News Tidbits 2/18/17: Credits and Loans

18 02 2017

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1. Over in Lansing village, it looks like the new Arleo medical office building is starting to moving forward. A sketch plan of the project was presented at the village planning board’s meeting earlier this week. Although Lansing doesn’t upload accessory docs like site plans and elevations, this one has been floating around for the past several months in marketing material as “Cayuga Ridge”. Quoting the May 7th 2016 news roundup:

“The new one-story building, which appears to be designed by Binghamton-based Keystone Associates, would be off of Warren Road, although it looks like the building would be accessed from a driveway coming off of Uptown Road. The 2.71 acre property north of 100 Uptown Road is zoned “Human Health Services District” by the village, and borders undeveloped land owned by Cornell, and several other suburban medical office buildings built over the past few decades. The resolution on the attached site plan is too low to determine the square footage, though it looks to be in the low tens of thousands.”

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2. For those who like their cottages tiny – it looks like Schickel Construction has begun work on the spiritual successor to their 140-unit Boiceville Cottages project in Caroline. The 40-house rental development is called “La Bourgade on Seneca”, and is located in the town of Hector, in Schuyler County just outside of Burdett village. For the record, Bourgade is a French term for an unfortified village or settlement. More details can be found on the website here. There will be two cottage types available -, “The Classic”, a 2-bedroom, 900 SF plan that will rent at $1,495/month, and “The Spacious”, a 2-bedroom with a dormer loft space totaling 1,000 SF and renting at $1,695 month. The house very much like their Boiceville cousins, but with angled eaves (dunno what the correct term is and google’s not helping – if there’s an architect reading, please chime in). All units will have lake views.

Personally, I see this as a stretch for the Ithaca market, since it’s 25 miles west of the city. But it might tap into a more plebeian contingent the wine country crowd, the wealthier of whom have taken to building grand vacation or permanent homes along the Finger Lakes in recent years. The first 9 units, three clusters of three, are currently under construction, as is a community center. Delivery is expected in May 2017.

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3. It looks like Ithaca College is putting some more thought into their housing needs. The college has been meeting with planning firm U3 Advisors to explore the possibility of new off-campus student housing.

U3 Advisors is already familiar with the area, as they are also under contract with Cornell to formulate their off-campus housing plan. Unlike Cornell, however, Ithaca College has no plans to grow enrollment – the master plan expects it to stay steady around 7,000. However, many of the dorms are reaching the end of their useful lives, meaning that the college can either sink a fair sum into renovation and replacement of utility systems, or tear down and build anew. An off-campus option could either be a private entity on private land, or a deal on IC-owned land like what Cornell and EdR are doing with Maplewood. A 200-300 bedroom off-campus option could mesh with the town of Ithaca’s visions for a walkable South Hill neighborhood on the intersection of Route 96 and King Road.

It’s still just studies and meetings at this point, but as the oldest dorms hit 50 years old on South Hill, there might be something fresh in the pipeline. We’ll see what happens.

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4. Ithaca’s West End will be welcoming a new tenant in the next couple months. Courtesy of Nick Reynolds over at the Times, the USDA is shifting its regional office out of Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, and into Fulton Meadows, a commercial office building at 225 South Fulton Street. the move is being undertaken in anticipation of the construction of Tim Ciaschi’s new Cayuga Medical Associates office building, which is set to get underway at Community Corners later this year.

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5. Looks like we have an idea of the price tag for Visum Development’s 201 College Avenue. According to a construction loan filed with the county on the 15th, S&T Bank loaned Todd Fox’s company $7,870,673 to help cover the costs of the project. The breakdown in the filing says $6,841,038 for hard construction costs (materials/equipment/labor), $507,000 in soft costs (permits/legal/marketing/financing fees), $300k in contigency and $226k in interest reserves. Add in the $2.64 million for the land purchase, and the total comes to $10,514,180.

That’s something of a premium because the project is on an accelerated schedule after the big hullabaloo with Neil Golder and the city Planning Board last fall. Note that the loan doesn’t cover all the costs and that there is money from other sources, like cash equity from Visum itself.

S&T Bank is a regional bank based out of Western Pennsylvania, but they’ve been making inroads into Ithaca’s commercial lending market. S&T Bank also financed the construction of the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Route 13, lending $5,973,750 to the hotel developers.

Quick aside, I think this is the first time I’m seeing the square footage calculated out – 201 College will be 33,398 SF.

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6. Hopefully this runs after by INHS refinancing explainer, so it makes more sense. Quick rehash, low income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) are sold to banks and similar financial institutions so that they get the tax credit, and the affordable housing developer gets the money they need to move forward with a project. With that in mind, here’s an interesting though unfortunate tidbit from INHS’s Paul Mazzarella:

“This following may be more than you want to include in this article, but it is relevant.  The pricing of tax credits exists in a marketplace where they rise and fall in value.  In past projects completed by INHS, we’ve received from $0.91 to $1.02 of equity investment for each dollar of tax credit.  The pricing of tax credits has recently plummeted because of the recent election and the uncertainty in DC.  This is mostly due to discussions about changing the corporate tax rate.  A lower corporate tax rate will mean that companies have less profits to shield from taxes and therefore the demand for tax credits will be reduced.  Even though no changes have yet been made to the corporate tax rate, just the discussion about this has reduced the pricing of tax credits to around $0.80.  What does this mean for INHS? It means that the project that we’ve been working on for several years suddenly has a funding gap that didn’t exist a few months ago, due entirely to investor’s fear of risk due to an uncertain future..  This is true for every tax credit project in the country and has all of us struggling to make the pro formas work.”

Sigh. Politics.

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7. The Times has the first render for Habitat for Humanity’s two-family townhouse project at 208/210 Third Street on the city’s Northside. It looks to be the same architect as the 4-unit project for 402 South Cayuga – I can’t seem to find the architect offhand as a few designers have donated time and energy, but local planner George Frantz shepherded the project through the approvals process. Each unit is about 1500 SF. The plan for the $305,000 project is to break ground in April and have the move-in ceremony in Spring 2018. As with all local Habitat projects, a portion of the construction will come from volunteer labor, including 500 hours of “sweat equity”, and homeownership classes that the two recipient lower-income families (making 60% AMI or less, $32,000/year) will need to complete as part of the deal.

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8. Wrapping this up with the local agendas for next week – the town of Ithaca will be looking at a home B&B permit on Bostwick Road, a retaining wall for Ithaca College’s track, and finishes touches on the Maplewood approvals. The city’s project review meeting indicates the city plans to look at the subdivision at 109 Dearborn Place, Declaration of Lead Agency and Environmental Review for the 11-unit 107 South Albany Street plan,  and “Approval of Conditions” for City Centre, which is just making sure they’ve completed everything asked for in the final approval. In sum, nothing too exciting at the moment, but we’ll see if the city has any new projects coming up when the actual PB agenda comes out next week.

9. Quick note to wrap up – the woman behind the Rogues Harbor Inn in Lansing has purchased a prominent and historic building on Freeville’s main drag. Eileen Stout purchased 2 Main Street, a mixed-use building with restaurant space, a tile shop and three apartments, on Thursday for $132,000. The seller was Tompkins Trust and it’s well below assessment – doesn’t look like a foreclosure though. The bank bought the property for almost double the price in May 2016.





Martha Pollack, Cornell’s New Madam President

14 11 2016

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As announced earlier today, Cornell’s 14th president will also be its second female leader. Univ. of Michigan provost Dr. Martha E. Pollack has been selected to take over the helm from interim president Hunter Rawlings starting in April 2017.

Currently, Pollack is the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan, as well as a Professor of Computer Science. As a student, Dr. Pollack earned her degrees at two of Cornell’s peers – a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Dartmouth College, and a PhD as well a master’s in computer science and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. Her professional specialty is artificial intelligence, with years of research focused on the design of technology to help those with cognitive impairments, including natural-language processing, temporal reasoning, and automated planning.

Pollack has held a number of positions across the country. From 1985 to 1991, she was a computer scientist at the Artificial Technology Center of SRI International, a non-profit research institute started by, and still closely associated with Stanford University. In what be a good fit with Cornell’s trajectory, SRI was initially created in the 1940s to help spur economic development in the vicinity of Stanford – an area that would later become known as Silicon Valley.

Following her time at SRI, she was a professor at the University of Pittsburgh for nine year, moving to Ann Arbor in 2000 to join the computer science department at U. Michigan. It was at Michigan where she began to work her way up the academic leadership ladder – first as an associate chair of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department from 2004-2007, than as Dean of the School of Information from 2007-2010, then as a Vice Provost for Budgetary and Academic Affairs from 2010-2013, and then promoted in January 2013 to her latest position as Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs for the 44,000 student university. The provost role in higher education is basically the second-in-command, leading the administrations function of the university. Apparently, Michigan has a knack for turning out Ivy League presidents – Pollack accepted the provost position following colleague Philip Hanlon’s departure to take over as President at Dartmouth College.

Like many high-flying professionals, Pollack has earned a number of service and research awards over the course her career. When promoted in 2013, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman spoke of her glowingly, saying “it’s obvious to me that she’s somebody with enormous potential.” A colleague described Pollack as “gentle, kind and has always been a tireless advocate for our student body.”

The appointment to provost, originally for two years, was renewed by the university in December 2014, and came with additional praise. “Provost Pollack has been an innovative and disciplined academic and budget leader for the campus. … I appreciate her work to hold down tuition costs, provide more financial aid to our students, and her leadership of important new initiatives in digital education and engaged learning,” said Mark Schlissel, the new president of the university.

While at Michigan, Pollack has taken some heat from conservative circles for overseeing a change in student registrations that allowed students to select their own pronouns in respect those who are gender non-conforming. earlier this year, Pollack gave a speech to Michigan students and used the example of supporting transgender children as an example of how young people must “fill the empathy gap.

Regarding her personal life, Pollack has been married for 32 years to Ken Gottschlich, an engineer and jazz musician, and has two grown children.

Although Cornell is large, well-respected and multifaceted institution, so is Michigan. A computer scientist with strong research acumen and academic connections seems like a comfortable choice for Cornell president. With her credentials, at a glance it appears that her appointment is a wise decision that fits with the university’s strategic goals.





News Tidbits 11/5/16: Condemnation and Praise

5 11 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Cornell Finally Moving Forward on Maplewood Plan

3 02 2016

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Finally, finally, some real news. Cornell, through its Chronicle news outlet, has issued a statement regarding plans for the Maplewood Park Apartments replacement. Let’s look at the most important details.

– Cornell will be partnering with collegiate housing developer EdR. Cornell will own the land, but EdR will finance, construct and manage the development.

– Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with a summer (August) 2018 opening.

– Approximately 850 bedrooms are anticipated in the first phase, which is only for graduate and professional students. No undergrads here.

– Designs and unit mix are not yet finalized

– To quote Jeremy Thomas, Cornell’s senior director of real estate: ““Our goals for this site are to foster a close-knit neighborhood feel, while connecting this community through walkways and outdoor spaces to the university and surrounding neighborhoods, including the East Hill Plaza area where we are planning future mixed-use development.”

– EdR and Cornell will be meeting with neighborhood groups, the local landlords’ association, and since the project will contain a sizable portion of family housing, the ICSD.

Now, with all that acknowledged, let’s do a little more research. First, the developer. EdR (formerly Education Realty Trust) is a Memphis-based student housing developer following in the steps of Campus Advantage, CA-Ventures, and others who have tried and failed to make their way into the Ithaca market. The difference is, apart from EdR also being a Real Estate Investment Trust that finances its own projects (REITCampus Advantage was not, nor was Campus Acquisitions before it was bought), the company has Cornell’s blessing and the proposal is on Cornell land, which are very, very important cards in their hand. It would take a huge flaw to make local officials come out against this project, which will address a critical student housing shortage at the university.

EdR has been through upstate a few times before, though not in Ithaca. They developed and manage student housing for SUNY ESF in Syracuse (454-bed Centennial Hall), and developed two private apartment complexes adjacent to Syracuse University, the mixed-use 312-bed Campus West project, and the 423-bed University Village Apartments. They have a mix of arrangements with different schools – the SU projects are totally private, but Centennial Hall is owned by ESF and managed by EdR, an arrangement that sounds pretty similar to what Cornell will be doing.

Looking at the profile, I can’t find too much of a pattern in the choice of architects. In many cases, they’re local (the Univ. of Kentucky projects used Sherman Carter Barnhart, a Lexington firm, while University Village and Campus West used Holmes King Kallquist, a Syracuse firm), but there’s a few wild cards from outside a region – Centennial Hall used WTW Architects of Pittsburgh. In sum, it looks there might be a slight preference towards firms local to a project site, but apart from that, the chosen designers are literally and figuratively all over the map. EdR looks to have focused on mixed-use, compact and urban-friendly projects with their more recent partnerships.

As for price range, we’re talking some serious coin being tossed around. The Syracuse projects, which are half the size of Cornell’s project, cost $28-$30 million. EDR, in its own press release yesterday, estimates the project will cost about $80 million. Or course, it will be tax-exempt, but that much money translates to a lot of construction jobs, and Cornell is a strong supporter of trade unions. Local companies might get in as subcontractors, but with a project this large, one of Cornell’s preferred circle of general contractors (Welliver, Pike, LeChase) will most likely tackle the overall buildout.

Now, thinking about the project itself, if it’s 850 beds (rough assumption of one bedroom per person), that’s almost twice the capacity of Maplewood and its 394 units/480 beds. Maplewood is 109,000 SF of usable space (122,000 SF gross) and sits on 16.02 acres. So the current density is about 24.6 units/acre, or 30 beds/acre, in one-story buildings that cover the vast majority of the site.

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The 2008 Master plan, if it’s any indication, calls for 15-30 units per acre (the number of beds is left up to interpretation) and up to 400,000 SF of space in 2-4 story buildings, creating a more campus-like appearance by going vertical instead of spreading out as the current Maplewood does. While the layout in the plan was totally conjecture, the specs are not. The town of Ithaca zoning (High Density Residential) caps it at 36 feet, but Cornell could probably get a floor or two of variance without much difficulty – the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan recognizes Maplewood as one of the appropriate sites for “Traditional Neighborhood Development High Density“, dense mixed-use thoroughly integrated into the surrounding street fabric, 6-30 units/acre but averaging 8-16 units/acre with 10-20% open space.

There’s one last detail to mull over in all of this. According to the city, Cornell will be exercising its right to take back the Ithaca East apartments to the east and northeast of Maplewood (I spoke/emailed with Abbott about this a few days ago when the city docs were released, so…convenient timing). According to property manager Bruce Abbott, Cornell renews every June and he has two years to finish out his management of the property, so Cornell won’t take over Ithaca East until June 2018 at the earliest – which would be just in time for a second phase if Cornell desires, right as phase one is finishing up. Cornell also purchased the homes between Maplewood and Ithaca East, in 1998 and 2013. So looking further ahead, here’s an adjacent 8.2 acres that seems likely to fall under the Big Red development radar in the next couple years, not to mention future plans for East Hill Plaza. EdR is going to be very busy over these next few years.





News Tidbits 11/30/15: It’s like the 1990s All Over Again

30 11 2015

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1. I want to start this oddly-timed roundup with a big thanks to the readers and commenters who encouraged me to write last Monday’s op-ed. If it wasn’t for you guys, I would have held off. I’m not looking to make waves, but there is a significant, valid concern over Cornell’s housing shortage, and it merited a rebuke.

I also want to thank you guys because the emails I received (about 10 separate readers) were pretty much offloading on how much they hate Cornell, which completely missed the point the article. Worse still, one went into a rant on not only students, but on how much they hate racial minorities, and a second went off into a density rant (followed by stomach-churning quote “if nurses, police and teachers can’t afford to live here, they shouldn’t be living here”). If I thought they were representative of Ithaca for even a moment, I’d hang up my keyboard. But I know that there are good people like the readers here, who are more thoughtful, knowledgeable and arguably less crazy.

So, with all that noted, here’s the actual news – someone familiar with the Cornell Campus Planning Committee wrote in to say that the Maplewood replacement is expected to have 600-700 beds, and that the committee is still hopeful for an August 2017 opening, which would mean it would have to presented fairly soon (that would still leave a year-long gap in housing, but better late than never). They also acknowledged that “Cornell didn’t do such a good job” with planning for a possible housing shortage, which although not an official statement, seems as good of a justification for Monday’s piece as any.

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2. Then there was the other piece that dovetailed the affordable housing setbacks last week – Greenways, INHS’s 46-unit affordable owner-occupied townhouse project in the East Ithaca neighborhood, is being abandoned. A part two article with some hard data is being planned. There’s no real silver lining here. It’s Cornell land and the university could potentially revive it, but there’s no indication that will ever happen.

It’s just been a crappy week for housing affordability in Ithaca.

3. Over in Collegetown, several rental homes are being offloaded at once. The properties, 120-134 Linden Avenue, consist of six student apartment houses, with a listed price of $6.5 million. A check of the county website indicates the properties are assessed at $2.75 million, and a cross-check of the Collegetown Form Zoning shows most of these properties are CR-1 (the southern two homes) and CR-3 (the four northernmost homes). CR-1 is the least dense zoning, and CR-3 is a little denser, but mostly maxed out by the existing properties. In short, the code suggests significant redevelopment is unlikely, so the price seems to be based off of potential rental income.

The Halkiopoulos family currently owns the properties, which make up a sizable portion of their multi-million dollar Collegetown portfolio (they’re one of the medium-sized landlords). The Halkiopouloses’ M.O. has been to buy single-family homes and convert the property to student rentals, rather than building their own apartment buildings. It seems likely that the high price indicates they’ll go to one of the other big landlords, or to someone with really deep pockets looking to break into the Collegetown market.

4. A couple folks might be concerned this week after Jason Tillberg’s latest piece about Ithaca’s deflating economy. But there’s a caution light before this data is taken to be hard truth. Frankly, the BLS estimates suck.

A lot.

The numbers are subject to big revisions. Case in point, here are the pre-revision and post-revision 2013 and 2014 data:

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It’s not uncommon for the numbers to be changed by thousands, because it’s based on a random sampling of non-government multi-person employers. 500,000 are sampled over the whole country each month, but only about 55 of the 3,300 or so orgs in Tompkins and Cortland Counties are included in the Ithaca metro sample (Cortland’s jobs numbers are included with Ithaca’s because jobs are measured by Combined Statistical Area [CSAs]. However, Ithaca is considered a separate metropolitan area [MSA] from the Cortland micropolitan area [µSA], so population stats are always distinct). The overall trend of the selected orgs is then applied to a base number. For places like Ithaca where the local economy is dominated by a few employers, random sampling isn’t the best approach because it misses crucial components of the local economic picture. But the BLS sticks with its current approach for consistency’s sake across regions and time periods.

During the first quarter of each year, the BLS conducts a full analysis and re-analysis of data going back the last three years. The general rule is, the data from three years ago is very good, the data from two years ago is okay, and the data from the previous year is…very, very preliminary. Tompkins County hasn’t had any large layoffs reported the state’s WARN database this year, and the only major retail closings recently have been A.C. Moore and Tim Horton’s.

In short, don’t let it keep you up at night, and wait until March before passing judgement on the 2015 economy.

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5. Over in Dryden town, the townhouse project proposed by local firm Modern Living Rentals (MLR) at 902 Dryden Road in Varna is a little smaller – 13 units and 40 bedrooms, versus the previous 15 units and 42 bedrooms; these numbers include the duplex with 6 bedrooms that currently exists on the site. Meanwhile, the procession of hate continued at the latest town meeting. The arguments are the same as before. To the earlier, larger proposal, some town councilpersons had given a tentative positive response, while at least one was opposed to the original proposal (in Dryden, the Town Board votes on projects rather than the Planning Board). MLR hopes to request approval at the town’s December 17th meeting – if approved, the construction period is planned for January-August 2016.

For those interested, the Stormwater Plan (SWPPP) is here, revised Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, revised site plan here, project description courtesy of STREAM Collaborative here. No new renders, but presumably it still looks the same in terms of materials and colors.

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6. Next up on the suburban tour, the fighting over the Biggs Parcel in the town of Ithaca. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA) presented a plan for the property – and the plan is, maybe we can find a way to force the county to keep it, but if not please don’t sell the land to anyone who will build on it. All the county wants is to sell the land so it pays taxes, and the ICNA plan seems to have failed to really address that point. Tompkins officials countered by saying that they’re not keeping it and that if the ICNA cares about this parcel of land so much, buy it. There was then some back and forth about doing a new assessment to account for the developmentally-prohibitive wetlands on site – in other words, decreasing its current $340,000 assessment, with the exact amount to be determined by the county assessment department. At 25.52 acres, of which some is still developable, the price will likely stay above six figures.

So the county’s doing its new assessment, because all it wants is to sell the land so that someone is paying taxes on it. Meanwhile, the ICNA has taken to venting on their web page, angry that the county still plans to sell, and that they may have to actually buy the land in order to dictate its future use.

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7. To wrap up a thoroughly depressing week, a couple of demolitions by neglect. 327 West State Street and 404 West Green Street will both be demolished by the end of the year, according to the Ithaca Times. Both are older, likely century-old structures, but too far gone to be salvageable. According to county records, the City Health Club, which abuts and owns both properties, purchased 404 West Green in 1987, and 327 West State Street in 1993. The porch on 404 came down sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and the only change since then was painting the plywood on the boarded-up door and windows. County photos suggest 327 was in bad shape but possibly occupied up until 2000 or so, and steadily grew worse from there. Offhand, the procedure is to bill the owner for the demo. 404 West Green is B-2d zoning, 327 West State is CBD-60. But don’t expect any redevelopment anytime soon.

Hmmm…bad economic news, projects being cancelled, decay and demolitions in the city and fighting over suburban projects. For Ithaca and Tompkins County, it’s like the 1990s recession all over again.





News Tidbits 10/17/15: Pressing the Issue

17 10 2015

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1. It looks like the Amabel housing development has another site plan. New pedestrian paths, a relocated community garden, and some substantial tweaks to the layout of the house, including a small access road for three homes near the southern termination of the loop road with Five Mile Drive (older plans here).

Marketing for the project hasn’t officially started, but New Earth Living LLC’s (Susan Cosentini’s) website does have interior renders for one of the proposed house styles, as well as an informational PDF. Plans call for Net-Zero energy efficiency homes, meaning that the amount of energy generated on site will power all the project’s energy needs. Example homes included in the PDF range from 1,184 SF to 2,083 SF – it looks like there will be four home models with alternate configuration options. Prices have yet to be announced.

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The Amabel project, proposed for 619 Five Mile Drive just southwest of the city of Ithaca’s boundary line, has been in the works for the past couple of years, a sort of grand follow-up to New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood in Fall Creek. The project will have about 30 single-family homes at full build-out.

I know some of the more pessimistic readers here may call this suburban sprawl with a green sheen, but it’s a lot better than a cul-de-sac.

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2. The village of Lansing sent off their updated Comprehensive Plan to the county planning department this week for review and approval. Now, planning should be the village’s forte, since the village of Lansing was founded in the 1970s as a backlash against the construction of commercial and residential properties along Triphammer and Route 13, including what’s now The Shops at Ithaca Mall. The plan was last updated in 2005, and draft of the new plan can be found here.

The village seems to note with some distress that although population growth has slowed, traffic has continued to increase (due in large part to significant growth in Lansing town; many town residents pass through the village to get to employment centers in Ithaca). North Triphammer Road has already been widened, but there are concerns about the ability of infrastructure to handle further traffic increases. The village also notes a strong rise in the 55+ population, as well as the same affordable housing issues that plague Ithaca and much of the county; in Lansing’s case, the median household income can afford a $171,000 home by their estimate (2.5 x $54,721 = $136,800 qualifying mortgage, + 20% down-payment), but the average house in Lansing costs $258,000 (affordable to a household making ~$82,500; note all the numbers are 2010 values). The plan also shows that fair market rent in Lansing increased 64.1% from 2005-2015, meaning that unless a renter had an annual wage increase of 5.8%, they paid more of their income towards housing year after year.  29.4% of homeowners and 39.1% of renters pay above the HUD’s 30% of total income threshold for affordability. The village is concerned it will price aged residents right out of their homes.

In an effort to combat the growing problem, the village wants to focus new housing along main thoroughfares with easy bus access and bike infrastructure, and is aiming for smaller homes and apartments geared towards aging-in-place and senior communities. The village notes that 500 to 600 units of housing could potentially be developed over the next few decades (note Lansing averages ~10 units per year), mostly on the large, low-density home lots near the lake. These would almost certainly be geared towards the highest income brackets, but the benefit of greater supply might relieve pressure on other homes.

On the business end, the village would also like to encourage Cornell to relocate back-office and research operations to village sites. There’s also a push for senior-oriented businesses and a possible rethinking of the malls, not an uncommon thought in this age where malls are struggling and dying off.

There are arguably two senior developments planned that already fit their “want” category – the 12 senior units planned for the Lansing Meadows PDA (the ones planned next to BJ’s on Oakcrest Road), and 62 senior units for the CU Suites site on Cinema Drive (photo from last week above). Other residential growth will be fairly “organic”, with new homes built at the whim of owners and mom-and-pop builders. A new commercial medium-traffic zone along Hickory Hollow Drive might open some more business opportunities; as for Cornell, they seem to be more focused on their East Hill Village plans, but research park tenants are always a possibility.

The village plans to update its comprehensive plan again by 2025.

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3. On the topic of plans, here’s a progress report just released by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency regarding its five-year plan.

If you wanted another reason why housing in Ithaca is so expensive, the plan alludes to it here:

“A spike in local construction costs has delayed the start of construction on a planned four-unit first-time homebuyer project and a public facilities project that will improve a public recreational area. We anticipate these projects moving forward once they have been able to close their funding gaps.”

The four-unit homebuyer project is the townhouse project planned by INHS for 402 South Cayuga Street (shown above). INHS director Paul Mazzarella said the project was due to receive bids last month, and if they were within INHS’s budget, it would start construction. It hasn’t started.

Ithaca’s a small labor pool, so you either truck in labor from elsewhere and incur the wrath of construction unions, or you go local and pay a premium. But even then, with the relative burst in activity as of late, the local pool is getting tapped out and that’s driving prices up. Non-profits like INHS don’t have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets, and city government just won’t build if they can’t get affordable bids for infrastructure work. It also impacts programs that provide low-cost home repairs to those with low and fixed-incomes, because those low-cost repairs are no longer low-cost, and fewer people are able to be served.

One could one look at this as either a reason to limit approvals (which the construction trade unions are opposed to) or introducing more out-of-town labor to the market (which the trade unions are also opposed to). Stuck between two metaphorical rocks.

So long story short, in a region where the cost of housing is climbing dangerously fast, the city has a lot of work left to do meeting its affordability goals, with many actions/programs falling well short of annual numbers needed to meet the 5-year goal statistics. Hopefully some progress will be made in the upcoming year.

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4. The mayor has dealt State Street Triangle a serious blow by announcing his opposition to the State Street Triangle, first reported on his facebook page and picked up by every news outlet in town, Svante Myrick cited the student housing focus and massing concerns for his opposition (he explicitly stated the height, 11 stories and 116 feet, was appropriate for its location, the 300 block of East State Street in the heart of downtown Ithaca). This is a big setback because apart from his social influence, the mayor sits on the county IDA, which is the governing body that votes on tax abatements.

A couple of the outlets have reached out to Campus Advantage, which is busy trying to formulate a response. They’ve hired a PR firm for whenever they’re ready. It could be the end of the project, it could still go on, it could be drastically altered. The chips have been tossed into the air, let them fall where they may.

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5. House of the week. This week, a trip out to Maple Ridge in Dryden. Maple Ridge is a housing development within the village that had the unfortunate luck of launching right before the Great Recession. After struggling, it’s been picking up in the past couple of years with five houses built since 2013. This modular home is the “Cayuga Lake” model offered by American Homes in Dryden. The pieces have been assembled and fastened together on top of the poured foundation, and some finish work has started. The uncapped foundation section is most likely a future garage. Modular homes tend to move through construction pretty quick, and this one will likely be finished in time for the holidays.

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6. The county and city hosted a meeting discussing possible waterfront re-development plans for the NYS DOT site on Thursday night. Three plans were presented, two mixed-use commercial and residential, and a third that the Journal describes as just being “hotel”, but given the 7.66 acres on site, is probably mixed-use with a hotel component.

The third option is a little bit of a throwback because the city long-saw the waterfront as prime for a hotel. But the market has shifted towards downtown and Route 13, and with the market adding new hotels at a pretty good clip over the next few years (Marriott, Canopy, Holiday Inn Express), a hotel in that area is pretty unlikely. Local lawyer/developer Steve Flash proposed a five-story hotel on Inlet Island in 2007, but in the days before the waterfront zoning allowed five floors, the project was opposed and shelved.

An initial cost of the move is being pegged at $14 million, but it isn’t clear if a potential buyer would pay that directly, or the county/city, who then get reimbursed by a buyer. $14 million is quite an amount, but given the site’s potential, it’s feasible (but don’t expect any outside-the-box thinking; a developer will want to minimize risk since they have to make such a huge initial investment).

If anything is clear, it’s that, contrary to the opinion of at least one speaker at the meeting, most folks would like the snow plows and road salt stored somewhere else.

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6. I don’t comment on politics. I don’t comment on candidates. But I will comment on issues. And, probably no surprise to readers here, I find it worrisome when anti-development candidates come forward.

By and large, development in Ithaca isn’t happening “for the sake of development” like in the 1990s, when the local economy was mired in recession. It’s happening because the Ithaca area has added 6,000 jobs in ten years, mostly in healthcare and education. Cayuga Medical Center has added over 500 positions in 10 years, and while Cornell’s direct employment hasn’t changed much, the university has added nearly 2,500 students. That has created demand for thousands of units, but when combined with the slow pace of development within the county over the past decade, the result has been a critical housing deficit.

This is one of the major reasons behind the current affordable housing crisis – high demand, plus insufficient increases in supply, have resulted in very low vacancy rates and have made it a seller’s paradise when it comes to housing.

If you plan on selling your house or rental property and retiring to Florida in the next couple of years, you’re in for serious bank! Everyone else, whether through rents or increased tax assessments, ends up with a much greater burden. Housing costs are a big player in how Ithaca became the 8th most expensive city in the country.

If there are thousands of people coming here for work or retirement, and new housing isn’t there to absorb them, the wealthier folks moving in will simply pay a premium on what exists, and price out the existing working and middle class who can’t afford those premiums. Which some people are okay with.

Ithaca doesn’t need to “slow down” development, because that’s one of reasons why the affordability crisis is as bad as it is. What Ithaca needs is to be proactive about development, and generally it has been under Mayor Myrick. The city has actively worked to reformulate general guidelines like the Comprehensive Plan (first all-new plan since 1971!) and is starting work on part II, working on neighborhood-specific themes. Myrick’s government has also identified and maintained targeted development areas, like Collegetown’s Form Zoning and downtown density. The mayor has even come to bat for the $30k-$50k/year working class folks that “breed trouble” and need affordable housing, like with INHS’ 210 Hancock project.

Affordability is a long-term effort and a multi-pronged approach, by keeping vulnerable families in their homes, and providing new homes to accommodate the growing economy and population.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but hell, it’s a start. Sticking fingers in ones’ ears isn’t going to make the housing crisis go away.





Fast Facts: Ithaca College Employee Headcounts

12 05 2015

All facts come from Ithaca College’s Office of Institutional Research. All enrollment values are for the fall semester of a given year, i.e. 2001 means fall 2001.

Since the blog has previously taken a look at Cornell’s faculty and staff headcounts, it seems only fair to take a look at Ithaca College’s as well.

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Over the past decade or so, Ithaca College’s employment has grown. Since 2002, headcount has increased by 302 people/20.1%, about 1.68% per year on average. During the recession, employment at the school actually increased at a faster pace than the average, a stark contrast to the hundreds of jobs that were cut at Cornell.

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Breaking the numbers down into faculty and admin/staff components, faculty employment has grown by 155/26.96% since 2002, somewhat faster than the 147 person/15.86% growth in staff employment.

For the sake of comparison, Cornell employed 7,075 non-academic staff in 2002 and 7,018 in 2014, a 57 person/0.8% decrease. The Big Red also employed 2,756 faculty/academic staff in 2002, and 2,763 profs and lecturers in 2014, a 7 person/0.3% increase. (note, Cornell numbers are for the Ithaca campus only).

In other words, we have over the past decade or so, one school that has seen only small enrollment growth but large employment growth, while the other has seen large enrollment growth and no employment growth. I can’t vouch for whether one school’s grasp of their situation is better than the other, but the differences between the two make for an engaging conversation piece.

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Here’s something more apropos to current events – the split between full-time and part-time faculty at IC. In 2002, 18.41% of male faculty and 26.92% of female faculty were part-time. In 2014, 28.42% of male faculty and 33.71% of female faculty were part-time. Although Ithaca College has added 155 faculty over 12 years, only 57 of those positions are full-time. Part of the the growth in part-time faculty can be attributed to the growth in graduate students, who are considered part-time faculty at IC if they are teaching. But regardless, it’s clear that Ithaca has become more reliant on part-time staff to meet its teaching needs.

Not to take an official stance on any union-organizing, but double-checking with some previous Voice write-ups, the graph above means that there were 226 Ithaca College faculty that were earning no more than about $16,000/year.

Cornell doesn’t have part-time faculty listed in their data, but I assume grad students with TA assignments fill that role. As of 2014, 6.6% of non-academic staff at Cornell (468 of 7047) are considered part time, while 25% of non-academic IC staff (268 of 1074) are part time. So maybe that’s another piece in the conversation comparing schools.