News Tidbits 7/2/16: Not the (City Centre) of Attention

2 07 2016

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1. Let’s start this off with the big news of the week – the proposal for 201 College Avenue was approved by the Planning Board. The debate was spirited, to put it most politely; catty, to use the official write-up in the Voice; and in the follow-up phone call I had with my editor, who attended the meeting with a Voice summer intern, she described it by saying “both sides were pretty awful”. I am sympathetic to Neil’s predicament, although I think it’s also a fairly unique case; I hope some sort of arrangement with the solar panels is worked out.

The observations regarding age and view of the project is actually pretty similar to a conversation the Journal’s Nick Reynolds and I had on Twitter about the City Centre project – older Ithacans often have starkly different views on density and urban development than younger residents, who tend to be more pro-density and pro-urban infill/growth. The young aren’t naive and more so than the old are obsolete; but they are products of different times. Today’s older Ithacans are the same ones who were frowned upon by the old Ithacans of their youth (the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation), who were much more politically conservative and made up the large majority of the city’s Republicans from when Ithaca was once a contested city, and the Boomers were moving in and tilting it leftward. A sociologist could probably make a good research paper studying Ithaca’s generational views of urban environments.

Anyway, construction on this project is supposed to start in short order; funding has already been secured, and Binghamton-based W. H. Lane Inc. will be the general contractor for the $6 million project.

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2. Meanwhile, City Centre’s sketch plan was also reviewed at the Planning Board meeting. The initial reaction seems muted, gauging from Nick Reynolds’ Twitter and the lack of comment from my Voice colleagues.

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According to the sketch plan submission, the vast majority of units (240 of the 255) will be studios (120) ranging from 457-563 SF, and one-bedrooms (120) ranging from 580-754 SF. The other 15 will be two-bedroom units, eight 914 SF units and seven 1,370 SF units. All units are market-rate, with target demographics including young professionals and downsizing empty nesters. Students are allowed, though the units won’t be marketed to them. Ground floor retail will be 10,700 SF at the corner of State and Aurora. 7,220 SF fronting State Street will be “Leasing/Club Space” for building and tenant functions. The 71-space parking garage will be accessed via East Green Street, car share membership will be included in the rent, and there will be indoor bike racks.

With the mild initial reaction noted, we’ll see how the project details shape up as the summer progresses, and the board potentially launches formal project review (Declaration of Lead Agency) as soon as late July.


3. Hitting the market this week is a potential opportunity for the deep-pocketed investor/developer. The property is 2248 North Triphammer Road in the village of Lansing. The sale consists of two parcels totaling 3.42 acres – a 1.53 acre parcel with a 2,728 SF M&T Bank branch built in 1992 and holding a long-term triple-net (NNN) lease; the other, an undeveloped 1.89 acre parcel to the rear that the listing notes could be developed out into 13 housing units. The price for the pair is $2,125,000.

A triple-net lease means the tenant pays everything – insurance, maintenance and real estate taxes (formally, net insurance, net maitenance and net real estate taxes on the leased asset – the three nets).  Because of this, the rent is substantially lower than it otherwise might be. There are certain cases where a landowner might want to do triple-net – like when they’re a tax-exempt entity leasing out to a for-profit company. A quick check of the records shows the properties are owned by Cornell, and were acquired in 1953 and 1960. What the property has been to Cornell is a fairly safe investment (though with a lot of fine print to determine who pays for things like if a tornado hits or the foundation cracks), generating a modest amount of rent and functioning like an inflation-protected bond, but guaranteed by the lessee rather than the government. All the better when the tenant is stable and signed on for the long-term, as is the case here.

The county has the bank parcel assessed at $635,000, the undeveloped parcel at $140,000.  Lansing village zoning has Commercial High Traffic for the bank property, and High Density Residential for the vacant parcel. HDR zoning requires 6,000 SF of land per dwelling unit in a 35′ tall multi-unit building, and 1.89 acres = 82,215 SF, so that’s where the 13 units comes from. For comparison’s sake, single family is 12,000 SF, and duplexes 15,000 SF (or, doing the math, one could in theory carve out six home lots, or 5 duplex lots for 10 units, though with lot setbacks, the property’s triangular shape probably lowers those figures).

4. On the other end of the sales process, the former Maine’s supermarket has been sold. The six year-old, 26,146 SF building at 100 Commercial Avenue in the city of Ithaca was purchased for $4,150,000 on Thursday the 30th, by Illinois-based Agracel Inc., well above its $3.1 million assessment. Agracel is an industrial space and warehouse developer, fitting for a property once described as a “food and party warehouse”. The former Maine’s appears to be a little on the small side compared to the rest of their portfolio, but there is the possibility of expansion, or even a teardown and rebuild if they really felt the need.

Readers may recall that Maine’s closed its Ithaca store in February, which along with a closing in suburban Rochester reduced its stores from six to four.

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5. Work on the new Storage Squad facility has begun on the 1400 Block of Dryden Road east of Varna. Right now, the focus is on site clearing; the house was used by local fire departments for training exercises, and will come down in a controlled burn later this summer. The 79,000 SF storage facility should be ready for use by February 2017. One full time and a few part-time jobs will be created.

And for the record, I think that’s my middle finger.

6. So this is curious. The city recently uploaded a couple of older documents detailing development plans off of Floral Avenue on the southern tip of Ithaca’s West Hill neighborhood.

The first dates from Febraury 1992, and is a filing to create a 27-lot cluster subdivision on 4.15 acres at 452 Floral Avenue. The paperwork indicates that the intent was affordable housing, by a company named House Craft Builders. The city’s then-Planning Director, H. Matthys Van Cort, wrote a recommendation for negative declaration of environmental significance, and the project was approved in June 1992, but it never moved forward, and 452 remains vacant land today. It appears House Craft was dissolved in 2012; the officer was an architect for Ecovillage who has since retired and moved out of state.

The second is a subdivision requested by INHS in 1987. The filing requested 236 Floral Road be split into two parcels, with the intent of renovating a decrepit 236 into a for-sale affordable single-family home, and build a new house on 224. This was approved, and eventually, 236 was renovated and transferred to its owner in 1996, and 224 was built in 1994.

Now, as interesting as this all is, the city doesn’t upload decades-old subdivision files just to amuse nerds. The $64,000 question is, why were they uploaded now?


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23 07 2016
News Tidbits 7/23/16: Movers, Makers, Shakers, and Breakers | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] for sale. The Big Red seems to be trying to rid itself of excess properties in the past few weeks, having recently listed partially-developed land it has off Triphammer as well. The 37,422 SF Cornell U. Press facility at 750 Cascadilla Street was acquired by the university in […]

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