News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 11/2017

26 11 2017

For this blog’s practical purposes, Poet’s Landing Phase II is complete. At least one of the six eight-unit buildings is occupied, but perhaps only one – a woman arrived while the photos were being taken and was moving chairs out of her car. To ward off the emails pointing out its an Audi – its a 15-year old Audi, and as my buy-American family of mechanics happily relay, older Audis depreciate like stones in a pond thanks to shoddy electrical systems and high repair costs.

Even the youngest buildings in the second phase have been completed from the outside, and appear to be undergoing finish work in the interior. The last of the sidewalks are being poured and much of the lawn has grown in. With the fire-damaged building in phase one, the rebuilt units are missing some of their trim boards and architectural details (railings/column covers), but are likely to be finished before the end of the year. The inquiry page for rentals is here.

The affordable housing is much welcomed given the county’s housing woes, although a location closer to the urban core would be preferable given proximity to jobs and services. At least the site is walkable to the village. Kudos to Conifer Realty and LeChase Construction. The ceremonial opening is November 29th.





News Tidbits 11/11/17: It’s Back

12 11 2017

1. One of the reasons for the lull in weekly round-ups has been the lack of smaller news items to fill it with. A few larger items made it into Voice articles, but there wasn’t much of a middle ground between “expand into article” and “not newsworthy”. I’m happy to take comments here about Voice articles, although the blog is intended to cover topics that may not be ready for a full write-up.

As noted in the Voice, there isn’t much before the city of Ithaca at the moment. A sketch plan for infill rental housing at 209 Hudson Street is likely dead in the water as a result of the new South Hill Overlay, and a modest infill plan calls for a duplex at 601 South Aurora on the corner with Hillview Place, which can only be an improvement from the informal parking lot currently there. The modular unit design is thoughtful (varied materials, plenty of windows) if unexciting, and the sidewalks are a plus. The units are physically structured as townhouses, but technically they aren’t, since townhouses are defined by International Building Code as strings of units of three or more.

Meanwhile, things are so slow in the town at the moment that they cancelled their last Planning Board meeting. Before that, the only notable item on the agenda was the Cayuga Ridge renovation, which is primarily internal. Their October Building and Codes Department report indicates a single two-family home was approved, in the Cleveland Estates housing subdivision; virtually all of those duplexes have been intended as student housing.

2. If there is one town that is rather busy next week, it would have to be Lansing. The surface facilities for the new Cargill mine shaft are up for final approval at the Planning Board meeting next Tuesday, more discussion is expected about the Milton Meadows affordable housing plan at the town center, and a couple of minor projects (communications tower, illuminated free-standing sign) are up for review and vote. Neither Cargill not Milton Meadows appear to have changed significantly since their last presentations.

Also scheduled is review of public comments regarding the Comprehensive Plan, which cover several topics, with the most frequent being the Bell Station zoning (park vs. lakeshore low density) and some individuals unhappy with the potential for mixed-use or residential development near their homes or farms. Joe Wetmore has a pretty thorough critique, ranging from unrealistic expectations to discomfort with what he calls “segregated housing” based on income and age. Going political for a moment, I suspect if it weren’t for many progressive town and village boards rushing to join the Article 78 on Cargill, with less than careful thought and discussion of Cargill’s blue-collar workers and their family/friends, Wetmore would be an incoming town councilman (and to be fair, he may end up winning when the absentee ballots are counted and tallied next week).

3. Over in Dryden, just about everything is good to go with Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit rental complex planned for 802 Dryden Road, next to the Cornell arboretum. The November tweaks were for lighting, landscaping and sidewalk details. The designs of the townhouse strings were reworked in October to include three different designs, to be used twice each (six buildings, seven units each, 42 units/108 bedrooms total). While the materials remain the same, the designs differ substantially in roof lines, architectural detailing and fenestration pattern. At this point, no one would mistake for a recycling of 902 Dryden as they started off as; John Snyder and his team have had the chance to express themselves, and the designs are contemporary and visually interesting. It looks like final approval will be coming potentially soon, which will permit a Spring 2018 – Summer 2019 construction time-frame.

Other than that, the town is reviewing another Tiny Timbers subdivision, this one for 1540 Ellis Hollow Drive. Similar to its counterpart just down the street at 1624 Ellis Hollow Drive, the long, narrow lot would be serviced with an internal driveway for five homes with a little over an acre each, and the rear (northern) 5 acres would be granted a conservation easement, to remain natural space and help protect the Fall Creek watershed. The original plan was a deed restriction, but the town’s conservation board is pushing the easement so that future owners of the land can’t just lift the restriction. They also requested an S-shaped driveway because they feel the slope is greater than Dolph states; an S-shape would also throw the plans out of whack, so let’s see what happens.

On a final brief note, review and discussion is ongoing for a pair of solar arrays off of 2243 Dryden Road, one of 1.3 MW and one of 2 MW.

4. Looking at what’s on the market this week, here’s something for the deep-pocketed investor/landlord who wants to start with an all-new, low-maintenance building. 6-unit 707 East Seneca Street is on the market for $2,999,000. The 6,469 SF apartment building was built just two years ago, after developer Todd Fox bought city surplus land that was once a playground for the closed East Hill Elementary, deeded to the city in 1982 and promptly forgotten for decades until potential liability risks convinced the city to put it up for sale. Each unit is three bedrooms, and according to the advertisement, it generates over $220k in revenue each year, which is not shabby.The property is assessed at $1 million.

It’s a bit surprising that Fox would want to part with a nearly-new building with solid rental potential, and it makes me curious if the funds would be used to fund other Visum projects planned or approved. While Fox did take a financial hit from the cancelled 311 College Avenue project, the amount invested was far less than the sale price for 707 here.

5. Also worth noting, though it’s not good news – The Computing Center’s plans to build a new 4,600 SF headquarters appear to be over. The building site and the approved building plans at Lansing’s 987 Warren Road are up for sale. $499,000 gets you 1.57 acres, the plans, and a single-family home on the eastern end of the property that generates $2,000/month. The project had received an $85,084 tax abatement for the $1.394 million project, which was expected to create six new jobs. For the record, any buyer would need to re-apply for an abatement; the one granted will go unused. At least offhand, it looks like they may have added the jobs (retain 14, add 6, and the website shows nineteen plus the retired founder, and two job postings), but it’s uncertain – they acquired a competitor (Sherpa Technologies) in September, which increased staff to 22. Based off the time of the listing, with the acquisition of Sherpa they may have just led TCC to go a different direction with a new headquarters. What will be, will be.

6. According to construction loan documents filed with Tompkins County, the new 11,180 SF Rite Aid being built at 79 North Street carried with it a $2.71 million price tag. Chemung Canal Trust Company, an Elmira-based bank with branches in Tompkins County, is providing the loan to Dryden Group LLC/Ellicott Development. Ellicott, a major developer out in Buffalo, will be using an in-house contractor team to build out the retail space.

A couple of emails came in asking if this would be a Walgreen’s. On paper, that’s a no – everything filed and documented says Rite Aid, and this was confirmed with the town planning staff. However, Walgreen’s is in the process of acquiring 1,932 Rite Aid stores (leaving Rite Aid with 2,600), and closing several hundred stores that are within close proximity to existing Walgreen’s. It’s possible that the existing Dryden Rite Aid is one of those to be “shut down as part of the sale” as the new Rite Aid-turned-Walgreen’s is being built on the north end of the village. Keep an eye on it.

7. Quick little side note – Ithaca Associates LLC, the development team behind the $110 million Green Street Garage project, is apparently in talks with INHS to manage its affordable housing component. That’s according to Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) meeting minutes. So they are serious about meeting the city’s demand for affordable housing with some undetermined percentage of the 365 units. Heck, 60 or 70 units would be a sizable contribution, should it pan out, and it would make the project more palatable since it would clearly have a mixed-income aspect to go with its mixed uses.

8. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be taking up discussion again on the Nines, though they are less than pleased with the recent 5-5 tie vote the Common Council had on the Chacona block, broken by the mayor’s vote against historic designation. For me, the fascinating part was having someone like Cynthia Brock, typically opposed to greater density, speak in favor, while pro-development councilors like Ducson Nguyen and Seph Murtagh voted in favor of historic designation. So, it was an unusual breakdown of votes that I would not have predicted, although I had heard before the meeting that it would likely be a close vote.

There is no doubt that anything Student Agencies submits will be scrutinized extra closely, especially if they try to maximize square footage or incorporate design features that don’t mesh with neighboring structures. It’s fair to say that while they lucked out with being allowed to redevelop, the resentment already stirred up means anything proposed will be starting behind the proverbial eight ball, and they would be wise to really put their best foot forward and not rush plans.

Interestingly, it looks like someone, likely but not confirmed to be the Reach Project social service group, plans to submit concept designs for the carriage house that once stood behind the house at 310 West State Street. This is a historic district, so any designs for the drug treatment and potential safe heroin injection “harm reduction” site would need to be approved by the ILPC.

It’s been amusing and a bit excruciating to see some of the comments on the Voice – some people are all about historic buildings; but it tortures them to see these venerable structures used for what they see as a less-enlightened cause than a high-end B&B or boutique office. If zoning laws (and higher authorities, in this case) okay it, so be it. Many historic buildings have humdrum or low-brow histories as factories, home businesses or tenements, and to say they can’t be used for something permitted just because it seems icky is not only illegal, it denies part of the historical element.

7. Intriguing, though I have questions – the city is looking at expanding the use of PUDs from beyond the few industrial zones to city-wide so long as properties are 2 acres. They’re also looking at expanding CIITAP to allow 1-story industrial and waterfront projects, as well as an affordable housing component of 20% on all residential or mixed-use projects with residential components of 10 units or more.

The PUD plan comes on the heels of the new Waterfront zones, which allow residential uses on a greater number of parcels, and is in fact the recommendation of the Waterfront Working Group (WWG), a 17-member group of staff and public who reviewed planned zoning changes to the Waterfront. The city planning staff are amenable, though they suggest a minimum acreage of 2 acres.

With the proposed CIITAP change, the reasoning makes sense, although its effectiveness is questionable. Industrial construction is locally limited and is usually build-to-suit for a specific client. There’s also a strong preference to less dense areas with easy access with lower land values, like Lansing or Dryden. More power to the city I guess, I just don’t see it being utilized. As for the housing component, the intent is good, but the issue always ends up being an issue of “moreness”. Developers often have to build bigger to re-balance expenses and revenue within mixed-income structures. This can make it tougher for them to get financing since it’s a larger, more costly build-out (a bigger financial risk, all other things being equal). Residents in turn balk at a bigger project with the traffic, aesthetic changes and other impacts it creates, not to mention some still instinctively sneer at affordable housing, mixed-income or not. It’s not an outright deal-breaker, but it is something to keep in mind.

The PUD can be troublesome since it’s a sort of “DIY zoning”, which would make existing rules pointless and a lot of upset voters if allowed without some big stipulations. 2 acres would limit many projects in the core of the city, but if you happen to be, say, a major landowner along the Waterfront or in the vicinity, like Guthrie or Cayuga Medical Center, it’s basically a red carpet invitation, as it allows them to set the bounds for a project. Notably, neither of those two fall within CIITAP’s boundaries, so while they wouldn’t be eligible for the tax abatement, they also don’t have to worry about the affordable housing component if they choose to do something with housing in the mix.

 





210 Hancock Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

One last walk around the block. It looks like only minor exterior finishes and landscaping/playground and basketball hoop installations left. TCAction’s daycare center has been dedicated the “Sally G. Dullea Childcare Center”, in honor of Sally Dullea, a longtime Ithacan and retired M&T Vice President who led TCAction’s Board of Trustees. Next door, The balance of the first-floor commercial space for a “Free Science Workshop”, which is a part of the Ithaca Branch of the Physics Factory, non-profit exhibition program that engages children with science. The “Physics Bus” in the parking lot is the mobile exhibit.

It also appears that either the multi-use path or the project itself has been dedicated to outgoing INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella. Not a bad way to say thanks after 27 years of service. As for his replacement, Johanna Anderson, best of luck, and I look forward to being a constructive nuisance.

It’s never been a secret that I was an advocate for this project, given the clear need for affordable housing, and the transparency and responsiveness of the project team during early planning. I continue to hold the project in high regard. It is a real improvement over the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store that was once here. It helps to fill a crucial deficit in a well-thought out, contextual, urban-friendly package. While walking around, I saw a young woman moving furniture into an apartment, a man and his son heading into one of the homes, and an older gentleman walking a dog. I think that, as the dust settles, it’ll blend seamlessly into Northside’s urban fabric, and be a worthy asset of the Ithaca community.

Before (image courtesy of Jason Henderson of Ithaca Builds):

After:






Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 9/2017

1 10 2017

It looks like the first units are coming onto the market. Conifer Realty has the application up for the first apartments, as do third-party websites like apartments.com. Oddly enough, the apartment.com listing says 16 3-bedroom, 16 2-bedroom and 16 1-bedroom units. This is incorrect. There are 8 3-bedroom, 16 2-bedroom, and 24 1-bedroom units. One can tell from sight alone because Conifer uses the same three building plans in all of its suburban apartment clusters. One design consists of eight 3-bedroom units, the second design is eight two-bedroom units, and the last design is eight one-bedroom units. For units on each floor, mirroring each other in layout. Keeps things simple and materials costs down.

Keeping with the blog-only nomenclature, buildings “A” and “B”, the two that are basically complete from the outside, are the one bedroom-units. “C”, “D” and “E”, which are receiving exterior lighting rigs, trim and architectural features like balconies and patios, are the 2-bedroom clusters. Building “F”, which is still at the housewrap stage and the building that is least furthest along, is the three-bedroom cluster. For proof, consider the building that was badly damaged in this summer’s fire – it was reported that 31 people were left homeless. That would most likely imply it was the three-bedroom design, which would have 24 bedrooms.

The general rule of thumb is one person for bedroom for basic planning purposes. Affordable housing family units, for whom these three-bedroom apartments are intended, may average more than that because of income guidelines, and that two adults or multiple children may share a bedroom. Likewise, on the other end of the scale, properties with empty nesters or more affluent owners/renters may have numbers average less than one person per bedroom due to guest bedrooms, or conversion of bedrooms to home offices or hobby rooms. Owner-occupied single family homes often fall in this category, where the typical home is three bedrooms, but the average owner-occupied household size is 2.5. There are a number of companies dedicated to studying the number of people likely to live in a unit based off its location, size and intended market, and applying those figures to calculations like the number of students expected to be added to a district, or the number of car trips generated.

Curbing has been laid, the parking lot is paved and striped, streetlamps are in place and the concrete sidewalk is being poured. The process to build sidewalks is pretty similar to the work for foundations – excavate the path, build the formwork to keep the concrete in place as it cures, lay down some steel rebar to provide additional strength to the concrete, pour, level and smooth, and run a finishing trowel to create an edge so that the concrete has an expansion joint to help expand and contract without cracking the sidewalk. The steel plugs are to keep the forms in place.

The building that was damaged by fire is under reconstruction. The east wing was destroyed by the flames and was torn down. The only thing being reused for those four units is the slab foundation. The four west wing units were salvageable, but they did need an extensive renovation. Damaged trim and siding sections will be replaced, and on the inside, drywall damaged by water has been removed and new sheets are being hung. It looks like some of the appliances were saved; peering through the windows, a refrigerator was sitting in the middle of the floor in an upstairs unit. Closer to the fire, it’s more of a gur renovation, with only portions of the exterior salvaged, while the inside is replaced from the stud walls out. Taking a guess for the typical construction length of units so far, the renovated and rebuilt units probably won’t be ready for tenants for another five to six months.

According to the advertisement on Conifer’s website, amenities and feature include

Dishwasher
Garbage disposal
Wall to wall carpeting
Patio or balcony available
Walk-in closets
Discounted cable package
Central air conditioning
Smart card laundry center
Fully equipped Fitness room
Computer lab
Clubhouse with great room
Controlled building access
Key fob hardware
Professional on-site management
24 hour maintenance
Ample parking
Beautifully landscaped grounds
Accessible for people with disabilities
Close to shopping, schools & medical facilities

1-bedroom units are 716 SF, 2-bedroom units are 950 SF, and 3-bedroom units are 1,150 SF. Lease are 12 months with a month’s rent as security deposit. Three units will be adapted for mobility-impaired residents, and a fourth unit will be adapted to individuals who are hearing or vision-impaired.

According to a filing with the state as part of the grant application, the gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $724 to $1,070 a month, to be occupied by households with incomes 50% to 60% of area median income.

2017 AMI in Tompkins County is $53,000 for a single person, and $60,500 for a two-person household, and $68,100 for a three-person household. Therefore, the income limits are $26,500-$31,800 for a single person, $30,250-$36,300 for a two-person household, and $34,050-$40,860 for a three-person household.

Conifer and contractor partner LeChase Construction will be delivering the $10.8 million project over the next few months, and that should wrap up Conifer’s Ithaca work for the time being. The programmatically similar Milton Meadows project in Lansing is being developed by a competitor, Cornerstone Group. The two firms’ Rochester headquarters are about six miles apart; their apartment projects are about twelve miles apart.





News Tidbits 9/23/17: It’s All In The Hips

23 09 2017

1. Points for being open and blunt, one supposes. 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 Lansing Trails affordable apartment complex planned for the town center. The reasoning was a fear that its lower-income occupants would create more crime. Rather surprising that it wasn’t veiled behind the usual guise of “concerns about neighborhood character”.

Other PB members did raise more appropriate concerns that the 581-a tax abatement to be pursued by the project may end up offsetting the property tax increase enough to cost the town, mostly through the enrollment of new students in the Lansing school district. A third-party study explained that there would likely be 43 students in the roughly 200-bedroom complex, of whom 14 would be relocations from other parts of town, and 29 who would be new to the district. Reflecting national demographic trends, local school enrollments have been in decline as Millennials are replaced with their less numerous Gen Z peers, so it’s not really a question of capacity since the schools were designed for larger class sizes, but a concern about the tax obligations and avoiding the burdening of other taxpayers. Town supervisor Ed LaVigne has spoken in favor of the project as workforce housing by a responsible developer and property manager.

The Star’s Dan Veaner takes the middle road in his editorial, noting the project fills a need, but worried about the tax impact. I’d argue that’s while it’s a fair question, it’s probably a bit premature. There have been discussions for the other parcels in the town center that just have yet to come forward. Tiny Timbers is potentially 60 units of mid-priced owner-occupied housing (at $200k per home, that would be $12 million without counting site-wide improvements like sidewalks and community greenspace), and there are possibilities for the other parcels that are being drafted up and fleshed out before being made public. We the public don’t know what those are – there could be market-rate senior housing, patio homes and mixed-uses like the projects submitted in 2014. If three or four are affordable housing, sure, be concerned. But the town knows all the proposals, and hopefully its committee selected its choices for each lot with sound logic in mind.

2. Speaking of Lansing Trails, according to the new planning board comments, its name has been changed to “Milton Meadows”. 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 Meadows” is already taken. This would be name number three, since they had previously changed Lansing Commons to Lansing Trails.

The updated documents note that the second phase and its 56 units aren’t likely to start construction for 3-5 years, depending on external factors such as the availability of affordable housing grants, and how well the local market absorbs phase one.

3. Staying on the topic of affordable housing and taxes, the town of Ithaca will be reviewing a PILOT proposal from NRP Group to offset some of the property taxes with the Ithaca Townhouses project approved for West Hill near the hospital. Readers may recall the Ithaca Townhouses are a 106-unit, two-phase project that will be rented to households making 50-130% of area median income, with an option for renters to purchase units after a 15-year period.NRP Group is asking for the PILOT to offset the higher initial cost of using electric heat pumps in place of conventional gas heating, the difference of which they estimate to be about $300,000 upfront.

The town utilizes a few PILOT agreements, either with some of its 55+ affordable housing (Ellis Hollow Apartments, Conifer Village), the College Circle Apartments that Ithaca College purchased a few years ago, and Ithaca Beer. The combination of a lower assessed value and a PILOT generally seems to take about 25-30% off the total property tax bill.

4. Here’s a little more info on the the proposed Brown Road Pocket Neighborhood in Danby. The above image appears to be the preferred cluster housing that the development team (led by Newfield businessman Mike McLaughlin), but conventional zoning only allows for the layout shown here. Small-scale cluster zoning has found a market in the Ithaca area over the past few years with projects like New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood and the long-planned Amabel project, and Danby’s take on the concept would benefit from lower land costs, which would help keep the overall costs down and make the for-sale homes available to a wider swath of the county’s potential homeowners. The homes, which are modest 1,000 SF one and two-story plans that share a communal parking lot, are designed for residents who wish to age in place.

5. Some revisions have been made to the design of Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit townhouse project at 802 Dryden. To create a little more visual interest, the townhouse strings have been diversified a bit – the rooflines were modified on two of the six strings to create a hipped roof, while the other four remain gable roofs. The fenestration was also updated, and sections of the building faces were bumped-out modestly, distinguishing individual units within the strings. The overall effect gives them a distinct appearance from their counterparts up the road at 902 Dryden, and allows the team at John Snyder Architects to give the recycled design their personal touch. Other documents, like the cover letter, utilities plan, and landscaping plan can be found here.

The public hearing is scheduled for next week, but to be honest, these haven’t generated much attention, let alone controversy. The biggest issue right now is water supply, which relies on the Bolton Point system shared by both Ithaca and parts of Dryden. 802 Dryden can get its water issue remedied by tapping a segment in the town of Ithaca’s jurisdiction, and Ithaca is interested in transfer control and maintenance of the control valve that allows that to Dryden. Given Charlie O’Connor’s South Hill debate currently underway, the relative shrug this project has received from the public might be a welcome relief.

6. Nothing new on the Ithaca City Planning Board agenda next week. That’s not to say there aren’t several projects in the works, they just aren’t ready to submit formal proposals at this time. Lakeview’s special needs and affordable housing is up for approval, as is Charlie O’Connor’s duplex at 217 Columbia (even if the South Hill overlay goes into effect, this project would be grandfathered in because it started review under existing zoning). It looks like Lakeview will use the same kind of vibratory pile-driving used at INHS’s 210 Hancock, subcontracted to Ferraro Pile and Shoring by general contractor Hayner Hoyt.

Speaking of INHS, they will be taking part in the public hearing for their 13-unit Elm Street reconstruction on West Hill, and public hearings are planned for the Nines replacement at 311 College, and Elizabaeth Classen’s ILPC-approved 16-bedroom senior mansion in Cornell Heights. The Nines inspired several letters of protest, and first ward aldermen George McGonigal chimed in his hopes that the affordable housing would be reduced for Lakeview and INHS (the planning board disagrees).

Here’s what the board has to look forward to on Tuesday:

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

  1. Agenda Review 6:00
  2. Special Order of Business- Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown and Downtown– Megan Wilson 6:01
  3. Privilege of the Floor 6:30
  4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:40

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will contain sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ-1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1) (k) and (n), and the State
Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Elm St Apartments 7:10

Location: 203-211 Elm St

Applicant:Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:
The proposed project consists of the demolition of a two single family homes and one duplex and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: Duplex 7:30

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to install a duplex with one 3- bedroom apartment on each floor. The
new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Apartments 7:50

Location: 311 College Ave (The Nines)

Applicant: Jagat P Sharma for Todd Fox

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a six story, 80’ high building plus basement. The first floor will have an approximately 825 SF commercial space and five studio apartments, upper floors will have a combination of 21 studio and 24 loft apartments for a total of 45 dwelling units. The applicant’s intended market is students. Project development will require the removal/ demolition of the existing structure and all associated site features. The existing building incorporates the original Number Nine Fire Station and was identified as a structure worthy of further research in a 2009 study titled Collegetown Historic Resources Worthy or Detailed Research; Icons of Collegetown, Individual Buildings, Architectural Ensembles and Landscape Features. The project is in the MU-2 Collegetown Area Form District (CAFD) and requires Design Review. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca
Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Bridges Cornell Heights Residence (Senior Housing) 8:10

Location: 105 Dearborn Place

Applicant: Elizabeth Classen Ambrose

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a two story single family residence with 12 bedrooms
to house up to 16 people on the .446 acre lot. The building will have a footprint of approximately 4,150 SF, including porches. Site improvements include a porte couchere, a driveway and parking area for nine cars, three patios, walkways and landscaping plantings. The site is currently vacant. Site development will require the removal of approximately 25 trees of various sizes. The applicant is proposing to use the Landscape Compliance method, which requires Planning Board approval for placement of the parking area. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District and the Cornell Heights Local Historic District and has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC). This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)(4) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

4. Zoning Appeals 8:30

5. Old/New Business 8:40
A. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 411-415
College Avenue- The Chacona Block
B. Upcoming Planning Board Recommendation to Approve Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown &
Downtown – discussion





News Tidbits 9/16/17: The Big Surprise

16 09 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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