119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 9/2018

16 10 2018

A little late in coming, but better than nothing at all.

119-125 College Avenue is developer John Novarr’s attempt to add something to Collegetown that’s not explicitly student housing. The plan is housing for Cornell faculty and staff, ideally visiting faculty who are in need of housing close to the university.

Most developers would probably have played their cards a little more conservatively in Ithaca’s most student-focused and most expensive neighborhood, but Novarr and his partners, doing business as the Novarr-Mackesey Development Company, have assets worth in the few hundreds of millions, so they can afford to be a little adventurous. Among Novarr’s local holdings are 1001 West Seneca Street (the Signworks Building), the Casa Roma Apartments, the Breazzano Center (on a fifty-year lease to Cornell), 312 College Avenue and the crown jewel of his holdings, Collegetown Terrace. he’s entering his mid 70s, but has no intent on slowing down; with the Breazzano wrapped up, work has commenced on 238 Linden Avenue and 119-125 College Avenue.

The first official word of this project was leaked, in a way. It was listed in July 2016 as a potential project to be sponsored for a Restore NY state grant. At the time, only a site outline was available, the plan was estimated to cost about $10 million, and the project was looking at an October 2016 site plan application with a Spring 2018 completion.

It was very early in the timeline; in fact, the sale of the existing three apartment houses hadn’t even closed yet. The three boarding houses dated from the late 19th century. A historical analysis by Bero Architecture stated that the white Queen Anne-style house at 119 College Avenue was built as a boarding house in the early 1890s, the white Italianate-style house at 121 College Avenue was built as a personal residence in the early 1870s, and the stucco-coated house at 125 College Avenue was constructed as a personal residence in the 1870s. The three properties fell under the same ownership in the 1960s, and had been owned by the Hills family for over forty years before their sale to a Novarr-associated LLC in July 2016. According to the deed filed with Tompkins County, the sale price was $4.75 million, far more than their combined tax assessment of $1.655 million.

The project has since its inception met the requirement of the zoning for the site – the three continent properties are CR-4, which allows up to 50% lot coverage, 25% green space, up to 4 floors and 45 feet in height, a choice of pitched or flat roofs, and requires front porches, stoops or recessed entries. This is the lowest-density zone for which no parking is required. The city describes the zoning as “an essential bridge” between higher and lower density, geared towards townhouses, small apartment buildings and apartment houses.

The original plan, first presented in October 2016, consisted of three buildingsthe two buildings at the front of the parcel were designed to emulate rowhouses, and a third building located in the rear of the property would have contained garden apartments. The two rowhouse buildings and rear apartment structure would have been separated by an internal courtyard, and terraced modestly to account for the site’s slope. Counting basement space, the built space would have come in at 49,278 square feet. The 67 units were a combination of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The project was called the “College Townhouse” or “College Townhouses”, but strictly speaking, these weren’t townhouses, the buildings only resembled townhouses by having multiple entries and stoops. The design incorporated a modern motif with glass expanses and a few different shades of colored metal and fiber cement panels.

The proposal made it through planning board review with only minor changes – for example, to give a little more visual interest, the squared-off bay windows were replaced with curving glass. The approvals process was fairly straight-forward, with site plan approval granted in January 2017.

This is where things go off the beaten path. The site had already been cleared (Novarr often seeks to clear sites before he has approvals, something that has caused consternation before), and then…it remained quiet. A vacant patch with only a temporary fence and only patchy meadow grass. This was not going to plan.

The issue turned out to be the result of revisions to the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code. The revisions, passed in November 2016, prevented construction of buildings taller than 30 feet in the presence of above-ground power lines. It just so happens that above-ground power lines pass in front of the site. The code also made the rear garden apartment building illegal because it couldn’t be reached from the street by aerial apparatus. City staff weren’t aware the code changed until after site plan approvals were granted, someone dropped the ball on communicating the changes. The College Townhouses project no longer met code because the code had changed, and so the project team had to seek a variance from the state in November 2017, under the advisement that the power lines on College Avenue were likely to be buried in the next couple of years anyway. The argument win the state over, so it was back to the drawing board.

The revised design, showcased in February 2018, removed the rear building, and reshaped the front buildings to be narrower and deeper, separated by a large courtyard that a fire truck can navigate. Access to the courtyard comes via a mountable curb. If the day comes that the power lines are buried (in 2020 or so), the plan is to turn the courtyard into landscaped green space. The decorative entry shown in the above rendering would be built after the power lines are buried. While the footprint was greatly altered, the plan kept the same design motif as before (the new design added stainless steel and zinc panels on the walls facing the courtyard, not unlike the similarly-designed 238 Linden project), and still includes 67 housing units (90 new residents, assuming one per bedroom). Revised approvals were granted at the end of February.

Just a little clarification edit here: the power lines were one issue, and the rear building was a second issue. Both had the potential to interfere with a fire truck’s ladder or lift, and with the result of changes in the code, not only did the rear building became illegal, the buildings were now also too tall for a block with above-ground power lines, 45 ft vs the 30 ft allowed. So the design team consolidated the three buildings into two structures, separated by a large courtyard that can be entered and exited by a fire truck – the truck can just pass under the lines now to reach the back of the property.

It has taken some time to finally get underway, but it looks like ground was broken around late August. Excavation was well underway by late September, with shoring walls in place (steel H-beams with wood lagging in between) to hold the adjacent soil in place.

Local landscape design firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture guided the apartment project through the review process, but the designer of the buildings is Princeton-based ikon.5 Architects, the same firm that designed Collegetown Terrace. Welliver is the general contractor for the project, which given the 12-14 month timeline of earlier reports, is likely looking at an August 2019 completion.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 9/2018

10 10 2018

The last of Visum‘s projects from the September photos batch is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom 118 College Avenue in Collegetown. The student-focused apartment building is topped out, fully framed, and sheathed. The mechanical penthouse, which STREAM Collaborative designed to emulate an Italianate cupola, appears to be framed but not closed in. The windows and doors have been fitted, and the balconies are partially complete. Some of the face brick can be seen on the first floor, and like the other Visum projects, the wood rails nailed over the ZIP panels will be used for attachment of the fiber cement siding. The original plans has a small top floor setback on the north face, and the projecting bays at the front (east face) were originally bumped out slightly from the side walls, but both of those features were value engineered out. At a glance, not much has changed on the outside since final approval was granted, a good sign that the project has stayed within budget – bravo to STREAM, Romig Construction and Taitem Engineering for helping Visum bring this project to fruition.

As with other inner Collegetown projects, rent will be fairly steep – $1,200 – $1,300 per bedroom per month. Visum’s property management page, Live More Ithaca, has an August 2019 availability, but I suspect this building will be finished in time for the spring semester, given how far along it is. Maybe there are renters already secured for a shorter lease period – it’s hard to imagine the building would be left newly finished but vacant for that long.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 9/2018

9 10 2018

The foundation walls are being poured at Novarr-Mackesey’s 238 Linden Avenue project. The footers and some of the foundation walls are poured and cured, with steel rebar sticking out of the surface, waiting to be tied into the skeleton of the structure as it starts to be assembled. Other concrete walls are still being formed and poured. It looks like wood with steel bracing, my first thought was all wood but a closer look shows the bracing is thin steel, with the plywood from Pacific Wood Laminates and likely procured through a supplier, and the bracing probably from the same supplier. Forms are typically plywood, sometimes aluminum or steel, and are braced to resist the pressure from the concrete as it is poured to make the foundation walls – basically, to keep the walls in shape while they cure. And once the wall is cured and checked for any issues, workers move the forms to the next section until the walls are complete.

The sloping rear wall is probably not a part of the building foundation. Looking at the footprint of the building, it’s more likely a retaining wall intended to hold back the soil. 238 Linden will have a habitable basement with lower “courts” to let light and air below ground level (offhand, I think the layout is five studio units per floor on the four floors above ground level, and four studio apartments on the basement level, for a total of 24 units). The front retaining wall will have a similar slope as it is built out.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 9/2018

6 10 2018

Tying into the 107 South Albany example from earlier this week, 210 Linden is not a finished building, but still certified for occpancy. My impression is that some units are ready for occupancy, but not all. Tenants of The Lux had emailed in to say that it wouldn’t be open until the Spring, and the Craigslist ads tout Spring 2019 leasing. But there are photos advertising units in the building that show the building is occupied; the front facade’s window arrangement is unique among Visum’s buildings, and can be clearly seen in this living room photo. I’m assuming that from the FedEx delivery slip and the “TOUR GUIDE POWER HOUR” are related to the residents.

That noted, if the interior is largely complete, the exterior still needs fiber cement siding on the north and south walls, painting (the charcoal grey is going on now, with light grey presumed for the panels on the top floor), trim/finish work and seeding/landscaping. TYPAR is being used for the housewrap / weather resistant barrier to keep the sheathing from getting damaged by moisture, and wood rails atop the TYPAR are used to attach both the lap siding and the panel siding. the panels look to be another change on the fly, as the original renderings called for lap siding on the top floor as well. Interestingly, the balcony treatment is largely finished and accurate to renders – wood slats on the lower levels, and steel rails on the fourth floor. Not sure if that’s for visual interest, or to accommodate building codes.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 9/2018

4 10 2018

Just noting that this project is complete and updated in the Ithaca Project Map accordingly. A lot of folks may not be fans of high-end student housing, but at least the design is attractive (kudos to STREAM Collaborative, they’ve got an open house Friday evening if you want a sneak peak at their latest project designs) and it’s 206 wealthy college kids who won’t be driving the price up on existing housing units elsewhere. Interior shots of the common spaces (gym, study room, rooftop deck lounge) can be found here.

Quick aside, the official street addresses are 112 Summit Avenue for The Lux South, and 114 Summit Avenue for The Lux North.

 

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News Tidbits 9/18/18

19 09 2018

1. Unofficially, here are the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee ratings for the four Green Street Garage proposals, with a screenshot courtesy of Councilor Steve Smith (D-4th Ward). I’m not quite sure how the total score was calculated, but overall, the Vecino Group’s proposal was the most highly rated, followed by the Visum/Newman Group submission. The general consensus was that the Harold’s Holdings plan was aesthetically pleasing but didn’t include enough of the benefits that the city was seeking, and the Ithaca-Peak proposal was underwhelming in terms of affordability and community benefits.

2. So here’s an interesting little item that came out of last week’s PEDC Meeting. A developer had apparently approached Committee Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) with the idea of redeveloping the Family Medicine site for an eight-story building. Murtagh did not state the intended mix of uses if any was stated (probably ground-level commercial with residential above), but he did express strong reservations for their plan, which would have required a PUD, the D-I-Y zoning the city uses to allow more flexible project design in exchange for community benefits signed off by the Common Council as well as the Planning Board.

Few would argue with the statement that the Family Medicine site, located on the 200 Block of West State Street just west of Downtown Ithaca, is underutilized. It’s a one-story ca. 1980 structure with surface parking. The Cornell Baker Program has used the site among others for student projects to come up with cost-efficient proposals in various parts of the city (officially for academic purposes, but no doubt the local development scene pays at least some attention to the final presentations). I remember one project that showed a seven-story building would be just enough of a return on investment to possibly entice redevelopment with Family Medicine remaining in the ground-level of the new structure. This theoretical proposal did make use of a tax abatement. By this argument, an eight-story proposal could be a better sell, or it could be the result of an attempt to work in an affordable housing component while still making enough money per square foot to appeal to lenders. Regardless of what the circumstances were to push eight floors, this idea likely won’t be coming to the planning board anytime soon.

3. It looks like the Ivy Ridge apartment project in Dryden has been sold to a new developer. An LLC associated with local real estate firm Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor) sold 802-812 Dryden Road for $2,075,000 on September 12th. Filed on the same day was a construction loan from M&T Bank to pay for construction of the project – a rather substantial $8.6 million for the 42-unit townhouse complex.

The buyer’s LLC could be traced back to a suburban Pittsburgh address for Matthew Durbin, and a little online searching indicates Durbin is a Cornell Johnson School (MBA) Alumnus, a former investment banker turned business executive. In short, he has a demonstrated familiarity with the Ithaca area, business acumen and the money to make things happen. Site prep is underway and no changes to the project design or timeline are indicated. As for O’Connor, he’s now a much wealthier man, and we’ll see if any of those recent gains are turned into equity for future MLR projects.

If anyone else is still looking for shovel-ready multi-family projects, 1061 Dryden is still for sale.

4. On a somewhat related note, 312 East Seneca Street was sold by Jagat Sharma (better known for his architecture firm, but 312 East Seneca house his office) for $800,000 on September 14th. The buyer was an LLC that traces back to the Stavropoulos Family on West Hill, who have undertaken a number of small to medium-sized development projects in the Ithaca area over the past several years.

This purchase would impact MLR and Visum Development’s plan for Seneca Flats, a 42,000 SF multi-story mixed-use structure at the corner of East Seneca and North Aurora. The two firms based their initial drawings on the presumed purchase of this building. However, they had also drawn up floor plans for options that did not include 312 East Seneca – offhand, the plan with the site had 85 units, the plan without had 60 units. Basically, lop off the rightmost (northern) quarter of the above drawing. As for the Stavropouloses Stavropoli, they paid more than double the assessed value ($390,000), so there’s a good chance they have their own plans.

5. This blog gravitates towards hard/quantitative data, so here are a few facts about the airport expansion from the SEQRA environmental forms:

– The Passenger Terminal Expansion. will consist of three additions totaling 15,600 SF. 8.500 SF is an addition to the passenger holding area (which makes flying sound about as comfortable as it feels), 5,400 SF for additional bagging screening space and office space for the TSA and for airlines, and 1,700 SF by the main entrance for expanded passenger circulation and ticket counter space.

– Apron reconstruction, 40,000 SF. The apron is the area where planes park, refuel, and where some passenger loading/unloading takes place.

– Utilities replacement, interior “building enhancements”, one new passenger boarding bridge, and refurbishment of the existing boarding bridge.

– Installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system using 40 underground wells, 350-400 feet deep, and a closed-loop piping system. The operation is similar to a heat pump system, using the earth’s latent heat as a reservoir. The ground disturbance area to install the wells will be about 15,000 SF (~0.35 acres).

– Installation of overhead canopies with solar panels in the airport parking lot.

-Construction of a new 5,000 SF customs facility. The facility will be a one-story masonry structure with steel framing. The facility will accommodate no more than twenty passengers, and is exclusively tailored towards international business visitors – it’s been previously stated that business executives and Asian visitors, who often come in via Canada, have expressed a strong interest in private jet accommodations.

– Approximately ten new employees as a result of the terminal expansion, and six more from the construction of the new customs facility, for a total of sixteen new full-time jobs.

6. Thanks to reader Alec for this tip – a collection of contiguous Avramis Real Estate-owned Collegetown rental properties at 120 Catherine, 122 Catherine, 124 Catherine, 128 Catherine, 302 College, 304 College, and 306 College were not made available for rent for the 2019-2010 academic year. A check with sources indicates that according to the rumor mill, a buyer has them under contract, but the sale has yet to be finalized.

This is worth noting because we’re talking about a multi-million set of properties with 68 existing beds, but more importantly they have significant redevelopment potential – the lots can be consolidated into a large MU-2 zoned parcel (six floors, 100% lot coverage no parking) and a large CR-4 zoned parcel (four floors, 50% coverage, no parking)In fact, back in 2014, the Avramises proposed a two-building development that would have resulted in about 102 units and 202 beds. The Jagat Sharma-designed proposal never began formal review. The off-record commentary was that the Avramises got cold feet during the heat of the Collegetown building boom, though given their central location, these properties would be better insulated from a downturn in the student rental market than Outer Collegetown or fringe neighborhoods. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

7. We’ll wrap this up with a pair of Dryden projects. The first, 1610 Dryden Road. Most folks better remember this barn as the former Phoenix Old Used and Rare Books, which closed in 2015 after a 30-year run. In early 2017, a proposal came along to use the barn as a trailer sales dealership, but it did not come to be. Now, for the second time in as many months, the proposal is a veterinary clinic, “Elemental Pet Vets”. Local veterinarian Curtis Dewey and his wife Janette are proposed to renovate the 6000 SF barn with accessory parking and landscaping. The property is zoned rural residential, so any commercial plan needs a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the town of Dryden. The town planning department is generally amenable to the reuse even if out of sync with zoning, so long as the parking and accessory structures are approved by the town, the curb cut meets NYS DOT regulations, and a landscaping buffer is in place. Ithacor of Cortland will be the general contractor.

The rendering is a bit…strange, so strange that I’m still not sure if they plan on taking down the pitched roof for a flat one, or if they decided thirty minutes in their late 1990s rendering software would convey enough to get approval. Seriously, this might be one of the worst renders I’ve seen for a project, and that’s saying a lot given the number of low budget drawings that go through the boards for small projects.

Meanwhile, as previous covered by the Journal, the Laser Brewer fashion boutique at 1384 Dryden Road has closed with the retirement of Peggy Laser after forty years of business, and her son Riley is expanding his Brew 22 coffee bar, kitchen and beer taproom to fill out the 3248 SF space. This project also requires an SUP because the younger Laser is adding a drive-through window (for the coffee and baked goods, brew-thrus are illegal in New York but okay in plenty of other states). Other than that and an exterior paint job, no further structural changes are planned.

 





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

16 07 2018

The last of Visum’s trio of Collegetown projects underway is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom building at 118 College Avenue. Officially, one other Visum project has city approvals and is permitted to start construction, a close fraternal twin to 118 College just a few houses up at 126 College Avenue. However, the existing house is rented out for the academic year, so any build-out there (and Visum seems to have deep enough pockets to eventually do it, all things considered) will not begin until June 2019 at the earliest.

As with 210 Linden, Romig General Contractors is in charge of the buildout, and Taitem Engineering is doing the structural engineering – as with Visum’s other projects designed by STREAM Collaborative, the building is built to be net-zero energy capable. Using electric heating and appliances, energy efficient fixtures, low-E windows, double-stud exterior walls and high grade insulation creates a very high degree of energy efficiency that they hope to tie into an off-site solar array, offsetting the carbon footprint of the building and its use.

118 College still has another floor to go before it’s topped out, and the mechanicals will be hidden inside the historically-inspired “Italianate cupola” penthouse. Water and sewer service was installed this past week. I’m uncertain this one will be ready in time for returning Cornell students late next month, though it’s not impossible given that it’s a relatively small wood-frame structure. So far, with the rough window openings I’m seeing one substantial difference from the renders – the windows on the wings of the front facade are smaller than originally planned.