News Tidbits 10/31/15: The word of the week is “No”

31 10 2015

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1.  We’ll start off with about the only affirmative news this week, that of the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board Meeting last Tuesday. The tweaks to the now 79-room Holiday Inn proposal at 371 Elmira Road were approved, and the project expects to have building permits in hand next week, according to the Times‘ Josh Brokaw. When I spoke to the development company’s president, he said “the project is already underway”, but it seems he meant demolition permits for the existing buildings, rather than construction permits. Expect a construction update sometime next month.

Also approved was the new north wing for the Hotel Ithaca at 222 South Cayuga Street in downtown. A tweak of the facade, glazing and balconies was enough to placate the board into approving the revisions for the $9.5 million, 90-room project, which replaces a two-story wing dating from 1972. The north wing will have the potential for another three floors, and on the other two-story wing, the long-awaited Conference Center may come to be if financing plays in developer Hart Hotels’ favor. The Buffalo-based company hopes to start construction early next year and have the new wing ready for its first guests in Fall 2016.

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Meanwhile, in the strike column is the proposed jazz bar at 416 East State Street just east of downtown. According to the Cornell Daily Sun, a decision is being deferred until updated, more thorough information is provided regarding sound attenuation of bar patrons gathering outside the building while getting their fresh air or nicotine fix. Neighbors have mounted substantial opposition to the project for being out of character and for parking concerns, but the planning board has played neutral, receptive but cautious. The project is a legal use and will not change the square footage of the one-story warehouse/office building, but will need zoning variances.

2. The county had discussion, but made no judgements on the Biggs Parcel next to Cayuga Medical Center. The county is mulling plans to sell the parcel on the open market after years-long and heavily-fought plans to sell it to affordable housing developers NRP and BHTC fell through on the discovery of extensive wetlands on-site in 2014. As written about in the Voice this week, the county wants the 25.52 acres of land (previously valued at $340k) back on the tax rolls, while the neighbors and some other West Hill residents, under the umbrella of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, want the county to hold it as “public woodland”. The county has countered (time and again) the land has no use for the public.

Depending on which account one chooses to follow (ICNA’s or the county’s, the two vary on the details), the county’s Government Operations Committee is giving the neighbors one month to come up with a viable alternative for the land. The ICNA wanted an RFP for land preservation, but the county’s planning commissioner, Ed Marx, says the county doesn’t have time to write-up another RFP. They also pushed for subdivision of the land, which the planning department is also discouraging. The county has wanted the ICNA, Cayuga Medical or BHTC to buy the land, but no one’s made offers.

To this semi-trained eye, the only “happy” solution would be for the ICNA or someone sharing its interests to buy the property for the re-assessed value and arrange to donate it to an organization like the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The county gets their tax money, and the neighbors get to keep the land undeveloped. Outside of that option though, either the neighbors are going to feel shorted, or the county’s tax watchdogs will be up in arms.

EDIT: And now I’ve been informed that the land would be tax-exempt if given to the land trust. So there’s no happy solution unless a private landowner buys it agrees to not develop it. Which, given the property tax, is not very likely.

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3. Farm Pond Circle is still for sale. Only now, it’s on the market for $125,000, $30,000 less than the original listing. As previously written here back in March:

“The second phase of Lansing’s 21-lot Farm Pond Circle development is up for sale. Jack Jensen, the original developer, passed away last fall. Of the ten lots in phase two, four have already been reserved; there are also two lots left in phase one. The second phase is being offered for $155,000.

The Farm Pond Circle development is fairly stringent. Current deed restrictions limit the size of each housing unit to 2600 sq ft, vinyl or aluminum siding isn’t allowed, and only very specific subsections of the lots can be developed. Buyers aren’t limited to green energy, but there is a strong push in that direction. Also, at least four of the lots are earmarked for affordable housing (single-family or duplexes, buyers muse make less than 80% of median county income of $53k)). The affordable units, at least two of which have already been built, are being developed in partnership with Jack Jensen’s non-profit, Community Building Works!.”

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4. Mayor Myrick made some thought-provoking comments (or provocative, depending on your view) in a phone interview with the Times’ Josh Brokaw about State Street Triangle. For one, the inclusionary zoning topic has come up again, something likely to make an appearance in his second term. And for two, calling for a distinctive “pillar” with fewer units, and smaller units sizes to appeal to a wider, non-student part of the market. As previously stated, the 11-story height isn’t the issue.

I wrote about inclusionary zoning as part of an interview with Community Planner Lynn Truame in the Voice – it can be done one of two ways, either saying a builder/developer can’t build anything without having units or paying into a fund, or by giving them an extra incentive, like reduced permit fees, being able to build one floor higher or a reduction in parking requirements if they include affordable housing. Most opt for the latter approach.

The pros are an integration of affordable units into market-rate developments and a supply of affordable housing. The cons are that, if handled the wrong way, it can stop all development, affordable and market-rate, and on the other end of the spectrum, if the benefits are too generous than it can reduce the supply the affordable housing by tearing down older, lower-cost buildings in favor of new higher-cost ones with a small number of affordable units. In sum, nothing in an inclusive zoning ordinance can be taken lightly.

An inclusionary zoning program requires the support of neighboring communities so that developers don’t just skip to the next town over to escape the burden, and the program must be designed to encourage developers to build while ensuring there’s plenty of affordable units on the market. For example, here’s Burlington, Vermont’s ordinance:

“The program applies to all new market-rate developments of 5 or more homes and to any converted non-residential structures that result in at least 10 homes.  The affordable housing set aside is 15 to 25% of the units, depending on the average price of the market-rate homes – with the higher percentage placed on the most expensive developments.  The ordinance does not allow fee in-lieu payments or land donations, but will allow developers to provide the affordable housing off-site at 125% of the on-site obligation.  The ordinance provides a range of incentives including fee waivers and a 15-25% density and lot coverage bonus. Affordable homes are targeted to households earning 75% or less area median income (AMI) and rented at 65% or less AMI.  Developers can sale or rent the homes for more as long as the average of affordable homes sold or rented are at or below the target household income.  Affordable homes are price controlled for 99 years.

Burlington partners with a nonprofit – the Champlain Housing Trust – in the administration of its program and is able to minimize in-house administrative staff time for the program (committing only 10% of one full time employee). However, more funds are needed to support the monitoring and enforcement of affordable homes.”

So if this were Ithaca for the sake of equivalent example, let’s say a developer downtown is thinking of a 40-unit market-rate non-luxury apartment building, that maxes out the lot area and height of a currently-existing (hypothetical) zone. They would be able to build 46 units/15% larger as a bonus, but 6 units would have to be affordable housing. They could also build 46 market-rate units on-site, and build 8 affordable units off-site at a location okayed by the city.

The affordable units would be targeted at individuals making 65% or less of AMI, which in Tompkins is 65% of about $53k, or $34,500/year. Some units could be more or less affordable, as long as they average to 65% AMI. It stays that way for 99 years. The units would be managed by an organization like INHS.

Or, the developer could build a hotel, office, or non-residential building without giving up money or space for affordable housing, but they also get no zoning bonus. Burlington’s law isn’t designed to be a barrier for development, it’s designed to be an incentive to include affordable housing in new projects. However, there are definitely opponents to inclusionary zoning even among affordable housing advocates, who say that a revised and expanded Section 8 program would be more effective.

Note that Burlington’s law is just one example. No one ordinance fits all municipalities, and each community has its own aspects to address  – in Ithaca’s case, that means tailoring the inclusionary zoning for each neighborhood, determining what size and types of projects have to pay into the fund (because Cornell will probably file a lawsuit if it affects their projects), establishing affordability guidelines that encompass both poor and middle-income families, and whether fees can be paid into a housing fund in lieu of housing. What works in Downtown probably won’t work in Belle Sherman, and what works in Fall Creek wouldn’t be effective in Collegetown. It’s going to be an intensive design process.

So, back to the original question – is Campus Advantage willing to play? It’s not one that anyone can answer just yet. The Austin-based company is still determining their next move. The Times, as well as commenters on this blog, have raised the possibility that this might be the mayor playing politics to stave off his write-in opponent and the anti-development crowd that supports many of the independent candidacies. But, barring some left-field shocker on Tuesday, expect Myrick to be sharing more of his and his staff’s zoning ideas in the next couple years.

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5. Speaking of zoning, the city is mulling over a zoning tweak to make buildings on the Commons have mandatory active street-level uses. A copy of the memo is here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, county memo here,  copy of code revision here. It seems like an easy sell from both the angle of developers and the city, but the steps to codify it are only now underway.

It will be similar to inner Collegetown’s MU-2 zoning. Permitted are stores, restaurants, banks, entertainment venues, public assembly areas, libraries, fire stations, and anything approved by the Planning Board on a case-by-case basis. The last part comes into play because the Finger Lakes School of Massage proposes a student-staffed massage parlor on the first floor of the Rothschild’s Building. Not included – schools, certain office lobbies and apartment/condo lobbies. But most building owners moved to active-use on the Commons a long time ago. The public hearing will be November 19th.

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6. Looks like there are still some hang ups with the Storage Squad and 902 Dryden projects out in Dryden, according to the town’s latest meeting. For the Storage Squad project, it has to do with their concerns with a stream that showed up on a DEC map in 1940 but hasn’t appeared since (they have to prove doesn’t exist, and proving it requires DEC acknowledgement). The business owners were also concerned about spending $30k on a Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan, with the possibility that the town may have them redo it at no small price.

Now, the Dryden town board is feeling a little heat right now because there have been accusations the town isn’t doing enough to help small businesses, allegations the “rainy day” fund’s depleted, and there’s a 13% tax levy increase planned, none of which sit well with voters. Plus. lest anyone forget, elections are coming up. So it’s perhaps with those things in mind that the town board is making an effort to try and help the owners of the Storage Squad before they throw in the towel. They invited them to the town’s meeting on the 29th to discuss the SWPPP further, and we’ll find out if it was fruitful.

Also, the 13-unit, 36-bedroom (15 units/42 bedrooms if you count the existing duplex) 902 Dryden project was berated by its potential neighbors once again. There are a couple comments attacking the potential students that would live there, but most seem to be against the location and concerns about flooding. Then you have the guy who called it a cancer.

One speaker says that residential development is a tax burden on the town, but really that depends on the type of housing – infill lots and denser acreage can be cost-efficient. New, low-density “greenfield” housing requires more pipes, power lines, new roads…infill has much of that already in place, and less acreage per unit can yield greater cost efficiencies. Plus, the commercial development the speaker touts also requires police and fire, and indirectly schools for its employees’ families. Yet, he didn’t offer a single word of support for the Storage Squad proposal.

Then the talk turns to taxes, and a guy references how we took land from Native Americans, Socialism will cause our nation’s collapse, and how Muslims are trying to institute Sharia Law. Now, how does one type those town board minutes and keep a straight face?

7. One last no for the week, this one for the Phi Mu sorority from Cornell. I still have a soft spot for the histories and houses of Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs), although I’ve happily aged out of college life.

The sorority (technically a fraternity), which arrived to Cornell’s campus last year, had intended to buy the $725,000 house at 520 Wyckoff Road, but the village board shot down the change of use required. Noise, traffic and “detriment of character” were cited as reasons not to let the ca. 1924, 3,473 SF home be used for group housing.

The Ithaca Journals’ Nick Reynolds offers this passage in his write-up:

Following the decision, the board broke protocol and began a philosophical dialogue between its members and the public.

Board member Sean Cunningham suggested the village has become anti-change and anti-sorority, and was at risk of “burying their heads their heads in the sand” to the point where the village wouldn’t be able to maintain its quality of life from an unwillingness to change.

Jeff Sauer, of 107 Overlook Road, offered the residents’ stance:

“The issues brought up tonight were the right issues,” Sauer said. “It’s not that we’re opposed to change; we’re for managing change.”

Historically, the neighborhood of Cornell Heights, split between the city and the village, has been fiercely opposed to any change of uses, let alone new buildings. Cornell sued residents in the 1980s, and won, over a similar issue. The university had planned to move its 15-member “Modern Indonesia” research program and literature collection from 102 West Avenue to a house on Fall Creek Drive, but neighbors convinced the city of Ithaca that it would greatly damage the neighborhood’s character. The state supreme court disagreed.

Cornell Heights and Cayuga Heights have been used as a textbook study in Blake Gumprecht – The former, for which this blog is named after, was founded as an elite faculty and businessmans’ enclave. But after the Alpha Zeta fraternity was donated a house in 1906 (for which the developer threatened legal action to no avail), and Cornell built the all-ladies Risley Hall in 1912, the local elite turned their noses and mostly turned tail for Cayuga Heights, selling out to Greek organizations but making deed restrictions in their new community to keep them from moving in. Cayuga Heights refused annexation in Ithaca by 1954 in part because they didn’t wish to attract students, and even prohibited a restaurant from opening for fear it would attract students as well. While the village isn’t as virulent as it once was, the sorority never really stood much of a chance. One long-term problem may be that if the existing GLOs do ever sell their properties, it’ll be to Cornell and Cornell only, where the use will be maintained, but the taxes won’t.

Well ladies, better luck next time around. You could always ask Cornell about those houses on University Avenue.

9. PSA? Sure.

Vote. Local elections matter. Your vote on Tuesday could make the difference for a lot of things –  for another 210 Hancock, waterfront development plans, zoning changes, or if a future downtown project gets an abatement. It will play a role in whether Ithaca, the county and other govs make an effort on affordable housing. Tuesday’s decisions will affect the city and county’s decisions.

Polling sites here, sample ballots here.





A Long Voyage Ahead for The Waterfront

27 10 2015

The NYS DOT property is probably the next big, Old Library-type project facing the county in the upcoming couple of years. There’s a lot to consider in a possible move of the DOT to Dryden, and subsequent sale of the site to a chosen developer. For that, the county paid $78,000 to Fisher Associates to conduct a feasibility study, the results of which are shared below.

The feasibility study examined multiple angles – environmental, physical, market and financial factors. It has to, because without a through examination of the site, the county could under-price themselves, or vice-versa, there may be fewer or no offers, should buyers think the site’s a poisoned chalice.

But let’s start with the initial disclaimer – things are years out. The Old Library site issued an RFEI in November 2013, and a preferred developer was only named in August. Plus, everything is still dependent on a DOT move, which will have its own schedule if it happens. All things considered, although the county has generously offers 2017 as a construction start date, it’ll probably be the end of the decade if not the 2020s before any soil starts to turn, assuming there’s an interested developer.

So let’s start with a look at the site’s history and environmental concerns. According to Fisher Associates’ Environmental Site Assessment (ESA, link here), the property was virtually unused until the NYS DOT bought the land and starting building their facilities on it in 1958. There were petroleum tanks underground, but they were removed and the land re-mediated in 2004, and now the only tanks on-site are above ground, and in good condition. Some concerns still exist with salt brine tanks, debris in the inlet, and materials from when the DOT used a septic system, before it was hooked up to the city sewer. None of these appear to be potential deal breakers, just things worth noting.

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Perhaps surprisingly for a waterfront property, the vast majority of the site isn’t in the 100 or 500-year flood zone. Most of the site is elevated just enough to avoid flood risk.

Empire GeoServices of Cortland conducted the geotechnical report and site soil analysis. Looking at the soil conditions, being next to the water poses some limitations. Most of the lower elevations of the city suffer from poor, water-logged soils, which are soft and compressible near the top – in a few cases, shallow spread foundations, typically the cheapest option, have been damaged by excessive soil settling, so those are not recommended. Deep, pile foundations, like the ones used at the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek (micro-piles), Marriott (caissons) or some of the big box stores, are a safe option because they go down to more solid soil layers, but they’re more expensive. Shallow mat foundations can also be used in place of shallow spread foundations, but they’re also more complex and expensive, and are really only suitable for “light buildings” with less pounds for square inch. A mat foundation was used for Cornell’s new rowing center.

Long story short on the soils, it means that whatever is built will need a complex foundation, and its likely that whatever gets built will be priced at a premium. The study tacks on an extra 10% to the cost for townhouses and mixed-use buildings.

In the study, there are three plans considered – a hotel plan, a multifamily/townhouse “preferred” plan, and a maximum density plan. The site plan PDF is here, for you kids following along at home.

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The hotel plan imagines a 124-room hotel (midsize in the Ithaca market) with 6450 SF of commercial space. The plan includes 10 townhouses and 52 multi-family units in the 850-1200 SF range. There are 286 parking spaces, as required by zoning – 1 for each hotel room (124), 1 per 100 SF of commercial space (64), 2 for each townhouse (20) and 1.5 for each apartment-type unit (78). 1 Space for 100 SF commercial space is fairly generous to drivers – the ITE trip generation manual shows most commercial retail to be well below that threshold, with only service outlets like fast-food joints, coffee shops and bars exceeding the 1 space/100 SF value.

The market issues with this plan are focuses on the hotel. A hotel was envisioned for the waterfront for decades, but being off by itself with only few nearby attractions (the trail and farmer’s market, not much else), it’s not as desirable as downtown, nor is the land as cheap as the Southwest suburban corridor. The feasibility study notes the waterfront might be a draw in the summer, but the weather the rest of the year would limit its appeal. With increased interest in living in the city, the hotel idea has had less allure in recent years. Still, the option was included for the sake of comment and critique. The study says a hotel would need 120+ room to support fixed costs (taxes, maintenance), and recommends a brand not present in Ithaca, like Hyatt or Starwood (Westin/Sheraton).

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The multi-family/townhouse plan does away with the hotel and instead focuses more on residential. The plan is composed of 14,160 SF of commercial space, 46 townhouses and 84 multi-family units (130 units total). 356 parking spaces are provided.

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The maximum density plan is as it sounds – the maximum legally allowed by zoning. The plan calls for 13,950 SF of commercial space, 137 multi-family units and 378 parking spaces.

Note that all three plans have a new indoor farmer’s market building, but that’s a separate development being spearheaded by the market.

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Renderings make for great eye candy, but the emphasis is definitely not on the architecture here, because it’s a bit like predicting what new cars will look like in 2020. You know it will probably have four wheels, lights and doors, but everything else is just for show. Whoever buys it will come in with their own idea of how things should look (see Form Ithaca’s waterfront study for their take). For the sake of reference, a copy of the aerial renders of each layout is here.

Now for a financial summary (link), the feasibility in its essence. HR&A Advisors, who partnered with Fish Associates for the study, notes that development can work with a potential buyer’s bottom line, but it’s going to be expensive and the developer will seek to minimize risk as much as possible – there’s not much padding in the profit. There are few comparable products in the county to the site, which makes determining the market size, rents and level or risk somewhat more difficult than usual. The study assumes a 3-year, single-phase build-out.

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The study assumes about $2.15/SF for a residential unit – in other words, a 1,000 SF unit (like a larger 2 bedroom or smaller 3 bedroom unit) renting for $2,150/month, similar to the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek or Gateway Commons downtown, which were used as comparables. Luxury housing, without a doubt. The waterfront commands a price premium, but the disconnection to the rest of the city could hinder rentals. Some condos/owner-occupied units are possible, but rentals would be the majority. Development costs range from $165/SF for a townhouse, to $215/SF for a multi-family unit, to $287/SF for the hotel. The value of a project ranges from $39-$45 million depending on plan, and with development costs taken into count, the land could sell for something less than $1,000,000 to $2.5 million. Over time, the project may generate $13-$22 million in tax revenue over 20 years, depending on approach.

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The land itself will not sell for the price required to cover the DOT’s cost of moving, which will have to be underway before any sale takes place. The move is estimated at $14 million. This means that the city and county may have to chip in on upfront costs in order to get a good project in that will pay itself off via tax revenue. HR&A notes that an RFP should be flexible in its options, and be open to zoning variances that might improve a project’s chance of success.

 

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For what it’s worth, Fisher associates also did a conceptual layout for a new DOT facility here.

According to the county, here are the next steps in the process:

  • A financial plan for the redevelopment of the Cayuga Inlet site that reduces the risk for private developers and generates revenue to support the move of the existing NYS DOT facility.
  • An analysis of the project’s impacts on infrastructure and utilities, the natural environment, neighborhood and adjacent properties, and the surrounding road network.
  • An estimate of the land value of as well as the individual components of the plan. The result will be an order of magnitude valuation of the site to better understand the project’s ability to attract private investment, support debt, and support a purchase price and tax revenue stream that could be used to advance the NYS DOT facility’s relocation.
  • A draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit developers to redevelop the site.
  • An estimate of the ongoing direct fiscal benefits to accrue to the City of Ithaca and to Tompkins County, including real property taxes, personal property taxes, school taxes, sales tax, and other applicable taxes and fees.
  • A financial strategy for moving the DOT site with some combination of revenue from sale of the site, direct funding from NY State, and, possibly, a local contribution from anticipated tax revenues.

Expect that last one to be potentially controversial. The state might move slow but could be supportive, but the city will have to explain and hope that a possible initial investment in the DOT’s move to Dryden could pay off over subsequent years. Voters don’t always like long-term plans.





News Tidbits 10/24/15: Breckneck Builds and Market Slowdowns

24 10 2015

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1. College Crossings is dead. But its passing opens up an interesting conversation.

According to Ithaca town planning board minutes uploaded earlier this week, developer Evan Monkemeyer withdrew his proposal after planning board members weren’t comfortable with approving the environmental assessment and mitigation plan for the proposal (technically called a “negative declaration” by the lead agency on the SEQR). While at least one was bothered by the 3-story, 54′ height, many board members had visions of the Form Ithaca charrette for the property, and this didn’t quite jibe with Monkemeyer’s plans for South Hill’s King Road and Route 96B/Danby Road intersection. Minutes for the July and August meetings can be found here.

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Now, I will gladly admit that I was not a fan of this project, and I too wanted something more along the lines of Form Ithaca. I’m surprised, though, that it was enough to derail approvals of the project.

Now, the problem is, the town’s new comprehensive plan embraces form-based codes and “Smart Growth”, but the zoning is auto-centric, outdated, and doesn’t mesh with the plan. If you’re a developer or builder, big or small, and what’s legal and what the town wants are two very separate things…Houston, we have a problem.

At this point, there’s two questions that come to mind – one, given that the town planning board has cancelled most of its meetings lately due to a lack of proposals, is the disconnect between plan and zoning halting projects, and two, when will revised zoning be ready. For guidance and knowledge, I reached out to town of Ithaca assistant planning director Dan Tasman, because he’s pleasant, responsive and a pretty great guy.

As for question one, here’s his quote: “Seriously, I think it’s … complicated.” His thoughts were that there’s no indication whether the recent slowdown were caused by the planning/zoning disconnect, or natural ebb and flow related to lending and planning on the ends of home-builders and developers.

As for question two, the response was summed up as, “a lot of communities face the same issue after they adopt new comp plans. On the positive side, Ithaca’s not growing that fast, and the pace of development is slow. Still, there’s a sense of urgency.”

He’s right about the town not growing that fast. The permit records show that in September, the only new home-building permit was for a duplex at 214 Pennsylvania Avenue on South Hill (the Iacovellis building more student rentals for IC, probably). The previous month online, June, had four single-family homes, filling out lots in previous-approved subdivisions.

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Traditionally, the town of Ithaca has made up a pretty sizable chunk of the new home permits in the county. But if they only issue 30-40 this year (still better than last year’s 14), then it falls on the rest of the communities to try and make up the housing deficit, at least in the short term. Ithaca city’s total, anticipated to be 247 new units to be permitted in 2015, is only about 84 units right now, because John Novarr has yet to start Collegetown Terrace’s Phase III, and Steve Flash’s 323 Taughannock on Inlet Island has yet to start either. To bring down the deficit in a decade, as well as keep up with annual economic growth, the county would need over 600 units per year; it’s not certain if the total will reach even half that in 2015.

On the one hand, the town of Ithaca is trying to be proactive and adopt a new approach to development in quick and good order. On the other hand, it’s not a great situation for trying to make a dent in the housing deficit, with its attendant affordability issues, and there’s the possibility things are going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if there’s a right or a wrong way of going about it, but it’s a stressful setup.

2. On the county level, officials are seeking legislature approval for launching a study into the feasibility of an airport business/industrial park in Lansing. 52 acres of vacant land along Warren and Cherry Roads are being considered for the study, which would include a conceptual site plan of potential buildings and parcels, and an assessment of the needs and characteristics of companies most likely to open in the potential business park. Utilities and green infrastructure will also be looked at in the study. The projected cost is less than $50,000, and being paid for by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA). The feasibility study would be awarded next month, with authorization and approvals on the staff level.

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For what it’s worth, folks living up there are used to business traffic – Borg Warner’s 1,300 person plant is adjacent to the study site. The Warren Road Business Park lies a minute’s drive up the road, and the Cornell Business Park is about a minute’s drive south. The land also has municipal sewer, allowing for large-scale projects. A copy of the RFP states two that the two parcels shown above are the primary analysis area, with secondary areas closer to the airport runway and the resident land to the west separate from the park. They aren’t a part of the proposed business park, but the county asks that they be examined for development potential by the study.

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3. Details, details – the Holiday Inn Express already under construction in big-box land at 371 Elmira Road will be going in front of the city planning board this month for some slight modifications. The developer, Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Cheektowaga, wants to increase the number of rooms from 76 to 79, and add three parking spaces accordingly. Along with that comes the bevy of supporting docs – technical drawings here, landscape plan here, landscape schedule here, and elevation drawings here. Apart from a palette change on the exterior (the red-brown color is “Decorous Amber“, part of the new official Holiday Inn color scheme per the architects’ cover letter), there are no changes to the design, the 3 additional rooms are just an update to the interior configuration of the hotel, one more room on each of floors 2-4. Apart from tastes in color and making sure the three new parking spaces pose no issues, the board won’t have to debate much here, and the hotel is still very likely to open next summer.

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4. In small but notable builds, Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is at it again. The relatively new Ithaca-based rental and development company is planning a triplex (3 units) at 1015 Dryden Road, just east of the hamlet of Varna. According to an email from MLR co-owner Todd Fox, the units, all 2-bedrooms, will start construction in the spring, and it’s a safe wager they’re shooting for an August 2016 completion, just in time for Cornell student renters. Judging from the renders on MLR’s site, each unit will be around 930 SF, so about 2,790 SF total. MLR teamed up once again with local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative for the design.

1015 Dryden is also home to a single-family home built in 1938, and a 4-unit apartment building from about 1980. The apartment building was badly damaged in a fire in 2011, renovated, and the site was sold to MLR for $425,000 in March 2014.

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5. While on the topic of MLR, let’s throw in some eye candy. Along with the plans for 1015 Dryden, additional images for the proposed 87-unit project at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill can be found on their website as well. I’ve included two perspective renderings and an aerial render, but more images can be found here. The 87 units will all be studio apartments. STREAM Collaborative is responsible for this design as well.

A detailed write-up of the project, including the related cell phone tower issue, can be found here.

6. Out in Lansing town, there are two attention-grabbing news pieces from Tuesday’s next planning board meeting. One is a plan for an LP gas / petroleum distribution facility on Town Barn Road (parcel address 3125 N. Triphammer Road). A 30,000 gallon storage tank and gravel drive are planned in the initial phase, with 5 15,000 gallon tanks, a garage/maintenance building, and an office planned in later phases. Now, normally a project like this is not a big deal, but there’s the outside possibility local contingents of the anti-Crestwood, anti-fossil fuel groups will go on the offensive to try and stop it. So the potential for political football is there.

The other detail isn’t up for discussion yet, but the town notes that 15 duplexes (30 units) are being planned by former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney for a site on Peruville Road (the county calls it 428 Scofield Road, but the land has frontage on both roads). The site already houses 4 duplexes built in 2011.

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7. Instead of the the usual “House of the Week”, this week is more of a shout-out/advertisement. For those with cable, The DIY Network will be running a new episode of “Breckneck Builds” tonight at 11 PM (additional showings listed here), highlighting a just-finished home on Dryden’s Hollister Road. Quoting the promo write-up:

“Jordyn is ready to leave her rental behind and buy her first home, but what is most important to Jordyn is that her new home is eco friendly, so she is turning to the modular world to build a big house with a small carbon footprint.”

The modular home assembly was the work of local builder Carina Construction, who also tackled the modular units at the Belle Sherman Cottages site. Local builder, local resident, local project, so set your DVRs or TiVo.

8. Last but not least, here’s your Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. Nothing new at this month’s meeting, but here’s the run-down:

A. Review of changes and revised approval for the Holiday Inn Express (see above)

B. Declaration of environmental significance and BZA reccomendations for 215-221 West Spencer Street– Pocket Neighborhood, 12 units w/ 26 bedrooms, Ed Cope/PPM Homes is the developer, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

C. Environmental Review Discussion for the bar/lounge proposed for the renovation of 416 E. State – cover letter here, description here, letters of opposition in the agenda.

D. Public hearing and re-approval, Hotel Ithaca renovations, 222 S. Cayuga – Site Plan Review drawings here, renders here and here. Not sure there’s enough of a difference from the first time around, but at least the cross-catching on the exterior is gone.

E. Herson/Wagner Funeral Home renovation, 327 Elmira – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing – I wrote about that in the Voice here. Fun fact, the original proposed title was “Funeral home hopes to being new life to Elmira Road property”. It was rejected.





Carey Building Construction Update, 10/2015

22 10 2015

It looks like the Carey Building overbuild has topped out. Corrugated metal decking now covers all five floors of the addition. Interior metal stud walls have been roughed-in on the third through fifth floors, and some fiberglass-mat gypsum sheathing is even starting to show up on the exterior metal stud walls of the third floor. Look closely and you can see the window openings.

Looking at the Rev Business Incubator’s photo from the 19th, plastic sheeting now covers the front of the addition, and a little more progress has been made on those stud walls. Like the Lofts project, they project may end up looking like it’s trapped in a plastic bubble as the cool air gets frostier, and the need to keep those chilly winds at bay becomes more urgent. They also help in water proofing.

From October 11th:

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From Rev, October 19th:

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Ithaca Marriott Construction Update, 10/2015

21 10 2015

Over at the site of the new downtown Ithaca Marriott, the foundation has been dug and set, and the project is now about level with North Aurora Street. The rebar (reinforcing steel bars) that sticks out of the concrete footings will be used to tie-in the hotel’s walls as they’re constructed. Wooden forms are in place to provide rigidity and shape while newly-poured concrete hardens, and they give support to the rebar rods embedded in the concrete. The forms will move further upward as more concrete is poured and cured. On the side closer to the commons, caisson tubes, massive open pipes, encase the rebar up to 30 feet below ground level. These will transfer the heavy load of the upper floors down to the bedrock below, providing structural stability for the future 10-story hotel. Some of the materials have been supplied by UFP Concrete Forming Systems.

The foundation walls vary in thickness depending on the weight they’re designed to hold. The newly-poured section next to the Green Street garage will hold the elevator shaft, stairwell and space for utilities.

Contractor William H. Lane of Binghamton has a crane on site, and steel erection above the foundation walls will start fairly soon from the looks of it. The 159-room hotel should open next summer if all stays to schedule.

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From August 29th:

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804 East State Street Construction Update, 10/2015

20 10 2015

A new, small project to add to the list of projects underway, 804 East State has started construction on the fringe of Collegetown. The owners of the site, the Nestopoulos family of Ithaca, are building two modular duplexes, 4 units total, with 3 bedrooms each (12 total).

The foundations have been dug for both duplexes, and form boards have been placed in the footprints of the west building. The concrete foundation gets poured into the form boards, and the boards help the concrete hold its shape while it cures. Looking closely, you can see a few steps in the wood forms, since the site is sloped, the concrete foundation will be stepped. The small wood sticks on top of the forms are spreaders, to provide extra stiffness.

Once the forms are squared and levelled, the concrete will be poured in, levelled off and smoothed over. After a day or so, the forms can be removed, leaving the newly-finished foundation. Once the foundation is ready, the builders can begin erecting the concrete masonry unit (CMU) walls, the hollow concrete blocks seen in the photos. The modular pieces will then be brought in, hoisted into place and sealed together, not unlike the process at the Belle Sherman Cottages.

The plan is to have these completed by December 2015, with new occupants (likely students) moving in the following month. The project replaces a gravel parking lot. In an effort to appease neighbor opposition about the homes simple (and perhaps bland) design, the number of houses was reduced from three to two, they were oriented to minimize visual impact, parking was moved from below the units to surface lots, and extensive landscaping with an “outdoor room” is planned.

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205 Dryden Road (Dryden South) Construction Update, 10/2015

19 10 2015

Turning the corner from 307 College, 205 Dryden (“Dryden South” for marketing purposes) is the third of Collegetown’s midrise apartment buildings under construction. The basement has been excavated and sheet metal piles keep the surrounding soil from spilling back in. The basement will contain the mechanical room and storage space. Structural steel has been erected up to street level. In the second image, the outlines of future interior basement walls and the base of the future elevator shaft can be seen.

In what’s sure to stoke a few tempers, prices for Dryden South have been priced at $1350/bedroom per month, meaning $5400/month for each 4-bedroom unit. Incredibly expensive, but not especially surprising given the astronomically high land values in central Collegetown. Owner Pat Kraft, who also runs Kraftee’s book store, has actively marketed the apartments on Facebook, Craigslist and its own website.

When completed in July/August 2016, the 6-story, 65-foot structure will house Kraftee’s in 2,400 SF of retail space on its ground floor, and 2 4-bedroom apartments on each of the upper five floors, for a total of 10 units and 40 bedrooms.

As you can tell from the first photo, apart from the demolition earlier this summer, work has yet to begin on John Novarr’s Collegetown Dryden project next door. But with approvals in hand, that six-story research/office building will be starting something in the next month, if the site plan review document is still accurate. The $6.4 million project was designed by Ithaca architect Jagat Sharma and Rochester-based LeChase Contruction is in charge of the build-out.

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