Village Solars Construction Update, 6/2017

17 06 2017

It’s not often that I run into someone who’s aware of this blog, let alone while taking site photos. When I arrived at the Village Solars property off of Warren Road in Lansing, I was immediately surprised to see they were taking down one of the older 1970s 10-unit properties, 102 Village Place. A salvage job this is not; the excavator was actively tearing through the brick veneer and wood window frames, leaving them in a pile as it slowly worked its way through the building. A gentlemen with a hose was spraying the fresh debris down to keep airborne dust to a minimum. To be honest, even if the building has little historic value, there’s always a bit of a bittersweet feeling to see a place that hundreds called home fall to the march of progress.

And the march of progress it is. As readers of the Voice may be aware, the plan for the Village Solars has been changed up. The next few phases will remove the 1960s-1970s 8-unit and 10-unit (all 1-bedroom) buildings and build new Village Solars buildings on their foundations. The net gain in units will be 70, bringing the number built and to be built from 502 to 572, and a gain in bedrooms of about 124.

It’s a bit complicated of a breakdown – four of the new building planned – 24-unit “K”, 24-unit “L”, and 18-unit “M” – were originally to be the next phase. When all that was said and done, Building “F”, which will host retail components, a community center and 20 studio units, was to be built. Those are being pushed off in favor of the replacement units. For example, 102 Village Place, coming down in the photos below, will be replaced with a 24-unit building that will also be called 102 Village Place. It’s five peers closest to the Village Solars will also be coming down for the construction of 18 or 24 unit apartment buildings on their footprints. There will be five phases, and it looks like two older buildings will come down and have replacements built each year for the next three years, with the last two being the all-new K/L/M and F. The designs for the six new buildings will be similar to the existing Village Solars.

So while taking photos, I happened to see a gentleman in a wide-brimmed hat and loafers, drinking a couple beers. I intended to not make waves and to just walk past when he broke the ice by saying “I’m surprised there aren’t more neighbors out watching. You don’t see something like this everyday.” I ended up making my acquaintance with Jon Lucente, the son of Rocco Sr., brother of Steve and uncle to Rocco Jr. – so, not as directly involved as the others, but still aware and knowledgeable. Turns out he lives in the Village Solars.

One of our conversation topics swirled around the hassles of regulation – a little talk on the Briarwood mess ten years ago, a little bit about Varna, and a lot about the Village Solars. To be frank, he had nothing but great things to say about Lansing town government. But he complained some of the building code regulations created headaches for his family and their in-house contracting team. For example, the buildings had be earthquake-proof, and the expensive sprinkler systems over the balconies are only legal until 2022 but they were the only type approved for use. Interestingly, they originally wanted to do four floors but building codes say an elevator is required for 4 or more floors (this tripped up Ecovillage as well as few years back). Jon brought this all back to the cost being passed on to tenants.

On my end, it was mostly just polite acknowledgement. I understand his point, but details like the elevator rule are in the building code for safety reasons. The thing is, building codes are an imprecise science – they may be too stringent in some circumstances, but lacking in others, so as a result they’re constantly re-evaluated. Given an event like the London Grenfell Tower fire disaster, where the Reynobond aluminum panels were stuffed with polyiso insulation, which is a risk because it can produce toxic fumes if it burns, there’s always good reason to take a hard look at the codes and reassess. For the record, polyiso is a common insulation material, although in the local cases I’m aware of, it goes on over the fireproofing and under the cladding, meaning it would be very difficult to set it on fire, and the Grenfell case implies the panels may have created a tunnel effect for heat and flame. The specific cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower is banned for use on buildings taller than 40 feet in the U.S.  

Anyway, I still enjoyed an opportunity to chat with one of the Lucentes. Building “I” is occupied and Building “J” will be open for occupancy at the start of July – just a little exterior trim left to do on the outside. The photos below have a close-up of the fiber cement board used on the Village Solars, which apropos to this post, doesn’t burn because it’s basically sand and concrete mixed with wood pulp. Won’t make the same claim about those wood-grain trim boards though.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 6/2017

16 06 2017

The funny thing about this project is, I already did the synopsis back in February 2016, the first time that it seemed to be under construction.

At the time, the construction seemed ready to move forward, but then, well…it didn’t. Former 400-404 Stewart Avenue owner Sebastian Mascaro sold the property and plans over to neighbor Jim Goldman, who intended to carry them forward. However, citing unfavorable cost estimates, Goldman decided to wait, and only recently has the project obtained favorable terms that would allow it to proceed.

The plans are still the same, although the project manager has changed. CSP Management (Jerry Dietz) will still manage the apartment rentals, but the commercial component is under the control of Pyramid Brokerage, Syracuse-based Hayner Hoyt will be the general contractor, and the construction manager representing Goldman is not with Hayner Hoyt and does not appear to be from the Ithaca area.

As a frank aside, it has been a rare degree of frustration to dig up information about this project. Goldman, for whatever reason, is incredibly publicity-averse, and everyone involved with the Chapter House has been asked or told to not talk about it. The little bit of information the Voice and 14850 have been able to get has come from CSP Management, which in itself comes with lots of cautions and uncertain language. The one occasion I spoke with Goldman, he told me he knew nothing and no longer owned the site, which if true, isn’t in the county’s records.

Here’s what is known. 406 Stewart Avenue will be 4 units, 7 bedrooms, replacing a similar-looking 1898 structure destroyed by fire in April 2015. 400-404 Stewart Avenue is about 9,000 SF with first floor retail with two floors of apartments – the number of bedrooms and units is not clear, as the number has been in flux. Note that calling it “the Chapter House project” is inaccurate – John Hoey, who owns the right to the Chapter House name, has not committed to reopening on the site, and the first-floor is being offered at a rather hefty $35/SF. For comparison’s sake, most downtown rates I’ve seen come in at about half that, although Pyramid is playing up its proximity to Cornell and the inner Collegetown market. A potential interior layout for a bar is included in the marketing material.

The current plan is to have 400-404 Stewart open by the end of the year, and 406 Stewart by Summer 2018. Jason K. Demarest is the architect for both buildings.

The first photo below is from my colleague Mike Blaney on May 23rd, as environmental remediation company ERSI was finishing clean-up of the fire-damaged site. In the following photos from this past weekend, the property has been leveled and graded, and a foundation is being excavated. The steel H-beams will be used as support for a retaining wall to shore up the soil, protecting the foundation and providing stability as the concrete is poured and cured.





Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 6/2017

15 06 2017

One of the biggest complaints about Collegetown is the lack of public gathering spaces – there’s no real park or public plaza that can be utilized for gatherings and events. The gorges aren’t all that accessible and aren’t suitable for large groups, and places like CTB and St. Luke’s provide for small private gatherings and community events, but the lack of a sizable public social space poses a challenge to the neighborhood’s ability to provide for its residents.

As Collegetown’s raison d’etre, Cornell is stepping up to the plate to offer a space with the renovation of Schwartz Plaza. It’s not truly a public space as something owned by the city or county, but Cornell’s large, multi-faceted presence offers a reasonable facsimile.

Part of the purpose for building the Schwartz Performing Arts Center in Collegetown was to draw in people from outside the neighborhood, and mix the non-students with the students. When the building first opened in 1989, the plaza was intended as an outdoor reception area for Schwartz patrons, and the original design by English architect James Stirling, which called for a lively “forecourt”, was never built out. Instead, the plaza was walled off from the street and there was little exposure or interaction with College Avenue. As a result, outside of performances, Schwartz Plaza tends to be barren, its only social function comes from being close to a bus stop.

The stated goals for Schwartz Plaza’s renovation are to improve pedestrian circulation, increase safety by providing for better visibility, and to enhance aesthetics. To do this, Cornell will remove the 4-foot tall concrete wall that separates the plaza from the sidewalk, create a series of short stairs to facilitate “permeability” of pedestrians to and from the plaza, and adding new seating and landscaping to make the plaza more inviting – stone walls and pavers, wood-on-granite benches, recessed LED lighting, new bike racks and planters. It’s not really a new structure or even a change of use, but to make the plaza more effective for its intended use.

To quote the marketing pitch: “This project is expected to yield a lively new gathering space that serves as a catalyst for an enhanced pedestrian boulevard along College Avenue, the primary pedestrian gateway to the university. This project is conceived as a key node within a larger, future Collegetown public realm enhancement area.”

Being a fairly minor project, and having hosted some community meetings last fall to determine the neighborhood’s design preferences, this plan sailed through the city’s planning board review, in and out from February through March. I can’t seem to locate the SPR offhand, but the total cost is about $600,000.

As projects go, this one should be relatively short at about four months, May-August 2017. TWMLA is responsible for the plaza design, T. G. Miller for civil engineering work, and Taitem Engineering for electrical engineering. The contractor isn’t clear and (unusually) Cornell doesn’t have it listed on their webpages, but the invited bidders were all regional road/landscape construction firms.

In the photos, it looks like removal of the old plaza is underway, with the wall soon to follow. The plywood around the Vermont marble columns is for protection (way back, the columns were intended to be limestone and brick stringcourses, but it was value-engineered to marble and off-white Dryvit).

 





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 6/2017

13 06 2017

For news about today’s event, please go to the Voice.

Most of the rear and east facade are complete on the Breazzano Center at 209-215 Dryden Road. The Larson sheeting on the utility/loading dock refers to Larson Alucoil, the brand name of the aluminum metal panels being used to complete the less photogenic vantage points of the new 6-story building. The clips on the rear wall will be used as hinges for architectural sunshades.

Most of the windows and spandrel glass has been installed on the read and east facade. Note that spandrel glass is purely decorative, and there are metal panels between the glass and the lip of the floor plate. The white stripes indicate where the salmon-colored metal panels will be installed over the glass, although I personally would be just as happy to see them go without; the glass curtain wall gives the building an airier, less overbearing appearance. The bottom floor uses clear glass to give the building greater transparency at street level, and is meant to enliven (“activate”) the block. In photo 9, you can see the ceiling of one of the large group instruction classrooms, meaning that the drywall has been hung on at least the lower floors, and utilities rough-ins have been completed.

At the time these photos were taken, workers were easing a new panel section of the front curtain wall into place – it’s a bit of a delicate process to hoist the glazing with the crane and line everything up just right, and then quickly fasten it into place so they can move on with the next section, pulling the tarp back and continuing down the line. One imagines it must get a bit stuffy under the plastic sheeting this time of the year. More complicated exterior sections like the projecting atrium wall have yet to be tackled.

The Breazzano Center should be open in time for the fall 2017 semester. Not long thereafter, the staging area next door at 238 Linden will becoming a project of its own with the erection of a 4-story, 24-studio apartment building. That project is up for final approval later this month.





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 6/2017

12 06 2017

201 College is moving right along. W. H. Lane has been charging ahead at a rapid clip in order to have the 44-unit apartment building ready for occupancy in August. the front (west) half is further in the construction process – fireproof Georgia-Pacific DensGlass fiberglass mat sheathing, coated and sealed a pitch black air/vapor barrier (Carlisle Barriseal?), and layered with Dow Thermax polyiso insulation boards. The Thermax is coated in a reflective outer layer to repel incoming solar radiation and keep the building cool during the summer. Or at least, that’s what one of the construction guys told me. Some windows have been fitted into the structure on the lower floors.

The back half is not as far along. The northeast and east walls remain bare steel studs, while the southeast wall is just getting its DensGlass mats installed. The paired window layout might seem a little unusual, but many of the units will utilize a “mezzanine” intermediary floor to increase the living space in each unit.

One detail that has appeared to have changed from the images on file here are the stairwell windows above the front entrance. The drawings show one square window for each floor, while the finished building will have a pair of smaller square windows.

The front facade might seem a bit bland at the moment, but a plethora of exterior finishes should give the building a more visually interesting appearance – A large Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore (aka fancy off-black) metal canopy above the entrance, and fiber cement panels in shades of Allura Snow White, S-W Gauntlet Grey, and S-W Chinese Red, as well as woven bamboo siding. A stucco aggregate will be applied to exposed foundation sections (when you’re spending $10 million, you can afford the real deal over DryVit), and white cedar panels with a clear protective finish will be used for canopy ceilings and architectural screens. Long story short, variety of colors and materials should help break up the mass and make it look less overbearing.

With August just a scant two months away, we’ll have an idea of how nice the final product looks soon enough.

 





News Tidbits 6/10/17: In High Demand

10 06 2017

1. Start off this week with some eye candy. Here are the latest renders for Visum Development’s 191-bed, 60-unit project at 232-236 Dryden Road. The biggest change here is the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration, and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity – when the Cascadilla school still had a dorm in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it included a 4-story shingle-style dormitory complete with dining room and gym. The balconies are throwbacks to the dormitory’s balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (*real* stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

2. Business is good for STREAM Collaborative. So good that they’re expanding both in staff and space. The young, prolific architecture firm led by Noah Demarest will be moving out from its location in the City Hall Annex at 123 Sough Cayuga Street, and into a larger downtown space in the ca. 1872 Gregg Block at 108-112 West State Street, across from the State Theatre. The new digs are being renovated now, and are expected to be ready for occupancy by July 1st.

On another note, the owner of the city hall annex has taken to advertising the office space on Cragislist, which seems like the wrong choice to me. An apartment, sure. A house for sale or offices to rent? My impression is that folks prefer a more professional medium than what Craigslist offers. Kinda the same with jobs – servers or dog-sitters, sure. Accountants or architects? Ehh.

Maybe I’m just behind the times. Here’s the posting for the former Hal’s Deli on the 100 Block North Aurora Street. $5500/month.

3. WHCU is reporting that INHS has had no shortage of applicants for the 210 Hancock rentals. After receiving over 200 applications, they set up a lottery in which 122 “made it through” , and then selected the top 60 (there are 59 rental units though…might be a just in case there’s a drop-out, or it could just be conversational rounding). If it’s anything like New York City’s lottery, what happens is that each application is validated, sorted for requested unit type, and is assigned a randomized log number – those who get 1-48 for the one-bedroom subset, and 1-11 for the two-bedrooms subset, are awarded dibs on a unit, so long as they pass the income check and background check. Unit occupancy is expected late this summer, and marketing for the seven for-sale units will start…

4. …pretty much now. The three units in the first image are 204, 206 and 208 Hancock Street, the four for-sales in image two are from L to R, 406, 408, 410 and 412 Lake Street. 206 Hancock, 408 Lake and 410 Lake will be 910 SF 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath units that will sell for $112,000 to qualified buyers. 406 Lake and 412 are 1088 SF, 2 bed 1.5 bath units priced at $129,000. The largest units, 204 Hancock and 208 Hancock, are 1300 SF, 3 bed 1.5 bath units that will sell for $145,000. The plan is to have buyers lined up for all seven units by the end of the year.

5. The county legislature has approved the Heritage Center acquisition. The county will pay $2 million for the 18,500 SF property, about $400,000 below assessment. Tompkins Financial Corporation is parting with its former offices next spring as it moves into a new HQ a block away. The plan is to have the heritage center, which will host tourism and history-focused non-profits, open for occupancy by the end of 2018, just as The History Center’s lease at 406 E. State runs out.

6. Seems like Lakeview is serious about their West End mixed-use project. The mental health services organization just purchased three properties on Thursday the 8th – 326 North Meadow for $150,000, 711-13 West Court Street for $525,000, and 329 North Meadow and 709 West Court (same owner) for $550,000.

Lakeview is planning a mixed-use 5-story building with a small amount of first-floor retail and 50 apartment units, all of which would be affordable, and half of which would be set aside for those with mental health ailments who are generally independent, but will have Lakeview staff to turn to in times of need. The project team requested $250,000 from the city IURA to help finance the $20.1 million project, but were only awarded $50,000 since it’s still at a relatively stage without detailed plans. The project team expects to submit their project for review later this year, with a 2018 construction start.

7. Tiny Timbers is doing well. In an update to their website, they note the completion of their first house, a “lofted L” model just over the county line in Hector, and a new house planned in Enfield (given that Enfield permitted just one new house last year, there’s probably a joke in there somewhere). There is another home just getting underway in Lansing’s Farm Pond Circle development, and a fourth will start soon on Grandview Drive in the city of Ithaca’s portion of South Hill. All the new units will be “big cubes” like the render shown above.

8. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s planning department memo this month, there’s nothing new to note for June. Smaller projects tend to show up in the memo, since the sketch plan for feedback isn’t as big of a deal for a small proposal, like a new store or a modest apartment building. Finger Lakes ReUse’s 22 studio units for vulnerable/formerly homeless populations will have its public hearing and Determination of Environmental Significant (step before prelim approval), the McDonald’s rebuild will have Declaration of Lead Agency, public hearing, BZA recs and DoES, 232-236 Dryden will have its DoES vote, and the Old Library redevelopment and 238 Linden will be up for approval.

9. Finishing off this week with a word of approval – the Dryden town board gave approval to Gary Sloan’s 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses at 1061 Dryden Road, per Cassie Negley at the Ithaca Times. At the boards’ (both planning and town) encouragement, the solar panels were replaced with electric heat pumps, which could utilize off-site solar and open up the possibility of a more environmentally sustainable project overall, given the proliferation of solar arrays underway in Tompkins and the region (my off the cuff estimate has at least enough solar arrays planned in Tompkins in the next 18 months to power over 10,000 homes). A play structure and 11 more parking spaces were also added.





News Tidbits 6/5/17: The Return, Part III

5 06 2017

1. The Ithaca Gun site is almost in the clear, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The state is proposing a “no further action” status for remediation of the Lake Street site along Fall Creek gorge, where the factory maintained a presence from 1885 to 1986. Testing the guns with lead bullets for decades had the unfortunate result of contaminating the gorge with toxic levels of lead and heavy metals, and the area has been under remediation in some form for almost 20 years. The first round of cleanup for the Superfund was from 2002-2004, but insufficient cleaning resulted in a second round of cleaning in 2014. A third round to excavate more contaminated soil along the steep slopes of the gorge was undertaken by the federal EPA over the past couple of years.

To quote: “Based on the results of the investigations at the site, the interim remedial measures and post-IRM screening that have been performed, the NYSDEC is proposing No Further Action as the remedy for the site…Periodic site inspections and reporting, which include additional removals of lead shot as needed, will ensure continued protection for the environment and public health.”

Note that this only impacts the part of the site that was donated to the city as parkland. A separate remediation plan has been crafted by Travis Hyde Properties as part of their plans to build 45 units of housing on the former factory site, the “Ithaca Falls Residences“. The completion of work on the city land would allow THP to put the finishing touches on their plan, and potentially move forward with their long-incubating housing proposal.

2. There was one detail that was initially missed when going over the failed candidacy of Lisa Bonniwell to the village of Lansing Board of Trustees. While her family’s housing development, the “Heights of Lansing”, has been in perpetual stall with only about 22 of the 80 units built since approval in 2005 (and the last townhouses in 2011-12, shown above), they do plan to start work on another “six-plex” string of luxury townhouses this year – Bonniwell cast blame on the gas moratorium for the holdup. Gives them something else to focus on after their lawsuit over the Park Grove Apartments re-zoning down the road, in which the courts decided in the village’s favor.

The existing units are 3 bedrooms, 2,297-2,400 SF and sell for about $350,000-375,000. Expect the next batch to be fairly similar, though with different exterior details – each string’s exterior finishes are unique.

3. Sticking with Lansing, the Cayuga Farms townhouses are planning some modest changes – the buildings will be smaller, which will allow 20% green space and the construction of a community clubhouse. There will still be 102 units with 3 bedrooms each, 1500-1800 SF, in the upper-middle (“premium”) market segment. The plan has been held up for years while trying to find appropriate ways to address wastewater/sewage, initially floating a pricey Orenco modular site-specific plan. However, with the likelihood of a sewer main being routed up North Triphammer Road in the near-future, that would render the sewage treatment issue a moot point and allow the already-approved project to move forward with permit requests.

4. Nothing too exciting with the local planning boards at the moment. The town of Ithaca is reviewing adjustments to the Westview subdivision that would allow homebuilder to have building permits open for more than two houses at any given time, and to allow him to build houses from different project phases (locations) so long as they have road frontage, sewer and water. Apparently the 2004 stipulations have created a headache with his newest home lots.

Meanwhile in Ulysses, the town planning board will be reviewing plans for additions to the Taughannock Inn at 2030 Gorge Road. The rather whimsical structure designed by architect Jason Demarest would add a “gatehouse/stable”, with five guest rooms, a check-in area, a bar and dining space, ice cream parlor, tent space, reflecting pools and whatever else that makes it sort of romantic events center for weddings, banquets and reunions. The 1870s inn will receive a new cupola, and the projects needs several zoning variance and a noise law revisions so that they can create to 90 dB until 1:30 AM.

5. Lansing’s 1020 Craft Road was picked up by an LLC tied to a construction company out of Endicott for $615,000 back in April, so that was was a strong indicator that something was planned. That plan looks like a gut renovation and 4,410 SF in additions, as well as a paved and landscaped parking lot. Pyramid Brokerage is already advertising professional office space in the 10,500 SF building, which was built around 1980 and used for manufacturing (sheet metal fabrication), and it was looking pretty run down by the time it was purchased. The lease is for $18.00/SF, with a minimum available space of 5,250 SF, which would be a pretty good sized office. Depending on the finishes though, it might have appeal for those looking for a suburban location with easy parking – CFCU’s headquarters is next door, and several other firms are housed in neighboring buildings.

6. The county released its report of potential tax foreclosures. The long story short is that if property taxes aren’t paid, the county may seize a property (courtesy says they give a couple warning first), which may then be sold by the county at auction to pay off the back taxes, or it may be given to a municipality if the community wants it, or it may be withheld completely if it is deemed to have special ecologic value (biodiversity, wetland, “Unique Natural Areas”, etc.)

There doesn’t appear to be anything too exciting in this year’s batch. The city almost got some prime waterfront real estate at a bargain price last year, but the owner was able to pay the tax bill before the city could claim it. This year, we see several rural properties that the county would like to put deed restrictions on for stream buffers and conservation options, a pair of industrial properties in Caroline and Dryden, and a handful of single-family homes around the area. Nothing that looks especially tempting to the ambitious, although there are a handful of individuals who scoop these properties up at auction and then market them at a much higher price (with some success).