News Tidbits 7/22/17: Throwing Darts

22 07 2017

1. Let’s start off the week with a little intrigue. A vacant 12.34 acre property on Wiedmeier Court in Ithaca town sold for $65,000 earlier this week – given that it was on the market for five years and marketed for development potential, the sale merited a closer look.

At first glance, it seemed to merit a shrug. The buyer was an LLC that could be traced back to a CPA in the San Francisco area, a woman of retirement age. The profile fits the deep-pocketed subset who might buy a sizable slice of land near Ithaca, and build a home for their retirement enjoyment. Not uncommon in Tompkins County.

Then on Wednesday, the same buyer purchased 114 and 122 Birdseye View Drive from the Cleveland family for $485,000. 122 is a 4-bedroom single-family, and 114 a 3-bedroom single-family. Both are next to IC, nearly new houses in a development otherwise filled with small-scale student housing. So, things just got more interesting. We’ll see if anything comes of the Wiedmeier property.

2. Just briefly touching on Hamilton Square this week – one of the questions I previously held off on addressing was the possibility of the abatement. Although the county has said they’re open to considering affordable housing tax abatements or PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) as part of their housing strategy, housing itself usually isn’t enough to merit a visit to the IDA. But with the addition of the nursery/daycare, it bared similarities to 210 Hancock, which cited its planned daycare center and the new jobs at the center in its PILOT request.

So, I asked what the plan was. Here’s the response from INHS’s Real Estate Development Director, Joe Bowes:

“We are not seeking an abatement from the IDA for the project.  If the day care is a non-profit then it would be tax exempt without the need for an IDA abatement.  The housing does not need the abatement in this case so it will be assessed and will pay property taxes.  210 had other reasons for requesting an abatement.”

Emphasis his. In the documentation on Hancock, the abatement was partially driven by the acquisition cost of the property and the need for a deep pile foundation. The buildings are much smaller at 46 South Street, so a slab/shallow foundation is suitable, and it helps that Trumansburg’s soil is less water-logged and more stable than Northside’s. This results in a lower development cost per square foot, so although they arguably could (and upset the neighbors even more), INHS isn’t pursuing a PILOT or abatement. The only tax savings will be for the eleven affordable owner-occupied units, which will be assessed for what they can sell for within the Community Housing Trust, rather than a market-rate value. This has the county’s support, because taxing a townhouse for double the value of what the lower-middle class homeowner could sell it for undermines its affordability.

3. Here’s an interesting note from Lansing regarding the Cornerstone land purchase. The first phase on 13.5 acres would be 68-72 units. The second phase on the remaining 8.9 acres would potentially host another 72 units. All of these would be affordable. This might cause a backlash as too much, but if one of the phases was general affordable housing, and the other affordable senior housing, then that might negate most of the blowback. Anyway, something to watch for.

On another note, the modified PDA for the Village Solars has a stipulation that the community center/mixed-use building (“F”, green dot) has to be completed by the end of 2020, and only 4 of the 9 other buildings will be approved before the community center is complete. Everything north of Circle North will not be allowed to start construction until the community center is open. This suggests a build-out of #116/#102, 2017-18, #2/#22, 2018-19, Community Center 2019-2020, #117/#36 2020-21, and K, L and M would be built in 2021-22.


4. Laurels and darts. Here’s a dart. The town of Ithaca is seeking to, once again, extend its moratorium on two-family properties. When the law was enacted in early May 2016, it was supposed to be for 270 days, meaning an early February expiration. Then it was extended to the end of July. Now they want to extend it to the end of October, which given the seasonal nature of construction, effectively stops all new two-family properties through the winter of 2017/18.

I’ll be frank. This is not a good look. There were a number of concerns from property owners when the law was proposed for a length of one year, was unfairly long, and the town has not only realized their concerns, it’s exceeded them. The town is establishing a bad faith precedent through what property owners will complain as either being ill will, or incompetence. Part of me is concerned that anyone fighting the town on something, be it zoning, development, conservation or anything, will use this as an example of how the town “can’t be trusted”. I’ve never been a fan of moratoriums, because they end up seeking extensions. Not impressed to have another example to file away.

5. And on that note, the town of Groton just slapped a six-month moratorium on all solar arrays designed to power more than one house or one agricultural farm. No commercial solar, no community solar. Technically, the law also stops wind turbines and gas pipelines, but the Times’ quotes make it clear this was all about solar.

6. The county legislature finally approved a name to the Heritage Center this week. The “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was approved 10-2. The previous vote failed due to a number of absent legislators and pushback for not having enough to consider the name. Legislator Chock D-3rd) initially wanted it named for late legislator Stu Stein, but naming buildings after people has been against county policy since the early 2000s. Legislator McBean-Clairborne (D-1st) voted against it because she felt the word “county” should be in there. This has not been a month where local government engenders confidence.

7. Short but interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting meeting up. The only thing up for final approval is the McDonald’s rebuild at 372 Elmira Road, while INHS’s Elm Street and Lakeview’s West End project are set to begin formal environmental review. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3.Site Plan Review

A. Project: Commercial Rebuild (McDonalds) 6:10
Location: 372 Elmira Road
Applicant:McDonalds USA LLC
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant proposes to replace the existing 4,800 SF restaurant facility with a new 4,400 SF building, construct a side-by-side drive-thru, install new landscaping, a dining patio, lighting, signage and a masonry landscape wall, as well as reconfigure the parking layout. The project is in the SW-2 Zoning District and requires an area variance. 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 Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.

B.Project: Elm St Apartments (Rebuild) 6:25

Location: 203-209 Elm Street
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The proposed project consist of the demolition of two single family homes and one
multiple dwelling and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act(“SEQRA”)§ 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: 709 West Court Street (Housing) 6:50
Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709–713 W Court Street
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels LLP for Lakeview Health Services Inc.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprintof 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will containing sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ- 1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(k) and (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

D. 105 Dearborn –Sketch Plan 7:10

This is Bridges Cornell Heights new 16-bedroom independent living building for seniors. If it’s at the Planning Board, that means the ILPC has signed off on the building and site design.

E. 311 College Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This is…curious. 311 College Avenue is The Nines restaurant and bar, and was built in 1905 as fire station No. 9 before the new station opened next door in the late 1960s. The old station was sold off and became the Nines in the early 1970s, and has been under its current ownership since 1980. The top two floors are used for storage, according to county records.

At a glance, it’s a valuable piece of land with a lot of posibilities – MU-2 zoning allows six floors and 100% lot coverage. On the other hand, this is a relative historic property in Collegetown, and development perceived as insensitive will likely see significant opposition. There had been talk by ILPC staff of giving the building historic designation back in February 2016 out of concerns over development pressure, but it seems no formal application was made. So there are options here, but the developer should proceed with caution.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50
#3066, 214 Elmira Road, Area Variance
#3079, 413 Titus Ave, Area Variance

5. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Planning Board Recommendation to Council Regarding Proposed Waterfront Rezoning
B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 403 College
Ave
C. Downtown Wayfinding

6.Reports 8:30
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 7/2017

21 07 2017

Some more progress on the Ithaka Terraces condo project at 215-221 West Spencer Street. Buildings “A” and “B” have had their porches built out and sheathed, with some of the decorative columns are in place (the architecture, penned by STREAM Collaborative, is supposed to take design curs from traditional Greek/Mediterranean hillside structures). The white coating visible from the uphill photos is the water-resistive barrier over which the stucco will be laid. Building “C” is framed and sheathed, but the roof isn’t fully shingled and many of the windows and doors have yet to be fitted. Long-awaited Building “D” has finally started construction, with excavation underway and some foundation forms in place. The grand central stairway is beginning to take shape. From what I was told by developer Ed Cope (PPM Homes), the model unit should be unveiled in the next few weeks.

The website has been updated to take inquiries, with unit sizes ranging from a 1,005 SF 2-bed, 2-bath, unit, to a 3-bedroom, 3-bath 1520 SF unit (3 bathrooms? For the family that hates sharing sinks and showers?). Nothing on the website states pricing, which was previously estimated in the $265k-$390k range.

Side note, I dropped by 413 West Seneca Street and 109 North Corn Street, a pair of projects Ed Cope is doing in Ithaca’s State Street corridor. Nothing to report yet.





607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

Thanks to the rapid turnaround time for modular units, the the duplexes at 607 South Aurora Street in the city’s South Hill neighborhood are galloping towards their completion date next month.

One thing to keep in mind is that, once the foundation has been built (Superior Walls here) and underground utilities are in place (water/sewer), it’s basically a matter of trucking in the boxes from the supplier and craning them into place. Per Ithaca Builds (the website is down but the pages are archived), they’re already framed, sheathed, utilities are mostly in, the interiors have drywall hung, windows and doors have been fitted, and even cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and countertops are in place. 80% of the construction work for the duplex is completed by craning four boxes into place and locking them together. The pros are better quality control, less waste, and a quicker turn around time. The cons to modular units is that there’s generally a limited set of designs and customization, although that has improved in recent years, particularly if a developer has a somewhat generous budget (see the Belle Sherman Cottages for example).

Once the boxes are craned and secured to the foundation and each other, the inside will undergo painting and finish work, while the outside gets faced with the exterior material of choice and porches, garages or other details are attached. Here, the rear three duplexes use vinyl siding, lap siding on the lower floors and shake siding on the gables, with decorative lap bands and color variations to give the outside some curb appeal. These units will have small porches with lattice skirts. The unit facing Aurora will receive nicer finishes since it’s the unit that will be seen the most by passing traffic. This includes fiber-cement siding, a full-width porch with decorative brackets (seen under construction below), and sculpted roof brackets.

Note that the rear of the existing house at 607 South Aurora has been expanded, its roof raised slightly. The original five-bedroom house is being extensively renovated into two three-bedroom units. The eight new units will each be three-bedrooms, going for about $700 per bedroom. To quote the ad:

“This home has 3 bedrooms with 2 baths and everything is BRAND NEW!

Newly constructed in 2017, this home features stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, LED lighting throughout the home, all oil bronze finishes, with large bedrooms and ample closet space. The home is equipped with its own washer and dryer, and can come fully furnished. This property is conveniently located less than one mile from Ithaca College, with off-street parking available, this unit is a beautiful place to call home! This property is pet friendly with the correct pet and owner. 

Other Features:
-Stainless steel dishwasher, refrigerator, range and hood vent.
-Luxury vinyl flooring throughout
-W/D in unit
-Beautiful tiled bathrooms
-Modern-Contemporary Style
-Bedroom Furnishings: includes bed frame, bed mattress, dresser, desk, and desk chair
-Dining Room/Kitchen Furnishings: offer seating for dinning
-Living Room Furnishings: includes a couch
-All Room Furnishings: includes curtains decorating all windows
-Located right up the street from the heartbeat of Ithaca, the Ithaca Commons! Magnificent place to eat, shop, and have fun in the Ithaca area
-The TCAT bus stops near the development.”

A couple blocks away, Modern Living Rentals picked up 217 Columbia Street, which has the potential for a rear unit, although it’s just as likely MLR will simply spruce up the existing two-family. The fact that the rentals are only until 5/31/2018 kinda leaves the door open for some construction work next summer.





602 West State Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

The new Elmira Savings Bank is open in Ithaca’s West End, and this project is done. A former restaurant is now 5,000 SF of renovated space plus 1,600 SF in a contemporary addition. Design-wise, it’s a smart re-use of a century-old structure, modernizing it but maintaining the integrity the original structure. Kudos to HOLT Architects for a successful blend of old and new. Elmira’s Edger Enterprises brought the $1.7 million project from the drawing board and into reality.

There’s no doubt that the project is further proof in the increased vitality and attraction of Ithaca’s long-forsaken West End, and another step on the the path to turning it into a stronger neighborhood. Within just a block, one has the new Planned Parenthood (2014), the 17-unit Iacovelli Apartments (2013), the renovated HOLT Architects office (2016), a gas station renovated into the Jade Garden restaurant (2015), and the new microbrewery opening up in the rear of the Cornell Laundry warehouse.

If there is one thing I wish had gone different with this project, it was the sale of the property and removal of three low-income families. That got ugly, and it tarnished what was otherwise a decent project. The story I’ve been told in the two years since is that the bank were mislead by the previous owner, who gave them old rental paperwork saying tenants were month-to-month, and ESB mistakenly assumed it was still accurate. So there’s something to be said about due diligence and taking a couple hours out to meet with tenants before any notices go out.

The northern end of the property has preserved a few mature trees, and in the long-run ESB would like to partner with a developer, affordable or otherwise, to do something along West Seneca. Plus, there are organizations like Lakeview, who coincidentally looked at doing a development where ESB is nowand are moving forward with affordable housing in the West End. More opportunities for mixed-use plans with market-rate and affordable housing will open up as properties go on the market and Ithaca’s economy continues to develop – and plans like Cayuga Med’s are big if auspicious question marks.

While it’s great to have new housing plans brought forward, it’s also important to maintain existing affordable housing (and programs to assist) while adding those new options. With Lakeside and Parkside scooped up and pushed upmarket, and Maple Hill now market-rate Ithaca East, that takes hundreds of units out of the equation, and this is a significant concern. It’s no surprise that tensions boiled over given the difficulties in preserving existing LMI housing options, and in approving and building new ones.

Anyway, enough with the final thoughts. Enjoy the photos.

Before:

After:





Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 7/2017

16 07 2017

Over at the Poet’s Landing construction site, it looks like two of the buildings, previous dubbed “E” and “F” since I have no actual documentation of individual address, are pretty close to completion. “F’s” exterior work is almost complete, waiting for a few more trim pieces such as balcony and porch railings. It’s difficult to tell how far along the interior is; what looks like a gaping hole in the front at first glance, is actually a covered vestibule that leads to front doors, some of which appear to have been left open in photos seven and eight below. A typical build-out usually involves the interior being fairly far along by the time exterior trim is being attached – rough-ins complete, drywall hung, and probably the painting, utilities finish work and counters/cabinetry are underway. Building “E”, which is a little further behind on the trimwork, appeared to have some unpainted drywall visible just beyond the open front doors.

Stepping further back in the construction process, building “D” is in the midst of Certainteed vinyl siding attachment, and Building “C” has been shingled and fully wrapped in DuPont Tyvek, its balcony frames and porch columns just naked beams for now. Building “B” has yet to be fully wrapped, and “A” isn’t even fully framed yet. It looks like some of “A’s” roof trusses are sitting near Building “F”.

Although unsure offhand, if Conifer is planning to do a phased move-in, they could have Buildings “F” and “E” occupied by Labor Day, “D” and “C” before Halloween, and “B” and “A” before the end of the year. Building “F” was just getting its second story framed back in February, so another six months for “A” doesn’t seem unreasonable.

When finished, there will be 16 1-bedroom units, 24 2-bedroom units, and eight 3-bedroom units. Units will be rented to households making 60% of area median income or less, so less than $32k/year. Tenants will have an interview with management, and have to pass a background check. Given the dearth of affordable housing, not everyone interviewed and qualified will be offered a unit, but in that case, they will be offered a spot on a waiting list if desired. Those interested in units in the $10.8 million project can sign up for an “interest list” here, which will notify them as management interviews commence, giving them the chance to sign up and start the process.

So, this is something I’d like to expand on a bit, given some of the recent talk about Hamilton Square in Trumansburg. Some folks have cited Overlook at West Hill as an example of the crime and degeneracy that “these people” will bring to the village. This reminded me of the West Village piece I did for the Voice last year, where I argued successful affordable housing involves community engagement and respect, access to services, and proactive tenant management.

With any group of landlords, you have good ones, mediocre ones and bad ones. Overlook’s management leaves something to be desired, as has West Village’s. Omni Development, which manages West Village, seems to be taking a greater, more proactive role, although its history of hands-off behavior leaves many wary. Overlook is managed by Domain Companies, which is based out of New York City and New Orleans, and was developed in partnership with the Arker Companies. Back when it was proposed in 2003-04, INHS did advocate for the project during the town’s review process and obtain affordable housing loans. However, they are not and have never been Overlook’s property managers.

I can honestly say I have never heard of systemic issues with anything INHS or Conifer manages in Tompkins County. Rarely if ever is there a criminal complaint about the people who occupy Conifer’s Linderman Creek, Poet’s Landing I, The Meadows, or any of their other Tompkins County properties. That goes for the general affordable housing as well as the senior housing. I can say the same thing about INHS – through the Voice, which wouldn’t hesitate to cover crime since it drives clicks so well, there’s nothing I’ve seen about Stone Quarry’s residents being an issue, or the Henry St. John Apartments, Breckenridge Place or TowerView. I can come up with complaints for both (Conifer’s unfortunate choice of auto-centric sites with cookie-cutter units, INHS’s care-worn older stock), but neither of those has to do with tenant management.

If it were Domain/Arker or Omni pushing Hamilton Square, There would be reason for concern. But given that’s it’s INHS, mixed-market with owner occupied units, moderately sized and has convenient access to Trumansburg village, I strongly doubt management of the rentals is going to be a problem.





News Tidbits 7/15/17: Ess Ess, Dee Dee

15 07 2017

1. Hamilton Square. There’s a lot to say here.

First, the neutral segment. The website is up, www.southstreetproject.org. Plenty of renders (definitely not cookie-cutter), site plans, housing prices, everything one needs for a fair assessment. The units are no more than 2 floors, mostly townhouse format. 47 affordable rentals units, 11 affordable for-sale units, and 15 market-rate for-sale units for a total of 73 on a 19 acre site. That’s less than 4 units per acre (0.26 acres/unit, comparable to the older 0.25-0.5 acre lots on Pennsylvania and South Streets), and fits zoning. The units are interspersed throughout the property. Parking ratio is 2 spaces per units, units are a mix of 1-3 bedrooms. There will be aging-in-place and energy efficient home options for sale, as well as in the rentals. The project will host a playground and nursery/daycare facility geared towards low and moderate-income households. Much of this comes from the result of constructive community feedback.

But what started off on a polite note is getting really ugly, really quickly. It is not a good sign when my editor calls me and tells me that, as a person of color, she felt uncomfortable at the latest meeting.

Given the transparency of this process, which still hasn’t even been submitted for formal planning board review, I find comments about this being “hidden” or rushed through to be a stretch. The project hasn’t submitted anything for formal review yet. Nothing but a sketch plan has been done, and multiple community meetings, and 30-minute small group listening sessions. It really does not get much more personal than that.

One of the questions that was raised was that people are unable there are many more affordable rentals than for-sale units. There are two reasons why that is. For one, funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. That’s why the buildout for the for-sale units is 2-8 years. For two, for low and moderate-income households often don’t have much money saved for a big expense such as down-payment, and far more are capable of renting versus buying.

There are valid concerns that need to be addressed. For example, traffic. A study is being conducted with a third party. The typical thing I hear, affordable housing, or any project really, is that “they’ll lie, they’re in XYZ’s pocket”. If no one trusts you to do your job properly, no municipal board will sign off on accepting your study, and you’re finished as a firm. Likewise with stormwater analysis and civil engineering. School system capacity is checked with the district, which basically just sends a letter saying “yes, we have room” or “no, we don’t have room”. The study is being conducted and will be made public long before any approvals are granted, people can weigh in after reading it to say whether it’s comprehensive and adequate, and feel free to say something and explain why it may not be. That’s the purpose of SEQR, to determine impacts and mitigate unavoidable impacts.

On a related note, a board’s job is to review the objective components of a project. It is not appropriate, or legal, to decide on a subjective trait like whether the people who will live there fit the “Trumansburg way of life” or that the project is “too Ithacan”. Who decides what those things are? Because too quickly, it degenerates into a look or an image, and a train of thought that should never be a part of any development conversation. Because it’s subjective, those terms meant something quite different in 1997, and something quite different in 1977.

Also, there seems to be this idea that poor people in urban neighborhoods will be forced out here, and they will be a burden on TrumansburgThere are plenty of people who live and work in Trumansburg who need affordable options in a rapidly-appreciating real estate market. The one bedrooms will be rented to individuals making $22k-$48k. That could be a store manager, a barista, a school teacher or a retiree. Tenants are screened, visited at their current home and interviewed before being offered a unit. Qualified affordable home buyers will mostly be in the $42k-$64k range (80-120% AMI). Think nurses, office workers, tradespeople (following INHS’s sales deeds, I actually see a lot of ICSD teachers). The market rate units will offer whatever the market allows price-wise; new townhouse-style housing in Trumansburg would likely fetch $250k+, so think upper-middle income.

It would be nonsensical to make people in Ithaca move into housing in Trumansburg that they don’t want and would drive up their costs; however, those who want to live there, whether because they admire Trumansburg, work there, or both, will seek the opportunities it provides.

For a county that seems keenly aware of its housing issues, there tends to be an uncomfortable amount of pushback against affordable housing, whether it be Fall Creek, South Hill, Lansing or Trumansburg. Does that qualify as being “too Ithacan”?

2. Taking a look at the county’s records this week, it looks like 210 Linden Avenue’s construction loan has been filed. Elmira Savings Bank is lending Visum Development (Todd Fox and associates) $3.15 million, with $2,358,783 towards the hard costs (materials/labor) of replacing the existing 12-bedroom student apartment house with a 9-unit, 36-bedroom apartment building. Elmira Savings Bank is one of the biggest single-family construction loan lenders in Tompkins, but they have only been the lender for a few multi-family projects. The only other multi-million project in the past few years was the 18-unit Rabco Apartments at 312 Thurston Avenue in Cornell Heights – a project that, along with the cancelled 1 Ridgewood, so incensed deep-pocketed permanent residents nearby that they petitioned and succeeded in getting the city to downgrade the zoning.

Also filed this week was a $415,000 construction loan from Tompkins Trust to the owner of Hancock Plaza on the 300 Block of Third Street in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 19,584 SF shopping plaza, built in 1985, is assessed at $1.485 million and has been under its current ownership since 2002. Most might know it for the DMV, but it also hosts Istanbul restaurant, a bookkeeping service, and a gas station and convenience store that opened in renovated space in 2015. There’s no indication in the loan as to what kind of work will be performed, about $363,000 has been set aside for hard costs like materials and labor, and the work is required to be finished by March 2018.

3. Also filed in both sales and construction loans this week was paperwork for 306 North Cayuga Street, right next to DeWitt Park on the edge of Ithaca’s downtown. Also known as the C. R. Williams House, the 8,798 SF, ca. 1898 property was assessed at $900,000 and on the market for $1.4 million last year. The sale price was $1.3 million.

I was privy to an email chain that engaged an out-of-state condo developer to look at the property, but that person was not the buyer.  The LLC traces back to Travis Hyde Properties, just a few blocks away.

According to Frost Travis of THP, the plan is to renovate the live/work space to allow for more space for THP, which is outgrowing its North Tioga Street location, and four apartment units. Exterior changes will only be cosmetic, but any substantial changes will be subject to ILPC approval, as the property sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. Elmira Savings Bank is lending $1.24 million for the renovation, of which $1,204,752 is going towards the actual construction (so apparently, this was a big week for ESB). The project is expected to be complete by next summer, according to the loan filing.

4. For the aspiring homebuilder or developer – new to the market this week, a run-down though salvageable 1830 home at 1975 Dryden Road just east of Dryden village, and 101 acres of developable vacant land currently rented out for agricultural use. The sale price is $795,000. The county GIS lists the property at 112.4 acres, but without a map in the listing, it’s hard to tell if there’s a typo or if there might be a subdivision somewhere. The assessment is for $531,900, $401,300 of which is the land. It appears the property has been in the ownership of the same family since 1968. The property is listed as a rural agricultural district, which is geared towards ag uses, but permits office, one-family and two-family homes as-of-right; multi-family and box retail require special use permits. Zoning is one unit per two acres, but in the case of a conservation subdivision that preserves open/natural space, it’s one unit per acre – either way, only about 50 units allowed here. Technically, a PUD (aka DIY zoning) is also an option, but would need adequate justification. Kinda hoping it doesn’t become conventional suburban sprawl, but will reserve judgement for when this sells.

 

5. Ithaca is once again competing for $10 million in state funds as part of the regional Downtown Redevelopment Initiative. The funds are intended to spark investment in urban cores and improve infrastructure for communities throughout the state, ten cities selected each year, one in each region. Readers may recall Elmira won last year. This year, Ithaca is competing against two of its Southern Tier peers – Watkins Glen, with which it competing with last year as well, and Endicott, a struggling satellite city over by Binghamton, that is entering the competition for the first time. Reports suggest the Ithaca submission is largely the same as last year’s. Winners will be announced in the fall.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 7/8/17: Watching the Fireworks

8 07 2017

1. A pair of major downtown projects are starting to get a move on site-prep and demolition. The Trebloc Building has been torn down to make way for the 187,000 SF, $32.9 million City Centre project.

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

For a bit of historical perspective, the Trebloc Building was a sort of monument to municipal desperation. Up until 1967, the site housed several 2-5 story buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then along came urban renewal. The city had made plans to demolish the buildings and sell the lot to a bank tenant, who would build a new office and help revitalize the city’s run-down downtown. But after demolishing the building, the potential bank tenant never followed through on its original intent, and the city spend years trying to sell the lot, which was used for makeshift parking in the interim. Finally, they found a buyer in the Colbert Family doing business as the Trebloc Development Company. The Trebloc Building was originally planned to have two floors, but financial troubles had reduced it to one before it finally opened for business in 1974.

One could argue that nothing quite represented the nadir of Ithaca’s downtown quite like the struggling, unloved and unlovely Trebloc Building did. There are some buildings worth fighting for, and even some mediocre ones that come down with a bittersweet sentiment. This was neither.

Perhaps unhappily for downtown businesses, City Centre will be under construction for quite some time; adjusting the estimate given to the IDA, late 2019 or even early 2020 is possible.

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks west, Harold’s Square is also gearing up for demolition of 123-135 East State Street. Unlike the Trebloc teardown, Developer David Lubin will be deconstructing the existing structures, so that their components can be re-used (the process will be managed by Finger Lake Re-Use). I’ve always been kinda partial to the green tile on the former Race Office Supply, so hopefully that goes to a good home. 137-139 East State will be renovated as part of the Harold’s Square project. Harold’s Square, a 180,000 SF building with a hard construction cost of $32.6 million, is expected to take about 18 months, opening in Q1 2019. Dunno why City Centre’s construction schedule is a year longer, although with the underground garage, the project is a little larger (211,200 SF), and more structurally complex. It could also just be a very generous estimate.

2. Tompkins County will be hosting a meeting at the Museum of the Earth on July 19th at 7:30 PM to discuss plans for the Biggs Parcel on the town of Ithaca’s portion of West Hill. As covered previously, the 25.5 acre parcel, which has something of a long news history, has been for sale since last summer, but without any firm offers, the county ended its realtor contract and has been trying to figure out with to do with the property. Although there are some streams and wetlands, there are some development possibilities; neighbors have been pushing for it to be a county-owned natural preserve, but the county wants an option that will pay taxes, whether that be a multi-family development, private estate or otherwise.

While the county did not identify this parcel as a high environmental protection priority, they are busy working with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect a 125-acre property in Caroline, and there are ongoing discussions regarding a 324-acre property in Dryden.

3. As with nearly every sizable project in Tompkins County, the Inn at Taughannock expansion is being met with some resistance from neighbors. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, arguments cited include traffic, view sheds, size, neighborhood character (which seems a bit weird, given there’s not much of a neighborhood nearby), and most frequently, noise, which the town could help resolve by asking for an acoustical counsultant’s report like what Ben Rosenblum submitted in Ithaca for his cancelled proposal for a jazz bar at 418 East State Street. The addition, which calls for a new restaurant, event space and five guest rooms, would create about 25 jobs if built and opened as planned. The often-joked but actually rarely-seen email calling me a “thoughtless corporatist” arrived in the inbox after the first write-up, which indicates this fireworks show may not be over for a little while.

4. In a bit of a weird hang-up, the Heritage Center project attempted to give itself a formal name, but the name was shot down by the County Legislature. The proposed moniker of “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was defeated in a 7 yes -3 no vote (8 yes votes required) because a few of the legislators felt there hadn’t been enough time to gauge community reaction. Personally, I thought “Tompkins County Heritage Center” was fine, but to each their own.

5. Thankfully, the county’s endorsement of the Housing Strategy was unanimous. This is but a baby step in solving the county’s housing woes, but it’s an important step. The county now has a sort of guiding document to help address issues in adding and improving the local housing stock.

There are a few key things that the county will need to adhere to when moving forward. First is working with communities to identify suitable areas for development, and making updates to infrastructure and zoning to guide developers towards those properties instead of far-flung, natural areas where acquisition costs are low and there are fewer neighbors to contend with. Second is bridging the affordability gap – some of this can be done by encouraging new housing at market-rate, but the county will need to be constructively engaging and reliable when helping affordable housing plans apply for grants or exploring tax incentives to help make their proposals feasible.

The third, and arguably the most controversial point here, is standing firm in the face of opposition. Many Tompkins residents are averse to new housing (or really, new anything) near them. For example, consider the Tiny Timbers plan recently announced for Lansing Town Center. The plan checks a lot of boxes – at $175-$225k, it’s fairly affordable owner-occupied new housing, with a smaller ecological footprint than many detached single-family homes. Yet, in the Voice comments, it was dumped on as both a glorified trailer park and unaffordable at the same time, and the neighbor who tried and failed to buy the property from the town to prevent development was trying to scare people from small house living (which at 1000-1500 SF, these aren’t really “tiny” houses anyway). The county should listen for the sake of good government, but after weighing the argument, unless a project is truly a detriment to a community’s quality of life, the county and local boards will need a firm backbone in withstanding criticism. It also helps if people who like a project give their two cents in an email or meeting.

So, good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fingers crossed.