815-17 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2019

18 07 2019

This project rose quietly and quickly. 815-17 North Aurora is a small infill project in Fall Creek, replacing what was previously a significantly deteriorated two-family house. It was one of the typical “urban farmhouses” popular in Ithaca in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with major, unsympathetic additions tacked on at a later date. Under its previous owner, who purchased the property in 1999, the house started a gut rehab, but only got through through the “gut” part and never got to the “rehab”.

In June of 2018, the property was placed on the market for $269,000, and the listing noted small-scale redevelopment potential, that the city could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes per zoning. For smaller developers, this was an opportunity. Fall Creek has become Ithaca’s walkable, urban darling in recent years so the market would support a plan, provided that the neighborhood or city didn’t object. The site could never host some grand multi-million dollar project, but it was a chance to build something complementary to the neighborhood, and add density through modest urban infill (Historic Ithaca objects to anything involving a teardown being called infill, but the textbook definition is more accommodating).

The opportunity the site held was right up the alley of a family of local owner/developers, the Stavropoulos family of West Hill, who own the State Street Diner and a growing portfolio of rental units under the name “Renting Ithaca”. The Stavropoli have redeveloped several properties in the past few years, including 1001 North Aurora Street (4 units), 107 South Albany Street (11 units), a two-family home at 514 Linn Street, and a two-family unit planned for 209 Hudson Street (they originally applied to build two two-family buildings, but reduced it to one after neighborhood pushback). Their M.O. is basically small-scale rental infill, nothing especially large or ostentatious, and with that they go under the radar for the most part. In short, this R2b-zoned site is a perfect fit for them. They purchased it for $235,000 on March 7th.

The project involves teardown of the original structure, and replacing it with two two-family structures, four units total. Each will be three bedrooms and 1,290 SF. Their usual architect of choice, Daniel Hirtler, has designed the structures to fit in with the Fall Creek vernacular, with recessed entries and aesthetic details (such as a transition between fiber cement shakes and clapboard siding) for visual interest. The buildings are positioned so that one is in the front of the lot, one at the rear, and only the front structure is visible from most public viewsheds. The site includes two parking spaces and a two-car wood-frame garage with new landscaping and utilities. Heating will come from electric heat pumps, and while the roofs will be capable of hosting solar panels, those aren’t expected to be included as part of the initial build. LED lighting, energy efficient appliances and water heaters, and high-efficiency spray foam insulation are included. This project would very likely meet the new Green Building Policy Requirements if in place.

The $627,000 development should be complete by August per Site Plan Review documents, a clear nod to having the units ready in time for the next academic year. Fall Creek tends to be less desirable to undergrads at Cornell because of the distance (<1% of total population), but graduate and professional students often rent in the neighborhood (~9% of graduate/professional students at Cornell live in Fall Creek).

Rather unusually, this project actually got some significant pushback from the Planning Board, which tends to be more acquiescent towards smaller projects; some of it had to do with the project itself, but it was also proposed while the city was hotly debating the merits of infill, a discussion that still continues. The argument was that the project will be rentals, would probably never be owner-occupied, and the board was questioning the merits of approving a project that would likely bring in students to the neighborhood and detract from Fall Creek’s “character”. In response, the initial plan for four parking spaces was replaced with two spaces and a two-car garage, with the newly freed space turned into an outdoor common area. A porch was added to the street-facing duplex, and a den in each unit to make them more family-friendly. All in all, there were four revisions from the first submission in October 2018, to final approval in February.

If you’re wondering about the color swatches – the lower level fiber-cement lap siding will be Sherwin-Williams “Knitting Needles” (light grey), and the front door and shake siding on the upper levels will be S-W “Westchester Grey”. Personal opinion, Ithaca is naturally grey enough as it is, but that’s just one guy’s take. Trim boards will be gloss white and the roof shingles will be Owens-Corning TruDefinition Duration Estate Grey. The concrete base, naturally grey, will remain exposed or potentially get a parge coat, the design plans left either option on the table.

The slab foundation is in, and the buildings are framed, sheathed in plywood ZIP Panels, roofed, shingled, some roof trim boards have been attached, fiberglass windows have been fitted, and the PVC sewer line is clearly visible in its trench. The inside of the wood-frame structure is framed out, and utilities roughs-in (mechanical/electrical/plumbing) are underway. Sorry folks, this one sneaked up on me – demo permits were filed in March, building permits May 20th. Hopgart Construction of Horseheads is the construction manager.

Early drawing.

Final design.


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One response

23 07 2019
CS PhD

Wow, interesting design. I’ve never seen side-by-side duplexes divided by anything other than a single straight wall. Also, I like that the entrances are on opposite sides of the building, so you don’t have the awkwardness of sharing an entryway or stairwell with your neighbors. These will certainly be nicer than the vast majority of rental units in Fall Creek.

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