News Tidbits 10/1/16: Sketchy Details

1 10 2016

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1. Over in Lansing, it looks like Park Grove Realty is having a rough time getting their plans rolling. Legions of angry homeowners turned out at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a requested zoning change for a 20-acre Bomax Drive property that Park Grove seeks to build 140 apartments upon. The meeting wasn’t about the project, which will follow the zoning change once approved. For the record, the meeting was only about the zoning change, which is currently zoned for office park business/technology and has been owned by Cornell since 2008.

The unusual thing is that the primary opponent seems to be the Jonson family, of development company IthacaHome, formerly known as Forest City Realty. They built some of Lansing’s 1990s subdivisions and the Heights of Lansing project at the end of Bomax Drive, which is stalled out due to a lack of interest and Ivar Jonson’s passing. The claim from Janet Jonson is that if left commercial office/tech, then maybe an office building would be built and executives would build homes on some of their vacant lots. Even Larry Fabbroni was there to say an office building would generate less traffic than housing would. The meeting was very heated, according to the Lansing Star’s Dan Veaner.

The village planning board was there to listen, but not especially sympathetic. For one, there’s plenty of undeveloped commercially-zoned land; but there is a housing shortage. For two, although some complained “transients” would lower their housing values, these units will be going for $1,400-$1,900/month. The board’s not focused on the project just yet, that will come in due course. Meanwhile, the trustees moved to schedule public review for the zoning change, with that meeting planned for October 17th.

A couple miles away, Park Grove has also been getting flack for taking down willow trees as part of a plan to reduce root damage and mold issues, and to expand parking and add a 425 SF rental office on the Triphammer Apartments (former Chateau Claire) property. The heavy-handed approach was not well received. In short, Park Grove’s principals are the village pariahs at the moment, though they have brought some of it on themselves.

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2. Just a brief check-up on the Maplewood Park redevelopment. The project team has been busy over the past month making revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of its determination of adequacy, and the DEIS was just accepted for public review as of the town of Ithaca planning board meeting on the 20th.

A digital copy of the revised DEIS can be found on the town’s website here. A public hearing will also take place on October 18th. The SEQR review period is 45 days from acceptance, so public comment will be accepted on the document up to 4 PM on Halloween.

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3. As part of their campus housing study, Cornell launched an extensive survey of their students. A summary and a link to the full results can be found on their webpage here. The university also held public forums this past week on campus to hear opinions from the community and explain what happens next (what needs work, how much campus housing is needed, where on campus, what student segments, strategies for the next 25 years, and so on).

Among the grad and professional (MBA/JD/MPH/etc) students, more anticipated living on campus when they arrived, than actually did – 32% vs. 18% of respondents. On average, G/P students felt they should pay about 7% less than they do. They want Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, on-site laundry and package/mail delivery. Outside, they want wider sidewalks and more frequent bus stops/service, and parking fees should be bundled in rent if parking is offered.

Those off campus preferred Downtown (26%) and Collegetown (24%). Grads and domestic students preferred Downtown, professional and international students preferred Collegetown. Grad students tended to be more satisfied with their housing than undergrads.

Similarly, more undergrad respondents want(ed) to live on campus – 56% do or have, 78% want/wanted to. That stat’s a little weird, since freshmen are required to live on campus. Only about 45% describe an apartment as ideal housing, vs 88% for grad/prof students. They also want Wi-Fi and laundry, as well as study areas and dining nearby. 49% selected Collegetown as their preferred housing choice, with another 36% preferring an on-campus location if available.

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At the public forums, the university presented a few potential building sites for new campus housing. The goal was to have sites away from full-time residential areas (less hassle), easy to prepare (less physical hassle), accommodate 300-500 students (scale efficiencies) and be near existing facilities (quality of life and infrastructure). Three north campus locations were presented – CC parking lot, the side lot at RPCC, and the fields next to Appel Commons. The RPCC and CC locations show up on the 2008 Master Plan as well, 3-6 floors and up to 200,000 SF of space. So it seems those two locations have a more sustained interest. The city of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights have a boundary line that straddles those sites, a latitudinal line just south of Jessup Road. If something were proposed, most of the land is in the city, but the village would have to vote to defer decision-making to the city. That is a potential complication that Cornell has to keep in mind.

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4. The Evergreen Townhouses project in Dryden will be the subject of a special meeting of the town planning board on Wednesday October 5th at 7 PM at the Varna Community Center. The full suite of documents, including county review, planning board notes for the town board (recall that in Dryden, the town board votes to approve projects instead of the planning board), sewer capacity report and concept plan description can be found here. SEQR has been reviewed and a traffic study has been completed. The project will need a PUD approval, since 36 units exceeds what the zoning allows (28). If the PUD is approved, land will be deeded to the town for its recreational rail trail. Like the Park Grove project in Lansing, this rental proposal has seen a fair amount of opposition, due to traffic and concerns about renters, and the possibility of encouraging suburban sprawl east of Varna. Oddly enough, for being this far along in the process, there still haven’t been any detailed renders of the townhouses released to the public.

5. Here are a few details about the 607 South Aurora project. Readers might recall the sketch plan was presented at the August Planning Board meeting.

As I discovered this week, sketch plans are actually off the record. Meaning that a developer doesn’t have to give it to the city for publication if they don’t want to. Apparently, John Novarr is going this route – although images for his townhouse project on the 100 Block of College Avenue were presented last week, the city has no official record of them, and he said he has no intent to share plans until he’s ready for the city to declare itself lead agency. For what it’s worth, the project, geared towards Cornell faculty and staff, was well received by the Planning Board.

On the one hand, not sharing the sketch plan limits public exposure and the risk brought by exposure, and it allows the board to eliminate the most controversial aspects before the public can see them. On the other hand, it’s less transparent, and makes me an unhappy camper.

Back to the topic at hand, 607 South Aurora as initially conceived calls for 4, 2-family, 2-story houses on the property, while retaining the existing house. That’s a total of 8 units, and 24 bedrooms total. Parking would be in two sections tucked back from the street. The project is not unlike the one approved for 312-314 Old Elmira Road in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. Although STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest presented the project at the August meeting, STREAM is not in charge of this proposal. The project is being designed by Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma for local developer Charlie O’Connor.

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Charlie O’Connor is a part of Modern Living Rentals, and regardless of how one might actually feel about their work, it is probably the most transparent development/rental company in the local market. True to form, a quick check of their website turned up images of 607 S. Aurora. It looks like the same general design will be used for each building, and each unit will be 3 bedrooms and about 1,122 feet. I hope they change up the exterior colors for variety’s sake. The board and planning department was fine with the buildings, but suggested revisions to the site plan, so the next iteration will likely have a different site layout.

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6. Sorry, didn’t realize the lens was smudged. This very subtle duplex is underway in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, behind an existing duplex at 512-14 West Green Street. Because it fits in all the setbacks (it’s a very large, deep lot for an inner city parcel) and the rear of the property falls into the State Street Corridor’s CBD-60 zoning (i.e. no parking required), this project never needed more than staff-level approval from the city. Honestly, were it not for a small disturbed area at the curb-cut from construction vehicles moving in and out, one would never know this duplex was under construction.

The property is owned by the Ciaschi family, and appears to have been passed between family members since at least the 1960s. A building loan filed on June 17th indicates that Tompkins Trust lent $330,000 towards the project. As with many smaller builds, this a modular by Ithaca’s Carina Construction. Carina is supplied by Simplex Homes, and it looks like this 3-bedroom/2-unit is based off Simplex’s “Elkton IV” plan (but that could be wrong). Give how far along the outside is, it would not be a surprise if renters move in by the start of October.

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7. The near-death Black Oak Wind Farm could actually happen, if they pay Enfield the money they want for FOIL costs. Using the original EIS, they’ve reverted to the initial plan, including use of the landowners’ properties who tried to pull out in the face of the project’s rancorous opposition. The BOWF project team had been attempting to move two of the turbines to accommodate property owners who changed their mind about being associated with the project, but the Supplemental EIS had been caught in legal red tape with the town of Enfield and the town of Newfield to its south, where one of the alternative sites was planned. So the new plan is to just go forward with the original signed contracts and build what was proposed before the 2015 SEIS. The project team has requested final approval, but the town has said they want to be paid $19,000 for the cost of handling all the FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) requests, of which they’re not sure who’s actually required to cover the cost.

This project and its manager, Marguerite Wells, have probably been put through a greater Hell than any other proposal in this county, which is really, really saying something. Let’s recall, apart from the opposition that has demonized the project manager and the investors (successfully, one could unfortunately argue), that when they considered the alternative site, Newfield’s town board rewrote their wind farm law to implicitly but effectively ban wind turbines from the town. The BOWF project has been incubating for nine or ten years.

According to Marguerite Wells, if they can’t get approval at the Enfield town board’s October 12th meeting, the wind farm proposal dies. And with it, pretty much any commercial wind turbine plans for Tompkins County (looking at Newfield, maybe single-family turbine plans as well – the way the 2016 revision is written, a homeowner can’t even hook up a little one to their roof, as it’s too close to an occupied structure).

8. Here’s a little kick in the pants to end the week. It was reported in Bloomberg of the five Ivies that have released results so far, Cornell’s endowment did the worst in the past year, with a -3.3% loss (which comes out to a drop of about $200 million). The university is taking reactive measures, including moving its investment offices to New York City. “The investment committee believes over the long term the relocation to New York City gives us even better access to potential staff who might not be willing to move to Ithaca,” said Cornell CFO Joanne DeStefano. That’s a bit deflating.

 


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