902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 12/2016

19 12 2016

Varna has long been touted as one of those places where development is likely to happen. The hamlet, which has under 1,000 people, sits close to Cornell in the town of Dryden – land is cheaper than most parts of the city, but the area is served by the bus line, which opens it up to Cornell’s deep-pocketed student market. However, Varna can be a tough nut to crack – this far out, the demand is mostly driven by more cost-conscious grad students rather than free-spending undergrads, and the going price for a rental is lower. With a less captive market and less lucrative rents, Varna becomes a trickier prospect.

Plus, although the town itself is fairly accommodating, some members of the local neighborhood group, the Varna Community Association, have a disposition against rentals, preferring that any development that comes along be owner-occupied. Owner-occupied is possible as Tiny Timbers hopes to demonstrate, but it is more difficult to finance since a developer can’t guarantee income the same way they could with rentals.

Since the 1980s, one can find at least six projects proposed in Varna that never came to fruition – the latest and grandest being a massive 260-unit proposal by the Lucente family, which the town turned away from further consideration after concerns about quality of life, and significant pushback from members of the VCA. Concurrently, the town was looking at updating the hamlet’s zoning, and the issues with the Lucente plan helped formulate the new Varna comprehensive plan adopted in 2012, and revised zoning not long thereafter. The zoning identified areas for density and dvelopment (ideally, a walkable core), and preserving more rural lands beyond the main drag.

902 Dryden Road, first proposed in June 2015, was the first project to come along after those planning and zoning updates. It was somewhat unexpected by some residents, because a redevelopment of this property was not envisioned in the town’s 2012 plan (which shows that plans are guidelines, not prescriptions). Initially, it was a 15-unit, 42-bed proposal, rentals aimed towards grad students and Cornell staff. Two of the units, totaling six bedrooms, already exist. Modern Living Rentals, a partnership of local developers Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox, purchased the property in June 2014 for $215,000. At the time, the units were going to be entirely solar-powered, aiming for net-zero energy (what is produced on-site is equal to or greater than what it consumed).

At this point in time, Fox and O’Connor had done some duplexes and the 6-unit apartment building at 707 East Seneca in the city, but 902 was going to their first “large” project. But, they hadn’t counted on strong opposition, not just from neighbors but from Cornell Plantations (now Cornell Botanical Gardens), who had concerns about the floodplain at the rear of the parcel, where it borders Fall Creek. The town was hesitant to move forward with approval unless there were revisions.

As time wore on and meetings were held with the town and VCA, the project was reduced in scale; the lot size used to determine maximum unit density was calculated incorrectly the first time and two units were removed, and then the project was scaled back further to reduce impacts on the floodplain, moving the gravel parking lot so that it wouldn’t infringe on the plain – the final count came out to 10 units and 32 bedrooms, or 8 units and 26 bedrooms if counting just the new structures. The solar panels had been on the flood plain as well, but were eliminated because they were no longer financially doable at 8 units; it was stated that the infrastructure would be built to support net-zero energy down the line, if power was purchased from off-site. The reduced-size project was acceptable to the town and to Cornell, and 902 Dryden was approved in March 2016.

Along with the existing duplex, two new units will be built opposite a shared wall. Two three-unit clusters will also be built on the east side of the parcel. The middle units of the three-unit clusters will have four bedrooms with 1606 SF of living space; all the rest will be three-bedroom units, and about 1500 SF each. STREAM Collaborative is the project architect.

There are two separate groups of drawings floating around for the buildings, and I am not sure which is correct. The render below, from shortly after approval, shows warm colors. Renders on MLR’s website show what looks like blue, brown and white fiber cement panels. The unit rents range from $1500-$2000/month for the three-bedrooms, and $2600/month for the four-bedrooms. The project cost was estimated at about $1.5 million in early Site Plan Review docs.

It’s a bit of tricky site for photos- the site borders the intersection of 366 and Forest Home Drive, leaving a pull-off in front of the mobile home park, or at the spit of land where the roads split. But it looks like site clearing and foundation excavation are ongoing. If anyone knows who the contractor is, drop me a line in the comments.


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22 02 2017
902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 2/2017 | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] All units have August 1st as the move-in date. STREAM Collaborative is the architect, Bella Faccia Construction is the general contractor, and Emery Construction of McGraw is doing the framing. More information on the project can be found here. […]

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