News Tidbits 1/18/2019

19 01 2019

It’s been a while. Let’s start with the bad news first; projects that have been cancelled over the past month, or are on the ropes.

1. Heading over to Lansing, the Lansing Senior Cottages is dead. The project, which was developed by Beer Properties in conjunction with Hunt Engineers, had been reduced in size from the initial proposal, from 108 units to 97 units, in 84 buildings (71 single-family, 13 two-family) on about 40 acres. In order to move forward as a pocket-neighborhood housing development (houses closer together than permitted under a medium-density residential zone in the village), it would have needed a Planned Development (PDA) designation from the village of Lansing.

The Planning Board has eight criteria to establish a PDA, and felt that the project didn’t meet four of the criteria (maximum choice in ownership types and occupancy tenure, convenience in location of non-residential facilities, efficient use of land, and desirable change in environment), and was therefore insufficient to merit a PDA. Their vote to deny the PDA also killed the project, since the design isn’t possible in Lansing’s medium-density zone. The density is the legal, albeit at the maximum allowed, which in sewered areas is 20,000 SF (0.46 acres) per single-family, and 25,000 SF (0.57 acres) per two-family. But the law states they have to be on their own, non-clustered lots, with setbacks, minimum road frontage and so forth. In other words, a conventional suburban subdivision.

The site was originally approved for just such a project, the high-end, three-phase, 31-lot Millcroft development, of which only the first phase was ever platted and prepped before the Great Recession kicked in and the market for very large, very expensive homes shrank. The Bush family limited homes to 2,500 SF or greater, and with half-acre lots selling for $80,000, it was clearly geared toward high-end homes, but they lack the combination of acreage or lake views that are the usual prerequisites of Lansing’s $500k+ home sales. Well over a decade later, and the thirteen home lots still have yet to be fully built out, and interest has never been strong. Three of the four recent home sales here sold under assessment, which is a rarity in Tompkins; last year, it was less than ~6% of properties.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Millcroft land went up for sale in 2017. When the Bush family sold a purchase option to the Beers, it was taken about as well as a stick to the eye, and Millcroft Lane residents strongly opposed the 800-1,200 SF senior cottages. In theory, the remaining eighteen lots in the subdivision are still an option, or another layout could be submitted; but a developer is not legally obligated to build houses as big or expensive as the first phase if the Bush family agrees to remove the covenants, which the Beer cottages proposal shows they very are open to.

As for the Beers, it’s a shame the plan won’t move forward, as senior rentals (and senior for-sale, more crucially) are an underserved market in Tompkins County. Potentially, other locations in Lansing or elsewhere might be suitable and more open to cluster-style senior cottages, but after sinking tens of thousands into this proposal, the Beers are unlikely to submit something else in the near future.

2. A little further north in the town of Lansing, a pair of projects are struggling. The 102-unit Cayuga Orchard Apartments project is up for sale from WB Property Group of New York City, as is a 28-lot subdivision, Cayuga Way, which was intended for high-end homes. Cayuga Orchard is asking $3.1 million for the 30.5 acres and plans, though the seller has stated interest in a Joint Venture partnership if a potential buyer is interested and willing to negotiate. The ad briefly states:

“30.5 acres, now approved for 102 units, approved to tap into municipal sewer. Open to JV or to sell outright Located in prestigious town of lansing, best in class schools, 15 min from Cornell University Extremely long approval process for multifamily.”

To be fair, the town of Lansing is one of the easier municipal approval processes in Tompkins County, though an uncertain and red-tape-filled process has been cited as both a barrier to affordable housing and housing development within the county.

The Cayuga Way ad, also from WB Property Group, is for either all 28 lots or by the lot:

“All approved for 28 lot subdivision, roads/improvements are in. Best piece of land remaining in the prestigious Lansing area on “the hill.” All wooded lots. 15 minutes from Cornell University, Downtown Ithaca, and Ithaca and Lansing High Schools.”

Price on request, also called price on application (POA) can be done for several reasons – market fluctuations, a fear of influencing other properties if higher or lower than expected, and more questionably, a chance to size up buyers to see how much they can afford. Presumably, a buyer seeking 1500 SF homes here wouldn’t want to pay as much as someone thinking 3000 SF. Joint ventures are also being considered for this project.

For a town hoping to develop its way out of the continued decrease and likely loss of what was once its largest taxpayer, this isn’t good news. But we’ll see if a partner or buyer comes along.

3. This one was a bit surprising. The Dryden town Zoning Board of Appeals shot down a 3-lot subdivision at 1932 Slaterville Road. The plan was for Habitat for Humanity to buy the property, create two more lots and renovate the existing dilapidated 150 year-old farm house, all three of which would have been sold to qualified low-income families who put in the “sweat equity” to help build and renovate.The variance was needed for a flag lot, because with the land acquisition and renovation costs, the project only penned out financially with two more lots.

On paper, that actually seems like a slam dunk. I thought it would be smooth sailing after Dryden’s Planning Board, which is advisory but tends to be less pro-development than Dryden’s other board, had recommended the variance be approved; in fact, David Weinstein, one of the planning board’s most stringent members, was very supportive, citing the desperate need for affordable housing and feeling its 1-acre per lot density was appropriate for the area. But then the Zoning Board of Appeals runs out with this:

It’s like they’re talking about two totally different proposals. I’d also like to point out that describing affordable owner-occupied housing as “there would be an undesirable change of the neighborhood, which is not in the character of the neighborhood, and could possibly have detriment to the neighborhood” is a really tasteless and poor choice of words.

With the denial of the variance, the project is dead. That’s unfortunate for Habitat, who due to logistical difficulties had to cancel their previous project for four townhomes at 402 South Cayuga Street. As for the $40,000 they were due to receive from the joint Cornell-city-count Community Housing Development Fund, it will go unused.

 

4. Emmy’s Organics is not moving forward with their Cherry Street project. The plan ran into trouble when initial geotechnical studies found that 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, and not even stable enough to support a parking lot. The IURA hired a second geotechnical engineering firm (John P. Stopen Engineering) for $5,000, which found that it would be possible to build, but only if the top three feet of soil were removed, which would raise the project cost. The IURA was willing to consider a larger loan, but Emmy’s decided the project, which was on a tight timeline, was simply no longer feasible. The owners are now looking to build elsewhere, so not only is the $1.4 million project and its 5-10 new jobs are lost, it’s not clear where the firm will move and what’s going to happen with their existing 19 mostly living-wage jobs. It also puts the IURA in a spot because the undeveloped remainder of Cherry Street just became a lot less desirable for smaller light industrial projects like this one.

The project was to use $175,000 in NYS-administered Community Block Development Grant Funds (CDGF) for job creation for low and moderate-income households. These funds have to be allocated by the city by March 31st, or they have to be returned to the state. In a rush to use them before they lose them, the IURA is proposed to shift $49,000 towards lighting improvements in Titus Park, and $126,000 towards $290,000 in acquisition costs to buy the 9,100 SF Immaculate Conception gymnasium from the Catholic Diocese, for use in indoor recreation and presumably as part of the sale of the rest of the property to INHS. The IURA is not totally sure if either use qualifies for the funds, but they’re in a rush to find alternatives before the state takes the money back.


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