News Tidbits 10/20/18

20 10 2018


1. So here’s an intriguing update to the stalled redevelopment at 413-415 West Seneca Street. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services was preparing to buy the former Ithaca Glass property and its development plans, which had hit a major snag due to structural issues with the existing building, and continued financial issues with pursuing of a completely new build (bottom). INHS was planning on purchasing the site and going with the original plan, which would have added four units to the existing two apartments and vacant commercial space. But someone outbid them for the site. The buyer, who has not finalized the purchase, may elect to use either of the plans designed by STREAM Collaborative, or pursue a different project at the site.

While that plan may have fallen through, it looks like the INHS Scattered Site 2 rehab/redevelopment plan will be moving forward following approval of amendments to the funding plan by the IURA and Common Council. The revised plan will dedicate funds toward the replacement of fourteen units (four vacant due to structural issues) in three buildings to be replaced with a new thirteen-unit apartment building at 203-208 Elm Street on West Hill, and major rehabiliation of four other structures (sixteen units) in Southside and the State Street Corridor.

2. Speaking of sales, here’s something to keep an eye on – the Lower family, longtime Collegetown landlords, sold a pair of prime parcels on October 4th. 216-224 Dryden Road was sold for $2.8 million, and 301 Bryant Avenue was sold for $1.4 million. Both properties were sold to LLCs whose registration address was a P.O. Box. A couple of local development firms like to use P.O. Boxes, but with nothing concrete, it’s uncertain who’s behind the purchases.

301 Bryant Avenue has some historic significance as the formal home of the Cornell Cosmopolitan Club. Founded in 1904 as a men’s organization to provide camaraderie and support for international students attending the university, the 13,204 SF, 35-bedroom structure was built in 1911 and served as the equivalent of a fraternity’s chapter house, providing a shared roof, shared meals, social events, lectures by students and faculty about other lands and cultures, and professional networking for students arriving from abroad. A women’s club was organized in 1921. As Cornell grew and different international groups founded their own organizations, the club’s purpose was superseded, and shut down in 1958. The building was purchased by the parishioners of St Catherine’s a parish center before the new one was built in the 1960s, and served as a dorm for the Cascadilla School before Bill Lower bought the building in 1973. Lower converted the structure into a six-unit apartment building, with the largest nit being eight bedrooms. With an estimated property assessment of $1.27 million, the sale appears to be for fair value – no issues, and no indications of redevelopment.

216-224 Dryden Road is much more interesting from a development perspective. 11,600 SF in three buildings (county data suggests either 14 units, or 9 units and 20 single occupancy rooms), the earliest buildings in the assemblage date from the early 1900s, but with heavy modifications and additions to accommodate student renter growth. Bill Lower bought the property way back in 1968. The properties are only assessed at $1.87 million, well below the sale price. That suggests that a buyer may be looking at redevelopment of the site. The site is in highly desirable inner Collegetown, and the zoning is certainly amenable; CR-4 zoning allows 50% lot coverage and four floors with no parking required. CR-4 offers a lot of flexibility – 119-125 College Avenue and the Lux are recent CR-4 projects.

3. The other recent set of big purchases also occurred on October 4th. “325 WEST SENECA ASSOCIATES LLC” bought 111 North Plain Street, 325 West Seneca Street, 325.5 West Seneca St (rear building of 325) and 329-31 West Seneca Street for $1.375 million. 325 West Seneca is a three-unit apartment house assessed at $200k, 325.5 West Seneca is a modest bungalow carriage house assessed at $100k, 329-331 West Seneca is a two-family home assessed at $360k, and 111 North Plain Street in a neight-unit apartment building assessed at $475k. Added up, one gets $1.135 million, which suggests the purchase price was reasonable.

Given that 327 West Seneca is currently the subject of a moderate-income redevelopment proposal from Visum, one would expect Visum to likely be behind these purchases, right? But the LLC traces back to the headquarters of a rival real estate development firm, Travis Hyde Properties. The whole thing strikes me as a little odd, but who knows, maybe Frost Travis bought the properties as stable assets rather than development sites.

4. Let’s stick with Travis Hyde Properties for a moment – here are the submissions related to his Falls Park Apartments proposal. Readers might recall this is the plan for 74 high-end senior apartments on the former Ithaca Gun site. Drawings here, 138-page submission package courtesy of TWMLA’s Kim Michaels here. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture will handle the landscape design, and newcomers WDG Architecture of Washington D.C. are designing the building.

No cost estimate has been released for the project, but buildout is expected to take 20 months. 150 construction jobs will be created during buildout, and the finished building will create four permanent jobs. The project will utilize New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (NYS BCP) tax credits. In the case of this project, the credits would be a smaller credit to help cover the costs of site remediation insurance, and a larger credit awarded by the state that would cover 10-20% of the project’s property value, depending on whether it meets certain thresholds. It is still not clear at this point if a CIITAP tax abatement will be pursued.

The 74 units break down as follows: 33 two-bedroom units (1245 SF), 9 one-bedroom units with dens (1090 SF), and 32 one-bedroom units (908 SF). All units include full-size kitchens, wood and/or natural stone finishes, and about half will have balconies. Also included in the 133,000 SF building is 7,440 of amenity space, and there will be 85 parking spaces, 20 surface and 65 in the ground-level garage.

A number of green features are included in the project, such as LED lighting, low-water plumbing fixtures, and a sophisticated Daikin AURORA VRV high-efficency HVAC system, which uses air-source heat pumps. It look like there is some natural gas involved, however, for heating the rooftop ventilation units, and in the amenity space’s fireplace.

Due to soil contamination issues, the plan is essentially to dig up the soil and cart it off to the landfill in Seneca County. The soil runs up to 11.5 feet deep, and the building foundation will be 15 feet below current surface level (about 85% of the foundation will be a shallow slab, with deeper piles near the northeast corner). As a result, some of the bedrock will be removed and disposed of as well. What soil does remain on-site will be sealed in a NYSDEC-approved cap. Concerns about VOCs in the groundwater are somewhat mitigated by the geology of the site (horizontal fractures carry the VOCs downhill), but the ground level is a ventilated garage in part to prevent sustained exposure to vapor intrusion. The project will be presented at this month’s Planning Board meeting, where the board is expected to declare itself lead agency for environmental and site plan review of the proposal.

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5. So, one of the reasons why the Voice writeup on the Carpenter Park site didn’t include building renders was because in a follow-up phone call for hashing out the emailing of PDF images, Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning was adamant they not be used, describing them as highly conceptual. He didn’t even want to pass them along out of fear they’d mislead the general public. For the merely curious, here are images taken by Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen.

The architecture firm that’s involved with the project is a newcomer to the Ithaca area – Barton Partners, which has a lot of rather high-end, traditional-looking design work scattered throughout the Northeast, as well as a new more modern designs similar to the placeholders. Can’t make any hard conclusions at this point, but a look through their portfolio gives an idea of what one might expect to see with the Carpenter Park redevelopment.

6. The former Wharton movie studio at Stewart Park is slated to become a gallery and visitor’s center, thanks to a $450,000 state grant. The building, which was the studio’s main office from 1914 to 1920, and is currently used by the city Board of Public Works, will be renovated into the Wharton Museum, with exhibit space, a public meeting room, and a terrace / seating area overlooking the lake. The project will be a joint effort by the Wharton Studio Museum and Friends of Stewart Park, with assistance from the City of Ithaca. Todd Zwigard Architects of Skaneateles (Skinny-atlas) will be in charge of designing the new museum space. It will be fairly modest in size, about 1,000 square feet, with the rest remaining for BPW use; the public works division will compensate the loss of space with an addition onto its annex nearby.

The project should dovetail nicely with a couple of other local nonprofit projects underway – the revitalization and expansion of the Stewart Park playground will give younger visitors something to do while their parents or grandparents check out the museum, and there’s potential to work with The Tompkins Center for History and Culture on joint projects that encourage visitors to pay a visit to both Downtown and the lakefront.

7. The Old Library redevelopment is once again the subject of controversy. Due to structural issues with the roof and concerns about it collapsing onto workers during asbestos abatement, the city condemned the building, which changed Travis Hyde Properties plans from sealing the building in a bubble and removing the asbestos before demolition, to tearing it down without removing asbestos from the interior first. Much of the asbestos from its late 1960s construction was removed as part of renovations in 1984, with more in the 1990s, but in areas that weren’t easily accessible, it was left in place.

The new removal plan has led to significant pushback, led by local environmental activist Walter Hang. A petition floating around demands that the city un-condemn the building and then forces Travis Hyde to renovate the building enough to stabilize the roof to remove the asbestos.

While the concern about the asbestos is merited, there are a couple of problems with this plan. It boils down to the fact that New York State code, rather than the city, defines what a developer can and can’t do with asbestos abatement. The two options here are stabilization and removal before demolition of the above-ground structure, or tearing it down piece by piece and using procedures like misting to keep the asbestos from getting airborne, with monitors in place to ensure no fibers are entering the air. The city can’t force a developer to choose one approach over another, if a building is condemned, and the city can’t force Travis Hyde to renovate the building to a state where it wouldn’t be condemned. That would be the NYS Department of Labor’s role. But if the city rescinded its condemnation, a roof renovation would involve removing the existing roof – a procedure that involves misting the on-site asbestos to keep it from getting airborne. With workers going in an out of the building to stabilize the structure and being put at risk by the unstable roof as well as the asbestos, the Department of Labor isn’t going to sign off on anything putting crewmen at risk of a roof collapse.

There is some consternation with this, and that’s fair. The development project did take several months longer to move forward than first anticipated, though had it started on time it’s not clear if the city and THP wouldn’t have been in this position anyway if work had started sooner. Demolition is expected to start within thirty days of the permit being issued (and it has, so in effect, any day now), and take six to eight weeks to complete.

8. Unfortunately, I had to miss this year’s architects’ gallery night, which is a shame because the local firms like to sneak in yet-unannounced plans. Case in point, this photo from Whitham Planning and Design’s facebook page clearly shows something is planned at the site of the Grayhaven Motel at 657 Elmira Road. The Grayhaven has four on-site structures, and the two westernmost buildings look as they do now…but the footprints of the two eastern buildings, where one first pulls in, do not match their current configuration. Intriguing, but also frustrating. The boards on the floor are related to the Visum Green Street proposal, and the other wall board is a North Campus proposal that didn’t make the cut, previously discussed on the blog here.

9. Out in the towns, there’s not a whole lot being reviewed as of late. The town of Lansing will have a look next week at marina renovations, a one lot subdivision, and a 4,250 SF (50’x85′) expansion of a manufacturer, MPL Inc., a circuit board assembler at 41 Dutch Mill Road. The expansion of their 14,250 SF building will create five jobs or less, per site plan review documents.

In Dryden town, the town board continued to review the proposed veterinary office in the former Phoneix Books barn at 1610 Dryden Road, and they’ll had a look at a cell phone tower planned near TC3. Danby’s Planning Board looked at an accessory dwelling application and a two-lot subdivision last week. Ulysses had a look at a proposal for a 6,400 SF pre-school and nursery building planned for 1966 Trumansburg Road, a bit north of Jacksonville hamlet.

The village of Cayuga Heights Planning Board has a single-family home proposal to look at 1012 Triphammer Road, and in the village of Lansing, the Planning Board and Board of Trustees will review and weigh consideration of a PDA that would allow the Beer family’s proposal for multiple pocket neighborhoods of senior cottages to move forward on 40 acres between Millcroft Way and Craft Road. Trumansburg is still looking at the 46 South Street proposal from INHS and Claudia Brenner.

10. Last but not least, the city of Ithaca Planning Board’s agenda for next week. Apart from the long-brewing Carpenter project, there’s nothing else that’s new, continuing the relative lull in new projects. Cornell’s North Campus Expansion continues its public hearing, and the new warehouse and HQ for Emmy’s Organics looks ready to obtain final site plan approval.

1 Agenda Review 6:00
2 Privilege of the Floor 6:05
3 Approval of Minutes: September 25, 2018 6:15
4 Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:20
Location: 111 Clinton St Tax Parcel # 80.-11-11
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Subdivision Approval

Project Description: The applicant is proposing to subdivide the 1.71 acre property onto two parcels: Parcel A measuring 1.6 acres (69,848 SF) with 299 feet of frontage on S Geneva St and 173 feet on W Clinton St and containing two existing buildings, parking and other site features; and Parcel B measuring .1 acres (4,480 SF) with and 75 feet of frontage on W Clinton St and containing one multi-family building. The property is in the P-1 Zoning District which has the following minimum requirements: 3,000 SF lot size, 30 feet of street frontage, 25-foor front yard, and 10-foot side yards. The project requires an area variance of the existing deficient front yard on the proposed Parcel B. The project is in the Henry St John Historic District. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), and is subject to environmental review.

The story behind this is that for legal purposes, INHS needs to split an existing house from its multi-building lot before it can proceed with renovating it as part of the Scatter Site Housing renovation project. No new construction is planned.

B. Project: Major Subdivision (4 Lots) 6:30
Location: Cherry Street, Tax Parcel # 100.-2-21
Applicant: Nels Bohn for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval

Project Description: The IURA is proposing to subdivide the 6-acre parcel into four lots. Lot 1 will measure 1.012 acres, Lot 2 will measure 1.023 acres, Lot 3 will measure 2.601 acres, and Lot 4 will measure .619 acres. Lot 3 will be sold to Emmy’s Organics (see below), Lot 4 will be left undeveloped for future trail use, and Lots 1 & 2 will be marketed and sold for future development. This subdivision is part of a larger development project that is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (c) and (j) and B(4) the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11), for which the Planning Board made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

The Emmy’s Organics project is really two components – one, the new building in the city-owned Cherry Industrial Park, and two, the city’s (IURA’s) construction of a street extension that would service Emmy’s and two smaller lots which could then be sold to a buyer committed to economic growth for presently low and moderate-income households.

5 Site Plan Review
A. Project: Construction of a Public Road 6:45
Location: Cherry Street, Tax Parcel # 100.-2-21
Applicant: Nels Bohn for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Project Description: The IURA is proposing to extend Cherry Street by 400 feet. The road will be built to City standards with a 65-foot ROW, 5-foot sidewalks and tree lawn, and will be turned over to the City upon completion. The road extension is part of a larger development project that is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (c) and (j) and B(4) the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11), for which the Planning Board made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

B. Project: Construction of a 14-24,000 SF Production Facility (Emmy’s Organics) 7:00
Location: Cherry Street, Tax Parcel # 100.-2-21
Applicant: Ian Gaffney for Emmy’s Organics
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary &Final Approval

Project Description: Emmy’s Organics is proposing to construct a production facility of up to 24,000 SF, with a loading dock, parking for 22 cars, landscaping, lighting, and signage. The project will be in two phases: Phase one, which will include a 14,000 SF building and all site improvements; and Phase two, (expected in the next 5 years) which will include an addition of between 14,000 and 20,000 SF. As the project site is undeveloped, site development will include the removal of 2 acres of vegetation including 55 trees of various sizes. The facility is part of a larger project that includes subdivision of land a 40-foot road extension by the Ithaca IURA extension that is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (c) and (j) and B(4) the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11), for which the Planning Board made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

C. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20 Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Public Hearing (continued)

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). All NCRE materials are available for download at: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50 (Notes above)
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Project Overview Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency
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).

E. Sketch Plan – Mixed-Use Proposal – Carpenter Business Park 8:10

6 Zoning Appeals 8:30
# 3108, Area Variance, 327 W Seneca Street
# 3109, Area Variance, 210 Park Place (construction of a carport)
# 3110, Area Variance, 121 W Buffalo Street (installing a deck and wheelchair lift)
# 3111, Use Variance, 2 Fountain Place (the proposed B&B in the old Ithaca College President’s Mansion)
# 3112, use Variance, 2 Willets Place

7 Old/New Business 8:40
Special Meeting October 30, 2018: City Sexual Harassment Policy, Special Permits (Some of the BZA’s Special Permits Review duties are set to be transferred to the Planning Board).

8 Reports 9:00
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

9 Adjournment 9:25





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.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

15 07 2018

With 400-404 Stewart Avenue complete, developer Jim Goldman is focusing on the completion of the other half of his reconstruction, 406 Stewart Avenue. This is the property that Goldman originally owned and was destroyed in the spread of the fire that erupted at the Chapter House building. Architect Jason K. Demarest’s 3.5 story design is completely framed and sheathed in ZIP Panels; the panels are then covered in HydroGap, a premium grade housewrap to remove excess moisture while keeping new moisture from penetrating into the plywood sheathing. This is then layered over with (what I suspect are fiber cement) shakes, in contrast to the first floor’s lap siding.

My first inclination was that they needed to be painted, but looking at the design render, it appears as if the project team decided to reverse the brown and red siding bands, so now the first floor is red like the original building, but the upper floors are brown. This is not the first major change to the design, which was approved by the ILPC, but any revisions may have been done out of committee view at the staff level. The fenestration on the third floor is different, and the dormer on the gable roof was deleted. Note the partially glazed-in access stair for the third floor apartments, and the quarried bluestone stair columns and base.

There’s still a fair amount of work to do on the exterior with facade installation, trim and finish pieces and the installation of a steel grate to access the enclosed stair column. The one inside shot shows drywall hung with doors and some trim in place, but some pieces are still missing, the wall needs to be painted and the floors have to be finished. However, it’s not an especially large building (four units and eleven bedrooms as-approved), so chances are pretty good this will be ready to go by mid-August.

As for the Chapter House, a few shots through the window glass show the carpeted staircase leading up to the eight apartment units, and an unfinished 3,000 SF commercial space still looking for a tenant.





News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.