News Tidbits 3/10/18: Affordable Housing Week 2018

11 03 2018

For today, let’s take a look at the entrants competing for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on Thursday 3/22 and Thursday 3/29 s part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 28 applications, three more than last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing.

In aggregate, there is $2,042 million requested, and about $1.239 million available. For the sake of comparison, that’s a 60.6% funding vs. request ratio, slightly more than last year’s 58%, but less than the 83.2% ratio of 2016, and the 67% ratio in 2015. 2016’s ratio was high because of $273k in unspent money originally earmarked for the earlier INHS plan for 402 South Cayuga Street.

Roughly speaking:

Year    Request    Amount Available

2015 / $1.78m / $1.215m

2016 / $1.85m / $1.54m

2017 / $1.982m / $1.149m

2018 / $2.042m / $1.239m

Unfortunately, HUD funding is not going up – of that $1.239m, about $184k is carried over from 2017 – Finger Lakes ReUse decided to decline last year’s $50k award, as did 402 South Cayuga Street ($80k, Habitat for Humanity’s cancelled project) and Housing for School Success (~$34k). The other roughly $20k was unallocated funds. In truth, the award for 2018 is $1.055 million, while requested amounts continue to rise, and the head of HUD gets embroiled in scandal for, among several reasons, ethics issues involving HUD business dealings with his family, and trying to spend $31k on a dining set for his office.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. A full rundown is provided by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor here. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. First, 402 South Cayuga Street. This site has had a rough history, unfortunately. It’s a small vacant lot just south of Downtown Ithaca that has had little good luck in the past several years. Five years ago, INHS originally attempted to build four units of for-sale housing on the property, but could not make it financially viable, as construction costs rose beyond what they could do within budget. Another developer proposed a market-rate plan, but the city, which owns the lot, has a strong preference for affordable for-sale housing. Habitat for Humanity also made an effort to build for-sale housing on the site, but it too saw construction costs rise beyond their capacity.

The grant application, $150,000 towards that $1.057 million project, would revive the INHS plan the planning board approved a few years ago. Two of the townhomes would sell to households making at or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI, at or below $42,400/year for a single person), while the other two would sell to those making at or below 100% AMI (at or below $53,000/year), sometimes called “missing middle” housing. The funds would be used for construction and soft costs (legal paperwork, permit fees) on the two lower-priced units.

The reason why this is feasible now is that for one, the planning and design costs from 2013 have been paid off and the design is nearly the same, and two, the project will be modular instead of stick-built. INHS would partner with Cayuga Country Homes to build the four units. The units would be locked into the Community Housing Trust, and include features not in the previous plans, such as air-source heat pumps. However, the bay windows on the north and south walls have been removed from the new plans.

Breaking it down a little more, the construction cost would ring in at around $177/SF, about 10-15% less than stick-built. The three 2-bedroom units are 1190 SF and will cost about $210k to build, while the three-bedroom will be 1352 SF and cost about $239k to build (total about $870k, of which $830k is consumed by hard costs, materials and labor).

INHS will sell the 80% AMI two-bedroom at $121k, and the 80% AMI three-bedroom at $139k. The two 100% AMI units will sell at $159k. INHS will need to cover the remaining $291,000 with grants and subsidies just to break even. It is possible to build marginally cheaper, but insurers require INHS has to use contractors with at least $1 million in workplace liability coverage.

If funding were awarded later this spring, the units could be ready by April 2019. Although the construction method is different, the exterior changes are generally cosmetic – slightly different window arrangements, deleted bay windows, and porch details. It’s still at its essence four 2.5 story townhomes with ground-level rear garages and cantilevered rear decks. It is possible they could be signed off on at the staff level, but it’s more likely they would need to pay a quick visit to the planning board. The exterior changes could be reviewed and approved in one meeting.

2. The other INHS submission is titled “Scattered Site Phase 2: New Construction”. The request is for $100,000 to help cover soft costs (architectural and engineering fees) associated with the projects in the application. Calling them “scattered” is a little bit of a stretch – it’s two sites. One is 203-209 Elm Street on West Hill. That will have thirteen units, replacing twelve existing units, a count that includes 4-unit 203 Elm Street, currently vacant due to structural concerns. Six of the thirteen will be targeted to households at 50% AMI ($26,500/year for a single person), and the other seven at 60% AMI ($31,800/year). Ten of the units are one-bedrooms, and the remaining three are two-bedrooms.

The big question is the $16 million project planned for Downtown Ithaca. Although INHS cannot name the applicant, there were enough hints to figure it out with a fairly high degree of certainty. I can’t run conjecture on the Voice, but here, well, take the disclaimer that I could always be wrong. But consider the following:

From the notes in the application, we know it is:

  • In census tract one – mostly Downtown and the State Street Corridor.
  • The current site is a small commercial building.
  • It is in the CBD – Central Business District.
  • The site would host 20,000 square-feet of commercial space, and 40 housing units. The 30 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units would be set aside for those making 30-60% AMI ($15,900-$31,800/year).
  • An unknown number of units would be set aside for formerly homeless individuals or those in need of supportive housing. The current owner would provide supportive services in the first-floor of the commercial space.
  • The partner in the project has provided services for over 150 years.
  • INHS would buy the land for $750,000.

The only site that checks off all the boxes is the Salvation Army property at 150 North Albany Street. It is currently valued at $800,000, following a $100,000 bump upward last year. A back of the envelope suggests a gross square footage of 55,000 SF, plus or minus a few percent. That would put the new build at roughly the same size as Breckenridge Place (55,300 SF).

Zoning at the site is a little odd – it’s a split, CBD-60 on the southern two-thirds, and more restrictive B-2d on the northern third. CBD allows up to 60 feet in height, 100% lot coverage no parking requirement. B-2d allows four floors, 40 feet in height, and has no parking requirement if a building is more than 60% residential use – which there’s a fairly high chance this project would exceed. I’m picturing something five or more likely six stories on State, and stepping down to four on West Seneca Street. But, there’s still a chance I could be wrong, and this may isn’t the right site.

An approximate construction time frame for the mystery project appears to be October 2019 through January 2021. A sketch plan revealing the mystery partner and site is expected to be shown to the city planning board in June. SWBR Architects of Rochester is in charge of design.

3. The last one I’ll cover is the Finger Lakes ReUse expansion. Let’s preface this by saying they don’t own the site – the former grocery store turned BOCES turned eco-services non-profit entered into a purchase agreement with John Novarr in February 2014 to purchase the building for $1.25 million (below the assessment of $1.35 million), which they will do exactly five years after the agreement was signed, in February 2019. The $100,000 requested would be assistance towards the purchase of the property, freeing up their money to work on their upcoming construction projects.

As is, the site is a 17,000 SF retail building, and a 1,330 SF former garage/repair shop. Plans have been proposed for major additions – 6,500 SF of retail, 65,000 SF of office space, and 12,000 SF of supportive housing, which consists of 22 studios for low-income individuals, with emphasis on formerly homeless and/or incarcerated individuals. Welliver, INHS and TCAction have provided guidance and assistance; Welliver may be the general contractor as construction proceeds, and TCAction may manage the housing units. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Point of confusion – the approved plans call for a 26,100 SF, 4-story building with mixed-use retail, office and living space components, and an 8,100 SF open-air metal warehouse for reclaimed wood processing and storage. That all totals 34,200 SF, not 83,500 SF. There’s 49,300 SF that is not clearly spoken for.

The warehouse is phase one, will cost about $500,000, and be ready by Q3 2018. It will generate at least three living-wage jobs (an estimate Finger Lakes ReUse says is conservative). Phase two is funding dependent on the affordable housing component, and will provide at least six new living-wage jobs. Although NYS HCR affordable housing grants don’t typically cover commercial space, they can be applied to mixed-use structures.

The total project cost is $10.521 million. $1.89 million of the costs are covered with a NYSERDA grants, and Empire State Development has also offered a $500,000 economic development grant. Add in other grants and awards received or being pursued, and it appears that only about $3 million will be covered through loans. IURA funding an extra $100k makes the project more competitive for other grants, since FLR will have demonstrated they have more secured funds, and a higher chance of moving forward. The idealized time frame calls for a late summer 2019 construction on Phase II with completion a year later, but sit back and see what happens with applications and awards first.

 





News Tidbits 3/12/17: Affordable Housing Week 2017

13 03 2017

It’s been a busy week. Let’s start by reviewing some of the entrants for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 16th and 23rd as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants, same number as last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.982 million requested, and $1.149 million available; that’s up from $1.85 million requested in 2016, with $1.54 million available (about $273,900 of that came from the returned funding for INHS’s cancelled project at 402 South Cayuga Street). In fact, the amount of money available is the lowest it’s been in a few years – in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. With the increasing requests, the chances for funding have gone down this year.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. The big new proposal coming out this year appears to be Lakeview Health Service’s plan for the corner of North Meadow and West Court Streets on the city’s West End. I expanded on the basics in a Voice article here, but for the blog’s sake, we’ll take a look at the finances.

In terms of leverage, it’s a pretty big project – a request of $250,000 towards a $20,081,186 project. However, keep in mind this project is only eligible for HOME funds and not CDBG (Federal Community Development Block Grants), and the city only has $295,245 in HOME funds to work with after overhead is taken into account – this is a pretty substantial request for something still in the conceptual stages.

The project fills a substantial by providing 50 units of affordable rental housing, all 1-bedroom units, in a 5-story building. Not only that, but half of those units would be set aside for those living with psychiatric disabilities. Ten of the general housing units would be available to those making 50-60% of area median income (AMI, about $27-$32k), with the other 40 going for less than or equal to 50% AMI. Those units will be interspersed with the general affordable housing. The special needs residents will be considered case-by-case; it’s for those who are generally independent, but may need assistance in stressful or difficult times. Lakeview will maintain an office on the first floor that will be staffed 24/7.

Some retail space will also be available on the first floor, which helps to cover the operational expenses, and meets the city’s goal of a more dense and vibrant West End. 17 parking spaces will be provided, so it’s expected the residents will utilize bikes and mass transit. The design will be slab-on-grade, with a deep foundation – soil in this part of the city is poor due to the high water table, so projects either have to be one or two floors with slab foundations, or they have to build enough floors to accommodate the costs of driving piles into the ground, in this case 80 feet down. This is something to keep in mind with the waterfront rezoning, as the soils are pretty similar.

The pro-forma assumes $730,300 in income in the first year after vacancies are noted, and about $313,500 in expenses, leaving a little over $416,800 for debt service. Everything goes up a little bit each subsequent year for inflation. The debt service is scheduled to last for 50 years.

Rochester’s PLAN Architectural Studios is the architect, so expect a modern design not unlike the cancelled concept plan for the Elmira Savings Bank site on West State and Meadow. The preliminary floor plan suggests the retail will face West Court Street rather than the Meadow/13 corridor.

As with many affordable projects, this one has a rather extended schedule due to the need to compete for public grants in tandem with private loans – funding applications are being submitted this year with loan awards during 2018, including the IURA’s. Construction would be from October 2018 to April 2020, with rent-up shortly thereafter. It’s odd to think this likely won’t even show up in the 2020 census, but we’re starting to get that far into the decade.

2. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity is continuing to move forward with their 4-unit townhouse plan at 402 South Cayuga. The non-profit has agreed to purchase the land from the city for $32,000, a below-market price that the city is fine with accepting, given Habitat’s plans for 4 owner-occupied affordable townhomes for those making 30-60% area median income (AMI). They are requesting $80,000 towards the $270,000 cost. It appears that Habitat’s splitting it into two phases, two units in each – given the small size of their organization, it’s a sensible approach. $540,000 for ~5200 SF of units is also quite a deal, at about $104/SF, about half the cost of an INHS project. Habitat does have volunteer labor that it can utilize.

Habitat is hoping to parlay the Morris Avenue two-family they’re doing later this year into sustained interest and funding for Cayuga Street – attracting donors with one city project, who might be interested in donating time and dollars to the next one. Like with Lakeview, construction is likely on a 2018-2020 timeframe. They’re also only eligible for HOME funds, so either Lakeview or Habitat will not be getting their full request, possibly both.

3. On the economic development side, TCAction is requesting $84,200 towards their $8.25 million childcare center at 661-665 Spencer Road. The project is part of the Amici House plan and was approved by the city concurrently, but technically separate from the 23 units of vulnerable youth housing being provided next door.

Named for a late, long-time TCAction employee Harriet Giannelis, the project helps fund the site acquisition – one of the land parcels is owned by the county, and TCAction has a $184,000 purchase lease-back agreement (the county bought the land from a private owner, and they’re currently leasing it to TCAction), which will be paid off partly with the IURA funds. The new 7,010 SF childcare center will provide daycare and early-education programs (Head Start) to 40 low-income children. Although promising three new jobs in the application, TCAction expects 21 Full-time equivalent positions to be created. It’s easier to provide an employee’s lifetime income documentation for 3 staff vs. 21. Welliver will be the project contractor, so expect local union labor.

Most of the other funds come from county, state and federal grants – another $500,000 comes from a loan with M&T Bank.

4. Also on the economic side is Finger Lakes Re-Use’s expansion plan at 214 Old Elmira Road. the non-profit has refined their plans for a new mixed-use expansion, and plans to start the city’s formal project review process later this month. Some of the numbers have been tweaked a little bit, but the basic components are the same – Finger Lakes ReUse would work with Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) to bring a new 4-story, 26,100 square-foot (SF) building to FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The first floor would expand FLR’s retail operation, while the upper floors would provide office space for FLR, and 22 units of transitional housing for formerly homeless individuals. Plans also call for an 8,100 SF warehouse for salvaged lumber/wood, and a 600 SF pavilion. 79 parking spaces are included in the project.

As with TCAction’s Giannelis Center, 9 FTE jobs are expected to be created by the $10 million project, but FLR promises to provide previous income documentation for 3. The monetary request from the CDBG funds is $100,000, and they will also be using Welliver. Welliver seems to be the safe choice when a developer wants subcontracted or direct local union labor.

The application states the $100k is going towards site acquisition, which I’m not fully following since they own the property and it doesn’t appear any new property is to be acquired. Perhaps the site has legal stipulations that have to be bought away? It’s not totally clear.

If I can be an architecture critic for a moment, I like the warm colors, but that largely blank east stairwell is kinda bleak. Maybe use those orange panels on that as well? Or another warm color?

Anyway, we’ll find what the IURA thinks; funding will be determined by the end of April, and formally awarded in June after the city’s Planning Committee signs off on the disbursement.

 

 

 





Affordable Housing Week 2016

8 03 2016

Expanding on last year’s theme, it’s affordable housing week. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 24th and 28th as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants (up from 21 last year) range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.85 million requested, and $1.56 million available, so that means an 84% chance of funding, all parameters being equal. For comparison, in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. The chances for funding have gone up this year.

Part of the reason for the better chances this year is unfortunate – the return of $273,869 in 2014 HOME funding meant for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project that has not come to fruition. Although HOME funds can be awarded for rental projects, the funding was awarded by the city specifically for owner-occupied housing, so the money comes back into play. There’s also about $26,300 left over from last year that went unallocated.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

202_hancock_1

202_hancock_2

1. Last year, INHS applied for and received almost $458k for 210 Hancock, for which site prep is currently underway. This year, they’re applying for funding for two projects – seven owner-occupied units at 202 Hancock (new tax parcel), and the single-family home planned for 304 Hector Street.

The 202 Hancock townhouses are requesting $567,000 towards a total project cost of $2,359,013. This is a high figure, but it also seems like it would address the recent, very major issue of rapidly rising construction costs derailing multiple affordable housing projects. INHS will be putting up $550,000 of its own money, and already has received a $280,000 city/county/Cornell grant (Community Housing Development Fund) towards the project. The rest comes from bonds, the state, land equity and the buyers themselves.

202_hancock_3

Doing the math ($1,438,640 construction cost, 8,463 SF total), the construction cost budgeted is $170/SF, a little less than the $190/SF they paid for 203 Third Street, but not impossible. Perhaps a larger project of townhouses can utilize cost efficiencies to keep the price down a bit.

The two-story wood frame townhouses would be LEED Certified. Five two bedroom units (1,147 SF) would be sold for about $114,000, and the two three-bedroom units (1,364 SF) for $136,000, available to those making 60-80% of local AMI, or $37,000-$49,000/year. The townhouses would be a part of the Community Housing Trust (CHT), keeping them affordable even as they are sold to others in later years. the anticipated construction period is November 2016 – June 2017. HOLT Architects of Ithaca is designing the townhomes.

Design wise, they look halfway between the first iteration of the rental townhouses, and the approved version.

304_hector_inhs

2. Also from INHS, the 304 Hector application. The amount requested is $100,000 towards a $369,294 project. This seems remarkably high. In the application, INHS notes the construction costs of $262,000 are from actual bids received from Rick May Construction (who is also doing 203 Third Street) and subcontractors. The math comes out to about $191.50/SF. One of the reasons for the very high cost is that INHS is required to hire contractors with enough liability insurance to cover any major accidents, and a lot of smaller builders don’t have enough insurance. $40,000 has already been granted towards the project from the CHDF.

The house would sell for $142,000 to a family making $37,000-$49,000/year (60-80% AMI), the same parameters as the 202 Hancock townhouses. The house would also be a part of the CHT. An April 2017 – January 2018 construction is planned. Local company STREAM Collaborative is the house’s architect.

402_s_cayuga_st_boggsfernandez

3. Meanwhile, at the 402 South Cayuga Street site, developer/architect Zac Boggs and Isabel Fernandez are requesting $105,000 towards their 4-unit townhouse project, priced out at $1,020,000, of which $820,000 is for construction. Of the 4 units, one two-bedroom unit will be available to a family making 80% AMI or less (i.e. $49,000/year or less), selling at $150,000. The other three units, 2 2-bedroom and 1 3-bedroom, would be rented out for 2-5 years, and then sold on the “lower-end of market-rate”, which is estimated in the mid to upper $200s. The units would follow LEED standards, and the affordable unit would be put into the CHT.

Precision Builders of Ithaca would construct the project. A May 2016 – June 2017 build-out is planned, though it doesn’t appear to factor in the planning board approval process.

Aside from the grant, most of the funds for the project will come from a bank loan, with $120,000 of their own money and $40,000 in county bond funds. Assuming these are the same size as the 2 and 3-bedroom INHS townhouses, the construction cost comes out to about $170/SF.

One thing that comes to mind in the context of the inclusionary zoning debate is that this might be the only way to really go in the long-term. If INHS gets priced out of feasibility in the city, trying to cover the cost of affordable units with substantially more expensive market units might be the only option, which is a rather uncomfortable thought. One of the issues with inclusionary zoning is that it prices out the middle; developers have to make up the cost somewhere, and the market-rate units are the scapegoats. Communities end up with a small portion of affordable housing, but mostly expensive housing. With this project, part of the money is being recuperated by renting the other units for at least a few years, which some may scoff at, but costs are, what they are.

habitat_2

4. Habitat for Humanity is requesting $75,000 towards their $305,500 duplex project at 101-107 Morris Street (to be redesignated 202-204 Third Street) on the Northside. Each unit will sell to a familiar making less than 60% AMI ($36,750/year), and the families will have to put in “sweat equity”, helping to build the houses (350 hours of labor). To keep costs down, labor is volunteer-based and materials are donated – as a result, the project only has a $180,000 construction cost, a little over $60/SF.

The units will be two-story, have porches and designed to fit into the neighborhood. The state has given the project a $70,000 grant already, and the city/county/Cornell CHDF has given $80,000. the rest is covered by corporate grants (Cargill, Lowe’s, M&T Bank) and individual donations. A timeline of April 2017 – April 2018 is anticipated.

No renders, but the above site plan was included in the application.

622_w_clinton

5. Last, the only truly new project for this post. 622 West Clinton Street in the South Side neighborhood. The applicant, Jerame Hawkins, proposes deconstructing a decaying barn at the rear of the property and replacing it with an affordable owner-occupied duplex. Hawkins, who runs the county’s Youth Advocate Program, would make each unit available to a family making 60% AMI or less ($36,750/year or less), in particular Section 8. The duplex would be modular, 3-beds and 1,561 SF each, with Carina Construction and Finger Lakes ReUse working with Hawkins on the project. The construction cost of $292k works out to about $93/SF.

The house at the front of the property, which dates from the late 1800s, would be renovated and retained as affordable housing. Hawkins is requesting a grant of $135,000 towards the $364,634 project. A project timeline of October 2016 – January 2017 is given in the application.

The one potential red flag I’m seeing is a line in the app that says “retaining for a minimal [sic] of 1 year”. Either that gets clarified and extended, or the IURA won’t be interested this proposal on account of it not being affordable for long enough a period of time.





News Tidbits 3/28/15: It’s Affordable Housing Week

28 03 2015

The unplanned theme of the week: affordable housing projects.

1. This week and next, the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 21 applicants ranges from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. In total, $1.78 million has been requested, and there’s $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total requested.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

inhs_pride_design_3

A. INHS is requesting $457,326 dollars for its 210 Hancock Street redevelopment project (also known as the Neighborhood Pride site). The total cost of the project as stated in the application is now up to $17.3 million. The application only applies to the apartment buildings, not the townhouses. The townhouses and apartments are going to be subdivided into separate parcels, because certain affordable housing funds are targeted towards renters and others towards homeowners. Subdividing the Neighborhood Pride parcel into the apartment and owner-occupied parcels will make for a smoother application process, and they’ll be separate projects within the larger framework of the 210 Hancock property.

210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.

One of the commercial spaces will be occupied by local social welfare non-profit Tompkins Community Action for use in an early head-start program for approximately 30 children from lower-income households. The other two spaces have strong interest but do not have tenants lined up yet.

flatiron_1

B. This second project is something new. Alpern & Milton LLC (local buisnessman Ishka Alpern and his brother, Franklin Milton) are requesting $250,000 towards a $1,285,000, 12-unit project proposed for Inlet Island called “The Flatiron”. The project seeks a renovation of 4,900 sq ft at 910 W. State/MLK Street (shown above) and a 3,700 sq ft addition onto the neighboring parcel at 912 W. State/MLK. The finished project will resemble the triangular form of the famous Flatiron Building in NYC. the application says “the project will be of a historic nature, but the structure being proposed is not currently, nor will it be, deemed ‘historic’ in terms of housing or building code”. Ten of the units will be available to 30-50% AMI, and the other two will be available to those making 50-80% AMI.

The brothers do have some small projects to their credit, according to the filed paperwork. They handled the renovation of Brookton’s Market and 514-516 W. State/MLK Street. Judging from the google maps dating back to 2012, some renovations have already been done to 910 W. State.

2. In this week’s Journal, there was an article that gave a rundown of recipients of the Tompkins County Affordable Housing fund paid for by a combination of the city of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell. Most of them I recognized – Holly Creek, the Habitat for Humanity duplexes in Groton and Trumansburg, Breckenridge Place and so on.

There was one I didn’t recognize. The Amici House proposal, which is being planned by Tompkins Community Action. I vaguely remember coming across this during the Stone Quarry debate last year, but at the time I couldn’t even verify if it was a real proposal. TCAction is proposing to build approximately 15 units affordable townhouses at 661-665 Spencer Road, just east of the Salvation Army store. There haven’t been any formal plans presented yet, but the project did receive $75,000 from the fund to pay for a pre-development feasibility study.

Farm Pond Site RES'D & LOT s 010414

3. Like single-family home development? Have lots of extra money lying around? The second phase of Lansing’s 21-lot Farm Pond Circle development is up for sale. Jack Jensen, the original developer, passed away last fall. Of the ten lots in phase two, four have already been reserved; there are also two lots left in phase one. The second phase is being offered for $155,000.

The Farm Pond Circle development is fairly stringent. Current deed restrictions limit the size of each housing unit to 2600 sq ft, vinyl or aluminum siding isn’t allowed, and only very specific subsections of the lots can be developed. Buyers aren’t limited to green energy, but there is a strong push in that direction. Also, at least four of the lots are earmarked for affordable housing (single-family or duplexes, buyers muse make  less than 80% of median county income of $53k)). The affordable units, at least two of which have already been built, are being developed in partnership with Jack Jensen’s non-profit, Community Building Works!.

4. It’s back again. The county’s Old Library committee will be meeting next Friday the 3rd at 9 AM in the legislature chambers. The goal of this meeting will be to review the formal proposals received for the Old Library site, which is likely the same four remaining from the RFEI, but in theory it could one or a hundred. Whereas the RFEI submissions were general, the proposals get into the nitty-gritty – site plan, architectural details, funding, time frame, proponents, all of it. Expect revisions to the previous four designs as a result of commentary from the public and legislators.

Since most folks can’t make Friday meetings, if anyone has general comments, conflicts or concerns about the proposals, I’ll just leave the committee’s contact info here: Legislature@tompkins-co.org. Use “Old Library” as the subject.





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.





The Tompkins County Housing Strategy

18 05 2017

The County’s Housing Strategy draft was originally going to be in the next news roundup, but it’s large enough to do separately, and my colleague Kelsey is tackling this meeting for the Voice. For those who couldn’t attend the Housing Strategy hosted by the county last Wednesday evening, the presentation is here and the outline is here. Comments can be sent to the Planning Department here from now through the end of the month.

First, quantities. This was touched on in the news round-up a couple of weeks ago, but the county would like at least 580 units coming online each year, plus specialty student and senior housing. For comparison’s sake, the county hasn’t exceeded that value since 1994, when Kendal was permitted in Cayuga Heights, and prior to 2016, the last time it exceeded 500 units was in 2000.

In more recent years, the value bounced between 200 and 300 units in a given year; during the recession, it dropped into the mid-100s. The article linked above is older, so it lacks the 2015 values, which were 279 units countywide, consistent with 2012-2014. Then we get to 2016, which was just finalized by HUD. There were 575 units, of which 121 were single-family homes, and 454 were multi-family structures. Let’s present that by community (click on the table to expand):

Cayuga Heights and Freeville didn’t approve a single unit, while the 271 units in Ithaca city is their highest stat since 2000, and the second highest in the 35-year online record. Dryden village’s growth can be attributed to Poet’s Landing Phase II, Ithaca town’s to Cayuga Meadows, and Lansing town’s to the Village Solars.

The point of this is to illustrate that 580 units annually is a lofty figure, but it is an attainable goal.

Then we get to locations. The ideal is to focus the growth in the city of Ithaca – since these stats are non-student housing, the targeted areas in the city include Downtown, the State Street Corridor, West End/Waterfront, and anything they can displace from the big box corridor on the southwest side. If a good opportunity for infill presents itself elsewhere in the city, that’s great, but it’s not the focus.

However, not everyone wants to live in Ithaca. Land in the “nodes” is cheaper and oftentimes the approvals process is easier. The county envisions 50-100 in the villages and growing hamlets like Varna and South Lansing, were a town center concept is in the RFP review process. Rural hamlets would see a handful of units annually (30 or less), and other locations basically just refers to Lansing’s suburban sprawl between the village and South Lansing. The town is hellbent on development any which way it happens, conventional approaches are the easiest to get financed, and the county’s not going to fight them.

The county’s housing strategy is three-pronged: Information/Collaboration, New Units and Existing Units.

  • Information and Collaboration includes a virtual housing office for resources and a collaborative network to formulate and pitch housing solutions. It’s kinda vague in the notes.
  • New unit strategies include support for targeted new development, streamlining zoning and examining potential incentives through the IDA.
    • Targeted new development can include RFQs for government-owned surplus property, early community engagement regarding DFAs (Development Focus Areas) and assistance in producing “shovel-ready” sites through things such as sewer access and energy hookups.
    • Streamlining zoning is to make it easier to get an initial product that will look like the final product – less uncertainty, less money spent on revisions. Inclusionary zoning seems pretty much dead in the water, as the county doesn’t seem to know if the community will support incentives for affordable housing, or if will even be effective. Done wrong, an inclusionary ordinance could actually result in less housing, if the burden is too great for the incentives offered.
    • Additional IDA incentives could include mixed-market or all-affordable rentals being eligible for abatements, and possible an abatement for any neighborhood or community who builds in inclusionary zoning. Looking at you, Trumansburg.
  • Existing unit strategies include the encouragement of rehabs (especially from rentals to owner-occupied), code enforcement and fair housing enforcement. Airbnb is still a tricky issue, so expect some tweaks to regulations on what constitutes rentals, hotels and legal occupancy.

There’s also a strong support/monitoring component in the strategy, which basically is a tracker of all projects underway, what stages, what they consist of, and so on. Beat you to the punch guys.





News Tidbits 12/17/16: So Much In One Week

17 12 2016

1. For the developers out there, it looks like your next opportunity just opened up in Collegetown. For sale are three houses on Linden Avenue – 6-unit, 8-bedroom 230 Linden, for sale at $675,000 (taxed at $350,000), neighboring 4-unit, 8-bedroom 228 Linden at $700,000 (taxed at $460,000), and two doors down, 2-unit, 11-bedroom 224 Linden at $525,000 (taxed at $400,000). All three are somewhat run-down student apartment houses on the cusp of inner and outer Collegetown – as such, their zoning is CR-4, which allows four floors, 50% lot coverage, and has no parking requirement.

The properties were all purchased in the mid-1970s by a small-time local landlord, who was killed in a car accident two years ago. According to the listings, the seller’s agent is a family member, and the units are leased until late 2017 or 2018, meaning that if one were to purchase with an eye towards rapid redevelopment, they would have to negotiate with the tenants, or wait it out. That being said, there’s a lot of potential here, particularly if a buyer combines 228 and 230 into one lot. The city designed the CR-4 zoning with Linden Avenue specifically in mind – the concept render is a northward perspective of a revitalized Linden Avenue. They’re a lot of money, but there could be some interesting news down the line.

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2. Also in Collegetown, here are a couple of concept color renders of 210 Linden Avenue (left) and 126 College Avenue, courtesy of Visum Development’s webpage (currently down, cached link here). I confess to be more of a warm colors person, but assuming these are fiber cement boards and wood trim (or fiber cement that looks like wood), they could turn out quite nice.

On a related note, Visum’s Fox and partner Charlie O’Connor have started earth moving for their townhouse project at 902 Dryden Road in Varna. As it turns out, it is a very difficult site to get photos of, despite its easily accessible location. I’ll do a more in-depth shortly, but the units should be ready by August.

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3. Fulfilling a promise to Fred, here’s the rather upscale McDonald’s/Fasttrak combo under construction North Road in the village. There is a billboard on 366 advertising for new hires for when they reopen, but unfortunately, it was too difficult to attempt a photo of the board and render. The building’s exterior is largely complete, and the gas station canopy is framed – late winter opening? The new construction has a price tag of about $500k. Honestly, for a roadside stop, it looks pretty nice.

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4. More on Dryden, with a couple houses of the week. Looks like some modulars are going into the Maple Ridge development – one recently completed, one in the works. The open space to the right of house number two, the Cape Cod, will host a garage. The land for house one sold to Kenn-Schl Inc, a regional modular home builder and seller, in June for $48k. House two’s land was sold to a Rochester man for $39k in October. At this rate, Maple Ridge is going to fill out their 15-lot phase one in another year or two. Although waylaid by the Great Recession, the big plan is for three phases and 51 lots.

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5. On the 15th, the construction loan for the William George Agency’s new 1-story, 24-unit dormitory was filed to the county records office. The $3 million loan comes courtesy of …. A trip to the property didn’t pan out, it didn’t look like anything was underway even though the building permits were filed with the town of Dryden a few months ago. Then again, as a facility for troubled youth, it’s not the most welcoming place for a random visitor to be taking photos.

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6. So what’s being discussed by the towns? In the town of Ithaca next week, a lot line adjustment between two houses, and more Maplewood discussion, with consideration of preliminary site plan approval. Meanwhile, the town of Dryden has cell towers galore, as well as revised approvals for Storage Squad (1401 Dryden) and Tiny Timbers; plans are in the pipe line for a 7-lot subdivision of the Dryden Lake Golf Course, and a possible sewer extension study for NYS Route 366 east of the NYSEG building.

Image Property of HOLT Architects

7. Speaking of sewer, the town and village of Lansing are negotiating sewer deals so that the town can use village lines to help accommodate future growth. Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star has the story. the report says the town is asking for 700 units of capacity, where a unit is 328 gallons. 700 units would also put the Cayuga Heights plant at capacity. The town’s intent is to extend sewer capacity to encourage development along Triphammer Road (as in the town center concept shown above), with the reasoning that it’s a natural extension of established development, and would help grow the tax base in the event of the power plant closing. Not as grand as the plans that were shot down in 2007, but like the Warren Road sewer built a few years ago, it’s seen as a more organic and cost-efficient approach.

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8. There might be some of movement on Jason Fane’s Bank Tower $4 million renovation from office space to 32 apartments. The windows were inspected and tagged recently, possibly to determine what needs to be replaced where. Most of the exterior of the Commons-facing building will receive a cleaning and re-freshening, with the bulk of the work geared towards the interior.

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9. In economic news, 24/7 Wall Street is reporting that Ithaca has the 25th best job growth in the nation from November 2015 – November 2016. 2,200 jobs equates to 4.4%, by their measure.

Hate to burst the bubble, but don’t buy into it just yet. Initial estimates can be way off due to statistically insignificant sample size for small communities. It may hold, it may not. Wait until March and see if the numbers get revised.

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10. Interesting meeting next week for the city Planning Board. Amici House and Maplewood are up for final approval, and a couple revitalized or new projects. Here’s the scoop:

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor
3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Maplewood Redevelopment Project 6:10
Location: Veteran’s Ave. (between Maple Ave. & Mitchell St.)
Applicant: Scott Whitham, Whitham Planning & Design, LLC, for Cornell University
Actions: Adoption of Findings, Public Hearing, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

The Town Planning Board filed a Notice of Completion on November 30th, 2016, which can be viewed here: http://www.town.ithaca.ny.us/major-projects/maplewood. The Town Board will consider adoption of a Findings Statement on December 20, 2016.

The city will specifically sign off on the bus stop and landscaped area at the northwest corner. STREAM Collaborative is the landscape architect.

B. Project: City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail) 6:30
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

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C. Project: Amici House & Childcare Center 6:50
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Tweaked since last time – a little more glass in the stairwell, and the roofline of the classroom building has been broken up with three distinct gables.

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D. Project: College Townhouse Project 7:10
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Public Hearing Determination of Environmental Significance

The big changes appears to be the switch from boxy bay window projections to curvy ones. Not sure if it works, given all the other boxiness. But on the bright side, we now know what the rear apartment building looks like:

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E. Project: Apartments (5 Units) 7:30
Location: 126 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

This is what I get for writing things over the week rather than all at once. Confirmed fiber cement panels (wood-like and Allura olive green) and a very light yellow Nichiha panel.

F. Project: Apartments (9 Units) 7:50
Location: 210 Linden Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Charcoal grey fiber cement panels, light grey panels, natural wood trim and red doors. The base will be stucco.

G. 323 Taughannock – Apartment (Redesign) – Sketch Plan 8:10

Steve Flash’s 21-unit apartment building for Inlet Island was approved two years ago, but has not moved forward due to soil issues and parking costs. This new version is still a housing proposal, but I’m hearing for-sale units that may be condo-like. The design will also be new, but the aesthetic will be similar – it will once again be crafted by STREAM Collaborative.
H. Ithaca Reuse Center – Sketch Plan 8:30

I know about this project because a county staffer emailed me by accident. But without official docs, I wasn’t about to report on anything. The plan calls for a mixed-use building, not unlike that seen in design concepts a couple of years ago. TCAction and INHS are involved, so there is an affordable housing component – probably looking at mixed-use overall.

4. Zoning Appeals 8:50
• 3053, Sign Variance, 310 Taughannock Blvd.
• 3055, Area Variance, 113 Farm St.
• 3056, Area Variance, 301 E State St.

5. Old/New Business:
A. Update — Chainworks DGEIS – Transportation Comments/Responses – yes, it’s still going.
B. Update — City/Town Joint Planning Board Meeting Jan 31, 2017 – Maplewood?
C. Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House) – Let’s see how this goes…





News Tidbits 2/13/16: A Week of Uncomfortable Prospects

13 02 2016

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1. We’ll start off this week with some zoning and land-use discussion. the village of Lansing, which tends to have a very tight grip on their zoning, modified their code for a new addition, called “Commercial Medium Traffic” (CMT). The zone, which has taken about two years to get to this point, will override what is currently zoned a Commercial Low Traffic (CLT) area. As a result of the rezoning, some previously-okayed uses in their CLT zone – clinics, group homes, construction storage, sit-down restaurants – have been removed, but adds cafeterias and assisted living facilities. Splitting hairs, one supposes. Looking at the use guidelines, about the only big use the CMT allows that CLT doesn’t is “small-scale sales” like boutique shops, and “low-traffic food and beverage”, which covers bars and sit-down restaurants.

The reason for this change comes from a couple of angles – the village has a number of vacant or underutilized parcels in the affected area, which they feel is detracting. Developers have approached the board about building retail/restaurant space on some of the land, but that would have required rezoning to commercial high traffic. But the high traffic zone also allows “hotels and big boxes”, so the village needed an in-between. Now it’s finally in place.

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2. Now for another land use debate. The town of Ithaca has authorized doing an analysis on what a fair bid would be for the development rights of 33 acres of land off of Seven Mile Drive and Route 13. These parcels are currently farmed by the Eddy family, and a mini-golf facility was previously proposed on one of the properties. Before that, they were to be included in the 2014 Maguire development before the Maguires pulled their project, partially because the town said the dealership and headquarters proposal wasn’t in line with their new Comprehensive Plan.

The problem is, neither is this. The town would buy this with the intent on keeping all of it farm fields. The comprehensive plan called for TND Medium Residential (townhouses, elder cottages, small apartment buildings and compact single family) and the “Inlet Valley Gateway” (quoting the plan, “intended to be a setting for a mix of office, small-scale retail, hospitality, and tourism and agritourism uses, with low-impact light industrial, artisanal industrial, and skilled trade uses”). The concern is, if the town starts displacing development from the areas recommended, developers will start looking at areas where it’s not recommended.

For the record, the 22.38 acre parcel is for sale for $425,000, and the 10.59 acre parcel is for sale at $325,000. The assessed value is only $188,800 total. The development rights will probably fall somewhere between. This definitely isn’t as cut-and-dry as the 62 acres the town picked up for $160k in December. The town will have an idea of the cost for the rights later this year.

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3. A few notes from this week’s TCIDA agenda. The Hotel Ithaca project is up for final approval of its tax abatement, which given that the public meeting drew not a single commenter, shouldn’t have any issues going forward. 210 Hancock also has some slight tweaks to its agreement, and Simeon’s is applying for a sales tax exemption on construction materials and refurbishment. The $660,000 project’s exemption would be worth $27,079 by their calculation. Simeon’s estimates 27 jobs at opening, and 14 new positions over 3 years, about half of which appear to be living wage. The tax exemption amount is small enough that it seems like a non-issue, but we’ll see what happens if the application is accepted and a public hearing scheduled.

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4. From the city Planning and Economic Development Committee – the Commons street-level active-use ordinance and the waterfront Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development (TM-PUD) were moved to go ahead to the Common Council next month. More on the Commons ordinance here, and the TM-PUD here.

Committee members were favorable to an amendment to the cell phone tower fall-zone law, though perhaps not in the most ideal way for Modern Living Rentals’ 87-unit 815 South Aurora proposal. On the bright side, a draft law for circulation could be ready by April. On the not so bright side, the city’s going with the 120% value used by other municipalities – that would give the 170 ft. tower near the project site a 204 ft. no-build fall zone instead of the current 340 ft. (200%), but it’s still greater than the 180 ft. MLR requested. This means the project would probably need to be revised somewhat if that’s the version of the law that moves forward. But, something would be better than nothing.

Oh, and the chicken law was voted for circulation, which opens the possibility of a council vote in April, for 20 test subjects in a pilot program.

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5. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency is in a bit of a dilemma. INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project, which has 4 units of affordable owner-occupied housing, is stalled. The construction costs are rapidly rising out of the range of feasibility. The only way it moves forward is if it’s a rental project, which is easier to finance.

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Ostensibly, the IURA would like owner-occupied housing. And a rival proposal has been offered by local architect Zac Boggs and his partner, former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández. It would offer four rentals for 2 to 5 years, and then go up for sale – in the $180-$230k range, which is somewhat more than the $110-$130k range typically offered by INHS. So what do you do? Sacrifice some affordability for some home ownership, or vice-versa? The IURA needs to figure that out. Additional renders and cover letter here.

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6. I think this is the ninth iteration of the Canopy hotel; quite possibly the most version of a single project I have on file. What’s changed since last time? Well, the inset panels in the northwest wall are back. Some cast stone was added to the base,  the second floor rood deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised. It looks like an improvement, and hopefully one that Baywood Hotels can bring to reality after being stuck in finance limbo for so long. Additional imagery here, cover letter from local architectural consultant Catherine de Almeida here.

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7. The Times’ Michael Nocella ran a really nice piece this week looking at the past, present and future of development in Varna. According to the article, Modern Living Rentals (my sympathies to Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox, since all of their projects seem to be wrapped up in one debate or another) needs a unanimous vote of approval for the 8-unit, 26-bed addition to 902 Dryden Road to be able to move forward (a 6-bed duplex already exists on the property). In Dryden, the five-member town board does the vote, and the current Dryden town supervisor helped close the sale of the parcel to MLR, so he must recuse himself. Shooting it down at this point, after the project’s cut its size by 40% from 18,000 SF to 11,000 SF, would be very unfortunate, and create an uncomfortable disconnect between the Varna Master Plan designed with community input, and what the board thinks Varna should have.

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As mentioned in the article, the northeast corner of Rt. 366 and Freese Road is one of those parcels where the town and Varna residents think development should happen, but really isn’t feasible. I remember when Todd Fox shared his proposal (STREAM Collaborative’s drawing above) with the town for that corner, and the reception was very positive, much more so than the owner’s earlier plan for 20 modular townhomes. Then not long after, everything ground to a halt. MLR decided not to buy the parcel after it turned out the land was incredibly unstable (there used to be a huge pile of material on the site, dubbed “Mount Varna”; the story of which gets written about extensively on the Living in Dryden blog, since Simon St. Laurent and the owners had quite the feud going). The chances of anything but grass growing on that corner is pretty low.

So, with the former “Mount Varna” land in mind, a master plan is not an exact thing; if it shows for three sets of five townhouses on a parcel, that’s not what may necessarily may happen. It just indicates the kind of density and scale of development the plan deems appropriate. 902 Dryden isn’t drawn on the master plan, but the plan welcomes the idea of townhouses on Forest Home Drive, which 902 abuts. So a vote in favor of the 8 new townhouses is, indirectly, a vote of support in the Varna Master Plan.

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8. The town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee will be looking into writing up and establishing a moratorium on all 2-unit residential buildings at its meeting next week. Doesn’t specify location, or rental vs. owner-occupied; just a ban on buildings with two units.

On the one hand, this is probably an attempt to curb student housing being built near IC; the town’s Planning Committee chair is someone with a long history of fighting development, and is seeking greater input on the Planning Board’s discussions. Students and student-amenable housing are just his favorite topics as of late. But the agenda doesn’t specify the type of unit or location, and that is very concerning. From a number of reasons, a broad-brush moratorium, without regard to neighborhood or owner occupancy, doesn’t seem like a good idea.

1) If the goal is to limit student housing, only a small geographic subset of the town is really necessary. IC students, which seem the primary cause of concern, congregate only in the neighborhood adjacent to campus.
2) The moratorium could harm affordable home-ownership. In a number of cases, one unit is occupied by the owner, and the other is rented out as a source of income.
3) Limiting new supply keeps housing costs high and pressures them to rise higher, since demand will not be altered by the moratorium.
4) The town only permits a small number of units each year. In 2014, it was 10 single-family and 2 2-unit properties (so, 14 units total). In 2013, it was 25 single-family, 10 2-unit. The preliminary 2015 numbers are 21 single-family, and 3 2-unit. There were no permits for structures with 3 units or more.

I asked Ithaca town planner Dan Tasman, and while his email notes that it’s targeted at student rentals, it doesn’t assuage my concerns of being too broad of an execution.

“The Town’s zoning code allows accessory apartments in some zones.  The intent is to let a resident have a close family member or friend live with them, or a tenant to help pay the mortgage, in a space that’s more private.  Basically, an in-law apartment.  However, a few builders are taking advantage of the privilege.  They’ll build a house with an accessory apartment, and rent out both units, with student tenants in mind.

There’s also concern about a growing number of “student specials” — very utilitarian duplexes, purpose-built for student rental.  There’s quite a few of them on Pennsylvania Avenue and Kendall Avenue, near Ithaca College.  Their design and siting can often seem institutional, and out of place with the neighborhood’s residential character.”

I’m not a proponent of moratoriums at all, but I’m hopeful this proposal isn’t as broad as it looks. If the net is cast too wide, this is going to do a lot more harm than good.

 





News Tidbits 1/30/2016: A Doozy of a Week For All the Wrong Reasons

30 01 2016

I’m not going to lie – this was a rough week. For those who like old buildings, the city tore down 404 West Green and 327 West State this week. For those who are consider themselves eco-activists, Black Oak wind farm is on life support. State Street Triangle is likely cancelled, the Printing Press Lounge is off the table, Cornell continues to pour most of its attention on its new New York City campus, and a grocery store and a downtown shop are closing their doors and putting people out of work. There have been better weeks for news round-ups.

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1. State Street Triangle isn’t dead per se, but it’s indefinitely stalled. I think the best headline goes to the Ithaca Times since they’re the most accurate. From chatting with planning consultant Scott Whitham, who’s involved with the project, it sounds like the impasse is the result of Campus Advantage wanting to pay less for the site since they can’t build as large of a project, which would decrease their revenue. The contract for the land purchase from Greenstate Properties/Trebloc Development (Rob Colbert) was up for re-negotiation after the December expiration, but neither side wants to budge on what they feel the price should be. So nothing can move forward without a deal between the two parties. I reached out to Colbert Wednesday, but the secretary paused for a minute and then said “he’s, uh, busy in a meeting, care to leave a message?” So he’s probably not going to say anything further.

Could it move forward? Possibly, it could be revived if a deal is made. But as things are, it’s stalled and it’s outside the control of any community group or government authority. It’s definitely a shame from the standpoint of Ithaca’s worsening housing crisis because it’s less that will be entering a market flooded with students, people moving here for work, and wealthy retirees who have apparently decided this is the Asheville of the north. And given the battles of “structural racist gentrification” and “uncivilized crime-producing trouble-making affordable housing“, where everything is accused of being one or the other, I’m not especially hopeful at the moment.

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2. Now for something that is definitely dead in the water – The Printing Press Lounge. Developer Ben Rosenblum had wanted to put a jazz lounge in a 7700 SF industrial warehouse at 416 East State Street, but neighbor objections to noise and traffic proved a little too much for the Board of Zoning Appeals, whose members appeared unlikely to support necessary variances for the vacant facility. So the developer pulled the lounge proposal, but the office space and apartment are still under consideration.

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3. Also from the same phone conversation as State Street and Printing Press – the Canopy revisions were approved, so at least there’s a good chance that will be breaking ground this Spring. The Chain Works review schedule was also approved, although given the couple emails from the Voice article, the public review period is going to be groan-inducing. One of the letters commanded that nothing should be done there and it should be kept as is because it encourages traffic and “its density is ruining Ithaca”. They might have meant size, but density is a buzzword at the moment. Apparently, they also overlooked the fact that it’s already built and won’t be fully cleaned of toxic chemicals until a reuse plan is in place. The development team will have to respond to all of these comments, perceptive or not.

4. In real estate sales, an LLC in suburban Corning picked up the former Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery space on Elmira Road. 0.74 acre 407 Elmira sold for $640,000 on January 22nd. A little research into the rather exotically-named “Armiri LLC” shows that they were previously registered at an address home to an Econo Lodge, and that the owners have about 70 or so other LLCs related to hotels and the hospitality industry. A little more digging, and the owner turns out to be Corning-based Visions Hotels, a developer of suburban chain hotels with locations from Albany to Buffalo. So if I were to make a guess, the five-year old Tim Ho’s building won’t be long for this world, and a suburban hotel is likely to rise in its place in a couple years. But we’ll see what happens.

5. Meanwhile, just up the road, Maines will be shutting down their store at 100 Commercial Avenue. The 26,146 SF building was built for the Binghamton-based grocery chain in 2010. February 7th will be the last day. Although there don’t seem to be any figures online, the move will likely put at least a couple dozen people out of work. A phone call and email to Maine’s asking for employee totals and reasons for closure were not returned.

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6. Let’s talk about money. The construction loan docs for Collegetown Terrace Phase III were filed with the county this week. The price? A cool $39.25 million, from PNC Bank. That’s just for 247-unit, 344-bed Building 7. Previously Valentine Vision Associates LLC (John Novarr/Philip Proujansky) received $50 million on 8/22/13, $50 million on 7/1/2014, and $50 million on 11/20/14. Do the math out, and $189.25 million in loans is a lot of money. Then again, this is also a 1,200+ bed project.

The latest loan docs require an opening by fall 2018, but expect it to be about a year sooner than that, August 2017.

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7. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council has approved the Chapter House plans. All that’s needed at this point are the Building Department permits, which are technical and just require that everything will be built up to code. Things are looking good for that February construction start.

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8. Something to look forward to at next month’s Planning Board meeting – further discussion of Cornell’s renovations to Hughes Hall. Planning Board Presentation here, drawings here, Site Plan Review application here. KSS Architects, with offices in Philadelphia and Princeton, will be in charge of design. KSS has been to Cornell’s campus before, having designed some of the Hotel School additions and part of the previous phase of law school renovations. Local firm TG Miller is handling the engineering work. The project is expected to cost $10.2 million and construction would go from June 2016 to July 2017.

Quick refresher, the plan is to renovate 4 floors of what were previously student dorms into academic office, admin and student organization space. Cornell anticipates about 200 construction jobs will be created, but nor more than 80 at any one time, and 20-40 on-site most days. No new permanent jobs, limited visibility, and minimal transportation/ground impacts will limit much of the customary Planning Board debate.

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9. Meanwhile, New York City outlets are reporting on the progress of Cornell’s massive new tech campus in New York City. The Real Deal is reporting Snøhetta, an Oslo/NYC architectural firm, will design the Verizon Executive Education Building. The other three buildings underway are the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, and CornellTECH Residential, which are the work of Morphosis Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, and Handel Architects respectively.  300 students and 200 faculty/staff  will move into the new 26-story dorm by August 2017. Verizon paid $50 million for their naming rights, and billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $100 million, making up a sizable portion of the $590.6 million donated to Cornell over the past year. Once the initial wave of construction is complete, it’ll be worth seeing how donations break down – years ago, MetaEzra noted that Weill Medical received an outsized proportion of charitable giving.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but there are times when Living in Dryden blogger Simon St. Laurent’s thought piece seems uncomfortably relevant.

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10. At the county’s PEDEEQ Committee meeting Friday (PEDEEQ being the acronym for the unnecessarily long Planning, Economic Development, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; agenda here), the county did two things worth mentioning here. One, they awarded the $35,000 airport industrial park feasibility study to the team of Clark Patterson Lee of suburban Albany, and Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates. Two, they passed a resolution calling for “the Timely Development of the Black Oak Wind Farm” project in Enfield.

The Black Oak opposition really seems to have picked up momentum after one the major landowners involved with the project pulled out. Neighbors in the area are actively attacking the project by calling it a danger to human health and a destructive environmental menace financed by wealthy out-of-towners (a shot at Ithaca), and the wind farm’s executive board is struggling to address these accusations in the revised environmental review due to be completed in April. For the local eco-activist crowd, this is an unwelcome and unusual position to be in because more often than not, they’re the ones opposed to development. The county legislature, which has several green activists, is doing what they can by giving verbal support, and a subtle sort of wrist-slap to the opposition. Dunno if it will work, but we’ll see what happens this spring.

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11. Here’s the sketch drawing for Elmira Savings Bank’s new West End Branch at 602 West State Street. It would appear the plans call for a modern addition to the north side of the building, and renovation of the rest of the two-story restaurant into office/service space. Local companies TWMLA and HOLT Architects are handling the design.

According to the Twitter feed of the IJ’s Nick Reynolds, the building plan was received well enough at the Planning Board meeting, but the rest of the plans call for demo of the other buildings, including the affordable housing that had some folks up in arms, for a parking lot. That didn’t go over very well. Demolition of low-cost housing for parking is going to be about as welcome as a Hitler costume at a bar mitzvah. Expect another trip to the board with some revised plans.

12. The Dewitt Park Inn is for sale for $950,000. Owners Tom Seaney and Nancy Medsker are selling the property they purchased for $320k in January 2012 and renovated into a high-end bed and breakfast. The two were vocal advocates for the popular though foregone Franklin/STREAM condo proposal for the Old Library site, although Medsker didn’t do the debate any favors when she decided to trash her rear neighbor, senior services non-profit and Travis Hyde project partner Lifelong in a letter to the Ithaca Journal. The county has the Dewitt Park Inn assessed at $575,000.

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13. Nothing too exciting for the town of Ithaca planning board agenda next week. The town’s planning board will choose whether or not to sign off on the review schedule for Chain Works, and they have to re-approved plans for a smaller parish center at St. Catherine of Siena in Northeast Ithaca. According to the provided docs, the parish center has been reduced from 10,811 SF to 8,878 SF due to rapidly rising construction costs (seems to be a common refrain these days).

 

 





News Tidbits 1/23/2016: A Doozy of A Week Ahead

23 01 2016

1. Over in the town of Ithaca, an update is being considered for the Rodeway Inn budget motel at 654 Elmira Road. Previously, the motel had been approved for renovations that would expand the size of the 25 existing units and provide 2 new inside corner units, along with the associated landscape and site improvements. This proposal was originally approved by the town in December 2013, but then the project never went forward, partially because the Maguire group was looking at buying the property and tearing it down to make way for their artisanal car dealerships and headquarters. With the Maguire’s plan filed away in the circular drawer, the owners of the Rodeway Inn have decided to reconsider the renovation project.

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Along with the room expansion, the new plan also calls for renovating an existing on-site residence into a new office by building an 1146 SF addition, while the existing motel office is renovated into a community room to serve travelers. Variances for side-yard setbacks granted for the previous proposal must also be re-approved, since zoning variances in the town of Ithaca are only valid if construction starts within 18 months of being granted (in other words, the variance expired last June).

Pennsylvania-based HEX 9 Architects is in charge of design, and JAMNA Hospitality is the developer.

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2. From the city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council agenda next Tuesday, the latest iteration of the design plans for the Chapter House replacement and its neighbor at 406 Stewart Avenue. The Chapter House looks to be in the last stages of ILPC approval, while the apartment house next door is still in the early design review stage.

Looking at the Chapter house, the zinc roofing tiles have been replaced with asphalt, and two more paint colors will be included on the trim, which has gone from white to dark grey and black. The ILPC is doing what they do best, going over projects with a very fine toothed comb and debating every detail. Meanwhile, the current iteration of 406 Stewart Avenue calls for a 4-story apartment building with design features very similar to the previous 3-story building. That project still has some debates ahead of it, so we’ll see what happens moving forward.

Also on the agenda, discussion with the Planning Board about the DeWitt House/Old Library redevelopment, an update on repairs to 102 East Court Street, and some type of work being done at 210 Stewart Avenue (could be anything from paint color and shingle choices to major work; if it merits a post it’ll be included in a future update).

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3. The Times’ Josh Brokaw wrote a nice summary of developments down at the Ithaca Waterfront, although I wish it hadn’t run when it did (re: HOLT update). Thanks to Josh, we have an idea of what’s going on with the approved but as-yet unbuilt 21-unit 323 Taughannock apartment project:

There was an “unexpected issue” that came up, Flash said, with the project, and so they must take “a sharper look at the engineering” to make the costs work.

I’m going to take a slightly educated guess – the soils were even crappier than anticipated. The high water table and easily-compacted soil in the West End and Waterfront pretty much mandate that multi-story projects have deep, expensive foundations to support the weight of structures. A soil issue was one of the problems that delayed the Lofts @ Six Mile project, and the reason why it’s built tall and narrow; also, since the Bloomfield/Schon has to pay for that deep foundation, it’s one of the reasons why the Lofts are so expensive. From the sounds of the Times article, balancing the deep foundation with adequate parking for the parcel is an issue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, this project could be a real asset to that area.

Also, pretty sure that Cascadilla Landing still isn’t happening, and the Times has realized that. Anyway, it’s a good piece, and I’m not going to steal all of Josh’s thunder or his Myrick quotes, so spare two minutes and have a read through.

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4. For my moderate griping about timing with Josh’s Inlet Island development piece, I could note that this quote in the IURA Governance Commitee Agenda from city Planning and Economic Development Director JoAnn Cornish ties my article and his together:

“Cornish reported that the Planning and Economic Development Committee identified the Waterfront Neighborhood Plan as the Phase 2 plan of the Comprehensive Plan it would like to move forward with. Funding has been allocated for it. The plan would most likely be a hybrid Waterfront/West End neighborhood plan, in anticipation of significant development interest in that part of the city.”

In good news, affordable housing grants were thankfully saved in the federal budget, meaning that there will be a similar amount heading to NYS in 2016 as in 2015, and those funds would be available to future Ithaca projects should they jump through all the application hoops and be deemed worthy by Albany. The IURA is looking to smooth over any possible shortfalls by offering itself as a housing strategy consultant for the Waterfront/West End and Southside Phase II plans, and in the longer term, sales of parcels at the end of Cherry Street, at 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard, and Fire Station No. 9.

Also, the Argos Inn and Bandwagon Brewery/Restaurant have paid off their IURA loans. Proof that, although there have been failures (Finger Lakes Wine Center), the IURA can properly vet projects and be successful in its mission.

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5. House of the week. 102 Walnut Street, town of Ithaca. the last of Agora Home LLC’s Belle Sherman Cottages is nearly complete, possibly to go on the market as a spec house. The house is a little small than its neighbors since the lot is smaller, but the unique design gives the street some extra diversity. Apart from landscaping, paving and some finish work (on the exterior trim at least, although being a Simplex modular means the inside is probably finishing up as well), the house is just about finished. Nice work Carina Construction.

6. Last but certainly not least, the Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. It’s a big one.

I. Agenda Review
II. Public Comments
III. Special Order of Business – Chain Works District Redevelopment Project – Presentation of Draft Generic Envrionment Impact Statement (DGEIS) and Scheduling.

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It’s finally moving forward. The Chain Works District, which was last presented at a meeting in November 2014, is finally ready to discuss parts of its environmental review and timelines. Per the agenda, “The project is a mixed‐use development consisting of four primary phases: (1) the redevelopment of four existing buildings (21, 24, 33, & 34); (2) the repurposing of the remaining existing buildings; (3) potential future development within areas of the remainder of the site adjacent to the existing buildings/parking areas; and (4) future developments within remaining areas of the site.” This will merit its own piece, but in the interest of time, Ithaca Builds offers a great summary of the previous steps and the proposal itself.

IV. Subdivision Review – 101-107 Morris Avenue. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). This subdivision proposed to reconfigure a pair of vacant North Side lots to allow a duplex to be built by Habitat for Humanity. The two 1400 SF units would be sold to families with modest incomes. There’s a letter of support and the Board has already drafted a recommendation to the BZA giving their thumbs-up.

V. Site Plan Review

A. Cayuga Green Phase II (Lofts @ Six Mile Creek). The applicant proposes to omit a green screen on the parking garage. A letter from the developer asserts that the wall will be adequately masked by trees.

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B. Hilton Canopy Hotel – Project Update, addressing conditions of Site Plan Approval and Requested Changes. Developer Neil Patel (and represented by Scott Whitham) requests to increase the number of hotel rooms from 123 to 131, and increase building size from 74,475 to 77,884 SF. Height would remain the same. Once again, this is something that could be the subject of its own post, but will have to keep it brief for the moment.

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C. State Street Triangle – Project update, no decisions planned. 9 stories, 96′, 180 units, 452 bedrooms, 12,300 SF ground-floor retail, including space for Ithaca Bakery and CTB. See Thursday night’s Voice article for more info. Smaller, shorter, and maybe palatable.

D. 424 Dryden, parking lot rearrangement, Declaration of Lead Agency

E. E-Hub, 409 College Avenue, renovations. While technically it doesn’t require review, Student Agencies and STREAM are asking for thoughtful feedback.

F. Sketch Plan – Elmira Savings Bank, Route 13. Pretty sure this is the one tied up in that PR disaster. WEDZ-1a Zoning allows up to 90% lot coverage, 5 floors and 65′, but given previous statements, the short-term work might just have to do with renovations of the former Pancho Villa restaurant, maybe a drive thru lane or other major exterior work. We’ll see. Background reading on the parcels themselves here.

G. Sketch Plan – Cherry Artspace. Developer: Performance Premises LLC/Samuel Buggeln. Cherry Artspace, a theater company, is located at (where else?) 102 Cherry Street on the city’s southwest side. The building was purchased in August 2015 for $240,000, it had previously housed Renovus Energy before the solar panel company decided to move out to more spacious digs in Ulysses. The theater company, directed by Sam Buggeln (pronounced “bug-ellen”), wishes to renovate the ca. 1980, 1,154 SF building into dedicated performing arts space.

VI. Zoning appeal recs for the Habitat duplex

VII. Planning Board Resolution to the BPW regarding Seneca Street Streetscape work, Cascadilla Street Railing Options, and potential rezoning of a section East State Street/MLK Blvd. from B-4 to the more restrictive and residential-focused R-3a. Glancing at the zoning map, only the north side of the 400 Block is B-4, so the downzoning is probably intended for the houses on the corner of E. State and Schuyler, 420 and 422-24 E.State/MLK, and 108 Schuyler Place.

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Also worth noting, the Travis Hyde Old Library project will be discussed separately with the ILPC. That meeting is at 6 PM at City Hall. The Planning Board meeting at City Hall starts at 6:45 PM.