the Rothschild Building. Previously the firm was in the Chemung Canal Trust Company building further up the Commons.

Second, the Finger Lakes School of Massage has applied for an agency loan to facilitate a move from West Hill to downtown. The school would move its ~34 staff and 75-95 students into 10,804 SF of leased space on the Rothschild Building’s second floor, with a further 1,700 SF on the ground level for a retail store and alumni massage clinic. The space would be renovated at a cost of about $194,300.

Although both projects come with risks (Madeline’s being a restaurant, FLSM having some worrying financial statements), both projects have been recommended for loan approval. The FLSM and Miller Mayer news suggest that most of the office space in the old Rothschild Building, left vacant when Tetra Tech moved to Cornell’s office park in 2010, has now been refilled.

The new window cut out built recently into the Rothschild Building’s east facade is part of the space where FLSM is moving into.

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5. And now another reuse project – at 416-418 East State Street, currently home to an underused 7,600 SF office and a connected manufacturing/storage building. The house dates from the 19th century, with various additions as recent as the 1970s. According to plans filed with the city, an LLC linked to Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has plans to convert the old manufacturing space into a bar and storage space, with renovated offices and a 2 bedroom apartment in the original house. The project will include an accessory parking lot, revised landscaping and handicap access. Area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance, but a parking variances won’t be required because the bar will have after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.

There have been some concerns expressed about this project – at least one neighbor is vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department is not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement. Offhand, I think a bar is legal in B-4 zoning, but the noise impacts will merit further scrutiny.

The project is definitely something of interest to the Voice’s audience, but in an email, Rosenblum said that details are still being worked out and that he’d prefer to discuss the plan at a later date.

Scott Whitham is serving as a consultant, and local architect Jason Demarest is designing the renovation.

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6. Some very substantial changes are in store for Campus Advantage’s $40 million, 240-unit State Street Triangle project at 301 East State Street in downtown Ithaca.

The Texas-based developer has recruited the assistance of Ithaca architecture firm STREAM Collaborative to help redesign the 240-unit project. And there’s clearly been a lot of work since the previous planning board rendition.

In this revision, a much greater emphasis has been placed on the street interaction and active street uses. Gone is the soaring corner, and in its place is a design with a greater use of horizontal elements (like the decorative belt above the third floor) in order to give the building a more human scale – crucial when you’re planning one of the largest buildings in Ithaca.

The developer is also seeking to remove the northbound turning lane from Aurora onto State Street, and replacing it with a pedestrian area with widened sidewalks, outdoor seating and dining spaces. The land would have to be procured from the city, or some other type of collaboration would have to take place with city officials and engineers.

In documents provided in the city’s planning board agenda for next Tuesday, the developer notes that the project remains student-oriented, but in order to play down comments of it being a massive dorm, 10 4-bedroom units were reconfigured into 40 studio apartments that the developer hopes will be appealing to non-student tenants looking for a less expensive, modestly-sized space.

The State Street Triangle project is also exploring LEED certification.

The project still has a lot of details to be addressed – city transportation engineer Tim Logue has expressed concerns that the traffic study underestimates the number of car trips, and has asked for a revised study. The project is also under closer analysis because the potential addition of 600 residents into downtown Ithaca would put a greater stress on utilities and infrastructure.

These and other questions are likely to be topics of discussion at next Tuesday’s meeting.

The State Street Triangle may be pursuing a CIITAP tax abatement (so much for my theory a couple weeks ago), but the city has not uploaded the application at the time of this writing.
7. Looks like a busy meeting next week for the Ithaca city planning board. In order:

1. A subdivision at 106-108 Madison Street on the Northside. The applicant wishes to create a new lot on the east side of the existing lot, for the purpose of building a new-single-family home.

2. A. Declaration of Environmental Significance and BZA recommendation for the Dibella’s sub shop proposed at 222 Elmira Road

B. Declaration of Environmental Significance, BZA recommendation and potential approval for the 1,100 SF addition to the Maguire Chrsyler/Fiat dealership in Southwest Ithaca

C. Declaration of Environmental Significance, and potential approval for the two duplexes proposed at 112 Blair/804 East State Street

D. Site-plan approval for the first phase of the Tompkins Financial HQ (the new drive-through in the current HQ’s parking lot)

E. CEQR (the city’s version of SEQR) discussion for 215-221 W. Spencer Street

F. Declaration of Lead Agency and CEQR discussion on 209-215 Dryden (the Novarr project noted above)

G. Declaration of Lead Agency and CEQR discussion on State Street Triangle (

noted above)

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H. Sketch Plan – Hotel Ithaca Expansion. Readers might remember a 9-story addition and convention center were approved for the Hotel Ithaca almost two years ago (shown above). Nothing has happened with the expansion plans, for reasons which had been attributed to financing. Dunno what we can expect this time around, but we’ll find out next week.


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3 responses

27 07 2015
drill deep

The saga with the Old Library Building is disturbing. Ithaca has managed to solidify the belief that the local agencies are difficult to work with and unrealistic. It takes a lot of resources and commitment to answer these RFPs. Design and construction firms will submit high numbers to compensate for the headache. Or just not submit at all.

Brian, where does this leave the building? Any chance legislators can come to an agreement? Accept that perhaps some lack the expertise and should step aside for the good of the community? The property currently generates zero dollars in tax revenue and benefits no one.

These legislators should realize “half a loaf is better than no loaf” and get this back on track. It shouldn’t be so difficult to build on government property. Just my lousy two cents.

28 07 2015
B. C.

Honestly, the chances of the legislators coming to an agreement aren’t especially good. I’ve been told by someone associated with the DeWitt Park Neighborhood Association (big Franklin supporters) that one of the legislators supporting the Travis Hyde project will switch their vote if Franklin can get seven votes (the reason being so at least something can move forward at the site). The problem is, the Franklin people are going to struggle to get even seven votes – they might eventually get Shinagawa on board, but Luz Herrera and Kiefer are still mutually exclusive, and the other Travis Hyde supporters don’t seem interested on changing their votes.

The Travis Hyde proposal has little chance of eight votes, and the Franklin proposal has too much squabbling among legislators to stand a chance of approval. All the fail-safe options would also require eight votes – demolition (undesirable due to cost and environmental concerns), sale to highest bidder (undesirable because it removes community engagement), and mothballing (undesirable due to costs carried by the taxpayer). The sad part is, they probably won’t see voter blowback because voters aren’t interested in this drama anymore. The Voice articles about the debate have had very low readership numbers, and it seems no one really cares what happens as long as the debate ends – sale, wrecking ball or otherwise.

26 12 2015
News Tidbits 12/26/15: Do You Hear What I Hear | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] the key word is reviewed, meaning approved. Not underway. The 102-townhome Cayuga Farms project still had major issues to work out with its proposed package sewer system. If one were to look at permits, it’d probably be 36 or so units with the Village Solars, and […]

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