News Tidbits 12/17/18

18 12 2018

Here’s a look at the agenda for the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board meeting this month. It’s a week earlier than usual due to the Christmas holiday. Notes and comments in italics below.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Special Order of Business – Presentation of the Greater Southside Plan 6:05
3. Privilege of the Floor 6:20
4. Approval of Minutes: November 27, 2018 6:35

5 Special Permits 6:40

A. Project: Bed & Breakfast Special Permit
Location: 130 Coddington Road
Applicant: Noah Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval

Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit for use of the property as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast. The property was originally issued a Special Permit in 1998 for operation of the five bedroom home as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast; the Special Permit was not renewed in 2003, as required by §325-9c(4)(g)[3], and has therefore expired. During a recent home inspection, it was discovered the property had continued to operate absent a Special Permit, necessitating a new Special Permit application. No physical alterations to the building or the site are proposed. Issuance of a Special Permit is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act “(“SEQRA”)

This is a simple case of where the previous owner never renewed the five-year permit and didn’t tell the new buyer, who planned to continue using the home as a live-in Bed & Breakfast. No letters of opposition are on file. Approval, with the proper completion of all necessary forms, is likely to be straightforward.

B. Project: Bed & Breakfast Home Special Permit 6:50
Location: 2 Fountain Place
Applicant: Jason K Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval
Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit to operate the existing 4,492 SF nine (9) bedroom residence located at 2 Fountain Place as a Bed and Breakfast Home. The owner is proposing to utilize four (4) of the nine (9) bedrooms as guest bedrooms for a period not to exceed 21 consecutive days, with a fifth bedroom utilized for home-owner occupancy. Guest occupancy will be limited to two persons or one family per guestroom. No exterior modifications are proposed to the existing home to establish the B&B use, and the existing house is compatible with the character of the neighborhood. Existing parking for seven (7) vehicles exists in the turnaround off Willets Place. The applicant does not propose cooking facilities in the guestrooms, and food service is to be limited to guests of the B&B. No other B&B Homes exist within 500 feet of the property. One sign that is five (5) SF maximum in area and not self-illuminated will be installed in compliance with Chapter 272 of the City Code, “Signs.”

Under city zoning code, B&Bs, which are to be owner-occupied, are allowed to four bedrooms to be used for the guests. A zoning code variance to use eight bedrooms as guest occupancy seemed unlikely, but the new owners believe the B&B may still be viable. Local architect Jason K. Demarest (brother of STREAM’s principal architect, Noah Demarest) is known for his historic restorations and historically-inspired design work, so his involvement is auspicious for those who hope that the century-old mansion and former Ithaca College president’s house retains its character.

6 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 7:00
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Review FGEIS & Town Comments – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/119

Hey, they’re starting to include documentation links in the agenda descriptions now! Most of the town’s comments are minor modifications and a possible correction on one of the traffic lane analyses. There’s a boatload of paperwork to dig through, so this meeting is just a chance for the planning board to look at the town’s comments, digest some of the supplemental files, and make sure there are no red flags or major concerns within that subset of information.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

This is likely to be the most contentious part of the meeting. The planning staff have conducted their analysis. Some traffic mitigation measures are sought, including circulation and mass transit / multi-modal transit improvements. The city will make sewer system upgrades a stipulation of project approval, and being next to the Cornell Heights Historic District, the board as Lead Agency wants a more sensitive use of materials and material colors, and extensive vegetative screening to be reviewed further before approval. But the most debated component, the energy use impacts, the city feels is effectively mitigated through the proposed measures by the applicant team.

I’m going to raise one point of correction though – the number of beds is going up to 2,079, but the planning staff should note that a campus-owned fraternity house, the former Sigma Alpha Mu building at 10 Sisson Place (the chapter moved to 122 McGraw Place), is coming down to make way for the project, so the gross number of beds is at least 30 less that that figure.

C. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3 – No Action
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/852

Part III of FEAF is the city planner-written review of impacts, proposed mitigations, and whether the lead agency feels the mitigations are appropriate and effective. Some stormwater, remediation plan and other supplemental materials are still needed before a declaration of significance can be made. 

D. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 8:10
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Public Hearing
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally non-conforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/859

City staff were really unhappy about this plan last month, and it was implied that this was one of the examples of “bad” infill that may lead to the new single primary structure overlay. However, barring extreme circumstances (think Maguire at Carpenter Park), review will continue under the current regulations. No new materials appear to have been submitted since the last meeting. 

E. Project: Maguire Ford Lincoln Additions and Improvements 8:30
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/860

The revised plans include modified architectural features (more windows, a green wall), and a greater amount of vegetated landscaping to comply with zoning. On-site solar panels are being considered per board recommendation, but the old building was not designed to hold the weight of solar panels. The new wings will be designed to host panels. Heat pumps are being evaluated for some functions, but some of the heavy-duty components like the service bay will likely rely on modified conventional fuel systems. The building will meet or exceed NYS Energy Code requirements.

F. West Hill- Tiny Timbers – Sketch Plan 8:50

This one has been a long time coming. Tiny Timbers bought a 5.45 acre parcel on the south end of Campbell Avenue’s 400 block back in September 2016, and has long planned one of its cluster home developments on the vacant lot. As noted at the time on the blog:

“Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.”

G. 112-114 Summit Ave – Sketch Plan 9:10

This one required some fact-checking, because 114 Summit Avenue was the former Cascadilla school dorm that came down last year to make way for the Lux apartment project at 232-236 Dryden Road. A better address for this project might be “238 Dryden”, and the rumor mill says it’s by Visum Development Group, who developed the Lux. Although the exact positioning seems uncertain, the parcel north of the Lux is CR-3 (three floors, 40% lot coverage, parking and houselike features such as gables and porches required), and the remaining adjoining parcels are CR-4 (four floors, 50% lot coverage, no parking required). With student housing experiencing a little more slack in the market lately, it’s not clear if this is student housing, or another use.

7. Old/New Business PRC Meeting Time/ Date 9:30

8. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development 9:40

9. Adjournment 9:50





607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 9/2017

2 10 2017

Landscaped, occupied, done. Modern Living Rentals’ infill project at 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill adds another 25 beds to the market, in four new two-family homes and a renovated existing home.

Strictly looking at the project, it’s pretty unassuming. This armchair critic thinks these turned out nicer than the ones on Elmira Road, though a greater splash of color on the siding would have been nice. The brackets and full-length porch are welcome additions on the Aurora Street structure.

If someone had told me 217 Columbia’s two-family infill would cause such a stir, I would have been surprised, since it’s a small project, and this and the Elmira Road pair didn’t create much a stir during the review process. But sometimes, after multiple projects of similar format, all it takes is one more to stir up enough consternation to snowball into a full-blown controversy.

I’m not going to fault anyone there. MLR’s Charlie O’Connor saw an opportunity and went for it. He is arguably one of the most reticent developers in Ithaca, preferring unobtrusive projects that he hopes will create as little debate as possible. It’s kinda funny in a way, because although he’s a business partner with Todd Fox (Visum’s property management is handled by MLR), the two of them are near-opposites in that regard. He paid a fair sum for 217 Columbia Street, so he doesn’t want to walk away from the investment, but he’ll do whatever it takes to make the neighbors happy short of cancelling the project. At last check, there was a proposal to stipulate the two three-bedroom units would not be permitted to student renters, and that the building would be stick-built and designed to better fit with the older structures of the neighborhood.

On the other side, permanent residents have a right to be annoyed if the perceived balance between students and non-students starts to shift and harm their quality of life. The neighborhood, like many of Ithaca’s more walkable parts, has experienced significant upward pressure on housing prices, and rental infill units can be a double-edged sword because the individual property is priced out of reach for homeowners (for-sale infill would be a different story). Even with the owner-occupied properties, there’s a strong whiff of gentrification, turning what was once a blue-collar neighborhood serving downtown shoppers and Morse Chain into a hodgepodge of increasing number of student rentals, and more white-collar, deep-pocketed households.

Somewhat incongruous to all this is that Ithaca College’s student population has declined almost 10% since 2010, which would suggest less pressure for student rentals; however, many of the college dorms date from the 1960s, and the utilities systems need replacement – some are already on their last legs, and that may limit occupancy as they sputter into obsolescenceThe college and students are aware of the discord and are trying to address it gently; more extreme measures like curtailing the ability or capping the number of students who can live off-campus might create major blowback, something the college may be actively trying to avoid after last year’s turmoil. A new dorm or two would help, but even modular temporary dorms can cost a fair sum, and there is nothing planned in the short-term. A long-term question mark is the impact of the Chain Works District, but that’s a few years out at best.

Landlords should at least be cognizant of this tension (and the ones on South Hill tend to be a mixed bag, to be honest), because if things turn south and the college does take drastic measures, units are going to become much harder to fill at current monthly rates. Town officials and voters were unhappy with the quality and appearance of new housing built in the Birdseye View development and in the Pennsylvania-Kendall Avenue corridor, and that contributed to the push to curtail student housing in the town’s portion of South Hill.

The local community is not easygoing or forgiving. If you do crap work, crap will hit the fan sooner or later. Even if you do good work like 607 South Aurora here, it pays to be attentive and flexible.

While legal language is being prepared for an overlay that would prevent more than one primary structure on South Hill properties until a new neighborhood plan is developed (2-3 years minimum), 217 Columbia had already started review before that was considered, so in effect it’s grandfathered in, even if it hasn’t started construction before the overlay likely gets passed by PEDC this month and Common Council in November.





News Tidbits 8/12/17: Two Kinds of Rehab

12 08 2017

1. It looks like some Trumansburg residents want to build a recreational complex. According to the Ithaca Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, for the civic group Trumansburg Community Recration, “{t}he ultimate goal is to build a recreation center, soccer fields, baseball fields, a youth football field, a skate park, and a pool to the community. The first phase of the project would be building the sports fields and possibly a recreational campus. While the group is still searching for space for these amenities, it is raising funds through grants and donations. The fundraising goal right now is $750,000.”

Along with private donations, the community advocacy organization is seeking state funds, which state law requires be obtained via municipal entities, i.e. the village, school district, town and county. It’s not that governing bodies have to commit money, they just have to express support and sign off on applications, and allocate the awarded funds if/when they are received.

Phase two for the non-profit would be a community center, likely a re-purposed building, and phase three would be a pool, which is garnering significant community attention. Although the group hasn’t committed to a location (the rendering is completely conceptual), it is examining the feasibility of different sites in and around Trumansburg. Interested folks can contact or donate to the group here, or sign up for emails if they so like.

2. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has finally received the money from a July 2016 grant award. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) will be using it toward a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created. Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

While the location is quite rural, the nature of the facility (rehab, focus on opioid abuse) is getting pushback from at least one town board member who doesn’t want it in the town (link, scroll down to 7-25-TB minutes). The plan has yet to go before the Ulysses planning board.

3. INHS made its name on home rehabs, and it looks to be making a return to its roots. The non-profit developer is asking the IURA for $41,378 towards the renovation of an existing 3-bedroom house on 828 Hector Street, which will then be sold to a low-moderate income family (80% AMI, about $41,000/year) and locked into the Community Housing Trust.

The project cost is $238,041. $152,000 to buy the foreclosed property from Alternatives Federal Credit Union, $8,000 in closing/related costs, $60,000 in renovations, $5,000 contingency, $8,141 in other costs (legal/engineering), and $4,900 in marketing/realtor fees. The funding sources would be $144,163 from the sale, $15,000 from INHS’s loan fund (to cover the down payment for the buyer), $37,500 in equity and the $41,378 grant. A for-profit could renovate for cheaper, but federal and state guidelines say INHS has to hire those with a $1 million of liability insurance coverage, which takes many small contractors out of the equation.

Side note, the city’s federal grant funding disbursement was dropped by $50,000, because HUD is an easy target in Washington. Luckily, Lakeview decided to forego its grant funds because they found the federal regulations unwieldy, which freed up a little over $43k to move around to cover most of the losses.

4. Speaking of Hector Street, it looks like Tiny Timbers is rolling out a pair of new spec plans for two lots on the city’s portion of West Hill. The house on the left, for 0.27 acre Lot 1, is a 1,040 SF 2 BD/1BA design listed at 187,900, which is a good value for a new house in the city. 0.26 acre Lot 2 is a 3 BD/2 BA 1,370 SF home listed at $222,900. Taking a guess based on the lot sizes, these are the wooded vacant lots west of 920 Hector. There’s a third vacant lot over there, but no listing yet.

5. On the city’s Project Review Committee meeting agenda, which is the same as the memo…not much. Lakeview’s 60-unit affordable housing project on the 700 Block of West Court Street will have its public hearing and determination of envrionmental significance, the last step in SEQR and the one before preliminary approval. Same goes for INHS’s 13-unit project on the 200 Block of Elm Street.

Apart from related or minor zoning variances and review of proposed historic designation in Collegetown for the Chacona and Larkin Buildings (411-415 College and 403 College), the only other project for review is 217 Columbia, Charlie O’Connor’s. Which, as covered by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor and by Matt Butler at the Times, did not go over well, though Charlie seemed willing to change plans to avert a firestorm. From a practical standpoint, I’d imagine he’s much more focused on his much larger 802 Dryden Road project, and this is small if hot potatoes. The 6-bedroom duplex (three beds each) is designed by Ithaca architect John Snyder.

My own feeling is that a moratorium isn’t the answer, but if they wanted to roll out another TM-PUD so that Common Council gets to review plans as well as the Planning Board, then so be it. My issue with moratoriums is that local municipalities do a terrible job sticking to timelines and have to extend them again and again. Plus, there are projects like the Ithaka Terraces condos, or the new Tiny Timber single-family going up on Grandview, that aren’t the focus of the debate but would be ensnared by a blanket moratorium.

Meanwhile in the town, the planning board discussion for next week will mostly focus on the NRP Ithaca Townhouses on West Hill. The revisions will be up for final approval, which would allow NRP to move forward with their 2018-19 Phase 1 buildout (66 units and a community center). Phase II (39 units) will follow in 2019-20.

6. In sales this week, the big one appears to be 808 East Seneca – 5 unit, 4,125 SF historic property just west of Collegetown in Ithaca’s East Hill neighborhood. List price was $1.575 million, and it sold for modestly less, $1.45 million, which is well above the $900,000 tax assessment. The sellers were a local couple had owned the property since 1982, and the buyer is an LLC formed by the Halkiopoulos family, one of Collegetown’s old Greek families, and medium-sized landlords with a number of other houses in the area.

Perhaps more intriguing is the sale of 452 Floral Avenue for $100,000 to home builder Carl Lupo. The vacant 4.15 acre property had been the site of a 30-unit affordable owner-occupied project back in 1992, but given that the Ithaca economy was faltering in the early 1990s, the plans never moved forward.

7. A quick update from the Lansing Star about the Park Grove Realty lawsuit. While the Jonson family of developers may have lost the village elections by a large margin, their lawsuit accusing the village of an illegal zoning change to permit the project has been reviewed by the state’s court system – and they lost. The state supreme court ruled the zoning change was perfectly legal, appropriate to the revised Comprehensive Plan, and accusations of negative impacts on the Jonsons’ Heights of Lansing project are overblown and speculative.

The Jonsons intend to file an appeal, and have to send in their final draft by September 5th. At this point, the project is left in a waiting pattern – the village is leaving the public hearing open until the appeal is resolved. If the appeal overturns the ruling, than the project can’t proceed regardless of village approval. Given the basis for the initial ruling, an overturning seems unlikely, but it will be a few more months before any approvals can be granted.





News Tidbits 8/5/17: Having the Right Look

5 08 2017

1. Thanks to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, we have the first rough site plan for the proposed Cornerstone and Tiny Timbers projects at the Lansing Town Center site at the intersection of Route 34B and Triphammer Roads. Readers may recall that Tiny Timbers has proposed a development of 60 for-sale single-family homes (ten in the first phase) called “Lansing Community Cottages”, and Cornerstone is proposing up to 144 affordable apartments in two phases for the town center site.

Specifically, Tiny Timbers is looking to sell homes averaging about 1,000-1,200 SF in the $175,000-$225,000 range, which is a critical but tough-to-hit segment in the local housing market. With consultation from planner David West, the homes are designed in a traditional urban layout, with congregated parking spaces instead of garages, and community green spaces. None of the homes are more than 150 feet from the roads and parking areas, a safety requirement to ensure access for emergency vehicles. Ten units would be built in phase one, twenty in phase two, and thirty in phase three. About the only concern town officials have expressed at this point is a second means of ingress/egress to keep the traffic down on Conlon Road.

In contrast to Tiny Timbers’ site plan, the Cornerstone plan is a more conventional suburban layout with parking adjacent to each 8-unit structure. In fact, based on the above design, and the need for affordable developers to save on costs and therefore many reuse designs when they can, it’s likely that some of the Cornerstone apartments look something like the above image, which comes from a recent Cornerstone project near Brockport. The detailing and the colors may differ, but it’s a pretty good bet that’s how some of the finished units will look. Like Conifer, Cornerstone appear to be using a mix of their standard designs, and there are two distinct designs on the site plan, as well as a community center.

2. A redevelopment opportunity in downtown Ithaca has sold, but it looks like there are no plans. 110-112 West Seneca Street is a 538 SF salon with a large rental parking lot, and zoning is B-1a, meaning 4 floors 50% lot coverage, parking requirements in effect of about one space per unit or one space per 250 SF of commercial use. Tompkins Trust (Tompkins Financial Corp.) picked up the property on Friday the 28th for $600,000, below the $800k asking price but still quite substantial for what’s mostly land.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen here. Tompkins Trust had previously rented the 23 parking spaces on site for use by its own employees – whether they’re hedging bets or don’t trust the parking garage situation, they appear to be buying the property to use as parking. Boo. With any luck, after their new HQ opens up next spring and their parking situation settles down, they’ll find better uses or potential partners for the lot. With no historic attributes but proximity to major services and amenities, a parking lot on this property is a waste of potential.

3. The Harold’s Square project team has given their website a overhaul, and with that comes the official timeline. According to the web page, asbestos abatement is now underway, demolition will start in September, construction will last through January 2019, and marketing/lease-up for the commercial spaces and 108 residential units should will start in January 2019.

The project description web page mentions 100 construction jobs, 50 retail jobs and 200 office jobs, which seems accurate for the square footage of each use (12k retail, 25k office). The estimate of 250 residents is way too generous though – the back-of-the-envelope is one person per bedroom, and there are about 144 bedrooms/studio units.

Side note, I reserve the right to grouse that the media links both go to the Times.

4. Dunno what’s going to happen with the Lansing Meadows senior housing up by the mall. Background story on the Voice here. On the one hand, the wetlands were an arduous and expensive undertaking, and Goetzmann did those to Army Corps of Engineers standards. It does make it tougher for the project to be financially viable. On the other hand, the village has a right to be frustrated, and it’s not unreasonable that they’re feeling that they’re being taken for a ride. Goetzmann received an IDA tax deal for what was largely a retail project, largely a no-no because most jobs in retail are low wage. He also received a variance for a community retail component, and multiple extensions from the IDA on fulfilling the housing component.

An increase in density spreads the fixed costs out among a greater number of units, and it’s encouraged by the village and county, so that’s not the issue. The design is what bothers them – while shared walls and utilities is a cost-saving measure, the village has expected smaller, house-like units since the project was first proposed in the late 2000s. Maybe the happy medium between this and the ten duplexes is a site plan with 3-4 unit structures with 20-24 units, with the buildings designed with pitched roofs, dormers, small porches and other home-like features. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months.

5. Plans for co-op housing on West State Street have been waylaid, perhaps permanently. New York City businessman Fei Qi had previously proposed to renovate the historic 3,800 SF property at 310 West State Street into office space, and more recently a 12-14 person co-op. However, there have been a couple of issues with both plans – the ca. 1880 building is in need of significant structural renovation. Years of deferred maintenance prior to Qi (who bought it from the Salvation Army for $195k last year) has left the building in rough shape, and asbestos and lead need to be removed. For the housing proposal to be permitted, fire suppression systems would also need to be installed. Some city officials have expressed concern that like the carriage house that once existed at the rear of the property, if the building gets mothballed again, its structural integrity may be at risk. Any external changes would need to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. It appears that Qi recently applied to the commission stating economic hardship, saying he was unaware the building was a historic property and was not communicated to him by the seller or real estate agent, and cannot afford to renovate it to ILPC standards. The designation went into effect in April 2015, a year before sale.

Concurrently, Qi has put the property up for sale. For an asking price of $278,000, one gets the building and the architect’s plans. I’ve seen ball-park estimates of $500k for the renovation into office space, but I never saw an estimate for the co-op. As a result of the structural issues, the building’s assessed value plunged from $250,000 in 2016 to $100,000 last year, most of that being the land. Fingers crossed, someone steps up to the plate to save this building before it’s too late.

6. Last month, I speculated that there was a plan for redeveloping 217 Columbia Street on Ithaca’s South Hill. Turns out there is, and it’s really upsetting the neighbors. The plan by Modern Living Rentals is to preserve the existing building, but build an additional two-family home on the property as well. For the neighbors, this is apparently one student-oriented rental too far. Some are calling for a moratorium, and others a zoning change to prevent rentals without an owner living in the property. Most of South Hill’s zoning is R-2 residential, which is one-and-two family homes, and most of the construction in South Hill these past few years has been one and two-family homes. The issue is that they’re upset they’re rentals, many of which appeal to Ithaca College students further up the hill in the town. In theory, you could make it an approval requirement that the renters be non-students, although I’m not sure that would placate the situation. We’ll see how it goes.





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.