News Tidbits 8/15/15: Big Houses and Little Houses

15 08 2015

210_hancock_62015

1. In good news, INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development was granted all the necessary zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The vote was 3-0 in favor; one board member abstained after expressing her distaste for the project. Variances were needed for the height (46.5 feet vs. the 40 feet legally permitted), the parking requirement (84 required, 64 planned) and loading zones for the three commercial spaces, which was granted at the previous BZA meeting. The project now moves on to the Planning Board again for preliminary approval.

210 Hancock also applied for $3.9 million in tax abatements from the Tompkins County IDA, and these were granted at last night’s meeting. According to the application, the tax abatement was requested because the commercial spaces and the pedestrian walkways along Lake Avenue and Adams Street can’t be covered by affordable housing grants. The foundation and high acquisition cost of the former grocery store were also cited as factors in the application.

Unfortunately, documents filed with the city indicate that the townhouses will no longer be for sale, they will only be rental units. INHS says that they received updated, detailed construction costs and the result is that it would be “infeasible to build and sell the townhouses affordably“. If there’s any silver lining to that, it’s that all the townhouse units will now be handicapped-accessible, and that they will be built at the same time as the apartment building (no need for subdivision or owner-occupied grant money, which is harder to get). Construction will be May 2016 to July 2017, rather than 2016-2019.

EDIT: INHS Executive Director Paul Maazarella sent an email this morning saying that the plans have been re-revised, and now 5 of the 12 units will be rentals. 7 of the units, all 2-bedrooms, will still be for sale. Quoting the email –

“This aspect of the project has many unknowns that still remain to be resolved, so we decided to take a cautious approach with the Planning Board and announce that they will all be rentals. Some of the challenges that we have for for-sale units on this site are:  very high land cost; the demo cost for the existing building; uncertainty about the availability of development subsidies; the type and cost of the ownership structure (condo, coop or HOA); the impact of high property taxes on affordability; and the overall development cost in relation to producing a unit at an affordable purchase price.  Since then, we’ve reviewed the numbers and reconsidered our earlier decision.

We have now firmed up a plan to keep 7 of the 12 units as for-sale units and make 5 of them rental units.  All 5 of the rental units will be 3-bedroom homes (the only 3-BRs in the project) and one of them will be fully accessible.
The 5 rental units will be clustered at the end nearest to Adams St.  The for-sale units will be closer to Hancock St.
The rental units will be built at the same time as the multifamily building.  We don’t yet know the timeline for the for-sale units.”

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On that note, here’s an updated render of the townhouses. Quoting the memo from Trowbridge Wolf,

“The townhomes at 210 Hancock will utilize architectural details in the porches and roof lines as well as a mix of materials and colors to provide architectural diversity. Architectural precedent will include homes built in the late 19th/early 20th century and characterized as “tudor”, “arts and crafts”, “American four square” etc. The goal is to design the 12 townhomes as if they were built over time with some unifying features that make them feel part of the larger 210 Hancock community.”

2. From townhouses to big houses. Here’s an attractive proposal for a renovation at 109 Dearborn Place in Cornell Heights. 109 Dearborn is currently a 3,800 SF storage building with an attached apartment unit, and has been since the 1960s; previously it was an office building for the Paleontological Research Institute, and built specifically for PRI in the early 1930s. The building was purchased from Cornell by Dr. J. Lee Ambrose (M.D., so he can get away with using ‘Dr.’ outside of his field without sounding pretentious) for $177k in 2012. Bero Architects of Rochester and Ellis Construction of Lansing are in charge of the design and build respectively.

109_dearborn

The proposal involves new roofing, dormers, roof extensions, and a gut interior renovation to be done in phases over the next few years. Being in the Cornell Heights Historic District, the project needs Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) approval. Since the building is considered non-contributing to the historic district (the age is right but being a purpose-built office building isn’t), ILPC may be a little less stringent with this project.

3. Staying on the theme of grand houses, a lakeshore homesite has received a multi-million dollar loan. The property at 1325/1327 Taughannock in Ulysses is right on the lake, and two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The loan, for $2.25 million, was filed on the 13th, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust.

The owner is a senior investment banker from New York with connections to Cornell. In other words, the type of person a lot of Ithacans love to hate. Looking on the bright side, this is an extra couple million for Ulysses’s tax rolls (my anecdotal finding is to tack on about 30% to hard construction costs to get the assessed value, and the hard costs here are $1.87 million…so $2.43 million). Single-family projects of this magnitude in Tompkins County are quite rare, they could be counted on two hands. It’ll definitely be worth a trip to see what this lakeside manse looks like as it moves towards its May 2016 completion.

4. Also in sales, the Carpenter Business Park was purchased by “Carpenter Business Park LLC” for $2.4 million from the lender that repo’d it from the owner earlier this year. Four parcels were purchased – all the land along Northside’s Carpenter Circle except for the community gardens and the building supply company. The LLC is registered to the same P.O. Box as Ithaca’s Miller Mayer law firm, and there’s no indication if there are plans for this site. But you’ll see something here if plans arise.

state_st_triangle_v3_1

5. The State Street Triangle public relations campaign begins in earnest – the CEO of Campus Advantage recently submitted an editorial in the Journal, and the Texas-based company has also launched a website, Ithacaliving.com. It’s as one would expect, it touts the economic impacts and the addition of housing to the underserved Ithaca market. For those who are more neutral, the site’s worth a look for some new perspective shots, courtesy of the folks at STREAM Collaborative. CA’s effort to assuage the concerns of city officials and the public has been lackluster so far, so we’ll see if this is a sign they’re willing to be more active and engaging.

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college_crossing_2

6. Over in Ithaca town, the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) is still underway for College Crossings. Only this time, the town acknowledges that plopping a building in the middle of a large parking lot doesn’t mesh with their comprehensive plan. The building is acceptable, but the site plan layout needs work seems to be the gist of the town planner’s review.

7. From the city of Ithaca Planning Board Project Review meeting next week, the phrase of the week will be “carriage house”. Specifically, two proposals in the city for accessory apartments in the style of carriage houses.

201_w_clinton_1

Carriage houses were essentially garages for horse-and-buggies. The first proposal, at 201 West Clinton Street, is highly reminiscent of those long-gone days, and it needs to be since it’s in Henry St. John Historic District (more talk about the meticulous restoration of the main house here). The proposal is going up to the planning board for recommendations for a zoning property line setback variance at the next BZA meeting. The 650 SF, 1 bedroom garage/carriage house would replace a non-contributing garage from the 1960s. The architect isn’t stated in the documents.

607_utica

The other proposal is for 607 Utica Street in Fall Creek. The applicant is seeking demolish a rear garage in favor of a one-bedroom, 510 SF unit. In the zoning appeal application (one again for property line setbacks), the homeowner states “My goal has never been to become a landlord…I am hoping to do this only because the income from this would allow me to remain in the community”. Once again, the affordability problem is making itself known. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is responsible for 607 Utica’s “tiny house”.

As a matter of opinion, I think these are a great idea. These add to the housing stock, contribute income to homeowner-landlords living only feet away, they’re not obtrusive, and their small size lends well to modest, sustainable living. I hope they go forward.


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10 responses

15 08 2015
Ex-Ithacan

Thanks for all the info. I like the animated link video, though I would loved to have seen a couple of flyover items in it.

15 08 2015
B. C.

Yeah, I think a couple fly-overs would have been nice as well. The flipside is that a fly-over could make the building look even more monumental and inflame the opposition.

15 08 2015
Ex-Ithacan

That’s true. I have a feeling there’s a less than 50% chance of this one happening.

15 08 2015
B. C.

If I were a betting man, I’d go slightly more optimistic and say 50-50. If it does go forward as is, I doubt it would be with the abatement. But CA has deep pockets. Lots of variables to weigh here.

19 08 2015
CS PhD

Well, seeing the INHS project move along despite the NIMBYs sure is a relief. I’m not sure what the problem is with the townhouses being rentals rather than owner-occupied though – doesn’t renting them make them more affordable? Given how expensive property is around here, I doubt anyone middle-class could afford to buy the townhouses.

I don’t get what people’s problem with the State Street Triangle project is. Sure, the initial design was pretty boring, but STREAM has already made it much better, and as a local agency with a good track record you’d think they’d be trusted to make the design community-friendly. And a building like this is exactly what the “downtown” zoning designation (I forget what it’s called) was intended for. If we don’t build large apartment buildings in the area specifically designated to be the dense urban core, where will all the housing go? Ithaca needs housing so badly at this point that filling every available space with more housing should be everyone’s priority.

19 08 2015
B. C.

One of the common complaints is the lack of owner-occupied housing in Ithaca (especially affordable owner-occupied housing), and home buyers tend to be more invested in their communities than renters, so it works as a stronger selling point to the neighborhood when there’s more owner-occupied housing involved. The contrast is that owner-occupied affordable housing grants are harder to get, and rental units offer INHS a steady long-term income.

As for State Street Triangle, the problem varies per person – some don’t like the idea of an 11-story building, others don’t like the idea of 600 more students living downtown, and still others are neutral or lukewarm about the project, but opposed to the tax abatement that CA applied for. Some arguments are better thought out than others, from what I’ve heard and read. For instance, I think the traffic concerns are legitimate, and the traffic study needs revision. But on the other end of the spectrum, there’s this one woman in Fall Creek who wrote into the Journal and city planning board saying it’s much too big for downtown and that tall buildings should be more like Titus Tower, which is a really bad idea – Titus Tower is so far away from the street that it completely isolates its elderly residents from all life below, it’s a community killer if anything).

12 09 2015
News Tidbits 9/12/15: Some Projects Lose Mass, and Some Hold Mass | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] small, detached apartments, typically no more than studio or 1-bedroom size. Other examples include 201 West Clinton, 607 Utica,  and new this month, a studio apartment proposed for a former workshop/garage at 701 North […]

3 10 2015
News Tidbits 10/3/15: Lying in Wait | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Business Park LLC, using a P.O. Box ties to the Miller Mayer law firm, has bought two more parcels after buying the four unused land parcels in the Carpenter Business Park for $2.4 million last Augus…. This time around, the LLC purchased a nondescript one-story commercial building at 742 Cascadilla […]

6 08 2016
News Tidbits 8/6/16: Big Ideas and Small Additions | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] renovation into a rather swanky two-family residence. Background on the property from last August here. Long story short, it’s a gut renovation of a non-contributing structure of a historic […]

11 02 2017
News Tidbits 2/11/17: Cooperation Required | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Place in the Cornell Heights Historic District – the owners, a married couple who are renovating the old PRI into a historically appropriate two-family residence, are looking to sell some of the land as part of the “partnership dissolution”. The PRI […]

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