State Street Triangle (Trebloc Building Site)

29 04 2015

state_st_triangle_3

Downtown Ithaca could be in for a very large addition in the next couple of years, if developer Campus Advantage has its way.

The Texas-based developer is planning an 11-story addition to downtown on the the Trebloc Building property at 301 East State Street/MLK Jr. Street. The building would reach the maximum of the 120-foot zoning allows on the property, and fill up nearly the whole plot of land bounded by East State, South Aurora and East Green Streets.state_st_triangle_1

In the initial sketch plan presented Tuesday night (link here), local architect Scott Whitham, a consultant for the project, showed floor plans for retail on the first floor of the proposed tower, with apartments on the floors above. The retail section includes five general retail spaces and one restaurant space, with sizes ranging from 1,800-2,300 sq ft each. Space for a fitness center and apartment amenities are also included on the first floor.

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Upper floors look out into an interior courtyard on the second floor, and contain a variety of 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 4 bedroom units. Each floor would contain about 23 units per floor with 60 bedrooms. Over ten floors, that means that the State Street Triangle building would add 230 units of student-oriented apartments, with 600 bedrooms.

For perspective’s sake, that would make it one of the most populated buildings in the city. Cornell’s largest dorm, Clara Dickson Hall, tops out at around 460 students. The Towers of Ithaca College hold about 300 students each. Collegetown Terrace has the only private buildings that come close to having this many people in one building.state_st_triangle_4

There is no parking on the site. The city’s Central Business District (CBD) zoning does not require it. The CBD zoning allows for nearly full lot coverage as well. The CBD zoning is used only for what planners and officials want to be the densest downtown locations, where parking garages and mass transit are in easy access.

This skyline-altering project stands to have a very large impact on downtown and the city in general. It would be the first student-focused development in the downtown Ithaca area, and 600 students is certainly quite the addition. The project stands to capitalize on both Cornell students and IC students, since the project is within commuting distance of both schools.

There’s much to be debated and sorted out moving forward. More detailed site plans and features are expected to be delivered to the city sometime in May. This summer will be a very exciting one for the Ithaca Planning Board.





News Tidbits 1/21/2019

22 01 2019

1. A quick note regarding the county’s feasibility study of a new county office building on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street on the edge between Downtown and Fall Creek – Ithaca’s HOLT Architects has been tapped to perform the analyses. The idea isn’t totally new to HOLT, who had drawn up rough ideas of a joint city-county office building as part of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s 2020 Strategy way back at the start of the decade. This process will quietly continue until the results are ready for review and discussion sometime in March.

In an off-record conversation with a county official, the topic came up of, “why not just move to one of the office buildings in the Cornell business park”, as the county Department of Health has done. This person pointed out that it would much easier to buy a building, renovate it, move in and start operations. Except for one bring problem – the suburban office park is hardly accessible, and so the choice of county occupants would be fairly limited, given the need for the county’s less well-off to be able to access the site. A location on the fringe of Ithaca’s Downtown is much more walkable and readily approachable from buses, bikes and so forth, while a Cornell business park is really only readily accessible to those coming by car or the occasional bus. So the county is willing to walk on coals and risk the ire of nearby residents in order to maintain a more accessible facility.

2. Before it was officially announced, the rumor that INHS was selected for the Immaculate Conception School had been floating around for a few weeks. Most of the city staff and officials I’ve spoken with were actually breathing something of a relief, because most of them know and trust INHS. Or rather, they trust INHS to be one of the less divisive choices out there. They’re local, they plan to have a mix of affordable housing and office space for family services-related non-profits, and they’ll be going through an open house process that will give residents a chance to help shape the project before anything goes up to the city for review.

Two details worth noting – for one, INHS does have timeline in mind for its redevelopment (new construction and renovations) to the site. It would like to have tenant occupancy by December 2021, so they’ve got three years to go from start to finish. Expect meetings this Spring and Summer, and probably a project submission by late summer for a fall planning board review and approval by the end of the year. That will give them time to start applying for and attaining affordable housing grants, and to break ground on the redevelopment sometime in 2020.

For two, the city of Ithaca intends on buying the school gymnasium on the northeast side of the parcel. The gym would be used for indoor recreation by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), which is just next door. They’re looking to pay $290,000 for the parcel. It is not clear if this was planned in conjunction with INHS, if INHS developed two separate purchase plans to accommodate that possibility, or if it simply throws a wrench into things. Generally speaking, gym access and affordable housing were the two signaled prerequisites for any city consideration of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), the DIY Zoning that would give more flexibility with site redevelopment. Regardless of PUD, I suspect renovation of the school and Catholic Charities buildings are one key redevelopment feature, and on the new construction side, the parking lot on the corner of North Plain and West Court Streets isn’t long for this world.

3. Tenant number two has been confirmed for City Centre – Collegetown Bagels will be moving from its 1,500 SF location at 201 North Aurora Street, to a 2,300 SF ground-level retail space inside the 192-unit apartment building. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, “Gregor Brous, owner and operator of Collegetown Bagels, decided to make the move after finding out the current building CTB is located in is being demolished.”

For the record, that’s a couple of years out. Visum Development does have plans for the site, which involve a mixed-use apartment building with approximately 60 units above ground-level retail. A sketch plan review was conducted back in 2015, but the plan has not undergone any formal review, and it has to undergo some redesigns anyway since they had planned to buy Jagat Sharma’s parcel at 312 East Seneca Street, and consolidate it into their project. Sharma instead sold to developer Stavros Stavropoulos, who has his own plans for a six-story building. The rumor has been that any redevelopment of the site is still a year or two away, but it is a likely prospect in the medium-term.

As for CTB, the larger space will allow them to try out some new concepts, expand their drink menu, and from the sound of it, add some alcoholic beverages to their offerings. This is not the first time they’ve looked at the Trebloc site, as they had tentatively agreed to move into State Street Triangle, had the building been approved and built.

4. Just to mention the Planning Board Agenda, for the sake of brevity, here’s the link, but not much is actually being decided on this month. Wegman’s is seeking yet another two-year extension on the 15,700 SF retail building they had approved in December 2014 (long rumored as a Wegmans-owned liquor store or a homegoods store similar to Williams-Sonoma). Amici House is seeking some signage variance approval and approval of site plan changes already made. This is likely to pass since its material color and detail changes, but because this was already done without consent and they’re going back to request consent after the fact, the board may have some harsh words. Amici House attends for its 23 studios to be available for occupancy by young, formerly homeless or otherwise vulnerable individuals by February 1st. Site plan approval is also on the agenda for the Maguire Ford Lincoln renovation and expansion. New proposals are the 200-unit mixed-use Visum affordable housing duo shared on the Voice today, and the Modern Living Rentals proposal for 815 South Aurora, which as touched on the other day, is likely to be pretty sizable.

The supplemental on the Falls Park senior housing project notes that the project is intended to qualify under Ithaca’s Green Building Policy under the “Easy Path” scoring system, and perhaps a bit disappointingly, the smokestack for Ithaca Gun, once intended for incorporation into the public space, will be coming down so that the ground beneath it can be cleaned during the remediation. However, smokestack bricks will be available as mementos for those who want them.

Heading to the ZBA will be a lot subdivision to split a double lot on Homestead Road back into two lots, the Amici House signage, and Agway’s plan to rebuild a 700 SF storage shed destroyed by fire, with a new one-story 1,400 SF structure. Zoning on its waterfront site requires two floors, but the new shed is only one floor and needs a variance.

 





City Centre Construction Update, 9/2018

2 10 2018

Along with the usual bevy of construction photos, I popped inside the sales office, which opened on the Commons last month. There might have been a little reservation from the two guys staffing the office when I introduced myself and said “I’ve been reporting on the project and do a real estate and construction blog on the side”, but once one of the leasing representatives, Anthony, mentioned he had checked out a blog called “Ithacating” to help him prepare for the job, we hit it off pretty well.

The second photo shows the reserved apartments as of September 23rd. As mentioned in the Voice article, every one of those top-end $3,265/month two-bedroom units facing the Commons are taken, and the project is still over eight months out from completion. 47 of the 192 units have deposits down, about 25% of total. A disproportionate number of those are two-bedroom units, 16 of 39 (41%). According to Anthony, the tenant mix is fairly diverse – some students, some young working professionals with downtown or Cornell jobs, and a substantial number of seniors looking to downsize and be downtown. The office has received a number of calls inquiring if the units are for sale, but unfortunately for those interested, condos are scarce in Ithaca.

The project website has been updated to include a number of interior renderings, included here at the end of the post. The first four in the set are apartment interior images, showing two bathroom finishes (modern aesthetic with a neutral palette), a larger unit’s living room and kitchen, and a studio unit, which they market as a “junior apartment”. The last three images are common spaces, two lounge spaces and the lobby. The lobby will in fact have a circular reception area, as shown in the ground-level floor plan.

Newman Development Group (NDG) had previously mentioned in a response to Green Street Garage questions that they had secured tenants for all three ground-level commercial spaces, the Ale House restaurant and two other tenants whom Anthony was not allowed to discuss per confidentiality agreements, but they hope to go public with the future tenants “in about a month”. The spaces clock in around 10.600 square-feet in total.

“NDG has recently signed three superior quality tenants for the City Centre project and had a high level of interest from a number of additional tenants that had to be turned away. NDG believes that these and other prospective tenants seeking 3,000 to 5,000 square foot spaces will find the Green Street location to be highly attractive based on the high traffic counts, pedestrian activity, mass transit access, proximity to The Commons, adjacency to significant downtown residential neighborhoods and availability of convenient parking, ” said NDG in the Green Street Q&A.

Construction is moving along at a good clip, with most of the windows fitted and work continuing on the aluminum panels and brickwork that will comprise most of the facade. For the sake of brevity, we’ll dig more into the exterior finishes and details in the next update in November.

Side note to the Ithacan – the effort is appreciated in your downtown write-up, but you guys flubbed one critical detail. City Centre and State Street Triangle were two separate projects with two separate development teams. The only common bond is location. The story that I’m familiar with is that the Colberts, who owned the Trebloc site, dropped Campus Advantage as a partner because CA wanted a lower sale price for the land when they were forced to submit smaller project designs, while NDG was willing to pay the premium, and so they were able to snatch themselves the purchase option for the site when it opened for renegotiation.

In keeping with the theme of development controversy, here it’s been the high price of the units – $1,545 – 1,625/month for a studio, $1,745 – 2,595/month for a one bedroom unit, and $2,460 – 3,265/month for a two-bedroom unit. There has been substantial blowback from some local activists and community groups as a result, and even other landlords have expressed off-record that they are incredulous of the asking prices Newman Development Group was aiming for with the City Centre project. So far, however, lease-up seems to be going well. City Centre will open for occupancy in June 2019.

 





City Centre Construction Update, 8/2017

21 08 2017

Ithaca is fortunate to have a downtown area with strong residential demand and relatively low commercial retail vacancy. Unlike many communities in upstate New York, its downtown area is ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting and capitalizing on investment. Apart from a few communities of similar economic strength (Saratoga Springs, Beacon), most regional cities are only just starting to re-invest in their downtrodden downtown cores.

It’s important to keep in mind that Ithaca was on a similar destructive path during the 1960s and 1970s. Like many cities, it was experiencing flight to the suburbs, competition from malls and shopping centers on the fringes, and general disinterest and loss of investment downtown. In an attempt to spur development, the city commenced with urban renewal plans that, among other things, routed Green Street through an urban block to create the tuning fork in the late 1950s, and in the mid and late 1960s, the city seized multiple 2-5 story ca. 1900 structures on the 300 Block of East State Street via eminent domain, demolishing them with the intent to sell the land to Ithaca Savings and Loan for a new bank branch and office building.

Things didn’t pan out as planned. After the bank pulled out, the now empty triangle of land bounded by South Aurora, East State and East Green Streets was used as a parking lot for construction crews, before finally being sold in 1973 to the Colbert family, who developed the Trebloc Building on the site. Originally planned at two floors, it opened in 1974, a one-story, brutalist-lite structure that was not a good fit and certainly not the transformative plan the city sold voters on a decade earlier. But, the city was desperate. They would take what they could get.

In the following decades, Ithaca’s economy remained relatively stable compared to its peers, thanks in large part to the colleges – staff counts increased to pick up some of the losses from manufacturers moving out of state or abroad, and students helped buoy the service sector. Ithaca’s downtown saw some investment in the late 20th century, but more importantly, most of the historic properties that survived Urban Renewal were now generating enough interest to avoid the wrecking ball.

By the late 1990s and 2000s, the idea of spin-offs and start-ups was starting to take off, and with Cornell serving as a sort of research incubator, it led to a modest but well-paying and growing high-tech sector. Add in an increasing trend towards college towns as a lively alternative to retirement communities, and Ithaca found itself with a growing economy. Coincident was a resurgent interest in urban living; Ithaca’s sleepy but intact downtown was poised to take advantage. It was still a risk in the 2000s, but through effort and luck, public-private projects like Cayuga Green and Seneca Place have paid off.

At this point, the initial “pioneer” projects have opened and demonstrated market strengths and weaknesses. Commercial office space is lukewarm at best, but rentals are hot. With a continued resilient, growing economy, developers were now scouting opportunities on their own. This was encouraged by the city, which upzoned several downtown parcels in 2014 to drum up interest. As part of this upzone, the Trebloc site was rezoned from CBD-60 to CBD-120, raising the maximum height from 60 feet to 120 feet, while permitting 100% lot coverage (excluding setbacks) with no requirement for on-site parking.

The first formal proposal to come along was State Street Triangle in April 2015. Texas-based Campus Advantage initially proposed a 12-story, 240-unit, 600-bed apartment building with first floor retail. The units were intended towards the student market, and Campus Advantage saw the property as an ideal location to draw in both Cornell and IC students.

Unfortunately, this development attempt pretty much checked off every box for what not to do. It was very large by Ithaca standards, officially student-oriented, the original design was mediocre at best, and according to city officials and staff, the developers came in with a condescending air, like the building was a gift and the city could only be so lucky. This stirred a hornet’s nest of opposition. Complaints included the size, the parking, the tenant mix, the design, and the developers were taken out to the proverbial woodshed for being out of touch “outsiders” who were simply going to profit off the city.

While there were some proponents, they were not many. The developers tried to make amends with a more appropriate design by STREAM Collaborative that reduced the size and scale, offered to make a donation to the city’s affordable housing fund, and broke up units to appeal to non-students, but the damage was done. When it became clear they would seek a tax abatement as most downtown projects do, the mayor, who is generally pro-density and pro-downtown, spoke out against it. Behind the scenes, a local developer was preparing to file a lawsuit if the city dared to approve the project without asking for a long, expensive Environmental Impact Statement first.

Meanwhile, the Colberts were in talks with a different developer, Newman Development Group (NDG) of Vestal. While not as large as Campus Advantage, Newman had previous experience in Downtown Ithaca, co-developing the Seneca Way mixed-use project with Bryan Warren a few years earlier. In fact, NDG’s forte is suburban shopping plazas and student housing; at the time, their only urban non-student residential project was Seneca Way. But, they knew Ithaca through experience. They knew what the city did and didn’t like, and watching Campus Advantage flounder not only gave them an opportunity to swoop in, it was an additional opportunity to watch and learn.

By December 2015, the purchase option CA had on the site had expired; and when they went to renegotiate, the Colberts were not interested, and decided to go with NDG. In January 2016, State Street Triangle was officially cancelled.

City Centre was officially announced in a press release in June 2016. From the start, it avoided the mistakes that plagued Campus Advantage. The announcement came not as a leak in the Journal, but in a press release to all three Ithaca news outlets, which gave an air of transparency and limited speculation. The initial design by Texas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects was well-regarded. The project would be non-student market-rate, with studio, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units. Instead of no parking at all, 71 (later 72) spaces would be located under the ground floor retail in a subterranean lot. The turn lane from Aurora onto State would be maintained, rather than lost to an expanded plaza.

With this approach, opposition to City Centre was much weaker – many critics saw this as a fair alternative. There were some complaints, like from Historic Ithaca, who were against any building with more than six floors; but overall, the reception to City Centre was much more favorable. The key changes through the municipal review process was to try and make the building less massive and less like State Street Triangle, as both had similar massing, and a visual focal point on the corner facing the Commons. The project team achieved this through setbacks and bump-outs to create more facade variation, and reducing the building to eight floors. Other details that were revised include additional street-level windows and the cornice of the curved primary facade. City Centre received preliminary approval in January, after the zoning board signed off on a rear setback variance. Final approval was granted in February. The original design can be seen here, and the final design is here.

The details of the final plan are confusing to the point of frustration – no one seems to agree on the exact figures (if anyone reading this could provide them, it’d be appreciated). The range of figures call for a 217,671-218,211 SF (square-foot) building on 0.76 acres, with 10,600 SF of ground floor retail and 8,700 SF of amenity space (gym, lobby, computer room, lounge, rental office) and 2,000 SF of utility space. On the upper floors are 192 apartments, or 193 – the square footage and unit details are all over the place. Once source says 63 studio, 73 1-bedroom, 57 2-bedroom units – another says 193, with a breakdown of 56 studio units (506 SF), 94 1-bedroom units (598-725 SF) and 43 2-bedroom units (907-1,370 SF). 68-72 parking spaces will be built in a one-story underground garage (without the garage, square footage is 186,966-187,536 SF). Building height has been reported as 85 feet, 106 feet and 111 feet, which is probably just a technical difference due to the slope of the site.

The total hard cost for the project is estimated at $32.8 million, and combined hard and soft costs come in at $52.7 million. The project was granted an enhanced tax abatement in April 2017. This was not without some opposition from residents who felt it was inappropriate to give an abatement to market-rate housing, and some landlords. Downtown business owners and interest groups were generally in favor.

Construction is expected through at least Spring 2019, although the numbers have been a bit inconsistent, with some paperwork suggesting 2020. The disagreement stems in part from the start date for the 20-month construction period, and whether that includes demo/site prep or not. It will be steel frame construction with brick veneer and a few shades of Nichiha fiber cement panels. The building will use electric air-source heat pumps and have a 7.5 KW rooftop solar array.

The project team includes NDG, Humphreys & Partners as architect, Whitham Planning and Design LLC as the team representative and point of contact for the review process, and T. G. Miller PC for civil engineering and surveying work. Rochester’s Morgan Management will be in charge of leasing. NDG is in a major expansion mode on the residential side at the moment, with a 320-bed student housing project under construction in Oswego, and a 120-unit general market project underway in Binghamton.

At the moment, the former Trebloc Building is no more, having been fenced off and demolished earlier in the summer. Excavation for the parking garage and 26″ thick concrete mat foundation has yet to begin. About 400 construction jobs are expected to be created, and as part of the abatement agreement, at least 25% (100) will be local labor.

 





News Tidbits 7/8/17: Watching the Fireworks

8 07 2017

1. A pair of major downtown projects are starting to get a move on site-prep and demolition. The Trebloc Building has been torn down to make way for the 187,000 SF, $32.9 million City Centre project.

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

For a bit of historical perspective, the Trebloc Building was a sort of monument to municipal desperation. Up until 1967, the site housed several 2-5 story buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then along came urban renewal. The city had made plans to demolish the buildings and sell the lot to a bank tenant, who would build a new office and help revitalize the city’s run-down downtown. But after demolishing the building, the potential bank tenant never followed through on its original intent, and the city spend years trying to sell the lot, which was used for makeshift parking in the interim. Finally, they found a buyer in the Colbert Family doing business as the Trebloc Development Company. The Trebloc Building was originally planned to have two floors, but financial troubles had reduced it to one before it finally opened for business in 1974.

One could argue that nothing quite represented the nadir of Ithaca’s downtown quite like the struggling, unloved and unlovely Trebloc Building did. There are some buildings worth fighting for, and even some mediocre ones that come down with a bittersweet sentiment. This was neither.

Perhaps unhappily for downtown businesses, City Centre will be under construction for quite some time; adjusting the estimate given to the IDA, late 2019 or even early 2020 is possible.

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks west, Harold’s Square is also gearing up for demolition of 123-135 East State Street. Unlike the Trebloc teardown, Developer David Lubin will be deconstructing the existing structures, so that their components can be re-used (the process will be managed by Finger Lake Re-Use). I’ve always been kinda partial to the green tile on the former Race Office Supply, so hopefully that goes to a good home. 137-139 East State will be renovated as part of the Harold’s Square project. Harold’s Square, a 180,000 SF building with a hard construction cost of $32.6 million, is expected to take about 18 months, opening in Q1 2019. Dunno why City Centre’s construction schedule is a year longer, although with the underground garage, the project is a little larger (211,200 SF), and more structurally complex. It could also just be a very generous estimate.

2. Tompkins County will be hosting a meeting at the Museum of the Earth on July 19th at 7:30 PM to discuss plans for the Biggs Parcel on the town of Ithaca’s portion of West Hill. As covered previously, the 25.5 acre parcel, which has something of a long news history, has been for sale since last summer, but without any firm offers, the county ended its realtor contract and has been trying to figure out with to do with the property. Although there are some streams and wetlands, there are some development possibilities; neighbors have been pushing for it to be a county-owned natural preserve, but the county wants an option that will pay taxes, whether that be a multi-family development, private estate or otherwise.

While the county did not identify this parcel as a high environmental protection priority, they are busy working with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect a 125-acre property in Caroline, and there are ongoing discussions regarding a 324-acre property in Dryden.

3. As with nearly every sizable project in Tompkins County, the Inn at Taughannock expansion is being met with some resistance from neighbors. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, arguments cited include traffic, view sheds, size, neighborhood character (which seems a bit weird, given there’s not much of a neighborhood nearby), and most frequently, noise, which the town could help resolve by asking for an acoustical counsultant’s report like what Ben Rosenblum submitted in Ithaca for his cancelled proposal for a jazz bar at 418 East State Street. The addition, which calls for a new restaurant, event space and five guest rooms, would create about 25 jobs if built and opened as planned. The often-joked but actually rarely-seen email calling me a “thoughtless corporatist” arrived in the inbox after the first write-up, which indicates this fireworks show may not be over for a little while.

4. In a bit of a weird hang-up, the Heritage Center project attempted to give itself a formal name, but the name was shot down by the County Legislature. The proposed moniker of “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was defeated in a 7 yes -3 no vote (8 yes votes required) because a few of the legislators felt there hadn’t been enough time to gauge community reaction. Personally, I thought “Tompkins County Heritage Center” was fine, but to each their own.

5. Thankfully, the county’s endorsement of the Housing Strategy was unanimous. This is but a baby step in solving the county’s housing woes, but it’s an important step. The county now has a sort of guiding document to help address issues in adding and improving the local housing stock.

There are a few key things that the county will need to adhere to when moving forward. First is working with communities to identify suitable areas for development, and making updates to infrastructure and zoning to guide developers towards those properties instead of far-flung, natural areas where acquisition costs are low and there are fewer neighbors to contend with. Second is bridging the affordability gap – some of this can be done by encouraging new housing at market-rate, but the county will need to be constructively engaging and reliable when helping affordable housing plans apply for grants or exploring tax incentives to help make their proposals feasible.

The third, and arguably the most controversial point here, is standing firm in the face of opposition. Many Tompkins residents are averse to new housing (or really, new anything) near them. For example, consider the Tiny Timbers plan recently announced for Lansing Town Center. The plan checks a lot of boxes – at $175-$225k, it’s fairly affordable owner-occupied new housing, with a smaller ecological footprint than many detached single-family homes. Yet, in the Voice comments, it was dumped on as both a glorified trailer park and unaffordable at the same time, and the neighbor who tried and failed to buy the property from the town to prevent development was trying to scare people from small house living (which at 1000-1500 SF, these aren’t really “tiny” houses anyway). The county should listen for the sake of good government, but after weighing the argument, unless a project is truly a detriment to a community’s quality of life, the county and local boards will need a firm backbone in withstanding criticism. It also helps if people who like a project give their two cents in an email or meeting.

So, good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fingers crossed.





News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

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4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

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7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





News Tidbits 11/5/16: Condemnation and Praise

5 11 2016

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1. The Maguire waterfront plan has been rejected. By an 8-2 vote, the Ithaca city Common Council voted to discontinue consideration of the state-of-the-art Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, with most citing concerns about the project’s marginal or poor fit with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for an urban mixed-use form of development in the Carpenter Circle area where this dealership is proposed. The votes in favor of the proposal, from the third ward’s Donna Fleming and first ward’s George McGonigal, cited ways it could be conceived as fitting with the plan (greener alternative, local business expansion), and challenges the site offers to the city’s urban plan (poor soils, trains, chemical storage, power lines).

Although this shuts down the current proposal, this may not be the last we hear from the Maguires or the Carpenter Business Park site. At the meeting, company President Phil Maguire offered a teaser, saying they may partially liquidate their land holdings to bring in mixed-use development that would share the CBP space with the dealership. Given the heavy alterations that would need to occur, the council decided to vote down the existing proposal and send a message that it doesn’t fit the city’s goals. However, the council said they and the planning department would expedite review of an amended proposal, should it come forth.

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2. If you’ve ever wanted some explicit discussion of the challenges of doing affordable housing in Tompkins County, here’s a great summary courtesy of the the town of Ithaca. Back in August, the town’s Planning Committee (of town board members, similar to the city’s PEDC Committee) met with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Director Paul Mazzarella for a Q&A. The town is considering regulations for inclusionary housing, and after INHS’s Greenways project fell through, they would like guidance and input on to make an effective code that promotes affordable housing without killing all residential development. Here are some of the highlights:

– Ithaca is a market of smaller builders. Local developers aren’t able or interested in doing huge projects, and most outsiders don’t see Tompkins County as a big enough or profitable enough market to tap into. So that leaves it to smaller builders who don’t have scale efficiencies, and are inclined to build luxury housing because the return on investment is more likely (i.e. less risky). The strong local economy also means that the local construction labor pool is largely tapped out, and additional crews have to be imported.

– Mandated affordable housing tends to work best in expensive, hot markets where the Return on Investment (ROI) for the market-rate units is more likely – your Seattles, San Franciscos and New Yorks. Even there, it is often paired with incentives such as height or square footage. Mazzarella noted he doesn’t think the city’s voluntary program will work very well. One thing to note with mixed-income projects is that the market-rate units will often be higher priced to cover the cost of lower-priced units. Simplified example – say you’re building ten houses for a sale price of $250,000. To meet an affordable mandate you sell two at $200,000, but to still obtain adequate ROI, that $100,000 is going to spread among the other eight – so you have two for sale at at $200,000, and eight at $262,500.

– We talk about modular homes as lower-cost alternatives, and for rural locations they often are, due to materials and labor costs. However, INHS found that in their experience for sites in the city and town, the cost is comparable to stick-built, although at larger scales, cost efficiencies may be achieved (ex. the Belle Sherman Cottages).

Another interesting read is the committee’s September meeting with city historic preservation planner Bryan McCracken and Historic Ithaca’s Christine O’Malley about protecting historical resources. As it turns out, the city cannot designate an individual landmark without the owner’s permission, and historic districts require the approval of 60% of affected property owners.

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3. Seems like Tiny Timbers had a well-attended open house. On their blog, the Dolphs have shared a cross-sectional diagram of an exterior wall – beneath the hemlock siding and copper trim will be ZIP sheathing and polyiso (thermoset plastic foam) insulation. ZIP is everywhere in residential construction, polyiso less common – locally, it was used extensively with the Boiceville Cottages in Caroline. On the inside, one has sheetrock and bamboo flooring. Exposed hemlock posts and ceilings will complement the sheetrock.

Also being rolled out is a fifth home design, a larger two-bedroom, two-bath home with a hipped roof. Variety is the space of life, as the saying goes.

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4. It was exciting to finally see the release of renderings for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue. Links to the Site Plan Review document, historical documentation and drawings can be found in the Voice write-up here. There have yet to be images released for the garden apartment building to be built at the rear of the property, but look for the same general design features as the rowhouses. As expected from ikon.5 Architects, the design is modern and glassy, and given the Facebook comments and a couple of emails that came in, some neighbors are less than happy about that. However, this isn’t a historic district, so long as it meets zoning regulations, Novarr is free to hire whoever he darn well pleases. As mentioned in previous write-ups, he had ikon.5 design his guest house, so this isn’t strictly a cost thing, he genuinely likes their work. It was a bit surprising but interesting to see the well-researched history of the three 19th century boarding houses currently on the property, and it makes me wonder if that was a requirement. Novarr’s proven to be accommodating in the past, perhaps he’ll deconstruct rather than demolish, and the salvageable parts can be reused.

The project team will meet with members of the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon for Design Review – about the only thing that stands out at initial glance is the lack of windows or visual interest with the north face, barely noticeable in the rendering. That probably won’t fly with the board, but we’ll see if it gets changed up as it goes through review. City Centre, the 8-story Trebloc site redevelopment, will also undergo further design review at the meeting.

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5. The Chapter House is going to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) yet again. The changes are subtle and few, but the rules are the rules. A service door will be added to the west (rear) wall, the inset vestibule is being reconfigured a bit, and the third-floor dormer windows are being changed from double-hung to casement – meaning that instead of sliding up and down, they’ll open with a crank. The ILPC will vote on the changes in November, which will probably sail through without much debate, and hopefully, just maybe, quite possibly, the Chapter House project can get underway.

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6. A couple quick updates from the town of Ithaca Planning Board minutes – after some discussion and a bit of praise for the redesign effort, the board opted for timber-trimmed Design “A” for the Sleep Inn proposal on Elmira Road. The minutes from Maplewood’s EIS meeting were also uploaded, and it is rare to see this much positivity in discussion of a project – not to say there weren’t dissenters, but the alternative energy source and efficiency initiative, use of local labor, and softening of the design on Mitchell Street won most of the speaking audience over. Public comment closed on Halloween, and now the project team must respond to all the reasonable comments received as part of the review process.





News Tidbits 10/22/16: Seal of Approval

22 10 2016

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1. In yet another twist in the 201 College Avenue saga, the project will be moving forward. The Board of Zoning Appeals sided 3-1 with the city Zoning Director and denied the Planning Board’s consideration that the building be considered illegal due to facade length. According to a report from former Times reporter Josh Brokaw (now operating as an indy journalist),  the board was swayed by arguments of time and ambiguity in the code. Brokaw’s reading makes it sound like there’s still some raw feelings between staff and board. The way to solve the most pressing issue would be to clarify the code based on the facade debate, and have the common council ratify those changes over the next few months. All in all, the Form District code works pretty well, and a number of projects have been presented without big discussions over semantics. But in the case of 201, it’s clear that the CAFD wording and imagery could use further refinement, so that everyone is on the same page. With 201 resolved, now is a good time to do that.

Dunno what the completion date will be offhand (August 2017 would be a breakneck pace, but we’ll see). Neighbor Neil Golder has refiled his lawsuit, but the case isn’t especially strong.

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2. Also getting underway this week is the renovation of the former Pancho Villa restaurant at 602 West State Street into the West End branch of Elmira Savings Bank. This is quite a bit earlier than initially planned – Site Plan Review docs suggested a July-December 2017 construction/renovation. Edger Enterprises of Elmira will be the general contractor for the 6,600 SF, $1 million project, which is expected to be completed in March 2017.

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3. The Dryden town board has approved 4-1 the concept of the Evergreen Townhouses plan for 1061 Dryden Road just east of Varna. This means that they accept a PUD can be appropriately applied for the site, but the project will need to submit a formal, more detailed development plan before any final approvals will be considered. One of the major changes that is being requested is a 15-foot setback between the property line and the units at the southeast side of the parcel (25-36), so expect those to get a little trim off of the rear side (the dissenting vote, Councilwoman Linda Lavine, was because she preferred a 25-foot setback). If the setback and the other stipulations are accommodated, its chances of approval are pretty good. Developer and local businessman Gary Sloan has 270 days to submit detailed plans for review.

Meanwhile, Tiny Timbers will be up for Dryden Zoning Board of Appeals review in early November. Since an internal road will be used to access some of the home lots, the town board will be viewing the site as an “Open Development Area” (ODA), which by Dryden’s definition is development with no direct road access. The town board will hold their public meeting on the 20th to approve the ODA, the planning board’s acceptance on the 27th. The ZBA is the last or second-to-last step in the approvals process (not sure offhand if the town will need to vote again to give a final approval).

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4. The senior housing next to the BJ’s in Lansing might finally be moving forward this spring. Dan Veaner has the full story here at the Lansing Star. The issue stems from working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what parts of the land can and cannot be developed – delineating the wetlands, basically. Apparently, the wetlands were created by an overflowing culvert back when the mall was built in the 1970s. But regardless of how they were created, the USACE deems they have to be protected, especially since it developed into a rare wetland environment called an “inland salt marsh”. Since then, it’s been back-and-forth on units – I’ve heard as few as 9 and as many as 18. A portion of the wetlands would still need to be relocated. The PDA boundaries were changed slightly by the board at the request of developer Eric Goetzmann earlier this month to accommodate the USACE determination. The tax break Goetzmann received to build BJ’s is contingent on the senior housing getting built, though at this point, one has to wonder just how much this wetlands tangle has cost him. Hope it was worth it.

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5. From the sound of it, the Maplewood Park DEIS public hearing was fairly positive. Many of the neighbors are pleased with the changes, although some are still opposed to the density or have concerns about traffic. In response, it’s worth pointing out that the commute of Maplewood’s residents will almost entirely be bus, bike and foot during normal business/school hours, and its convenience to bus routes and services will also help minimize overall traffic impacts. As for density, well, if you want Cornell to house its students and reduce the burden on the open market, promoting density on the existing Maplewood site may result in a more sustainable, more cost efficient project if planned properly, with less of a neighborhood impact than building several hundred beds on an undeveloped parcel elsewhere (since the Maplewood site has been inhabited in some form since the 1940s, the growth in density would not be as prominent – about 490 beds, vs. 872 beds).

Should readers feel inclined, comments are still being accepted by town planners up until October 31st. The materials and submission email can be found here.

6. It looks like there were a couple big sales in the local real estate market this week. The first one was the Tops Plaza in big box land, just south of Wegmans. National retail developer DDR Corp. sold the property to another large firm, NYC-based DRA Advisors LLC, for $20 million on the 18th. The sale included three addresses – 710-734 South Meadow, 614 South Meadow, and 702 South Meadow – The Tops Plaza, The smaller strip to its south (called Threshold Plaza), and the pad parcels like Chili’s and Elmira Savings Bank. Perhaps the most notable part of this sale is that it’s slightly below the total assessed value of $20,941,000. However, DRA picked up the property as part of a bundle sale of 15 shopping centers in Western and Central New York, so maybe it was a bulk discount, or compensating for weaker properties.

The other big sale was between a long-time local landlord and a newer, rapidly growing one. The Lucente family (as Lucente Homes) sold 108, 116, 202 and 218 Sapsucker Woods Road to Viridius LLC for $1.276 million on the 18th. According to county records, each is a 4-unit building built in the 1970s and worth about $275k – meaning, Viridius just acquired 16 units for a little above the $1.1 million assessed. Viridius’s M.O. is to buy existing properties, do energy audits to determine what needs to be done where to maximize energy efficiency, disconnect them from fossil fuel heating and energy sources, install pellet stoves, heat pumps and the like, renovate/modernize the properties, and connect the more efficient house to a solar grid or other renewable energy sources. If Sustainable Tompkins were a developer, they’d look like Viridius.


7. This last one isn’t so much a big sale, but worth noting for future reference – 126 College Avenue sold for $510,000 on the 19th. The buyer was an LLC at an address owned by Visum Development’s Todd Fox.

126 College is a 2-story, 6-bedroom house that might have been attractive long ago, but someone’s beaten it with an ugly stick and paved much of the front lawn (growing up near Syracuse, we called paved front lawns “Italian lawns”, with my uncle one of the many offenders). The purchase price is a little below the asking price of $529k, but more than double the assessment. Zoning at the property is CR-4 – up to 50% lot coverage, 25% green space, up to 4 floors and 45 feet in height, a choice of pitched or flat roofs, and required front porches, stoops or recessed entries. This is the lowest-density zone for which no parking is required. The city describes the zoning as “an essential bridge” between higher and lower density, geared towards townhouses, small apartment buildings and apartment houses.

Granted, not everything Visum/MLR does is new, some of their work focuses on renovation. But given the location, and given that frequent design collaborator STREAM had “conceptual” CR-4 designs on display during the design crawl earlier this month, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination.

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8. Interesting agenda for the city planning board next week, if nothing new. Here’s the schedule:

AGENDA ITEM                 APPROX. START-TIME

1. Agenda Review                6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor         6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:  Minor Subdivision           6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision             6:25
Location: 123 & 125 Eddy St.
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou is planning subdivision of a double lot to build a new 2-unit, 6-bedroom house designed to be compatible with the East Hill Historic District. CEQR has been given neg dec (meaning, all’s mitigated and good to proceed), and zoning variances for deficient off-street parking have been granted.
C. Project:  Minor Subdivision                6:35
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
One of those small infill builds, this proposal in Fall Creek takes down an existing single-family home for two two-family homes on a subdivided lot. The design has been tweaked, with more windows, a belly band, more varied exterior materials, and additional gables to provide visual interest.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)           6:45
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 2

The 8-story mixed-use proposal for the Trebloc site. Comes with one letter of support, and a letter of opposition from Historic Ithaca, who have previously stated they will oppose anything greater than four floors on State Street, and six floors overall.
B. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center            7:15
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: No Action — Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Parts 2 & 3
C. Project:  Four Duplexes                               7:30
Location: 607 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Charles O’Connor
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ PUBLIC HEARING  │ Review of FEAF, Part 2
MLR’s four-building, 8-unit plan for South Hill. Comes with a letter of neighbor support saying the scale is appropriate.
D. 371 Elmira Rd. (Holiday Inn Express) — Approval of Project Changes      7:45
The debate over the Spencer Road staircase and rip-rap continues.
E. 312-314 Spencer Rd. — Satisfaction of Conditions: Building Materials   7:55
F. 119, 121, & 125 College Ave. (College Townhouse Project) — Update        8:05
Novarr’s 67-unit townhouse project geared towards Cornell faculty. No decisions planned, just an update on the project. Keeps your fingers crossed for some renders.
G. Maplewood Redevelopment Project — Planning Board Comments on Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS)     8:20
The city’s deferred judgement to the town, but the board can still have their say. The comments will be recorded and addressed as part of the EIS review process.
5. Zoning Appeals                          8:35
• #3047, Area Variance, 123 Heights Court




News Tidbits 10/15/16: Stoops and Stumbles, Growth and Gables

15 10 2016

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1. The Maguire proposal for Carpenter Business Park will be heading to the Common Council next month, but the prognosis isn’t good. The city council’s Planning Committee voted 4-0 to say that the proposal didn’t fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for the near-Waterfront property – the plan calls for walkable, urban mixed-uses, preferably with residential components. The discussion wasn’t unanimous in its logic – 2nd Ward Councilmen Nguyen and Murtagh were stronger adherents to the plan, while the 1st Ward’s Cynthia Brock doesn’t think housing is appropriate – but they all disagreed with the multi-brand car dealership plan as-is. Maguire has asked for a delay in vote so that the plan could be tweaked, but the Committee voted to move forward.

Because of the 18-month TMPUD in place, the Common Council has to vote to approve all projects in the waterfront area, so the resolution to decline further review of the project will be voted on at the next non-budget Council meeting. It will not be unanimous – the 3rd Ward’s Donna Fleming wrote a letter of support for the project, and the 1st Ward’s George McGonigal voiced support for the concept though not this particular plan. But the chances of approval are pretty slim at this point.

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2. Judging from the site photos John Novarr’s project team sent along, it looks like environmental remediation has already commenced at the site of his faculty townhouse project at 119-125 College Avenue in Collegetown. 121 College, in particular, is already in the early stages of remediation. It’s a pretty extensive photo documentation, one that might have to do with historic preservation aspects, like determining what can be salvaged and reused. It’s pretty clear that the properties, which were recently acquired from an Endicott-based landlord who held the properties for decades, are in rough shape. Novarr seems to have a preference for prepping sites before plans are approved (ex. 209-215 Dryden), so it’s uncertain how much time these three boarding houses have left.

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3. Courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Neighborhood Investment Committee, we get to see a pretty thorough breakdown of the expenses and revenues of an owner-occupied affordable housing project.

The details come as part of INHS’s application for $314,125 in Federal HUD HOME funds, to be used for the 7 for-sale townhouse units included with the 210 Hancock project, collectively called 202 Hancock. The funds would be used to cover soft costs, like project management, engineering and architecture fees, legal fees, and site inspections.

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The 202 Hancock project construction cost is estimated at $1,754,860, about $344,000 per unit, or about $198/SF. That’s expensive, but not unusual – 203 Third Street was about $190/SF. The cost is high due to rapidly rising construction costs, and due to federal guidelines and lender specifications, INHS is required to hire contractors with extensive insurance. Add in soft costs and it jumps to $2,408.371.

Now let’s consider the sales. The five two-bedroom units are expected to sell for $130,052 to a household making no more than $38,046. The two three-bedrooms will sell for $164,979, to households making $42,428/year or less. Those incomes don’t meet the rule-of-thumb of 3.4x annual income, but HOME funds cover part of the cost ($24,000 for the 2-bedrooms, $36,000 for the three-bedrooms). INHS gets $960,218 in the project sales – and that’s the same amount Tompkins Trust Company is willing to cover with a construction loan. So the initial gap is $1,448,155. Now we’re starting to see why new housing can be so expensive.

INHS gets $7,000 in revenue from Energy Star rebates on appliances, and has up to $351,153 equity they can put towards the project, most of that being the value the of 202 Hancock’s land. The IURA would issue a low-interest bond for $215,875 to be paid back by INHS, and the non-profit has secured $280,000 in grants directly from the state (NYS AHC), and $280,000 in NYS CDBG funds awarded by local governments (this tactic is known as “subsidy layering“). This complicated puzzle of funding sources is why so many developers are not interested in doing affordable housing.

Side note, one of the pre-development costs is market analysis. Might seem silly, but grant reviewers want proof the housing crisis isn’t just bluster, and that these units won’t sit empty. An analysis by Randall/West determined that at a sale price of $136,000 for a 2-bedroom, and $162,000 for a 3-bedroom, qualified buyers would be found and under contract within 4.6 months. The units should be available for occupancy by June 2017.

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Secondly, thanks to a legal settlement between the state and Morgan Stanley, a $4 million affordable housing grant is available for renovations of existing INHS scattered site rentals (98 units in 44 buildings across the city). Most of these units are rented to individuals making 60% or less of the area’s median income (about or less than $32k/yr). The funds would go towards major, long-term renovations, such as new roofs, windows, siding, and energy efficiency improvements. INHS could also use the funds, disbursed via the city, to refinance its portfolio, acquiring some of the properties and paying off $1.8 million in loans on already-purchased properties.

Here’s the short of it – the goal is to buy/pay off the scattered rental sites they manage, renovate and make them energy efficient and comfortable, lock them into the Community Housing Trust so that they become permanently affordable, transfer the land to a wholly-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation, and then sell some of the buildings to an LLC while INHS continues as property manager. The funds from sales would finance new affordable housing. This is all set up as it is to take advantage of legal and tax benefits of different corporate tax structures, while minimizing the drawbacks. Potentially, the Morgan Stanley settlement money could be used to leverage an additional $15 million in tax credits and affordable housing grants from the state.

Correction, per INHS’s Scott Reynolds in the comments section: rentals aren’t in the Community Housing Trust, but affordability would be required for 50 years.

Rochester-based SWBR would be in charge of renovation design plans, and 2+4 Construction will be general contractor. Tenants may need to be relocated as renovations occur, which will be coordinated by INHS staff. The goal is to have the settlement money accepted by the city by the end of the year, financing by April 2017, and renovations completed by the end of 2018.

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4. It’s another one of those special meetings – the city Planning Board will be sitting down next Tuesday to go over comments and sort another batch of public comments regarding the Chain Works DEIS, this time on public health. Once you get past the few pages of “this will never work and don’t bother trying”, there’s actually some interesting back and forth about remediation and what that entails. Also on the agenda are revisions to the Holiday Inn Express down in Southwest Ithaca – namely, they’re trying to avoid building the stairs to Spencer Road, as well as some other landscaping issues. At the second meeting later this month, the board is expected to Declare Lead Agency, open public hearings and review parts of the FEAF for TCAction’s Amici House, 8-unit 607 South Aurora, and the 8-story City Centre project on the Trebloc site downtown.

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5. The plans for Maplewood have been modified yet again, in a change that the project team hopes will please neighbors and the town of Ithaca planning board. In revised plans submitted this past Wednesday, the 4-story apartment building planned for Mitchell Road has been replaced with a few sets of 2.5 and 3.5-story townhouses and stacked flats, and Building B to its north was extended slightly to compensate for the loss of bedrooms. Even so, the accompanying letter from Scott Whitham states that the unit and bed count have decreased slightly, from 473 units and 887 beds, to 442 units and 872 beds.

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Also modified was their appearance – stoops, porches, dormers and gable roofs were added to give them a more harmonious appearance with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s not clear if the rest of the units were aesthetically modified as well.





News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.