News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





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

6 05 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Previews and Reviews From the AIA Design Crawl

10 10 2016

Last Friday, several Ithaca-area architecture and engineering firms banded together to co-host an open house night at their locations across the city. Here are some of the latest and greatest plans are from some of the local designers.

The first stop was John Snyder Architects in Ithaca’s West End. On display were the Carey Building plans and other recent works, like the internal renovation of the South Hill Business Campus for CBORD.

The second location on the list was HOLT Architects at 619 West State, which was probably the most family-friendly of the hosts, based off of the pizza bar and the children’s play-room. HOLT had several new and in-progress projects they shared with the public that evening.

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The Computing Center is looking to move out of the Cornell Business Park and into a new property to be built at 987 Warren Drive in the town of Lansing. The property is currently a two-story farmhouse and includes a vacant lot on the corner of Warren Road and Warren Drive, purchased by its current owner (an LLC) in December 2014. The new building appears to be a one-story structure.
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HOLT is arguably the local specialist for medical facilities and lab structures. Here’s a pair of projects recently completed at Cayuga Medical Center. The Surgical Services Renovation is a renovation and addition that includes space next to the front entrance, creating a new “face” for the complex. The Behavioral Health Unit is an addition on the northwest side of the building, and isn’t visible from most nearby roads and structures.

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The online version of these will be showing up in the Voice soon enough, but here are the latest design plans for the Old Library site. The indoor parking was eliminated so that the fourth floor could be set further back, and the entire building has been pulled away from West Court Street. The building still has 57 apartment units for the 55+ crowd.

The next stops were at Taitem Engineering and SPEC Consulting. Taitem (which stands for “Technology As If The Earth Mattered”) serves as structural engineering for many local projects, focusing heavily on renewable energy sourcing and energy efficiency. The focus of their open house was a tour of their LEED Platinum, 120-year old building at 110 South Albany Street, which they said was only the fourth renovation of its kind to achieve Platinum designation. I snapped a photo of Taitem’s staff, but that was taken for the IV Twitter account.

SPEC Consulting had on display a couple of home renovations they have underway, a mixed-use building in Johnson City, as well as rehab of a vacant commercial building in downtown Binghamton into a 70-unit mixed use building. To be honest, I was more focused on the personal than professional when I was at SPEC – I ran into someone I knew from undergrad whom I hadn’t seen in nine years, who apparently settled in the area and married a SPEC architect.

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At STREAM, several projects were on display – 201 College Avenue, State Street Triangle concept drawings, and a room showcasing Tiny Timbers. According to Noah Demarest, this was the first time they had shown all the home plan designs together. Also there was Buzz Dolph, the entrepreneur behind Tiny Timbers.

Not shown here but on display were a pair of attractive design concepts for CR-4 zoning in Collegetown. They might become more than concepts at some point.

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This is the latest Maplewood site plan, courtesy of Whitham Design and Planning. Here are the two big changes (previous site plan here) –

1. The Maple Avenue building has been broken up into two separate buildings.
2. Townhouses sit on Mitchell at the southwest corner of the site, replacing the multi-story apartment building previously planned.

The number of beds, previously 887, has probably decreased a little bit as a result.

I did not make it to Chiang O’Brien Architects, unfortunately. It looks like from their website they have a new project underway at SUNY Oneonta.





A Look Inside HOLT Architects’ New HQ

22 04 2016

Most of my photos are from the outside, so it’s pretty cool when I get a chance to inside.

HOLT moved into their new digs at 619 West State Street a few weeks ago, a few minutes’ drive away from their old location at 217 North Aurora Street (a building that used to be Ithaca College’s gym). First walking in, one of the first things that stood out was that there was little street noise coming in from West State, even though several large windows front the road; the secretary said that even she was surprised with how quiet it is.

I like that HOLT displayed not just their latest work, but also several older building models in their reception area. Among the projects on display were the Educational Opportunity in Center in Buffalo; the Peggy Ryan Williams Center at Ithaca College; the Roy H. Park Building downtown, and a campus setting I didn’t quite recognize. The Roy H. Park Building was done in the early 1990s, so the Strand Theatre was still standing when the model was produced.

The spaces are pretty wide open; it was explained that this was purposely done to make it easy to exchange ideas between staff, who are often split into groups according to the projects they’re working on. Some of the desks are sitting, others are standing-enabled. The principals have personal offices on the east side of the building, the left side of the first photo below. The southern space / rear section is a miniature shop area to assemble models of projects.

I did get a chance to speak with a few of the architects on staff while visiting; one was Tom Covell, a long-time architect who recently joined the company from Rochester’s SWBR. SWBR was involved in the Cornerstone proposal for the Old Library project, but Covell said he was not a part of that work. Another architect who was nice enough to take out some time to chat was Andrew Gil, who specializes in architectural design of lab spaces; this led me off on some tangent about my primary employer, who is a major stakeholder/tenant in plans for a new building, and all of our senior research staff are essentially like kids in a candy store, while the architect is like the babysitter whom the parents only gave so many dollars to work with. Andrew, if you read this, thanks for tolerating my babbling.

Briefly, a few younger staff also introduced themselves – one was from the West Coast, another went to school in the region, and the third immigrated to the United States. It was definitely a mix of background, which hopefully translates to a variety of ideas.

The building is designed to be net-zero – the energy that goes in is equal to the amount of energy the building produces, so on the balance it has no impact on the power grid. This includes automated lighting systems, solar panels, and roof and building envelope improvements among other things. More info about the green features and the construction progress can be found in the blog’s “HOLT Architects” entries here. More about HOLT and their interest in the West End of Ithaca on the Voice here.

For the sake of acknowledgement, there were a few of their latest projects on the tables; but that wasn’t the point of the visit. They’ll hit the blog pages when they’re ready.

A big, big thanks to HOLT’s Maria Livingston for the tour!

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Comparing and Contrasting the Canopy Hotel Designs

26 01 2016

Now with Chain Works published and State Street Triangle covered, it’s time to turn to another project undergoing some major changes, the already-approved Canopy Hilton hotel slated for downtown Ithaca. The cover letter from local project consultant Scott Whitham can be found here, new drawings/renders here.

Some of the figures stay the same – the height, for instance, is still 80′, 92′ to the top of the rooftop mechanical. Some figures have changed a little bit – the gross square footage (GSF) has gone from 74,475 SF to 77,844 SF, which is an enlargement of about 4.5%. The number of hotel rooms has also increased, from 123 to 131.

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It looks like the bumpouts (“nooks and crannies”) were reworked, which would explain the revised square footage. The biggest changes appear to be along the western and southern (left and bottom) faces. The cafe patio and restaurant patio are still in place, but it looks like the shade/rock garden went out in favor of a delivery area.

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The second-floor rooftop terrace has also been revised. It looks like the area itself has been reduced (assuming those are skylights at the corners), and the fire pits also appear to have been removed. Although not shown, terrace plantings are visible in the elevations.

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The internal arrangement has been jostled quite a bit. The hotel bar and cafe used to be towards the south side of the building, now its towards the east. The 2000 SF of standalone restaurant/retail that fronted Seneca Way is also gone, replaced by an expanded house offering. The second floor fitness center has been moved to the first floor where food prep and employee areas used to be, and the soaring two-storm meeting room was also axed.

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The outside has also been thoroughly revamped. The original plans called for “buff”-colored brick veneer, pre-cast masonry on the first floor, metal panels for the cornice and “Nobills Grey” fiber cement siding. The new scheme replaces most of the buff brick veneer with “modular” and “canyon smooth” brick veneer, topaz and “Topaz” and “Nobills Grey” fiber cement panels, and metal coping. Both plans use warehouse-style aluminum windows, although they’ve been reshaped in some areas (northeast corner for instance).

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As a matter of personal opinion, the new design feels like a step back in a lot of ways, for example when looking SE as in the renders above. But the project had also struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, which is what brought on a lot of the “value engineering”. For the record, there is financing in place now, whatever that finite amount is. If I were a hypothetical planning board member, I’d be thinking of recommendations that limit cost increase but still improve the appearance. I’d rather see the cornice atop the new southern stairwell go, and have the indents return on the NW fiber cement wall.

Another question that comes to mind offhand has to do with how this affects CIITAP. It doesn’t seem likely this has to go through the whole process again, but would these changes also have to be approved by the IDA as well? Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can chime in.





1325 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 11/2015

11 11 2015

Single-family homes tend to be more of a featurette on Ithacating, rather then full-fledged posts of their own. Then again, most homes aren’t multi-million dollar lakeside mansions.

Looking at the house underway at 1325 Taughannock Boulevard in the town of Ulysses (pulling off of the road is a bit harrowing, given that it’s a 55 MPH zone on a narrow road with marginal visibility), the roof has been sheathed but not shingled, and Kingspan Green Guard Raindrop 3D housewrap drapes the exterior of the building. The black material on the roof looks like felt paper (also known as tar paper), which helps protect the roof from water that may get under the shingles form ice melt of gusty winds, and protects the asphalt shingles from resins in the wood decking. Felt paper also increases a roof’s fire rating and helps keep the house dry in case of rain during the construction period. Windows have been fitted, and masonry work on the chimney is underway. The timber frames stand out against the housewrap, but the actual finishing materials (wood, with wood and concrete or stone trim) should complement the timber frames nicely.

As previously reported, a construction loan for $2.25 million was filed on August 13th, with Tompkins Trust Company providing the financing. The property was previously home to two smaller lakeside cottages. the two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The homeowner is a New York senior investment banker with ties to Cornell. The house is expected to be completed by May 2016.

New Energy Works, the project architect, specializes in timber frame structure, with offices in suburban Rochester and Portland, Oregon (the Pacific Northwest and the Appalachians are two of the most popular parts of the country for timber frame homes; in New York, it’s often coterminous with “Adirondack Style“). Locally, New Energy Works designed the Namgyal Buddhist monastery on South Hill, and the Ithaca Foreign Car (Ithaca Volvo) building on West State Street.

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News Tidbits 7/25/15: To Reuse and Rejuvenate

25 07 2015

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1. Let’s just outright say it – the Tompkins County Legisltaure’s Old Library decision is a complete mess at this point. As covered last week, there were three separate individual resolutions – one from legislator Mike Lane for the Travis Hyde proposal (first image), and one each from legislators Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne for the Franklin proposal (second image).

They all failed. 8 yes’s are required. The Travis Hyde proposal failed with 5 yes and 7 no’s. The Franklin proposal failed with 5 yes and 7 no’s on Kiefer’s resolution, and 4 yes and 8 no’s on McBean-Clairborne’s resolution. Martha Robertson, a supporter of the Travis Hyde proposal, recused herself because she had received donations from Frost Travis during her failed congressional campaign in 2014. Legislator Glenn Morey, also a supporter of the Travis Hyde proposal, was absent from the meeting.

I don’t see any way this will ever get the eight votes required. Kathy Luz Herrera voted against the proposals because the resolution has a ground lease (meaning the county still owns the land but leases the property), and Dooley Kiefer has stated she refuses to support any of the projects unless they have a ground lease – in other words, these two have mutually exclusive votes. By voting against McBean-Clairborne, Kiefer’s made it clear she will vote against the Franklin project unless it meets her exact specifications. Shinagawa voted against Travis Hyde for not being what the community wanted, but won’t vote for the Franklin proposal unless they guarantee Lifelong’s involved. And Stein has come out in favor of the Travis Hyde proposal. There’s no solution on the horizon.

So now it heads back to the Old Library Committee. Sale to the highest bidder and demolition of the library are real options on the table.

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2. Turning to Lansing town, the planning board there has approved plans for the 102-unit Cayuga Farms townhouse project for a 31.4 acre parcel off of North Triphammer Road near Horvath Drive. First reported last Friday by the Lansing Star, the project received negative SEQR determination (meaning that, following the state’s environmental review guidelines, that the planning board decided the project will have no serious detrimental impact on the community) and issued preliminary site plan approval.

However, one issue still remains to be resolved before any shovels hit the dirt – sewer. The project currently has a modular package sewer treatment proposal that would work in place of the voter-defeated municipal sewer, and allow for denser development than the town’s rule on septic tanks. But the DEC’s interest in that type of treatment has been mixed. It could be a while before the situation gets sorted out.

Readers might remember this project because it’s one of the few I’ve openly derided. The 102 units are townhouse-style apartments marketed towards the upper end of the market. They would be built in phases over a period of several years.

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3. Now for some eye candy. Included with this week’s planning board project review committee agenda are additional renderings for John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road. Doing a quick visual cross-check with the initial renderings, there don’t appear to be any substantial design changes, and the colorful metal cladding appears to retain the same pattern as before. Getting a little poetic here, the cascading metal bars are reminiscent of water running down a wall.

The city’s Full Environmental Assessment Form doesn’t express many worries about the project; some concerns have been raised about too many pedestrians on the street (the building would add 420 people to Collegetown’s sidewalks at the outset, 600 when fully occupied), but that seems to be about it for now.

The $12 million project is moving right along in an effort to start construction this fall. Declaration of Lead Agency and some CEQR discussion (the city’s more stringent version of SEQR, State Environmental Quality Review) are expected at the July planning board meeting. Plans call for 76,200 SF building with three floors of classrooms and three floors of offices for Cornell’s Johnson School Executive MBA program. The building would be ready for the Big Red’s B-students in April 2017. The property would remain on the tax rolls.

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4. A couple of interesting news notes courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) Agenda:

First, popular downtown restaurant Madeline’s is looking to obtain an agency loan as part of a renovation project. The $470,000 project would add three jobs, only one of which pays living wage. The restaurant on the first floor of the Rothschild Building (the two-story building in the above photo) hopes to take advantage of the new hotels going up, and law firm Miller Mayer moving its 60 employees into the Rothschild Building. Previously the firm was in the Chemung Canal Trust Company building further up the Commons.

Second, the Finger Lakes School of Massage has applied for an agency loan to facilitate a move from West Hill to downtown. The school would move its ~34 staff and 75-95 students into 10,804 SF of leased space on the Rothschild Building’s second floor, with a further 1,700 SF on the ground level for a retail store and alumni massage clinic. The space would be renovated at a cost of about $194,300.

Although both projects come with risks (Madeline’s being a restaurant, FLSM having some worrying financial statements), both projects have been recommended for loan approval. The FLSM and Miller Mayer news suggest that most of the office space in the old Rothschild Building, left vacant when Tetra Tech moved to Cornell’s office park in 2010, has now been refilled.

The new window cut out built recently into the Rothschild Building’s east facade is part of the space where FLSM is moving into.

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5. And now another reuse project – at 416-418 East State Street, currently home to an underused 7,600 SF office and a connected manufacturing/storage building. The house dates from the 19th century, with various additions as recent as the 1970s. According to plans filed with the city, an LLC linked to Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has plans to convert the old manufacturing space into a bar and storage space, with renovated offices and a 2 bedroom apartment in the original house. The project will include an accessory parking lot, revised landscaping and handicap access. Area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance, but a parking variances won’t be required because the bar will have after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.

There have been some concerns expressed about this project – at least one neighbor is vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department is not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement. Offhand, I think a bar is legal in B-4 zoning, but the noise impacts will merit further scrutiny.

The project is definitely something of interest to the Voice’s audience, but in an email, Rosenblum said that details are still being worked out and that he’d prefer to discuss the plan at a later date.

Scott Whitham is serving as a consultant, and local architect Jason Demarest is designing the renovation.

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6. Some very substantial changes are in store for Campus Advantage’s $40 million, 240-unit State Street Triangle project at 301 East State Street in downtown Ithaca.

The Texas-based developer has recruited the assistance of Ithaca architecture firm STREAM Collaborative to help redesign the 240-unit project. And there’s clearly been a lot of work since the previous planning board rendition.

In this revision, a much greater emphasis has been placed on the street interaction and active street uses. Gone is the soaring corner, and in its place is a design with a greater use of horizontal elements (like the decorative belt above the third floor) in order to give the building a more human scale – crucial when you’re planning one of the largest buildings in Ithaca.

The developer is also seeking to remove the northbound turning lane from Aurora onto State Street, and replacing it with a pedestrian area with widened sidewalks, outdoor seating and dining spaces. The land would have to be procured from the city, or some other type of collaboration would have to take place with city officials and engineers.

In documents provided in the city’s planning board agenda for next Tuesday, the developer notes that the project remains student-oriented, but in order to play down comments of it being a massive dorm, 10 4-bedroom units were reconfigured into 40 studio apartments that the developer hopes will be appealing to non-student tenants looking for a less expensive, modestly-sized space.

The State Street Triangle project is also exploring LEED certification.

The project still has a lot of details to be addressed – city transportation engineer Tim Logue has expressed concerns that the traffic study underestimates the number of car trips, and has asked for a revised study. The project is also under closer analysis because the potential addition of 600 residents into downtown Ithaca would put a greater stress on utilities and infrastructure.

These and other questions are likely to be topics of discussion at next Tuesday’s meeting.

The State Street Triangle may be pursuing a CIITAP tax abatement (so much for my theory a couple weeks ago), but the city has not uploaded the application at the time of this writing.
7. Looks like a busy meeting next week for the Ithaca city planning board. In order:

1. A subdivision at 106-108 Madison Street on the Northside. The applicant wishes to create a new lot on the east side of the existing lot, for the purpose of building a new-single-family home.

2. A. Declaration of Environmental Significance and BZA recommendation for the Dibella’s sub shop proposed at 222 Elmira Road

B. Declaration of Environmental Significance, BZA recommendation and potential approval for the 1,100 SF addition to the Maguire Chrsyler/Fiat dealership in Southwest Ithaca

C. Declaration of Environmental Significance, and potential approval for the two duplexes proposed at 112 Blair/804 East State Street

D. Site-plan approval for the first phase of the Tompkins Financial HQ (the new drive-through in the current HQ’s parking lot)

E. CEQR (the city’s version of SEQR) discussion for 215-221 W. Spencer Street

F. Declaration of Lead Agency and CEQR discussion on 209-215 Dryden (the Novarr project noted above)

G. Declaration of Lead Agency and CEQR discussion on State Street Triangle (

noted above)

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H. Sketch Plan – Hotel Ithaca Expansion. Readers might remember a 9-story addition and convention center were approved for the Hotel Ithaca almost two years ago (shown above). Nothing has happened with the expansion plans, for reasons which had been attributed to financing. Dunno what we can expect this time around, but we’ll find out next week.