119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 12/2018

16 12 2018

The CMU (concrete masonry unit) elevator/stairwell cores are being assembled for Novarr and Proujansky’s Cornell visiting faculty and staff housing at 119-125 College Avenue. The North Building’s core tower is complete and capped with an American flag courtesy of Welliver (who are proudly displaying their involvement with Cornell’s North Campus Residential Initiative on their homepage, and is co-developed by Novarr and Proujansky). It’s kinda intuitive from the east tower, but workers work their way up along the inside, using the steel girder in the center. The plastic sheeting offers some basic weather protection as the cinder blocks are mortared and laid into place in a running bond pattern. These cores give an idea of how tall the finished buildings will be, though keep in mind the lowest exit/entry opening is the basement, which will be built out and backfilled up to ground level as construction progresses.

One of the reasons why the hot gossip swirls around Novarr’s Collegetown plans is that he enjoys a very close relationship to Cornell, so if the university determines it wants to do something Collegetown, they can turn to someone who has a lot of developable property and a strong relationship with the school. Rather than deal with the potentially damaging public blowback of a tax-exempt property, Novarr and Proujansky keep it on the tax rolls and create a welcome degree of separation. Most of their properties are fully taxed – the Breazzano, which serves an academic function rather than ancillary function like housing or student services, has a PILOT agreement for fifty years.

Apart from the excavated sites and elevator cores, the concrete foundation work (footers, slab pours, foundation walls) is ongoing, mostly at the south building. It doesn’t look like the north building is quite as far along, even though the elevator core is complete.

Project information and history can be found here.





Stewart Park Inclusive Playground Construction Update, 12/2018

15 12 2018

Here’s a look at the Stewart Park Inclusive Playground project. Overseen by the non-profit Friends of Stewart Park (FSP), the two-phase plan was approved by the city earlier this year, and started construction in September for a May 2019 completion. Plans for the project date back to at least 2015, with formal planning board review moving forward in late 2017. Among the features planned are (from the website):

  • A new, accessible splash pad that will conserve water.
  • Specially designed school-age and pre-school play structures.
  • An accessible berm  that provides children a starting point for exciting play experiences for all children.
  • The use of native plants and sustainable building materials and site design strategies to make the playground a model for green playground design.
  • Educational opportunities to interpret the natural environment of the park – the vegetation, birds, fish and wildlife that make this site so special.
  • Natural play areas including a music garden and sand play area.
  • Numerous swings and climbing structures, shaded seating areas and many benches for relaxing.
  • New accessible bathrooms and changing stalls adjacent to the playground and carousel.
  • A restored and accessible Carousel (completed).
  • Accessible walkways and paths linking to the Cayuga Waterfront Trail and other areas of the park and Ithaca’s waterfront.

When FSP refers to an inclusive playground, it means that it offers something for kids of all abilities – it offers a full sensory experience with lots to touch, to see and to hear. Disabled children will be able to access and enjoy much of the equipment, as well as the gardens and play areas.

Complementary additions will include a parking lot addition, benches, and bathrooms. The cost of the new and improved facilities is $1.7 million ($1,517,500 in hard construction costs like materials and labor, $182,100 for soft costs like design fees, legal and permitting, and a $50,000 annual maintenance fund). The project will take about nine months to construct, and be built through a combination of traditional paid construction crews, and volunteer community builds.

As previously reported, the location of the new structures is between the splash pad on the west end of the park and the carousel to the east, south of the transmission lines, with a total area of about 1.65 acres. The area north of the power lines is envisioned as an open play and picnicking area. With the exception of the large swings, the existing equipment will eventually be removed to near the DPW maintenance building and the ‘Whirly Bug’. The older play structure near the carousel will be moved, to another park if possible.

Three playground design and landscaping firms are involved with FSP’s plans – Parkitects, Play by Design and EarthPlay are coordinated designs and features to maximize the play value and amenities, while giving a nod to local features like rock formations and the steamboats that used to come down the lake. T.G. Miller is handling the more technical details like grading and stormwater management, and STREAM Collaborative designed the 900 square-foot storage and bathroom building.

The first phase, which includes the pre-school play area, is open, much of it thanks to the work of over a thousand of volunteers back in September, and participating organizations who sponsored volunteers and support services during the intense six-day build. Phase II will start next year, once the worst of winter has passed.

On the funding side, $1 million was received in a state grant spearheaded by Ithaca’s state Assemblywoman, Barbara Lifton (D-125th). The remaining $700,000 is being raised through a capital campaign. At last update, $658,082 had been committed by private sources. The big donors are listed here, and if you want to help close the gap in the home stretch, the donation link is here. A specialized fundraiser for the new accessible surfacing materials (a safe, durable material on which wheelchairs can move) for the playground is here.

 





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 12/2018

14 12 2018

John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s project at 238 Linden Avenue is moving right along. For an all-residential construction, this is a heavy-duty building. It uses a steel frame with steel stud walls and gypsum sheathing – unlike wood-framed structures that could go up in smoke, this building is designed to be durable and withstand and potential fire-related calamities. It may be related to the fire code issues that delayed the project?

It looks like the design is similar, but not exact to the renders below. While some of the rough window openings are still being carved out of the gypsum panels, it’s not the same fenestration pattern. The sunken rear courtyard remains – it will be nice during the summer, but every leaf in Collegetown will seem to find its way in there by November.

The 13,715 square-foot building, which will house 24 studios, is topped out but not yet fully framed. Corrugated steel decking is in place and some interior framing has occurred as well. Based off the demolition plan submitted for 325 College Avenue around the corner, the targeted completion date for this structure is sometime next summer – given it’s designed to serve Executive MBA students at the Breazzano next door, that makes good sense.

Briefly, to touch on that 325 College Avenue site – the rumor mill does not know what’s planned, but the only consistent detail is that it will not be student housing. The market is too weak, and many Collegetown landlords are holding off on projects until the impacts of Maplewood, and potentially Cornell’s North Campus, have been fully absorbed. It’s not a situation where anyone seems to be going bankrupt, but the big Collegetown players have taken a more conservative approach as a result of Cornell’s new housing. As to what they could plan other than student housing, we’ll see. Faculty/staff housing, a hotel, another Cornell-related institutional use…plenty of options.

A history and overall description of the 238 Linden Avenue project can be found here.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 12/2018

14 12 2018

This is another case of where the exterior of the building isn’t finished, but the interior is complete enough such that a certificate of occupancy may be issued. Visum Development has been advertising the units online, and they’re not cheap, $1200-$1300/bedroom. 118 College has 5 units, four six-bedroom and one four-bedroom unit. For that high-end price, they come fully furnished, and with washer/dryer, stainless steel appliances, microwaves, dishwashers, quartz countertops and private balconies. Wi-fi is including in the rent, and tenants can use the fitness center and media lounge at Visum’s property at 201 College at no extra cost. The units are all smoke-free, which might seem quirky to older readers, but it was already pretty common by my Cornell stint in the late 2000s. Interior photos can be found here. This one moves into the “complete” column on the Ithaca/Tompkins County project map.

The yellow fiber cement siding really makes this building pop. The basement-level is finished with stucco mixed with Sherwin-Williams (S-W) “Sawdust” paint, the first level is a combination of Belden face brick (Belcrest) and S-W “Truepenny” fiber cement clapboards, more fiber cement clapboard on the mid-section in S-W “Overjoy“, trimboards, balcony trim and window casing colored S-W “Svelte Sage”, black window frames, stucco (in S-W “Favorite Tan”) with more fiber cement trim and frieze boards on the top level, and the pyramidal roof caps will be standing seam metal, Pac-Clad “Aged Copper”.

As a related, humble opinion, the bamboo siding on 201 College is not ageing gracefully. The rain shadows just don’t reflect well for a luxury building. Also note the Lambo Huracan. 99% of the Lamborghinis I’ve seen in my life have been in architectural renders with no hope of matching such opulence in the final product. At $200k, that car is worth as much as a well appointed, local starter home.

210 Linden Avenue is, like 118 College, still finishing up on the exterior work, but further along. The landscaping won’t go in until the spring, which given the winter weather, is probably when the building will be truly complete.

All the building designs and eventual landscaping designs are courtesy of STREAM Collaborative, and the construction itself is the work of Romig General Contractors.

 





News Tidbits 12/9/18

9 12 2018

1. Let’s start out in Lansing. Milton Meadows if officially underway. The 72-unit apartment complex, the first development to get off the ground at the Lansing Town Center site off Route 34B, will be targeted at the 50% – 80% area median income range (~31k-~48k for a single person household) and give priority to income-qualified veterans.

The plan is to roll out the $17.1 million project in stages as the buildings are completed next year. Nine of the structures will be apartment buildings ranging from 6,600-10,200 square feet (SF), with 8 apartment units apiece. The buildings are designed so that all the units in a structure are the same size range, so all one-bedroom buildings (4), all two-bedroom buildings (3), and all three-bedroom buildings (2). The last building would be a 3,100 SF community center. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. The project will be built to LEED Silver energy standards.

Funding comes from a variety of state and local sources, the largest single grant being $5.1 million courtesy of New York State. The first units should be ready by late spring, and the last units will come online next fall.

2. In the next round of county/city/Cornell affordable Housing Development Fund recommendations, breakdown above. Habitat gets some funds towards one of its home builds and to buy two other sites, INHS gets additional funds towards their citywide renovation project, and Visum’s 327 West Seneca Street gets $200,000 (this project was carried over from the last round, because they wanted to make sure Visum knew what it was doing). Perhaps the most interesting component here is the NRP Ithaca Townhomes project on West Hill near Cayuga Medical Center, which has received approval, but with a lack of high-value state funds, it has languished in post-approval funding hell. The original breakdown was 66 units in phase one and 39 in phase two, so the 69 here suggests something was modified a little bit.

Unit sizes will range from $850/month, 745 square-foot 1-bedroom units to $1500/month, 1,344 square-foot 3-bedroom units, with most units being two or three bedrooms. The infrastructure improvements (streets, lighting) will be privately built and maintained by the developer. Seven units (2 1-BR, 3 2-BR, 2 3-BR) will be set aside for the mobility impaired, three units for those with hearing or vision impairment (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), and three units for those with special needs (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), defined in this case as recovering victims of domestic violence situations.

The original plan was to start construction last spring, and frankly, the project probably still needs a sizable state grant before funding can go ahead. But with this funding, it’s another piece of the puzzle. If it has some dedicated funds already, and the state doesn’t have to fork over as much, then the state is more inclined to support the project because on its end, it gets more bang for the buck. So keep your fingers crossed.

3. The rumor mill says that Vecino is falling for Ithaca like a teenage girl for a boy band crush. The multi-state firm specializes in two types of housing – affordable housing (under names like Asteri, Mosaic, Libertad and Intrada) and student housing (Muse), which makes Ithaca a good fit. Rather conveniently, Vecino projects identify segments of their target market in the building name. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage in Ithaca, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing – the only other one I’m aware is in a converted warehouse in Troy (which all my Albany colleagues call ‘hipster central’ or ‘Williamsburg North’, the downtown far removed from its days as ‘Troilet’). The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. Of course, the Voice commenters hated this with a passion because artists = leftists liberal dirty hippie types = evil incarnate. I’ve learned that the softer reactions tend to be with affordable senior and affordable veterans housing, which I cynically suspect is because the most vocal complainers tend to be more politically conservative in their views, and seniors and vets tend to be more politically conservative than the general population – so rather than engaging in circular fire, some, but definitely not all, will hold their tongue.

But, while the commenters didn’t like it, the city planning board did. It’s 120 units (40 studio, 60 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing (50-80% are median income, just like Milton Meadows in item 1), which is a hefty amount and critically needed. A number of units will be set aside for specialized needs and administered by Tompkins Community Action, which will be offered office space in the building. The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design. The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

4. My only regret is that because the working title of 116 Catherine was 114 Catherine, readers will be confused for years to come. Jagat Sharma designed a tasteful three-story infill building in Collegetown to the rear of 116 Catherine and the Mission Apartments – these would join the rest of the Lambrou properties that comprise Eddygate Park. Also like 116 Catherine, it’s three units – two six-bedroom units, one five-bedroom unit, about as student-oriented as a project can be. Still, infill is much more preferable to a parking lot in Collegetown. Every bit of housing helps, and it’s a couple million dollars of assessed property to help fill local coffers. If the Lambrous choose to pursue this one, which is smaller than what the CR-4 zoning allows and is tucked away from the street, the planning board is unlikely to give them much trouble.

As for the Sharma-designed building that would potentially built in the foreground of this project, 301B Eddy, the last I heard was that it was not an active pursuit, if not totally off the table.

5. Here we have a do and a don’t. Do: hire a seasoned architect like Jagat Sharma, who knows his way around city staff and boards. Don’t: design anything without checking to see if the rules and regulations changed. In this case, they did, quite a bit.

The problem here with 312 East Seneca Street isn’t the development plan, which calls for ground-floor retail and studios and 2-bedroom apartments on the floors above. That’s all fine and dandy. But the city has really been focused on increasing the quality of building designs submitted for review in Ithaca, and that was codified into the Downtown Ithaca Design Guidelines, which were enacted as law earlier this year. If this were 2013, Sharma and developer Stavros Stavropoulos would probably be okay. As of now, they are not. The only part of this design that’s acceptable is the first three feet facing East Seneca Street. The exposed CMU walls on the sides? Not allowed. And according to the Times’ Matt Butler, the planning director seemed a bit insulted by the design.

Potential design options that would be compatible include additional interior facade visual elements, facade articulation and alternative side materials (brick, stone, metal panel, fiber cement, and for the sides only, synthetic stucco/EIFS) and possibly a step down in height at the rear, since the site is on the edge of its zoning.

Consider for comparison, the new Tompkins Financial building. It’s an interior block site, and while it builds very close to the boundary line and they have (and could have) bigger neighbors, the sides and rear have windows, facade variation and articulation, brick and metal panels, and design elements like sunshades and a small top floor setback. That’s very much in the mindset of what the city is looking for in the design of a downtown project. In any case, if the Stavropoli want to do something here, the sketch plan design will need to be substantially modified before there’s any hope of approval, and some meetings with city staff couldn’t hurt.

6. There have been some potential issues that have sprung up with the Emmy’s Organics project at the end of Cherry Street. The soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building. If that’s the case, the project may not move forward, which may also result in Emmy’s moving itself and its jobs out of the city. The IURA will vote on Thursday to authorize $5,000 to hire an engineering firm to do an analysis of the geotechnical reports to see what special requirements a foundation would need, and if those requirements make the project infeasible.

7. Quick little note here – Lansing Meadows was delayed this past summer because developer Eric Goetzmann “was not able to secure contractors – too much other construction going on”, according to an email from TCAD’s Heather McDaniel. With TCAD and the village blessing, the construction start has been pushed back to Spring 2019.

8. It’s been a while since 46 South Street (formerly Hamilton Square) has updated their website, but to wrap up this post, here’s some good news for affordable housing advocates – the 73-unit, mixed-income, mixed rental and for-sale proposal by Claudia Brenner and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has passed the Trumansburg planning board’s SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review). That means that the environmental impacts are effectively mitigated by the project team. Site plan approval has yet to be issued, and is likely to be hotly debated with neighbors who have been opposed to the project since the proposal was introduced in May 2017. Review began about a year ago, and likely has a few months more yet ahead of it – certainly one of the longer review processes as of late.

On a happier note, color renderings! Nice variation in materials and style. For those so inclined, the 2 hour audio from the planning board can be found on the village website here.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 12/2018

3 12 2018

Some projects have clear, concise histories. This is not one of them.

323 Taughannock started off in the summer of 2014 as a $3.5 million, 23,000 SF mixed-use building with ground-level office, 18 covered parking spaces, and 20 apartment units on the three stories above (total of four stories, 50′ height). The firm proposing the building was Rampart Real LLC, managed by local lawyer Steve Flash, who partnered with businesswoman Anne Chernish to develop the plan.

Flash had long had an interest in Inlet Island. He was an original co-owner of the Boatyard Grill restaurant on the island, and is an owner and co-manager of the nearby Finger Lakes Boating Center. In 2007, he sought to build a five-story condo/hotel on Inlet Island, and was shot down. If you think Ithacans are opposed to development now, take a look at the previous link. Current affairs don’t hold a candle to how anti-development the community and many local elected officials were for much of the 2000s. But Flash continue to scout out opportunities where he might be able to do something in time. He picked up the vacant, rundown former bar at 323 Taughannock Boulevard for $280,000 in July 2011.

The apartment plans, which were designed by STREAM Collaborative, were reviewed, revised, and approved by the city. Although the original plan was to build the apartments out from January – August 2015, the project had been unable to move off of the drawing board and into reality due to cost concerns related to “parking, soft soil, and relatively tight space,” according to Flash. Being on the waterfront means that the soils have a high water table and are easily compressed, making multi-story construction difficult. The challenges faced with the apartment building were complicated by the proposed first-floor parking, which posed constraints on the building’s structuring, and raised construction costs beyond feasibility. Long story short, although the approvals were in place, the cost projections became too steep for the developers to follow through, and the site sat quiet.

With the original plan no longer feasible, a replacement development plan was submitted in December 2016. This was a proposal for eight for-sale townhouses. Totaling 20,174 SF it’s effectively 16 units in eight townhomes – the first floor will consist of 8 studio type apartments that could also be used as commercial space. The second and third floors, which have separate entrances, will be occupied by 8 townhome style 2-story units. The original idea was that they could be live/work spaces, or that renters would live in the studio units and their rents would help cover the mortgages of the townhouse owners. Offhand, I remember they were to be in the upper 300s to low 400s price range.

The general aesthetics of the design remained the same – as with the apartments, the for-sale townhouses are being designed by local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative. The facade “features historic and contemporary elements of rustic bricks, steel, traditional clapboard siding, and window casings”, per STREAM’s website. Five of the townhomes are larger – 645 SF studios with 2 bed/2 bath 1,608 SF units above, for a total of 2,253 SF in the “Unit A” townhouses. “Unit B”, with three examples, is a little smaller, with 514 SF studios and 2 bed/2 bath 1,384 SF upper-level units, for a total of 1,898 SF (the IDA application shows slightly different square footages for each unit, probably due to design revisions). Four units will have private elevators. The property will be landscaped and include eight on-site parking spaces with access to nine more next door. The public will have access to the waterfront on a paved promenade.

During this second round of review, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five had their balconies moved from the second floor to the third floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design was still roughly the same, the changes were only in the details.

The second set of reviews did get drawn out a bit because the project was caught up in the city’s TM-PUD affair, their fight to keep the Maguires from moving forward with their dealership at Carpenter Business Park. But the design fit zoning and was in line with the city’s desire for a more active, denser waterfront. The project was approved in May 2017.

Six months later in November, Flash and Chernish sold a $203,000 stake in 323 Taughannock plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira, who own the Arnot Mall and some commercial and multi-family properties in the Elmira/Horseheads area. As 323T LLC, the new joint venture gave Arnot a 75% stake to Flash and Chernish’s 25%, meaning Arnot is now the primary developer. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the burgeoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city.

One of the decisions made in this change of ownership was that the units went back to being rentals – very expensive rentals, to the tune of $3,400-3,500/month for the upper-level units. By HUD guidelines, that’s affordable to someone making $140,000/year. The studios will go for $1,400-$1,500/month. Seeking a ten-year tax abatement, sales tax exemptions and mortgage tax exemptions proved to be the most controversial part of this project, and to be fair, it’s a tough sell from a public relations perspective to say your ultra-luxury units deserve a $605,855 tax abatement. But the IDA decided that the long-term property tax increase would be worth it, and the project could potential spur development elsewhere on the island and the West End, and granted the exemptions in January 2018. One of the people who raked the developers and the IDA over the coals was Amanda Kirchgessner, back when she was a well-meaning citizen and before she became a highly controversial state senatorial candidate.

Tompkins Trust Company has lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. 323 T LLC partner equity was expected to be $1.153 million at the time of the IDA application, but that may have changed, since the bank loan was only expected to be $3.461 million at the time – total project cost was $4.615 million.

Ithaca’s Taitem Engineering is in charge of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural design services. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company, working with applicant contractor D Squared Inc. (Doug Boles and Doug Dake) of Lansing. Benson’s primary work is as a modular and timber-frame builder for properties in and around southern New Hampshire where they’re based. With 323, the wood-frame wall system will actually be framed and sheathed off site by Benson, and transported over to be assembled by D Squared like pieces of a puzzle. The modular approach potentially saves on materials and labor costs makes the construction itself more energy efficient, and may make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage. The plan is to have the project be “nearly net-zero”, meaning it’s efficient in its energy use, and close to having all of its energy needs met by renewable sources (the project will be powered by an off-site solar array). For the record, yes it will use heat pumps.

Taitem also designed the rather unusual timber-based pile system deployed at the project site. The project itself is relatively light as building go, but because of the waterlogged soils, a deep foundation is still required for structural stability. Instead of heavy-duty steel, treated timber can do the job for a fairly modestly sized project like this, an affordable, lighter-load alternative. As long as the timber isn’t exposed to high levels of oxygen (open air, there isn’t enough dissolved in groundwater), they can last for hundreds of years. You can see the piles in the photos below, and watch the pile driving process in the embedded Twitter video courtesy of Ithaca second ward councilman Ducson Nguyen. All the piles are in place, and a 6″ concrete slab will be formed and poured over the top.

Construction is expected to take about eight months, roughly placing a timeline for completion at summer 2019.

Before:

 

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