News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, if I make $50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.

 





News Tidbits 3/31/19

31 03 2019

1. A couple items of note from the latest Dryden Planning Board agenda – one is a new housing subdivision called Mill Creek, but the number of lots and location is not disclosed. The other appears to be plans for a new medical office building at 2141 Dryden Road, which is currently a vacant lot near near Willow Glen Cemetery. Google Maps seems to struggle with locating the 3.3 acre lot, so the screenshot is from the county’s map. The parcel is zoned “Mixed Use Commercial” and appears to be outside the sewer service areas. This still allows for a pretty substantial building – 40 foot setback from the front, 25 feet from the rear, 7.5 feet on either side, maximum 60% lot coverage and up to 35 feet in height, which for a medical office is typically two floors (13-14′ feet per floor). Put it this way, a building built to maximum dimensions would have a gross square footage of about 86,000 SF per floor, though whatever is planned here is likely to be much less than that. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on as plans develop.

2. A sign of the times. The property value of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall plunged this year, from $31 million to $19.35 million, a 38% drop. This is the result of high vacancy rates and a deteriorating long-term outlook. Downtown boosters will note with some schadenfreude that’s quite a different picture than the state of business affairs a generation ago, when downtown was in the doldrums and the mall (always in my mind the Pyramid Mall) was the center of activity.

This poses a substantial problem for the village of Lansing, but luckily, other development around the village was more than enough to offset the loss of valuation in the mall. Overall property value in the village inched up from $476.3 million to $479.5 million. Borg-Warner’s property value jumped a million dollars, and projects such as the East Pointe Apartments and Cayuga View Senior Living have also contributed to the growing property tax base.

There’s been a persistent rumor that Maguire or Guthrie are buying the mall. The short answer is some outreach was done, and no, they’re not. It’s not even possible for them to do that because Namdar’s mode of operation is to sell off the mall in sections. The long answer, with quotes, will be an article in the Voice next week.

3. When the state wants something, it can move very fast – the request for contractor bids is already out for the new proposed NYS DOT facility off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing. The bids on the $13.8 million project close April 24th. Here are the specs in brief:

“This project includes new building construction of the NYSDOT Tompkins County Sub‐Residency Building as well as site development and construction that includes asphalt concrete pavement, drainage, water & sanitary sewer work. The new NYSDOT facility will consist of office space, workshop space, truck parking and salt storage. The approximate square footage of the various structures are as follows: subresidency
maintenance building (30,000 SF), cold storage (5,000 SF), salt barn (8,200 SF), hopper building/covered lean-to (2,500 SF).

The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms.

The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features including a fueling station, parking for 40 vehicles, and storm water management facilities. The project will require construction of an access drive from Warren Road and the extension of utilities.”

I have not seen an updated site plan for the project. The image in last week’s Tompkins Weekly is from the SEQR Review, which is outdated. In February, a $1.5 million grant was awarded to build a refueling station closer to the airport, which has resulted in significant site plan changes to the DOT site (I’m not able to find the document offhand, but the written description stated a rotation of the main building and movement of other structures away from the residential properties to the north).

4. Word, or rather warning, to the wise. Local businessman Andrew LaVigne defrauded investors in his “Cascadilla Landing” project, to the tune of $4.6 million. Now he’ll be going to jail for 20 years, which at 66 years old, is most likely the rest of his life. So comes to an ingnomoius end to one of Ithaca’s first major projects of the decade. The 183-unit mixed-use project was proposed in the summer of 2012,  received preliminary approval that September, and did not move any further than that. Plans by local architect John Snyder included a small amount of neighborhood retail space, and covered ground-floor and outdoor surface parking. The land, owned by the Cleveland family, was sold in November 2017 and is now the site of the City Harbor development. There hasn’t been much news about City Harbor recently, but the rumor mill says that a new architect is revising the project design and site plan.

5. I accidentally dropped the ball on the Fall Creek County Office Building study. During the March PEDC meeting in which the concept was being presented, I tuned in online and had taken screenshots for my own reference, and my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi wasin the meeting doing the official writeup. However, I never checked to see what she was covering and had assumed a big roundup. Her focus, though, was on the Lime Scooters, and it was an excellent piece, but the county office building didn’t make the news.

Anyway, the county presented about eight separate plans, seven of which had the same interpretation for the office building – a 10,500 SF that would be built to include the historic structure at 408 North Tioga in its footprint. Most of the plans differed in the amount of housing and parking, from one single family homes to three single family homes to two duplexes (two two-family units, total of four) to five townhouses. This also impacts the total amount of parking ,which ranged from 27 to 48 spaces depending on the housing footprint and whether tandem parking was used. The last plan was a proposal with no housing on-site, and selling off 408 North Tioga for an office building with an 8,400 SF footprint. All plans assumed a three-story office building plus basement, and housing designs compatible with Sears Street (1.5-2.5 floors). The mix of county occupants is still being determined, and any housing plan would likely involve an affordable housing developer like Conifer or INHS.

The county legislature is expected to get an update on the plans at their meeting on the 2nd, and make a decision on whether or not to buy the Fall Creek property at their April 16th meeting.





News Tidbits 3/30/19

31 03 2019

original renders

revised renders

1. Let’s start off with an update from the city of Ithaca Planning Board. As reported by the Times’ Edwin Viera, The board was not happy about the proposed changes to the GreenStar project, which were summarized in a previous blog post here. The revised site layout and materials were approved, but the board was unhappy about the loss of windows on the northeast faced and asked for an alternative if windows were no longer feasible, either graphic art or a GreenStar insignia to provide visual interest. The project will be back before the board next month.

Apparently, it was the month to express discontent, as issues were also raised with the City Centre signage and design components of the Vecino Arthaus project, which did away with the grime graphics and went with a marginally better blocky red facade, but I will henceforth call “architectural chicken pox”. Some concerns were also raised with ADA compliance, and the board asked for windows in the stairwells to encourage their use. The environmental review was okayed, and the project will be heading for preliminary approval next month.

The planning board granted preliminary approval to Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion, but the project also needs approvals from the town of Ithaca (to be discussed next Tuesday) and the village of Cayuga Heights. The goal is to start construction on the 2,000+ bed project by this summer. The Chainworks District’s final generic environmental impact statement (FGEIS) was also accepted on a unanimous vote – it’s not approval of the 1.71 million SF mixed-use project, but it’s a big step in that direction. The summarized 127-page report is here, and the city report establishing its findings and review of proposed mitigations is here.

This didn’t come up much before, and that’s probably a good thing because it was rather drab, but 402 South Cayuga Street was revised with a larger window on the three bedroom unit (at far left) and some more vibrant colors. However, to stay within budget (something that defeated INHS once before and Habitat for Humanity as well), the project asked to stick with vinyl, to which the board okayed. Expect this 4-unit for-sale low-to-moderate income townhouse project to begin construction later this year, with completion before the year is out.

2. It was a bit surprising to see how far ahead Cardamone Homes has their Woodland Park project planned out. Quick refresher, this is a 65ish unit residential development off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing; the original plan from the early part of the decade was for about 80 units, but it was reduced after initial approvals. The “-ish” part comes from the 25 single-family home lots, since at least one buyer chose to merge with its neighbor. The other part of the development consists of 40 townhomes, and as ecerything Cardamone does, these are high-end “McMansion” style products. A 2,800-4,000 SF Frank Betz-styled home typically goes in the $550k-750k range with a few customized models even higher than that. The 2,500 SF townhouses are priced in the low to mid 400s. This is arguably the only gated community in Tompkins County.

The project began construction around 2014, and it looks like they’re expecting construction to continue through 2026. It looks like 2019 will see four new townhomes (including the two above, 6 and 8 Woodland Way in a photo from last month), and two or three single-family homes along Oakwood Drive. IT’s a bit of a guessing game on the homes because they use “to be developed” (most), “to be built” (2) and “to be constructed” (1). The site also shows three for sale, but it’s dated, as one of those was sold in January. McMansions may not be fashionable as they were fifteen years ago, Woodland Park still sells at a steady enough clip to keep the project moving along. The long story short for Woodland Park is that construction will be continuing at its slow but steady pace for quite some time yet.

3. Just a little something here from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board – the town of Ithaca is looking to build a modest expansion to its Public Works facility. The Public Works department at 106 Seven Mile Drive handles snow removal, paving, yard waste collection, vegetation control, storm water management, and parks/trails/water/sanitary sewer/road maintenance services. The department has been growing in recent years and needs additional space. A feasibility study was commissioned last June, and a plan is now moving forward.

Overall, it’s not a large addition to the 19,400 SF building; 1,425 SF of office space, six parking spaces and minor landscaping and grading. The project is a small institutional addition, and per state guidelines, it will likely not be going through an in-depth environmental review. The addition is a bit unusual in that it’s essentially a bumpout of the existing space, one that creates a completely new face for the public entrance and offices. Expect an unassuming one-story addition with aluminum windows and metal exterior panels. The addition will be designed by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates). It’s the same group of firms that did the study last year.

4. Quick note to point out that 327 West Seneca Street is nor long for this world, if the plastic and plywood are any indication. They’re indicative of asbestos removal prior to demolition – seal a build up, take the asbestos out, take the building down. Visum Development Group is planning a 12-unit “workforce housing” moderate-income apartment building on the site.

Speaking of Visum, Ithaca’s prolific developer has been scouting new markets for a while, and landed in Boise, Idaho for their next project, “The Vanguard”, an eight-story, 75-unit apartment building in Boise’s downtown. According to local reports, most development projects finish municipal review in two months, something that is flat out impossible for a project of substantial size in Tompkins County. Interestingly, it comes with no parking, and instead hosts bike racks for 75 bikes. Don’t take this to mean that Visum’s no longer interested in Ithaca, however; there have at several projects in the works, including condominiums in Ithaca town, 201-207 North Aurora, 815 South Aurora, 413-15 West Seneca and the State/Corn Street trio.

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

5. Dunno if Instagram embeds are going to work here, but click STREAM Collaborative’s post just above if it doesn’t show up. The modular pieces for 323 Taughannock have begun arriving on site and are being assembled. The units were built by Benson Wood Products and are being put together but a local firm, D Squared (the Dakes) of Lansing.





News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





Milton Meadows Construction Update, 2/2019

24 02 2019

Out to Lansing for this latest addition to Tompkins County’s deeply underserved affordable housing market.

Here are the spark notes: Milton Meadows, a project by Cornerstone Development Group of Rochester, is a 72-unit, $17.3 million affordable housing complex in the Lansing Town Center consisting of ten buildings, nine eight-unit apartment buildings and a community center. 71 of the units will be set aside for individuals making 50-80% of area median income, and the last unit is for a live-in property manager. Veterans who meet the income guidelines will get preference in the application process. The project will use electric heat pumps and be built to LEED Silver standards.

Now for the in-depth. This apartment project, to be built on 13.5 acres, is the first development to get underway at the 156-acre Lansing Town Center, across from the town hall and near the intersection of Triphammer Road and Route 34B. This location comes with its pros and cons – the pro is, the town’s pretty keen on getting the land developed into a tax-generating, mixed-use environment, and has been generally supportive of development in this area, even though it dropped the ball with the first attempt several years ago. The con is that Milton Meadows is the only project underway, and looks to be the only project underway for some time yet. That means there is not much nearby- the Lansing Market the town library, a gas station, and a few other homes and small businesses.

This puts up in the affordable housing conundrum. It’s easier to get approval in rural areas where there are fewer neighbors, but it also isolates residents from needed goods and services, and often forces them to own and maintain a car, which makes living in these developments on the suburban fringe that much less affordable. However, when your alternatives are Trumansburg residents advocating the village seize land through eminent domain to prevent affordable housing, or going through the wringer down in Ithaca, one can understand why something this far out in Lansing might have some appeal.

This project is a little hard to follow through Google, because its name changed three times. It debuted as Lansing Commons in August 2017, changed to Lansing Trails in September, and then to Milton Meadows a few months later. Milton was actually the original name for Lansing, indirectly – Milton was changed to Genoa in 1808, and Lansing was split off from Genoa in 1817, the same year Tompkins County was established. It’s worth noting that “Lansing Commons” is the name of the housing development at the end of Woodsedge Drive, and “Lansing Meadows” is already taken.

For the sake of pointing it out, there was plenty of opposition here. The chairman of the town of Lansing Planning Board, typically one of the easiest boards to get approval from in the whole county, voted against the customary declaration of lead agency on the affordable apartment complex The reasoning was a fear that its lower-income occupants would create more crime. More appropriate commentary was made about taxes and increases in student enrollment. The chairman recused himself from further discussions after that outburst. Town supervisor Ed LaVigne has spoken in favor of the project as needed workforce housing by a responsible developer and property manager, and the project was approved last November.

Substantial funds were awarded by the state in May, and Cornerstone paid the town $337,500 for 22 acres at the end of October (for the approved phase and potential second phase). Construction work began in December.

Plans for a second phase of 56 units were shelved during the review process; Cornerstone can always revive it later, but it will be a second approvals process if/when that time comes. The reason for this was to provide space for the on-site sewage treatment field. The project will eventually hook into the town sewer when built, which will allows plans for the second phase to move ahead, expected in 3-5 years.

Gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $680 to $1,400 a month, with 64 units for households with incomes 50 to 80 percent of the area median income ($29,500-$47,200/year for a single person, $33,700-$53,900 for a two-person household). The remaining units are expected to rent at market rate. Along with veteran’s preference on all available units, five apartments will be set aside for veterans with physical disabilities. More specifically, expected rent ranges are $680 to $750 for one bedroom units, $835 to $850 for two bedroom apartments, and about $950 to $1,100 for three bedrooms. Market rate units may rent as high as $1,400 for a three bedroom unit.

Nine of the structures will be apartment buildings ranging from 6,600-10,200 square feet (SF), with 8 apartment units apiece. The buildings are designed so that all the units in a structure are the same size range, so all one-bedroom buildings (4), all two-bedroom buildings (3), and all three-bedroom buildings (2). The last building would be a 3,100 SF community center with a computer room, laundry room and gym. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. SWBR Architects of Rochester is the architect. Cornerstone and its general contractor, Taylor the Builders of Rochester, have deployed this design in other towns, so they have a familiarity with the design, which allows for more efficient deployment of labor and a higher fit and finish because they know the design’s quirks, and where they’ve had issues in the past. Passero Associates served as project engineer.

As it often is for affordable housing, the financing comes from a variety of public and private sources. The project is supported by a NYS Homes and Community Renewal award of federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) that generated about $9.9 million (from $5.1 million in credits; quick rehash, LIHTCs are sold to banks and similar financial institutions so that they get the tax credit, and the affordable housing developer gets the money they need to move forward with a project), and a $4.05 million loan from the Housing Trust Fund. The Community Preservation Corporation is providing a $2 million permanent loan through its funding agreement with the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Additionally, the Tompkins County Community Housing Development Fund is providing $256,875; NYSERDA is providing $63,200; and private firm Column Financial is providing a loan of $850,000.

Separately, Woodsedge Road, just to the south of the project, will be reconfigured to make a four-way intersection with the development. This is a $75,000 grant with in-kind labor from the town.

Site grading and prep work is currently underway at the project site. The access road is crushed stone for now, the asphalt planned are closed for the winter season. It will be paved in the spring, and christened “Louise Bement Lane” after the longtime town historian. The access road will be built by Cornerstone to town standards, and deeded over to the town for public use after the apartments have been finished. The internal road for the apartments will be Robin’s Way, after Robin Rubado, Cornerstone’s Vice-President of Housing. The prep for the interior roads is underway, but it will not be paved until most of the buildings are built. The first buildings will be opened by the end of June, with full occupancy by the end of September 2019.

The Frances Apartments in the town of Sweden, a nearly identical design.





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.

 





News Tidbits 1/19/2019

20 01 2019

Now, let’s take a look at some notable property sales over the past few weeks. To make this easy, most sales documented in this post will use a standardized format for each entry.

1. What sold and for how much? 8 and 28 Newfield Depot Road, the parcel IDs for the 188-unit Valley Manor Mobile Home Park in Newfield, for $2,300,000 on 12/19/2018.

Who was the seller? Jim Ray Homes, a local manufactured and mobile home dealer, and mobile home park operator.

Who was the buyer? Cook Properties of Rochester, a mobile home management firm with properties across upstate New York.

Anything else? Not especially. The sale was just short of the tax assessed value ($2.3 million vs. $2.369 million), and while it’s a change of ownershipp, it’s also likely a maintenance of the status quo. Still, it’s a high-dollar sale worth noting. The assessment for mobile homes and manufactured homes is a bit funky, and I think the owners only own the lots, which likely contributes to the low price per unit.

2. What sold and for how much? 232 South Geneva Street for $533,000 on 12/20/2018, and 311-13 Farm Street in Fall Creek for $700,000 on 12/20/2018. 232 South Geneva is a 5-unit apartment building in the Henry St. John neighborhood; it sold for $302k in 2013, and $200k in 2008. 311-13 Farm Street is a 3-unit apartment building that sold for $505k in 2009. It includes 15 rentable bedrooms, and a portion that was set aside as an AirBnB by the previous owners, who had it on the market for $750k (assessment $610k). Both are small multi-family examples of the rapid price appreciation Tompkins County has been seeing in walkable urban areas.

Who was the seller? Jeremy Dietz for 232 South Geneva, and S&Y Investments, a California-based LLC (sales docs indicate the owners are John Scarpulla and Allyson Yarbrough) for 311-13 Farm Street.

Who was the buyer? An LLC associated with local landlord and developer Charlie O’Connor, owner of Modern Living Rentals.

Anything else? Don’t expect teardowns here. Generally speaking, that’s not MLR’s approach to Ithaca’s inner neighborhoods. Do expect them to stay rentals, probably with a renovation in the near future (see: 1002 North Cayuga Street and 202-04 East Marshall Street). O’Connor is flush with cash after his multi-million sale of the under-construction 802 Dryden Road to a Pittsburgh-based real estate investor last fall.

3. What sold and for how much? The Sprucewood Apartments in Northeast Ithaca, for $8,640,000 on 12/21/2018.  Sprucewood is a 108-unit apartment complex completed in 1966. All units are three-bedrooms, in eighteen six-unit buildings.

Who was the seller? The Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties in Ithaca. They own a host of other housing developments, including the Village Solars under construction in the town of Lansing.

Who was the buyer?  Winston Square LLC, an LLC associated with Stratford Management, a multifamily housing management firm with locations in six states.

Anything else? A case of “under new management”. The Lucentes are a whole lot richer, and Stratford, which mostly owns older apartment complexes across upstate, finally gets a toehold in the stable and lucrative Ithaca market. With it comes a new website and a name change, from Sprucewood to Winston Square. The apartments are primarily located on Winston Court, and the name comes from the late Rocco Sr.’s penchant for naming streets after cigarette brands in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the nickname “Cigarette Alley” for Northeast Ithaca. I don’t imagine that will be a part of the advertising pitch.

4. What sold and for how much? 815 South Aurora Street, for $385,000. The property includes a 2,845 SF industrial building and a 2,537 SF warehouse on 1.85 acres on South Hill. A radio and telecommunication tower is on site.

Who was the seller? Harold Fish. The Fish family has owned the property since at least the 1950s.

Who was the buyer? “IC Overlook LLC”, which appears to be associated with Modern Living Rentals and its owner, Charlie O’Connor.

Anything else? With Todd Fox, O’Connor proposed an 87-unit (all studio units) apartment building for the site in 2015, and in order to move forward, the duo had to make a case for the city to change its rules for building near radio and telecommunication towers. Most communities use the height plus 10 feet; at the time, Ithaca used double the height. This is a 170-foot tower, so that meant a 340 foot radius, instead of 180 feet as seen in most communities. The logic is the height plus a bit for bounce; but planning staff mused that Ithaca was a bit paranoid when the legislation was drawn up in the 1990s. The zoning code was revised, but such that it’s height plus 20% – a 204 foot radius, so the project had to be redesigned a bit. The last that was heard, plans were being for a 125-bedroom project in December 2016, but nothing came to light.

Until now. A sketch plan is scheduled for the planning board meeting next week.

5. What sold and for how much? 327 West Seneca Street, for $235,000 on January 11th.

Who was the seller? The estate of Orson Ledger, a man who was known in his decades of Ithaca for providing affordable housing by running his properties into the ground so that assessments would be low. Folks involved with Ithaca’s rental market in decades past tend to have strong opinions about Ledger, who died in a car accident five years ago.

Who was the buyer? An LLC tied to Visum Development Group.

Anything else? It means Visum’s 12-unit workforce housing proposal approved for 327 West Seneca Street is now one step closer to happening.

6. What sold and for how much? 305 West Green Street, for $560,000 on January 17th. 305 West Green Street is the former Ithaca Plastics. The property hosts a 2,400 SF home and a 5,150 SF industrial building.

Who was the seller? Richard and Sharon Buechel of Dryden, who had owned the property since 1989.

Who was the buyer? Cascade Studios LLC, which is registered to the address of Ithaca musician Brian Thrash.

Anything else? Generally not wise to take guesses on these sort of things, but plans for a music/recording studio, perhaps?

7. Something that catches the eye – local landlord Ed Cope has been actively selling off many of his rental properties. 310 Farm Street was sold for $365,000 on 12/28 to Jonah and Alicia Freedman, as was 312 Farm Street, for $395,000 on the same day. 513 South Aurora Street was also sold on December 28th, to Andrew Schreck for $425,000. Cope sold out of his share of 324 West Seneca Street for $180,200 on January 17th, and sold out of his share of 318-20 West Seneca on the same day for $349,800. That’s in addition to the sale of 115 Linn Street for $540,000 last October. That’s six sales in four months.

Vice-versa, Cope bought 107-09 Hudson Street from the estate of Sophia Tselekis for $540,000 on January 10th. Previously, Cope purchased 115 Hudson for $495,000 in October, and 108-110 Hudson Street for $460,000 in September.

All of this is to suggest that Ed Cope has been a very busy man lately. It would look as if he’s selling off properties to finance purchases of other properties clustered on the 100 Block of Hudson Street, just south of downtown and Six Mile Creek. Cope already owns 105 Hudson Street and 201 South Aurora Street on the corner, 114 Hudson, 117 Hudson and 118-120 Hudson. That leaves three properties in that cluster of eleven that he doesn’t own – 101, 111 and 112 Hudson Street. It’s not clear if something is in the works, but it is curious.

Now onto building loan agreements:

8. Where property received the construction loan? 232-236 Dryden Road, also known as “The Lux”, a 206-bedroom pair of student-oriented apartment buildings completed in 2018.  Visum Development Group completed the project, and plans are in the works for an eight-unit, 16-bedroom third building at 238 Dryden Road.

Who gave them the money? MF1 Capital LLC. The LLC is joint venture between real estate megafirm CBRE, Limekiln Real Estate of New York and Berkshire Group of Boston. According to online reports, it’s a mortgage REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) focused on providing cash equity to multifamily (about 75% of its business) and seniors housing (the remaining 25%). A bridge loan is a short-term (2-3 year) financial solution, used as a “bridge” when a developer needs quick cash for a prime opportunity and has yet to obtain conventional construction loans. They’re usually easier to obtain because the analysis that goes into determining whether or not to extend the loan is less extensive, usually based on property value (which means a high-value loan in the case of a large Collegetown property). The trade off on these loans is that they often come with a high interest rate; and with that short term period, the loan will have to be paid back within a few years.

What it suggests here is that Visum has put most of its revenue right back into its latest plans in the form of working capital, and that there’s high confidence both in themselves and from the investor that those plans will be successful. That seems to make the most sense given Visum’s explosive growth. On a related note, $1.5 million would be about right for a new eight-unit apartment building on this site.