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.

 





News Tidbits 12/17/18

18 12 2018

Here’s a look at the agenda for the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board meeting this month. It’s a week earlier than usual due to the Christmas holiday. Notes and comments in italics below.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Special Order of Business – Presentation of the Greater Southside Plan 6:05
3. Privilege of the Floor 6:20
4. Approval of Minutes: November 27, 2018 6:35

5 Special Permits 6:40

A. Project: Bed & Breakfast Special Permit
Location: 130 Coddington Road
Applicant: Noah Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval

Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit for use of the property as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast. The property was originally issued a Special Permit in 1998 for operation of the five bedroom home as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast; the Special Permit was not renewed in 2003, as required by §325-9c(4)(g)[3], and has therefore expired. During a recent home inspection, it was discovered the property had continued to operate absent a Special Permit, necessitating a new Special Permit application. No physical alterations to the building or the site are proposed. Issuance of a Special Permit is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act “(“SEQRA”)

This is a simple case of where the previous owner never renewed the five-year permit and didn’t tell the new buyer, who planned to continue using the home as a live-in Bed & Breakfast. No letters of opposition are on file. Approval, with the proper completion of all necessary forms, is likely to be straightforward.

B. Project: Bed & Breakfast Home Special Permit 6:50
Location: 2 Fountain Place
Applicant: Jason K Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval
Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit to operate the existing 4,492 SF nine (9) bedroom residence located at 2 Fountain Place as a Bed and Breakfast Home. The owner is proposing to utilize four (4) of the nine (9) bedrooms as guest bedrooms for a period not to exceed 21 consecutive days, with a fifth bedroom utilized for home-owner occupancy. Guest occupancy will be limited to two persons or one family per guestroom. No exterior modifications are proposed to the existing home to establish the B&B use, and the existing house is compatible with the character of the neighborhood. Existing parking for seven (7) vehicles exists in the turnaround off Willets Place. The applicant does not propose cooking facilities in the guestrooms, and food service is to be limited to guests of the B&B. No other B&B Homes exist within 500 feet of the property. One sign that is five (5) SF maximum in area and not self-illuminated will be installed in compliance with Chapter 272 of the City Code, “Signs.”

Under city zoning code, B&Bs, which are to be owner-occupied, are allowed to four bedrooms to be used for the guests. A zoning code variance to use eight bedrooms as guest occupancy seemed unlikely, but the new owners believe the B&B may still be viable. Local architect Jason K. Demarest (brother of STREAM’s principal architect, Noah Demarest) is known for his historic restorations and historically-inspired design work, so his involvement is auspicious for those who hope that the century-old mansion and former Ithaca College president’s house retains its character.

6 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 7:00
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Review FGEIS & Town Comments – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/119

Hey, they’re starting to include documentation links in the agenda descriptions now! Most of the town’s comments are minor modifications and a possible correction on one of the traffic lane analyses. There’s a boatload of paperwork to dig through, so this meeting is just a chance for the planning board to look at the town’s comments, digest some of the supplemental files, and make sure there are no red flags or major concerns within that subset of information.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

This is likely to be the most contentious part of the meeting. The planning staff have conducted their analysis. Some traffic mitigation measures are sought, including circulation and mass transit / multi-modal transit improvements. The city will make sewer system upgrades a stipulation of project approval, and being next to the Cornell Heights Historic District, the board as Lead Agency wants a more sensitive use of materials and material colors, and extensive vegetative screening to be reviewed further before approval. But the most debated component, the energy use impacts, the city feels is effectively mitigated through the proposed measures by the applicant team.

I’m going to raise one point of correction though – the number of beds is going up to 2,079, but the planning staff should note that a campus-owned fraternity house, the former Sigma Alpha Mu building at 10 Sisson Place (the chapter moved to 122 McGraw Place), is coming down to make way for the project, so the gross number of beds is at least 30 less that that figure.

C. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3 – No Action
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/852

Part III of FEAF is the city planner-written review of impacts, proposed mitigations, and whether the lead agency feels the mitigations are appropriate and effective. Some stormwater, remediation plan and other supplemental materials are still needed before a declaration of significance can be made. 

D. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 8:10
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Public Hearing
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally non-conforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/859

City staff were really unhappy about this plan last month, and it was implied that this was one of the examples of “bad” infill that may lead to the new single primary structure overlay. However, barring extreme circumstances (think Maguire at Carpenter Park), review will continue under the current regulations. No new materials appear to have been submitted since the last meeting. 

E. Project: Maguire Ford Lincoln Additions and Improvements 8:30
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/860

The revised plans include modified architectural features (more windows, a green wall), and a greater amount of vegetated landscaping to comply with zoning. On-site solar panels are being considered per board recommendation, but the old building was not designed to hold the weight of solar panels. The new wings will be designed to host panels. Heat pumps are being evaluated for some functions, but some of the heavy-duty components like the service bay will likely rely on modified conventional fuel systems. The building will meet or exceed NYS Energy Code requirements.

F. West Hill- Tiny Timbers – Sketch Plan 8:50

This one has been a long time coming. Tiny Timbers bought a 5.45 acre parcel on the south end of Campbell Avenue’s 400 block back in September 2016, and has long planned one of its cluster home developments on the vacant lot. As noted at the time on the blog:

“Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.”

G. 112-114 Summit Ave – Sketch Plan 9:10

This one required some fact-checking, because 114 Summit Avenue was the former Cascadilla school dorm that came down last year to make way for the Lux apartment project at 232-236 Dryden Road. A better address for this project might be “238 Dryden”, and the rumor mill says it’s by Visum Development Group, who developed the Lux. Although the exact positioning seems uncertain, the parcel north of the Lux is CR-3 (three floors, 40% lot coverage, parking and houselike features such as gables and porches required), and the remaining adjoining parcels are CR-4 (four floors, 50% lot coverage, no parking required). With student housing experiencing a little more slack in the market lately, it’s not clear if this is student housing, or another use.

7. Old/New Business PRC Meeting Time/ Date 9:30

8. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development 9:40

9. Adjournment 9:50





News Tidbits 10/20/18

20 10 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). All NCRE materials are available for download at: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50 (Notes above)
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Project Overview Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11).

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

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

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

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

9 Adjournment 9:25





News Tidbits 9/2/18

2 09 2018

1. For lovers of old houses and those trying to restore them, the 1880 Queen Anne-style house at 310 West State Street, dubbed “The Tibbetts-Rumsey House”, is offering a tour of the renovations later this month. The tour, which starts at the front entrance at 11 AM on September 22nd, is free, but registration is required; if you’re so inclined, and since late September in Ithaca is generally a pretty nice time of the year for weekend outings, you can register here. The plan is to restore the house into a nine-bedroom co-op style living space, with a new six-bedroom co-op unit in the rear of the property.

The 3,800 SF residence was designed by local architect Alvah B. Wood and built by contractor John Snaith (of Snaith House) in 1880. Wood, a Cornell classmate of the more famous architect William Henry Miller, designed a number of prominent local structures, including the old Ithaca town hall at 126 East Seneca Street (built 1881, demo’d 2003, now the site of Tompkins Financial brand new HQ), the Immaculate Conception Church (1896) and the railroad/bus depot at 701 West State Street (1898). Union Army Captain J. Warren Tibbetts and his family were the first residents of the home. It was sold to the Rumsey family in 1885, and they owned it until 1966.

2. The medical office building near the intersection of Warren and Uptown Roads looks like it’s one step closer to happening. An LLC associated with Marchuska Brothers Construction, an Endicott-based firm that has been making inroads into the Ithaca market, bought the 2.71 acre lot and the plans from Arleo Real Estate LLC for $470,000 on the 27th. A sketch plan was presented to the village of Lansing in February 2017 for the one-story medical office building, but no formal review was carried out after the site and plans went up for sale for $500,000. Marchuska is free to change the design as they see fit, so don’t treat the renders as final. The firm recently completed the renovation of a former manufacturing facility on Craft Road into medical office space primarily leased by Cayuga Medical Center, and are the general contractors for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture project.

3. The tiny houses project at 16 Hillcrest Road in the town of Lansing is over for the time being. The town Zoning Board of appeals shot down the variance required for the lot, which is zoned industrial/research due to what is essentially a boundary line quirk. The reason cited isn’t that they don’t like the project, but rather that they don’t think it meets the intent of ZBA variances. The neighbors were opposed to the 421 SF homes, but were okay with a duplex, which could arguably be worse for them because one could build a pair of 2,000 SF, three-bedroom units that could generate more traffic and have a greater environmental impact. Even moreso, if one fully utilized the 1.26 acre lot for an office or industrial structure, that would have much greater environmental impact than either residential option because the lot could be fully utilized within standard setbacks, meaning a larger structure and parking lot, greater stormwater runoff, commuter/work-related traffic, industrial noise and related activities. An argument can also be made that these small homes would have been provided a new affordable option in an area plagued with affordability issues.

The Lansing Star seems cognizant of those arguments, and in the write-up sounded disapproving of the vote. “The denial of the variance does not mean the project has been killed. But in a sense the project is before it’s time, or zoning ordinances are behind the times. With small individual houses growing in popularity, building small scale neighborhoods defies zoning laws that were designed for conventionally sized homes.”

It’ll be a while before any zoning change is approved, and any challenge to the ZBA ruling is unlikely to go anywhere, so this proposal has been deleted from the Ithaca project map until a revival seems plausible.

4. Exxon Mobil is set to auction off a trio of parcels in the hamlet of Jacksonville. Tying into the story of the old Methodist church I wrote for the Voice last March, a major gas spill fifty years ago contaminated the groundwater and made the properties practically unlivable; after years of attempting to bring Exxon Mobil to task, the multinational energy firm purchased the properties, tore down most of the buildings except the church (after the town’s pleading), and basically sat on the lots with minimal upkeep. A municipal water line was later laid through the hamlet to provide clean water, and the gas has disintegrated and diffused with decades of time to safe levels, per the state DEC’s analysis. The town of Ulysses picked up three of the six lots, selling two to architect Cameron Neuhoff to restore the church into a residence and community space, and holding onto the third for the time being as it figures out what to do with it. The other three still owned by Exxon Mobil are the ones going up for auction. There is no reserve and the auction is set for 5 PM on October 17th. More information is available from Philip Heiliger of Williams & Williams Real Estate Auctions here.

5. Cayuga Heights is continuing with its review of the renovation and conversion of 306 Highland Road from a fraternity into a 15-unit apartment building. The plans have been slightly modified so that with the addition, the building grows from 3,400 SF to 4,542 SF (previously it was 4,584 SF).  GA Architects PLLC of Dryden is the architect of record; their online presence appears to be bare bones, and may have previously gone by the name Guisado Architects – it looks like principal Jose Gusiado has done a few homes in the Dryden and Lansing areas. Former Cornell professor and startup CEO John Guo is the developer.

6. Here’s a rough timeline for the Green Street Garage preferred developer decision – the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee is expected to rank the projects in order of preference by September 14th, discuss it at the September public hearing, hold an Executive Session with Common Council in October, and formally designate a preferred developer by October 25th. From 11/1/2018 to 2/1/2019 there will be an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) between the preferred developer and the city, which is a designated time to negotiate details regarding sales and development of the site. This serves as the basis for a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA), which would be reviewed and approved by the IURA EDC by the end of February. From there, the Planning and Economic Development Committee of the Common Council will hold their public hearing and vote in March, and the full Common Council at their April 3, 2019 meeting.

It’s a long and complex process, but the goal is to have the major details sorted out by that preferred developer designation on October 25th – given the garage’s degraded state and limited life span remaining (two, three years at most) and the time needed to stabilize the structure and determine continent measures for any rebuild, having either side pull at late in the negotiation would be very problematic (suing the city during any stage in this process is never a good idea). Hopefully everything works out between the city and its choice of developer.

6. Not a whole lot of new and interesting coming public at the moment. A new “Dutch Harvest Farms” wedding barn at 1487 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing looks interesting. Tapping into the trend of using barns for wedding receptions, the 50.44 acre property would host a 7,304 SF pole barn, pond and associated parking and landscaping improvements. The facility would be capable of hosting up to 160 people on-site. The plans are being drawn up by local architecture firm SPEC Consulting, and the intent would be to build out the $750,000 project in the spring and summer of 2019.

7. Bad news for the Ithaca Gun site; a remedial investigation by the state DEC indicated that there is still enough lead present on the property that it poses a significant threat to public health. This doesn’t necessarily derail plans for the redevelopment by Travis Hyde Properties, but the DEC will need to conduct a review, make recommendations for cleaning, and sign off on any cleanup effort THP proposes.

8. A follow-up on the Ongweoweh Corporation news note from a couple weeks back – although they didn’t respond to my inquiry, they did respond to the Journal. And the move to the larger digs in Dryden comes with 25 to 50 new jobs in Dryden over the next few years, so while it may not have been my article, I’ll gladly share positive news.





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. is contributing to the project as structural engineer, and Whitham Planning and Design is the site plan designer, landscape planner and boots-on-the-ground project coordinator for municipal review. Brous Consulting did the public relations work, and 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.





News Tidbits 8/24/17: Early Start

24 08 2017

1. The Old Library redevelopment is creeping forward. The Old Library Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature voted to recommend the sale of the property for the previously stated amount of $925,000 to Travis-Hyde. With that vote, it goes forward to the full legislature for a vote on September 5th, where there are no major challenges expected. The Library Committee vote was 4-1, with legislator Dooley Kiefer (D-Cayuga Heights) opposed. Kiefer has always been opposed to any sale, and has long advocated for a lease of the land – and the only way the lease made any practical sense was by being 50 years in length, so that any investment could have the possibility of being recuperated. Given that she’ll probably vote no again for consistency’s sake, and perhaps a rejection from legislator Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) because she was a long-time proponent of the condo plan, there aren’t likely to be any other opposition votes from the 15-member legislature. Once the sale is okayed, site prep for the 58-unit mixed-use senior facility at 310-314 North Cayuga Street can begin by the end of the year, with a spring 2019 opening expected.

2. So when is an expansion truly an expansion? That’s the question raised by the Times’ recent coverage of a proposed renovation of the county jail, which faces issues with overcrowding, but whose expansion of holding cells is strongly opposed by a number of advocacy groups. The jail is shared with the Sheriff’s Department offices at the moment, and the combined facility at 779 Warren Road is collectively referred to as the Public Safety Building.

The ideal concept as pitched by the Sheriff’s Office would create an additional 13,000 square-foot administrative facility adjacent to the jail that would provide office space, conference space and locker rooms for officers. This would free up programmatic space in the PSB to be used for support functions like classrooms and counseling/meeting rooms, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, and thus take up space in the jail). So,it’s  not a jail expansion per se, but a support services expansion, which would probably drive debate among advocacy groups. The proposal is strictly conceptual, but the county is prepared to move forward with a formal study from LaBella Associates if requested.

3. At the latest Planning Board meeting, Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive and affordable housing plan was granted the green light to go forward to the next step, though not without reservation and concern from some local business owners and elected officials. Per the Times’ Matt Butler, 1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal spoke in opposition to the current plan, feeling it was too large and unattractive, while nearby business owners were uncomfortable with the population who would live there. 30 units would be set aside for those who are mostly independent but may need some degree of mental health support, 22 units are general affordable housing, and eight are for formerly homeless individuals. All units are one bedrooms. Lakeview will provide office and support space for services on the first floor of the 62,700 SF building.

In other news, the debate over South Hill continued with the airing of grievances against student housing, Finger Lakes ReUse earned approval for its Elmira Road project, and someone must have left early, because the planning board failed to reach quorum (minimum attendance) to vote on recommendation of historic designation for the Chacona Block at 411-415 College Avenue.

4. Here’s an interesting little proposal out of Danby – a 10-unit pocket neighborhood. The project would be located on 2.2 acres at the rural intersection of Brown Road and Short Road, northeast of the hamlet of West Danby. The houses would be modular and modestly-sized with two basic styles, a 1.5-story cape and 1-story ranch. Additionally, they would be designed for aging-in-place, Net Zero Energy (zero net energy consumption), and have a shared common space (courtyard, lawn or similar), parking lot and septic system. The project, which has access to municipal water service, would require a zoning variance. The project is similar to the Amabel and Aurora Street pocket neighborhoods in Ithaca, though it’s a different developer – here, it’s Mike McLaughlin, a business owner from Newfield, and Danby residents Esther and Brooke Greenhouse. Esther was a team member in the condo proposal for the Old Library site.

Although not explicit, these are likely for-sale units, possibly with a push towards seniors. With shared spaces, modular components and modest sizes, the cost for these is likely to be modest as well – they would likely be similar to the Lansing Community Cottages price range of $175k-$225k.

5. After much debate, the Sun8 Dryden solar projects have been approved by the town planning board. The sites include a nearly 11 MW facility at 2150 Dryden Road, and an 18 MW facility along Turkey Hill and Dodge Roads. The projects will produce approximately 28 MW of electricity, which is enough to power the approximately 7,500 households. The project will utilize a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) of $8,000/MW, or about $224,000 in year one of operation, and with built-in inflation, about $8 million over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the town has begun review on a much smaller solar project at 2243 Dryden Road. Delaware River Solar is seeking approval to construct a 2.4 MW array on the interior portion of a farm property just west of the village near Ferguson Road. About 35 acres of the 115 acre parcel would be impacted during construction, with five acres used for the panels themselves.

6. In real estate listings, here’s something unusual for those who dare to be different – a Groton church, already renovated with living space and studio space. Aptly-located 113 Church Street is listed at $174,900 and 9,490 square feet on Zillow, but a check of county records says 9,166 SF – a 1,000 SF apartment, a 1,344 SF office, 4,078 SF “non-contributing space”, and 2,744 SF “cold storage”. The property was built in either 1881 or 1883 (county record) for a Congregational denomination, and after some mergers in the 1960s it became the Groton Community Church. From records and county file photos, it looks like the church building was re-purposed in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Previous tenants include a head start program, massage therapy, and art gallery. The tax assessment is for $100k, which seems to account for the old and somewhat mothballed condition of the property, such as the boarded up windows on the steeple tower. Should one be interested, contact info can be found in the first link.

7. This week’s news round-up is running a little early because I wanted to get the latest Trumansburg Hamilton Square materials out before the planning board meeting Thursday evening. Over the past few weeks, there haven’t too many changes to the project site plan, but the daycare center was moved from inside the loop road to outside, exchanging locations with a string of for-sale market-rate townhomes. The resulting move also seems to have decreased the number of market-rate units (some townhome, some detached single-family) down by one, to 14. 11 affordable for-sale townhomes and 47 affordable rental units are still in the mix.

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A copy of the traffic study from SRF Associates has also been made available on the project website. The traffic study aims to be thorough, and will likely be expanded in response to neighbor concerns about slower traffic like garbage trucks and school busses, snow impacts, and a possible sampling and estimation of school-focused but non-peak hours and a couple other intersections further from the project site (Rabbit Run Road, and Whig/South Streets). The meeting tomorrow will be at 7 PM at the Trumansburg Fire Hall. The actual submission of the project for formal board review is not expected until late next month, after incorporating feedback from the upcoming meeting.

 





News Tidbits 6/4/17: The Return, Part II

4 06 2017

1. The solar revolution is happening. Nothing makes that any clearer than putting up one of upstate’s largest solar arrays on land held as part of the Cayuga coal power point.

Just about every news agency in a fifty mile radius got the press release, but the Lansing Star has in-depth coverage. The $25 million project, to be built on 75 acres of the plant’s 434-acre site in Lansing, would create an 18 MW array that would be able to power 3,100 homes. 150 construction jobs would be created, although the permanent job growth is nearly nil. The site is well-suited because it is easy to hook-up to the existing grid, the zoning is appropriate, and Lansing is very keen on growing its tax base – overall, this seems like the right project at the right time. At a glance, this seems to skirt past the 2 MW rule from NYSDEC that limits each project’s size, as some arrays produce as much a 3.3 MW. However, there are nine arrays producing 18 MW, an average of 2 MW each for each array on the Cayuga plant’s property – so it technically meets regulations. It’s not clear if they have to pursue subdivision to make the panels fully legal.

Two potential debates are touched on in the Star article. For one, the project may pursue a solar tax PILOT, which would save a fair amount – instead of paying the property tax of about $770,625 (25 million on a tax rate of $30.825/1,000), they would pay something like $8,000/year/MW, just $144,000. The flipside is that local taxing authorities would not be enamored with such a deal. The second potential issue is that the Cayuga Operating Company was mum on whether they’ll close the coal plant, which is probably going to keep Town of Lansing officials up at night.

2 Fountain Place (President’s House), image courtesy of Ithaca College

2. Ithaca College is in the hunt for a new president’s house. The house at 2 Fountain Place in the city’s East Hill neighborhood was deemed unsuitable because it’s difficult to maintain (it was built in 1892), it has an awkward interior layout, and there’s not enough space to host events (it’s 9100 SF on 1.06 acres). The property was designed by Ithaca’s famous 19th century architect William Henry Miller for lawyer George Russell Williams, and was purchased by the college in 1938. Although future options are still being considered, if this hits the market, we are talking a multi-million dollar sale, but lest anyone be concerned, given its historic designation the possibility of inappropriate alterations or demolition is remote. The most recent work was in 2013 for ADA accessibility at the rear porch, an ADA-suitable bathroom, and air conditioning. With 7 existing bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, it could make for a cool boutique hotel or B&B, if someone doesn’t want a personal residence with venerable grandeur.

While Ithaca College searches for a new residence (pursumably large, newer and on South Hill), incoming president Shirley Collado and her husband will live in a downtown apartment paid for by the college.

3. Hat tip to Chris Szabla for this one – the Al Huda Islamic Center planned for 112 Graham Road in Lansing village has been redesigned once again. It went from this in 2014:

to this in 2016:

to this now:

Erm…with every due respect, this is a vinyl-sided modular with a poorly-photoshopped dormer and what appears to be a door in place of a garage. The first couple of designs embraced traditional Islamic architectural features, and the second was a great mix of traditional and contemporary design motifs. But this latest version honestly looks like, even if it was done for cost considerations, that every attempt was made to hide its use as a mosque and Islamic center. This image is so poorly done, I’m still not 100% sure if this is some kind of joke, but the floor plan matches up. Oof.

4. Not something one sees all the time – these are photos from last month’s deconstruction of Ithaca’s 107 South Albany Street in preparation for a new three-story, 11-unit apartment building. Developer Nick Stavropoulos hired Finger Lake Re-Use to do the deconstruction, which diverts about 70-90% of materials from the landfill by salvaging the structural components, processing and checking them to make sure they’re in good shape for re-use, and packaged and selling the materials at a low price to interested buyers – for instance, reclaimed lumber could go into bar counters, flooring, or any number of options looking for that well-used look. The cons to this approach are that more work and more time is involved vs. a traditional demolition, which means a greater cost. Also, though no fault of FLR, Historic Ithaca is not pleased (they get bonus shade for arguing in the same article the city should downzone to protect Patterson’s, an auto body shop built in 1983, and keep their “essential service” in downtown Ithaca). The pros are the environmental/sustainable aspect, the creation of “green-collar” jobs, and salvaged materials are tax deductible.

Construction on the new Daniel Hirtler-designed apartment building will begin this summer, with occupancy in about 12-13 months.

5. Skill-building for a good cause – The Second Wind Cottages, a housing complex in Newfield that houses formerly homeless men in 320 SF cottages, has connected with high school students and teachers to help assemble a new unit, cottage #13. Supervised students at a high school in suburban Rochester assembled a 320 SF unit in their school’s back lot as part of a class, then partially disassembled it and reassembled it in Newfield. The construction and transport process was borne out out over two days.

The non-profit project is led by local businessman Carmen Guidi, who hopes to do a second women’s housing plan further up Route 13 as the current 18-unit build-out wraps up.