News Tidbits 1/20/17: A Week Late and A Day Early

20 01 2017

1. In the town of Ulysses, work continues on a rezoning and reimagining of the hamlet of Jacksonville. The town held a meeting for public feedback this past Thursday. For those who are unfamiliar, Jacksonville is a cluster of a few dozen houses and a few small businesses about two-thirds of the way up Route 96 from Ithaca to Trumansburg. The town is working with local urban planning firm Randall + West to redevelop the hamlet, which has been plagued in recent decades with not just the standard rural upstate flight, but total disinvestment in some parts as a result of a massive gas spill in the late 1970s that poisoned the wells of neighboring properties, which Exxon bought and left in a state of low, sporadic maintenance.

However, some areas are served by municipal water systems, and the town is looking at expanding the hamlet zone, and creating a hamlet center zone in the hopes that they can give the hamlet “quality growth” and a Trumansburg-like flavor – small shops and density at the core, and somewhat walkable for basic errands, with sidewalks and interconnected streets. It’s a bit reminiscent the old “nodes” concept pushed by the county about a decade ago, but with more emphasis on walkability. The zoning brief shows participants have expressed a preference towards small-lot houses and 2-4 floor mixed use. With the latest public meeting completed, the plan is to have a zoning draft ready by March.

For the record, Ulysses permited 11 new homes in 2016, so even if the revised Jacksonville hamlet zoning becomes more accommodating, don’t expect a boomtown.

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2. From the IURA Neighborhood Investment Committee agenda, a few more details about Habitat for Humanity’s plans for 402 South Cayuga Street. Four units, $720,000 construction cost, about $799,500 with soft costs. Savings from volunteer labor reduce the cost to $709,500. Funding comes from $100k in cash equity attained by the sale of the Morris Avenue townhouses, $300k in grants and $120k in HUD funding. Private donors and grants are expected to contribute about $189k. The initial design and land purchases expenses are being covered with funds from the $50,000 sale of a 32-acre parcel in Trumansburg for public green space. With multiple transactions required before anything can move forward, the plan is to break ground in June 2018 with construction lasting from 18-24 months.

The units will be sold to families making 30-60% of local AMI (i.e. $16-$32k/year) who put in the requisite sweat labor and take approved home-ownership and finance courses. The units will be solar-capable, though they’re still debating if the panels will be installed by Habitat or the responsibility of owners. By the way, the bright colors of the units are intentional.

The committee has said this project pretty much checks off every box on their want list, and Habitat for Humanity has been named preferred developer; contingent on approvals, the IURA will sell the property to the non-profit for $32,000.

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3. For those that might have missed it, the Times’ new journo, Matt Butler, did a nice piece on TCAction’s Amici House development. The 23-unit project will be up for prelim approval at this month’s Planning Board meeting. In the piece, TCAction Director Lee Dillon notes that it’s not strictly for drug rehab, it’s for homeless youth regardless of the presence of addiction. The project also provides a low-cost childcare center with five HeadStart classrooms able to support 40-45 kids. Apart from a couple of concerns and complaint, reactions have been generally receptive to the plan, which will be located at 701 Spencer Road on the southern edge of the city.

As a former Head Start student, I never knew it was geared towards low-income families until I was in high school. There’s a lot of real, tangible value to Head Start as an early education program, especially in a community like Ithaca where the school district the kids enter into is capable and well-regarded. I applaud the Amici House project and look forward to its construction.

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4. Tiny Timbers is getting quite creative. In addition to the five existing designs, Buzz Dolph’s team, working with architect Noah Demarest, have rolled out two new designs. The first is a one-story, two-bedroom house which looks to be in the 630 SF range, with the option of deleting the second bedroom available. The second design is called “big cube”, with a 21′ x 21′ footprint (two stories, 882 SF), slightly larger than the 18′ x 18′ regular cube. The website seems to be down for an update at the moment, but the 3D panorama still works.

The town of Dryden has granted approval to the Varna site, so at this point marketing and sales of the home sites should be getting underway soon. If successful, Tiny Timbers could be a solution to meeting an underserved and difficult-to-serve segment of the Ithaca market – new, modestly-priced homes.

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5. Here’s the funding application for the first stages of the Tompkins County Heritage Center. The request is for $35,500 from the legislature. That would cover community presentations, legal fees for partnership agreements, a retail space plan, branding language and design, concept overview, website, floor plans, exhibit design and the launch of a capital campaign later this year (May for the silent campaign, October for the public campaign). Along with the capital campaign, primary funding may come in part from the $500 million URI fund that the state awarded to the Southern Tier back in 2015. The History Center and its partners are exploring some of the way they can reuse the 18,000 SF space currently occupied by Tompkins Trust; for example, multimedia presentations in the former bank vaults. STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the new floor plans, STREAM will work with St. John Design Group to do the branding, and Todd Zwigard Architects will handle exhibit design. The Solstice Group will be providing guidance in assembling and running the capital campaign.

To be frank, I’m still not sold on the idea of the Heritage Center being a driver of tourism itself, but I could see it being an enhancement to downtown Ithaca’s other offerings, as well as a gateway for visitors staying at the new hotels near or soon to be open within a couple blocks of the site: “Come for the colleges, wineries and gorges, but check this out while you’re here, you just might find other things you want to do and see”.

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6. The initial December 2016 jobs reading of 73,800 rounds out the 2016 jobs reports. Tallying up the average, the initial estimate for the Ithaca metro for 2016 is 71,600, an increase of 1.7% from last year’s average of 70,400. As always, take the initial estimates with a grain of salt, since they’re liable to be adjusted a fair amount in the big March revision. However, should they hold up, it gives Ithaca the highest percent growth of any New York State metro in the past year (although for the record, NYC added 1.1%, or 109,000 jobs in the past 12 months, basically an Ithaca and a half). For reference, the 2011 jobs average was 66,200, and the 2006 estimate was 62,600.

With the exception of those neighborhoods closest to the universities, the biggest driver of the housing affordability crisis is not student population growth, which was about 196 over the past year (+285 Cornell, -89 IC). It’s the people relocating to/near Ithaca for work. That doesn’t capture the imagination and emotion as much as saying the city’s being overrun by obnoxious 20-year olds.

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7. Not everything recorded in an interview makes it into Voice articles due to space constraints. Here are some transcribed notes from the “State of the State Theatre” piece that didn’t make the final cut:

Q: Where do you see things going in the next 15 years? What will the State Theatre of 2030 be like?

Doug Levine: We’d be fresh off celebrating our hundred year anniversary! They don’t build theaters like this anymore, we’ve made a lot of improvements to the building, we’ve completely renovated the restrooms. Technologically, we’ll be a lot more advanced, paperless ticketing will be a seamless transaction. We want to maintain the building charm, it’s just a grand palace, but behind the scenes, we’re getting more efficient and innovative, we’ve upgraded to LEDs, and the stage sound and lights will be a lot more cutting-edge, and we’d like to be more energy efficient. I would like to see more flexible seating in 15 years. We’d stay with DSP [Dan Smalls Presents] long-term, that’s worked out really well for us. We’re going in a good direction and I want to keep building on that success.

Q: Dovetailing off that, Ithaca is one of the few growing areas of upstate, and it’s increasingly seen as a tourism and leisure destination. Do you see ways for the State to tap into that? What other opportunities do you see (I noticed something called Ticketfly)?

DL: Conferences are a growing opportunity, the growing economy has led to a spike in conferences from all over the state wanting to come here, and those thinking creatively reach out to us, we had 2-3 last year and [we have] more planned, they’ll use us and Cinemapolis, it’s never going to be a big component but it’s nice to have those groups coming in. We average over 50,000 a year through our doors, 40% from beyond Tompkins County – New York, Philadelphia, Canada.

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8. It looks like the town of Ithaca wants to extend their two-family home moratorium beyond the initial 9 months. 9 months was explicitly chosen after considerable concern from developers and homebuilders last Spring stemming from the initially-proposed 12 months, which would have impacted two construction seasons. The town doesn’t even provide a new timeline, it leaves a blank next to 2017. Really burning through the goodwill here.

 

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8. Looks like a rather luckluster agenda for the planning board next Tuesday. A bunch of projects up for preliminary and/or final approval. These meetings could start becoming very light on substance if there isn’t more in the pipeline. Here’s the schedule:

1. Agenda Review              6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor    6:01

3. Site Plan Review
A. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center                               6:10
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (TC Action)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
B. Project: City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)       6:30
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Consideration of Preliminary Approval

C. Project: College Townhouse Project 7:00
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

D. Project: Apartments (5 Units) 7:30
Location: 126 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

E. Project: Apartments (9 Units) 7:50
Location:210 Linden Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

F. 107 S Albany St – Sketch Plan 8:10

Presumably, the Stavropouloses are heading back for some type of major revision to their 6-unit, 9-bedroom proposal. The previous plan was an addition onto the back of the existing century-old property. We’ll see what is changed, and by how much. Zoning is CBD-60 – five floors, no parking.
G. 821 Cliff Street – Parking for Business in a Residential Zone 8:30

Parking for the medical office building at 821 Cliff Street; perhaps an expansion to help market it, as I see postings for its space scattered throughout commercial listings. Nearby properties are vacant land.

4. Zoning Appeal: 8:50
#3056, Area Variance, 301 E State St.

5.Old/New Business:
A. Sidewalk on Worth Street -Planning Board Resolution to Board of Public Works
B. 2017 Planning Division Work Plan – Planning Board Comments
C. Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House)

Regarding 5B., Apparently the city is still having discussions with Fane regarding a development of 330 College Avenue, the former Green Cafe on the SW corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road in inner Collegetown. I write “a” redevelopment because the previous 12-story proposal didn’t look like it was going to make friends and influence people. Also on the long-term agenda are the Maguire plans for the Carpenter Business Park, Ithaca Gun, and Chain Works, which is still undergoing environmental review. Those are going to be long slogs, so don’t worry about missing anything.





Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 1/2017

8 01 2017

And to think that a year ago about this time, Collegetown Terrace’s Building 7 was just an excavated trench.

On the outside, facade installation continues. It looks like that, along with the fish scales and aluminum panels, there might be a dark blue fiber cement siding not unlike that seen on the smaller buildings lining East State Street. The east cinder block stairwell seen in November’s photos has been wrapped in waterproofing and is now receiving its exterior finishes. Most of the windows have been fitted at this point. The AC units have yet to be installed, and from what could be seen through the windows and openings, the inside has had drywall hung in some locations, but is still down to the stud walls in other sections. There are a couple of architectural quirks that give the building a little bit of visual interest – for instance, the reverse-pitch on the roof where Valentine Place terminates, probably indicating a stairwell or landing area, breaks up the monotony of the wall. I really like the curtain-wall glass used for the amenities/common area at the southwest corner of the structure.

A pine tree on the roof is a traditional way to celebrate the “topping out” of the building.

By the way, I have been wrong – the fish scales are in fact metal, their finish coat just makes them feel like vinyl. According to a trade industry website, they are “0.032-aluminum (0.032” thickness), diamond-shaped, flat metal CastleTop Shingles from ATAS International Inc. of Allentown, Pennsylvania. ikon.5 architects selected three standard colors-Hartford Green, Patina Green and Hemlock Green-and four designer colors-Adobe Dust, Metallic Gold, Acorn Yellow and Louisburg Green.” It looks like the shingles are more commonly advertised for roofing, although their interlocking tabs allow them to be used for walls as well. The three shades of green on Building 7 are the three standard colors, logic being that designer color shingles likely cost more and were used more sparingly. The other four show up on Building 3 where it approaches East State Street.

 

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News Tidbits 1/7/17: Storage and Storefronts

7 01 2017

1. Like a phoenix, it looks like Wings Over Ithaca is coming back. The franchise, whose Ithaca location was shut down after the owner was charged with 26 counts of tax evasion, will be operated under a new ownership consisting of four young Cornell alumni from the New York City area. However, while the ownership is changing, the management team for the eatery will be largely the same. The new incarnation will also be in a new location – Wings, which called East Hill Plaza its home for fifteen years, will now be located in a 1,743 SF retail storefront at 119-121 Dryden Road in Inner Collegetown. The property, owned by Ithaca Renting, previously held a Greek restaurant and then a tobacco shop, but it’s been more often vacant than occupied over the past ten years. A new kitchen is being installed in the retail space to accommodate. Expect an early Spring opening.

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2. This sounds promising, but I’m not comfortable with the precision of the details. According to Cassie Negley over at the Times, Washington D.C.-based Distributed Sun LLC, a rapidly-expanding solar energy company, wants to build two large-scale solar installations in the town of Dryden. One would be on Cornell land south of Route 366 on Turkey Hill Road, the other near the Willow Glen Cemetery on non-Cornell private land. The company is familiar with the area, as they are Cornell’s partner on the large-scale array recently installed near the county airport. The company also has plans for seven arrays on four parcels in Spencer in Tioga County, and they’re working with Cornell on solar installations for the tech school down on NYC’s Roosevelt Island.

The topic of discussion is whether or not a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) could be reached for the installation – solar installations are already exempt from NYS taxes, but school districts and towns can levy their own. Since the Cornell property doesn’t pay taxes, a lump PILOT that covers both could actually pay more than taxing the non-exempt proposal at full value. The construction timeframe at present is April-October 2017; and, here’s the imprecise part, the arrays would create 200-250 local jobs and another 100 jobs nationwide – and, from the town minutes, that doesn’t appear to be a typo. Presumably, most of that is construction, and a few in maintenance. I’d like to see the numbers for permanent local jobs, because along with the renewable energy growth and reduced electricity costs for nearby residents, the permanent jobs would be one of the big economic selling points. Given the Mettler Toledo news a few months ago, new jobs in Dryden would be welcome.

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3. Time for some sad news – 722 University Avenue is gone. The university demolished the 5,738 SF, 116 year-old house it earlier this week. The property has a storied history as the home to several fraternities and sororities; it’s kind of a shame it wasn’t renovated to provide student housing. The university has no long-term plans to redevelop the lot.

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4. Dryden, the storage capital of Tompkins County. Across the street from the 79,000 SF Storage Squad self-storage facility under construction, 4 Season Storage is busy putting up their own addition. According to a loan filing on the 3rd, 4 Season’s new building is 12,000 SF, and the hard construction costs come in at $481,172. CFCU is the lender. The structure is already framed and is being roofed, the cross trusses already separate the exterior units (not sure if those will be climate-controlled like the interior ones). Storage Squad is further behind, a graded site and a couple of reinforced concrete walls at the moment.

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5. In case you were wondering, here are some of county administrator Joe Mareane’s planning and development goals for 2017 –

– Negotiate the purchase of the Tompkins Trust Building for use by the History Center and Heritage Education Center. Also, develop a “governance”, or operations, plan for how the facility will be managed and maintained; how space will be allocated; how rent will be determined, etc.
– Work with NYS DOT and local agencies (Planning and ITCTC) to secure funding for a Route 13 traffic study.
– Facilitate the development of a realistic business strategy that allows the Airport to continue to
serve the community and be financially self-sufficient.
– With TCAction, put plans in place for a new residential project aimed at providing a meaningful
amount of housing for the chronically homeless.
– Bring alternative plans to re-use the rear portion of the Human Services Annex to the Legislature; implement its recommendation.

There’s a possibility, based on the 2016 notes that follow, that the 24-unit Re-Use project and the housing for the chronically homeless may be two different projects – the Re-Use housing project is described as transitional re-entry housing, while the housing for the chronically homeless is said to be in the property acquisition phase – i.e. still scouting out sites, with the goal of construction within two years. They might be the same, they might not, it’s not 100% clear from the notes. As for the Human Services Annex, there have been talks for additional space for Cayuga Medical Center’s services, or space for courthouse functions, and a decision is expected in Q1 2017.





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 12/2016

18 12 2016

The Collegetown construction boom continues. In 2017, the city can expect at least five projects to open in the neighborhood, with a net gain of about 118 beds and $16 million in assessed tax value** – a two-family house at 123 Eddy Street; Cornell’s, 6-story, 76,000 SF Breazzano Center for its Executive MBA Program; the 5-unit, 28-bed 126 College Avenue;  the 9-unit, 36-bed 210 Linden Avenue; and lastly, the 5-story, 74 bed 201 College Avenue. Which has also been by far the most contentious one.

The project was first proposed in March – and from beginning to end, the only substantial change was a mild revision to its upper floors to create a setback as a modern deference to the Grandview House further up the block. That resulted in a loss of two bedrooms, dropping the plan from 76 to 74 beds.

For Todd Fox, who proposed the building through his company Visum Development Group, there wasn’t much room for revisions. He was going to, and paid, a premium on the property – $2.65 million, formally deeded in June by its previous owner, a small-scale local landlord who owned it for about seven years prior. The site held an early 1900s apartment house with three large spruce trees at the front, which became another source of contention during the debate.

To make the project financially feasible, he needed to build to the maximum 5 floors and 70 feet allowed by the site’s MU-1 zoning (the project would have been outright impossible before the 2014 CAFD zoning overhaul, due to the parking requirement), and building micro-units with mezzanines would make the project pencil out – the profit value of the vertical space was effectively maximized. Working with architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, he proposed a fairly modern building with fiber-cement panels, woven bamboo boards and cedar accents.

However, one thing that did not factor in to the calculations was the neighbor of 201, 203 College’s Neil Golder. Neil is a 44-year resident of Collegetown, having moved in in 1972, and buying his house in the early 1990s. As the kitchen manager for Loaves and Fishes and a former Common Councilor for the 4th Ward, he’s well known among the Ithaca community and is well connected to its grassroots organizations, as well as the political movers and shakers. By any account, Neil and his late partner Kathy Yoselson are beloved stalwarts of Ithaca’s progressive scene. However, Neil has generally not been a fan of development, particularly Collegetown’s (with one notable exception – 307 College).

What 201’s debate boils down to is a clash of two strong personalities. Todd Fox, who is probably the most gung-ho and financially adept developer one will find in the city of gorges; and Neil Golder, who was determined as hell to stop the project planned for the house next door, which wasn’t just a development, it was a project that he deeply felt would be a major detriment to his quality of life. Hence, Neil launched the group “Save the Soul of Collegetown“, under the auspices of protecting all of Collegetown, but mostly as a personal vehicle to drum up support to battle Fox and his apartment building.

The point of this summary isn’t to summarize every detail. You can read the 580+ page summary from the city, or all the Voice articles here. But there are a few key plot points.

After review and a negative declaration of environmental significance (meaning, effectively mitigated), he project received preliminary approval in June, and the city and the planning board were promptly slapped with a lawsuit by Golder. The stated case was that the environmental assessment was inadequate and that the project needed an EIS. Although it was quite a stretch given past precedent, it did make the planning board quite uncomfortable. John Schroeder, a longtime board member who served with Neil on the council, did a very deep analysis of the 2014 zoning code and determined that the building may be illegal on technicality.

That technicality was about building facade length, and whether Bool Street was a primary facade – if it was, it would legally have been required to be two separate buildings for having too long of a continuous face to the street. The zoning code, however, illustrated that an approach with indents such as 201’s were acceptable, and the city planning department, in their pre-site plan review assessment and meetings with Fox, had signed off on the plan as legal and acceptable. And they maintained that it was acceptable. So there ended up being a battle between the planning board, which is appointed though knowledgeable community members, and the planning department, which consists of vetted city staff. These kinds of battles are extremely rare, and it is likely that 201 was the first in decades.

While this debate raged, the building far exceeded its intended start date of July 2016. As a result, the site went on the market, and the plans were cast into jeopardy.

Although Fox and his team wanted to avoid a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals, it was determined by the board to be the only legitimate course of action. The BZA had to decide whether or not the project was legal. And, in a 3-1 decision in October, they decided it was legal, due to ambiguity in the code, and a lack of timeliness on the part of the planning board, as the legality was not considered until after months of review, after preliminary approval was granted. After the BZA ruling, work on the building began the next day.

No one walked away from this one looking good; One reader emailed in and compared it to a Clinton vs. Trump vote. The debate sent a chill down the development community, and created additional bitterness for some of the old-timers who felt Ithaca was selling out to developers and student interests. The planning department and board were also left with some resentment towards the other; now that the code has been clarified, one can hope further battles like this can be avoided.

Anyway, the building itself. Here are the floorplans. The mechanical room, a trash room, interior bike storage, gym and storage space occupy the basement. Four three-bedroom and four four-bedoom units (28 beds), with about 1,000 SF each, occupy the first and second floors. The third and fourth floors have micro-units, 16 of which will be about 392 SF studios, 8 of which will be 670 SF with two bedrooms, give or take a few feet for each (32 beds). The top floor has nearly the same layout as three and fourth, with eight micro-units of about 392 SF and 2 two-bedrooms of about 670 SF. However, the westernmost two units are studios, which have balconies and are about 400 SF each. So, 14 beds on the top floor, for a total of 74. The smaller units make use of mezzanine spaces and netting to increase usable space.

Fox’s rental company, Modern Living Rentals, is handling the leases. The units are currently listed from $1,670/month to $4,170/month, depending on size and location.

In the photos below, note that the excavated portion is only half of the building footprint – the basement only occupies the western half of the structure. The eastern half is slab-on-grade (Collegetown has more stable soils than most of the valley locations, so multi-story slab foundation buildings are feasible). The elevator core will be in the middle bridge of the “H”-shaped structure. Foundation forms are up and the concrete is being poured – through the fence, you can see one of the concrete footers already in place.

William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton, who just finished up the Marriott downtown, is the general contractor for the approximately $6 million project, which is paying a premium to meet the opening date of August 2017.

**If you add in Phase III of Collegetown Terrace, which is on the fringe of what’s normally considered Collegetown, raise those numbers to 462 beds and $71 million.

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News Tidbits 12/17/16: So Much In One Week

17 12 2016

1. For the developers out there, it looks like your next opportunity just opened up in Collegetown. For sale are three houses on Linden Avenue – 6-unit, 8-bedroom 230 Linden, for sale at $675,000 (taxed at $350,000), neighboring 4-unit, 8-bedroom 228 Linden at $700,000 (taxed at $460,000), and two doors down, 2-unit, 11-bedroom 224 Linden at $525,000 (taxed at $400,000). All three are somewhat run-down student apartment houses on the cusp of inner and outer Collegetown – as such, their zoning is CR-4, which allows four floors, 50% lot coverage, and has no parking requirement.

The properties were all purchased in the mid-1970s by a small-time local landlord, who was killed in a car accident two years ago. According to the listings, the seller’s agent is a family member, and the units are leased until late 2017 or 2018, meaning that if one were to purchase with an eye towards rapid redevelopment, they would have to negotiate with the tenants, or wait it out. That being said, there’s a lot of potential here, particularly if a buyer combines 228 and 230 into one lot. The city designed the CR-4 zoning with Linden Avenue specifically in mind – the concept render is a northward perspective of a revitalized Linden Avenue. They’re a lot of money, but there could be some interesting news down the line.

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2. Also in Collegetown, here are a couple of concept color renders of 210 Linden Avenue (left) and 126 College Avenue, courtesy of Visum Development’s webpage (currently down, cached link here). I confess to be more of a warm colors person, but assuming these are fiber cement boards and wood trim (or fiber cement that looks like wood), they could turn out quite nice.

On a related note, Visum’s Fox and partner Charlie O’Connor have started earth moving for their townhouse project at 902 Dryden Road in Varna. As it turns out, it is a very difficult site to get photos of, despite its easily accessible location. I’ll do a more in-depth shortly, but the units should be ready by August.

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3. Fulfilling a promise to Fred, here’s the rather upscale McDonald’s/Fasttrak combo under construction North Road in the village. There is a billboard on 366 advertising for new hires for when they reopen, but unfortunately, it was too difficult to attempt a photo of the board and render. The building’s exterior is largely complete, and the gas station canopy is framed – late winter opening? The new construction has a price tag of about $500k. Honestly, for a roadside stop, it looks pretty nice.

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4. More on Dryden, with a couple houses of the week. Looks like some modulars are going into the Maple Ridge development – one recently completed, one in the works. The open space to the right of house number two, the Cape Cod, will host a garage. The land for house one sold to Kenn-Schl Inc, a regional modular home builder and seller, in June for $48k. House two’s land was sold to a Rochester man for $39k in October. At this rate, Maple Ridge is going to fill out their 15-lot phase one in another year or two. Although waylaid by the Great Recession, the big plan is for three phases and 51 lots.

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5. On the 15th, the construction loan for the William George Agency’s new 1-story, 24-unit dormitory was filed to the county records office. The $3 million loan comes courtesy of …. A trip to the property didn’t pan out, it didn’t look like anything was underway even though the building permits were filed with the town of Dryden a few months ago. Then again, as a facility for troubled youth, it’s not the most welcoming place for a random visitor to be taking photos.

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6. So what’s being discussed by the towns? In the town of Ithaca next week, a lot line adjustment between two houses, and more Maplewood discussion, with consideration of preliminary site plan approval. Meanwhile, the town of Dryden has cell towers galore, as well as revised approvals for Storage Squad (1401 Dryden) and Tiny Timbers; plans are in the pipe line for a 7-lot subdivision of the Dryden Lake Golf Course, and a possible sewer extension study for NYS Route 366 east of the NYSEG building.

Image Property of HOLT Architects

7. Speaking of sewer, the town and village of Lansing are negotiating sewer deals so that the town can use village lines to help accommodate future growth. Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star has the story. the report says the town is asking for 700 units of capacity, where a unit is 328 gallons. 700 units would also put the Cayuga Heights plant at capacity. The town’s intent is to extend sewer capacity to encourage development along Triphammer Road (as in the town center concept shown above), with the reasoning that it’s a natural extension of established development, and would help grow the tax base in the event of the power plant closing. Not as grand as the plans that were shot down in 2007, but like the Warren Road sewer built a few years ago, it’s seen as a more organic and cost-efficient approach.

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8. There might be some of movement on Jason Fane’s Bank Tower $4 million renovation from office space to 32 apartments. The windows were inspected and tagged recently, possibly to determine what needs to be replaced where. Most of the exterior of the Commons-facing building will receive a cleaning and re-freshening, with the bulk of the work geared towards the interior.

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9. In economic news, 24/7 Wall Street is reporting that Ithaca has the 25th best job growth in the nation from November 2015 – November 2016. 2,200 jobs equates to 4.4%, by their measure.

Hate to burst the bubble, but don’t buy into it just yet. Initial estimates can be way off due to statistically insignificant sample size for small communities. It may hold, it may not. Wait until March and see if the numbers get revised.

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10. Interesting meeting next week for the city Planning Board. Amici House and Maplewood are up for final approval, and a couple revitalized or new projects. Here’s the scoop:

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor
3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Maplewood Redevelopment Project 6:10
Location: Veteran’s Ave. (between Maple Ave. & Mitchell St.)
Applicant: Scott Whitham, Whitham Planning & Design, LLC, for Cornell University
Actions: Adoption of Findings, Public Hearing, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

The Town Planning Board filed a Notice of Completion on November 30th, 2016, which can be viewed here: http://www.town.ithaca.ny.us/major-projects/maplewood. The Town Board will consider adoption of a Findings Statement on December 20, 2016.

The city will specifically sign off on the bus stop and landscaped area at the northwest corner. STREAM Collaborative is the landscape architect.

B. Project: City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail) 6:30
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

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C. Project: Amici House & Childcare Center 6:50
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Tweaked since last time – a little more glass in the stairwell, and the roofline of the classroom building has been broken up with three distinct gables.

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D. Project: College Townhouse Project 7:10
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Public Hearing Determination of Environmental Significance

The big changes appears to be the switch from boxy bay window projections to curvy ones. Not sure if it works, given all the other boxiness. But on the bright side, we now know what the rear apartment building looks like:

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E. Project: Apartments (5 Units) 7:30
Location: 126 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

This is what I get for writing things over the week rather than all at once. Confirmed fiber cement panels (wood-like and Allura olive green) and a very light yellow Nichiha panel.

F. Project: Apartments (9 Units) 7:50
Location: 210 Linden Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Charcoal grey fiber cement panels, light grey panels, natural wood trim and red doors. The base will be stucco.

G. 323 Taughannock – Apartment (Redesign) – Sketch Plan 8:10

Steve Flash’s 21-unit apartment building for Inlet Island was approved two years ago, but has not moved forward due to soil issues and parking costs. This new version is still a housing proposal, but I’m hearing for-sale units that may be condo-like. The design will also be new, but the aesthetic will be similar – it will once again be crafted by STREAM Collaborative.
H. Ithaca Reuse Center – Sketch Plan 8:30

I know about this project because a county staffer emailed me by accident. But without official docs, I wasn’t about to report on anything. The plan calls for a mixed-use building, not unlike that seen in design concepts a couple of years ago. TCAction and INHS are involved, so there is an affordable housing component – probably looking at mixed-use overall.

4. Zoning Appeals 8:50
• 3053, Sign Variance, 310 Taughannock Blvd.
• 3055, Area Variance, 113 Farm St.
• 3056, Area Variance, 301 E State St.

5. Old/New Business:
A. Update — Chainworks DGEIS – Transportation Comments/Responses – yes, it’s still going.
B. Update — City/Town Joint Planning Board Meeting Jan 31, 2017 – Maplewood?
C. Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House) – Let’s see how this goes…





News Tidbits 12/10/16: Missing Out On the Fun

10 12 2016

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1. We’ll start off out in the town of Lansing this week with a new business startup looking to climb to the top of the pack. Reach Works, the brainchild of an academic family that relocated to Ithaca, just earned final site plan approval to build a professional-grade climbing wall and facility at 1767 East Shore Drive, next to The Rink. The $1.2 million, 10,400 SF building will have a noticeable impact on the Lansing shoreline, as the building will reach 56 feet in height. South Hill’s George Breuhaus will be the architect in charge.

According to the Times’ Cassandra Negley, the owner looked at Chain Works for an opportunity, but those plans fell through. The finalizing of the wall design is underway now, and Reach Works hopes to begin construction in March and be open by next fall. Between the pro shop and the wall, they hope to employ five full-time and ten part-time, with most making about the living wage of $15/hour (although, the application on file with the town says six employees). The hope is that it also becomes a regional attraction, drawing in hardcore climbers from the Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton metros. Best of luck to them.

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2. Maplewood is almost ready. The city is set to give its final approval this month, and the town is expected to give preliminary approval before the Christmas holiday. The latest changes to the FEIS include the following details:

– The amount of money for traffic calming measures has been increased from $20,000 to $100,000. $30,000 goes to the city and town, and $70,000 will be allocated by EdR and Cornell for streetscape improvements that they will build.
– Recycled building materials will be incorporated into the buildings.
– A revised estimate states that 100 to 150 construction staff will be on site during construction. They will park behind the East Hill farmer’s market space and are expected to walk over to the site. They will work on weekends, with noisy work commencing after 8 AM.
– The units closest to the East Hill Rec Way have been moved another four feet back from the trail.
– Initial property taxes in 2018 will be $2.25 million. IT is assumed they will go up 3% each year thereafter.

Oh, and the questioner who freaked out over the East Hill Village plan online – that SWA plan dates from about 2007.

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3. Cayuga Med’s plans for a 6,000 SF addition to their Behavioral Health Unit has been approved. At this point, the project needs a minor zoning variance for height,and then CMC has to apply for certification from the New York State Office of Mental Health for the facility to be approved- specialized medical facilities, like CMC and Brookdale, have to prove there is a need before they’re allowed to build. The hospital hopes to open the project to bidding early next year.

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4. So ICYMI, the Masonic Temple rehabilitation is moving forward. Six months later than anticipated, but it is moving forward. The project is valued somewhere north of $1 million. There is one other project on the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) agenda that I thought of writing an article about, but decided it was too minor – the Alpha Phi Alpha house at 421 North Albany will be doing a reconstruction of a non-historically significant rear porch. If it were a full reno, I’d do a write-up for the Voice.

Also on the ILPC agenda – a discussion of Collegetown Historic Resources. I have the feeling this is being spurred by Novarr’s 119-125 College Avenue project, the College townhouses. Three historically significant but non-landmarked apartment houses were taken down to make way for the project, which is expected to go up for preliminary approval later this month. The city did a review after the document was first published in 2009, and landmarked the Snaith House at 140 College and Grandview House at 201 College – they could be considering making a move towards landmarking other properties – some of the historic structures on the 400 Block of College Avenue, and the 100 blocks of Oak Avenue, College Avenue and Linden Avenue are possibilities. Novarr has another project rumored for 215 College Avenue, but that building, dating from the 1870s and renovated/expanded numerous times, was not on the 2009 list.

5. Staying Collegetown, a big sale this week – 113 College Avenue sold for $1.7 million. That’s a very impressive price for an outer Collegetown apartment house – the tax assessment has it pegged at $610,000. The bones of the 13-bedroom, 3,738 SF building date from the late 1800s, but like its twin next door, it’s been the subject of a very unsympathetic renovation (records suggest the renos were done around 1980). The house has been owned by the Tallman family since 1987.

The property is zoned CR-4 – four floors, no parking required. CR-4 is the same zoning as Novarr’s townhouses and Visum’s latest pair of proposals. And, because what goes around comes around, the buyer is the same LLC that sold Visum’s Todd Fox 201 College Avenue for $2.65 million back in June – Russell Johnson’s PBC & Associates LLC. He also picked up a CR-3 building at 233 Linden Avenue for $750k back in the fall. Price suggests redevelopment, but the buyer isn’t known for that – he might have just paid big for a long-term investment. TL;DR, he might be planning something, he might not; we’ll see.

On a side note, the county’s going to make some money raising the property tax assessment on this one – offhand, I’ve noticed most of the houses sold this week (excluding a couple in Ithaca city) have gone at or well under assessment, which is a bit unusual, and probably not something that the tax assessor’s office wants to see.

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6. Good news and bad news from the Regional Economic Development Council awards. The good news is, the area’s getting money. Cargill gets $2 million towards their salt mine project (they requested $5 million), Cornell gets $250,000 for a startup business alliance, County Waste gets $355k for a food waste transfer station at the recycling center site, and the Sciencenter gets $150k for renovations. Several smaller awards are to hire staff for cultural and arts programs.

Now the bad news – one project, marked priority, was not funded – the Collegetown Travel Corridor proposed by the city of Ithaca to connect Downtown and Collegetown. I asked to make sure, and the Planning Department was just a little deflated in their response. Major bummer. I don’t doubt the value of arts programs, but $38,500 for a theatre director and $41,000 for a workforce expansion isn’t sustainable, it’s one year’s salary. That’s nice, but how does that benefit the area in the long-term? The Travel Corridor would have further encouraged urban development downtown and Collegetown that could have indirectly supported the arts through patronage, or directly through taxes that are used to fund local-level grants.





News Tidbits 12/4/2016: Not Forgotten

4 12 2016

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1. It looks like the Old Library proposal will be coming up to bat one last time. Developer Travis Hyde Properties and its project team will present one last major revision at the January Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) meeting. Things are well behind schedule at this point, as the ILPC continues to take issue with the old library proposal – which at last check, has had seven separate designs proposed and shot down for one reason or another. The Times reports that senior services non-profit Lifelong is one again involved in the project, although it had never really left – they will control the community room on the first floor, and will receive the revenues generated from renting it to outside entities. The last iteration may once again include first-floor interior parking, since that was the sticking point at the October ILPC meeting – the plan for design #8 is to increase parking from the proposed 10 spaces, to 25-30 spaces. If the January concept is acceptable, or at least close to ILPC approval, Travis Hyde will pursue the 55-60 unit plan; otherwise, it’s over.

The county had hoped that the sale of the property would generate $925,000 at the outset, as well as future tax revenues; the current building’s mechanical systems are past their useful life and in need of replacement, a cost likely to exceed a million dollars. With no sale, and a perceived “toxic” site for development due to opposition both during the RFP stage and during this review process, the county and city will be in a less than enviable position if things fall through.

At the housing summit, the old library came up as a point of concern and contention; JoAnn Cornish, the city’s planning director, suggested at one that if the county had been willing to part with the property for a token $1, than the need to build up on the site wouldn’t be so great. I happened to be taking notes next to a county legislator and Old Library Committee member who muttered that that was a terrible idea and Cornish had no idea what she was talking about. Anyone looking for common ground is going to have a real hard time finding it.

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2. It looks like Cayuga Medical Associates’ plan for Community Heights is nearly good to go. Only a couple minor revisions were presented at the Cayuga Heights Planning Board’s meeting on the 28th – a rear (east) driveway, sidewalk work and a detention basin. Cover letter here, updated site plan here, and a letter noting a potential change in hosted medical specialties here. The $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road is 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space. The initial presentation in March called for a 3-story, 39,500 SF structure. Two buildings, a one-story office building and a vacant drive-thru bank branch, would be demolished.

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3. Now for something that’s a little less certain – the 400-406 Stewart Avenue reconstruction. One can’t call it the Chapter House reconstruction, because there’s no certainty that that is what will happen. Nick Reynolds has the full story over at the Times. The Chapter House’s intended space on the first floor is being advertised by Pyramid Brokerage for $35/SF, double the bar’s rent from before the fire. The owner of the Chapter House referred to all this pre-development as a “money pit” as the building still has no anchor tenant, but he was still open to being a part of the rebuild. In short, it looks like we’re seeing some bickering between the developer and potential tenant spill out into the public domain, and we’ll see how it plays out.

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4. At the city planning board meeting last week, preliminary approval was granted to Charlie O’Connor’s four two-family homes at 607 South Aurora. City Centre also continued with its review, with comments focusing on sustainability and solar panels. Changes to the project are minor at this point, and we’re probably close to the final product at this stage. Amici House was also debated, with neighbors expressing concerns about the size, and uncertainty on whether TCAction can handle 23 homeless or vulnerable youth.

I’ll register a small complaint – the north stairwell of the residential building. I’d encourage TCAction and Schickel Architecture to explore using smoked or tinted glass to reduce glare, rather than bricking it in. It makes the building look cold and industrial, which seems just as unfriendly to neighbors as glare would be.

The board also went ahead with lead agency on Novarr’s College Townhouses project, and was shown brief presentation on two Visum Development Group projects, 126 College and 210 Linden. More on those here.

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5. The Times included a quick Collegetown construction rundown about a week and a half ago. Two quick addendums –
A. Still no plan for 330 College Avenue, since Fane did the development version of trolling by proposing a 12-story building in a 6-story zone, and was told there was “no way in hell” it would happen;
B. Nothing scheduled for 302-306 College Avenue, aka “Avenue 102”, until at least mid-2018. The rumor mill says the Avramis family, who proposed a two-building, 102-unit sketch plan in October 2014, are concerned about market saturation. Given Cornell’s plans to increase their enrollment by raising their incoming freshman class size from 3250 to 3500, it might be worth another look.

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6. The city has released the preliminary design guidelines from Winter & Company. The Collegetown guidelines are here, Downtown’s here. Although there are suggested rather than mandatory, in theory, a project team could use these guidelines to formulate plans that would be less likely to get hung up in the city’s project review process – one could call it “form-based code lite”. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in here, but the guidelines do promote urban-friendly and contextual designs. These are draft open to public comment – those who would like to can send their thoughts to city planner Megan Wilson at mwilson*at*cityofithaca.org by December 15th. there are some differences between existing zoning and these guidelines (for example, setbacks) that will need to be addressed at some point – the revised drafts will roll out in mid-January.

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7. Now that the county housing summit is behind us, I think that while there wasn’t any sort of huge breakthrough at the event, it was helpful to the community to have the obstacles and suggested goals shared with a large audience. Although, as county legislator Anna Kelles pointed out, it wasn’t necessarily a wide audience – renters, younger residents and lower-income individuals were not well-represented. At least for me, the big, exciting news was Cornell’s plans for new housing, which I will be writing about for the Voice later this week. While not perfect, the event did bring to light certain issues – NIMBYism can be a delicate topic in an audience like this, but one of the points that was stressed at the summit was, if you support a project, then let the governing body in charge know you support it and why. Heck, JoAnn Cornish was saying the city gets opposition emails from residents of California and Oregon. A little support from local residents, even students, reminds city staff and board members that there a variety of opinions.

I can definitely say that not everyone who attended was pro-development – after the woman behind me asked if I was a reporter (I said yes, for the Voice), she kept passing me notes like “since when did development bring property taxes down”, “developers are just in it for the money” and “Ithaca shouldn’t have to change”. I don’t think she liked my replies – the first one I wrote back a response about spreading the tax burden out with new infill development, the second I wrote “strictly speaking perhaps, but they don’t want to turn out a terrible product”, and the last, I perhaps unkindly wrote “[t]ell that to the families being priced out. Something has to change.” She got up and left shortly afterward.