News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 11/2017

23 11 2017

These are turning out quite nice. Building “A” is practically complete from the outside. The plant boxes outside the windows have even been stocked with small ornamentals. About the only thing left are the exterior finishes on the front facade columns. Building “C”, the smaller building to its east, is also nearly finished from the outside. I suspect the wiring coming out of Building “C” just above the parking area is for electric car charging stations.

Building “B”, the other large condo structure, is fully encased in plastic sheeting and wood ribbing. Stucco generally needs to be applied in dry, temperate weather conditions, above 40 F at a minimum. Given Ithaca Novembers, that means McPherson Builder has basically turned the building into a dry, heated bubble so that can apply the stucco properly. Building “D” is still being roofed, and is just getting its windows fitted. It looks like the scratch coat for the stucco is being applied over the water barrier, and the brown coat and the finish coat will come later, meaning that “D” will eventually be bubbled in as well.

Most of the concrete curbs and steps have been formed, poured and cured at this point. The grand staircase will make for a nice shortcut from South Cayuga Street to West Spencer Street.

The marketing material appears to be using the phrase “Arriving here is what you are destined for“. Tje website doesn’t indicate how many of the twelve units are spoken for (if any; the project is in the soft marketing stage, where they’re accepting inquiries but there aren’t any formal real estate listings). The two-bedroom and three-bedroom units go for $299-$434k, depending on size and location.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

So we have a rule at the Voice not to publish the press releases of private for-profit entities unless they add something to an article. They don’t get published as standalones, if at all. From a pragmatic standpoint, giving a for-profit free advertising at our expense doesn’t make good financial sense, and it leads to questions about our integrity.

But, they still come in, filed away in case they come in handy at some point. That was the case here for the press release sent along by Brous Consulting’s Kevin Doubleday for the Ithaka Terraces project back on September 11th:

***

For Immediate Release: September 11th, 2017

Contact: Kyle Waller at 607-272-1765 or office@ppmhomes.com.

ITHAKA TERRACES CONDOMINIUM PROJECT GAINS APPROVALS NEEDED TO PROVIDE FIRST CONDOS AND FIRST NET-ZERO PROPERTY IN DOWNTOWN ITHACA

Ithaka Terraces is a new sustainable luxury condominium complex in downtown Ithaca, currently under construction at 215 West Spencer Street. Scheduled to open in Fall 2017, the Terraces are destined to be the region’s first net-zero condominium complex. The property is currently undergoing last-stage developments with units now available for sale through locally owned and operated PPM Homes. The project is also one of only a few condominium projects to be built in the area since the most recent recession.

The twelve unique units, inspired by colorful Greek cliffside architecture, thus the Ithaka name, range in size from a single story, 1005 square feet flat up to a two-story townhouse, 1520 square feet and boast high-end amenities including hardwood and tile flooring, luxury finishes, and a host of energy-saving appliances. Units start at $299,000.

Combining cutting edge green technology with a walkable location, a car-free or car-light lifestyle is easily attainable. The motivation to build Ithaka Terraces came from the developer’s desire to provide the maximum possible state-of-the-art sustainable living with the highest emphasis on achieving net-zero energy. Hence, no costs were spared to find and take advantage of opportunities in the design and building process to incorporate the most advanced sustainable techniques. The potential for reduced energy use is in place in these condominiums, making the inhabitants able to maintain one of the lowest environmental impacts and costs possible anywhere with a fantastic and active quality of life.

Ithaka Terraces strives to incorporate the most sustainable construction methods and living technology. This includes the use of air-source heat pumps, conduction ranges, LED lighting, electric water heaters, Low-E windows, super-insulated walls and roofs, smart temperature monitoring devices, and other energy-saving devices.

Further green features are available for even greater sustainable living at the Terraces, including charging stations for electric vehicles and at least six Ithaca Carshare vehicles stationed within walking distance. Transportation for the average household is likely to use more energy than the home itself. The Terrace’s convenient location makes it simple to reduce transportation energy use significantly by allowing cars to be an option rather than a necessity for the vast majority of trips.

Because of recent net-metering laws passed by New York State, off-site solar power can be provided to homes in cities from solar arrays outside the city, which makes net-zero living possible. All the energy used at Ithaka Terraces will be provided by solar power from PPM Homes’ 225 kw (835 panels) solar farm about 15 miles east of Ithaca.

Ed Cope, owner of PPM Homes and team leader of the Ithaka Terraces team, has been active in environmental and sustainability causes for forty years.  He started an environmental center in Indiana 25 years ago and he and his family live off grid, using power only from renewable energy (solar panels and some wind).  He started Energy Independent Caroline as part of his early efforts to switch the Caroline town government to renewable energy for its power use.  

One of his apartment buildings on South Hill was the first commercial roof-top solar installation in Ithaca. Ed has strived to build housing units so energy efficient that their entire energy use can come from his small solar farm outside Ithaca; truly net-zero energy. Additional team members include Stream Collaborative, Taitem Engineering, Renovus Solar, and TG Miller and Associates. The project is being managed by Kyle Waller at PPM homes.

For more information on Ithaka Terraces, you can visit: www.ithakaterraces.com or contact Kyle Waller at 272-1765 or office@pphomes.com.

END.

***

It looks like they might be doing soft marketing of the units, with a brochure up and inquiries allowed, but no formal listings up yet. The Ithaka Terraces website states that prices will be in the $299,000-$434,000 range, a ~10% jump from previous estimates. Units range in size from 1,005 SF to 1,520 SF. Ten are two-bedroom units, two are three-bedroom units.

Buildings A and C look like they’re getting the scratch coat for its stucco finish, while B is still ZIP panels and waterproofed covers. Framing is still underway for Building D, which started much later than the other three.offhand, I think the shingles are from one of Certaineed’s designer series, here in Cottage Red. The formwork along the east side/upper slope may be for a concrete retaining wall that will hold the hill back from the parking area.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 7/2017

21 07 2017

Some more progress on the Ithaka Terraces condo project at 215-221 West Spencer Street. Buildings “A” and “B” have had their porches built out and sheathed, with some of the decorative columns are in place (the architecture, penned by STREAM Collaborative, is supposed to take design curs from traditional Greek/Mediterranean hillside structures). The white coating visible from the uphill photos is the water-resistive barrier over which the stucco will be laid. Building “C” is framed and sheathed, but the roof isn’t fully shingled and many of the windows and doors have yet to be fitted. Long-awaited Building “D” has finally started construction, with excavation underway and some foundation forms in place. The grand central stairway is beginning to take shape. From what I was told by developer Ed Cope (PPM Homes), the model unit should be unveiled in the next few weeks.

The website has been updated to take inquiries, with unit sizes ranging from a 1,005 SF 2-bed, 2-bath, unit, to a 3-bedroom, 3-bath 1520 SF unit (3 bathrooms? For the family that hates sharing sinks and showers?). Nothing on the website states pricing, which was previously estimated in the $265k-$390k range.

Side note, I dropped by 413 West Seneca Street and 109 North Corn Street, a pair of projects Ed Cope is doing in Ithaca’s State Street corridor. Nothing to report yet.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 5/2017

1 06 2017

Taking a look at the Ithaka Terraces site at 215-221 West Spencer Street, one question immediately comes to mind – is Building “D” still happening? The other three are far along, and yet there appears to be no sign of Building “D”, a mirror of Building “C”, starting construction. It could be cost concerns or pre-sales worries, or simply a matter of timing. The website doesn’t look like it’s been updated recently, and marketing for the condo units doesn’t seem to have started yet.

Apart from the completion of the roofing, not much additional work has occurred on the exterior of Building “A”. Its twin, Building “B”, has finished framing, sheathing, windows are being fitted and the roofing is well underway, sheathed and covered in Certainteed DiamondDeck and WinterGuard underlayments, but not yet shingled. Building “C” has had its multi-story porch erected and it looks like the R39 cellulose insulation is underway. New to this update are the Bituthene sheets on the concrete foundation walls of “C” – Grace Bituthene Membrane is a two-component system, the first is a sticky, liquid rubberized asphalt compound, the second a laminated HDPE film, and together they’re used for weather and moisture protection, handy when your walls will be exposed to moist soil uphill and several feet deep. The white walls facing the future grand staircase are water-resistive barriers to protect the plywood ZIP panels from the mositure-absorbing stucco finish.

Local eco-builder AquaZephyr LLC (run by Kendall and Mike Carpenter) is the general contractor, Taitem’s doing the structural engineering, T.G. Miller is in charge of civil engineering, STREAM’s the architect, and Ed Cope (PPM Homes) is the developer. Side note, I dropped by the Wyllie site and didn’t see work on the renovation underway, although it’s not clear if the state grant funding has been disbursed yet. It and the PPM’s Ithaca Glass Apartments are expected to get underway this spring.

Also, let’s not forget the ’80s hair metal blasting over the stereo on-site. I guess nothing gets the work done like Whitesnake and Twisted Sister.

UPDATE: From the architect, Noah Demarest, on the status of Building “D”: “It’s a logistic issue. Couldn’t get all the foundations in at the same time. Should be starting soon.”





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 3/2017

20 03 2017

Over at the Ithaka Terraces located at 215-221 West Spencer Street, Building “A” is fully framed, sheathed, nearly all Low-E windows have been fitted and the roof has been shingled. Buildings “B” and “C” are still in the process of framing and sheathing. Building “D” might be excavated at this point, but all the snow made it impossible to tell.

Note that the condos use double-stud walls, meaning their are two sets of wood stud walls used in the exterior frame, parallel to each other but spaced apart by about 5 inches. That space is then filled with R39 densely-packed cellulose insulation. The result has its pros and cons. The cons are that it’s more expensive to build, and it reduces the interior space a little bit. The pro is that it’s very energy efficient, which comes in handy for a project trying to achieve net-zero energy use. Along with the low energy consumption and green features, the project will be powered by a solar array owned by the developer out in Caroline.

Since these buildings will have a stucco finish, and stucco tends to absorb moisture but ZIP sheathing does not, most building codes require a water-resistant barrier between the ZIP sheathing and the exterior stucco. This allows the wall to repel and drain off moisture without risking the integrity of the facade. In the photos below, the WRB is the would be the thin white coating going over the sheathing.

Formal marketing for the 12 units is expected to launch in a couple of months. 10 2-bedrooms and 2 3-bedroom units will be available, with prices ranging from $265,000-$390,000.





Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 1/2017

14 01 2017

The first building of the Ithaka Terraces, Building “A”, is fully framed and in the process of being roofed. The project uses double stud exterior walls in tandem with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), which is thermally insulated plastic filled with concrete. The zip sheathing goes on over the surface. The purpose of the thick, more premium approach is for more efficient insulation, since the condo units are designed to be net-zero compatible (the high energy efficiency reduces the need for off-site renewable energy sources, and net-zero becomes more feasible as a result).

Further up the sloping site, smaller Building “B” has completed the ICF erection ground floor and is starting work on the upper floors. Note the reinforced concrete wall facing South Cayuga (east). That will eventually be back-filled and hidden from view. As seen in some of the early concept designs below, only the top floor of the three floors of Building “B” and “D” will have windows facing outward; the South Cayuga side of the property is where the parking lot will be laid.

The other large building in the four-building cluster, Building “C”, a mirrored floorplan of “A”, is just getting started; the site was being prepped and graded when these photos were taken last week. Building “D”, a mirrored floorplan of “B”, will start construction at a later date, as the other three get further along. In the last photo, one can see the winding temporary staircase workers use to get to the building themselves. AquaZephyr, an Ithaca firm specializing in eco-friendly construction, is the general contractor in charge of the buildout.

The 12-unit condo project will begin formal marketing later this Spring. There will be 10 two-bedroom units and 2 three-bedroom units, in the $265k-$390k range. A late 2017 opening is planned. Interested readers can submit queries here.

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