East Pointe Apartments Construction Update, 9/2019

14 09 2019

We’re about halfway through now, with seven of the fourteen 10-unit townhouse strings open for occupancy, and another two strings coming on each month through the remainder of the year.

The Craigslist ads are fairly standard, though they do raise an eyebrow. Typically, if a place is offering a free month of rent (which is usually deployed in the form of a discount amounting to one month metered out over the 12-month lease rather than a literal free month), they’re not hitting their occupancy goals.

If that’s the case, it probably has less to do with the units, which are by any regard pretty nice, and more to do with the number of them coming onto the market. 140 apartments is a lot to absorb at once in a a suburban neighborhood where students aren’t a significant part of the local rental market. Larger projects in Downtown Ithaca’s can tap into graduate and professional students pretty easily (City Centre relied on students to fill out its less desirable units), and the hills draw both undergrads and graduate/professional students. Meanwhile, Lansing and Dryden have no trouble filling smaller projects, like the 42-48 units the Village Solars brings online each year. East Pointe isn’t doing badly, it just isn’t easy in a small metropolitan area like Ithaca’s to bring a large suburban rental project onto the market in one phase and have it not experience some softness as the initial units are filled.

A full description of the project and its history can be found here.

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802 Dryden Road Construction Update, 9/2019

8 09 2019

It’s safe to declare this project as done. A site visit on Friday had some landscapers on site, and a small crew powerwashing the construction dust off the vertical lap siding. The final product is true to the renderings (that’s less common than one might think), the biggest difference I can see is that the pavilion used unpainted wood and corner brackets in the renders, and it’s painted without brackets here. Since the website for the apartments uses renderings in place of its “photos” page, let me be the one to supply the first photos of the finished product.

All things considered, the design is fine, and by being in a less settled part of Dryden right next to Cornell, it draws less attention from Varna residents who might otherwise not be fans if it were closer, and it’s right next to its primary place of “employment”, making for a minimal commute and lower vehicular traffic presence. In addition, with 108 bedrooms, that’s about 108 fewer students and student family members competing on the rest of the local market (these are geared a little more towards graduate/professional students, and some of those come to Cornell with spouses or children in tow).

The developer, Maifly Development of suburban Pittsburgh, did explore purchasing neighboring lots for a second development, but there are no indications that this has been pursued further. Maifly is in growth mode and purchased the under-construction project from the original developer, Modern Living Rentals, in a $2.075 million deal in September 2018.

For the sake of noting it since the emails come in regularly, the Trinitas plan down the road is in a holding pattern while they complete a study of infrastructure needs and impacts as part of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). Other than that, I’m not aware of any other projects undergoing or close to undergoing site plan review in the Varna/366 Corridor.

Granger Construction of East Syracuse led the buildout, STREAM and John Snyder Architects designed the townhouse strings, GMB Consulting Services did the LEED score analysis, T.G. Miller P.C. handled land surveying and Marathon Engineering tackled the civil engineering work – Marathon’s Adam Fishel shepherded the project through the town boards. M&T Bank provided the $8.6 million construction loan.

Before:

After:

 

 





119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 8/2019

6 08 2019

Novarr and Proujansky’s 67-unit apartment project is coming along on College Avenue. The four-story buildings are fully framed, sheathed with gypsum panels, and coated in a waterproof barrier. Atop the barrier, the construction team is attaching steel clips and rails that will be used to attach the fiber cement and zinc panels, both of which are a similar hue to those at the 238 Linden project. Red corrugated metal accents along the window frame give the project some visual interest, as do the curvaceous steel-framed window bump-outs.The stainless steel panel at the front will host the building address number and highlight the main entrances. These mimic townhouses from the front and the buildings were more townhouse-like before the changes in the fire code rendered the old design unusable, but they’re essentially traditional apartment buildings with a design twist.

Many but not all of the windows have been fitted, and interior buildout (mechanical/electrical/plumbing rough-ins) is underway. The specialty blue tape around the just-installed windows helps to seal off any potential gaps between the building structure and the aluminum frame. You can catch a glimpse of it in the photos, but the top level of the interior courtyard-facing walls have a glass curtain wall. This project seems to be on track towards its expected late January completion.

More information about the project can be found here.





815-17 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2019

18 07 2019

This project rose quietly and quickly. 815-17 North Aurora is a small infill project in Fall Creek, replacing what was previously a significantly deteriorated two-family house. It was one of the typical “urban farmhouses” popular in Ithaca in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with major, unsympathetic additions tacked on at a later date. Under its previous owner, who purchased the property in 1999, the house started a gut rehab, but only got through through the “gut” part and never got to the “rehab”.

In June of 2018, the property was placed on the market for $269,000, and the listing noted small-scale redevelopment potential, that the city could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes per zoning. For smaller developers, this was an opportunity. Fall Creek has become Ithaca’s walkable, urban darling in recent years so the market would support a plan, provided that the neighborhood or city didn’t object. The site could never host some grand multi-million dollar project, but it was a chance to build something complementary to the neighborhood, and add density through modest urban infill (Historic Ithaca objects to anything involving a teardown being called infill, but the textbook definition is more accommodating).

The opportunity the site held was right up the alley of a family of local owner/developers, the Stavropoulos family of West Hill, who own the State Street Diner and a growing portfolio of rental units under the name “Renting Ithaca”. The Stavropoli have redeveloped several properties in the past few years, including 1001 North Aurora Street (4 units), 107 South Albany Street (11 units), a two-family home at 514 Linn Street, and a two-family unit planned for 209 Hudson Street (they originally applied to build two two-family buildings, but reduced it to one after neighborhood pushback). Their M.O. is basically small-scale rental infill, nothing especially large or ostentatious, and with that they go under the radar for the most part. In short, this R2b-zoned site is a perfect fit for them. They purchased it for $235,000 on March 7th.

The project involves teardown of the original structure, and replacing it with two two-family structures, four units total. Each will be three bedrooms and 1,290 SF. Their usual architect of choice, Daniel Hirtler, has designed the structures to fit in with the Fall Creek vernacular, with recessed entries and aesthetic details (such as a transition between fiber cement shakes and clapboard siding) for visual interest. The buildings are positioned so that one is in the front of the lot, one at the rear, and only the front structure is visible from most public viewsheds. The site includes two parking spaces and a two-car wood-frame garage with new landscaping and utilities. Heating will come from electric heat pumps, and while the roofs will be capable of hosting solar panels, those aren’t expected to be included as part of the initial build. LED lighting, energy efficient appliances and water heaters, and high-efficiency spray foam insulation are included. This project would very likely meet the new Green Building Policy Requirements if in place.

The $627,000 development should be complete by August per Site Plan Review documents, a clear nod to having the units ready in time for the next academic year. Fall Creek tends to be less desirable to undergrads at Cornell because of the distance (<1% of total population), but graduate and professional students often rent in the neighborhood (~9% of graduate/professional students at Cornell live in Fall Creek).

Rather unusually, this project actually got some significant pushback from the Planning Board, which tends to be more acquiescent towards smaller projects; some of it had to do with the project itself, but it was also proposed while the city was hotly debating the merits of infill, a discussion that still continues. The argument was that the project will be rentals, would probably never be owner-occupied, and the board was questioning the merits of approving a project that would likely bring in students to the neighborhood and detract from Fall Creek’s “character”. In response, the initial plan for four parking spaces was replaced with two spaces and a two-car garage, with the newly freed space turned into an outdoor common area. A porch was added to the street-facing duplex, and a den in each unit to make them more family-friendly. All in all, there were four revisions from the first submission in October 2018, to final approval in February.

If you’re wondering about the color swatches – the lower level fiber-cement lap siding will be Sherwin-Williams “Knitting Needles” (light grey), and the front door and shake siding on the upper levels will be S-W “Westchester Grey”. Personal opinion, Ithaca is naturally grey enough as it is, but that’s just one guy’s take. Trim boards will be gloss white and the roof shingles will be Owens-Corning TruDefinition Duration Estate Grey. The concrete base, naturally grey, will remain exposed or potentially get a parge coat, the design plans left either option on the table.

The slab foundation is in, and the buildings are framed, sheathed in plywood ZIP Panels, roofed, shingled, some roof trim boards have been attached, fiberglass windows have been fitted, and the PVC sewer line is clearly visible in its trench. The inside of the wood-frame structure is framed out, and utilities roughs-in (mechanical/electrical/plumbing) are underway. Sorry folks, this one sneaked up on me – demo permits were filed in March, building permits May 20th. Hopgart Construction of Horseheads is the construction manager.

Early drawing.

Final design.





128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 7/2019

12 07 2019

Looks like it’s safe to say that the infill project at 128 West Falls Street is completed. With the exception of some interior finish work and landscaping, the project is largely finished and will be ready for occupancy for the start of August. The guys at Plumb Level and Square were hard at work so the photos are a bit limited, but I do appreciate them allowing me to wander around a bit. Heritage Builders is the developer for the five-unit project, with three three-bedroom and two two-bedroom units. The construction crew said the units were designed to be easily reconfigured if desired.

One of the guys expressed disappointment that the copper exterior finishes were already discoloring, but that’s kinda the point of copper. As it oxidizes, the copper darkens and takes on a grey-green patina that also waterproofs and protects the copper below the surface. A nice detail to have if you’re trying to fit into a neighborhood of much older homes.

The addresses are 126 West Falls Street, 132A West Falls Street, and 132B West Falls Street. 126 is the stand-alone single-family unit on the east side of the lot, a 3 bedroom, 3 bath asking $2,680/month. 132A is the duplex in the middle – Unit 1 is the east (right) unit, Unit 2 the west (left) unit, with asking prices of $2,750/month for Unit 1 and $2,650/month for Unit 2, discounted slightly perhaps because it’s next to Route 13. The two-family unit at 132B West Falls Street is asking $1,650/month and $1,850/month for its units. The units come with electric fireplaces ans dishwashers, but surprisingly for their premium p[rice point, they don’t have washers and dryers included, just the hookups.

More info about the project can be found here.





News Tidbits 7/4/19

4 07 2019

1. According to the village of Lansing Code Enforcement office, IJ Construction (the Jonson family) will be starting construction on another “6-plex”, or another six-unit string of for-sale townhomes on the southwest corner of the intersection of Bomax Drive and Nor Way. The units being completed now have sold at a decent clip, with two units sold and a third pending. I believe offhand they have to do streetscape / street lighting improvements before the other three can be sold.

In all probability, while the finishes and details will likely differ as they have in all of the townhome strings at the Heights of Lansing development, these will likely be 3-bedroom, 3.5 bath 2200-2400 SF units intended for sale in the upper 300k – lower 400k range. Previous units have included granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, electric heat pumps and other premium and/or eco-friendly features. Expect these stick-built units to be ready for occupancy sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, the Pizza Hut at 2301 North Triphammer Road is for sale, and the code enforcement officer had heard a rumor a hotelier was looking at it. However, at present, the 3,003 SF 1990s building is still for sale, with a listing price of $995,000. At 1.29 acres, the property could comfortably accommodate a 60-80 room hotel provided it was 3 floors, which is what the village allows. The more recent minutes suggest that the owners are looking for ideas, and that Pizza Hut will be calling it quits regardless.

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2. The proposed downzoning for the 300-500 Blocks of West State Street is being sent back to the Planning and Economic Committee for further revisions. The Common Council voted 8-2 (1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal opposed) to explore proposed amendments by councilor and 2nd Ward/State Street Corridor rep Ducson Nguyen. The amendments include maximum facade length, a hard limit on maximum footprint, and a 4 floor setback / 6 floor max vs. the 3 floor setback / 5 floor allowed.

3. Common Council also voted unanimously to support the INHS PUD for the Immaculate Conception Site. While some quibbles were had for more for-sale units and for larger apartment units for families (3 bedroom+ units are historically the hardest units to fill because of the limited number of applicants), the board expressed appreciation for the project on its merits and gave them the green light to go ahead with review by the Planning Board. The $17 million mixed-use project, which will include several thousand square feet of non-profit office space (the exact amount is in flux) and 78 housing units, is aiming for a Q4 2019 – Q1 2022 buildout, pending grant funding.

4. Also unanimous votes – a vote to support City Harbor’s funding application to the state for grants to fund the public proemande to be built at the development; the award of $70,000 in CHDF affordable housing grant funds to the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga Street for-sale townhome project by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS); cleanup of accessory dwelling code language and some law tweaks (not the same as infill), and a resolution to continue looking at a joint city-county police facility.

5. In potentially big news, thanks to a bipartisan effort of Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Republican State Senator Tom O’Mara, Tompkins County (and only Tompkins County) is now legally permitted to use county funds to support affordable housing development and preservation.

Here’s why that matters. Some of you might be familiar with the joint city-county-Cornell Community Housing Development Fund, which disburses a few hundred thousand dollars each year towards affordable housing projects, up to $400k for an owner-occupied project, and $300k for a rental, supporting the renovation or construction of 556 units since the program launched in 2009. A year might see $600-800k in grants disbursed.

Now here’s the caveat to the city and county contribution; it’s limited because those are federal and state grant funds. They were never allowed to fund a project directly, another government body was the middleman, and it takes time and effort to get those grant dollars back down the line. That slows down the development of affordable housing, and if the grants aren’t awarded for whatever reason, it could greatly curtail the CHDF, which creates the kind of uncertainty that developers seek to avoid, and less likelt to hash out a plan if they think the fund is ever at risk.

CHDF funds are often seed money; they’re hardly ever large enough to fund the development of an affordable housing project on their own. But the awarding of funds shows the community is interested in a certain project, and that development team can then pursue complementary (and usually much bigger) funding sources with a greater chance of being awarded grants. Typically, the funds aren’t disbursed until the project has all of its funding assured and is ready to go – for example, the county’s $100k portion of the $250k awarded to Lakeview Health Services for their 60-unit West End Heights projects in Round 16, is only being voted on to be disbursed now since the project has finally obtained all the funding it needs.

So what does this change mean? The county is expecting to have several applicants with affordable housing plans over the next few years, seeking up to $2.5 million in CHDF funds. Tompkins County is looking to put together a $3 million Housing Capital Reserve Fund with dollars from the county’s general fund, which could then be used as grant money to support infrastructure, development of affordable housing, studies to examine where it would best be built and make the greatest contribution (i.e. bang for the buck) and so forth. Potentially, this new fund that they are now to legally allowed to set up could assist in the development and preservation of another 400 units of affordable housing across the county.

6. On that note, the latest CHDF funding round appears to be a modest one; $80,000 to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of two new homes (30-60% area median income, or AMI) alongside the property under renovation at 1932 Slaterville Road in Dryden, $38,940 to INHS for the renovation of an existing house at 28 Crystal Drive in Dryden, which will sell to a family making 80% AMI and incorporated into the Community Housing Trust to keep it affordable, and $27,800 for an 80% AMI rental unit to be built in the back yard of 622 West Clinton Street in the city of Ithaca.

Quick update on the soon-to-be-built INHS apartment development at 203-209 Elm Street. They’re calling it “Cayuga Flats”. Sure, British English is hip/cosmopolitan, but there’s a bit of well-deserved eye roll. Also, play on words here, that site is by no means flat. The building two stories in the front, three in the back.

The project replaces 14 housing units of varying age and ownership, four of which were condemned because the foundation was crumbling, with a 12,585 SF, 13-unit apartment building containing ten one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units, in the 30-60% AMI range. The project cost for this development comes in at around $2.76 million and the design is by SWBR Architects of Rochester. Build out will take about 12 months.

On a related note, as INHS grows into a regional affordable housing developer, it will be tackling its second project outside of Tompkins County, a mixed-use project on a large vacant lot in the village of Watkins Glen. The project on Second Street will include 34 apartments for those making 47-80% county AMI, and a 7,341 early childhood education center on the ground level.





City Centre Construction Update, 6/2019

18 06 2019

For my practical purposes, I’m going to call this one complete. The 193 apartments opened for occupancy at the start of the month, and interior framing and utilities installations are underway for the three ground-floor commercial tenants (Collegetown Bagels, Chase Bank, and the Ale House) later this summer. Landscaping and pavement is in, although the underground garage was cordoned off. With no good angles aloft, it’s not clear if the 7.5 kW rooftop solar array is in place yet.

Overall I think this project will be a real asset to Ithaca’s Downtown. It creates an active-use streetwall where there was once dead space, and extends and enhances the activity of the Commons and the other side of the 300 Block of East State. The addition of over 200 new residents downtown (224 if one per bedroom or studio) will also benefit local business owners with a steadier crowd than the workforce 9-5 and hotel guests. The project is a 218,000 SF, $52 million vote of confidence in the future of Ithaca’s urban core.

The design, however, is pretty average. The curved wall facing East State and North Aurora is a nice touch (and good on the Planning Board to push for the cornice), but the mishmash aluminum panels makes me think of an old beater car that had its original fender panels replaced with those a different color. As always with architecture, to each their own.

First person to name all the people in the Ithaca art mural in the photo set below gets a shoutout on the blog.

Background information and the history of the project can be found here. The project team includes Newman Development Group, Humphreys & Partners as architect, Whitham Planning and Design LLC as the team representative and point of contact for the review process, and T. G. Miller PC for civil engineering and surveying work. EC4B Engineering handled the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering, and Taitem Engineering served as the energy systems consultant.

Before:

After: