307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Although Greenstar had yet to open this weekend when these photos were taken (it opened Tuesday), it’s safe to say that this project is complete. The plantings and outdoor benches for the pedestrian walkway are seeking the planning board’s approval for tweaks (straight benches vs. curvy benches, large shrubs in place of trees), and assuming they’re granted, those will be installed and rooted in a few weeks.

We could look at this project as a lot of numbers. Four years of planning. Six floors. $10.5 million construction loan. 46 units. 96 bedrooms. $1,000/month rent. 3,200 SF grocery store. 14 living-wage jobs created by said store. Two bus pull-off spaces. One parking space for delivery. Zero parking spaces for residents.

We could also get qualitative with it. Collegetown Crossing really was the pioneer of the new urban movement that has become more popular in recent years, both from livability and walkability standpoints as well as the financial perspective. Students have trended away from vehicle ownership in the past 15 or so years, from 50% in 2000 to 27% in 2012. Concurrently, there’s been a bigger emphasis on denser, mixed-use neighborhoods – malls and suburban apartment complexes are less popular than they were, and street-front shops with apartments above are making a resurgence, as the Commons and downtown Ithaca are demonstrating. Collegetown Crossing really helped to catalyze the conversation already underway, and no doubt had an influence on Collegetown’s hybrid form-based zoning code that did away with parking in the valuable core of the neighborhood. So the other new apartment buildings with active-use ground floors, Cornell’s Breazzano Center, and whatever else comes forth, they owe a hat tip to Collegetown Crossing and its developer, Josh Lower.

And speaking of hat tips, for all of the problems Hayner Hoyt has had this year, they deserve a big round of applause for finishing this project within its tight deadline, even with the other construction and logistical issues currently plaguing Collegetown. Jagat Sharma also deserves recognition for a project that looks pretty nice. When I was writing about the Collegetown delays in the Voice and speaking with Lower on the phone, he asked what I thought, and I said it came out better than I expected. Cue the awkward phone pause. What I meant was that the flat-looking perspective drawing doesn’t do the building justice, the built product is much more interesting to look at.

It looks good, the grocery and pedestrian alley enhance the quality of life for neighborhood residents, it replaces an unappealing two-story building, and it helps build the tax base. This project is a big positive.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 6/2016

20 06 2016

307 College isn’t too far from completion at this point. The angles where with CMU dominates the exterior look nearly finished from the outside. Some of the windows are in on the front side – the projecting section, currently covered in Tyvek housewrap, will be mostly faced with dark brick, similar to the brick used on the rear CR-4 portion. The bare expanses will be a glass curtain wall, and a lighter brick will be used on the sides and for the cornice. Traditional scaffolding needs a certain amount of space and time to be set up and taken down, so given the dense environment and summer deadline of the Collegetown Crossing project, mast climbing work platforms are used being for the bricklaying and other exterior facade work.

Greenstar’s new grocery location on the first floor should be opening August 17th, right around when the first tenants start moving into the apartments. It sounds like it will be a soft opening, with an actual Grand Opening celebration planned for some date in September. A render of the interior of the new Greenstar location, designed by architect Pam Wooster, is included below. Greenstar plans to employ 14 at the new location, and include a cafe/to-go space to complement its full-service grocery (some of the items, like those in the deli, won’t be prepared on site due to space constraints; they will be prepared at their central kitchen and brought in daily). There hasn’t been any news on tenants for the smaller two commercial spaces facing the pocket park.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 4/2016

25 04 2016

Collegetown Crossing is starting to show its face. Windows are being installed, and the CMU walls are on display. The mostly glass front facade has yet to go on, and brickwork will eventually go over the Tyvek housewrap on the 4-story, CR-4 portion of the portion. As mentioned in the Voice piece, a construction worker on-site said that interior work is focused on interior wall framing, sheet-rock hanging, and electric rough-ins at the moment.

According to building developer Josh Lower of Urban Ithaca, the project is being included as a part of a city grant application related to public transit, though it’s not something I’ve heard much about. It definitely fits the bill – designated internal bus shelter and pull-off space for up to two buses, a pedestrian through-fare and pocket park that connects College Avenue and Linden Avenue, ample bike racks (12 spaces required, 24 being provided), 3,200 SF grocery store on the first floor and Ithaca Carshare is but a couple hundred feet away.

There are a couple smaller retail spaces included as part of the project, but there hasn’t been any indication as to whether they have tenants lines up.

Like Dryden South and the Dryden Eddy Apartments, Collegetown Crossing plans to open in time for the fall semester. Ithaca’s Jagat Sharma is the architect, and Hayner Hoyt Corporation out of Syracuse is in charge of the build-out.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 2/2016

29 02 2016

307 College Avenue, also known as Collegetown Crossing, is nearly topped out. Structural steel has reached the sixth floor, and it looks like a few crossbars towards the front and top of the building are all that’s needed to declare the project fully framed-out. Once that happens, the crane can be dissembled.

Most of the building is wrapped in translucent plastic sheets as early interior work progresses through the cold Ithaca winter. Since this still early on in the interior construction process, workers will be doing things like sprinkler pipe fittings and erecting metal stud walls, maybe even fitting plumbing risers and pipes in some of the more advanced parts of the building. A peek from the back shows that the structural steel has been sprayed with fire retardant.

Developer Josh Lower of Urban Ithaca hopes to have the building open by late July/August (and signs of a warmer and drier than normal spring ahead would help keep things on schedule). Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse is the general contractor for the $10.5 million mixed-use building, and Jagat Sharma is the project architect. Apartment rents for the 44 units are expected to be in $950-$1250/bedroom range. Grocery co-op Greenstar will occupy either a 3,200 SF space on the first floor, which will also host two smaller retail spaces, a laundry room and a fitness center. A pocket park and pedestrian walkway connecting College to Linden is being built as part of the project.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 12/2015

10 12 2015

Unlike the other two Collegetown midrises under construction, Josh Lower’s project at 307 College Avenue, Collegetown Crossing, is already starting to make a noticeable dent in the Collegetown skyline. The front concrete stairwell reaches up to the third floor, with the structural steel not far behind. Corrugated decking has been laid into place and sprayed with fireproofing material. Plastic tarp has been put up for weather protection while workers go about the first steps of interior work, including the installation of sprinkler pipes and plumbing, stud walls, and so on.

The $10.5 million Collegetown Crossing project will bring 46 units and 96 bedrooms to market when it opens next august, as well as a 3,200 SF full-service branch of the Greenstar Co-Op grocery store. Two other commercial spaces and an indoor TCAT bus stop are planned. Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma is the designer, and Hayner Hoyt Corporation out of Syracuse is the general contractor.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 10/2015

18 10 2015

The largest of the apartment projects under way in Collegetown, Urban Ithaca (the Lower family’s) project at 307 College Avenue, the “Collegetown Crossing” development, has made significant progress in the past few months.

Structural steel columns have risen to the height of the building’s second floor, and some cross beams have been erected. The concrete area where the buckets are sitting in the second image is the future pedestrian walkway connecting College and Linden Avenues. A year from now, those pillars will support the second through sixth floors, while a vegetated pocket park and walkway will lead past the main lobby for the apartments, one of the commercial spaces, and the laundry area, before a kink in the path takes it past the entrance to rear stairs and a fitness center, and then out towards Linden Avenue.

Also, don’t let the perspective fool you – the fire station’s concrete pad (where the photos were taken from) is a little higher than the walkway, so the walkway’s height is greater than it looks.

Notice the three concrete boxes? The closest concrete box to where I’m standing is the lobby’s stairwell. The one a little further behind it is for the lobby elevator, and the third one, furthest back in the photo, is for the freight elevator and rear stairwell. One of the two smaller storefronts will be in front of the elevator shaft towards the street, its outline clearly visible in the poured concrete of the second photo. All three of these will rise with the rest of the building as it moves skyward.

The project will bring 96 bedrooms to market in 46 units, as well as a 3,200 SF full-service branch of the Greenstar Co-Op grocery store. Two other commercial spaces and an indoor TCAT bus stop are planned, but no tenant announcements have been made for the other retail spaces. Apartment rents are expected to be in $950-$1250/bedroom range. Everything should be open for occupancy by August 2016.

According to construction loan documents recently filed with county, the project’s cost is about $10.5 million. Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma is the designer, and Hayner Hoyt Corporation out of Syracuse will be in charge of construction.

In case anyone’s wondering, the “harlequin house” behind 307 College, 226 Linden Avenue, is another Lower property. Just like 205 College.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 8/2015

11 08 2015

The last in the Collegetown trio of midrise apartment buildings underway, and the biggest, is Josh Lower’s Collegetown Crossing project at 307 College Avenue. Like 205 Dryden and 327 Eddy, it’s time to give this building its first progress report.

A telescoping boom crane looms overhead as work continues on the foundation of the new building. An excavator is at work digging down to the appropriate level for foundation piling. The two-story concrete masonry unit (CMU) box that previously stood on-site has been demolished. Apart from the murals, there won’t be much missed about the ca. 1980 structure. 307 College had been home to a branch of Kinney Drugs up until about 2006, and afterwards, its commercial space was partially occupied by Ithaca Carshare. The second floor contained several apartments. The Lower family, who run the Urban Ithaca rental company in Collegetown, bought the property for $1.725 million in 2007.

Plans for the property were first announced back in 2009, but with parking requirements still in place, the project would have needed a zoning variance of 57 parking spaces, which the city was uncomfortable with. The project stalled and was unable to move forward with further review until the city passed revised zoning codes for Collegetown in March 2014. There were actually two notable impacts as a result of the zoning code update – one, that it could be built in the first place; and two, that the rear portion, which had been six stories like the rest of the building, had to be chopped down to 4 stories since it fell into a different zone (the building straddles two lots; the rear one is part of the new CR-4 zoning, which only allows four floors, and the front portion is MU-2). This reduced the number of bedrooms from 103 to 98, and later, 96. The final plans were approved last September, and the groundbreaking ceremony was just last month.

Collegetown Crossing will have 46 apartments with 96 bedrooms when it opens in August 2016. Along with those units, the project will host a 3,200 SF branch of local grocery co-op Greenstar on its ground floor. Two smaller commercial spaces are also included. A heated bus shelter and a narrow “pocket park” traversing College Avenue to Linden Avenue will also be available for public use. With a true grocery store coming to Collegetown, residents have generally been in favor of the project.

There’s no construction loan on file, but the FEAF estimated $5 million to build. The grapevine says it actually might be more in the line of $7-8 million. Also a plus, there were no tax breaks requested or given.

Local architect Jagat Sharma can put another feather in his cap, as this project is another of his designs. Syracuse-based Hayner Hoyt Corporation will be in charge of construction.

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The Collegetown Construction Boom

12 07 2014

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Building off of some of the work I’ve done with Jeff Stein over at the Ithaca Voice, this will be done in the form of an explainer.

1. What do you mean by “construction boom”?

Housing proposals have increased in the city of Ithaca in the past couple years, and in no place is it more apparent than Collegetown. The recent proposal for 327 Eddy Street brings the total of proposed developments to five – 327 Eddy, 205 Dryden Road (Dryden South), 307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing), 140 College Avenue (the John Snaith House addition), and 202 Eddy Street (a reconstruction of a house that burned down). As proposed, the projects would add 86 units and 223 bedrooms to Collegetown proper, a level of development not seen since before the October 2007 development moratorium.

2. Moratorium? What’s that, and why did Ithaca vote for one?

In its basic definition, a moratorium is a temporary ban on an activity. In Ithaca’s case, a moratorium on all new construction was voted into place by the Common Council for what was traditionally defined as the Collegetown neighborhood. Construction already approved could go forward, but no projects in the neighborhood could be reviewed and approved until the moratorium was lifted. The moratorium was originally for 12 months, then extended to 18 months, finally lifting in April 2009. One might have expected construction to take off at that point, but it didn’t, for the same reason the moratorium was put into place – design and implementation of a new zoning plan for Collegetown, sometimes called the Collegetown Vision, and later, the Collegetown Urban Plan and Conceptual Design Guidelines.

3. It took them seven years to update the Collegetown zoning?

Well, if you count from the time the initiative was announced, it was actually eight years. Initially came a public meeting period from 2006 to 2007 to design an implementation strategy (you could joke they had a meeting on how to set up meetings). Then they selected Goody Clancy, a Boston-based urban planning firm, to design the guidelines based off city and market needs, and public input. When the plan came out in late 2008, a number of local officials and public members were unhappy because they felt it made Collegetown too dense, so they counteracted and endorsed a plan in August 2009 that reduced the proposed zoning, placed emphasis on annual payments in lieu of parking, and instated community incentives to allow for taller structures. For instance, at the corner of College and Dryden, the Goody Clancy plan called for 90′, and the revised plan called for 60′, with 75′ if special incentives were met, like hotel rooms or community space. If you’re really interested, you can view a 239-page PDF that shows the two plans here.

At this point, many of the major property owners in Collegetown were incensed by the complicated zoning plan and balked at having to pay for parking that many of their tenants wouldn’t use. The landowners ran to their lawyers, and faced with an insurmountable legal challenge, the city was unable to affirm their endorsement. For $250,000 in fees and costs, there was nothing changed from when the vision statement was written, because no one could come up with a compromise.

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4. Then why are we seeing a building boom if there was no zoning change? Or did the city actually come up with a plan?

In fact they did. One of the biggest changes to the plan over the past few years was the exploration and adoption of form-based zoning. Traditional zoning focuses on use – residential, industrial, and so forth. Form-based zoning focuses on the design of the structure – how tall it can be, should it have street-level retail, porches, window size, setbacks, and so forth.  There have been many meetings to work out the details, but eventually, a form-based plan was developed. I’m not going to bore you with the zoning details, but if you’re interested, I did a write-up here, and you can find a copy of the new zoning plan here. Perhaps the key detail to developers was that for the most densely zoned parcels, parking would no longer be required. In an area of extremely high land values like Collegetown, that makes all the difference.

5. So you’re telling me this came down to parking?

That was a big part of it, yes. Also, because the zoning’s been in flux for so long, a lot of developers who wanted to build were holding off because they weren’t sure if they would end up spending money designing and planning something that would be prohibited by a change in zoning. Once the new zoning was adopted this past March, it created an attractive, stable structure for those inner Collegetown parcels, and developers have responded in earnest.

6. Whoa, hang on. I’ve seen that huge Collegetown Terrace project going up on East State Street. Why aren’t you counting that?

Because it falls just outside what’s considered to be Collegetown, and was never affected by any of the zoning debate. Not to say that the project wasn’t controversial, but that’s another story.

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Progress in Collegetown?

9 03 2014

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Given the chance to look back at high-value projects over the past 30 years, one would find that, until the past several years, the list would be dominated by projects in Collegetown. Reasons abound- quoting developers, students “are looking for quality“, while increasing land values (comparable to downtown Los Angeles) have persuaded property owners to upgrade their stock and maximize their returns. The city has in general promoted Collegetown redevelopment since its slummier days, with relaxed policies in the 1980s and a couple of brief moratoriums allowing for reassessment (ex. the moratorium of 1999/2000, when the newly-built 312 College Avenue rubbed some locals the wrong way).

As of late, though, development in the Collegetown area has tapered down. There have been a couple projects over the past several years: 309 Eddy was completed in 2012, and 320 Dryden in 2008. If you want to stretch it, you can add 107 Cook, but that has less bedrooms than the building that burnt down. The big glaring omission here is Collegetown Terrace, but that is being built just outside of what is traditionally considered Collegetown.

A big factor in all of this has been the uncertainty in Collegetown’s zoning. Since about 2008, Collegetown’s zoning has been in flux. The city and Cornell paid about $200k for an urban planning company (Goody Clancy) to design a plan, which came out in 2009. The  project freaked out some residents and local politicians, who saw it as too dense and too much, period. Then the planning board went and took it in the opposite direction, proposing zoning that would force smaller buildings and reduced density. I made a b*tchy little rant when that happened. Since the old images can’t be blown up (I had an issue with that for a while back in 2009 or so), the numbers for the Goody Clancy plan can be seen better here on page 161. I’ve been unable to find another copy of the first revision, not that it specially matters since the plan was accepted, repealed in 2011 after a potential lawsuit from landowners, and has been revised seemingly a dozen times since, debating everything from the necessity of porches in certain zones, to the tremendous fight over maximum heights on the intersection of College and Dryden (90′ in the GC plan, 60′ for first revision, now 80′), to parking and encouraging townhouses. After much back and forth, something is now finally in place.

The final version is the Collegetown Area Form Districts guideline, the implemented form of the plan. The key thing with the is plan is the form-based zoning; traditional zoning focuses on regulating use and overarching parameters (lot size, density), form-based zoning scrutinizes design. Form-based zoning has been popular in new urbanism for encouraging walkable, mixed-use communities, an early example being Florida’s Seaside community.

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The plan has six zone types, each with its own tweak on the design guidelines. CR-1 to CR-4 are increasingly denser forms of “Collegetown Residential”, MU-1 and MU-2 are mixed use, with active street engagement through ground floor commercial or public uses.

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Compared to the Goody Clancy plan, the Dryden/College core isn’t as dense, but the floor count and maximum heights are even higher than suggested in some spots, for instance College at Bool Streets. But the primary focus of the plan is on the design of buildings. CR-1 and CR-2 will be large house forms with pitched roofs, CR-3 for 2-3 unit large homes/duplexes. CR-4 accommodates large houses, townhomes, and small-to-medium size apartment buildings. MU-1 welcomes medium-sized mixed use structures, while MU-2 is for the largest mixed-use buildings, up to 6 floors and 80 feet in height (think 403 College for example). Worth noting, most of Collegetown Crossing falls into MU-2, but the back end edges into a CR-4 Linden Avenue property also owned by developer Josh Lower. Since CR-4 is residential only, the difference would force him to make a redesign to reduce the building’s footprint, but at least parking will no longer be a concern. This December 2013 article says that required off-street parking was removed from CR-4 and the MUs, but I still see it listed in the guidelines as “required off-street parking” under accessory uses. Hopefully it’s just my paranoia; the IJ also said the parking reqs were also waived for the MUs when the plan was adopted.

The Sun, the IJ and other articles note the “strong support” for the plan. I can only hope, after six years and hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless meetings, that the city will have something to show for its efforts. Housing is only getting tighter in Collegetown, and developers are simply looking outside the core for their projects, so to have some guideline in place will hopefully spur some investment into Collegetown’s poorly-maintained and underutilized properties.





News Tidbits 1/28/17: Helping You Avoid Politics For Five Minutes

28 01 2017

1. Looking at sales, it looks like there were a couple of big ones this week in the Ithaca area. The first was on Friday the 20th, where 402-04 Eddy Street was sold for $913,000. The buyer was an LLC tied to Charles and Heather Tallman, who own several properties in Collegetown. The $913k price is above the 2015 assessment of $880k, but below the 2016 $1 million assessment. The Tallman historically have not been the kind to redevelop property, and the three-story mixed-use building is part of the East Hill Historic District, so don’t expect any big changes.

The next two were on Wednesday the 25th – Parkside Gardens on the Southside at 202 Fair Street, and Lakeside (Grandview Court) on South Hill, were sold for a whopping $10,450,000 from a Long Island landlord (Arbor Hill Homes) to an LLC based out of Delaware. Parkside has 51 units and was built in the 1950s, and is assessed at $2 million. It sold for $4.2 million, about double what the $2.145 million the owner paid in 2007. Lakeside has 58 units and was built in the 1970s. It is assessed at $2.8 million, the previous owner paid $2.58 million in 2007, and just sold it for $6.25 million.

Up until 2014, they accepted housing vouchers, but according to an email from the IURA’s Nels Bohn, The Learning Web handled the vouchers and the IURA has nothing about the complexes on file after 2014. It might be a case similar to Ithaca East, where the affordable housing lease period ran out and the owner converted to market rate. The Voice tried to do a story on it in Fall 2015, but it went nowhere, and then again in January 2016, and it went nowhere. I did research but Jeff and Mike were going to be the respective writers. Here are my notes from September 21, 2015:

The two complexes were recently offered for sale, but the listing was deactivated. According to 2011 IURA minutes, the owner is kind of a sleazeball, uses them as an investment property but doesn’t do maintenance. Another company (Rochester-based Pathstone, they’ve done work with INHS) considered buying Parkside in 2011/12, but backed out when problems arose.

One could argue that the two complexes had a shady owner who just cashed out big. The buyer can be traced through its unique name to a Baltimore company called Hopkins Holding, and a LinkedIn profile of a partner in the company saying their specialty is student housing. At the high price paid for Lakeside, I could easily see a redevelopment happening, though I’m not as certain about Parkside’s future.

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2. There were also a couple of construction loans filed this week. Tompkins Trust lent Collegetown Crossing $500,000 according to a filing on the 23rd, but the type of work is unspecified in the county docs. Tompkins Trust also lent INHS $1,581,796 in a separate filing on the 23rd, to finance the seven for-sale townhouses underway at 202 Hancock Street in Northside, part of the 210 Hancock affordable housing project.

3. A few weeks ago, the pending sale of the former Phoenix Books barn at 1610 Dryden Road came up. Now we what the plans are. It appears a local businessman wants to renovate the barn and use it for automotive trailer sales. The plan requires a special use permit from the town because it’s a residential zone, and the project is seeking a landscaping outdoor area to showcase trailers for sale. It doesn’t read as if the barn itself will be greatly altered in appearance, although its structural stability is in question, so it will need its north wall shored up, and roof repaired so that rainwater stops pouring into the basement. The town will be going through the project over the next couple of months, but there don’t appear to be any big obstacles that will prevent a permit from being issued.

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4. For the sake of acknowledgement, the ILPC approved of Jason Fane’s renovation plans for the Masonic Temple. There was a little back-and-forth about window replacements, and they made sure to note that the “for rent” signage was not grandfathered and would have to come down once the three commercial spaces are rented out, and the signage would not be allowed to go back up even if the spaces were vacated at a later date. The ILPC also seems inclined towards a historic district on the north edge of Collegetown along Oak Avenue and Cascadilla Place, but that still has yet to take form.

5. Out in the towns and villages, there isn’t anything too exciting on the agenda. Cayuga Heights had a one-lot subdivision for a new home site at 1010 Triphammer for their latest meeting. The town of Dryden had a 5-lot subdivision off of 1624 Ellis Hollow Road, and a 7-lot subdivision at the former Dryden Lake Golf Course.Dryden also received the sketch plan for the 12 Megawatt solar array planned by Distributed Solar at 2150 Dryden Road (12 MW is enough for ~2400 homes). Ulysses had to review a special permit for turning a nursery business into a bakery/residence, and a 2 Megawatt array at the rear of 1574 Trumansburg Road. The town of Lansing had a meeting scheduled, but nothing was ever put online, nor was there a cancellation notice.

6. The townhouses at 902 Dryden are starting to rise up. Visum Development’s facebook page notes that the foundations for all structures are complete, and framing is underway; you can see roof trusses on the right of the photo. Looks like a typical wood frame with Huber ZIP sheathing, which has become the popular (and arguably more effective) alternative to traditional plywood and housewrap. According to the hashtag overkill, the 8-unit, 26-bed housing plan is still on track for an August 2017 occupancy.

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7. Quick wrap up, we now have addresses for the two-family homes going up on Old Elmira Road. They will be 125 Elmira Road and 129 Elmira Road. This means the end of the awkward Spencer Road/Old Elmira Road disclaimer in the next (and probably last) update in March, although for the sake of continuity the title of the post won’t change – continuity was the same reason 210 Hancock was co-tagged with neighborhood pride site for about a year. Just trying to make it easier to follow along.