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.





News Tidbits 6/3/17: The Return, Part I

3 06 2017

My apologies for the lack of a weekly round-up. My day job has been busier than usual, and the list of topics just kept growing, making it an even more daunting task. Gonna try and work through a few at a time until everything’s caught up.

1. Cornell and EHVP’s East Hill Village webpage has started to flesh out their Q&A regarding the mixed-use megaproject slated to replace East Hill Plaza. Here are a few details:

– Cornell wants to make it clear that all images to date, include the conceptual from the master plan above, are strictly conceptual and have little bearing on the final product. The more realistic and nuanced take is that Cornell has an idea of what they want and the program format they want it in, for broad concepts like housing capacity, commercial/research space and general urban planning. In terms of an actual layout or tenant specifics, they probably don’t have much.

– Perhaps in response to a Voice commenter and former Ithaca town planning board member who accused the university of segmentation (meaning, during environmental review they illegally broke up a project into phases to avoid a greater analyses and to downplay impact), the FAQ notes that they didn’t really have this fleshed out and it’s separate from Maplewood. Given the size, scale, that it’s a physically separated set of properties, and vague goals they’re walking into this with, that’s a fair statement. If this were, say, a replacement for Ithaca East, which borders Maplewood, it’d be a different story.

– The current thinking is to keep the main retail strip, which was requested at the first community meeting. However, they may take down a portion of it to create a through-street, and reconfigure/relocate the parking.

– They haven’t written off pursuing a PILOT or tax abatement. They are exploring an affordable housing component. Eco-features like solar arrays, heat pumps and net-zero structures are being considered.

– Meetings will continue through the summer, with concept plans prepared for the town by the fall. Construction on the first phase would begin in 2019. It will be multi-phase.

No second meeting has been posted yet, but keep an eye out for updates.

2. Making its round around local governments and news outlets is a recently-published study by local structural engineering firm Taitem that tells of good news for heat pumps, and maybe serve to county one of the town of Lansing’s arguments regarding the West Dryden natural gas pipeline. Although the firm is a promoter of green initiatives, their study indicated that financially, the technological advancement in heat pumps over the past several years has made them competitive with natural gas, although each has pros and cons. For smaller units, a 1,500 SF townhouse in the study, it was found that an air-source heat pump was slightly less in annual cost than a natural gas furnace – for a modeled 4,000 SF detached custom home, it was a few percent more. Ground-source pumps were more expensive (but slightly “greener” than air pumps), and propane was the most costly, as well as the biggest carbon emitter. Although contractors are still adapting to heat pumps, the cost is decreasing somewhat as their use spreads and familiarity grows.

However, not everything is roses, at least not yet. For large-scale commercial and industrial operations whose heating needs are substantially greater, it appears that heat pumps have yet to be competitive, and even Taitem’s Ian Shapiro acknowledges that’s likely the case at present. But while the pipeline will continue to be an issue for larger commercial enterprises, homebuilders and residential developers should be able to adapt without too much additional financial burden or risk.

For the sake of example, the Village Solars charged a modest premium on rents when they went with pumps a few years ago (due to installation costs rather than operating costs), but having a strong product makes up for the extra short-term investment, the costs will potentially balance out over a few decades, and frankly, it makes for good marketing in eco-conscious Tompkins County.

I’ll admit to being skeptical over the past few years, and I still have concerns for economic impacts like the MACOM decision, but at least from a residential construction standpoint, the Village Solars and this study are making a strong statement.

3. Move this one into the “construction” column – Cayuga View Senior Living has secured a construction loan. The mixed-use, 60-unit senior housing project at 25 Cinema Drive in Lansing village has been in stall mode for a year as financing remained elusive. However, according to a construction loan filed on May 25th, Five Star Bank is loaning the Thaler family and their associates $10.88 million to make their project become reality. Along with the loan, the Thalers and their business partners will be putting up $1,796,450 in equity to move the project forward, bring total costs to $12,676,450.

Here’s a cost breakdown – individual figures are blocked out to avoid potential legal issues. But for the sake of illustration, here is the breakdown of the finances. Source of funds to the left, breakdown of hard and soft costs to the right. Breaking down the terms, we’ll start with the hard costs: easements are the legal right to use someone else’s land for your own use – often seen with utilities, they can also be used for private improvements like sewer, solar, paths or driveways/parking. Site improvements include landscaping, driveways, and drainage. Building Cons. costs are actual materials/labor expenses, and tenant improvements are the costs of fitting out retail space as part of a lease agreement. Lastly, general conditions are a catch-all for non-construction labor costs, including site management like porto-potty rental and temp utilities, material transport costs and project management – for this project, site management falls under the general contractor, Taylor the Builders of Rochester.

Soft costs include contigency (cover your rear allowance),  overhead developer profit (the amount needed to compensate the development team, which isn’t necessarily the exact same group as those putting up equity, for taking on this project), construction interest and LOC [Line of Credit] fees to the lender, and other line items that are either self-explanatory or too vague to ascribe. At $145/SF, the cost is a fair 10% less than a similar project in Ithaca city (offhand, 210 Hancock’s apartments are ~$160/SF), which can be explained in part by lower land costs and a less complicated site to work within, and to get in and out of.

Five Star Bank is a regional bank based out of Wyoming County in the western part of the state. They hold a few local mortgages, but this appears to be their first construction loan recorded in Tompkins County.

4. I’ll wrap up “Part 1” with a piece of interesting news – Cornell found a buyer for their printing facility and warehouse on Ithaca’s West End. According to a county filing on June 2nd, Guthrie Clinic is paying $2.85 million for the properties at 750 and 770 Cascadilla Street, which is over the asking price of $2.7 million. For that they get 3.12 acres, a 37,422 SF warehouse built in 1980, and a 30,000 SF storage facility built in 1988 and currently leased out.

Guthrie is a regional healthcare provider based out of Sayre, Pennsylvania – their premier facility is the 254-bed Robert Packer Memorial Hospital, which Ithacans might know as one of two locations someone is likely to be transported to in the event of a severe injury (the other being University Hospital up in Syracuse). For the record, Cayuga Medical Center has 204 beds.

Guthrie’s presence in Tompkins County includes some specialty offices and an existing 25,000 SF clinic at 1780 Hanshaw Road in Dryden. That building first opened in 1995, with an addition in 2000. Guthrie has been a building spree as of late, with a 25-bed hospital in Troy, PA that opened in 2013, and a 65-bed hospital in Corning that opened in 2014.

As for what they want to do on Ithaca’s West End, well, I’m working on figuring that one out. I’m hoping the Times writers who follow the blog will cut me some slack and let me try to unravel this one.

 





News Tidbits 2/11/17: Cooperation Required

11 02 2017

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1. It looks like the plans for 107 South Albany Street are getting a major revision. Readers might recall that previously approved plans called for a rear addition onto an existing house to create a 9-unit, 11-bedroom apartment building. The latest plans are a little more substantial.

For one thing, the existing house would be no more under the new plan. In its place looks to be a 3.5 story, 8,427 SF, 11-unit apartment building, all one-bedroom apartments. Developer Stavros Stavropoulos has once again turned to local architect Daniel Hirtler for design work; for each of them, this is the largest project they’ve worked on to date. Hirtler came up with a design that offer contextual features like a cornice and an orthodox window arrangement, but adds a modern vertical stair element in the middle of the structure to keep the design from being an imitation. Zoning is CBD-60, so no parking is required, 100% lot coverage is allowed, and the 40.5′ proposal is comfortably within the 60-foot height limit.  According to the SPR filing, the construction cost will be about $900k and the construction period will be from September 2017 to June 2018.

As much as I dislike seeing attractive old houses come down, the new design fits well into an older urban context. Plus, if the medical practice on State ever gets redeveloped, 3.5 floors offers a nice transition to the lower-density structures further south. I’m not a super big fan of the blank wall next to the recessed entry, although the intent is to make it interesting with light fixtures, a brick pattern and an iron trellis that will be grown over with vines. Fiber cement will be used on the upper floors, with brick veneer and granite accents at street level.

On another note, it looks like the city will be looking at a one-lot subdivision next month at 109 Dearborn Place in the Cornell Heights Historic District – the owners, a married couple who are renovating the old PRI into a historically appropriate two-family residence, are looking to sell some of the land as part of the “partnership dissolution”. The PRI renovation is expected to continue. The application says a house was previously located on the undeveloped portion of the property (a glance at old maps indicate a schoolhouse was located on-site in the 1920s). It’s worth noting that the wife is also the owner of Bridges Cornell Heights, a high-end senior living facility on the next block. Bridges previously subdivided a Cornell Heights lot in 2005 to build a second residence to serve its deep-pocketed clients. Any new house would need to go through ILPC review.

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2. Meanwhile, the Ithaca Common Council had their monthly Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting. It looks like the revised 323 Taughannock project has been caught up in the TM-PUD, so it will have to get Common Council approval. Apart from a certain councilor’s general objections to housing near or on the waterfront, this one isn’t likely to stir up much controversy. The construction timeline for Steve Flash’s 8-unit , 16,959 SF owner-occupied townhouse project is June 2017 – January 2018, with an estimated value of $2-$3 million. Potentially, there could be 16 units, since each townhouse comes with a live/work space that could be converted to a separate studio apartment unit.

Also included at the meeting was a session on electric car infrastructure, votes to send laws allowing dogs in Stewart Park and a temporary altar to the Common Council, votes to circulate a zoning amendment to allow brewpubs in business zones, and a discussion of tree plantings. The Maguires also discussed possibly shifting their project to Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart, which is covered on the Voice here.

3. The city of Ithaca has been awarded funding to build a replacement bridge for North Aurora Street over Cascadilla Creek. Continuing the city’s heavy infrastructure investments of the past few years (for instance, the bridges as Lake Street, East Clinton Street, and the work planned for Brindley Street/Taughannock Boulevard), the state is giving $1.178 million towards the replacement span. Engineering work and public meetings will take place in 2017 and early 2018, with construction and completion by 2019.

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4. Over in the town of Ithaca, final approval has been granted to Cornell and EdR’s Maplewood project, meaning that everything is good to go and barring any unforseen circumstances, the 441-unit, 872-bed complex should be open for graduate and professional students by the end of July 2018. The difference between preliminary and final approval is that in preliminary, the concept is greenlighted but there needs to be additional filings completed – tree planting schedules, revised labels on diagrams, construction staging plans, and proof of final approval from the city for their portion. For those who are wondering, the 150-200 workers on-site will be parking at a temporary lot behind the Kinney Drugs at East Hill Plaza, and will be walking the five minutes down Mitchell Street to get to the job site. The first building should start to rise in late Spring of this year, with new structures rising in stages as we go through the rest of 2017.

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The town planning board also reviewed revised plans for the Rodeway Inn at 654 Elmira Road, where the old wings will now be torn down and rebuilt on the same footprint and an enclosed corridor will be built into the new wings. The final result will have a net increase of four motel rooms, to 44 (the previous plan added only two motel rooms). The plan for renovating the single-family home on the property into a community center is unaffected by these changes and moving forward as originally planned.

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5. It’s been behind schedule a few months, but DiBella’s Subs is expected to open at 222 Elmira Road on February 16th.

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6. It seemed a little odd when The Computing Center stated in their IDA application that their plans had already been approved, and there was nothing on file. Turns out they’re hoping to get approval for their 4,600 SF HQ from the town of Lansing next week.

The full suite of documents can be found on the town of Lansing’s website here. It looks like the farmhouse next door to 987 Warren Drive will be spared from the wrecking ball; although The Computing Center bought the property, it’s being subdivided and the barn-turned-garage is the only building that will be torn down. Lansing has one of the more lenient planning boards, so although this probably won’t be fully approved next week, there’s a good chance this project will receive final approval by the end of March.

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7. Over on West Hill, a large vacant parcel on Bundy Road just exchanged hands. The 66.98 acre parcel has been marketed for the past few years as a development opportunity – it has municipal water and sewer, and it’s a stone’s throw from Cayuga Medical Center, Overlook and the Conifer/Cornell developments off of Route 96/Trumansburg Road. Its previous ownership, a family that has owned it in some form since 1964 (moving between members in 1984 and 1991), had it on the market for $359,900.

The buyers, a husband-and-wife pair of medical doctors who live nearby, paid $305,000 for the deed, according to a filing on the 9th. An online search for future hints doesn’t really give much guidance – the doctors have donated modest amounts to Finger Lakes Land Trust and have signed some anti-fracking petitions, and while they own undeveloped properties around them, this parcel isn’t adjacent to their house. It doesn’t really fit the Land Trust’s ideal land donations either, since it’s been substantially subdivided with medium-density residential, and borders a growing corridor. So, it’s hard to gauge just what exactly is planned here. For the record, the land is currently zoned medium density residential (max 3 floors, up to 2.9 lots/acre), but the town’s new comprehensive plan sees the property as new urbanist medium density (5-8 units/acre small-scale mixed-use), with undeveloped open space towards the southwest corner of the parcel.

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8. Let’s finish this week off with a talk about energy. Good news first – there might be a solution to the West Dryden pipeline issue. Background here, but the nutshell is, Lansing has tapped out their natural gas capacity, and in order to accommodate new development that would need natural gas, NYSEG needs to build a higher capacity pipeline from their current facilities in the town of Dryden. This new pipeline would go along West Dryden Road, but has run into fierce opposition, mostly because Dryden residents are famous for being anti-natural gas – this was the town that took on the fracking companies and won. Keep in mind, these folks aren’t just disdainful of natural gas, they are adamantly opposed. So using their property to accommodate something they don’t like is a bit like asking to build an abortion clinic next to an evangelical church because that just happens to be where the land is cheapest, but they would have to share a driveway.

Unsurprisingly, the town of Dryden enacted a moratorium on large-scale pipeline installation. The town of Lansing is not happy because it stymies their development, and they’re extra-concerned that their biggest property taxpayer, the Cayuga Power Plant, is about to go belly up and leave the town with $100 million less on its tax rolls. The county wants to move away from fossil fuels, but it also wants to encourage development and not leave Lansing in the lurch.

This week, a plan was put forth that might accommodate both needs. A small compressor station would be built to keep pipe pressure from falling too low during times of peak demand, so that guarantees service for existing customers. The second prong is to wean existing development off natural gas and encourage new development to use other means – electric heat pumps, like those to be used in Maplewood and City Centre. This encouragement would be given through subsidies or tax breaks. The compressor station and the incentives would be in effect by late 2018.

It looks promising, but the feasibility studies are still ongoing, and Lansing is not totally on board. Both Lansing Village and Lansing Town feel they were not represented during these discussions with NYSEG, and that heat pumps are a major financial burden to saddle homebuilders with. They also wonder if the electrical grid would be capable of supporting so many heat pumps.

Speaking strictly from my experience, I’ve visited construction projects with heat pumps, and while they are a cost increase, it’s a couple percent more than the same structure with conventional heating – there’s a recently-built single-family house I can think of offhand where the cost of heat pumps was about $5,000 more on the $200,000 construction cost. If it’s incentivized, one could make it financially sensible, at least for residential options if not all. Also, I’m wary of Lansing’s reasoning because they piddled away the three town center projects five years ago – if they had stayed on top of it, they’d have $50 million more in property value and this wouldn’t be such a pressing issue now.

That being said, there are problems with this area’s approach to alternative energy. Newfield is the big culprit here – they’re about to put in a moratorium on commercial solar panel installations, which is worrying since this is the same town that redesigned their wind turbine law to ban them in essence. If municipalities are limiting residents’ abilities to turn to alternative energy sources (many urban areas have to turn to commercial arrays or turbines because there’s not enough room/too much demand on-site), then the community will be unsuccessful in weaning the population off of fossil fuels. But Dryden, which is in the process of changing their laws to accommodate large-scale solar arrays, is at the forefront of this issue – those panels could provide the electricity for the heat pumps and help turn the tide on energy sources. It only works if everyone cooperates.

 

 





News Tidbits 1/7/17: Storage and Storefronts

7 01 2017

1. Like a phoenix, it looks like Wings Over Ithaca is coming back. The franchise, whose Ithaca location was shut down after the owner was charged with 26 counts of tax evasion, will be operated under a new ownership consisting of four young Cornell alumni from the New York City area. However, while the ownership is changing, the management team for the eatery will be largely the same. The new incarnation will also be in a new location – Wings, which called East Hill Plaza its home for fifteen years, will now be located in a 1,743 SF retail storefront at 119-121 Dryden Road in Inner Collegetown. The property, owned by Ithaca Renting, previously held a Greek restaurant and then a tobacco shop, but it’s been more often vacant than occupied over the past ten years. A new kitchen is being installed in the retail space to accommodate. Expect an early Spring opening.

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2. This sounds promising, but I’m not comfortable with the precision of the details. According to Cassie Negley over at the Times, Washington D.C.-based Distributed Sun LLC, a rapidly-expanding solar energy company, wants to build two large-scale solar installations in the town of Dryden. One would be on Cornell land south of Route 366 on Turkey Hill Road, the other near the Willow Glen Cemetery on non-Cornell private land. The company is familiar with the area, as they are Cornell’s partner on the large-scale array recently installed near the county airport. The company also has plans for seven arrays on four parcels in Spencer in Tioga County, and they’re working with Cornell on solar installations for the tech school down on NYC’s Roosevelt Island.

The topic of discussion is whether or not a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) could be reached for the installation – solar installations are already exempt from NYS taxes, but school districts and towns can levy their own. Since the Cornell property doesn’t pay taxes, a lump PILOT that covers both could actually pay more than taxing the non-exempt proposal at full value. The construction timeframe at present is April-October 2017; and, here’s the imprecise part, the arrays would create 200-250 local jobs and another 100 jobs nationwide – and, from the town minutes, that doesn’t appear to be a typo. Presumably, most of that is construction, and a few in maintenance. I’d like to see the numbers for permanent local jobs, because along with the renewable energy growth and reduced electricity costs for nearby residents, the permanent jobs would be one of the big economic selling points. Given the Mettler Toledo news a few months ago, new jobs in Dryden would be welcome.

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3. Time for some sad news – 722 University Avenue is gone. The university demolished the 5,738 SF, 116 year-old house it earlier this week. The property has a storied history as the home to several fraternities and sororities; it’s kind of a shame it wasn’t renovated to provide student housing. The university has no long-term plans to redevelop the lot.

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4. Dryden, the storage capital of Tompkins County. Across the street from the 79,000 SF Storage Squad self-storage facility under construction, 4 Season Storage is busy putting up their own addition. According to a loan filing on the 3rd, 4 Season’s new building is 12,000 SF, and the hard construction costs come in at $481,172. CFCU is the lender. The structure is already framed and is being roofed, the cross trusses already separate the exterior units (not sure if those will be climate-controlled like the interior ones). Storage Squad is further behind, a graded site and a couple of reinforced concrete walls at the moment.

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5. In case you were wondering, here are some of county administrator Joe Mareane’s planning and development goals for 2017 –

– Negotiate the purchase of the Tompkins Trust Building for use by the History Center and Heritage Education Center. Also, develop a “governance”, or operations, plan for how the facility will be managed and maintained; how space will be allocated; how rent will be determined, etc.
– Work with NYS DOT and local agencies (Planning and ITCTC) to secure funding for a Route 13 traffic study.
– Facilitate the development of a realistic business strategy that allows the Airport to continue to
serve the community and be financially self-sufficient.
– With TCAction, put plans in place for a new residential project aimed at providing a meaningful
amount of housing for the chronically homeless.
– Bring alternative plans to re-use the rear portion of the Human Services Annex to the Legislature; implement its recommendation.

There’s a possibility, based on the 2016 notes that follow, that the 24-unit Re-Use project and the housing for the chronically homeless may be two different projects – the Re-Use housing project is described as transitional re-entry housing, while the housing for the chronically homeless is said to be in the property acquisition phase – i.e. still scouting out sites, with the goal of construction within two years. They might be the same, they might not, it’s not 100% clear from the notes. As for the Human Services Annex, there have been talks for additional space for Cayuga Medical Center’s services, or space for courthouse functions, and a decision is expected in Q1 2017.





News Tidbits 10/22/16: Seal of Approval

22 10 2016

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1. In yet another twist in the 201 College Avenue saga, the project will be moving forward. The Board of Zoning Appeals sided 3-1 with the city Zoning Director and denied the Planning Board’s consideration that the building be considered illegal due to facade length. According to a report from former Times reporter Josh Brokaw (now operating as an indy journalist),  the board was swayed by arguments of time and ambiguity in the code. Brokaw’s reading makes it sound like there’s still some raw feelings between staff and board. The way to solve the most pressing issue would be to clarify the code based on the facade debate, and have the common council ratify those changes over the next few months. All in all, the Form District code works pretty well, and a number of projects have been presented without big discussions over semantics. But in the case of 201, it’s clear that the CAFD wording and imagery could use further refinement, so that everyone is on the same page. With 201 resolved, now is a good time to do that.

Dunno what the completion date will be offhand (August 2017 would be a breakneck pace, but we’ll see). Neighbor Neil Golder has refiled his lawsuit, but the case isn’t especially strong.

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2. Also getting underway this week is the renovation of the former Pancho Villa restaurant at 602 West State Street into the West End branch of Elmira Savings Bank. This is quite a bit earlier than initially planned – Site Plan Review docs suggested a July-December 2017 construction/renovation. Edger Enterprises of Elmira will be the general contractor for the 6,600 SF, $1 million project, which is expected to be completed in March 2017.

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3. The Dryden town board has approved 4-1 the concept of the Evergreen Townhouses plan for 1061 Dryden Road just east of Varna. This means that they accept a PUD can be appropriately applied for the site, but the project will need to submit a formal, more detailed development plan before any final approvals will be considered. One of the major changes that is being requested is a 15-foot setback between the property line and the units at the southeast side of the parcel (25-36), so expect those to get a little trim off of the rear side (the dissenting vote, Councilwoman Linda Lavine, was because she preferred a 25-foot setback). If the setback and the other stipulations are accommodated, its chances of approval are pretty good. Developer and local businessman Gary Sloan has 270 days to submit detailed plans for review.

Meanwhile, Tiny Timbers will be up for Dryden Zoning Board of Appeals review in early November. Since an internal road will be used to access some of the home lots, the town board will be viewing the site as an “Open Development Area” (ODA), which by Dryden’s definition is development with no direct road access. The town board will hold their public meeting on the 20th to approve the ODA, the planning board’s acceptance on the 27th. The ZBA is the last or second-to-last step in the approvals process (not sure offhand if the town will need to vote again to give a final approval).

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4. The senior housing next to the BJ’s in Lansing might finally be moving forward this spring. Dan Veaner has the full story here at the Lansing Star. The issue stems from working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what parts of the land can and cannot be developed – delineating the wetlands, basically. Apparently, the wetlands were created by an overflowing culvert back when the mall was built in the 1970s. But regardless of how they were created, the USACE deems they have to be protected, especially since it developed into a rare wetland environment called an “inland salt marsh”. Since then, it’s been back-and-forth on units – I’ve heard as few as 9 and as many as 18. A portion of the wetlands would still need to be relocated. The PDA boundaries were changed slightly by the board at the request of developer Eric Goetzmann earlier this month to accommodate the USACE determination. The tax break Goetzmann received to build BJ’s is contingent on the senior housing getting built, though at this point, one has to wonder just how much this wetlands tangle has cost him. Hope it was worth it.

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5. From the sound of it, the Maplewood Park DEIS public hearing was fairly positive. Many of the neighbors are pleased with the changes, although some are still opposed to the density or have concerns about traffic. In response, it’s worth pointing out that the commute of Maplewood’s residents will almost entirely be bus, bike and foot during normal business/school hours, and its convenience to bus routes and services will also help minimize overall traffic impacts. As for density, well, if you want Cornell to house its students and reduce the burden on the open market, promoting density on the existing Maplewood site may result in a more sustainable, more cost efficient project if planned properly, with less of a neighborhood impact than building several hundred beds on an undeveloped parcel elsewhere (since the Maplewood site has been inhabited in some form since the 1940s, the growth in density would not be as prominent – about 490 beds, vs. 872 beds).

Should readers feel inclined, comments are still being accepted by town planners up until October 31st. The materials and submission email can be found here.

6. It looks like there were a couple big sales in the local real estate market this week. The first one was the Tops Plaza in big box land, just south of Wegmans. National retail developer DDR Corp. sold the property to another large firm, NYC-based DRA Advisors LLC, for $20 million on the 18th. The sale included three addresses – 710-734 South Meadow, 614 South Meadow, and 702 South Meadow – The Tops Plaza, The smaller strip to its south (called Threshold Plaza), and the pad parcels like Chili’s and Elmira Savings Bank. Perhaps the most notable part of this sale is that it’s slightly below the total assessed value of $20,941,000. However, DRA picked up the property as part of a bundle sale of 15 shopping centers in Western and Central New York, so maybe it was a bulk discount, or compensating for weaker properties.

The other big sale was between a long-time local landlord and a newer, rapidly growing one. The Lucente family (as Lucente Homes) sold 108, 116, 202 and 218 Sapsucker Woods Road to Viridius LLC for $1.276 million on the 18th. According to county records, each is a 4-unit building built in the 1970s and worth about $275k – meaning, Viridius just acquired 16 units for a little above the $1.1 million assessed. Viridius’s M.O. is to buy existing properties, do energy audits to determine what needs to be done where to maximize energy efficiency, disconnect them from fossil fuel heating and energy sources, install pellet stoves, heat pumps and the like, renovate/modernize the properties, and connect the more efficient house to a solar grid or other renewable energy sources. If Sustainable Tompkins were a developer, they’d look like Viridius.


7. This last one isn’t so much a big sale, but worth noting for future reference – 126 College Avenue sold for $510,000 on the 19th. The buyer was an LLC at an address owned by Visum Development’s Todd Fox.

126 College is a 2-story, 6-bedroom house that might have been attractive long ago, but someone’s beaten it with an ugly stick and paved much of the front lawn (growing up near Syracuse, we called paved front lawns “Italian lawns”, with my uncle one of the many offenders). The purchase price is a little below the asking price of $529k, but more than double the assessment. Zoning at the property is CR-4 – up to 50% lot coverage, 25% green space, up to 4 floors and 45 feet in height, a choice of pitched or flat roofs, and required front porches, stoops or recessed entries. This is the lowest-density zone for which no parking is required. The city describes the zoning as “an essential bridge” between higher and lower density, geared towards townhouses, small apartment buildings and apartment houses.

Granted, not everything Visum/MLR does is new, some of their work focuses on renovation. But given the location, and given that frequent design collaborator STREAM had “conceptual” CR-4 designs on display during the design crawl earlier this month, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination.

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8. Interesting agenda for the city planning board next week, if nothing new. Here’s the schedule:

AGENDA ITEM                 APPROX. START-TIME

1. Agenda Review                6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor         6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:  Minor Subdivision           6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision             6:25
Location: 123 & 125 Eddy St.
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou is planning subdivision of a double lot to build a new 2-unit, 6-bedroom house designed to be compatible with the East Hill Historic District. CEQR has been given neg dec (meaning, all’s mitigated and good to proceed), and zoning variances for deficient off-street parking have been granted.
C. Project:  Minor Subdivision                6:35
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
One of those small infill builds, this proposal in Fall Creek takes down an existing single-family home for two two-family homes on a subdivided lot. The design has been tweaked, with more windows, a belly band, more varied exterior materials, and additional gables to provide visual interest.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)           6:45
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 2

The 8-story mixed-use proposal for the Trebloc site. Comes with one letter of support, and a letter of opposition from Historic Ithaca, who have previously stated they will oppose anything greater than four floors on State Street, and six floors overall.
B. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center            7:15
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: No Action — Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Parts 2 & 3
C. Project:  Four Duplexes                               7:30
Location: 607 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Charles O’Connor
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ PUBLIC HEARING  │ Review of FEAF, Part 2
MLR’s four-building, 8-unit plan for South Hill. Comes with a letter of neighbor support saying the scale is appropriate.
D. 371 Elmira Rd. (Holiday Inn Express) — Approval of Project Changes      7:45
The debate over the Spencer Road staircase and rip-rap continues.
E. 312-314 Spencer Rd. — Satisfaction of Conditions: Building Materials   7:55
F. 119, 121, & 125 College Ave. (College Townhouse Project) — Update        8:05
Novarr’s 67-unit townhouse project geared towards Cornell faculty. No decisions planned, just an update on the project. Keeps your fingers crossed for some renders.
G. Maplewood Redevelopment Project — Planning Board Comments on Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS)     8:20
The city’s deferred judgement to the town, but the board can still have their say. The comments will be recorded and addressed as part of the EIS review process.
5. Zoning Appeals                          8:35
• #3047, Area Variance, 123 Heights Court




News Tidbits 6/4/16: A Stormy Summer Start

4 06 2016

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1. We’ll start this week off with a follow-up on the 201 College Avenue debate. All discussions of planning philosophy noted, one solid request, as reported by Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times, was to try and reduce the bulk from the College Avenue side, if not necessarily the building footprint. The above drawing was submitted by STREAM Collaborative’s Rob Morache earlier this week, with a cover letter describing the changes here. The modification reduces the building by 2 bedrooms, to 74, which to go by Todd Fox’s comment in the Times article, puts the project at the borderline of financial feasibility. The middle still pops out a little because that’s where the fire stairs are located. Some minor details were changed with the accent panels, and recessing the windows slightly on the south and west facades. For the record, the panels are Nichiha and Allura fiber cement, with painted metalwork and fiberglass window sashes.

Although now outdated, a shadow study for the previous design has since been uploaded by the city. There are two versions, with and without neighboring building shadows, here and here respectively.

Expect further detail refinements; the building is set to go in front of the Design Review Committee Tuesday morning.

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2. WSKG did a segment earlier this week on micro-apartments, with an interview with Frost Travis and the Carey Building project wrapping up on East State Street. A few details worth noting from the segment – 5 of the 20 rental units (which range from $1,225/month for the microunits to $2,699/month for a high-end penthouse 2-bedroom) are already spoken for and the building’s not even finished yet. For some reason, Monica Sandreczki says there will be about 35 residents at full occupancy, which is a big stretch since there are 16 micro-units and 4 two-bedroom units – going one person per micro-unit and bedroom, a better estimate would be 24.

The news piece also notes that the 201 College project contains micro-apartments – which is true, given that the building is 44 units and 74 bedrooms, and at least the early plans had a number of split-level 410-670 SF studio units.

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3. And 401 Lake Street will bite the dust. The Common Council voted 8-1 last Wednesday night to have structure demolished and the tax-foreclosed properties be designated as parkland. Cynthia Brock (D-1st) voted against the measure and preferred a sale for tax reasons, and her ward counterpart George McGonigal (D-1st) argued that the city was destroying historic working-class housing, though he ultimately supported the measure. Brock did take a whack at new affordable housing in the city, commenting that INHS is getting $75,000 for each townhouse, and Habitat for Humanity getting $75,000 for a duplex even with its volunteer labor, when there was a potential, cost-efficient opportunity for affordable housing designation with this unit. Josephine Martell (D-5th) seemed to be the strongest proponent for demo, stating that the unique potential to enhance the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be taken every opportunity of. The city bought the tax-foreclosed property from the county; the background on that is on the Voice here.

The funds for the demolition, estimated at $25,000, will come from the sale of IURA land to the Hilton Canopy project. That measure was approved 6-3, with Brock, McGonigal and Graham Kerslick (D-4th) opposed. With work on the Lake Street Bridge currently underway, demolition is not expected for at least a few months.

There was a thought exercise regarding the selling the falls’ parking lot to INHS for development of 3-9 units of affordable housing; it’s an interesting idea, since 401 and the adjacent are right next to the Falls, but the 0.55 acres of city property adjacent to the Lake and Lincoln Streets intersection is still over 200 feet away at its closest point.

4. The rare bit of news out of Enfield. A $612,000 building loan was issued by the Bank of Greene County to provide funds for renovating and expanding the volunteer fire station at 172 Enfield Main Road.

Give that Enfield issues no more than a handful of new construction permits each year, it’s about the only other thing going on apart from the Black Oak Wind Farm debate. One would think that arguments like “the wind does not blow as much as it used to” would be easily shot down and things would move forward, but instead it’s Marguerite Wells, the project manager for BOWF, getting raked over the coals. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do feel bad for her.

5. In case anyone was wondering – county planner Megan McDonald says the Denter housing study will be publicly available by late July.

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6. Here’s something intriguing from the county’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee agenda – a proposal to “Prepare airport land for future development“, seeking $500,000. None of the money comes from the county; it appears to be dependent on grants, or an interested developer. Which, given the fact that this shows up in budget docs going back to 2014, doesn’t exactly seem to be generating many queries.

The parcels are described as the “Cherry Road and Agway parcels”, which must be owned by the county since they want to lease out the land – but checking the deed records of parcels adjacent to the airport, there’s no record of an Agway in any of the deed histories. The parcels may be related to the properties in the airport business park feasibility study, shown above and awarded to the team of Clark Patterson Lee and Camoin Associates this past winter.

7. It’s unusual to see Cornell buying property these days, but this Friday, the university purchased the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road on Ithaca’s West Hill for $157,000. The house is a 19th century fixer-upper on 1.21 acres – Cornell owns the land surrounding it, some of which is being subdivided off to build the Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project. The house is assessed at $215,000, but the real estate listing notes it needs some work, and it’s been off and on the market for five years.

Several years ago, Cornell expressed intent to develop the 35 acres it owns into a mixed-use complex with a hotel institute, housing, offices and medical services, but the only part of the plan that ever really moved forward was Conifer’s project. I haven’t seen the plans in years, but I remember the early plans (there were a couple versions) were very sprawly; six, eight years ago, walkability was not as valued as it is now.

By buying the house, Cornell reduces its need to work around a neighbor and can incorporate the property into potential plans. This purchase would seem to suggest that Cornell still has strong interest in developing the rest of the West Hill property at some point. In the meanwhile, Cornell might rent it out while the school figures out what it wants to do with the acreage.

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8. House of the week. From the outside, 228 West Spencer Street is almost done, and the interior is fairly far along as well, with finishing work underway. Architect Noah Demarest says the house will be put up for sale in a few weeks, if everything goes as planned.





The Chain Works District DGEIS, Part One: Introduction

20 04 2016

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Chain Works is, without a doubt, the single largest project currently being considered in the Ithaca area. It’s a very large project in terms of square footage, in terms of cost, in terms of length of build-out. Being such a large and important, it needs to be examined carefully – it could help propel Ithaca’s economy and ambitions to a higher quality of life, or it could serve as 95 acres of dead weight.

Between March 29th and May 10th, the city is receiving public comments on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the DGEIS. The city’s website appears to be outdated, but the Chain Works District website is up to date – any comments readers might have, any questions or concerns, are submitted to the City of Ithaca Planning Board as lead agency for environmental review. UnChained Properties LLC, the developer, offers a blank form here, or if one prefers, comments can be sent directly to Ithaca senior planner Lisa Nicholas at lnicholas@cityofithaca.org.

What a DGEIS does is evaluate the potential impacts of growth on local resources and facilities, such as traffic, water supply systems, utilities infrastructure, social and aesthetic impacts. The DGEIS, which will need to be finalized, is part of New York State’s Enviromental Quality Review (SEQR, pronounced “seeker”) and a necessary precursor to any planned/contemplated construction and development of the site.

So, the DGEIS main body is 422 pages, with about 3 GB’s worth of appendices. Although 45 days is allotted for public comment, not a whole lot of people want to read through 422 pages, but the table of contents allows people to jump around if there’s one or two thing they’re more keen to read about. A link to the DGEIS is offered by project partner Fagan Engineers here, but you might need to submit an email and name before being able to see it.

chain-works-map

So, basic details, per the “Description of Action”:

Chain Works District Project is a proposed mixed-use development consisting of residential, office, commercial, retail, restaurant/café, warehousing/distribution, manufacturing, and open space within the existing 95-acre Site which traverses the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary . Completion of the Project is estimated to be over a seven-to-ten year period. The first phase, referred to henceforth as Phase I, will consist of redeveloping four buildings generally located at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the complex of existing buildings. These first four buildings are approximately 331,450 square-feet (SF), and will house office, a mix of office and residential, and industrial uses. Subsequent phases of development will be determined as the Project proceeds and will include new structures to complete a full build-out of 1,706,150 SF.

So, just based off that, anything that gets developed, is as the market and NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) allows. If the market isn’t amenable or the cleanup plan isn’t approved, don’t expect the plans to move forward all that fast, if at all. If the market is good and the DEC signs off on plans, expect the build-out to be on the shorter end of the 7-to-10 year time-scale.

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Related infrastructure work for the Project will include: (1) removing select buildings to create courtyards and a network of open spaces and roads; (2) creating pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular connections through the Site from South Hill to Downtown Ithaca; (3) improving the existing roads within the Site while creating new access points into the Site; (4) mitigating existing environmental impacts from historic uses; (5) fostering the development of a link, the Gateway Trail, to the Black Diamond Trail network; and (6) installing stormwater management facilities, lighting, utilities, and plantings.

No big surprises – some buildings in the interconnected complex will come down, shared road concepts will dominate the internal transportation system of the neighborhood, the site will be more fully integrated into South Hill and trails, and usual site details like stormwater plans and landscaping are going to be incorporated into the project.

Given its complexity, the project team is pretty broad – eleven organizations, from the Ithaca, Elmira, Corning and Rochester areas. Local firms include STREAM Collaborative, which helped draw up the design standards and rezoning, Randall + West for more rezoning work, and Brous Consulting, which is handling public outreach. UnChained Properties is headed by David Lubin of Horseheads (suburban Elmira). From what I’ve been told, project development to-date has cost somewhere around $2 million dollars.

Likewise on the approvals – the project will need something like fifteen approvals from a dozen different government groups and agencies.

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Let me share an introduction and summary comparable but maybe more approachable than theirs – a background primer on why this is happening can be found on the Voice in my introduction article here, and Mike Smith’s summary article here.

Much of Chain Works reuses what was once the Morse Chain / Emerson Power Transmission (EPT) factory, which employed thousands from the 1900s, up until the last workers were let go and the facility shut its doors in 2011. During the mid 20th century, industrial processes used chemicals and compounds that are known to be toxic – Trichloroethylene (TCE) being the best known, but also heavy metals and oils. These not only affect the site and its building, they’re also in the soil and groundwater of South Hill.

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The site is classified as Class 2 Superfund site, which the DEC describes as “a significant threat to public health and/or the environment and requiring action”. While EPT is responsible for clean-up, they’re only responsible for the bare minimum (the industrial standard, what can be safely exposed to for 8 hours) unless otherwise specified by a proposed reuse, in which case they have to clean to a higher standard like residential use.

So that leaves us at present – a vacant 95.93 acre, 800,000 SF industrial site split between municipalities and with varied terrain and conditions. One of the most basic goals of CWD is to get the city and town to rezone the land to allow a mix of uses – PUD/PDZ, which give flexibility in site development based off of standards the developer, the city/town, and in this case NYSDEC mutually agree to.

 

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So, in the PUD/PDZ, one of the broad takeaways is that each of the four form code has its own design standards – height, width, window-spacing, setbacks and most physical details, even signage. Unlike typical zoning, it’s the appearance that is more thoroughly managed, not the use. Those can be found in detail here. The design standards utilize what’s called LEED ND (Neighborhood Development), design standards created for large-scale green, well-integrated and sustainable development. A gated community it ain’t.

The goal of these design standards is to mitigate some of the adverse impact the new and renovated buildings will have on the community – promoting alternate transit reduces traffic, limiting floors and floor heights reduces visual impacts, and so on.

Build-out falls under four general form zones: (1) CW1- Natural Sub-Area, 23.9 acres of old woodland to be limited to passive recreation. (2) CW2- Neighborhood General Sub-Area, 21.2 acres of townhouses, stacked flats and similar moderately-dense development, mostly in Ithaca town; (3) CW3- Neighborhood Center Sub-Area, 39.7 acres of mixed-use, in a combination of renovated and new buildings towards the northern end of the property in the city, and (4) CW4, Industrial Sub-Area, a 10.3 acre zone for industrial uses in existing buildings at the Emerson site. The site borders Route 96B, single-family and multi-family homes, natural areas and steep terrain.

About 0.91 acres will be subdivided off and maintained by Emerson for active groundwater treatment. The other 95.02 acres would be sold to UnChained Properties.

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The re-development is fairly multifaceted. Some buildings will be renovated, a few will come down, a couple will receive additions, an quite a few others, like those in the all-residential CW2 zone, will be brand-new. Specifically in Phase One, four buildings – 21, 24, 33 and 34, will be renovated.

In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at the neighborhood design standards and detailed plans for Phase One.