News Tidbits 6/6/14: 115 The Knoll Finally Sells

6 06 2014
Photo courtesy of LoopNet

Photo courtesy of LoopNet

This house continues to fascinate me, given its highly changeable occupancy and ownership. Back in January, I noted that the house was up for sale for $1.35 million. In the same time frame, one of the recent occupants, campus Christian group Chesterton House, launched a $1,000,000 capital campaign to buy two Greek houses for use as men and women’s housing (the women’s housing is called Sophia House).

Looks like that capital campaign was successful – according to the finalized property sales just published, the LLC that owns 115 The Knoll sold the property to Chesterton House’s LLC on May 22nd for $1.15 million. In other words, Chesterton House now owns the house, and intends to operate it as their men’s residence. The operator of the selling LLC made a killing on the sale; while it’s down from the $1.35 million originally requested, it’s still a heck of a lot more than the $700,000 it sold for in January 2010. Looks like the rough ownership is Delta Phi Epsilon sorority pre-2010, O’Connor Apts. 2010-2014, and now Chesterton House.

This will probably wrap up my writing on this property for a while, but I doubt it will be the last I write about Chesterton House: they’re still looking for another “Greek-style” house to purchase and become the permanent home of the women’s Christian center.

 





News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. 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 buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





Six Years Later

18 06 2014

7-26-2013 057

Birthday number six. As blogs go, Ithacating is an old-timer. Many blogs stop within weeks, months, sometimes they limp into a year or two. Going into its seventh year of writing is something of an accomplishment. As with each birthday, here’s the statistical summary:

yr_6_stats

In previous years, the blog averaged 82, 166, 199, 216 and 182 hits daily. At this time last year, I was actually pretty concerned about the drop in traffic, thinking that the blog’s best days were behind it, and it would just be a slow decline until I finally gave up the ghost.

Before taking that drastic step, I figured I’d change up tactics first. For one, the twitter account was started on February 2nd; I try to keep many of the twitter posts unique, so that followers aren’t just getting rehash of the blog. About 500 hits have been from twitter (the vast majority from the Ithacating account), which accounts for about 2% of the blog visits over that Feb-Jun period – not enormous, but notable. After search engines and facebook, it’s the third largest source of visitors. I also started to leave links to other entries in posts, a practice I had shunned for years as a form of shameless self-promotion. I came to realize that, for easy info access, convenience outweighed modesty. However, I firmly maintain no one will ever see links to this blog on my personal Facebook or LinkedIn accounts.

Second, I decided to borrow methods from Ithaca Builds; in some ways, Jason was the kick in the rear this blog needed to get back on its game. A daily check of city document uploads allow this blog to be among the first, if not the first, to report on new proposals and developments, and when I get around to a photo tour every few months, I break them up into individual projects – much less photo lag, and a steadier flow of entries. The old maps I did for a couple older entries were also “retired”, seeing as the HTML version on IB is much more useful. Jason has his strengths, and I have mine; I like to think we’ve both found respectively niches that complement the other writer’s work.

Another small detail is seen here – many blog posts are now written in advance and scheduled. I wrote this two days ago, leaving out the actual numbers until today.

Over the years, the content of this blog has also evolved quite a bit. At the start, it was largely Cornell, Cornell facilities and Cornell history. However, I eventually started to work my way through most of those topics, and ideas became fewer and further between. The Ithaca development entries, which were a small portion in the beginning, began to take up a larger proportion of the topic matter. I don’t regret this move, but it definitely changed up traffic patterns and what visitors come to this blog for. If anything, it makes me feel a little self-conscious when I get emails or comments give me far more credit than I feel is due. If I became an expert on Ithaca development and urban planning, it wasn’t my intention. I just prefer to not look like an idiot when I write something up.

mothly_numbers

Anyway, the numbers: as of 3 PM today (note that the blog time is GMT), there have been 56,700 hits, a daily average of 155 hits over the past year. But, looking year to year by month since the big drop after January 2013,  numbers are up 20-50%, a pattern that looks to continue this month. It took some work, but this blog is bouncing back.

Looking over the past years, there have some Cornell-related posts, a topic near and dear to my fingers, if not my heart. Buildings named for “friends” of Cornell, Cornellians in the Olympics, and the “Fast Facts” entries.

I sill do construction updates once in a while, though mostly I’ve left those to Jason’s domain. About the only ones I visit more often are the Belle Sherman Cottages and the Boiceville Cottages; I actually feel a little bad about the Boiceville updates, because I have the remarkable ability to make the place look unattractive every time I take photos, due to  it always being grey or cold when I pass through. In the past year, Seneca Way finished up, the Argos Inn opened (and I hit up its bar), Collegetown Terrace continued construction, and Breckenridge welcomed its first renters. Harold’s Square received approval, the Marriott and Hotel Ithaca dragged along (but at least one has started and one is about to start). Many projects were announced, including hotels at 339 Elmira and 371 Elmira, a new apartment building for Collegetown, 323 Taughannock, the Chain Works District, and everyone and their grandmother wants to redevelop the old library. It’s been busy, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up, which I consider a good thing. History has taught me that not everything proposed will be built, but I’m optimistic much of it will, to the benefit of the city’s bottom line.

Over at Cornell, the Gannett addition was formally announced, the Statler planned yet another makeover, Gates Hall opened and the Dairy Bar reopened. Klarman Hall is underway and a new “Sesquicentennial Grove” is planned for Libe Slope. Lastly, I had my random topics, usually on the weather, the keyword bar, or my borderline obsession with 115 the Knoll.

It’s occurred to me that I have never written a “birthday” entry in the same place. Last year, about a week after that post, I did an interview for an air quality scientist job in Albany; after having an attack of conscience and turning down a job in California in December 2012 (the pay was great, but if I was going to hate the work, it wasn’t worth the move), I had felt that I was stuck in a rut. A few days after that June 27th interview, I received a phone call at 1:55 PM on July 1st, extending to me a job offer. It was great, because I was working night shift as a ship router, and had been woken from my nap; the excitement was tempered by drowsiness. I put in my notice, moved up here in late July, and here I am. I don’t want to “settle” in one tier of one job for too long, but it’s not a bad place to be for the time being. In a way, these anniversary entries are a timestamp of my life, one of many things I’ve enjoyed in these years of writing. I hope to make more timestamps in years ahead.





News Tidbits 1/23/2014: Cashing in One’s Chips

23 01 2014
Property of O'Connor Apartments

Property of O’Connor Apartments

About six weeks ago, I made a quick little news tidbit entry regarding 115 The Knoll, which had turned to Craigslist to try and fill its quarters starting this June. Now, we can also mention that the house is not only looking for renters, it’s also looking for buyers. From Warren Real Estate:

Gorgeous arts & crafts mansion steps from Cornell. Built circa 1915 with up-to-date sprinkler & fire alarm. Living room, chapter room, dining room, commercial kitchen. 13 rooms for up to 25 occupants. There is also [a] 1 bedroom cottage with a separate driveway. Approximately 18 parking spaces.

The real estate listing uses the same photo from the rentals website, so this is indeed the same house (the listing agent is Edelman Real Estate’s John O’Connor, who by my guess is likely associated with the family-run O’Connor Apartments). If interested, this house could also be yours for a cool $1.35 million (Ex-Ithacan take note). Taking a stab in the dark, my assumption is that the current owners have finally given up the ghost, and no longer want to be responsible for the property and its taxes.

Notably, this isn’t the first time the house has been on the market, but in summer 2009, it was only asking for $795,000. The house waited until January 2010 for a sale to be finalized. Whether it ends up a private home, home to another GLO, or yet another parcel owned by Cornell, remains to be seen. If 210 Thurston was any indicator, this one could be on the market for a while.

Around and around and around she goes, where she ends up, nobody knows.





How Does One Fill A Former Sorority House

8 12 2013

Image property of O’connor Apartments

This one was forwarded to me by an observant reader, L.D. It’s a listing on Craigslist for rentals available for June 2014 at 114 the Knoll (I always thought it was 115 the Knoll, but the listing photo matches my photos), which has served as a chapter house for a few different sororities over the years, the last being Alpha Xi Delta, which moved to another house on Ridgewood Road in 2010. More recently, the house has been occupied by a campus Christian group, Chesterton House. Chesterton’s house website notes a 2014 goal for purchasing a property near campus to serve as their permanent home, and I’m assuming that if this posting is up, then there’s a strong chance they succeeded in achieving that goal (if anyone knows where they decided to settle, feel free to comment or email me).

Quoting the listing:

“Beautiful arts and crafts house on North Campus available for June 2014. $750 per bedroom for 16 bedrooms plus utilities. Can hold up to 22 for the same price. Large living room with leather furniture. Banquet size dining room. Cook’s kitchen. You have to see to believe. Use [sic] to be a sorority. Email or call [redacted]”

This seems like a more unusual, and perhaps somewhat more difficult way to fill a large group home. Although the email links to the O’Connor Apartments property group, I don’t see it in their property listings, and I think they’re only handling the rental aspect of the house on behalf of another entity. My guess is that Delta Phi Epsilon sorority still owns the property, and with no short-term prospects of restarting their chapter, they need some way to try and keep revenue coming in for upkeep of the house. On one hand, they could sell to Cornell, which takes care of the tax issue, but then they’re at Cornell’s mercy – the house most likely becomes a dorm and there’s nothing Delta Phi Epsilon would be able to do, especially since they’ve gone a decade without an active chapter (there were attempts to re-colonize about three years ago, which did not materialize – the whole process being the subject of enough gossip at the time that one could have written a book about it). Yet another option is another private sale, like the home at 210 Thurston that was sold a couple years ago to the wealthy parents of a Cornell wrestler, renovated, and now serves as the home of Cornell wrestling team.

This is one of those houses that seems to routinely pass between groups at Cornell. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Edit 1/23/14: Maybe I’m wrong about DPhiE still owning the property. I forgot that it was listed in July 2009 and sold in January 2010. Perhaps now the O’Connor Apartments firm owns the building.





News Tidbits 3/6/12: From Orthodox Greek to Christian

7 03 2012

…and by Orthodox Greek, I mean your normal Cornell Greek house. But I enjoy a little bit of word play.

I had come across a piece in my Cornell feed about a Christian house at Cornell on The Knoll called “Chesterton House”. I thought it was unusual that I had never heard of it, but I wrote it off as being some low key residential organization, like many at Cornell are (for example, Telluride, the Co-Ops and a few of the professional fraternities). I noticed its location was 115 The Knoll, which failed to ring a bell – I thought it was a rowers’ house or home to some of the Big Red Band. I’ve been vaguely aware that there were five houses on the Knoll, so there was bound to be some non-Greek component.

Then I glanced at their website – it’s Alpha Xi Delta’s old house. The one I profiled a couple years ago.

According to their website, the house is named for Gilbert Keith Chesterton, an early 20th century writer and “defender of the Christian faith”. The house holds 15 and is all-male, with the female equivalent being Sophia House at 315 Thurston, the house with a stucco finish and the extremely high-pitched tile roof. Apparently that house is being rented, so it is not under the organization’s possession. Now, the house on the Knoll is owned by Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, the last I checked (for the record, they’ve owned it since 1962). So I’m going to venture that this is a fairly recent endeavor, and a big step for an organization that was established only 12 years ago. Although a relatively young organization, it’s certainly garnering its share of alumni support.

I for one welcome them to establish themselves as one of the many opportunities afforded to students at Cornell. In my mind, I see it as something similar to the Jewish Living Center on West Campus. My one encouragement is that they adopt a policy similar to the Jewish Living Center and encourage freshmen to live with the other freshmen. I’ll willingly admit that as the brother of a fire-and-brimstone evangelist, I’ve been wary of religious groups in general (one tends to be that way when your sibling tells you you’re going to hell at every Thanksgiving dinner, for being a secular  Christian). But it’s also addressing a niche group at Cornell and offering more for some individual’s Cornell experience.





Rumor Mill: Alpha Xi Delta’s New House?

9 06 2009

Being in another part of the country sort of limits my ability to keep this blog as active as it usually is. That being said, occasionally some tip or rumor comes along, and if it piques my curiosity, I’ll sooner or later get around to addressing it.

In this case, it would appear that popular rumor is ciruclating that Alpha Xi Delta sorority would be moving into Alpha Omicron Pi sorority’s old house. To make a long story short, AOPi closed this past year for a number of reasons, leaving their recently renovated (and rather luxurious, if I dare say) house on Ridgewood Road open. The house itself has a long storied history of being involved in the Greek system, with no less than four different Greek organizations calling at home at some point or another in its nearly one-hundred year history (see other entries).

The rumor has its plausible points. For one, Alpha Xi Delta doesn’t own their house at 115 The Knoll. That house is still owned by Delta Phi Epsilon sorority, which closed about six years ago [1]. Rumor mill seems to suggest that Alpha Xi Delta’s moving to Ridgewood may not be permanent, as AOPi stated that once the last sisters graduate (2011?), the sorority is hoping to reactivate itself, persumably in the house it owns.

I guess my question is, if the rumor turns out to true, then what’s being done with 115 The Knoll? Is Delta Phi Epsilon reactivating, or is the house intended for another purpose? I s’pose only time will tell on this one.

 [1]http://www.rso.cornell.edu/DPhiE/DRhistory.html





Where Frat Houses Go To Die

29 11 2008

Okay, maybe not so much. Reasonably so, Cornell has seen many fraternities in its day, and while many still remain on campus, they often move during their tenure at the university. Other organizations have come and gone with the times. Well, the fraternity and its symbols may be gone to all but their alumni and the old yearbooks, but the houses…what happens to them?

It really depends on luck and the general mood of the times. The most common fate for Cornell fraternity houses is demolition, whether it be for a parking lot, an apartment building, or for a physical expansion of the campus. The Rabco Apartments (the rather worn-down brick buildings on the 300 block of Thurston) sit on the site of what was Phi Kappa Psi’s house. DTD’s old house is now a parking lot, as is Zeta Psi’s first house at Cornell (granted, it burnt down in a fire in the late 1940s). Kappa Alpha Society’s Victorian masterpiece was torn down for Hollister Hall in 1957.

100_1718

This view used to be blocked by DTD’s old house. But now it’s a very nice parking lot.

Rather than continue on that depressing tangent, some houses are fortunate enough to find a new life. Some are for university functions. Pi Lambda Phi, having closed in the 1970s, is now the Undergraduate Admissions office. Triangle’s house (pre-1985) is the dorm 112 Edgemoor, and 14 South was home to Kappa Alpha Society (they moved here right before the demo and remained until they closed in 1990). TriDelt’s house prior to 1965 is now the Alumni House on North Campus.Image courtesy of Cornell Facilities website (www.fs.cornell.edu).

14 South was AOPi's house from about 1992 to 2006. In 2012, it became the home of Phi Sigma Sigma.

Some are converted into private residences. The Westbourne Apartments in Cornell Heights are the product of a conversion of Beta Sigma Rho’s fraternity house (they closed in 1972). 210 Thurston, now a private annex house, was the home to Sigma Alpha Mu for decades. On the 300 block of Wait Avenue, the light purple stucco house with the tile roof has been home to two sororities and one fraternity (Eleusis fraternity in the 1920s [1], Chi Omega prior to 1953, and Phi Sigma Sigma from 1954 to 1969).100_2440

Having your house turned into a co-op is another popular option. Examples include-Watermargin: a former house of Phi Kappa Psi).Prospects of Whitby: former house of Alpha Xi DeltaTriphammer Co-Op: Former house of Sigma Kappa and Chi Gamma sororities.660 Wait Avenue co-op: former house of Zeta PsiHowever, The best reuses are the most awkward ones. Like when another fraternity or sorority resides in your old house. Here’s ten examples of that:Theta Xi: Zeta Psi alumni bought the property after Theta Xi closed in 1971. Then Zeta Psi sold themselves to Cornell for a $1 in the 1990s to avoid paying property taxes. Now Theta Xi wants their house back, and their pulling Cornell’s strings. I love real estate drama, especially when I get it first hand from the Zeta Psi brothers.Phi Sigma Epsilon: After they merged with Phi Sigma Kappa in 1985, the Cornell house was closed. Alpha Chi Omega sorority moved in some time afterwards.Beta Theta Pi: Their house prior to “Castle on the Rock” is now Pi Kappa Alpha’s house. Granted, this was prior to 1906, and Pika moved in around 1917, so this is a very old example.Phi Kappa Sigma: “Greentrees”, their house up until 1990, became the house of Pi Kappa Phi within a year of the Skulls’ closing. Delta Phi Epsilon: This sorority founded their Cornell chapter in 1962, and closed for a few years in the early 90s before closing completely in 2003 [2]. They still own 115 the Knoll, which is Alpha Xi Delta’s current house. I’d like to point out the irony that AXiD closed in 1964, right after DPhiE arrived, and they reopened in 2004, right after DphiE closed. Rumor mill likes to circulate that DPhiE is waiting for the right moment to reactivate Cornell chapter, which is a source of angst for AXiD sisters living in the house.Alpha Epsilon Pi: Their house was occupied by Sigma Alpha Mu as a “second house” during the 70s’.Pi Beta Phi: Prior to their current houses’ construction in 1956, they lived where Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemistry fraternity resides today.Theta Chi, or Tau Delta Phi: AOPi’s closing on Ridgewood is nothing new for that house. Theta Chi lived there when they closed in 1999, after living there for around twenty years. Also, the chapter was home ot the fraternity Tau Delta Phi until that chapter closed in 1969.Chi Omega: This sorority, which reopened in 1987 and closed again in 2003, lived in Phillips House on Sisson Place. Current students will be more familiar with this place as the location of Sigma Alpha Mu’s house.Kappa Alpha Theta: Tridelt moved from the Alumni House to Theta’s original house in 1965. It wasn’t even a year after Theta disaffiliated after having issues with their national.Last but not least: this house, former home of Alpha Chi Rho (defunct), Pi Kappa Phi and Lambda Upsilon Lambda, is still up in the air for renovation:100_1370

Anyone have any news on any plans for the building and possible redevelopment?[1]http://www.edgemoor.org/heritage/history/eleusis.html[2]http://www.rso.cornell.edu/DPhiE/DRhistory.html





News Tidbits 1/21/18: Twice in One Weekend

21 01 2018

1. It appears that 107 South Albany Street has had its exterior design heavily altered, even as the building is just starting framing. The old design’s flat roof and unusual stair column feature have been toned down to a pitched (gable) roof of about the same height and dimensions. According to ads on Zillow, the 1-bedroom units, which will be ready for occupancy by August 1st, will go for about $1,395/month. For the price comes a fully furnished unit with indoor bike storage, high-end appliances, tiled bath, custom cabinets and high-speed internet. Water and snow removal are included in rent, electric is not. Fairly certain Daniel Hirtler is still the architect for Stavros Stavropoulo’s latest residential project.

To be frank, I don’t know how much an exterior design can change without having to go back to the planning board – offhand, I think they can do pretty much whatever changes they like, so long as they don’t violate zoning laws or change the habitable square footage.

2. Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects totally revamped their website. Among the snazzy new updates was a video.

Now, there are an embarrassing number of HOLT projects I can think off the top of my head, but while watching the 1’22” film, there was one project I did not recognize at all. Above, we see two 4 or 5 story residential buildings along a waterfront – the perspective renders behind the gentlemen’s shoulder are likely all part of the same design set, and the white vehicles in the concept site plan are parked boats. It also appears TWMLA is involved as the landscape architect.

Blowing up the image gives the name “Lembeck Landing”. At first, I thought it said Lambrou Landing, and had reached out to see if it was part of City Harbor; the response was that this appears to be another project. I tried to analyze the streets, it doesn’t look like an Ithaca map, and one street may be named “Porter”. Probably not Ithaca, but someone’s getting some nice waterfront housing. Watch the video for brief shots showing the inside of CFCU’s new HQ and some selected material finishes.

Update: It’s Watkins Glen. An undeveloped parcel near its Porter Street. Thanks to Keith Eisenman for solving the mystery.

3. Let’s just touch on the waterfront real quick. City Harbor is going to be a very substantial project. The first sketch plan involved two large apartment buildings and medical space for Guthrie Clinic; Guthrie would lease its recently purchased warehouse at 770 Cascadilla Street to Greenstar for a bigger, grander co-op; and a third location that will be presented at this month’s planning board meeting. The apartment buildings will be 4 or 5 floors and had ground-level parking with large amounts of surface parking for Guthrie, something that planning board was not a fan of. The other Cascadilla industrial building, 750 Cascadilla, may come down for more parking.

On the one hand, underground parking is out of the question due to the high water table, and above ground parking structures have to contend with soil issues as well, likely leading to deep foundations and increased costs. But an asphalt sea on the city’s shores is not something that will get the board’s approval.

Still, we are potentially talking hundreds of units, as well as a substantial amount of commercial space (and perhaps jobs) with the Guthrie component and the Greenstar expansion. It may very well be that this and the Green Street Garage plan will be the big development stories for the year.

4. Cornell will not the idea of that glass “hat” die; they’re calling it a “suggestion of a future roof pavilion”. The city’s ILPC probably isn’t comfortable with that suggestion being so close to the historically-designated Arts Quad. Anyway, renovations are underway on Rand Hall into the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. The $21.6 million project, about half of which is funded by donations, will be ready for students and staff in August 2019.

5. It sounds like the city has had just about enough with the state’s aerial apparatus fire code changes that halted much of Collegetown’s approved development projects. They’re prepared to take steps to eliminate parking on Linden because the new state law says Linden is too narrow as-is to have construction taller than 30 feet. This seems to be in addition to the power line issue. For 210 Linden, whose developer (Visum Dev. Group) specifically applied for some kind of relief, it would just be in front of the building; Todd Fox had already started work when the building codes department were notified and started enforcing the new code, which is not a good scenario.

Ithaca would prefer the state grant a broad variance (the new code has apparently been an issue across the state), and normally removing parking wouldn’t “fix” the underlying problem, but since New York State did not notify municipalities they were changing the law, they’re attempting to compromise on something that they normally would not. It might also explain why activity in Collegetown has been quiet these past few months outside of the inner core, where the streets are wider and the power lines are underground. The city is looking into how to make development work with the fire code if the state refuses to budge on code modifications. To be fair, there is tens of millions in development and its associated tax revenue that the city was expecting and that the state, in the midst of a budget crisis, is (literally?) hosing them on.

Whatever the city decided at its BPW meeting last week, it seems to have made Visum happy. They’ve started marketing 210 Linden’s units again. It’s saying there are 10 4-bedroom units, and 1 1-bedroom unit, while my notes say 9 4-bedroom units. Maybe the basement was reconfigured? Not sure.

Update: According to a Visum Rep, 210 Linden is 9 4-bedroom units and has added a basement 1-bedroom unit. So now it’s 10 units, 37 bedrooms.

 

6. Around the county, not a whole lot else on municipal agendas at the moment; one of the reasons for no update last week. Dryden town’s planning board will be looking at plans for a new warehouse next to 51 Hall Road, as well as a 5-lot subdivision at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road for Tiny Timbers, the Dryden-based modular home builder. Tiny Timbers uses the warehouse at 51 Hall Road, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the new one is purpose-built for Tiny Timber’s growing business. The town of Ithaca planning board cancelled their last meeting.

The city is fairly quiet. The planning board agenda for next week is short and mostly contains smaller submissions – the pair of infill duplexes proposed at 209 Hudson are on the agenda, with some slight design tweaks (the eyebrow windows are an interesting touch on the rear building). To the developer’s (Stavros Stavropoulo’s) credit, the units are design to accommodate families rather than students – the giveaway are the separate dining room areas, vs the eat-in kitchens one typically sees with student rentals. Senior planner Lisa Nicholas also gave written kudos for the quality exterior material choices (Hardie Board fiber cement panels, aesthetic wood timbering, stone retaining walls).

A fly in the ointment, per reader email: none of the bedrooms are legal for 2-person occupancy. They are 115 SF each; the state fire code says double occupancy must be at least 120 SF. So that would be an issue if one considers couples’ bedrooms.

The board is expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms needed before a negative declaration for adverse impacts can be declared. The 4-bedroom addition for Sophia House (111 the Knoll, Cornell Heights) is up for final approval. The proposed playground at Stewart Park is also up for discussion, with the board once again expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms.BPW is not comfortable accepted the $1.7 million playgrounds, gardens and splash pad unless Friends of Stewart Park creates a $75,000 annual maintenance fund. Lastly, City Harbor will be up for a second round sketch plan, informal discussion to obtain feedback for any future formal submission to consider.

The Nines project (311 College Avenue) is not on the board’s agenda this month. Things are up in the air, as the ILPC has chosen to pursue historic designation, even as there is an active project submission. A little awkward, certainly.

On the 30th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to finalize the form-based code for the Planned Unit Development to be deployed for the Chain Works District.

According to notes from the city Planning Dept, the city approved $130 million in development in 2017. There were 29 projects with 568 housing units, 107 of which are designated affordable for lower & middle income (LMI) households. Also approved was 28,600 SF of new retail & office space. These were from a summary sheet from the planning department, and the detailed write-up will come next month.

7. On a closing note, preliminary estimates suggests that Tompkins County added an average of 1300 jobs over the 2017 calendar year, bringing the average annual job count to 65,300. The gain is just over 2.0%, comfortably above the national average of about 1.5%, but nothing that screams ‘boomtown’. Since 2007, the annual average has increased by 7,700 jobs, +13.8%. The numbers suggest that the gains are slightly better in the fall and spring (7500 – 7700 jobs) than for the summer and winter (7000 jobs), indicating that academic year seasonal jobs are growing slightly faster than the overall market.





News Tidbits 12/9/17: Not Enough Time in the World

9 12 2017

1. The good news is, Maplewood is progressing. The bad news is, it is not progressing fast enough. A combination of bad weather (rain-outs), and staffing issues. The weather delays had been so bad (with rain 2.5x monthly normals in October) that some subcontractors walked away to take other jobs – while the ~200 Maplewood construction jobs are quality union labor, it’s been difficult to get a full week’s work in. It’s a Monday-Friday job; with a rain-out, they lose a day in the week. That means they also lose out on a day’s pay. Over the past year, 37 days have been partially or fully rained out. A provision in the subcontractors’ contracts allows them to leave for other jobs id the issue becomes too severe, so some have done just that. Not hard feelings, just a tough situation for everyone.

Now about 25 days behind a very tight schedule, EdR and LeChase are asking to be allowed to regularly work 8 AM – 4 PM Saturdays. The town is open to this, but wants more documentation before signing off. So, expect a six-day workweek during the winter and spring. The goal is still to deliver the $80 million, 872-bed project by July.

2. The Seneca Street Garage is “showing its age”. As the garage is now about 45 years old and is designed to last about 50 years, some components are starting to deteriorate. The city has constructed some shoring posts to keep the concrete pillars relatively stable. They are not at risk of collapse, but the tension cables, which are used in combination with rebar to provide for a heavy-duty concrete structure with fewer columns, are starting to wear out. Decades of salt, water and corrosion will do that.

The city will lose about 20 parking spaces from the life-extension measures. The Times is reporting that the city hopes to get another ten to fifteen years out of the garage, and hope to have a plan for replacement parking in place within ten years. That could be a demo and rebuild of the garage, or it could be something more substantial, like the Green Street Garage project. It’s something to mull over now, but there are no big decisions planned anytime soon. Perhaps a Seneca Street rebuild with mixed uses ends up being one of the big urban developments of the late 2020s.

3. A development site on West Hill has exchanged hands. As covered previously, Bella Vista was a planned 44-unit condominium project on Cliff Street that was approved in 2007, and never came to fruition. The site it was proposed for, an 11.71 acre property at 901-999 Cliff Street, was put up for sale in December 2015 for $395,000. Finally, it has been sold.

The developer, Mauro Marinelli as Primary Developers Inc., sold the land to American Blue Sky Holdings LLC for $330,000 on the 5th. The LLC is owned by local businessman Greg Mezey, who previously bought the 12,000 SF medical office building next door at 821 Cliff Street for $945,000 in February 2015. Since then, he and realtor Ryan Mitchell have undertaken some modest building and site improvements. As Red Door Rentals, they own and manage a few apartment houses with a total of about 25 bedrooms.

So what does that portend here? Good question. Watch and wait, for now. The Bella Vista project could still be built, but it must be re-approved by the city of Ithaca, since project approval is only good for two years. Zoning is R-3a, primarily residential uses with up to 4 floors and 35% lot coverage. Parkin is one space per unit or three bedrooms (whichever produces more), and small-scale commercial is allowed with a special permit. The site’s topography is a challenge, but the size of it and its proximity to downtown and the West End make it an interesting opportunity.

4. It looks like the first phase of Dryden’s Maple Ridge subdivision has just about filled out. For owner/developer Paul Simonet, it’s been a long time coming – the development launched right before the recession in 2008, and development didn’t really take off until the economy recovered. In 2013, there were three houses. By November 2014, only four houses had been built, with a duplex underway. Now, there are ten homes, and just about all one of the home lots have been sold. Some of the lots in phase one were combined by buyers.

Interesting, many of the homes built in Maple Ridge are modulars – I half-jokingly suggest that Carina Construction take prospective buyers through here to show them the variety of options one can pursue with modulars. It looks like this latest build on Applewood Lane will also be a modular – the foundation is built (note the dark Bituthene membrane for moisture protection), and the pieces will be trucked over and craned and assembled shortly, if they haven’t been already.

Ultimately, Maple Ridge is supposed to be three phases and 50 lots, and phase two will have about 29 lots, and since these are larger, they’re less likely to consolidated as phase one’s were. Given the need for a new road and infrastructure, sales seem unlikely until well into next year. The village minutes (the few they upload) does show that Simonet is actively pursuing the second phase.

It also answers a question from last week – the Elm Street office/warehouse complex will be the new home of the Ithaca Ice company, after some modest renovations.

5. The Lakeview affordable housing plan for the 700 Block of West Court Street, now called “West End Heights” was selected to receive a $100,000 grant from the inter-municipal and Cornell affordable housing fund (CHDF), but the funds will be delayed a little bit because they need to be moved into the 2018 budget, as the check will be going out in 2018.

6. The latest phase of the Village Solars (the reconstruction of 102 and 116 Village Circle) is being built with a $6 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company. The agreement was uploaded to the county’s records on the 7th. The contractor is “Actual Contractors LLC” with an address at Stephen Lucente’s home on the lake – it’s their in-house construction crew. Albanese Plumbing will be rigging sprinklers, heating and water pipes, T.U. Electric will be doing electrical and fan installations, and Bomak Contractors of Pennsylvania is the subcontractor for excavation, bedding and foundation work. Apparently Larry Fabbroni, the consulting architect, charges $90/hour for design work, while engineering/surveying is $107.50/hour.

102 and 116 comprise 42 units (24 and 18 units respectively), but if you’ve been reading the construction updates for the project, then you already knew that. The loan says both buildings have to be completed by August 15th, 2018.

7. Not a whole lot going on at the moment. Lansing town will be hosting a Planning Board to look at a telecommunications tower, and three new 1-acre home lots to be carved from a larger lot off East Shore Circle. The city’s project review meeting is so slim, they didn’t need to attach any files – just the old business with the Sophia House addition on the Knoll, and that’s it. The city Board of Public Works will be looking at plans for a new inclusive playground at Stewart Park.