News Tidbits 9/16/17: The Big Surprise

16 09 2017

1. Ostensibly, the biggest newsmaker of the past week was the announcement of the Green Street redevelopment in Ithaca’s downtown core. To be frank, I was freaking out at my desk. Even more astounding was that the city slipped it out so casually, embedding it in a monthly PEDC meeting file that typically focuses on more mundane legal and planning concerns.

All photos that follow are from Jolene – pardon the marginal quality, we were both in note-taking mode, and these presentation papers weren’t given out to the public. North is towards the top of the floor plan images.

While the documents have yet to be uploaded to the city’s website, some basic details were released during the meeting – the number of parking spaces for the whole complex is 525. There would be two towers with residential units, a U-shaped west tower and a boxy east tower with projecting corners. 15 floors apiece. 350 units, “designed to appeal to a broad demographic”. Abatement likely, with the details to be ironed out as the percentage of affordable units is determined. The middle portion will also have residential units on top of the existing garage. 30,000 SF of conference space is planned under the eastern tower, if my notes are right.

The first floor appears to have at least two retail spaces, a lobby area, and an office, probably for management of the complex. The middle section will retain access to Cinemapolis and the garage. On levels two and three would be rebuilt garage sections (note the center section was rebuilt ten years ago and unlike the ends, is in good shape). Another floor of parking will be added.

Cooper Carry is the architect, and the initial design looks fairly safe, attractive if not particularly inspired. After the Marriott, it’s good to be wary of potential value engineering. It appears to use brick veneer, Nichiha-like metal panels and maybe fiber cement. Also, with Harold’s Square and City Centre off to the left, this would arguably create a broad-shouldered if stubby skyline for downtown Ithaca, more impressive than many communities Ithaca’s size.

My notes are that Marriott co-developer Jeff Rimland had non-public information about the Green Street garage because he owns the ground facilities under the garage’s eastern deck, and would be impacted by renovations. He was made aware of city looking at their options and put something together. The city only learned about the plan four weeks ago, and mayor Myrick wanted to make sure it was brought forward for public discussion and to determine if it was a wise choice to move froward. Ostensibly, if this came out as a surprise, a hornet’s nest of opposition would be stinging. Being transparent now helps later.

It seems the intent is an RFP for the garage for the sake of fairness, but I dunno how effective that will be. Rimland has a big advantage as owner of a portion of the parcel, since any other developer would need to arrange legal agreements with him in order to carry out a project. It was suggested by Brock, who has never been a fan of development, and I cynically wonder if this was an attempt to ensnare or at least stall the proposal. An RFP does put the city in a more legally comfortable position, perhaps. On the flip side, I cringe at the thought of another Old Library-like mess.

On a final note, there’s also a name, seen in the lower right of the rendering – “Village on the Green”. Very punny guys.


2. The other big news item of the week was 311 College Avenue, more commonly referred to as “The Nines replacement”. The Nines is a much-loved restaurant and bar that has long been a part of Collegetown’s drinking and musical scene – in the late 2000s, if I had to describe Collegetown bars, where Johnny O’s was the “fratty frat” bar and Chapter House the erudite tweed-clothed crowd, The Nines was the laidback, indie band geek-turned-rocker. Add in its location in a ca. 1908 fire station, and one of the few sizable outdoor patios in Collegetown, and one can understand that a project on this site was never going to be warmly received.

Granted, I’ve been raked over the coals a couple of times for the article, whose first headline said The Nines was being kicked out. It was an honest copy-editing mistake. For breaking news I publish ASAP, like with the Green Street development. However, that’s discouraged because the business pieces are useful for filling slow periods during the day, or to give time for others to prep articles during the early morning. Many of my articles are written in the late evening, submitted to the schedule, and skimmed through before hitting the website. In this case, I submitted Sunday night, my editor Jolene read through it early Monday morning, she thought the opening lines implied an eviction and changed the title (the original was a generic “Apartments Proposed for The Nines”). Sometimes title get changed for clarity or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but this particular time it created a false statement. I didn’t see it until I was at work on Monday, and uncomfortable conversations ensued. Sorry all. The next article won’t wax poetic.

Anyway, with that error noted, it makes this next opinion segment more uncomfortable. I’m not a developer. But if I were one, and heard the property was being put up for sale, I’d probably have steered clear. With all due respect to Todd Fox, my gut feeling is that the cons outweigh the pros.

Ithaca is not an easy city to do a project in. A developer has to pick and choose their battles. In this case, the battle is taking a building with some degree of historic value, but more importantly a lot of local sentiment attached, and proposing to replace it with, frankly, a mediocre design with high-end student units. I understand the economics of the site, the market, and the unfortunate though economically necessary impacts building flush to lot lines has on the ability to install windows on the sides. My concern is external impacts, by creating an emblem for opposition to organize around, because it wraps several perceptibly negative impacts into one proposal. That may make future projects that much more difficult. I worry that whenever a controversial plan is brought forth in years ahead, it will be pejoratively described by NIMBY types as “just like that Nines replacement”.

It has taken years for Ithacans to become slowly more amenable to density and development. Proposals that inadequately address community concerns threaten that progress. Consider the case of Jason Fane. He toyed with the city plenty of times. Eventually it caught up to him and he got burned. The sad part is, 130 East Clinton was a solid project, and to this day I believe that had it been another developer, those apartments would have been built.

Anyway, the ILPC would like to preserve it as-is, which draws the question why the discussion never moved forward 18 months ago when they had the chance. I don’t think that’s likely at this stage, and an overbuild probably wouldn’t work due to development costs (foundation shoring, elevator if 4+ floors) with respect to developable area – the big front yard setback is an impediment to that. I heard that an offer was floated to Neil Golder to move his house at one point during the 201 debate, so maybe moving all or at least the front (1908 wing) of the old station No. 9 is possible, but the expense would be great. As for the new building’s design, maybe modest fixed windows in the north/south brick faces, or glass block features like on Sharma’s 307 design, or even something as minor as a mural on the CMU blocks would help.

But, all that might be grasping at straws. This was always going to be controversial. I won’t fault someone for seeing an opportunity, even if it’s not a plan I’d advocate. It all depends on one’s appetite for development opportunities, and sensitivity to potential blowback.

3. For sale: 405 Elmira Road. 0.74 acres of parking lot next to Buttermilk Falls Plaza. List price: $465,000, courtesy of Pyrmaid Brokerage. Also noting – the chain hotelier who bought the former Tim Horton’s next door from the same seller for $640k in January 2016. Timmy Ho’s 0.75 acres is a little small for a hotel on its own, but combined with this lot, suddenly plans start to look quite viable for a mid-sized chain in the city’s suburban-friendly SW-2 zoning. Someone else may come along and buy it, but let’s see what happens.

4. It appears the 24-unit Pineridge Cottages project is off the table. The project, planned for the corner of Mineah and Dryden Roads in Dryden town, was greatly scaled back by developer Ryzward Wawak after water tests led to concerns about having enough to supply all the units. At this time, the plan is for four cottages, each a two-bedroom unit.

5. The Times’ Matt Butler has a nice summary and brief interview with Lakeview Health CEO Harry Merriman regarding the 60-unit affordable housing plan for 709-713 West Court Street. Some of the obstacles the project faced wouldn’t be a surprise to readers of this blog – the soils require a more expensive deep (pile) foundation, and land acquisition costs are climbing, which increases the overall costs involved with bringing a proposal into reality, let alone a plan that focuses on affordable housing. The increase in units from 50 to 60 was driven by the need to balance out revenue with expenditures and make the affordable housing economically feasible. Incremental cost increases per unit are significantly less than overall structural costs, so the per-unit expense for 60 units is less than 50, making the project more appealing in competitive grant processes.

Of the 22 units to be set aside for formerly homeless individuals, six will be reserved for HIV-positive clients of STAP, the Southern Tier Aids Programs. Those infected with HIV tends to experience much higher homelessness rates than the general population, with at least 81 homeless HIV-positive individuals in Tompkins County alone. This makes it hard to do things like refrigerate medication. These six units are a small number perhaps, but for those six folks it will make a huge difference.

6. Another feather in the cap of the local STEM sector of the economy. Biotech startup Jan Biotech Inc., based out of the Cornell Business Park by the airport, has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that will be used in the research and production of an HIV diagnostic for detection and quantification of latent HIV-infected reservoirs in patients –  cells that have the virus but aren’t actively producing HIV, which current anti-retroviral therapies struggle with. Potentially, the diagnostic could help test new medicines for their ability to target those cells, and lead to a true cure for the virus before AIDS can occur.

Along with new equipment and renovated facilities, the grant is expect to result in the hiring of another 5 to 10 scientists and engineers for the four-person firm. Which is great, but truly, it’s their work to try and improve our treatment and medicine of a deadly virus that’s more important. The very best of luck to them.

7.  A bit of news from the Cornell Daily Sun regarding the additional 2,000 beds Cornell would like to build on its North Campus, as part of its freshman expansion and “Sophmore Village” plan. The university would like to begin construction on the first dorms in 2018, and start increasing student enrollment by 2020. For that to happen, the plans pretty much need to come forward for formal planning board review within the next few months. Presumably, they’d like to have the dorms ready by August 2019 – these will be used as flex space initially, so that existing dorms like Balch and Clara Dickson can start renovation. At a bare minimum, it takes three months to go through the city planning board. Given this project’s proximity to Cayuga Heights, the local patricians will want to have their say as well, even if it is just outside village lines. With the size of the project and a minor amount of inter-municipal complexity, four months from sketch plan to approval seems realistic. Considering the need to request and award contract bids, it would seem plausible that Cornell puts the dorms forward this fall for review, with approval expected by late winter. Bids would be requested and awarded during the Spring, and construction would start by June. Whatever the case, the first construction plans are likely not far off.





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part III: Site Photos

5 09 2017

The rough construction timeline for the Maplewood structures looks something like this: Apartment buildings B and C started construction first in the spring, and the first townhouses were scheduled to begin in May. All of the major apartment buildings are expected to start construction by the end of August, while the last of the townhouse strings will not begin build-out until January 2018. Roughly speaking, the ends of the project site have earlier starts than structures in the middle of the site, and the more traditional-looking townhouse units start construction before the more modern strings.

The timeline is likely slightly behind schedule. During the mid-August site visit, a worker said that five of the foundations had been completed, but it seems at least six should have been finished by that point. The reason given for the relatively slow progress has been the wet summer, which has interfered with certain parts of the construction. For example, concrete pouring and curing for the foundations becomes a lot more complicated with the presence of frequent downpours. Rainwater can damage the foundation during certain stages of the process by causing the new pour to become soft again, reducing its structural integrity. Depending on timing, extra precautions have to be taken, or even worse, if it’s a real washout of a day the pour simply can’t take place at all. Several construction days have been lost, and to pick up the slack, the project asked for and received approval to increase the workday from 8 AM – 6 PM, to 7 AM – 7 PM, with the town’s stipulation that the extra two hours keep work noise below 85 decibels.

The photos below come from three separate time periods – February, which was mostly just site prep and excavation for underground utilities, the continuation of utilities excavation and installation in April, and the readying of connections to those new utilities in August. The circular concrete structures seen in April and August are for underground electric utility junctions. Similar structures may be used for wastewater pipes and drainage pipes. The teal pipes are PVC sewer pipes, and the rectangular precast concrete sections are protective covers. New curbing is being installed along Mitchell. I don’t know what the ridged crescent-shaped orange structures are, but if a reader knows, feel free to chime in in the comments.

Above-ground, it looks like the masonry stairwells for apartment buildings B and C have been built as of August. The slots in the sides suggests structural steel frames. A trailer on-site belongs to Peppard & Sons Masonry of Lockwood, so they may be the pertinent sub-contractor. Foundation slabs can be seen, and wood forms have been prepared for future pours.

 

Pre-development site photos:

February 2017:

June 2017:

August 2017:





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part II: Site Plan and Layout

3 09 2017

Unlike most projects, Maplewood is basically an entire new neighborhood – there are five large apartment buildings, 21 townhouse strings, and the community center, for a grand total of twenty-seven buildings. The building elevations for each structure can be found in Building Set Plans 1-3, on the town of Ithaca’s website here.

The pretty version of the site plan, from STREAM Collaborative, has most of the buildings pretty clearly labeled, but is a little outdated – the townhouses along Mitchell were added late in the process, and were not labelled here. However, this is the easiest diagram to follow, and highlights some of the landscaping features of the project. The childrens’ play area is located at the intersection of James Lane (the north-south road) and Lena Street (the east-west road). The overlook is a natural area at one of the highest elevations of the property, and the community garden is at the turn of James Lane. The bus stop/food truck area, unlabeled here, is the intersection of Maple Avenue and Veterans’ Way. The knoll between apartment buildings D, E and F is the location of the Mitchell family cemetery plot, last active in the 1850s.

Here is the more accurate but less attractive site plan. The townhouses along Mitchell have been renamed, but otherwise everything else is the same. Notably, there is no apartment building “A”. “A” was the multi-story building along Mitchell Avenue that was removed late in the planning process. In short, five multi-story buildings, B, C, D, E, and F. Then there are the townhouses, to be covered in detail in the next section.

The Townhouses

The townhouses are all 2-4 bedrooms. Counting them all off, there’s At, Bt, Ct, Dt, Et, Ft, Gt-1, Gt-2, Ht-1, Ht-2, It-1 and It-2, Jt-1 and Jt-2, Kt-1 and Kt-2, Lt, Mt, Nt, Ot, and Pt. The color coding is for easy reference.

Each uniquely-lettered string is its own design. The Gt’s, Jt’s, and Kt’s are near-identical twins exception for unit layout and building elevation steps to accommodate slopes. The more traditional-looking Ht-1 and Ht-2, and It-1 and It-2 strings are mirror images of their same-lettered counterpart.

The modern-looking townhouses use a brick veneer, light and dark fiber cement panels and lap siding, cast stone accents and wood canopies, along with concrete foundations and stairs. The more traditional townhouse strings (Ht’s, It’s, Nt, Ot, Pt) are finished with fiber cement siding and trim boards. All townhouses are 2.5-3 stories in height. Modern townhouse strings At, Dt, Et, Gt-1 and Gt-2 take advantage of the site’s slope to employ rear garages tucked into the hillside.

The ones with integrated garages (At, Dt, Et, Gt1/2’s) are all 3-bedroom units. At is 4 units, Dt is 5 units, Et is 6 units, and the Gt’s are 7 units each.

Two of the modern townhouse units have no garages and large full-length setbacks on their third floors. This includes Bt (4 units) and Lt (5 units). They are all three-bedroom units.

Five of the modern strings have no garage and full-length top floors. These are 4-bedroom units, like Ct (4 units), Ft (6 units) and Mt (6 units). Kt-1 and Kt-2 (Kt-1 shown in the render above) have three stacked flat 2-bedrooms on each end of the townhouse string (the first floor is one 2-bedroom unit, and the other two-bedrooms are stacked over it), and 4 four-bedroom units in the middle, for ten units each.

Then there are strings that a mixture of setbacks and no setbacks. Jt-1 and Jt-2 have 11 units apiece – 3 2-bedroom stacked units on each end of the string for a total of 6 2-bedroom units, and 3 three-bedroom and 2 four-bedroom units are wedged in between. The three-bedrooms lack a rear bedroom on the top floor.

Now the traditional units. Ht-1 and Ht-2 appear to be 7 units each – 4 3-bedrooms, 3 2-bedrooms in a stacked flat format. They are separated by the West Sylvan Mews (and the small street next to the Community Center is called East Sylvan Mews). It-1 and It-2 are almost the same as the Ht’s, but the end unit is a bit larger, resulting 4-bedrooms instead of three (for a unit total per building of 3 2-bedrooms stacked, 3 3-bedrooms, 1 4-bedroom). Nt is the same as It, but with one less three-bedroom in the middle, resulting in a total of six units – three stacked flat two-bedroom units, two three-bedrooms, and one four-bedroom unit. Lastly, Ot and Pt are the same basic design, except Pt has one more unit in the middle. Ot is clad in green siding and has 4 three-bedroom units, and Pt is clad in red siding and has 5 three-bedroom units.

The Apartment Buildings

These should be easier to follow along with, as they were labelled from south to north. All multi-story apartments use the modern design motif. The buildings generally have the same floor plan for each full floor, except for utilities/storage rooms, and that the first-floor lobby is the location of the community study room on each floor directly above.

Building B is a 4-story, L-shaped building. The building will contain 4 two-bedrooms, 2 three-bedrooms, 1 one-bedroom and 11 studios per floor. Assuming one bed/resident per studio and one per bedroom otherwise, that means 72 units and 104 beds.

Building C is a 4.5 story, J-shaped building with a partially exposed basement level. The basement has 2 two-bedroom units, one one-bedroom unit and two studio units. Each of the four upper floors has 5 two-bedroom units, 4 one-bedroom units, and 4 studio units. That results in 57 units and 79 beds.

Building D is a 4-story. L-shaped building with 4 three-bedrooms, 2 two-bedrooms, 5 one-bedrooms and 3 studios per floor. At full occupancy, Building D’s 56 units will have 96 beds.

Building E (shown above) is a 4-story, L-shaped building. The corner facing Maple Avenue and Veteran’s Way will have a small retail space; the same space on the second through fourth floors is a two-bedroom unit. Overall, the building will have 16 three-bedroom units, 7 two-bedroom units, 16 one-bedroom units and 28 studios (about 106 beds).

Building F is a 4.5 story, I-shaped building. The habitable basement has 1 two-bedroom unit, 1 one-bedroom, and 3 studios. Each of the upper floors has 3 three-bedroom units, 2 two-bedroom units, 4 one-bedroom units, and 3 studios. The final sum is 53 units and 78 beds. In sum, the apartment buildings will provide 305 units and 463 beds.

The community center is something of a question. It looks like two floors with a 100′ x 65′ footprint, but I haven’t seen an exact square footage beyond early approximations of 5,000 SF.





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part I: History and Planning

28 08 2017

Being as large and complex as it is, it was hard to figure out a way to present the Maplewood project clearly and coherently. After some thinking, it seems the best combination of clarity and detail will be to split it into three sections. This section, Part I, will be an overview of the site history and project planning. Part II will examine and break down the site plan with all of its contributing structures. Part III will be the regular construction update, which will be bi-monthly just like all the others.

Quick primer note – Maplewood Park was the name of the old complex. The new one is just called “Maplewood”. With the shorthand for Maplewood Park being Maplewood, it can get confusing.

Let’s start with the background. Love it or not, Cornell University is one of the major defining organizations of the Ithaca area. It employs nearly 10,000 people and brings billions of dollars in investment into the Southern Tier, Tompkins County and Ithaca. That investment includes the students upon which the university was founded to educate.

Traditionally, neither founder Ezra Cornell nor first university president Andrew Dickson White were fans of institutional housing. Their preference was towards boarding houses in the city, or autonomous student housing (clubs, Greek Letter Orgs, etc), where it was felt students would learn to be more independent. This mentality has often underlain Cornell’s approach to housing – it’s not a part of their primary mission, so they only build campus housing if they feel it helps them meet academic and institutional goals. If many potential students are opting for other schools because of housing concerns, or the university is under financial strain because it has to subsidize high housing costs in their scholarships, then Cornell is motivated to build housing in an effort to improve its situation and/or become more competitive with peer institutions.

With that in mind, being one of the top-ranked schools in the world means that, in the historical context of the university’s goals and plans, new housing is rarely a concern. Cornell will update housing in an effort to be more inclusive and to improve student well-being, but with labs, classrooms and faculty offices taking precedence, building new housing is rarely an objective. Only about 46% of undergrads live on campus, and just 350 of over 7,500 graduate and professional students.

From 2002 to present, Cornell has added 2,744 students, with a net increase in Ithaca of about 1900. The net increase in beds on Cornell’s Ithaca campus during that same time period is zero. While Cornell did build new dorms on its West Campus, they replaced the University “Class of” Halls. 1,800 beds were replaced with 1,800 beds. In fact, the amount of undergraduate and graduate housing on campus had actually decreased as units at Maplewood Park and the law school Hughes Hall dorm were taken offline, either due to maintenance issues, or for conversion to office/academic space. When the announcement for further decreases came in Fall 2015, I wrote a rare Ithaca Voice editorial, and even rarer, it brought Cornell out to the proverbial woodshed for poor planning and irresponsibility.

To be fair, while Cornell was the guilty body, removing housing isn’t a problem on its own. It’s when the local housing market can’t grow fast enough to support that, that it becomes a problem. The Tompkins County market is slow to react, for reasons that can be improved (cumbersome approvals process) and some that can’t (Ithaca’s small size and relative isolation poses investment and logistical hurdles). In the early and mid 2000s housing was added at a decent clip, so the impacts were more limited. But housing starts tumbled during and after the recession, and it was unable to keep up. As Cornell continued to add students in substantial quantities, it became a concern, both for students and permanent residents.

By the mid-2010s, Cornell was faced with financial strains, student unhappiness and worsening town-gown relations, all related to the housing issue. As a result, the past couple years have become one of those rare times where housing makes it close to the top of Cornell’s list of priorities.

In weighing its options, one of the long-term plans was to redevelop the 17-acre Maplewood Park property. The property was originally the holdings of an Ellis Hollow tavern keeper and the Pew family before becoming the farmstead of James and Lena (sometimes Lyna) Clabine Mitchell in the early 1800s. In 1802, James was passing through from New Jersey to Canada with plans to move across the border, but stopped in the area, liked it, and bought land from the Pews, then moving the rest of his family up to Ithaca. Apparently there’s a legend of Lena Mitchell attacking and killing a bear with a pitchfork for eating her piglets. Many of the home lots in Belle Sherman were platted in the 1890s from foreclosed Mitchell property.

Like many of the Mitchell lands, it looks like the property was sold off around 1900 – a Sanborn map from 1910 shows a brick-making plant on the property along the railroad (now the East Ithaca Rec Way) and not much else for what was then the city’s hinterland. It’s not clear when Cornell acquired property, but by 1946, Cornell had cleared the land to make way for one of their “Vetsburgs”, also known as Cornell Quarters. The 52 pre-fabricated two-family homes were for veterans with families, who swelled Cornell’s enrollment after World War II thanks to the GI Bill. Once the GIs had come and gone, Cornell Quarters became unfurnished graduate housing, geared towards students with families, and international students.

The Cornell Quarters were meant to be temporary, and so was their replacement. In 1988-89, the university built the modular Maplewood Park Housing, with 390 units/484 beds for graduate and professional students, and an expected lifespan of 25 years. The intent was to replace them with something nicer after several years, but given Cornell’s priorities, and housing typically not among them, it fell to the back burner. As temporary units with marginal construction quality and upkeep, poor-condition units were closed off in later years, and capacity had fallen to about 356 beds when the complex’s closure was announced in May 2015 for the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

Cornell had long harbored plans to redevelop the Maplewood site – a concept schematic was shown in the 2008 university Master Plan. After weighing a renovation versus a rebuild with a few possible partners, the university entered into an agreement with national student housing developer EdR Trust to submit a redevelopment proposal. The partnership was announced in February 2016, along with the first site plan.

The core components of the project were actually fairly consistent throughout the review process. The project would have 850-975 beds, and it would be a mix of townhouse strings and 3-4 apartment buildings, with a 5,000 SF community center to serve it all. The project adheres to New Urbanist neighborhood planning, which emphasizes walk-ability and bike-ability, with interconnected and narrow streets, and parking behind buildings rather than in front of them. Energy-efficient LEED Certification was in the plans from the start.

 

However, the overall site plan did evolve a fair amount, mostly in response to neighbor concerns raised through the review process. Many residents on or near Mitchell Road were uncomfortable with multi-story buildings near them, so these were pulled further back into the complex, and late in the process the remaining Mitchell Street multi-story buildings were replaced with very-traditional looking townhomes with a smaller scale and footprint. More traditional designs were also rolled out for the pair of townhouse strings closest to Worth Street, since neighbors noted they would be highly visible and wanted them to fit in. The building planned in the city’s side was also pulled inward into the parcel early on due to neighbor concerns – it became an open plaza and bus stop. The university was fairly responsive to most concerns, although the most adamant opposition didn’t want any multi-story units at all, and really preferred as few students and as few families as possible.

For the record, that is every site plan I have on file. Go clockwise from top left for the chronology. So from beginning to end, there were at least five versions made public. The final product settled on 442 units with 872 bedrooms, with units ranging from studios to 4-bedrooms.

It’s also worth pointing out that the town of Ithaca, in which the majority of the property lies (the city deferred the major decision-making to the town), had a lot of leverage in the details. The town’s decades-old zoning code isn’t friendly to New Urbanism, so the property had to be declared a Planned Development Zone, a form of developer DIY zoning that the town would have to review and sign off on. Eventually, the town hopes to catch up and have form-based code that’s more amenable to New Urbanism. The town also asked for an Environmental Impact Statement, a very long but encompassing document that one could describe as a super-SEQR, reviewing all impacts and all mitigation measures in great detail. The several hundred pages of EIS docs are on the town website here, but a more modest summary is here. If you want the hundreds of pages of emailed comments and the responses from the project team, there are links in the article here.

Some details were easier to hammer out than others. The trade unions were insistent on union labor, which Cornell is pretty good about, having a select group of contractors it works with to ensure a union-backed construction workforce. Also, at the insistence of environmental groups, and as heat pumps have become more efficient and cost-effective, the project was switched from natural gas heat to electric heat pumps, with 100% of the electricity to come from renewables (mostly off-site solar arrays).

Taxes were a bit more delicate, but ended up being a boon when it was decided to pay full value on the $80 million project. It was a borderline case of tax-exemption because Cornell would own the land and EdR would own the structures, and lease the land for 50 years; but Maplewood Park was exempt, so it could have been a real debate. Instead, EdR said okay to 100% taxation, which means $2.4 million generated in property taxes on a parcel that previously paid none. Some folks were also concerned if the schools could handle the young child influx, but since Maplewood Park only sent about 4 kids to the elementary school on average, and the new plan would send 10 students when the school has capacity for another 26, so that was deemed adequate.

On the tougher end, traffic is a perennial concern, and Cornell wasn’t about to tell graduate and professional students and their families to go without a car. Streetscape mitigations include raised crosswalks, curbing, and landscaping, EdR is giving the town $30,000 for traffic calming measures (speed humps and signage) to keep the influx of residents orderly and low-speed. A new 600,000 gallon water tank also has to be built (planned for Hungerford Hill Road).

One of the thorniest issues were the accusations of segmentation, meaning that Cornell was falsely breaking their development plans up into smaller chunks and hiding their future plans to make the impacts seem smaller. This has come in the context of the Ithaca East Apartments next door, and the East Hill Village Cornell is considering at East Hill Plaza. However, neither were concrete plans at the time, and still aren’t – to my understanding, Cornell had some informal discussions about Ithaca East but decided against it early on in the process. And they only just selected a development team for EHV.

In the end, many of the concerned neighbors and interest groups were satisfied with the changes, and actually lauded Cornell and EdR for being responsive. The EIS was formally requested in May 2016. The Draft EIS was accepted in August 2016, public meetings on it were held in October, and the Final EIS was submitted at the end of October. After some more back-and-forth on the details (stormwater management plan, or SWPPP), the Final EIS was approved right before Christmas and the project was approved in February 2017, starting work shortly thereafter for an intended August 2018 completion. With the wet summer, the project managers asked for a two-hour daily extension on construction (8 am-6 pm became 7 am -7 pm) to meet the hard deadline, which the town okayed with a noise stipulation of less than 85 decibels.

Rents for the project, which include utilities, wireless and pre-furnished units, are looking to range from $790-$1147 per bed per month, depending on the specific unit. Back of the envelope calculations suggest affordability at 30% rent and 10% utilities, for 40% of income. Cornell stipends currently range from $25,152-$28,998, which translates to $838-$967/month.

On the project team apart from Cornell and Memphis-based EdR are Torti Gallas and Partners of Maryland, New Urbanist specialists who did the overall site plan and architecture. Local firms T.G. Miller P.C. and Whitham Planning and Design are contributing to the project as structural engineer and public relations representative respectively. SRF & Associates did the traffic study. Although not mentioned as often, STREAM Collaborative did the landscape architecture for the project. The general contractor is LeChase Construction of Rochester.

So that’s part one. Part two will look at the structures and site plan itself. And then with part three, we’ll have the site photos.





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 8/2017

19 08 2017

The Breazzano Center is occupied, so for practical purposes this project is complete. The interior and exterior finish work is wrapping up (interior moldings, some cosmetic exterior panels), and it looks like the new street seating, curbing and bike racks are in – the development team may hold off on plantings until next spring, depending on how well the project team thinks the new landscaping will grow in to its new environment, and by extension, its ability to withstand the winter months.

The interior is relatively dramatic for an office and academic building. There’s lots of natural light thanks to the glass curtain wall, the natural wood paneling gives it a warmer look, and the lighting underneath the staircases in the multistory atrium is a nice touch. If I have any interior critique, it’s that there’s so much transparent glass and bright light, it can feel a little disorienting, creating a feeling of space that makes the 76,000 SF building seem much larger than it is. Some of the breakout rooms and one of the tiered large-group classrooms are also included in the photos below.

The exterior is a big change of pace from the CMU-faced residential buildings (much of it from Jagat Sharma’s hand) that define much of Collegetown. The glass curtain wall is unique, for the time being. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the aluminum panels on the sides and rear, though I recognize the cost utility provided, and necessary protection of certain interior spaces like the broadcast studio on the fourth floor.

Speaking to some construction workers on-site (the same ones who kindly gestured me to go in and take a look), they were uncertain when construction would start on Novarr’s complementary 24-unit apartment building at 238 Linden Avenue next door. But a timeline from April suggests next month, with completion next summer. That sounds reasonable – finish with one building, transition immediately to the next. Work on Novarr’s 119-125 College Avenue townhouse project has yet to start either; it appears to be a makeshift parking lot for construction crews and company trucks.

Overall, it seems the recent work in this part of Collegetown and Ithaca is a net positive. With projects like the Breazzano, 238 Linden and Dryden South, within just a few years, a corner of Ithaca that once housed a few student-oriented businesses and mostly-rundown/vacant apartments will have been replaced with dozens of beds, office space for hundreds of Cornell staff, and classrooms for deep-pocketed students who visit for only a few weeks a year. Plus, it adds up to an additional $15 million or so in taxable property (and that’s accounting for the reduction as a result of the Tompkins County IDA PILOT agreement).  There’s a clear financial benefit to Collegetown business owners and to the city. Add an aesthetic bonus point for removing the power poles and shifting moving the electrical utilities underground.

The $15.9 million project will be 100% occupied by Cornell on a 50-year lease. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse is the general contractor.

Before:

After:

 

The wording on these sheets conjures images of a stuffy, tense maître d’ addressing his staff.





Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 8/2017

18 08 2017

Cornell’s modest but useful renovation of Schwartz Plaza has made significant progress. Gone are the walls that kept the sunken plaza cloistered from passerby, and in its place are stone seats and durable granite setts, for what ideally serves as a visible, attractive public gathering space in Collegetown’s dense quarters. Ornamental grasses will be planted between the seats, and from the renders, it looks like recessed LED light poles will be added as well.

Wood benches will be installed on a granite base below the steel trusses of the far wall, and some of the stone seatings on the near/eastern side will be overlaid with wood benches as well. Hopefully the marble columns get a thorough cleaning; after a few decades, it could use a good scrub. New ornamental bushes and vines will be planted along the trusses and against the back wall of the sunken “forecourt”.

Originally, this was supposed to be done in time for classes, but that seems unlikely at this point. A September finish is likely a fair estimate.





Cornell Ag Quad Rehabilitation Construction Update, 7/2017

1 08 2017

If common spaces are what make or break a campus, then it’s a wonderful thing that Cornell hosts one of the best landscape architecture programs in the world.

With the new underground utilities in place, the remaining work is at or close to surface level. This includes the installation of new plazas, sidewalks, decorative pavers, concrete slab benches, stairwalls, bike racks and seeding. New lamp posts have been erected, a rain garden has been added, and new saplings (54 total) were planted to replace the trees lost to the utilities work. The sidewalks were widened to allow easier emergency access. The east half was finished this past fall, but the west half could only finish utilities work before winter put the kibosh on concrete pours and landscape work.

One of the goals of the refreshed ag quad is to make it a more inviting place to be during the warmer part of the year. By making use of removable furniture and adding seating areas along areas of high traffic and near buildings, the hope is that the space will be more lively and encourage social interaction among Cornell’s many students, faculty and staff. To be fair, it doesn’t look like a bad place to have an outdoor lunch.

At some point, the two temporary structures between Kennedy and Plant Science will make way for a new permanent structure; as for when that happens, your guess is as good as mine. The Pleasant Grove Apartments were built on North Campus as temporary housing after World War II and the influx of students on the GI Bill, but parts of the complex were maintained until the mid 1990s.

The $9.6 million project began last summer, and is scheduled for a completion before the 2017-18 academic year. MKW & Associates LLC of New Jersey is the lead landscape architect, Over & Under Piping Contractors Inc. of Auburn is the GC, and Albany-based CHA Consulting Inc. is providing civil engineering expertise. Background information on the project can be found here.