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.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 9/2018

10 10 2018

The last of Visum‘s projects from the September photos batch is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom 118 College Avenue in Collegetown. The student-focused apartment building is topped out, fully framed, and sheathed. The mechanical penthouse, which STREAM Collaborative designed to emulate an Italianate cupola, appears to be framed but not closed in. The windows and doors have been fitted, and the balconies are partially complete. Some of the face brick can be seen on the first floor, and like the other Visum projects, the wood rails nailed over the ZIP panels will be used for attachment of the fiber cement siding. The original plans has a small top floor setback on the north face, and the projecting bays at the front (east face) were originally bumped out slightly from the side walls, but both of those features were value engineered out. At a glance, not much has changed on the outside since final approval was granted, a good sign that the project has stayed within budget – bravo to STREAM, Romig Construction and Taitem Engineering for helping Visum bring this project to fruition.

As with other inner Collegetown projects, rent will be fairly steep – $1,200 – $1,300 per bedroom per month. Visum’s property management page, Live More Ithaca, has an August 2019 availability, but I suspect this building will be finished in time for the spring semester, given how far along it is. Maybe there are renters already secured for a shorter lease period – it’s hard to imagine the building would be left newly finished but vacant for that long.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 9/2018

9 10 2018

The foundation walls are being poured at Novarr-Mackesey’s 238 Linden Avenue project. The footers and some of the foundation walls are poured and cured, with steel rebar sticking out of the surface, waiting to be tied into the skeleton of the structure as it starts to be assembled. Other concrete walls are still being formed and poured. It looks like wood with steel bracing, my first thought was all wood but a closer look shows the bracing is thin steel, with the plywood from Pacific Wood Laminates and likely procured through a supplier, and the bracing probably from the same supplier. Forms are typically plywood, sometimes aluminum or steel, and are braced to resist the pressure from the concrete as it is poured to make the foundation walls – basically, to keep the walls in shape while they cure. And once the wall is cured and checked for any issues, workers move the forms to the next section until the walls are complete.

The sloping rear wall is probably not a part of the building foundation. Looking at the footprint of the building, it’s more likely a retaining wall intended to hold back the soil. 238 Linden will have a habitable basement with lower “courts” to let light and air below ground level (offhand, I think the layout is five studio units per floor on the four floors above ground level, and four studio apartments on the basement level, for a total of 24 units). The front retaining wall will have a similar slope as it is built out.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 9/2018

6 10 2018

Tying into the 107 South Albany example from earlier this week, 210 Linden is not a finished building, but still certified for occpancy. My impression is that some units are ready for occupancy, but not all. Tenants of The Lux had emailed in to say that it wouldn’t be open until the Spring, and the Craigslist ads tout Spring 2019 leasing. But there are photos advertising units in the building that show the building is occupied; the front facade’s window arrangement is unique among Visum’s buildings, and can be clearly seen in this living room photo. I’m assuming that from the FedEx delivery slip and the “TOUR GUIDE POWER HOUR” are related to the residents.

That noted, if the interior is largely complete, the exterior still needs fiber cement siding on the north and south walls, painting (the charcoal grey is going on now, with light grey presumed for the panels on the top floor), trim/finish work and seeding/landscaping. TYPAR is being used for the housewrap / weather resistant barrier to keep the sheathing from getting damaged by moisture, and wood rails atop the TYPAR are used to attach both the lap siding and the panel siding. the panels look to be another change on the fly, as the original renderings called for lap siding on the top floor as well. Interestingly, the balcony treatment is largely finished and accurate to renders – wood slats on the lower levels, and steel rails on the fourth floor. Not sure if that’s for visual interest, or to accommodate building codes.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 9/2018

4 10 2018

Just noting that this project is complete and updated in the Ithaca Project Map accordingly. A lot of folks may not be fans of high-end student housing, but at least the design is attractive (kudos to STREAM Collaborative, they’ve got an open house Friday evening if you want a sneak peak at their latest project designs) and it’s 206 wealthy college kids who won’t be driving the price up on existing housing units elsewhere. Interior shots of the common spaces (gym, study room, rooftop deck lounge) can be found here.

Quick aside, the official street addresses are 112 Summit Avenue for The Lux South, and 114 Summit Avenue for The Lux North.

 

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Collegetown’s 🆕 apartments! Link in bio for more details.

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Press Bay Court Construction Update, 9/2018

3 10 2018

Press Bay Court, a project by local businessmen John Guttridge and David Kuckuk d/b/a Urban Core LLC, is moving along at a good clip. In what could be seen as an expansion of Press Bay Alley, the plan reuses a dilapidated 1920s building and renovates it into several small-scale retail spaces, ranging from 320 – 2,200 square-feet. Among them will be Halal Meat and Groceries, One Ring Donuts, Gee June Bridal Shop and Hair • Color • Art. Bramble, an herbal retailer, will move from its Press Bay Alley slot into one of the Press Bay Court storefonts.

The business websites for Gee June and Hair • Color • Art both indicate October 2018 openings in Press Bay Court (October 16th, in Gee June’s announcement), and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. The interior of the building was gutted and new steel stud walls have been erected, as well as fresh gypsum sheathing on the outside. The four second floor one-bedroom apartments are also being renovated, which will be rented at below-market rates (Urban Core is aiming for 75% area median income, which roughly equates to a household salary in the $42,000/year range for a single person, $48,500 for couple). Expansive windows will be installed at ground level to provide a better sense of the activity indoors, and an awning will be erected as the exterior is finished out. The exterior parking lot will be turned into a landscaped pedestrian gathering space for impromptu social events as well as festivals and small concerts or shows.

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These are going to be the coolest apartments in downtown…

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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.