607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 5/2017

2 06 2017

Projects are a bit like politicians in that the higher profile or most controversial ones get the vast majority of attention. 607 South Aurora Street fills neither of those specifications, and as a result, relatively few people are even aware of it.

The South Hill infill apartment project is located on an unusually large 0.73 acre lot. The property consists of an existing 5-bedroom, 2,300 SF home dating from about 1910, and had been in the possession of the Cassaniti family since at least the 1960s, legally split among the six Cassiniti brothers. If you’ve visited the hot dog and soda vendor on the Commons, you’ve met one of the Cassanitis.

Enter Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals (MLR). MLR is a young and ambitious rental company based out of Ithaca, a partnership primarily led by O’Connor and business partner Todd Fox. However, each has had their own ideas on how best to approach development – while Fox likes to think big and aim for high-profile projects, O’Connor is much more low-key and incremental in his approach. The two differ enough that they developer under different entities – Fox under his firm, Visum Development, and O’Connor as MLR. However, regardless of who develops, all their rental units are managed by MLR.

So while Fox is dreaming big with projects such as 201 College Avenue and 232-236 Dryden Road, and potentially sets off heated debates, O’Connor prefers to avoid controversy and take on less risk. His first project, with behind-the-scenes business partner Bryan Warren, was a pair of two-family houses at 312 West Spencer Road about half a mile southwest of 607. A bit of an unusual location, but close enough to urban destinations and Ithaca College that it was potentially viable, and after getting approvals last year, the project moved forward and is at least partially if not fully rented. Two existing houses that shared the original lot are being renovated as part of the project.

With those basically finished, O’Connor and Warren have moved onto MLR’s next project, 607 South Aurora. First proposed in August 2016, the location near downtown and IC makes it an easy sell, and in an area of 1.5-2.5 story owner-occupied and rental homes, four more two-family homes aren’t going to cause a big debate. In fact, in a city that loves giving its input, there were only ever a couple of neighbor comments about the project, and they were generally amenable – ‘better these than a large apartment building’ was the gist of it.

There were a few stipulations and revisions that were required, however. The original plan called for two homes near the street and two in the back of the L-shaped lot, with the renovated existing house in the middle. This was especially well received for aesthetic reasons (the city is still quite sore about the poorly-sited house MLR did two years before on the lot next door), so the site plan was redesigned to have three buildings on the interior side of the “L”, and one on the street to better match the curbside context. An internal driveway and clustered parking were added to help traffic and emergency vehicle circulation.

The building themselves didn’t change much – like 125 and 129 Elmira, they’re modular units on Superior Wall foundations. The unit facing Aurora has fiber cement siding and nicer details like a full lattice porch with railings, columns and brackets on the porch and roof. The rear units have small entry porches and use vinyl lap and shake siding.

With those details noted, the project was approved in November, and through an LLC, O’Connor and Warren bought 607 South Aurora, valued at $220,000 by the county, for $452,776 back in March (rule of thumb – if development is planned, expect a hefty premium).

Each of the eight new rental units will be three bedrooms and about 1,128 SF. The existing house will also be renovated and expanded slightly, raising the rear roof-line to add interior space. Expect occupancy by the start of the new academic semester in August. The apartments are being marketed at $2250/month, which works out to $750/bedroom.

According to county docs, the construction loan from Tioga State Bank was for $1.92 million and filed the day the house was sold. That figure is a combo of hard (materials, labor) and soft costs (acquisition, marketing, legal); by itself, the hard cost for the new construction and the renovation looks to be about $1.04 million.  Rochester’s Taylor the Builders, who will be doing Harold’s Square at some point, is the project’s general contractor.

Looking at the site last month, a new roof is underway, and you can clearly see where the roof was raised in the roof by looking at the trim boards; the new section is housewrapped, and presumably the whole house will receive a new exterior finish at a later date. The windows in the rear are just rough openings for now, new windows will come along shortly. The soil has been excavated for the slab foundation of Building “A”, but due to the angle and slope of the site from the roads, it’s hard to tell how much of the site prep for “B”, “C” and “D” has been completed in the rear, apart from some disturbed soil.


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