Cayuga Meadows Construction Update, 5/2017

25 05 2017

For the purposes of this blog, Cayuga Meadows is essentially finished. Interior finish work, landscaping, curbing/stripping and lawn seeding have yet to be completed, but the scope of that is only a small component of the overall project. Income-qualified mature readers who are interested can send inquiries here, and the income limits can be found

As a final thought, my feelings on this project are mixed. On the one hand, affordable senior housing is a critical need in Tompkins County. 68 units for seniors on modest, often fixed incomes is a welcome addition to the local housing market. With that being said, the location leaves a lot to be desired. While it is close to Cayuga Medical Center, it is a drive to virtually everything else, and seniors will now feel compelled to incur the expense of maintaining a personal vehicle, making it less affordable than it appears on paper. Its isolated location may also leave seniors cloistered as their ability to drive degrades and they become reliant on the occasional bus service on West Hill. Conifer had their reasons to choose this site, to be sure: land costs, Cornell was accommodating, and relatively few neighbors to contend with during the review and permits process. But its remote location and conventional suburban approach is somewhat self-defeating towards its goal of affordability, and impacts the quality of life of its residents. Kinda hard to believe their ad starts with “located in the heart of Ithaca“.

Still, something is better than nothing. Kudos to Conifer for sticking with it the past few years, and to LeChase Construction for a smooth buildout.





Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 5/2017

24 05 2017

So many projects in the final stretch up on East Hill. The Vet School expansion’s multipurpose atrium is in the process of being closed up with its curtain wall glazing. An interior shot from the start of May shows interior stud walls are up and utilities rough-ins taking place, but drywall, interior trim and fixtures had not been undertaken.The concrete for the “grand staircase” had just been poured.

The atrium will be called “Takoda’s Run“, in honor of a greyhound adopted by alumna Janet Swanson (for whom Cornell’s wildlife rehabilitation center is named). The Swanson family are major university benefactors – Janet, Class of 1963, has given millions of dollars to the Vet School since the mid-2000s. Husband John (BS 1961, B.M.E. 1962, M.M.E. 1963), an engineer and tech executive, has given tens of millions to the university. The atrium in Duffield Hall and a lab suite in Weill are named for him, as well as several endowed professorships, fellowships and scholarships. Not just leaving it to Cornell, the couple has buildings named after them at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, and a $41 million donation to the University of Pittsburgh led to the Swanson School of Engineering. My former editor at the Voice is definitely not a fan of this practice, but for those with a lot of money to burn, naming opportunities can be found or scoffed at here.

From the outside, the new administrative and library wing haven’t changed much since March, but at this point all Welliver has left is some window installs, exterior panels and finishes. Since I’m on a kick at the moment, the Flower-Sprecher library is named for former governor Roswell Flower (1892-94) for allocating funding, and in the early 1990s, Dr. Isidor Sprecker ’39 (Americanized from Sprecher) donated a substantial sum for renovation. It looks like some underground utilities work is going on out by the curb, possibly in preparation for the new landscaping and lighting fixtures.

The new Community Practice Service Building is underway, although I don’t have photos – the Poultry Virus Building has been demolished and the site was being cleared and readied for new construction. The timeline for the new 12,000 SF HOLT Architects-designed building is May 2017-May 2018, a couple months later than originally programmed.

The project seems to be a little bit behind schedule. The project team was initially aiming for a June completion, which was a little optimistic. The new schedule calls for an August opening.

 





Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 5/2017

23 05 2017

Another Cornell project in the final stretch is the second phase of the $44 million Gannett Health Services reconstruction, now known as “Cornell Health“. The new entrance is being fleshed out with fiberglass mat sheathing, and will be finished out with stone and brushed aluminum. The silvery material is a Carisle 705FR-A fireproof air/vapor barrier, which is made of aluminum and HDPE (plastic) sheets. The entrance canopy will be enclosed in glass, and the concrete podium will be concealed when the front entrance is backfilled to the height of Ho Plaza. The new northeast wing is being clad in limestone panels atop a continuous anchor system, because stone is dense and it needs a system able to support its weight. OCD-inducing Side note, that “Cornell Health” lettering signage is a different font than the rest of campus, Arial versus the campus’s usual Kabel font.

Like with Upson, the plan is to have the building open by August, although the landscaping could take another couple of months, wrapping up by October 2017.





Upson Hall Construction Update, 5/2017

22 05 2017

Home stretch for Upson Hall’s $74 million makeover. Nearly all of the turquoise water-resistive barrier (WRB) has been covered up with terracotta panels and aluminum inserts at this point. The utilities shaft and mechanical penthouse have been faced with a water resistant base layer and aluminum clips, and will be faced with grey metal panels. Note that those thin yellow aluminum plates on the exterior are a finished design featurethey’re intended to be a nod to the original canary yellow aluminum curtain bands that once lined Upson Hall’s facade. At this point, the upper three floors are occupied, the lower two floors and basement are being finished out, the exterior is nearly complete and interim landscaping features will be installed by The Pike Company before the building opens for full occupancy in August.

Over the next ten years, Cornell would like to utilize LTL Architects and Perkins + Will to redo the rest of the Engineering Quad with designs similar to Upson Hall. The $300 million plan also calls for the demolition of Carpenter Hall and a new multi-story building on the corner of Campus Road and College Avenue. Whether or not those things happen remains to be seen. The earliest renders of the Upson Hall plan are included at the end of this entry, and while the general design has remained the same, some of the design features, such as the shape of the bump-outs, the fenestration, and the emphasis on the south terrace were revised before the final plan was drafted.





Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 5/2017

21 05 2017

Collegetown Terrace phase 3 is actually opening this month. Speaking to John Novarr a few weeks ago, he mentioned that the first units would actually be welcoming tenants this month, to take advantage of the modest June-June 12-month market that comes before the typical August-June 10-month period that dominates the students calendar. From yesterday, it looks like the first tenants have indeed moved into the Building 7’s 247 units and 344 bedrooms. Units range from 218 SF studio suites with shared baths, kitchen and laundry (5-10 studios per suite), to 1266 3-bedroom units. For the record, the official address will be “120 Valentine Place”. The listed amenities include:

  • Heat included in rent
  • Upper floor large windows for expansive view
  • High speed data access throughout included in rent
  • Kitchen appliances: dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, stove and refrigerator
  • Custom-made cabinets
  • Granite counter surfaces in kitchen and bathroom
  • Limestone floors in kitchen, bathroom, and entries
  • Air conditioning in all apartments
  • Elevators
  • Monitored heat detectors, smoke detectors, CO detectors, and sprinklers
  • Fully furnished with blinds, leather sofa, and full/queen beds. Some with work stations and walk in closets
  • Prox/reader security system
  • Washers and dryers in all apartments.
  • Covered parking available for a fee
  • Free shuttle to Cornell. The free shuttle runs to and from campus weekdays throughout the academic year.

Rents clock in at a premium of around $1,000+/bedroom, but the studio suites will come in around $700/bedroom. It does seem like there are some mixed opinions on living there, if the Yelp reviews are any indication.

One slight modification that was sought recently was an approval considerations variance to allow tenants from other Novarr-Mackesey properties to park their cars in the Terrace’s garage. This has been something of a long-running issue with Terrace, which built more parking than it needed in the earlier phases, and as a result requested and received a variance to convert a floor intended for parking into dorm-style living quarter for students on more modest budgets. Even with the original variance, it seems that there are still an excessive number of unused parking spaces, ones that Novarr-Mackesey sees as potential rentable tenant spaces for residents in some of their nearby structures, including two housing projects due to get underway in the next year, 119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) and 238 Linden Avenue.

As part of the final stages of project completion (and stipulations of its original approval back in August 2011), some interpretive signage and features will be included in the landscaping, recognizing a few of the homes and the nurses’ dormitory that once stood on the site (recall that Casa Roma was once the city hospital). Thankfully the google street view archives are but a click away, so that the curious can go back and look at what was there prior. Some of the homes were architecturally interesting, if not necessarily historic.

Note the stair railing art in photo ten. It’s as if someone looked at modern buildings, said they weren’t colorful enough, and designed that art feature to have ALL THE COLORS. Holy rainbow explosion. More seriously, it’s quite unusual, and kinda neat, since it’s not often you see a visual feature of interest so tucked away from public viewsheds.

So that pretty much wraps this up. In terms of private non-institutional projects, I dunno if there’s been a project that’s had an impact like this. It’s been a long time since the first presentation back in April 2009. In terms of numbers, it’s enormous – $190 million investment, 1,250+ beds (net gain of over 600), 16 acres. Certainly the latest few hundred beds will help to make a dent in the rental market, it’s by far the biggest project opening for occupancy this year. The trade-off will be a possible softening in some rental segments (e.g. small landlords in fringe student markets), but given the city’s push towards turning rentals back into owner-occupied units, and getting rent appreciation under control, it’s not something that will elicit much concern, especially as Cornell’s student population continues to grow.

In some ways, this project is many good things; growing the tax base, and addressing the need for housing in a somewhat inconspicuous manner, the buildings stepping downward into the hillside. With 344 new residents in the core of Ithaca, it may also give a healthy boost to nearby businesses in Collegetown and Downtown. But CTT has its detractors and criticism – the size still makes unnerves some permanent residents nearby, and the architectural design is a bit polarizing. There’s a tendency to look at building projects in black and white, but it’s never a cut-and-dry process. In reality, it’s a delicate balance of costs, capabilities, the market and the community’s wants and concerns.

Novarr deserve credit in that, unlike many projects, this project has stayed largely true to approved form over the years with the exception of the parking variances. There’s an uncomfortable trend with last-second revisions in more recent plans, but Collegetown Terrace has stuck fairly closely to the original plan as explicated in its Environmental Impact Statement years ago. City staff and elected officials also deserve credit for seeing the potential here for something that could contribute to Ithaca, rather than just saying “this is too much” and turning their backs on it. Credit is also due to ikon.5 and Welliver for their work in designing this massive project, and building it out (which included many local unions and their tradespeople).





The Tompkins County Housing Strategy

18 05 2017

The County’s Housing Strategy draft was originally going to be in the next news roundup, but it’s large enough to do separately, and my colleague Kelsey is tackling this meeting for the Voice. For those who couldn’t attend the Housing Strategy hosted by the county last Wednesday evening, the presentation is here and the outline is here. Comments can be sent to the Planning Department here from now through the end of the month.

First, quantities. This was touched on in the news round-up a couple of weeks ago, but the county would like at least 580 units coming online each year, plus specialty student and senior housing. For comparison’s sake, the county hasn’t exceeded that value since 1994, when Kendal was permitted in Cayuga Heights, and prior to 2016, the last time it exceeded 500 units was in 2000.

In more recent years, the value bounced between 200 and 300 units in a given year; during the recession, it dropped into the mid-100s. The article linked above is older, so it lacks the 2015 values, which were 279 units countywide, consistent with 2012-2014. Then we get to 2016, which was just finalized by HUD. There were 575 units, of which 121 were single-family homes, and 454 were multi-family structures. Let’s present that by community (click on the table to expand):

Cayuga Heights and Freeville didn’t approve a single unit, while the 271 units in Ithaca city is their highest stat since 2000, and the second highest in the 35-year online record. Dryden village’s growth can be attributed to Poet’s Landing Phase II, Ithaca town’s to Cayuga Meadows, and Lansing town’s to the Village Solars.

The point of this is to illustrate that 580 units annually is a lofty figure, but it is an attainable goal.

Then we get to locations. The ideal is to focus the growth in the city of Ithaca – since these stats are non-student housing, the targeted areas in the city include Downtown, the State Street Corridor, West End/Waterfront, and anything they can displace from the big box corridor on the southwest side. If a good opportunity for infill presents itself elsewhere in the city, that’s great, but it’s not the focus.

However, not everyone wants to live in Ithaca. Land in the “nodes” is cheaper and oftentimes the approvals process is easier. The county envisions 50-100 in the villages and growing hamlets like Varna and South Lansing, were a town center concept is in the RFP review process. Rural hamlets would see a handful of units annually (30 or less), and other locations basically just refers to Lansing’s suburban sprawl between the village and South Lansing. The town is hellbent on development any which way it happens, conventional approaches are the easiest to get financed, and the county’s not going to fight them.

The county’s housing strategy is three-pronged: Information/Collaboration, New Units and Existing Units.

  • Information and Collaboration includes a virtual housing office for resources and a collaborative network to formulate and pitch housing solutions. It’s kinda vague in the notes.
  • New unit strategies include support for targeted new development, streamlining zoning and examining potential incentives through the IDA.
    • Targeted new development can include RFQs for government-owned surplus property, early community engagement regarding DFAs (Development Focus Areas) and assistance in producing “shovel-ready” sites through things such as sewer access and energy hookups.
    • Streamlining zoning is to make it easier to get an initial product that will look like the final product – less uncertainty, less money spent on revisions. Inclusionary zoning seems pretty much dead in the water, as the county doesn’t seem to know if the community will support incentives for affordable housing, or if will even be effective. Done wrong, an inclusionary ordinance could actually result in less housing, if the burden is too great for the incentives offered.
    • Additional IDA incentives could include mixed-market or all-affordable rentals being eligible for abatements, and possible an abatement for any neighborhood or community who builds in inclusionary zoning. Looking at you, Trumansburg.
  • Existing unit strategies include the encouragement of rehabs (especially from rentals to owner-occupied), code enforcement and fair housing enforcement. Airbnb is still a tricky issue, so expect some tweaks to regulations on what constitutes rentals, hotels and legal occupancy.

There’s also a strong support/monitoring component in the strategy, which basically is a tracker of all projects underway, what stages, what they consist of, and so on. Beat you to the punch guys.





News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmedia%2Fset%2F%3Fset%3Da.1518721884836040.1073741852.772959889412247%26type%3D3&width=500

4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

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7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.