News Tidbits 9/12/15: Some Projects Lose Mass, and Some Hold Mass

12 09 2015

1. We’ll start this week off with a little bit of economic development news. According to paperwork filed with the Tompkins County IDA, CBORD, a Lansing-based software company, wants to move out of its digs in the Cornell office park by the airport, and into a new larger facility in renovated space in the South Hill Business Campus next to Ithaca College. CBORD would lease 41,000 SF of space with five year options to renew. All 245 local employees would be moved into the renovated space, which would be finished by the end of May 2016 and designed by local architect John Snyder.

The project is expected to cost about $3.7 million. No new jobs are stated in the application.

Assuming SHBC’s website is up-to-date, no contiguous spaces are currently large enough for the tenant, so either the internal space will be split up, or some other tenants will be jostled around to make room for CBORD.

As for the abatement itself, CBORD is requesting a sales tax abatement, one year in length, with a value of $296,000, about 8% of the project cost. It doesn’t appear to have made any waves at Thursday night’s meeting, so what;s likely to be a low-key public hearing and approval vote will be coming in the pipeline.

Also at the IDA meeting, final approvals were granted for tax abatements on the 209-215 Dryden project by John Novarr in conjunction with Cornell. and for INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development in the city’s Northside neighborhood.

2. Another small infill project seeks approval from the city’s planning board and the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). 525 West Green Street, located on the edge of the South Side neighborhood, is currently home to a 4-unit apartment house. Local developer Todd Fox of Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is seeking to build a 4-unit, 4-bedroom apartment house at the rear of the property, where a clapped-out garage currently stands. The units would be rentals, but this far from Cornell and Ithaca College, the target market is likely to be permanent Ithaca residents – single professionals would be a good guess.

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Plans drawn up by prolific local firm STREAM Collaborative call for a 2-story, 2,360 SF “carriage house” building designed to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, although quite honestly no one would be able to see the new building unless one were looking down the driveway. A landscaped rear parking area for 8 vehicles would replace the current 4-car lot behind the existing building.

According to Site Plan Review documents, construction cost is estimated at $300,000, and construction would take place from November 2015 to July 2016. Area variances are required from the BZA since this building partially occupied space reserved for the rear setback, but according to the SPR the variance has already been granted.

Readers might recall that MLR has been a very busy company as of late – although relatively new to the Ithaca scene (MLR was established in 2010 by then-recent college graduates Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox), the company has developed the 6-unit 707 East Seneca apartment building, a duplex at 605 South Aurora, and is currently going through the approvals process for solar-powered townhomes out in Varna. The duo also partnered with local real estate businessman Bryan Warren to purchase the Collegetown Bagels at 201-207 North Aurora Street.

As for the project itself, 525 West Green Street is perhaps the largest example of the carriage house trend Ithaca has been seeing lately, where old garages or unused rear lot spaces are being developed into 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 Aurora. Arguably, one could throw New Earth Living/Sue Cosentini’s Aurora Street pocket neighborhood in there as well.

Given that these properties are modestly-sized, rarely visible from the street, and provide rental income to property owners who in most cases live on the same lot, they seem like an appropriate way to increase density without upsetting Ithaca’s character balance.

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3. Briefly in blurbs – according to the agenda for Ithaca town’s Public Works Committee (PWC), the town will be looking at sanitary sewer access for a potential development along Troy Road. Now, before anyone gets their blood pressure raised, this most likely has nothing to do with the 130-unit project that was mothballed a few months ago. But, there have been rumors of smaller-scale plans for one of the parcels that comprised the now-subdivided property. The development radar has been turned on, and if anything shows up, you’ll see it shared here.

4. Staying in Ithaca town for the time being, the town’s planning board has but one project on their agenda for next Tuesday – a new parish center for St. Catherine of Siena Church in the Northeast Ithaca neighborhood.

Yes, even in Ithaca, one of the least religious metros in the country, famously home to a school that pastors derided in fiery philippics 150 years ago for daring to not affiliate itself with a Christian denomination or enforce mandatory church attendance, churches can hold their own.

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Plans call for a new 10,811 SF parish center at 302 St. Catherine Circle, on what is currently part of the church parking lot. Once built, the current parish center, a one-story, 10,275 SF jumble of boxes and corridors, would be demolished and replaced with parking spaces. Richard McElhiney Architects of NYC is the project architect, and a bit of an unusual choice since the firm doesn’t have a presence or previous work up here.

In an assessment by Ithaca town planner Christine Balestra, concerns were noted about a phased parking plan for the church while construction is underway, and minor requests for landscaping details (plans call for two fountains). Other than that, it doesn’t look like this is going to make any waves during the approvals process.

5. Over in the town of Danby, plans are underway to convert a former clothing design and warehouse facility into a mixed-tenant business center. Docs filed by STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest on behalf of owner David Hall call for modifications of a Planned Development Zone for the property at 297-303 Gunderman Road. Danby’s PDZ is not unlike the city’s PUD and town of Ithaca’s PDZ, where the form and layout is regulated rather than the use. The original PDZ for the property dates from the mid-1990s.

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The “Summit Enterprise Center” would be anchored by National Book Auctions currently on Danby Road, Blue Sky Center for Learning (a company that provides support and therapy for autistic individuals and their families), and New Moon Harvest, a food and beverage maker. Additional office, warehouse and industrial/food production space would be available to potential tenants. The existing 21,000 SF building and landscape would not be significantly changed, although future plans for a 4,147 SF addition and parking lot are noted.

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6. Speaking of PDZs and PUDs, I did take the opportunity when I spoke to David Lubin last week to ask how things were going with the Chain Works District development. Here’s what he said:

“Chain Works District is continuing. We’re working with the state and Emerson, investigating the site and making sure all the remediation plans are readied and approved. There will be public hearings. It’s a slow process. We will need DEC approval for the residential uses. We hope to obtain city approvals [for the draft environmental impact statement] this year.”

There’s no doubt the project will take time. With complicated topography, environmental issues, 800,000 SF of planned development space and two municipalities, it’s arguably the most complicated tax parcel in all of the county, if not the region. Readers may stretch their memories back and remember that the first phase will consist of the renovation of buildings 21, 24, 33 and 34 into mixed-use and manufacturing space. Ithaca Builds (come back Jason, Ithacans need someone with your knowledge) provides a detailed run-down here.

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7. Courtesy of Maria Livingston at HOLT Architects, here’s a render of the renovation HOLT is undertaking for its new headquarters at 619 West State Street. Gone are the rather dated-looking decorative parapets, and in comes a clean, modern design with a mix of wood, brick and steel facade materials. HOLT’s 30 employees will occupy most of the new space in the  net-zero energy structure, but there will be space for two other tenants (one of which has already been claimed).

HOLT is spending about $900k on the renovation, which is due to be complete next March. Tompkins Trust Company is providing the financing, and local company McPherson Builders is in charge of general construction.

A copy of the official press release, and an interior render, can be found on HOLT’s blog here.

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8. We’ll wrap up this work with a topic at the tip of everyone’s tongue – State Street Triangle. Architects Kelly Grossman of Austin, Texas and Noah Demarest of STREAM have worked to redesign the project so that its massing is less imposing and its design a little more varied. Specifically, it now looks more like several buildings built next to each other with varying setbacks and heights, rather than one continuous mass – the change is especially prominent on the 300 Block of East State, where the most concern was raised.

The developers held a community meeting Thursday night (pro tip for Campus Advantage – next time, give more than 30 hours’ notice), which has been covered by the Journal here and the Voice here. That the developers scheduled their own community meeting outside of the confines of city hall is laudable.

As part of the redesign, the number of bedrooms has been reduced from 620 to 582. Recent estimates have now priced the project at $70 million. The developer has expressed interest in designated some of the units as affordable housing, in what would be an example of the inclusive zoning that some city staff are currently looking into.

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The project is seeking a tax abatement, though the formal details have yet to be released. Rents would be between $980-$1,600 per month per person, and would include utilities, gym and other “all-inclusive services”. I suspect that a parking space in the Cayuga Garage is an added cost.

Speaking strictly for myself, the design is an improvement, though I have subjective quibbles – for instance, would a lighter color material make the north wall of 11-story middle section less visible from a distance, and would it be possible to give the blank walls more character. Balancing pros and cons, I also think the design of the Commons-facing corner looks tasteful and classy. The prospect of affordable units in the building is intriguing. If I was a planning board member, I’d ask to see material samples to make sure the building doesn’t end up looking cheap.

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Additional images of the updated design can be found on the city’s website here, and a written summary of the changes from project consultant Scott Whitham of can be found here.


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3 responses

12 09 2015
Cornell PhD

Running down the list based on what catches my interest:

– That new church center looks like something from the 50s or 60s.

– It would have been nice if the Holt architects’ renovation had added some mass to that building while it was under reconstruction – maybe a few floors of residential or something, if permitted by zoning (if not, it should be). Oh well.

– Re: the SST, I actually think the Commons-facing portion looks like it will turn out to be a cheap neotraditionalist version of a neotraditionalist facade from the 20s – and derivatives of derivatives are never good. I would have preferred something a little more sleek and modern here, or a little more breakup of the building mass closer to the corner, at least.

12 09 2015
B. C.

RE: HOLT, I think the zoning there (B-4) would have allowed three more floors or 40 feet. But it would have been a lot more risk on their part – putting tens of thousands of dollars into plans that would have been subject to the city and public’s scrutiny, and there might be a few folks still grinding axes over 210 Hancock. This renovation only required staff-level approval from the city.

19 09 2015
News Tidbits 9/19/15: It’s A Numbers Game | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] issue. At 87 units, this will be a pretty sizable project, and given Fox’s previous work (he’s been rather busy lately), it will likely be rentals, perhaps with Ithaca College students as the target […]

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