Milton Meadows Construction Update, 5/2019

25 05 2019

From the Voice:

At the site of the future Lansing Town Center, the Milton Meadows affordable housing apartment complex is well underway. Cornerstone Development Group of Rochester is developing the 72-unit, $17.3 million project, which consists of 10 buildings, nine eight-unit apartment buildings, and a community center. The project is being built by Taylor the Builders and was designed by SWBR Architects, both of Rochester.

Gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $680 to $1,400 a month, with 64 units for households with incomes 50 to 80 percent of the area median income ($29,500-$47,200/year for a single person, $33,700-$53,900 for a two-person household). The remaining seven units are expected to rent at market rate, with the final one reserved for the live-in property manager. Along with military service veterans’ preference (first dibs) on all available units, five apartments will be set aside for service veterans with physical disabilities. More specifically, expected rent ranges are $680 to $750 for one bedroom units, $835 to $850 for two bedroom apartments, and about $950 to $1,100 for three bedrooms. Market rate units will max out at about $1,400 for a three bedroom unit.

Construction on the property launched last November and is moving along at a fast pace. The community center building is framed, sheathed and has been faced with siding and white trim boards. Two of the apartment buildings are framed and sheathed with windows fitted and Tyvek wrapped, two more buildings are being framed, and foundation work was underway on at least one more building. The unfinished Louise Bement Lane is the only road close to the project site and offers just a limited line of sight, so more apartment buildings could be undergoing excavation or foundation pours.

Cornerstone and Taylor have deployed this design in other towns, so they have a familiarity with it, and that allows for a more efficient deployment of labor, a quicker construction timeline, and a higher fit and finish because they know the design’s quirks and where they’ve had issues in the past. Expect the apartments to start hitting the market this summer, and for completion of the project before the end of the year.

***

Perhaps to add a little more, the building in the foreground with the blue water-resistive barrier is all one-bedrooms, and the one to its north is all two-bedrooms. There are three separate building layouts, one with 8 one-bedroom units, one with 8 two-bedroom units, and one with 8 three-bedroom units (the first of which is being framed to the west/middle of photo four). There will be three of each design here, and you can see what the finished examples look like at the webpage for the practically-identical Frances Apartments in the town of Sweden here.

Note that Woodsedge Drive has yet to be realigned to make a proper four-way intersection with Louise Bement Lane. It’s on the to-do list for this summer. I do not know what the grid of embedded steel pipes on the roadway is used for, as the site plan doesn’t indicate anything unusual here. Maybe it’s where underground utilities diverge from Bement Lane and into the project site.

More information about the Milton Meadows project, including site plan details and project history can be found here.





105 Dearborn Place Construction Update, 5/2019

24 05 2019

We’ll change up the format a bit for this post. Below is a recent email from Ithaca resident Joan Jacobs Brumberg:

I had an opportunity to talk yesterday with Elizabeth Classen Ambrose who is the organizational power behind a growing Bridges community. I wanted to find out more about Library Place interiors but we ended up spending a fascinating hour talking about The Craftsman, a new kind of Ithaca residence for the elderly resembling the group homes in Holland and Denmark.

Four things about this project — to be completed in November 2019– strike me as important for the public to know:
1. This is a new form of independent living for 16 older folks who do not want home or apartment to care for. Each individual room is lovely with private bath and fireplace, small refrigerator. I believe you bring your own furnishings, ie.,  the things you care about most.
2. No upfront payment and no lease.
3. Residents have access to special Car Share vehicles and also Bridges shuttle service if they do not drive.
4. Many amenities for the elderly: warming pool, gym, a trainer, maybe podiatrist and physical therapy. And a special add on: garden space.

I told some people my age about this facility and everyone asked “How did you learn about it?” Even if they are candidates for Library Place, my friends have older parents, relatives, and friends who are burdened with private homes or apartments that are increasingly hard to care for.

***

It came as part of an article pitch for the Voice, but since I did an article about Bridges for the Voice two years ago, I declined. The website for the new house is online, with plenty of rather sumptuous interior renders (a few embeds are below many more are on the website). The twelve bedrooms (eight single-occupancy, four double-occupancy for couples) will feature heated floors, fireplaces in some units, large-screen televisions, optional dry bar with refrigerator and hot beverage maker, and private deck or patio areas. Other planned features include an on-site fitness center, storage room, car share, spa and salon services, on-site concierge, and lush landscaping befitting a high-end independent living facility. Residents are expected to be able to go about their daily activities with little to no assistance, but cooking, cleaning and laundry are taken care of by staff. Pending “interviews” by staff for compatibility, residents may even be allowed to have their pets join them.

Schickel Construction has the house largely finished from the outside. Painting of the cedar shingles continues, and architectural detailing/trim (balconies, porch columns) is ongoing. The stone veneer has yet to be attached to the built-out cinder block basement level, but all of the windows and most of the doors have been fitted. No photos of the back side, because there was a kitchen staffer on break who was clearly uncomfortable with this shutterbug.

More background info about the project can be found here.

 





News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

1. Matt Butler at the Times is providing an in-depth check-up on the mall this week. This was a story the Voice had laid groundwork for as well, so it’s nice that one of the local news orgs was able to make hay of it. The mall, like many middle-class local malls across the country has been struggling in the age of Amazon and the retail meltdown. The overall economy might be humming along, but retail closures continue to spike nationwide, with over 6,100 closures planned this year alone, more than the 5,900 announced in all of 2018. With planned new store openings numbering 2,100, it’s practically two stores closing for every one that opens. Retail mega-landlord Cushman and Wakefield estimates 9,000 stores will close in 2019, and over 12,000 in 2020. In the Ithaca Mall, Gertrude Hawk is gone, American Eagle closed up last year, Ultimate Athletics shut its doors, the Bon-Ton closed as part of the shutdown of the whole chain, and the Sears Hometown store is kaput. The mall’s manager cited a variety of reasons, including chain downsizing, poor performance, and some just stopped paying rent.

This has major economic impacts; the mall’s property value has declined by over 60% since the start of the decade, and the village, the county and the schools have to make up those hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue somewhere (and the county and schools have). County legislator Deborah Dawson, who represents the mall’s district, suggested doing something similar to the DeWitt Mall downtown, a mix of local businesses, but the mall is a much bigger space to fill (622,500 SF vs. 117,500 SF in the DeWitt Mall), and DeWitt Mall is mixed-use (retail and 45 apartments). Local businesses and experiential outlets can be part of the solution as Running 2 Places is showing with their 18,000 SF theater this spring, but it’s one component of a solution. Residential could be a component, but some legal and logistic issues would need to be sorted out, which owner Namdar Realty has never shown much interest in; the village has also been lukewarm to the idea. About 40 apartment units were floated for a section of the parking lot (west/on the backside of the mall if I remember right), but that idea died during the Great Recession.

There is so silver bullet here. The owner needs to be more proactive then holding a proverbial gun to its’ tenants heads in order to get them to stay. Local governing bodies also have to keep an open mind for redevelopment ideas – if parts of the mall were torn down and replaced with residential, for example. As it is, the only plans on the horizon are an unnamed tenant for the former Bon-Ton space, and the extended stay hotel planned for the parking lot behind (west) of the Ramada Inn. The future of the mall is hazy; like a species faced with a steadily changing habitat, it’s either adapt and evolve, or perish.

2. Courtesy of their Facebook page, here’s a sketch render of what Salt Point Brewing Compant’s new brewery and taproom would look like. It’s a fairly unobtrusive one-story structure with a gable roof and two wings, presumably the taller one for the brewing tanks and the smaller one for service functions. On the outside are wood accents and a two-story deck for outdoor drinking and possibly dining, if the restaurant option is pursued.

The building, as well as associated landscaping and parking improvements, would be located on about three of the five acres sold as Parcel “D” in the Lansing Town Center development. The remaining two acres are wetlands and would be left undisturbed. Salt Point paid $75,000 for the land, and will bring its project forth to the town planning board in the coming months. No word on any job creation figures yet.

3. The NYS DOT county facility plans are moving forward. The state bought its 15 acres from Tompkins County for $840,000 according to a deed filed on April 24th. The building is classified as a sub-residency facility, a step below a primary regional facility (the main office for Region 3 is in Syracuse).

To review, the plans consist of the 30,000 SF sub-residency maintenance building, a 5,000 SF Cold Storage unit, an 8,200 SF salt barn, and a 2,500 square foot hopper building (covered lean-to). The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features include parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. A new access drive will be constructed from Warren Road.

The town has been less than pleased with the project, which is not bound to zoning code because it’s a public resource facility owned and operated by a government entity. Rather than voice approval, the planning board voted to acknowledge that they simply had no authority to control the project. Some modifications were made to the plans at the town’s request, such as the fueling station being moved onto airport property across Warren Road, but neighbors are still unhappy that snowplows and heavy-duty maintenance vehicles are about to be their next door neighbors.

The facility is expected to be open by the end of the end of the year. Once all staff and equipment have been moved in, the county may pursue a request for proposals/request for expression of interest for the current DOT property on the shores of the inlet near the Farmer’s Market. A 2015 feasibility analysis found that the site could conceivably host a $40+ million mixed-use project, and the site has became more amenable towards redevelopment with the enhanced density and use provisions made to the city’s waterfront zoning in 2017.

4. The Ithaca city planning board granted a negative declaration of environmental review to the 124-unit Arthaus affordable housing project at 130 Cherry Street. According to my editor Kelsey O’Connor, the latest revisions propose a five-story building that would include a gallery, office and affordable rental space. It would include parking for about 36 vehicles and 7,600 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. All of the units would be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80% of the area median income, or about $30,000 to $45,000. The north end of the property will also include a publicly accessible path leading to the inlet.

Speaking in favor of the project were neighborhood business owners and non-profits, and in opposition was councilman George McGonigal, who said both in a letter and in person that it was too big for the site and threatened the industrial character of the neighborhood. They have bigger concerns than housing nearby. Cherry Street is difficult to access with large trucks and commercial vehicles, the Brindley Street and Cecil Malone Drive bridges are small and in poor shape. Secondly, Cherry Street doesn’t provide much room for operations to expand, so that hinders their long-term operational planning. It’s not just lot size, but also the soil – the Emmy’s Organics project fell through because of poor soil not amenable for warehouse and other light industrial functions that rely on a concrete slab. Thirdly, the city’s strict environmental laws, fees and higher property taxes make an urban site less appealing. They can get more land with a lighter tax burden in Lansing, Dryden, or any of the other outlying towns. With these issues in mind, many of the industrial businesses down there now aren’t looking to stick around. Several have already sold or made purchase options with developers as they seek areas with lower taxes, easier access to highways and less strict environmental ordinances.

The unanimous approval by the city planning board allows the project to move forward with consideration for preliminary approval. The goal is to gain approval at next month’s meeting, and once affordable housing funds have been secured, to start construction of the project, likely in December of this year.

5. The Chain Works District presented plans for phase one at the Planning Board meeting. There are four buildings in phase one, of which two are in the city. 43,400 SF Building 21 would be renovated into a commercial office building. The work here is limited to replacing walled-up window openings with new windows, exterior cleaning and painting, and new signage and entrance canopies. Building 24 is a combination of renovation and expansion. The partially built-out basement and first floor would be renovated for commercial office space, the second and third story would be residential, and a new fourth floor would be built for residential uses, for a total of 135,450 SF across 4.5 floors. As with Building 21, new windows would be installed, and the exterior cleaned and painted. New landscaping, sidewalk and parking areas are also planned.

At a glance, the residential in the first phase would host 60 market-rate rental units. Each floor will have one studio unit, nine one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units, and one four-bedroom unit. According to the Site Plan Review document, the project would begin renovation in October, and be open by August 2020. The other two building in phase one are renovations of industrial and manufacturing spaces in the town, Buildings 33 and 34. These will retain industrial uses.

This meeting was only for the purpose of sharing and discussing plans, with no voting at this time. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, the board was reluctant to approve any plans without more information about who will be occupying them. That seems a bit odd, because projects are analyzed for their physical impacts, not the tenants, but the Times article says parking and landscaping may change slightly depending on the tenant. According to project representative Jamie Gensel, the USDA is considering renting out some of the office space. The USDA maintains a research facility inside the Holley Center on Cornell’s campus, and there were plans in the late 2000s to build an addition, which were later shelved during the Great Recession. It’s not clear how much space they’re seeking. Not sure what to make of that writeup, honestly, or being told to move the buildings into a different phase (personally, I’d like to be renovations before any new builds happen).

6. 815 South Aurora Street, aka “Overlook”, also continued its review at the planning board meeting. There were some minor design tweaks, seen in the before image (above) and after image (below). Changes in exterior colors, panels, ground-level entrances and fenestration, particularly on the side facing South Aurora Street. The fire trucks are  to indicate that emergency vehicles will be able to safely pull in and out from the road. Overall, project size remains at 49 units and 141 bedrooms.

There’s been some pushback from neighbors regarding size and neighborhood character. There’s an argument that these are dependent on Chain Works, but that argument doesn’t pass the smell test – if Chain Works didn’t happen, fewer units on the South Hill market would make the project even more appealing to Visum Development and Modern Living Rentals. The planning department wants more geotechnical information and bedrock to be removed, details about the new planting and landscaping, and energy systems. Documents submitted indicate the all-residential development will use electric heat pumps. The board has requested a shadow study and flesh out the environmental impacts, which is a common request for larger developments.

7. At least one project is fully approved. Although it seems at least one planning board member asked for affordable housing, the four-unit market-rate Perdita Flats infill at 224 Fair Street was granted preliminary site plan approval. The project is intended to be a sustainable building showcase of eco-friendly features, a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing. The owner/developers, Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt, will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





News Tidbits 4/26/19

27 04 2019

1. Here’s a little more information on the proposes medical office building at 2141 Dryden Road. Site Plan here, planning department memo here. A local doctor operating as “Slaterville Springs Real Estate Company, LLC” is planning a 3,676 SF pre-fabricated building on the site. The building would be built using a Superior Wall precast concrete foundation (Superior Walls are commonly seen with modular builds), and built into the hillside – one story from the front, two from the back. The doctor’s office would occupy the upper level, and the lower level is spec space. The plans include a roof-mounted solar system, electric heat pumps, and an electric vehicle charging station in one of the three proposed parking areas. 48 parking spaces are indicated, four of which are ADA compliant. A covered bicycle rack and dumpster enclosure are also provided.

Having all these green features at a semi-rural site with gobs of parking (the Institute for Traffic Engineers’ parking standards for medical offices is about 3.5 per 1,000 SF, or 13 in this case) is liking having a diet coke with your Big Mac. A project can be “green”, but much of its green impacts are mitigated if it encourages fossil fuel use with increased vehicle traffic. It would benefit the town to plan and zone for developments like this closer to villages and hamlets.

The site also includes landscaping, some limited signage, lighting and stormwater features. The town planning department’s opinion is that the project is not substantial enough to merit full site plan review. Spec Consulting of Groton is doing the project design.

2. The Black Diamond Trail will receive a major addition after New York State announced funding for a bridge over the Cayuga Lake flood control channel earlier this week. The $1.2 million award from the state will pay for the construction of a new pedestrian bridge for the trail, which will span the inlet from the current trail segment along Floral Avenue, to the intersection of Cherry Street and Cecil Malone Drive. This would provide greater connectivity for West Hill residents to the businesses along the waterfront and the big box corridor, giving them to option to walk/bike through here instead of going up to West State Street. In an interview with the Journal’s Tom Pudney, city transportation engineer Tim Logue notes that design work, public hearings and municipal approvals for the bridge will take another 18 months, so construction won’t be until 2021.

3. Now for a look at Dryden’s Mill Creek subdivision. Site plan application here, proposed covenants here, site plans here. This is the 908-acre subdivision of land west of Freeville into forty home lots. It looks like the Lucente family (as RPL Properties, for the late Rocco P. Lucente) is working with surveyor Alan Lord to plat the lots. The 40 lots range in size from just over 5 acres, to 60 acres. 23 acres on the eastern edge of the parcel would be deeded over to the town for land conservation.

Even as subdivisions go, this is a very questionable design because it’s not really following state guidelines for conservation subdivisions, which cluster houses near roads on smaller lots so as to preserve natural space. These lots aren’t designed for that, which really opens up the possibility of large-scale natural space degradation or destruction. Given that the zoning here is a conservation district, it meets the word of the law, but not the sentiment.

4. Courtesy of the County Clerk’s office, we now know what the amount of the construction loan was for the latest phase of the Village Solars. 24-unit Building “K” (113 Village Circle) and 24-unit Building “L” (40 Village Place) received a $5.6 million loan from Elmira Savings Bank, which is mildly interesting in that the previous building loans were from Tompkins Trust. Note that the buildings are switched around from the site plan above, so that middle building is “K” and the building to the east is “L”. Both buildings are expected to be completed by the end of September 2019. I

n February, my last visit, Building “K” was substantially finished from the outside, while Building “L” was just a foundation pad. However, the Lucentes in-house construction team have been building these for years and have the process down pat, so if they’re framing by now, they could certainly have “L” finished by the end of September.

5. The recent article regarding the U.S. Census Bureau estimates created quite a stir and a number of strong and/or concerned emails. Before anyone gets hung up on the numbers,realize that the census is all about estimating from an annual survey of about 2.1 million households nationwide, out of a little over 126 million. They’re reasonably comfortable with national figures, a little less so with states, and generally, they just hope to be close with counties, especially medium-sized one like Tompkins who are hard to sample but can still vary by several hundreds of people from year to year.

Now consider the statistics mentioned in the article. From 2010 to 2017, the area added 2,412 housing units, and from 2010 to 2018 it added about 6,000 jobs (1.4% annual growth). The colleges add 800 or so students in total. All signs point to steady, modest growth.

Here’s an exercise. Let’s take those 2,412 housing units. 964 single-family homes, and 1,448 multi-family units. The average household size is 2.5 persons/home, and 2.2/persons per multifamily unit. So a gross estimate for the number of occupants in new housing is (964 * 2.5) + (1,448 * 2.2), or 5,596 people.

Now for a couple of adjustments. Household sizes are known to be getting smaller. Nationally, from 2010 to 2018, the change was 2.59 to 2.53, so applying that same percent decrease to the single-family figure and the multi-family figure reduces the gross gain to 5,466 people. Also, let’s assume that not every housing unit permitted was built. The vast majority are, but not all. Let’s say 98% were. That reduces the figure to 5,356.

Secondly, some new housing replaces older housing. Those stats aren’t so readily available. But I track them here. In this case, the number I have on file is that of projects recently completed or proposed, net gain is 90.6% of the gross gain. That number is going to be a bit low because I don’t track single-family home construction, which typically happens on vacant lots. Still, assuming it’s otherwise an acceptable estimation, then (5,356 * .906) = 4,853 people.

Now, let’s account for vacancy. Overall, Tompkins County is ticking upward, though still below a healthy market rate / too tight in the urban areas. It was higher in 2010, lower in the middle of decade, and creeping up now as new construction is completed and occupied. Let’s say (rather optimistically or pessimistically, depending your view) there’s a one percent increase since 2010,. Tompkins had 43.453 housing units as of 2017. So with a +1% vacancy since 2010, that’s 434.5, of which 52.7% are homes if we break it up perfectly, but since rentals have a slightly higher vacancy rate in general, let’s say 50-50. So ((217.25 * 2.5) + (217.25 * 2.2) ) * (2.53/2.59) = 997 people.

Let’s do the math. 4,853 people – 997 people = 3,856 people. Add that to 101,564 reported in 2010, and you get 105,420 residents in 2017. The Census’s 2017 estimate for Tompkins County was 104,871. Extrapolate it out a bit, and assuming Tompkins continues to add at about 551 people/year, and 2020 will clock in around 107,073 people. 5.4% growth. A hair below national average, but well above most of upstate New York and the Northeast.

So with that exercise in mind, don’t worry about the Census estimates. They will be what they will be, whether 2,000 people magically disappear or not. They’re not looking to be great, they just hope to be kinda accurate until the next census rolls out in 2020.

 





News Tidbits 4/24/19

25 04 2019

1. Here’s a real estate sale worth noting. A vacant 25-acre parcel of land between 1758 and 1786 Trumansburg Road (just south of Jacksonville) sold for $140,000, according to a deed filed with the county today. What makes this sale interesting is that the buyer is an LLC associated with the operating address of Classen Home Health, the senior healthcare firm run by local businesswoman Patty Classen. The Classen family has not been shy about investing in development projects, though her sister Elizabeth is the more active one at present. Elizabeth owns the Bridges Cornell Heights skilled care facility, and  is also involved as a partner in Travis Hyde Properties’ 66-unit Library Place Development. Taking a semi-educated guess, there’s a good chance this property will be developed out into senior housing at a later date, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

2. Meanwhile, over in the village of Lansing, the former Autodesk Building has exchanged hands. The 19,470 SF office building on 2.37 acres sold for $4.14 million, from the Colbert family of commercial landlords (Greenstate Properties) to an LLC led by local businessman and developer Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate. The Colberts developed the property and opened the building in 2002. The price was substantially more then  the assessment of $3.15 million, but that’s probably not because of a planned redevelopment. It likely has more to do with having a tenant lined up for the building, the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County, who will build out and operate a 40-bed detox facility at the site. A stable, long-term tenant is a strong asset to have when selling a property. The village of Lansing has not been a fan of the project (the argument being, those in treatment “don’t belong [here]” and pose a safety threat), but since it’s just an interior renovation and medical uses are permitted in its zoning, there’s not much the village can do as long as everything remains in compliance with code. The sale may be finished, but the facility won’t host overnight stays until at least the summer, and the renovations won’t be finished until late 2020.

3. How often do I report things out in Enfield? Practically never. But the town planning board is reviewing a pair of small apartment projects this month. Patrick Head, owner of Head’s Excavating, plans to build a pair of four-unit apartment buildings, each on a different site in the town. The first would be at 1795 Mecklenburg Road, and the other on the southwest corner of Enfield Center Road and Van Dorn Road. All of the units would be rentals, two bedrooms each, and according to the Environmental Assessment Forms, it looks like each unit will be about 1200 SF, with either two floors or one floor with a finished basement. Both properties are currently vacant; the former used to host a farmhouse but was destroyed by fire in September 2015, and the later is a vacant 5-acre lot that was created through the subdivision of a larger property.

4. Sticking with the rural towns for now – out in Danby, plans are underway for a new mixed-use project at 1839-1849 Danby Road. The development calls for a small commercial retail plaza and a space for a cafe or restaurant, as well as additional residential rental space. 1839 Danby Road is a two-family house with six bedrooms, and 1849 Danby Road is a four-unit apartment house with six bedrooms, along with a couple of garages and sheds.The historic portions of the homes would be saved and incorporated into the development, which is designed to incorporate sustainable building practices (green roofs, alternative energy sources), and create a “town center” like sense of place in the hamlet of Danby. That includes a small B&B, a seasonal food market, and the small market/cafe. Ultimately, if successful the project would expand out to fifteen housing units and two more commercial spaces. It’s not big by most standards, but it’s notable for a 3,500-person town. Property owner Olivia Vent is the developer, and the plans are being designed by Ben Rosenblum Studio.

5. According to the town of Dryden’s planning department, the medical project at 2141 Dryden Road will be fairly modest in size – two floors, 3600 SF. The 908-acre Mill Creek subdivision on Caswell Road is listed as 40 lots, up one from the previous 39, though it could just be something like a stormwater parcel. Also of note, the Route 13 development study from Warren Road to the western boundary of the village of Dryden. With several large development floated for the corridor, the county has an RFP out to do a study for “strategic guidance” so as to allow development while minimizing potential negative impacts (traffic, environmental degradation from in-commuters, etc.) The RFP for that closed on the 22nd.

6. Will the Lansing Meadows senior housing ever happen? Developer Eric Goetzmann of Arrowhead Ventures is trying to change the senior housing in the Lansing Meadows project again. Given that the village and the county have had it up to their proverbial necks with his shenenigans, this has the potential to be very poorly received. The approved plan as it stands is for twenty two-bedroom units. It was supposed to start construction last year, but was delayed a year due to construction bids coming in higher than anticipated. Either the bids have come in too high again and he’s trying to value engineer the project, or some other issue has arisen. We’ll see how this one goes next Monday.





News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, 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.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.