News Tidbits 11/26/18

27 11 2018

Just to get this out in time, he’s a look at what will be a rather long but very interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting tomorrow evening.

1 Agenda Review 6:00

2 Special Order of Business – Planning Report on ILPC recommendation to designate the former Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad Station at 701 West Seneca Street. 6:05

3 Privilege of the Floor 6:20

4 Approval of Minutes: October 23, 2018 6:35

5 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 6:40
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Distribution of FGEIS & Review of Schedule – 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.

No decisions expected tonight, but the distribution of the FGEIS (Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement) is a major step forward. From here, the Planning Board will review and critique the document, and when satisfied, it will vote for a resolution of completion. A recommendation to adopt the Chainworks PUD zoning and the FGEIS findings will follow, and if successful, the Common Council will also vote to adopt the PUD zoning. That would complete generic review for the site – new builds would still come to the board as necessary, but renovations could potentially begin not long afterward. Timing-wise, the final approvals are still a few months out, but this massive 910+ unit project is slowly closing in on approvals, and potentially, construction.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:55
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3
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

Materials provided indicate that city planning staff are reasonably satisfied that the energy impacts of the massive North Campus housing plan have been mitigated. The only new letter on record this month is a letter of concern from the City Historic Preservation Planner about the project’s visual and aesthetic impacts on the Cornell Heights Historic District to the west.

C. Project: Apartments (12 Units) 7:25
Location: 327 W. Seneca Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for Visum Development
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a three-story apartment building with 12 units. Project development requires the removal of the exiting building and parking area. The project will include exterior bike storage, a trash enclosure, walkways, landscaping, signage, and lighting. The project is in the B2-d Zoning District and has received the required variances for front-, side-, and rear-yard setbacks. A small portion at the rear of the property is in the CDB-60 District. The project has received Design Review. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

Not much to add regarding Visum’s workforce housing (80% area median income) proposal for the State Street Corridor. The project is expected to receive $200,000 from the latest round of the Community Housing Development Fund, the affordable housing fund jointly paid into by the city, county and Cornell. In this case, Cornell will cover $170,000 and the city $30,000. Cornell doesn’t have any hand in this project, but having one entity pay most of the grant for a given project makes it less complex to administer. 

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:35
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
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).

Note that IFR is a Travis Hyde Properties business entity. The attempt to gain approval for an environmentally compromised project site is likely going to be more heavily scrutinized given the recent controversy regarding proposed demolition procedures for the Old Library site.

E. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 7:55
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of SEAF Parts 2 & 3
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 nonconforming 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”).

F. Project: Maguire Lincoln 8:15
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
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. Landscape design will improve vegetative cover; however, it will not meet the City of Ithaca’s impervious/pervious requirements (12%). 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.

G. Sketch Plan – 312 E Seneca Street, Jagat Sharma 8:35

312 East Seneca is a 4,482 SF three-story mixed-use building on the edge of Downtown Ithaca. The building was long-owned by Ithaca architect Jagat Sharma, who ran his practice from the building (1416 SF), the Alley Cat Cafe (1926 SF), and a four-bedroom apartment (1140 SF) on the upper floors.

A few years ago, the site was floated as part of the potential footprint for Visum Development’s Seneca Flats mixed-use project, though at the time it was made clear that it was not an essential property to the development, and simply a possibility if Sharma chose to sell to Visum. Sharma didn’t – in September, he sold the building to an LLC associated with the Stavropoulos family for $800,000, double the assessed value. That lofty price relative to assessed value was a big clue something was planned here, and it looks like the first glimpse of that will come tomorrow night. The Stavropoli of West Hill have been growing their assets through acquisition or development for the past several years, including the 4-unit North Aurora project in item E. above.

Normally, the Stavropoulos family is low-key about development, preferring lower-profile infill builds in established neighborhoods – the largest project of theirs to date is the 11-unit 107 South Albany project. They often turn to local architect Daniel Hirtler, but this time, Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma will have a hand in redeveloping the building that housed his office for so many years. This would be Sharma’s first building downtown since the Greenstate Building (127 West State Street) in 1991. For the record, this would be their second Sharma commission, with a duplex planned for 209 Hudson Street being the other (granted, that’s also a modular structure).

Zoning-wise, this is CBD-60. Within that zone, Sharma can design a five-story building up to 60 feet tall, no parking required, with any variety of commercial or residential uses. Any design will have to conform with the recently-adopted Downtown Design Guidelines. The Stavropoli are likely to do all-residential or residential with ground-floor retail. The current building is quite narrow, but it also only occupied the east half of the lot – a new structure could practically touch the neighboring building at 308 East Seneca.

H. Sketch Plan – 114 Catherine Street, Jagat Sharma 8:55

Things are about to get a bit confusing. A few years ago, the Lambrou family, mid-sized Collegetown landlords and developers of Collegetown Park, presented and built an infill project at 114 Catherine Street – while all the working docs used 114 Catherine Street, the address of the existing building set back into the lot, the new 3-unit, 17-bedroom building was christened 116 Catherine Street.

This new building is expected to be a replacement for the existing 114 Catherine Street, the Mission Apartments, and is expected to complement 116 Catherine in appearance (Jagat Sharma designed that as well). Zoning here is CR-4, up to four floors, with a maximum of 50% lot coverage (but not parking required). Expect this to be student housing – probably not too big, a few dozen beds at most, but something to take note of nevertheless.

I. Sketch Plan – 130 Cherry Street, Residential, Vecino Group 9:15

130 Cherry Street is a 4,600 SF auto body shop that’s been for sale for quite a while now. The rumor mill says Vecino CEO Rick Manzardo was walking around the area a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like there was a reason for that. The plan being floated is affordable “artist housing”. This wouldn’t be a new concept to Vecino, who renovated a vacant warehouse in Troy into the 80-unit Hudson Arthaus. What makes the Arthaus unique among affordable housing is that it offers on-site amenities geared to artists, as well as income-based rents for those who make only a modest living while engaged in their creative pursuits.  Those amenities include a wood shop, on-site storage units, gallery spaces managed by a local non-profit, and a computer/digital work suite.

Zoning here is “Cherry Street District” Waterfront Zoning. Since it’s north of Cecil Malone Drive, housing is allowed – but not on the first floor. The first floor is for light industrial and many commercial uses, including restaurants, stores and offices. No ground-level storage permitted, however. In this “artist housing” format, the first floor would likely be the exhibition/gallery.workshop space. The building may be up to five floors with 100% lot coverage once setback requirements are met. Bonus for this site, the Cherry Artspace is a few hundred feet away. With about 179,000 SF in building capacity offered by the site and zoning before setbacks are considered, a potential project could be fairly sizable.

6. Old/New Business 9:35

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

8. Adjournment 10:00





802 Dryden Road Construction Update, 11/2018

21 11 2018

802 Dryden Road, also called “Ivy Ridge”, was originally the product of local developer Charlie O’Connor, CEO of Modern Living Rentals. However, just as site preparation and underground utility installations were getting underway late last summer, the project changed hands. On September 12th, the site and construction plans were sold for $2.075 million. Filed on the same day was a construction loan from M&T Bank to pay for construction of the project – a rather substantial $8.6 million for the 42-unit, 108-bedroom townhouse complex. The buyer’s LLC was linked to a suburban Pittsburgh address for Matthew Durbin, and a little online searching indicates Durbin is a Cornell Johnson School (MBA) Alumnus, a former investment banker turned business executive. In short, an outside investor but with a demonstrated familiarity with the Ithaca area, business acumen and the money to make things happen. The sale does not appear to have altered the plans (any revisions would need to be approved by the town of Dryden) or the timeline.

Framing has started on one of the townhouse strings (each string is seven units apiece) and foundation work has started on a second. The plan is to have the units ready for occupancy in time for the Fall 2019 academic semester – being right next to the Cornell Arboretum, it’s a literal stone’s throw from the edge of Cornell campus, and is intended to appeal to graduate or professional students (especially students of the veterinary school, whose location on the eastern edge of Cornell campus has left them with few walkable options). STREAM Collaborative designed the units, Taitem Engineering is on board as a structural engineer, and Granger Construction of East Syracuse is the general contractor.

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





Village Solars Construction Update, 11/2018

21 11 2018

The Village Solars complex is a development project that never truly stops. Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) only builds two or three new apartment buildings each year, but after four years of construction, it has resulted in quite a large development. A visit to the site shows the next buildings are just getting underway – based off the latest site plan, it appears to be Building “L” and Building “K”, which is a little out-of-order in that these two were supposed to built in 2020-2021, after another phase that so far remains unbuilt. Building L’s foundation has been formed and poured, with all the utilities poking out of the concrete, to be routed into the framing as the building goes up; Building “K” looks like it’s still in the excavation stage. The crushed stone helps with drainage, site leveling and preventing cracks in the concrete due to settling. That water will be pumped out before the footers are poured.

Each of the two buildings, which have slightly different designs, is designed to host 24 units – 3 three-bedroom, 6 two-bedroom, 3 one-bedroom, and 12 of the one-bedroom “micro-units”, which are 400-500 square feet. Expect a mid-2019 opening for the pair. Next year’s phase likely involves one more apartment building in Phase “4”, as well as the construction on their mixed-use community center building (Building “F”), which will go in that empty space in the last photo. The town of Lansing’s Village Solars amended PDA law (#6 of 2016, to be technical) says the developers are only allowed one more building to be built before the community center must be constructed, and that the center must be built by the end of 2020.





News Tidbits 11/17/2018

18 11 2018

X. Let’s start this off with a look at a couple of new projects that will be coming forward to the city of Ithaca Planning Board later this month. The first is 815-17 North Aurora Street. Back in June, when the existing property went on the market, I noted that zoning could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes. Lo and behold, that is exactly the plan.

Although the listing has been pulled, no sale has been completed, so it’s not clear what kind of premium they are willing to pay for a double-lot development opportunity in trendy Fall Creek. But thanks to the Site Plan Review (SPR) documents, we at least know who the pending owner/developer is – 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.

The plan is to tear down the vacant property, and replace 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 will include four parking spaces 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. Given recent news in Fall Creek, it should be noted that the old building does contain asbestos (as do most in Fall Creek), but a demolition/deconstruction plan has yet to be filed.

The $627,000 project would be built from January to August 2019, which is 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). The planning board is expected to declare itself Lead Agency for project review this month, with approval in December of January, assuming demolition plans, excavation plans and other needed information has been received and approved.

The other new plan to be reviewed this month is for a renovation and expansion of the Maguire Ford Lincoln property at 504 South Meadow Street, just south of Wegmans and the Econo Lodge. Now, for the news savvy, you might be asking, “isn’t Maguire supposed to be moving to Southwest Park?” The answer is two-fold; for one, Ford-Lincoln was not a part of that plan. For two, there hasn’t been much in the way of formal movement on that plan, and the city is hesitant to move forward with a deal because part of the site will serve as a spoils drying area for the inlet dredging, and because of the homeless encampment, which the city would rather not disturb at this time. The evictions didn’t work out so well last time, and members of the Human Services Coalition’s Homeless Task Force are advocating for the city to create a permanent housing solution on-site.

What this all means is that Maguire has to focus on its existing properties to keep them modern and fresh for the time being, both by their own requirements and by Ford’s  – new car dealers must renovate frequently, since carmakers force them to update or risk losing their exclusive rights to sell new vehicles.

Local firm John Snyder Architects is in charge of design for the $1.5 million project, and while some eco-advocates will kvetch that a car dealer can never be green or sustainable, the building itself is designed to fit Ithaca’s yet-to-be enacted Green Building Policy. The second floor will be expanded with new offices, new customer bathrooms will be installed and the parts and customer waiting areas will be renovated and expanded. The showroom will also be expanded, and it will be slightly closer to Meadow Street than permitted in bib box land, so a zoning variance for front yard setback will be required. As a quick aside, JSA doing a car dealership is an interesting change – usually, car dealership design work has gone to Schickel Architecture.

The additions, which will result in a net increase of 5,610 SF, will be steel-framed, with concrete slab foundations, and faced with a couple variations of aluminum metal panels for a contemporary exterior finish. Apparently, that curved thing at the entrance is called a “foil”. Ithaca’s Elwyn & Palmer is assisting with the structural engineering. While there will be landscaping and circulation improvements, and the amount of green space will be increased from the existing site layout, the project will not meet impervious surface zoning restrictions, and will need a second variance to allow the proposed plan.

It’s not 100% clear what the proposed design is, since the elevation drawings don’t match the renders. Note the second-floor windows near the service area and the differences in the panel colors and elements (vertical ribs vs. rectangular panels) in the render.

The plan is to have approvals by January for a March to September 2019 build-out. Because of a tight corporate deadline from Ford, and since the Board of Zoning Appeals is not having a December meeting, and possibly not a January meeting either (expected lack of quorum?), the project team wants to discuss some sort of bundling of review and zoning variances in the review.

3. Ithaca-based architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is cooking up their latest project design, and posted hints of this “Net Zero” energy building on Twitter. There’s a very high chance this small multi-family Net Zero project is local, given STREAM’s nearly-singular focus on the Tompkins County market. Also, given that it’s a three-story building with what appears to be 4-6 units, I’d take a guess at a more settled, primarily residential urban area. Not Downtown Ithaca, but maybe one of the village centers or one of Ithaca’s more residential inner neighborhoods. If it’s an Ithaca-area rental, given the August-August academic calendar that the local apartment market revolves around, I suspect we’ll see more about this project in the next few months if the developer is aiming for fall 2019 occupancy.

4. Something to keep an eye on for the future. 602 Elmira Road sold for $690,000 on October 24th. Not only was the buyer was a New York-based hotelier, but the price paid is far above assessment – the three-acre parcel was only valued at $150,000, and had sold for $140,000 back in September 2014, from the realtor who subdivided it, to another hotel developer, Guru Hotels LLC. So it’s distinctly possible that Guru Hotels developed a plan, designs and all, but decided to not move forward with it and found another interested hotel developer to take over on the development, which would explain much of the premium on the sales price. Of course, those plans have never been brought forward to the town of Ithaca planning board, so buyer beware.

The location has some desirable factors – along Route 13 just beyond city limits, near Ithaca Beer, and within the town of Ithaca’s proposed Inlet Valley agri-business and tourism Corridor. The town as been a bit scattered on how it sees this swath of land next to 13A – the Comprehensive Plan saw it as natural space, current zoning is light industrial, and the Inlet Valley zoning and design guideline study is okay with either of those, an agriculture-related business or something tourism-focused, which a hotel would fit under. Stylistically though, a typical chain hotel will not e approved here – like with the nearby Sleep Inn project, it will have to embrace the ‘rustic look’ the town wants here.

5. 323 Taughannock has its construction loan. Tompkins Trust Company lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company. The firm normally does business as a modular and timber-frame builder based out of New Hampshire. I suspect given the choice of firms that the townhouse units will actually be framed and sheathed off site, and transported over to be assembled like pieces of a puzzle. It’s an unusual project for a firm that mostly does higher-end vacation homes and cabins, but 323 is a wood-frame structure, and the project has already had issues with the poor on-site soils and spiraling costs – a modular approach would potentially save on costs and make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage.

6. Cayuga Ridge has also received a construction loan, a set of them to finance its renovation plans. Three loans, for $12,558,750, $2,216,250 and $1,500,000, were received from CIBC Bank USA (the U.S. division of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, based out or Toronto with the main U.S. office in Chicago). The fourth loan, for $3 million, came from Metropolitan Commercial Bank out of New York. The owners of Cayuga Ridge are based out of the New York area, so perhaps that would explain the choice of lenders. The loans cover $19.275 million of the $21 million renovation, which will thoroughly update the interior layout with updated utilities and enhanced patient services. The renovation is expected to result in 49 new jobs at the nursing and rehabilitation center, mostly new nurses and nurses’ aides.

7. It’s a few weeks old now, but the infill housing behind 310 West State Street is coming along. These are the modular pieces of the new six-bedroom rental being craned into place. Also, the renovation of 310 West State is coming along, soon to be a “co-op” for young professionals. The renovation to the existing home is being paid for through a combination of private funds and a RESTORE NY state grant, while the rear infill is all private equity.

 





119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 9/2018

16 10 2018

A little late in coming, but better than nothing at all.

119-125 College Avenue is developer John Novarr’s attempt to add something to Collegetown that’s not explicitly student housing. The plan is housing for Cornell faculty and staff, ideally visiting faculty who are in need of housing close to the university.

Most developers would probably have played their cards a little more conservatively in Ithaca’s most student-focused and most expensive neighborhood, but Novarr and his partners, doing business as the Novarr-Mackesey Development Company, have assets worth in the few hundreds of millions, so they can afford to be a little adventurous. Among Novarr’s local holdings are 1001 West Seneca Street (the Signworks Building), the Casa Roma Apartments, the Breazzano Center (on a fifty-year lease to Cornell), 312 College Avenue and the crown jewel of his holdings, Collegetown Terrace. he’s entering his mid 70s, but has no intent on slowing down; with the Breazzano wrapped up, work has commenced on 238 Linden Avenue and 119-125 College Avenue.

The first official word of this project was leaked, in a way. It was listed in July 2016 as a potential project to be sponsored for a Restore NY state grant. At the time, only a site outline was available, the plan was estimated to cost about $10 million, and the project was looking at an October 2016 site plan application with a Spring 2018 completion.

It was very early in the timeline; in fact, the sale of the existing three apartment houses hadn’t even closed yet. The three boarding houses dated from the late 19th century. A historical analysis by Bero Architecture stated that the white Queen Anne-style house at 119 College Avenue was built as a boarding house in the early 1890s, the white Italianate-style house at 121 College Avenue was built as a personal residence in the early 1870s, and the stucco-coated house at 125 College Avenue was constructed as a personal residence in the 1870s. The three properties fell under the same ownership in the 1960s, and had been owned by the Hills family for over forty years before their sale to a Novarr-associated LLC in July 2016. According to the deed filed with Tompkins County, the sale price was $4.75 million, far more than their combined tax assessment of $1.655 million.

The project has since its inception met the requirement of the zoning for the site – the three continent properties are CR-4, which allows 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 requires 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.

The original plan, first presented in October 2016, consisted of three buildingsthe two buildings at the front of the parcel were designed to emulate rowhouses, and a third building located in the rear of the property would have contained garden apartments. The two rowhouse buildings and rear apartment structure would have been separated by an internal courtyard, and terraced modestly to account for the site’s slope. Counting basement space, the built space would have come in at 49,278 square feet. The 67 units were a combination of studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The project was called the “College Townhouse” or “College Townhouses”, but strictly speaking, these weren’t townhouses, the buildings only resembled townhouses by having multiple entries and stoops. The design incorporated a modern motif with glass expanses and a few different shades of colored metal and fiber cement panels.

The proposal made it through planning board review with only minor changes – for example, to give a little more visual interest, the squared-off bay windows were replaced with curving glass. The approvals process was fairly straight-forward, with site plan approval granted in January 2017.

This is where things go off the beaten path. The site had already been cleared (Novarr often seeks to clear sites before he has approvals, something that has caused consternation before), and then…it remained quiet. A vacant patch with only a temporary fence and only patchy meadow grass. This was not going to plan.

The issue turned out to be the result of revisions to the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code. The revisions, passed in November 2016, prevented construction of buildings taller than 30 feet in the presence of above-ground power lines. It just so happens that above-ground power lines pass in front of the site. The code also made the rear garden apartment building illegal because it couldn’t be reached from the street by aerial apparatus. City staff weren’t aware the code changed until after site plan approvals were granted, someone dropped the ball on communicating the changes. The College Townhouses project no longer met code because the code had changed, and so the project team had to seek a variance from the state in November 2017, under the advisement that the power lines on College Avenue were likely to be buried in the next couple of years anyway. The argument win the state over, so it was back to the drawing board.

The revised design, showcased in February 2018, removed the rear building, and reshaped the front buildings to be narrower and deeper, separated by a large courtyard that a fire truck can navigate. Access to the courtyard comes via a mountable curb. If the day comes that the power lines are buried (in 2020 or so), the plan is to turn the courtyard into landscaped green space. The decorative entry shown in the above rendering would be built after the power lines are buried. While the footprint was greatly altered, the plan kept the same design motif as before (the new design added stainless steel and zinc panels on the walls facing the courtyard, not unlike the similarly-designed 238 Linden project), and still includes 67 housing units (90 new residents, assuming one per bedroom). Revised approvals were granted at the end of February.

Just a little clarification edit here: the power lines were one issue, and the rear building was a second issue. Both had the potential to interfere with a fire truck’s ladder or lift, and with the result of changes in the code, not only did the rear building became illegal, the buildings were now also too tall for a block with above-ground power lines, 45 ft vs the 30 ft allowed. So the design team consolidated the three buildings into two structures, separated by a large courtyard that can be entered and exited by a fire truck – the truck can just pass under the lines now to reach the back of the property.

It has taken some time to finally get underway, but it looks like ground was broken around late August. Excavation was well underway by late September, with shoring walls in place (steel H-beams with wood lagging in between) to hold the adjacent soil in place.

Local landscape design firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture guided the apartment project through the review process, but the designer of the buildings is Princeton-based ikon.5 Architects, the same firm that designed Collegetown Terrace. Welliver is the general contractor for the project, which given the 12-14 month timeline of earlier reports, is likely looking at an August 2019 completion.





107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 9/2018

3 10 2018

I briefly touched on this in the Voice write-up, but a Certificate of Occupancy doesn’t require a property to be finished with construction work – only that it be safe for tenants and meeting codes and standards, meaning utilities are on, interiors are complete to a satisfactory degree, and the exterior work poses no regular threat, neither outside of work hours or during the course of normal labor. It’s not uncommon to see this in Collegetown thanks to the hard deadline of student tenants (and the dread of paying for alternative accommodations if a CO can’t be obtained), but 107 South Albany is a rare case outside of the more student-heavy neighborhoods.

The lights are on and a glance through the common space window suggest that the building is largely complete on the inside. Clearly, work continues on the outside, with fiber cement boards going over the plywood sheathing (both George Pacific and Huber ZIP plywood sheathing varieties, some of which is covered with a Resisto air/vapor barrier). The brick facade work on the front ground-level continues. I’d expect both to be finished before the first snow flies.

Renting Ithaca (Nick Stavropoulos) is the developer, and Flatfield Designs (Daniel Hirtler) is the architect. This is not likely to be their last project. The Stavropoulos Family has undertaken several progressively larger projects over the past several years, and purchased the Alley Cat Cafe building at 312 East Seneca Street for $800,000 in mid-July.

While I can’t say I’m a fan of the demolition of the previous structure, I can appreciate the subtle densification and addition of housing of the State Street Corridor with a contextually-appropriate structure. There will likely be more to come, so if this is setting the bar, it’s a good standard to have. The introductory article, and background about the project, can be found in the June 2017 post here.





City Centre Construction Update, 9/2018

2 10 2018

Along with the usual bevy of construction photos, I popped inside the sales office, which opened on the Commons last month. There might have been a little reservation from the two guys staffing the office when I introduced myself and said “I’ve been reporting on the project and do a real estate and construction blog on the side”, but once one of the leasing representatives, Anthony, mentioned he had checked out a blog called “Ithacating” to help him prepare for the job, we hit it off pretty well.

The second photo shows the reserved apartments as of September 23rd. As mentioned in the Voice article, every one of those top-end $3,265/month two-bedroom units facing the Commons are taken, and the project is still over eight months out from completion. 47 of the 192 units have deposits down, about 25% of total. A disproportionate number of those are two-bedroom units, 16 of 39 (41%). According to Anthony, the tenant mix is fairly diverse – some students, some young working professionals with downtown or Cornell jobs, and a substantial number of seniors looking to downsize and be downtown. The office has received a number of calls inquiring if the units are for sale, but unfortunately for those interested, condos are scarce in Ithaca.

The project website has been updated to include a number of interior renderings, included here at the end of the post. The first four in the set are apartment interior images, showing two bathroom finishes (modern aesthetic with a neutral palette), a larger unit’s living room and kitchen, and a studio unit, which they market as a “junior apartment”. The last three images are common spaces, two lounge spaces and the lobby. The lobby will in fact have a circular reception area, as shown in the ground-level floor plan.

Newman Development Group (NDG) had previously mentioned in a response to Green Street Garage questions that they had secured tenants for all three ground-level commercial spaces, the Ale House restaurant and two other tenants whom Anthony was not allowed to discuss per confidentiality agreements, but they hope to go public with the future tenants “in about a month”. The spaces clock in around 10.600 square-feet in total.

“NDG has recently signed three superior quality tenants for the City Centre project and had a high level of interest from a number of additional tenants that had to be turned away. NDG believes that these and other prospective tenants seeking 3,000 to 5,000 square foot spaces will find the Green Street location to be highly attractive based on the high traffic counts, pedestrian activity, mass transit access, proximity to The Commons, adjacency to significant downtown residential neighborhoods and availability of convenient parking, ” said NDG in the Green Street Q&A.

Construction is moving along at a good clip, with most of the windows fitted and work continuing on the aluminum panels and brickwork that will comprise most of the facade. For the sake of brevity, we’ll dig more into the exterior finishes and details in the next update in November.

Side note to the Ithacan – the effort is appreciated in your downtown write-up, but you guys flubbed one critical detail. City Centre and State Street Triangle were two separate projects with two separate development teams. The only common bond is location. The story that I’m familiar with is that the Colberts, who owned the Trebloc site, dropped Campus Advantage as a partner because CA wanted a lower sale price for the land when they were forced to submit smaller project designs, while NDG was willing to pay the premium, and so they were able to snatch themselves the purchase option for the site when it opened for renegotiation.

In keeping with the theme of development controversy, here it’s been the high price of the units – $1,545 – 1,625/month for a studio, $1,745 – 2,595/month for a one bedroom unit, and $2,460 – 3,265/month for a two-bedroom unit. There has been substantial blowback from some local activists and community groups as a result, and even other landlords have expressed off-record that they are incredulous of the asking prices Newman Development Group was aiming for with the City Centre project. So far, however, lease-up seems to be going well. City Centre will open for occupancy in June 2019.