Village Solars Construction Update, 2/2017

27 02 2017

The Village Solars have made progress on their latest pair of apartment buildings. Building “I” has made more progress on its exterior finishes, while “J” is fully framed, roofed and shingled. Both of these will likely open this spring.

It’s starting to get that point where the second stage of the Village Solars may be getting ready for review by the Lansing municipal boards. The last big phase, Phase 4 with Building “K”, “L” and “M”,is likely to get underway this year for a completion in 2018, and phase 2A, the mixed-use Building “F”, has been something of a question mark for exact timing. That will finish out the initial 206 market-rate units, which range from studios to three bedrooms.

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There’s an early site plan floating around showing a potential buildout second stage expansion, and although it’s outdated, it gives an idea of the general layout of later phases. Most of the later buildings would be built to the east of the initial phases, as infill between existing apartments. The total number of units in the second expansion was initially about 136 units, but given the recent trend of breaking up larger units into smaller studio units to satisfy market demand, the number is likely to be higher when formal plans are submitted.

Right now, they seem to be about the only large-scale solution to Lansing’s development quandry – the first phase uses natural gas, but with the assistance of green advocacy group Sustainable Tompkins, the later phases have been built to utilize all-electric services with air-sourced heat pumps. This led to new utilities layouts, and the merging of “G” and “H” into one building.

According to an Ithaca Times article from last March, for a 12-unit building at the site (construction cost $2 million), the upfront cost increase was $50,000-$60,000, an increase of 2.5-3%. This is balanced out by the 30-year savings on energy costs for the building ($40,000-$80,000), and a premium on the monthly rents of about $50. Units go for $1050-$1650/month, depending on size and location. Six of the Daikin heat pump units can be seen in the third photo from top.

 

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Village Solars Construction Update, 10/2015

14 10 2015

With phase one of the Village Solars apartment complex completed and housing its first tenants, work is well underway on phase two. 12-unit Building “D”, which shares the same general design as phase one’s Building “B”, has already been framed, sheathed with a Tyvek-type of housewrap, mostly fitted-out (a couple windows and the balcony doors have not been installed), and even some siding has been installed on the ground level. This seems to be a change-up from the previous phase, which used ZIP System plywood for sheathing. Also, in a departure from Building “B”, Building “D” opts for larger windows in place of the very small juliet balconies on the upper floors.

Across the property to the east (and on the other side of the future pond) is the 18-unit Building “G/H”, a new design. Framing and wood studs are only beginning to arise on the ground floor. Plywood that will be used in future sheathing has been propeed up against the newly-erected wall studs. The concrete slab foundation has been poured and cured, and underground utilities have been installed.

Building “G/H” was created when developer Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) was working with NYSEG to lay out the utilities after approvals were granted and the first phase was underway. It was decided to make phase 2 all electric services, due to concerns that Lansing may not be able to provide gas service if the situation with the gas pipeline proposal on West Dryden Road doesn’t go in the town’s favor. One of the results of the utility infrastructure change was a difference in utilities layout, which impacted the site design for walkways, and the Lucentes are sought and received approvals last Spring to revise the PDA (planned development area, similar to the city’s PUD and the town’s PDZ) to change G and H from two separate buildings, to one large building that occupied a smaller footprint.

Lastly is Building “E”. “E” will be an 11-unit apartment building, though it’s not clear if it will be a new design, or simply an interior rearrangement of units. Right now, only the concrete forms for the foundation have been constructed, with what appears to be trenches for utility lines criss-crossing the site. Taking a rough guess, “D” will be completed and for rent before the end of this year, “G/H” by the end of Spring, and “E” will be finished in time for next year’s students, mid-to-late summer 2016.

Building “F” is part of a separate phase, “2A”. It will contain 10 units and a community center. According to Rocco Lucente in an interview last month, work on Building “F” will begin after the other phase two buildings are completed.

The first three buildings in the Village Solars complex, buildings “A”, “B” and “C” with 36 units in total, were completed this summer at a cost of $4.7 million, according to loan documents on file. Rents posted on Craigslist have one-bedroom units listed for $1050-$1145, two-bedroom units for $1235-$1369, and three-bedroom apartments rent for $1565-$1650. Prices vary a little depending on what floor the unit is on – the higher up a unit is, the more it costs.

Phase two will cost about $6 million, according to the construction loan filed with the county. Tompkins Trust Bank is providing financing. Future phases call for upwards of 300 units on site.

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News Tidbits 6/3/17: The Return, Part I

3 06 2017

My apologies for the lack of a weekly round-up. My day job has been busier than usual, and the list of topics just kept growing, making it an even more daunting task. Gonna try and work through a few at a time until everything’s caught up.

1. Cornell and EHVP’s East Hill Village webpage has started to flesh out their Q&A regarding the mixed-use megaproject slated to replace East Hill Plaza. Here are a few details:

– Cornell wants to make it clear that all images to date, include the conceptual from the master plan above, are strictly conceptual and have little bearing on the final product. The more realistic and nuanced take is that Cornell has an idea of what they want and the program format they want it in, for broad concepts like housing capacity, commercial/research space and general urban planning. In terms of an actual layout or tenant specifics, they probably don’t have much.

– Perhaps in response to a Voice commenter and former Ithaca town planning board member who accused the university of segmentation (meaning, during environmental review they illegally broke up a project into phases to avoid a greater analyses and to downplay impact), the FAQ notes that they didn’t really have this fleshed out and it’s separate from Maplewood. Given the size, scale, that it’s a physically separated set of properties, and vague goals they’re walking into this with, that’s a fair statement. If this were, say, a replacement for Ithaca East, which borders Maplewood, it’d be a different story.

– The current thinking is to keep the main retail strip, which was requested at the first community meeting. However, they may take down a portion of it to create a through-street, and reconfigure/relocate the parking.

– They haven’t written off pursuing a PILOT or tax abatement. They are exploring an affordable housing component. Eco-features like solar arrays, heat pumps and net-zero structures are being considered.

– Meetings will continue through the summer, with concept plans prepared for the town by the fall. Construction on the first phase would begin in 2019. It will be multi-phase.

No second meeting has been posted yet, but keep an eye out for updates.

2. Making its round around local governments and news outlets is a recently-published study by local structural engineering firm Taitem that tells of good news for heat pumps, and maybe serve to county one of the town of Lansing’s arguments regarding the West Dryden natural gas pipeline. Although the firm is a promoter of green initiatives, their study indicated that financially, the technological advancement in heat pumps over the past several years has made them competitive with natural gas, although each has pros and cons. For smaller units, a 1,500 SF townhouse in the study, it was found that an air-source heat pump was slightly less in annual cost than a natural gas furnace – for a modeled 4,000 SF detached custom home, it was a few percent more. Ground-source pumps were more expensive (but slightly “greener” than air pumps), and propane was the most costly, as well as the biggest carbon emitter. Although contractors are still adapting to heat pumps, the cost is decreasing somewhat as their use spreads and familiarity grows.

However, not everything is roses, at least not yet. For large-scale commercial and industrial operations whose heating needs are substantially greater, it appears that heat pumps have yet to be competitive, and even Taitem’s Ian Shapiro acknowledges that’s likely the case at present. But while the pipeline will continue to be an issue for larger commercial enterprises, homebuilders and residential developers should be able to adapt without too much additional financial burden or risk.

For the sake of example, the Village Solars charged a modest premium on rents when they went with pumps a few years ago (due to installation costs rather than operating costs), but having a strong product makes up for the extra short-term investment, the costs will potentially balance out over a few decades, and frankly, it makes for good marketing in eco-conscious Tompkins County.

I’ll admit to being skeptical over the past few years, and I still have concerns for economic impacts like the MACOM decision, but at least from a residential construction standpoint, the Village Solars and this study are making a strong statement.

3. Move this one into the “construction” column – Cayuga View Senior Living has secured a construction loan. The mixed-use, 60-unit senior housing project at 25 Cinema Drive in Lansing village has been in stall mode for a year as financing remained elusive. However, according to a construction loan filed on May 25th, Five Star Bank is loaning the Thaler family and their associates $10.88 million to make their project become reality. Along with the loan, the Thalers and their business partners will be putting up $1,796,450 in equity to move the project forward, bring total costs to $12,676,450.

Here’s a cost breakdown – individual figures are blocked out to avoid potential legal issues. But for the sake of illustration, here is the breakdown of the finances. Source of funds to the left, breakdown of hard and soft costs to the right. Breaking down the terms, we’ll start with the hard costs: easements are the legal right to use someone else’s land for your own use – often seen with utilities, they can also be used for private improvements like sewer, solar, paths or driveways/parking. Site improvements include landscaping, driveways, and drainage. Building Cons. costs are actual materials/labor expenses, and tenant improvements are the costs of fitting out retail space as part of a lease agreement. Lastly, general conditions are a catch-all for non-construction labor costs, including site management like porto-potty rental and temp utilities, material transport costs and project management – for this project, site management falls under the general contractor, Taylor the Builders of Rochester.

Soft costs include contigency (cover your rear allowance),  overhead developer profit (the amount needed to compensate the development team, which isn’t necessarily the exact same group as those putting up equity, for taking on this project), construction interest and LOC [Line of Credit] fees to the lender, and other line items that are either self-explanatory or too vague to ascribe. At $145/SF, the cost is a fair 10% less than a similar project in Ithaca city (offhand, 210 Hancock’s apartments are ~$160/SF), which can be explained in part by lower land costs and a less complicated site to work within, and to get in and out of.

Five Star Bank is a regional bank based out of Wyoming County in the western part of the state. They hold a few local mortgages, but this appears to be their first construction loan recorded in Tompkins County.

4. I’ll wrap up “Part 1” with a piece of interesting news – Cornell found a buyer for their printing facility and warehouse on Ithaca’s West End. According to a county filing on June 2nd, Guthrie Clinic is paying $2.85 million for the properties at 750 and 770 Cascadilla Street, which is over the asking price of $2.7 million. For that they get 3.12 acres, a 37,422 SF warehouse built in 1980, and a 30,000 SF storage facility built in 1988 and currently leased out.

Guthrie is a regional healthcare provider based out of Sayre, Pennsylvania – their premier facility is the 254-bed Robert Packer Memorial Hospital, which Ithacans might know as one of two locations someone is likely to be transported to in the event of a severe injury (the other being University Hospital up in Syracuse). For the record, Cayuga Medical Center has 204 beds.

Guthrie’s presence in Tompkins County includes some specialty offices and an existing 25,000 SF clinic at 1780 Hanshaw Road in Dryden. That building first opened in 1995, with an addition in 2000. Guthrie has been a building spree as of late, with a 25-bed hospital in Troy, PA that opened in 2013, and a 65-bed hospital in Corning that opened in 2014.

As for what they want to do on Ithaca’s West End, well, I’m working on figuring that one out. I’m hoping the Times writers who follow the blog will cut me some slack and let me try to unravel this one.

 





News Tidbits 3/18/17: Shoveling Snow to Dig Foundations

18 03 2017

1. A lot of Lansing stuff this week. Let’s start off with a brief update. It’s been about a year since the Thaler family received approvals for their 60-unit mixed-use Cayuga View Senior Living project on Cinema Drive in the village of Lansing. Well, it looks like they are finally ready to get under construction. The County Office of Aging included the project in their list of projects underway, and a check of the project’s Facebook page says they are starting construction this spring for a Spring 2018 opening. The upmarket project will contain 48 1-bedroom units and 12 2-bedrooms units, on a vacant parcel that is one of the last undeveloped high-density properties left in the village. Taylor the Builders will be the general contractor.

2. For a while now, the town of Lansing has been touting a figure of about 900 housing units being held up by the gas moratorium. Here are the statistics to back that up.

Now, the document from town planner Mike Long suggests that for multi-phase projects with some units already complete, the balance has been applied to the summation. If that’s the case, than Village Solars is shooting for a much larger buildout than originally anticipated. The doucment says that still plan on building 423 units. That’s a lot more than the ~310 currently on file. The first stage was increased from 174 to 206 as the result of unit-splitting, so the second set of phases may now have 217? That seems to be what’s implied here.

Note that the gas moratorium is a complication for the Village Solars, but not a project stopper. The newer buildings use electric heat pumps, which are a little more expensive than conventional gas, but they were able to pass the costs on within the rents (+$50/month) without much issue.

3. On another note with that town study, most of the projects noted have already been aired – Cayuga Farms on North Triphammer Road, the Pinney duplexes off of Scofield Road, Schickel’s Farm Pond Circle, and so on. However, a couple are new.

One appears to be a project called “English Village”. It consists of 59 townhomes and 58 single-family home lots. The other is “Cayuga Farms with Lake View”, which lists 30 units. The next has been cast for information, so watch this space.

4. Eric Goetzmann’s senior housing is finally ready to move forward, according to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star. Lansing Meadows looks to be aiming for about 20 units of senior housing on Oakcrest Road, and a small commercial retail component that complements the housing – an idea being tossed around in the Star article is a coffee shop.

Technically, a coffee shop isn’t allowed in the 2011 PDA that approved BJ’s and the units, but it’s a minor change from the neighboring zoning, and likely to pass without issue. The senior units have been delayed for several years because Goetzmann bit the bullet and built wetlands to replace those that would be disrupted by construction, as required by state law; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to review and sign off on the newly-created salt marsh as satisfactory. That only happened last October.

5. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is looking at options for a Collegetown Historic District. Initially, they wanted the 400 Block of College Avenue, the 100 Block of Oak Avenue, Cascadilla Hall, the College Avenue Bridge and 116 Summit Avenue. Then after consultation, they realized that may be a little too much to try and justify to the rest of the city, so it seems they want to move ahead with two individual designations instead – the CTB Building (403 College, the Larkin Block), and 411-15 College Avenue (Stella’s, the Chacona Block). Both are older buildings in the valuable MU-2 zone. The Avramises, who own the Chacona block, did talk about wanting to redevelop it at some point, but that was almost a decade ago, and there haven’t been any formal plans. I can see some kvetching from the ownership, but it seems unlikely that the city will argue against historic designation for these two properties if it moves forward.

6. Looking at the agendas for local planning boards – the town of Ithaca will be looking at a renovation at East Hill Plaza (former Wings into Sedgwick Office Interiors), a 2-lot subdivision on Bundy Road, and a 10,100 SF warehouse/industrial operation at Greentree Nursery’s new building at 142 Ithaca Beer Drive. The Bundy Road subdivision is the big purcahse mentioned a couple of weeks ago – the buyers want to subdivide a 2.27 acre section and have no plans for other 64.7 acres.





News Tidbits 3/7/15: All is Not Well on East Hill

7 03 2015

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1. Leading off this week with a note of optimism – David Lubin, the developer of the proposed Harold’s Square mixed-used building in downtown Ithaca, says that plans for the 11-story building are still underway, according to a comment he made to the Ithaca Journal. Lubin says he’s currently in the process of lining up investors to finance the construction of the project, a challenging process once one tells investors that the project is in upstate New York. It’s not impossible to have a private project financed in Ithaca (if the Marriott underway down the street is any indication), but for a project costing $38 million, it’s no surprise that it’s taking a while. It’s easy to think that this one has slipped into the dustbin, but fortunately it has not.

Meanwhile, Ithaca Builds woke from its winter slumber to give an update regarding Lubin’s other big project, the Chain Works District for the old Emerson site on South Hill. Currently, the Chain Works District is in the process of writing up its Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS). A DGEIS is part of the State Envrionmental Quality Review (SEQR), where the leading agency looks at a project, determines if any adverse project impacts are properly mitigated, and if so, issues a statement giving a negative declaration (approval). In this case, the NYS DEC also needs to be on board, approving the contaminated site for residential use. This is a pretty complicated project. There’s 800,000 sq ft of space to be removed or re-purposed, in an environmentally compromised site split between two political entities who are conducting joint meetings with their planning boards in an effort to try and move this project forward (the town of Ithaca board deferred to the city of Ithaca for lead agency; and both have rezoned the site to their respective specialized mixed-use zones). According to IB, the Phase I and Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) contain about 60,000 pages of paperwork. The official timeline (already behind schedule, according to city docs) hopes to have the DGEIS submitted shortly, with a declaration of significance sometime in the Spring. In theory, Phase I site prep could start this year, but who knows if that will happen in practice.

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2. The ILPC (Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council) had a chance to review the four proposals for the Old Library site. Perhaps no surprise, the favored proposal was the Franklin/O’Shae proposal at top, which keeps the 1960s library and its “intrinsic historic value”. Members did, however, express some concern with the current building’s environmental contamination (asbestos). As for the other proposals, council members generally liked the Travis Hyde plan, and felt the Cornerstone and DPI projects were insensitive to the site (although one member expressed appreciation that at least the Cornerstone plan had affordable housing). It sounds like there will be some major tweaks to the building renders in the full proposals due later this month, so it’ll be best to hold off on judgment until those revised plans are published.

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3. Now for some bad news- Cornell is running into major financial problems, to the tune of a $55 million deficit. About half of that, $27.5 million, is expected to be reconciled with budget cuts (the other half will be covered by tuition increases). Considering the very large role Cornell plays in the local economy, this could have a chilling effect on local businesses that depend on Cornell or its employees. There are shades of 2009 here, when a projected $150 million deficit over 5 years resulted in 432 voluntary retirements, and hundreds of jobs lost.  The cut from 2008 to 2009 was a 5% reduction for the 2009-10 fiscal year, while the cut to go into effect for 2015-16 is estimated at 2-2.3%. Quoting an interview the Sun did with Skorton:

“[In the 2008 financial crisis,] We froze everybody’s salary for a year, paused construction, slowed down on hiring, developed a voluntary staff retirement incentive and 8 percent of the staff force was reduced … and [we had] a couple hundred layoffs, which is very, very hard to do,” Skorton said. “So that’s how the University acted in the worst crisis that ever happened. And so that’s a predictor of how it’s going to happen in this case.”

An article in the Sun a couple of days later notes that faculty employment is at an all time high. With 1,652 faculty in Fall 2014, Cornell has now passed 2007’s 1,647. – but one observant commenter, who I will happily buy a drink if I ever meet in person, notes that Cornell’s total enrollment is up 2,050 students since 2007. Devil’s in the details, folks – Cornell could use this “all-time high” as an excuse to not hire more faculty during its latest financial crisis, even though the student-faculty ratio have been increasing for years. Let’s not forget that faculty-student ratios are a crucial part of college rankings.

All of this is rather disconcerting news, especially in a time where the national economy has been picking up. Cornell has real potential to not only cause a localized recession, but also fall behind its peer institutions.

4. On a somewhat brighter note, even with this appalling winter, the construction of Klarman Hall is only nine days behind schedule, according to the Sun. Atrium glass installation should begin in April, and East Avenue will be reopened to two-way traffic around that same time. Although this project is well underway towards a December 2015 completion, one has a right to wonder if it is wise for Cornell to pursue the Gannett expansion and Upson renovation (valued at over $100 million combined) during these perilous financial times.

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5. The town of Lansing’s planning board is set to review some slight changes to the massive Village Solars apartment project at its Tuesday meeting.

First, a quick primer – while the whole plan is for about 300 units, the approved phases account for only 174 units, and are being built in phases. The photo updates I’ve previously featured here on the blog show the first phase underway, buildings “A”, “B” and “C” on the right (south), with 36 units total. There are four phases, with two sub-phases in phase 2. Phase 2 consists of D, E, G and H with their 41 approved apartment units, and phase 2A is building F, which has the community center as well as 10 more units.

The revised plan calls for moving 6 units from buildings G and H to building M, which is in phase 4. G and H are combined into one apartment building (G/H), leaving 35 units in Phase 2. There are a couple reasons cited for this change – when working with NYSEG to lay out the utilities, it was decided to make phase 2 all electric services, due to concerns that Lansing may not be able to provide gas service if the tense situation with the gas pipeline proposal on West Dryden Road doesn’t go in the town’s favor. One of the results of the utility infrastructure change was a difference in utilities layout, and it was deemed prudent to shirt the walkway northward. This impacted the site design, which is why the Lucentes are seeking to revise the PDA (planned development area, similar to the city’s PUD and the town’s PDZ).

The change isn’t huge, and isn’t likely cause too much consternation among board members. This is actually the first site plan I’ve seen for the project, since it was approved before the town uploaded supplemental docs to its webpage. More importantly, it’s much clearer how future phases could build out – if the ~300-unit project takes 8-10 years as projected, then estimating the construction of phase 2 and 2A from summer 2015-16 seems reasonable.

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6. Planning board members had mixed reviews about the Simeon’s rebuild, according to the Ithaca Times. While some members were excited about the rebuild, others expressed concern with the proposed addition of a second-floor balcony, seen in the above render by architect Jason Demarest. The project is eligible for state tax credits designed to renovate historic buildings, but if the credits are granted, then the balcony would not be built. If the credits are not granted, the building owners are looking not only at a balcony, but the possibility of widening the bay windows a little (it turns out the bay windows were an early renovation to the original Griffin Building, and larger bay windows would benefit a planned expansion of Simeon’s to the second floor). Regardless, cast-iron ornamentation that was salvaged before demolition will be incorporated into the rebuild.

During the same meeting, the planning board accepted revised signage for the Marriott, and there was further discussion about the Canopy Hilton. Nearby residents expressed concerns that a downtown hotel will increase traffic, and complaints were made about the ingress/egress plan for both the hotel and the CSMA next door. No word on the land swap CSMA wants, but it doesn’t seem like they’re budging on their property’s all-important utility easement quite yet.