Cayuga Medical Associates Construction Update, 8/2018

7 08 2018

The new Cayuga Medical Associates office building at Community Corners is topped out – I’m a little hesitant to call it fully framed since it appears some minor work remains at the southwest corner of the new 28,000 SF building. Steel stud walls are being sheathed in Saint-Gobain CertainTeed GlasRoc, one of the major suppliers of fiberglass mat gypsum board. True to name, the boards consist of a sheet of woven fiberglass sandwiched between gypsum panels; brands like GladRoc and Georgia-Pacific DensGlass are fairly common for commercial construction where fire-rated walls are a necessity, like medical spaces, offices and hotels, and it does show up in some apartment buildings. The exterior will be finished with an off-white brick veneer, a nod to neighboring structures. Interestingly, the entirety of the gable roof sections appears to be standing seam metal over some kind of base layer. More expensive, but definitely making it such that in the event of fire, there is as minimal ability to spread and put vulnerable individuals at risk. Ward Steel of Liverpool appears to be the subcontractor for the structural steelwork.

The interior work doesn’t seem to be too far along yet, with interior framing underway, and maybe fireproofing of the structural steel or sprinkler installation underway. The construction work hanging out by the rough window opening in the photos below said that they hoped to have the building finished by late fall. McPherson Builders of Ithaca is the general contractor for this project, and Chemung Canal is financing it to the tune of $7.8 million – a better use of funds than the million bucks they had to pay out to Jason Fane when they lost the Bank Tower lawsuit last year.

 





Masonic Temple Renovation Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

The Masonic Temple renovation is low-key but worth an explainer. Here we go:

The 17,466 SF Masonic Temple at 115-117 North Cayuga Street is a bit of an unusual building. It was one of the last designs by prolific local architects Arthur Gibb and Ornan Waltz, and completed in 1926. The style is Egyptian Revival, which was also used for the Sphinx Head Tomb at 900 Stewart Avenue, and to a lesser extent in the Carey Building, which was built around the same time. Egyptian Revival architecture uses what are or are perceived to be Egyptian motifs (stark facades, strong symmetrical elements, Egyptian-themed ornamentation), and experienced a resurgence in the 1920s following the opening of King Tut’s tomb – the early 20th century designs are sometimes grouped in as a subcategory of Art Deco.

Keep in mind that Freemasonry is a loose affiliation of fraternal groups, with some degree of secrecy (that they like to play up, for better or worse). Although diminished in this age, they played a role in community social life much as Greek Life does on college campuses. The Ithaca Freemasons wanted something exotic with just a hint of foreboding, so the architects went with minimal ornamentation, strong symmetry, simple, slit-like windows, and a bare, impassive facade, here a thin limestone veneer over a steel frame (a modern idea for the time). To quote William D. Moore’s Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes, “a critic claimed that Ithaca’s Masonic Temple could help visitors to imagine themselves ‘transported to the civilizations of the Pharaohs…There is no mistaking this structure for an abode of commerce’.”

By the 1990s, the Masonic Temple had fallen into disuse, and local developer and major landlord Jason Fane picked it up in 1993. Fane had made his intent clear that he preferred to demolish the building and build new on the site, a stone’s throw from the hear of Downtown. In response and concern to that idea, the building was landmarked in 1994. You could probably see some parallels to the Nines situation here, only the Nines owners aren’t already multi-millionaires and don’t have a negative public image.

It’s a difficult building to reuse. Not only does one contend with the extra hurdles and costs of working with a landmarked historic structure, but the rooms are cavernous and the building has been described as functionally obsolete – its outdated mechanical systems and lack of handicap accessibility have made it a difficult sell to prospective commercial tenants. The last tenant was the Odyssey nightclub, which moved out over a decade ago. Older folks tend to remember a restaurant prior to that, Europa.

Fane himself was never a big fan of what was considered his “white elephant” property; out of concerns he was letting it decay to the point of an emergency demolition, the CIITAP tax abatement rules were modified in 2014 to say that applicants had to be code compliant on all their other existing properties, and was targeted at Fane, who was seeking an abatement at the time for an apartment proposal at 130 East Clinton Street (it was denied and the project was never built).

The best way to describe the Masonic Temple problem is that it’s not the location, and it’s not out of a lack of interest – it was simply the cost of making it code-compliant and more accessible for tenants. Early plans considered putting The History Center here, while an earlier plan from 2012 considered buying the property from Fane and making it into a community center. The 2012 plan never made much headway – Fane was not keen on selling, and he still harbored hopes of demolishing it. The History Center plan was also seen as more expensive than a specialized space for The History Center.

The city has long hoped that they and Fane would see eye-to-eye, and finally it appears that dream is coming true. In July 2015, the city Common Council voted to support an application from Fane to the New York State Main Street Program, a state-sponsored grant program that encourages revitalization efforts at historic sites in downtown urban centers. In December of that year, the state awarded Fane a $500,000 grant towards the rehabilitation of the building (which cost a little over $1 million total). The initial plans were to get the ball rolling on construction in summer 2016, but it does appear that much-lauded renovation plan is finally moving forward now.

The renovation, designed by architectural preservation specialists Johnson-Schmidt & Associates of Corning, calls for the creation of three commercial spaces, the installation of a ramp at the rear of the auditorium, and a new elevator on the southwest side of the building. With the interior kitchen still intact, it is likely that at least one of the commercial spaces would be geared towards a restaurant tenant.

A new roof membrane will be applied, the exterior limestone and stucco will be cleaned and repaired, the street windows repaired and repainted, and the auditorium windows, which had been boarded up by previous tenants, will be replaced with similar-looking new windows. The front entrance’s stone steps would be redone, and the front doors and lamp posts would be restored. The Ithaca Landamrks Preservation Commission signed off on the work in January 2017. The plans can be seen in the application here.

At the moment, it looks like asbestos abatement is underway, and the ground-level light wells are having their deteriorated concrete removed and replaced. Kascon Environmental Services is performing the asbestos removal, and McPherson Builders Inc. of Ithaca is the contractor-of-record. I asked Fane via email if the plans had changed at all since January 2017, or if there were any tenants on board, but as is often the case with him and his lawyer/representative Nate Lyman, there is no response.

3/30/2018

4/28/2018





News Tidbits 9/16/17: The Big Surprise

16 09 2017

1. Ostensibly, the biggest newsmaker of the past week was the announcement of the Green Street redevelopment in Ithaca’s downtown core. To be frank, I was freaking out at my desk. Even more astounding was that the city slipped it out so casually, embedding it in a monthly PEDC meeting file that typically focuses on more mundane legal and planning concerns.

All photos that follow are from Jolene – pardon the marginal quality, we were both in note-taking mode, and these presentation papers weren’t given out to the public. North is towards the top of the floor plan images.

While the documents have yet to be uploaded to the city’s website, some basic details were released during the meeting – the number of parking spaces for the whole complex is 525. There would be two towers with residential units, a U-shaped west tower and a boxy east tower with projecting corners. 15 floors apiece. 350 units, “designed to appeal to a broad demographic”. Abatement likely, with the details to be ironed out as the percentage of affordable units is determined. The middle portion will also have residential units on top of the existing garage. 30,000 SF of conference space is planned under the eastern tower, if my notes are right.

The first floor appears to have at least two retail spaces, a lobby area, and an office, probably for management of the complex. The middle section will retain access to Cinemapolis and the garage. On levels two and three would be rebuilt garage sections (note the center section was rebuilt ten years ago and unlike the ends, is in good shape). Another floor of parking will be added.

Cooper Carry is the architect, and the initial design looks fairly safe, attractive if not particularly inspired. After the Marriott, it’s good to be wary of potential value engineering. It appears to use brick veneer, Nichiha-like metal panels and maybe fiber cement. Also, with Harold’s Square and City Centre off to the left, this would arguably create a broad-shouldered if stubby skyline for downtown Ithaca, more impressive than many communities Ithaca’s size.

My notes are that Marriott co-developer Jeff Rimland had non-public information about the Green Street garage because he owns the ground facilities under the garage’s eastern deck, and would be impacted by renovations. He was made aware of city looking at their options and put something together. The city only learned about the plan four weeks ago, and mayor Myrick wanted to make sure it was brought forward for public discussion and to determine if it was a wise choice to move froward. Ostensibly, if this came out as a surprise, a hornet’s nest of opposition would be stinging. Being transparent now helps later.

It seems the intent is an RFP for the garage for the sake of fairness, but I dunno how effective that will be. Rimland has a big advantage as owner of a portion of the parcel, since any other developer would need to arrange legal agreements with him in order to carry out a project. It was suggested by Brock, who has never been a fan of development, and I cynically wonder if this was an attempt to ensnare or at least stall the proposal. An RFP does put the city in a more legally comfortable position, perhaps. On the flip side, I cringe at the thought of another Old Library-like mess.

On a final note, there’s also a name, seen in the lower right of the rendering – “Village on the Green”. Very punny guys.


2. The other big news item of the week was 311 College Avenue, more commonly referred to as “The Nines replacement”. The Nines is a much-loved restaurant and bar that has long been a part of Collegetown’s drinking and musical scene – in the late 2000s, if I had to describe Collegetown bars, where Johnny O’s was the “fratty frat” bar and Chapter House the erudite tweed-clothed crowd, The Nines was the laidback, indie band geek-turned-rocker. Add in its location in a ca. 1908 fire station, and one of the few sizable outdoor patios in Collegetown, and one can understand that a project on this site was never going to be warmly received.

Granted, I’ve been raked over the coals a couple of times for the article, whose first headline said The Nines was being kicked out. It was an honest copy-editing mistake. For breaking news I publish ASAP, like with the Green Street development. However, that’s discouraged because the business pieces are useful for filling slow periods during the day, or to give time for others to prep articles during the early morning. Many of my articles are written in the late evening, submitted to the schedule, and skimmed through before hitting the website. In this case, I submitted Sunday night, my editor Jolene read through it early Monday morning, she thought the opening lines implied an eviction and changed the title (the original was a generic “Apartments Proposed for The Nines”). Sometimes title get changed for clarity or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but this particular time it created a false statement. I didn’t see it until I was at work on Monday, and uncomfortable conversations ensued. Sorry all. The next article won’t wax poetic.

Anyway, with that error noted, it makes this next opinion segment more uncomfortable. I’m not a developer. But if I were one, and heard the property was being put up for sale, I’d probably have steered clear. With all due respect to Todd Fox, my gut feeling is that the cons outweigh the pros.

Ithaca is not an easy city to do a project in. A developer has to pick and choose their battles. In this case, the battle is taking a building with some degree of historic value, but more importantly a lot of local sentiment attached, and proposing to replace it with, frankly, a mediocre design with high-end student units. I understand the economics of the site, the market, and the unfortunate though economically necessary impacts building flush to lot lines has on the ability to install windows on the sides. My concern is external impacts, by creating an emblem for opposition to organize around, because it wraps several perceptibly negative impacts into one proposal. That may make future projects that much more difficult. I worry that whenever a controversial plan is brought forth in years ahead, it will be pejoratively described by NIMBY types as “just like that Nines replacement”.

It has taken years for Ithacans to become slowly more amenable to density and development. Proposals that inadequately address community concerns threaten that progress. Consider the case of Jason Fane. He toyed with the city plenty of times. Eventually it caught up to him and he got burned. The sad part is, 130 East Clinton was a solid project, and to this day I believe that had it been another developer, those apartments would have been built.

Anyway, the ILPC would like to preserve it as-is, which draws the question why the discussion never moved forward 18 months ago when they had the chance. I don’t think that’s likely at this stage, and an overbuild probably wouldn’t work due to development costs (foundation shoring, elevator if 4+ floors) with respect to developable area – the big front yard setback is an impediment to that. I heard that an offer was floated to Neil Golder to move his house at one point during the 201 debate, so maybe moving all or at least the front (1908 wing) of the old station No. 9 is possible, but the expense would be great. As for the new building’s design, maybe modest fixed windows in the north/south brick faces, or glass block features like on Sharma’s 307 design, or even something as minor as a mural on the CMU blocks would help.

But, all that might be grasping at straws. This was always going to be controversial. I won’t fault someone for seeing an opportunity, even if it’s not a plan I’d advocate. It all depends on one’s appetite for development opportunities, and sensitivity to potential blowback.

3. For sale: 405 Elmira Road. 0.74 acres of parking lot next to Buttermilk Falls Plaza. List price: $465,000, courtesy of Pyrmaid Brokerage. Also noting – the chain hotelier who bought the former Tim Horton’s next door from the same seller for $640k in January 2016. Timmy Ho’s 0.75 acres is a little small for a hotel on its own, but combined with this lot, suddenly plans start to look quite viable for a mid-sized chain in the city’s suburban-friendly SW-2 zoning. Someone else may come along and buy it, but let’s see what happens.

4. It appears the 24-unit Pineridge Cottages project is off the table. The project, planned for the corner of Mineah and Dryden Roads in Dryden town, was greatly scaled back by developer Ryzward Wawak after water tests led to concerns about having enough to supply all the units. At this time, the plan is for four cottages, each a two-bedroom unit.

5. The Times’ Matt Butler has a nice summary and brief interview with Lakeview Health CEO Harry Merriman regarding the 60-unit affordable housing plan for 709-713 West Court Street. Some of the obstacles the project faced wouldn’t be a surprise to readers of this blog – the soils require a more expensive deep (pile) foundation, and land acquisition costs are climbing, which increases the overall costs involved with bringing a proposal into reality, let alone a plan that focuses on affordable housing. The increase in units from 50 to 60 was driven by the need to balance out revenue with expenditures and make the affordable housing economically feasible. Incremental cost increases per unit are significantly less than overall structural costs, so the per-unit expense for 60 units is less than 50, making the project more appealing in competitive grant processes.

Of the 22 units to be set aside for formerly homeless individuals, six will be reserved for HIV-positive clients of STAP, the Southern Tier Aids Programs. Those infected with HIV tends to experience much higher homelessness rates than the general population, with at least 81 homeless HIV-positive individuals in Tompkins County alone. This makes it hard to do things like refrigerate medication. These six units are a small number perhaps, but for those six folks it will make a huge difference.

6. Another feather in the cap of the local STEM sector of the economy. Biotech startup Jan Biotech Inc., based out of the Cornell Business Park by the airport, has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that will be used in the research and production of an HIV diagnostic for detection and quantification of latent HIV-infected reservoirs in patients –  cells that have the virus but aren’t actively producing HIV, which current anti-retroviral therapies struggle with. Potentially, the diagnostic could help test new medicines for their ability to target those cells, and lead to a true cure for the virus before AIDS can occur.

Along with new equipment and renovated facilities, the grant is expect to result in the hiring of another 5 to 10 scientists and engineers for the four-person firm. Which is great, but truly, it’s their work to try and improve our treatment and medicine of a deadly virus that’s more important. The very best of luck to them.

7.  A bit of news from the Cornell Daily Sun regarding the additional 2,000 beds Cornell would like to build on its North Campus, as part of its freshman expansion and “Sophmore Village” plan. The university would like to begin construction on the first dorms in 2018, and start increasing student enrollment by 2020. For that to happen, the plans pretty much need to come forward for formal planning board review within the next few months. Presumably, they’d like to have the dorms ready by August 2019 – these will be used as flex space initially, so that existing dorms like Balch and Clara Dickson can start renovation. At a bare minimum, it takes three months to go through the city planning board. Given this project’s proximity to Cayuga Heights, the local patricians will want to have their say as well, even if it is just outside village lines. With the size of the project and a minor amount of inter-municipal complexity, four months from sketch plan to approval seems realistic. Considering the need to request and award contract bids, it would seem plausible that Cornell puts the dorms forward this fall for review, with approval expected by late winter. Bids would be requested and awarded during the Spring, and construction would start by June. Whatever the case, the first construction plans are likely not far off.





News Tidbits 3/4/17: Oh Hey, Tax Season

4 03 2017

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1. It’s that time of the year where the Tompkins County Department of Assessment goes through its assessment process in preparation for adjustments to property values for 2017, known as “Annual Equity Maintenance”, or AEM for short. Since there are 35,249 tax parcels in Tompkins County with a total value of $11.9 billion, not all are reassessed every year – most places are reassessed every three years, except for areas of rapid change (for instance, Fall Creek is every two years at present), or individual properties that are being undergoing change, whether it be a new construction, sudden property damage, or a sales transaction. The state has their own system, called Cyclical Reassessment Program (CRP, but the county docs refer to it as CRAP), but the county opts out to do their own valuations.

Some properties are easier than others – for example, a purchaser of a big-box property isn’t buying just the building, but a long-term lease from a tenant like BJ’s in Lansing. Student houses in parts of Collegetown are worth less than the property they sit on, which the tax system cannot accommodate. They provide one example of a $500,000 house sitting on $3 million of land – that’s not something the tax system is designed to handle, so the house is overvalued, but the property as a whole is very undervalued.

The department notes that sales were strong this year. According to their records, average sales are up 4.5% from $228,442 to $238,796, and the median sale is up 2.5%, from $200,000 to $205,000. The document also only notes 677 sales, which would be the lowest since before 1990, and is lower than the 681 sales noted by the Ithaca Board of Realtors (and IBR represents most but not all agencies). Someone is mistaken, it’s just hard to tell who. Assessments are on average about 8% lower (9% median) than home sale prices.

Some of the other takeaways are a modest softening in the student housing market in 2016 (Cornell enrollment in Ithaca did drop slightly from 2015-16, before renewing its upward trajectory in 2017), the city and Dryden’s Ellis Hollow continue to be strong markets but the other suburban neighborhoods are regaining interest, and Groton’s a mixed bag due to the poor state of some village properties. New assessments for 2017 (including parts of Ithaca town, Caroline, Freeville, Enfield, lakeside properties, restaurant properties, and manufacturing facilities) will be publicly available on July 1st.

schwartz_plaza_final

2. The redesign of Schwartz Plaza has started the formal review process. Cornell submitted the sketch plan at the February meeting, and hopes to have approvals for the renovation by next month. The properties would lose the walls and open up to the surrounding Collegetown, in what Cornell and Ithaca hope will give the densely-populated neighborhood a needed public gathering space. As reported by the Cornell Daily Sun’s Nick Bogel-Burroughs, project manager David Cutter hopes that the project leads to further public space enhancements near the stone arch bridge and down by Eddygate – this includes additional pedestrian and bike facilities, electronic boards with bus information, and a possible realignment of the Oak/College intersection into a T-configuration.

But for now the focus is on Schwartz Plaza. Cornell intends to have approvals within 1-2 months, start construction in June, and have the new plaza ready by August 2017. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects is the design firm of record.

Postscript, Novarr’s townhouses at 238 Linden were pulled from the meeting before the sketch plan was due to be presented at the city planning board meeting last Tuesday. As for 301 Eddy, still trying to dig up information.

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3. Nick Reynolds has a very interesting profile and interview of Jason Fane over at the Times. Definitely worth a read about one of Ithaca’s most prominent landlords.

Speaking personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, if only because it takes a blog quote I made about 330 College Avenue in 2014, and in the article’s context, I sound like an arthouse snob. Fane has always been serious about building on the property, and that’s great, but I stand by my quote on 330 – after the years of negotiations on the new form district code, there is no way a 12-story building was going to be built on the corner of College and Dryden, even if Jagat Sharma, Fane’s favored architect, brought his A-game. It’s not a matter of economics or taste, it’s a matter of very real opposition from the Belle Sherman and East Hill neighborhoods. Any politician who considers signing off would be voted out of office ASAP. Any city staffer who consents will be shown the door. Look at what happened with State Street Triangle. In a city where people have many gripes about development, this is one project that is truly stopped in its tracks. I think Fane could negotiate 7 or even 8 stories if he gives the city a donation towards affordable housing, or some other community benefit. but not 11 or 12.

I like grand buildings and imposing structures, but I’m also a realist. End rant.

4. Todd Fox’s Visum Development has a couple construction updates on their Facebook page. Exterior stud walls are being installed on the lower floors of 201 College, and two of the three townhouse strings at 902 Dryden Road have been fully framed and sheathed, with siding installation underway. At a glance, it looks like the exterior will look more like the elevations on Modern Living Rentals’ listings page rather than the STREAM Collaborative renders – the renders had horizontal lap siding, the elevations show vertical lap siding as seen above.

If more developer could post updates as Visum and Carina Construction do, that would be swell.

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5. Wrapping up a quiet news week, here’s the agenda for the town of Ithaca planning board next week. A lot subdivision for a new house, a pair of communication towers, and the final approvals for the Sleep Inn proposed by hotelier Pratik Ahir at 635 Elmira Road. True to the sketches presented last fall, the design has that rustic look on all sides of the structure, and all the town’s requests have been met, which should allow for a smooth final approval meeting on Tuesday. The design will be unique among the 320 locations of the Sleep Inn chain. It should be noted that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals was very split on the height and size variances, approving them with just a 3-2 margin.

In the other towns, the only one with anything new to report is Danby, whose planning board is looking at a special use permit for a property management company’s offices at 1429 Danby Road, and a 3,535 SF expansion to the Ithaca Waldorf School at 20 Nelson Road.





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.





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.

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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 8/6/16: Big Ideas and Small Additions

6 08 2016

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1. Some of you might remember that Chemung Canal Trust Company was embroiled in a legal battle with Ithaca Renting (Jason Fane) over the terms of their lease of 12,000 SF on the first floor of Bank Tower on the Commons. Welp, the courts have issued their decision, and it looks like Chemung Canal lost. The Elmira-based bank had to revise their quarterly earnings report after losing the dispute with their former landlord. The terms of the payout have yet to be determined, but Fane was seeking $4 million, which is in the same ballpark as the cost of Fane’s renovation of the top floors into 32 apartments. CCTC is still looking into an appeal.

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2. It hasn’t been a secret that the price of real estate in Collegetown is getting enormously expensive. First John Novarr dropped $5.3 million on 215 College Avenue. Then Todd Fox forked over $2.65 million in June for 201 College Avenue. Now it’s Novarr’s turn again, handing over $4.75 million on the 2nd for 119, 121 and 125 College Avenue (or more specifically, an LLC filed to an address used by Novarr for his many LLCs). The three houses are collectively worth about $1.655 million, per the county assessor. Here’s a tip for readers – if you’re looking at a built property that’s recently sold, if it was purchased for more than double the existing tax assessment, the property was most likely sold based on its development potential. Less than that but still well above assessment, and it’s more likely major renovations/gentrification/Fall Creek/not being torn down.

Anyway, we already have an idea what’s planned – Novarr wants to do 50-60 units of faculty townhouses on the site, a 3-4 story, $10 million project.

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3. The other big sale this week (using that term subjectively, since someone just paid $1.25 million for a Cayuga Heights mansion) was 1015 Dryden Road out in Varna. Modern Living Rentals (Todd Fox/Charlie O’Connor) has had this 5-unit rental property on the market for a little while now, initially for $650,000, then $599,000.  The buyer “Finger Lakes Wrestling Club Inc.”, agreed to purchase the property on August 2nd for $555,000. MLR purchased the property for $425,000 in 2014. The wrestling club is listed as a non-profit serving youth training and competing in wrestling, and their plans for the property are unknown – the sale comes with plans for a pair of duplexes (4 units total), and the triplex designed by STREAM Collaborative shown above. I’ve heard of non-profits renting out real estate assets to fund their endeavors, so maybe that’s the plan.

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4. A pair of housing newsbits. Per the ILPC, the former Paleontological Research Institute  at 109 Dearborn is ready for its next phase of renovation into a rather swanky two-family residence. Background on the property from last August here. Long story short, it’s a gut renovation of a non-contributing structure of a historic district, the commission didn’t have much to say when it presented last year. This time around, the applicant wants to trade out the lower-level shingles for stucco, and the west entrance bump-out has been eliminated; anecdotal evidence says the ILPC won’t be excited, but it’s probably acceptable, since non-contributing buildings generally have an easier go with the commission.

A little further south on East Hill, local landlord Nick Lambrou wants to subdivide the large lot of 125 Eddy Street in order to build a new two-family residence. Jagat Sharma is the architect-of-record for the proposed 123 Eddy Street, which is a part of the East Hill Historic District and would have to go through ILPC approval. It will also need to pay a visit to the BZA because it’s proposed without parking (although the CPOZ was removed last year, an East Hill property still requires a parking space every 3 bedrooms) and will need a variance. Offhand, the Planning Board likely won’t be roped in on this one, since one-and-two family homes usually only need to be approved by planning department staff. Lambrou and Sharma are frequent contributors, and have faced the ILPC together before, for the reconstruction of 202 Eddy Street after it was destroyed by a fire in early 2014. The focus right now is just getting the subdivision approved, the ILPC presentation and vote will come at a later date.

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5. STREAM Collaborative sent out their bi-annual newsletter, and there are a couple of interesting pieces worth re-sharing. There were brief items about the “Urban Cottage” at 228 West Spencer, Tiny Timbers and 409 College Avenue, as well as some info about 215-221 West Spencer. STREAM writes that Ed Cope has broken ground on the STREAM-designed 12-unit, 26-bedroom condominium complex. This must have been fairly recent, as the hillside was undisturbed during a site check a couple weeks ago. Anecdotally, a condo project in Ithaca needs 50% pre-sales (i.e. 6 units) in order to secure a construction loan, but there isn’t any loan on file with the county yet, so I can’t say with any certainty what the funding arrangement looks like. On the fully revamped webpage are some nifty interior renders, including the image above. Anyone interested in the 1-3 bedroom condos can contact Ed Cope at PPM’s website here.

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Also in the newsletter was an image from the latest set of Form Ithaca charrettes. “Buttermilk Village”, a working title for the South Hill neighborhood plan. The render above is looking northeast from the intersection of 96B and East King Road, with Ithaca College’s Circle Apartments to the upper left. Among the design features are a walkable town square, 2-4 story buildings, complete streets, and mixed uses with less dense residential further from the main roads. Some of the businesses like Sam Peter and Dolce Delight are in there to give that sense of familiarity. Most of this land is owned by Evan Monkemeyer, who’s still fuming from the College Crossings debacle. But rumor has it he’s working with another developer on a plan. It would be quite a feather in Form Ithaca’s cap if it looked something like this.





Eight Views on Ithaca’s Development

5 05 2016

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The Ithaca Times, in partnership with Sustainable Tompkins, ran an op-ed series about development issues in Ithaca. Seven writers, plus the Times’ commentary for a total of eight. I have my reactions below, separate from the links in Italics; so one can read the article and jump back with limited interference from yours truly. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section.

1. Opinion piece one, also the intro, came from Gay Nicholson, the President of Sustainable Tompkins.

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I have profound concerns with Nicholson’s commentary, for a couple reasons. For one, it implies there will never be enough supply. That’s not true. The problems today stem from year after year, for well over a decade, of failing to meet the needs of the community’s economic and overall population growth, creating a deep, sustained deficit. It’s now at the point where it’s creating major hardship for thousands of people – adopting the attitude that they just can’t be helped is wrong.

Issue number two is the “carrying capacity” argument. That might work in ecology, but here, the argument’s a potential minefield because it carries the implication of “this area’s full, move somewhere else” – fine enough if you’ve lived in the area for a couple decades, you’re retirement age and with substantial assets, not so much if you don’t check those boxes. If one looks at it in the context of the area’s evolving socioeconomic and racial composition, it becomes an even more perilous statement. I think that, as an area with 3.3% growth so far this decade, in a region with decreasing populations otherwise, that’s it not a strong argument at this point in time, especially when there are real opportunities for improvement.

In an attempt to put into context, Nicholson does live in Lansing, the only community with large-scale development with limited planning and regulation, contributing to a major partisan divide. She ran for its town board in 2013, but lost. Lansing’s relatively laissez-faire approach may stem from the town’s fear of property taxes skyrocketing once the power plant closes, but whatever the reasoning, it improving some issues while exacerbating others, and consequently has its proponents and opponents.

2. Opinion two is written by Frost Travis, the developer leading Travis Hyde Properties.

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Travis Hyde is behind the Carey Building project, or the Old Library site, both of which are THP’s work. One thing I like about the piece is that it sheds some light on the real estate development, and that a lot of time, money and effort go into plans. No one wants their efforts wasted.

That being said, some plans are good, and some are bad. Some deserve a negative reaction, some don’t. I’d argue State Street Triangle is an example of the former, and 130 East Clinton is an example of the latter. 130 East Clinton was fine as a project, and probably would have received the tax abatement and been built, if it had been proposed by anyone but Jason Fane. The Times acknowledged this, and the whole thing ended up being a political mess. Not saying Fane’s a sterling citizen, but the county is fortunate Fane never pursued an Article 78 lawsuit, because he would have a strong case.

State Street Triangle…well, one comment I’ve heard a lot was that their initial approach was pretty awful. They tried to make up for it, but that’s hard to do when so many controversial aspects (big, tall, students, tax abatement) are rolled into one project. The rumor on the new incarnation is that it’s not student-oriented (and not Campus Advantage), so that could make enough of a difference.

Although it might be scorned in some corners, it’s crucial that public groups and private developers work together – government studies have shown that there are lower levels of displacement when more market-rate housing is built as a complement to affordable housing efforts.

3. The third installment comes from county legislator Anna Kelles.

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I didn’t take a whole lot away from Anna Kelles’ submission. Her county district, which contains Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood, is the epicenter of gentrification. Historically, Fall Creek was a lower-middle class, blue-collar neighborhood, but given housing valuations increasing 5%, 10%, even 15% a year, very few long-time residents are able to keep up with the corresponding increase in property tax amounts. For homeowners who plan on moving elsewhere in the next couple of years, this has been nothing short of a windfall because the sales prices continue to skyrocket. For anyone who planned on being in Fall Creek long-term, and especially those of modest means, it’s a much more uncomfortable situation.

As a result, two different views come out – one, limit affordability efforts as much as possible for maximum benefit to those selling; and two, those who would prefer the market to moderate in some form. Anna Kelles was deeply involved in the condo effort for the Old Library project. Although that wasn’t the affordable housing proposal, it was the one most similar to Fall Creek’s older, increasingly upper-middle class constituents, who are increasingly at odds with their neighbors.

Fall Creek has mixed views on its rapid gentrification. Maybe that’s why I don’t pick up any strong opinions from its legislator.

4. The fourth piece was written by Kirby Edmonds, Coordinator of Building Bridges, on addressing and combating displacement.

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This is a thoughful piece, it’s just a shame some of the suggested solutions aren’t as easy as they sound. For instance, the land trusts, assuming its something like INHS’s Community Housing Trust, run into an issue at the state level – they’re not recognized, and the state, via the county assessor, taxes at the full amount. Until someone changes the rules in Albany, an odyssey in itself, there’s not a whole lot that can be done. Also, I’m not 100% confident in a county legislature that turned a $583,000 windfall from the state into a free-for-all for pet projects; there would need to be some extremely strong safeguards to ensure the county’s not going to plead hardship if the state were to recognize a trust program.

The Times complained that Edmonds had a negative view of 210 Hancock, but I don’t quite get that, it sounds more neutral, about maintaining clear, frank communication. But given the multiple community meetings during the planning stage, it’s not clear how much more open and transparent the process can be before one to break out those “frank conversations about privilege”.

5. Article number five, focusing on affordable housing, came courtesy of Paul Mazzarella, Executive director of INHS.

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It was great that Paul touched on the income aspect to the housing issue – Tompkins County’s average income isn’t much higher than surrounding counties, but the cost of housing is much greater. Students are the obvious part of that because they pool incomes on units, but they only make up about one-third of the housing deficit. Also playing a role are incoming retirees who’ve made their dollars elsewhere, and the growing economy draws in those advancing their careers and already have some assets to their name. Add it all together, and it’s quite difficult for supply to try and keep up with demand.

The title also touches on the “missing middle” of housing – luxury/premium housing is easier to build, because as long as the market is demonstrated to exist, the return on investment is higher, and therefore more likely gain financing from the regional banks and credit unions that loan money to build new housing. Lower income units have the opportunity to obtain government grants, even if they are highly competitive. But for the middle market, where grants are virtually non-existent and the desired profit margins aren’t there, it becomes a tough situation. Political bodies are faced with either making an environment conducive for new middle-market housing, or expecting to ride on the depreciation of premium units – which may not be feasible with prices are rising as they are.

6. Next up was City Councilman Seph Murtagh, and “Development and its Discontents”.

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My reaction to Seph’s was fairly positive, though he’s more optimistic about the incentive zoning than I am. The initial reaction is that people on both sides of the debate don’t like it, but until it goes into play, no one knows if it will be of any benefit. There don’t appear to be many options on the table that don’t piss people off, so, well, it seems worth a try, even if incentive zoning has its flaws. At least the city has taken and continues to take steps to identify where development can be promoted, the lynchpin is making it attractive for private entities to actually do so.

7. Planner Krys Cail was the seventh contributor, focusing on how development and especially density should be focused in the city and town, where infrastructure is in place and transportation expenses are lower, and can contribute to a more affordable setup even if housing costs a little more.

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I don’t always agree with Krys, but I thought this was fairly accurate and on the mark (excluding the off-the-cuff on the golf courses – Newman floods, the others would probably see intense opposition. But the town has recommendations if the Ithaca Country Club ever closes). For the record, when it comes to things like affordability, it’s not usually the case that affordable housing developers want to be in rural areas, it’s just that land is cheaper and the neighborhood opposition is not nearly so fierce. The key is overcoming those challenges.

8. And the last one, from the Ithaca Times’ Bill Chaisson.

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I kinda feel like form-based zoning is being presented as a panacea here. It would be helpful, definitely. Fewer plans would have to head to the the Board of Zoning Appeals, thus removing a layer of government and the uncertainty it throws in the financing process for all projects, and planners have pointed out that the city’s code has decades of numerous add-ons and revisions, yet still has substantial issues. But it’s just one part of the overall problem to address. The city has to push developers to get on board with plans and approaches, but given the expense and time it takes to create proposals, the city also has to make it worth the effort. Residents can stake claims to protecting neighborhood character, but also have to recognize that no significant change to address current affordability and supply/demand problems will result in a far worse situation as rapid price growth and displacement continue. Different decisions impact constituents in different ways – one person’s physical character preservation is another’s pricing out, damaging social-cultural preservation.

Here’s an example of how the bigger issues get lost on the individual level. In response to the Maplewood article I did for the Voice this week, I received an email from a nearby resident that said, “I would like there to be as few students on that property as possible.” That’s a “me-first” approach that does more harm than good – letting the overall affordability and supply issues worsen so this individual can avoid having grad students nearby. Saying “This is what Cornell wants to do, here’s what I’m concerned about, could X, Y, and Z ideas help mitigate” would be much more valuable to the conversation.

It’s a complex issue, and there is no silver bullet. Every action will have positive and negative reactions, and because someone will be upset every step of the way, there won’t be a fairy-tale happy ending. Local governments struggle to address development issues; just look at the post-fracking fight over large-scale solar and wind renewables in the towns, and opposition to nearly every affordable housing plan in the past several years.

People are much better at opposing than proposing. It’s time for a re-calibration.





News Tidbits 12/12/15: Money Money Money Money

12 12 2015

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1. Time to do a little rumor-killing. There’s been some confusion as to whether or not the Hilton Canopy is actually happening, since it was supposed to have started construction by this time and it hasn’t. There was also an article in the Ithaca Times that suggested that construction costs much higher than original estimates had caused the project to be cancelled.

Well, the project has definitely been delayed, but it looks like it will still be moving forward. According to a utility easement resolution at the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee (IURA EDC) meeting, a project financing commitment has been secured and the developer of the Hilton (Neil Patel of Lighthouse Hotels LLC) is planning a construction start in the first quarter (Jan-Mar) of 2016, which would suggest a mid-2017 opening.

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2. Also in financial news, INHS looks to have secured grant funding that will allow it to move forward with its 210 Hancock project in the next four months, according to INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella. The grants were officially awarded in an announcement from the governor’s office on Tuesday. $3.6 million will come from the state’s Housing and Community Renewal program, $500,000 from the state low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program, and $1.03 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s LIHTC program. In total, the award is valued at $5.13 million, about a quarter of the estimated $20 million development cost. The project has received about $17 million in grants and tax credits to date.

The money awarded covers only the rental units – 54 apartments in the four-story mixed-use building, and five townhouses. The seven owner-occupied townhouses remain unfunded.

The apartments, which include a 30-child low-income daycare facility and commercial office space for non-profits, will welcome their first tenants in Summer 2017. They will rent from 27% to 105% of local median household income, depending on the unit. Descriptively, it’s a mixed-income project with residents’ incomes ranging from $25,000-$60,000 per year.

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3. From the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee, there are a few things of note this week –

A. The city seems to be looking towards greater encouragement and flexibility with redevelopment of waterfront parcels by making WF-1 and WF-2 zones Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). What a PUD does is allow greater flexibility in uses and design by removing or loosening zoning constraints on site use, and being more accommodating to mixed-use projects (the Chain Works District proposal is a PUD, for example). Previously, PUDs could only be applied to industrial sites. The other stipulation, however, is that the applicant would have to work with the Common Council to determine appropriate development of the site.

The Waterfront Zoning allows up to 5 stories and 100% lot coverage. The PUD will give flexibility beyond that, dependent on what the Common Council is comfortable with for a given site and proposal.  So if Applicant X shows up with a huge apartment building or a big industrial building, it’s probably not going to get very far. But if it’s well designed and has affordable units? Maybe the council will grant a little more density or another floor. It depends on a developer showing up with something that they feel offers some kind of community benefit and fits with the Comprehensive Plan, and whether the Common Council agrees with the developer’s reasoning.

There is great potential in the waterfront – those views can fetch a premium (i.e. higher land values, and more tax dollars), it’s far enough removed from the colleges that students would be unlikely residents, and many of the properties are underutilized, with only marginal public benefit.  So potentially, if someone wants to work with the Common Council (one can count on at least 8 or 9 of the 10 being willing to cooperate), there could be some benefits in the long-term.

B. The Commons first-floor active-use zoning ordinance looks to be heading for a Common Council vote in January. More about that ordinance here, Item 5.

C. That damned backyard chickens thing again. Only this time, it might be moving forward with a pilot program involving 20 families.

D. Per the Times’ Josh Brokaw, expect incentive/inclusionary zoning to be up for PEDC review in January.

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4. Hey look, this week’s eye candy. Tompkins Financial Corporation’s proposed downtown Ithaca Headquarters at 119 East Seneca Street will be reviewed for final project approval at this month’s Planning Board meeting. As part of that, here’s the final project design, part of the final Site Plan Review submission here.

From the front, it looks like some of the window layout has changed on the top floor and southwest corner, and there are fewer sunshades above the windows. There’s a third tree in the planting plan, and there’s variation in the cladding materials on the west wall facing the DeWitt Mall.

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In fact, it’s the non-primary facades that have changed the most, with different (and generally lighter-colored) brick and aluminum panels when compared to the previous rendition. Although there’s less glass than before, the lighter colors and greater variation in materials de-emphasize the bulk from the perspective of its townhouse neighbors at the rear. The 7-story, 110,000 SF commercial office building should begin construction in early 2016 with an eye towards completion the following spring.

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5. There was quite a sale on Ithaca’s West End last Friday. Nine properties outlined in red on the map above – 106, 108, 100 and 116 North Meadow Street, 607, 609 and 611 West Seneca Street, and 602 and 604 West State Street – were sold for $1,725,000 to Elmira Savings Bank.

Now, there are a few reasons why this is worthy of attention. For one, banks don’t typically shell out almost two million dollars without some kind of plan. For two, Elmira Saving Bank has been moving forward with expansion plans in the Ithaca area in hopes of capitalizing on the growing local economy. For three, there has been a lot of development in this neighborhood as of late – the Iacovelli Apartments (2013) and Planned Parenthood (2014) are right across the street, and it’s worth noting that the 18,000 SF HQ for Alternatives Federal Credit Union (2002) is on the other side of the block.

The properties are currently home to parking lots, several older, non-historic houses (most in poor condition) and a two-story 4,500 SF commercial building previously home to the Pancho Villa Mexican restaurant. The restaurant building had been on the market for $699,900.

The zoning here is all WEDZ-1a. West End Zone 1a allows for 2 to 5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage in the case of large assemblages such as this, and no off-street parking requirement. That means these parcels have a lot of potential. The previous owner had been rumored to be planning a mixed-use building on some of the properties, but nothing official ever came forth.

Two phone calls were placed to Elmira Savings Bank’s headquarters in Elmira, and two voicemails were left, but neither received a response. But these properties are definitely something to keep a close watch on over the following months.

6. That 9100 SF store being developed on the corner of East Shore and Cayuga Vista Drives in Lansing that was mentioned last week (here, Item 4)? It’s going to be a Dollar General. Not sure if that’s better than the auto/tire store speculated last week.

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7. Lest it be forgotten, it appears Lady Luck and some state bureaucrats smiled at the Southern Tier this week, awarded the region one of the three $500 million prizes of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, known colloquially as the Upstate “Hunger Games”. Rochester/Finger Lakes and Syracuse/Central are the other $500 million winners. Seven regions competed, and the four losers will receive $80-$100 million for their priority projects. The money will be paid out in five annual installments of $100 million. A copy of the Southern Tier’s plan is here.

I wrote about Ithaca’s plans for its share on the Voice here. The first year projects alone will have a range of impacts, ranging from job creation and training to municipal construction projects to quality of life projects like museum expansions. Potentially, it could result in hundreds of jobs in Tompkins County, financial capital for several major projects, and make the area more attractive for investment for both local and external entities. As these projects move forward, they’ll receive their due write-ups here and on the Voice.

Of course, the key things are that the community can manage this monetary award, and that someone can track and guide these projects to completion – something the Southern Tier has struggled with, when one looks at the result of previous, much smaller awards.

8. The state’s just shoveling money into Ithaca this week. The New York State Office of Community Renewal (part of the state’s HUD equivalent, the Homes and Community Renewal agency) has awarded $500,000 towards the rehabilitation of the Masonic Temple at the corner of East Seneca and North Cayuga Streets in downtown Ithaca.

The Masonic Temple was built in 1926 and designated a local historic landmark in 1994. The property is owned by Ithaca Renting Company (Jason Fane), who purchased the building from the Masons in 1993. Fane’s never been a fan of the historic designation because the ILPC can be expensive and onerous to work with, nearly everyone else hasn’t been a fan of his long-deferred maintenance of the 90-year old building (if you have ever wondered why that CIITAP rule was added about an applicant being in building code compliance with all their other properties…now you know). A few years ago, Fane had not been shy in his interest in demolishing the building.

After rejecting a purchase offer to turn the building into a community center and space for the New Roots charter school, Fane decided to go the preservation route earlier this year and apply for a grant to renovate the interior and add an elevator to the building to make it ADA-compliant. This would make the building much more marketable to commercial tenants, many of which have shunned the 17,466 SF building. Fane laid out a few different options this past summer, including one where four commercial spaces (rental, office, restaurant) would be created. Based on the grant announcement, it looks like that will be the option pursued.

The Downtown Ithaca Alliance backed the application, as did the Common Council by unanimous vote at their July meeting.

The renovation will cost at least $1 million, and according to the grant announcement, seeks to start construction in summer 2016. Expect more info when it hits the ILPC and Planning Board at a later date.

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9. House of the week. This week, INHS’s new 2-bedroom, 1150 SF single-family home underway at 203 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The house is framed, roofed and sheathed. Siding (Hardie board?) and trim is being attached on the sides, and one can expect a nice gracious porch to be attached once exterior materials are installed on the front. A home of the design was previously built at 507 Cascadilla Street.

203 Third Street was a vacant that the city seized in a tax foreclosure in 2011. It was transferred to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, who sold it to INHS for $17,000 in December 2014. The process is pretty similar for a lot of the home lots that INHS builds on – the non-profit buys dilapidated or vacant properties from the IURA, which they build or renovate into affordable single-family and duplex houses. In the case of 203 Third Street, INHS competed for the site, outscoring Habitat for Humanity’s submission in an IURA examination of proposals.

As with all INHS homes, this one will be sold to a buyer of modest means, which means someone making at or a little less than the county’s median household income of $53k/year (I think 80% of MHI is the low bound offhand, so about $42k/year). The houses will be a part of INHS’s Community Housing Trust, limiting the price it can be sold for and requiring that if put up for sale, it is sold to another family of modest means. It may just be one house, but it will mean a lot to one family.

Claudia Brenner is the architect, with Rick May Construction and Mike Babbitt in charge of construction (thanks to Claudia for the builder info).

 





The Swinging Pendulum of the CIITAP Program

17 11 2015

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If I had seen this before the Friday news roundup, I’d have included it there. But since I have no Monday night post scheduled this week, discussing the latest changes to CIITAP will be a fair substitute.

So, background. CIITAP stands for Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program, and it’s a property tax abatement program that gives developers the opportunity to apply for abatement for a portion of their property taxes for a period of up to 7 years, or for an enhanced abatement of up to ten years if they can demonstrate financial hardship (i.e. without the abatement, there’s no way the project will be cost-effective; if it’s not cost-effective, a bank won’t offer construction loans, and the project doesn’t happen). Basically, it’s a tool designed to promote development in certain parts of the city where density is expected and/or encouraged, rather than lose tax-generating and job opportunities to the suburbs. A more substantial description can be found in a write-up for the Voice that I did back in January here.

The first version, which went into effect in 2001 as the Downtown Density Program, led to five projects being built, six if you split Cayuga Green into its garage and mixed-use components. The projects were worth about $62 million, and the earliest ones are now paying full taxes. Then the city decided it wanted more from the density incentive, and it created the CIIP Program, which was created in 2006. Over the following six years (2006-2012), that led to just one project, the $3.5 million Ital Thai renovation on the Commons. Part of it was that from 2006-2007, there was a moratorium on abatements, and another part was the recession. But another part of that was that CIIP was really lengthy and burdensome it had 48 stipulations, and a project had to meet 15 for partial assistance, and 23 for full assistance. It was so much paperwork that developers were disinterested and opted for other parts of the county.

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Onto round three, the current CIITAP – much more simplified, it initially had three stipulations – one, that it be in the density district; two, that it was a $500,000 investment in either a new building, or in the renovation of a historic building; and three, that if a new building, that it be at least three floors. A fourth was later added that said that all your other properties had to be up to code and have no outstanding violations, which arguably was a tacit response to Jason Fane’s application for 130 East Clinton while he let the Masonic Temple rot. However, in the past couple of years there have been complaints from various groups that the city wasn’t getting enough out of the bargain. You can kinda see how the pendulum swings – the political consensus is that the first version was too generous, the second version two burdensome, and the third version too generous.

The city put together a study group to examine revisions to CIITAP, chaired by a Common Council member (Ellen McCollister of the 3rd Ward), and consisting of City Planning and IURA staff, a representative from TCAD, a representative from a local labor union, a developer, and a representative from the Coalition for Sustainable Economic Development. In short, the city’s trying to get a broad spectrum of perspectives. The revised CIITAP is to presented at the PEDC meeting Tuesday night.
Here are the goals:

1. Retain the program as an effective tool to incentivize smart growth and discourage sprawl
2. Improve the program’s ability to deliver broad community benefits that may include:
*** An increased use of local labor
*** An increase in living wage job creation
*** More environmentally friendly building
*** Increased economic opportunities for people of all backgrounds

Note that given the previous versions, they’re easier said than done.

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In addition the standard 7-year and 10-year abatement, there’s also a new very stringent “enhanced” 12-year abatement option. All the 7-year and 10-year stipulations carry over, but now there’s a few more requirements on the list in four categories – “Environmental Sustainability”, “Local Construction Labor”, “Diversity and Inclusion”, and “Living Wage” .

  • In the “Environmental Sustainability” category, the new rule on the standard 7-year abatement and 10-year abatement is one of two two choices. The first choice is an annual benchmarking of energy usage during the abatement period using free software from the EPA. The report would be given to the city, IDA and made public, to prove the building is using energy at the level designed. The second choice is that they could submit paperwork indicating they’re pursuing LEED Certification, and provide proof of certification upon completion.
  • The “Local Construction Labor” category defines “local” as tompkins or any of the counties it borders (Cayuga, Seneca, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga, and Cortland Counties — so no Syracuse, Rochester or Binghamton). In order to be eligible for a tax abatement, an applicant must commit to the City in writing and submit to the IDA proof that the general contractor has solicited bids from local sub-contractors for all major trades required for the construction project, such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing, carpentry and masonry. Secondly, they must submit a copy of their monthly payroll monthly payroll reporting of all workers on site during construction with a summary of how many employees are “local”, using the address, zip-code, and total payroll amount per employee. I’m not sure if all this will be public info – privacy advocates might push for keeping the employee address and payroll information confidential to the city and IDA.
  • In the “Diversity and Inclusion” category, the new requirement for all applicants is a company or primary tenant’s workforce demographic analysis by gender, race/ethnicity, age, disability, job class with gender, and job class with race/Hispanic ethnicity; as well as acknowledgement they have read and understood the City’s Anti-Discrimination employment ordinance; and a statement of their company’s or the major tenant’s goals for workforce diversity.
  • The program does touch on an affordable housing fund or mandate, but it’s stated that members don’t feel CIITAP can adequately address affordable housing, and the committee recommends exploring inclusionary zoning.

Under this plan, the number of stipulations for the 7-year and 10-year abatements goes from four to seven. The rest of the procedure is as before – the city holds a public meeting, then decides whether or not to endorse the project, and it goes to the county (TCIDA) for their vote, which is typically in line with the city’s recommendation.

Now, a new option is the 12-year “super-abatement”. Along with the demonstrated financial need, a project must also commit to one of the following – 40% local labor, energy usage 20% less than NYS Energy Code Requirements, or living wages for single-use entities like hotels. This is in addition to the previous stipulations for 10-year abatements.

So now’s the magic question? Will it be acceptable to the broader community? The city’s HR director wrote in an email attached to the PEDC agenda that the program doesn’t do enough for diversity, and needs to mandate rather than encourage it. Without a doubt, this whole program, as we’ve seen in the past fifteen years, is a delicate balance between encouraging density while getting community benefits. Hopefully, the abatement pendulum stops swinging and it finally comes to rest in a comfortable middle ground.