News Tidbits 10/22/16: Seal of Approval

22 10 2016


1. In yet another twist in the 201 College Avenue saga, the project will be moving forward. The Board of Zoning Appeals sided 3-1 with the city Zoning Director and denied the Planning Board’s consideration that the building be considered illegal due to facade length. According to a report from former Times reporter Josh Brokaw (now operating as an indy journalist),  the board was swayed by arguments of time and ambiguity in the code. Brokaw’s reading makes it sound like there’s still some raw feelings between staff and board. The way to solve the most pressing issue would be to clarify the code based on the facade debate, and have the common council ratify those changes over the next few months. All in all, the Form District code works pretty well, and a number of projects have been presented without big discussions over semantics. But in the case of 201, it’s clear that the CAFD wording and imagery could use further refinement, so that everyone is on the same page. With 201 resolved, now is a good time to do that.

Dunno what the completion date will be offhand (August 2017 would be a breakneck pace, but we’ll see). Neighbor Neil Golder has refiled his lawsuit, but the case isn’t especially strong.


2. Also getting underway this week is the renovation of the former Pancho Villa restaurant at 602 West State Street into the West End branch of Elmira Savings Bank. This is quite a bit earlier than initially planned – Site Plan Review docs suggested a July-December 2017 construction/renovation. Edger Enterprises of Elmira will be the general contractor for the 6,600 SF, $1 million project, which is expected to be completed in March 2017.


3. The Dryden town board has approved 4-1 the concept of the Evergreen Townhouses plan for 1061 Dryden Road just east of Varna. This means that they accept a PUD can be appropriately applied for the site, but the project will need to submit a formal, more detailed development plan before any final approvals will be considered. One of the major changes that is being requested is a 15-foot setback between the property line and the units at the southeast side of the parcel (25-36), so expect those to get a little trim off of the rear side (the dissenting vote, Councilwoman Linda Lavine, was because she preferred a 25-foot setback). If the setback and the other stipulations are accommodated, its chances of approval are pretty good. Developer and local businessman Gary Sloan has 270 days to submit detailed plans for review.

Meanwhile, Tiny Timbers will be up for Dryden Zoning Board of Appeals review in early November. Since an internal road will be used to access some of the home lots, the town board will be viewing the site as an “Open Development Area” (ODA), which by Dryden’s definition is development with no direct road access. The town board will hold their public meeting on the 20th to approve the ODA, the planning board’s acceptance on the 27th. The ZBA is the last or second-to-last step in the approvals process (not sure offhand if the town will need to vote again to give a final approval).


4. The senior housing next to the BJ’s in Lansing might finally be moving forward this spring. Dan Veaner has the full story here at the Lansing Star. The issue stems from working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what parts of the land can and cannot be developed – delineating the wetlands, basically. Apparently, the wetlands were created by an overflowing culvert back when the mall was built in the 1970s. But regardless of how they were created, the USACE deems they have to be protected, especially since it developed into a rare wetland environment called an “inland salt marsh”. Since then, it’s been back-and-forth on units – I’ve heard as few as 9 and as many as 18. A portion of the wetlands would still need to be relocated. The PDA boundaries were changed slightly by the board at the request of developer Eric Goetzmann earlier this month to accommodate the USACE determination. The tax break Goetzmann received to build BJ’s is contingent on the senior housing getting built, though at this point, one has to wonder just how much this wetlands tangle has cost him. Hope it was worth it.


5. From the sound of it, the Maplewood Park DEIS public hearing was fairly positive. Many of the neighbors are pleased with the changes, although some are still opposed to the density or have concerns about traffic. In response, it’s worth pointing out that the commute of Maplewood’s residents will almost entirely be bus, bike and foot during normal business/school hours, and its convenience to bus routes and services will also help minimize overall traffic impacts. As for density, well, if you want Cornell to house its students and reduce the burden on the open market, promoting density on the existing Maplewood site may result in a more sustainable, more cost efficient project if planned properly, with less of a neighborhood impact than building several hundred beds on an undeveloped parcel elsewhere (since the Maplewood site has been inhabited in some form since the 1940s, the growth in density would not be as prominent – about 490 beds, vs. 872 beds).

Should readers feel inclined, comments are still being accepted by town planners up until October 31st. The materials and submission email can be found here.

6. It looks like there were a couple big sales in the local real estate market this week. The first one was the Tops Plaza in big box land, just south of Wegmans. National retail developer DDR Corp. sold the property to another large firm, NYC-based DRA Advisors LLC, for $20 million on the 18th. The sale included three addresses – 710-734 South Meadow, 614 South Meadow, and 702 South Meadow – The Tops Plaza, The smaller strip to its south (called Threshold Plaza), and the pad parcels like Chili’s and Elmira Savings Bank. Perhaps the most notable part of this sale is that it’s slightly below the total assessed value of $20,941,000. However, DRA picked up the property as part of a bundle sale of 15 shopping centers in Western and Central New York, so maybe it was a bulk discount, or compensating for weaker properties.

The other big sale was between a long-time local landlord and a newer, rapidly growing one. The Lucente family (as Lucente Homes) sold 108, 116, 202 and 218 Sapsucker Woods Road to Viridius LLC for $1.276 million on the 18th. According to county records, each is a 4-unit building built in the 1970s and worth about $275k – meaning, Viridius just acquired 16 units for a little above the $1.1 million assessed. Viridius’s M.O. is to buy existing properties, do energy audits to determine what needs to be done where to maximize energy efficiency, disconnect them from fossil fuel heating and energy sources, install pellet stoves, heat pumps and the like, renovate/modernize the properties, and connect the more efficient house to a solar grid or other renewable energy sources. If Sustainable Tompkins were a developer, they’d look like Viridius.

7. This last one isn’t so much a big sale, but worth noting for future reference – 126 College Avenue sold for $510,000 on the 19th. The buyer was an LLC at an address owned by Visum Development’s Todd Fox.

126 College is a 2-story, 6-bedroom house that might have been attractive long ago, but someone’s beaten it with an ugly stick and paved much of the front lawn (growing up near Syracuse, we called paved front lawns “Italian lawns”, with my uncle one of the many offenders). The purchase price is a little below the asking price of $529k, but more than double the assessment. Zoning at the property is CR-4 – 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 required 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.

Granted, not everything Visum/MLR does is new, some of their work focuses on renovation. But given the location, and given that frequent design collaborator STREAM had “conceptual” CR-4 designs on display during the design crawl earlier this month, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination.


8. Interesting agenda for the city planning board next week, if nothing new. Here’s the schedule:


1. Agenda Review                6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor         6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:  Minor Subdivision           6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision             6:25
Location: 123 & 125 Eddy St.
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou is planning subdivision of a double lot to build a new 2-unit, 6-bedroom house designed to be compatible with the East Hill Historic District. CEQR has been given neg dec (meaning, all’s mitigated and good to proceed), and zoning variances for deficient off-street parking have been granted.
C. Project:  Minor Subdivision                6:35
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
One of those small infill builds, this proposal in Fall Creek takes down an existing single-family home for two two-family homes on a subdivided lot. The design has been tweaked, with more windows, a belly band, more varied exterior materials, and additional gables to provide visual interest.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)           6:45
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 2

The 8-story mixed-use proposal for the Trebloc site. Comes with one letter of support, and a letter of opposition from Historic Ithaca, who have previously stated they will oppose anything greater than four floors on State Street, and six floors overall.
B. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center            7:15
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: No Action — Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Parts 2 & 3
C. Project:  Four Duplexes                               7:30
Location: 607 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Charles O’Connor
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ PUBLIC HEARING  │ Review of FEAF, Part 2
MLR’s four-building, 8-unit plan for South Hill. Comes with a letter of neighbor support saying the scale is appropriate.
D. 371 Elmira Rd. (Holiday Inn Express) — Approval of Project Changes      7:45
The debate over the Spencer Road staircase and rip-rap continues.
E. 312-314 Spencer Rd. — Satisfaction of Conditions: Building Materials   7:55
F. 119, 121, & 125 College Ave. (College Townhouse Project) — Update        8:05
Novarr’s 67-unit townhouse project geared towards Cornell faculty. No decisions planned, just an update on the project. Keeps your fingers crossed for some renders.
G. Maplewood Redevelopment Project — Planning Board Comments on Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS)     8:20
The city’s deferred judgement to the town, but the board can still have their say. The comments will be recorded and addressed as part of the EIS review process.
5. Zoning Appeals                          8:35
• #3047, Area Variance, 123 Heights Court

Previews and Reviews From the AIA Design Crawl

10 10 2016

Last Friday, several Ithaca-area architecture and engineering firms banded together to co-host an open house night at their locations across the city. Here are some of the latest and greatest plans are from some of the local designers.

The first stop was John Snyder Architects in Ithaca’s West End. On display were the Carey Building plans and other recent works, like the internal renovation of the South Hill Business Campus for CBORD.

The second location on the list was HOLT Architects at 619 West State, which was probably the most family-friendly of the hosts, based off of the pizza bar and the children’s play-room. HOLT had several new and in-progress projects they shared with the public that evening.

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The Computing Center is looking to move out of the Cornell Business Park and into a new property to be built at 987 Warren Drive in the town of Lansing. The property is currently a two-story farmhouse and includes a vacant lot on the corner of Warren Road and Warren Drive, purchased by its current owner (an LLC) in December 2014. The new building appears to be a one-story structure.
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HOLT is arguably the local specialist for medical facilities and lab structures. Here’s a pair of projects recently completed at Cayuga Medical Center. The Surgical Services Renovation is a renovation and addition that includes space next to the front entrance, creating a new “face” for the complex. The Behavioral Health Unit is an addition on the northwest side of the building, and isn’t visible from most nearby roads and structures.

The online version of these will be showing up in the Voice soon enough, but here are the latest design plans for the Old Library site. The indoor parking was eliminated so that the fourth floor could be set further back, and the entire building has been pulled away from West Court Street. The building still has 57 apartment units for the 55+ crowd.

The next stops were at Taitem Engineering and SPEC Consulting. Taitem (which stands for “Technology As If The Earth Mattered”) serves as structural engineering for many local projects, focusing heavily on renewable energy sourcing and energy efficiency. The focus of their open house was a tour of their LEED Platinum, 120-year old building at 110 South Albany Street, which they said was only the fourth renovation of its kind to achieve Platinum designation. I snapped a photo of Taitem’s staff, but that was taken for the IV Twitter account.

SPEC Consulting had on display a couple of home renovations they have underway, a mixed-use building in Johnson City, as well as rehab of a vacant commercial building in downtown Binghamton into a 70-unit mixed use building. To be honest, I was more focused on the personal than professional when I was at SPEC – I ran into someone I knew from undergrad whom I hadn’t seen in nine years, who apparently settled in the area and married a SPEC architect.


At STREAM, several projects were on display – 201 College Avenue, State Street Triangle concept drawings, and a room showcasing Tiny Timbers. According to Noah Demarest, this was the first time they had shown all the home plan designs together. Also there was Buzz Dolph, the entrepreneur behind Tiny Timbers.

Not shown here but on display were a pair of attractive design concepts for CR-4 zoning in Collegetown. They might become more than concepts at some point.

This is the latest Maplewood site plan, courtesy of Whitham Design and Planning. Here are the two big changes (previous site plan here) –

1. The Maple Avenue building has been broken up into two separate buildings.
2. Townhouses sit on Mitchell at the southwest corner of the site, replacing the multi-story apartment building previously planned.

The number of beds, previously 887, has probably decreased a little bit as a result.

I did not make it to Chiang O’Brien Architects, unfortunately. It looks like from their website they have a new project underway at SUNY Oneonta.

News Tidbits 10/8/16: No Rain, But the Money’s Flowing

8 10 2016

1. The Sleep Inn project at 635 Elmira Road went back to the town of Ithaca planning board last Tuesday. The initial write-up looked good – town planners were very pleased with the proposed changes, and the developer, local hotelier Pratik Ahir, proposed two different concepts to the board to see which one they were more comfortable with. The one that the board likes would be finalized in the plans and submitted for final approval later this year. No media were at the meeting, so I do not know which concept they preferred.

Both concepts by HEX 9 Architects attempt to maintain the rustic character that the town seeks to maintain for its part of the Inlet Valley Corridor. Concept one at top uses stone veneer (Elderado Stone), timber trusses, Hardie plank lap siding, and asphalt shingles. This design features balconies on both the front and rear of the building. Concept 2 incorporates a more varied roofline and building face, metal roof panels, stone veneer and a couple different types of Hardie Board. Concept 2 has less timber and no balconies. The town planning department felt that both concepts were unique enough and rustic enough to get its benediction in the SEQR analysis they sent over to the board. The concepts are a big improvement over the rendition we saw in August.

2. Looks like the Canopy Hilton is a go. The project secured a $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union on Friday September 30th. ESL is a new face to the local market – “Eastman Savings and Loan” was founded in Rochester in 1920 to serve employees of former photography giant Eastman Kodak. The 7-story, 131-room hotel is expected to open in Spring 2018.

3. Also funded this week – the second phase of Poet’s Landing out in the village of Dryden. Citibank is lending $7,702,326 to Rochester-based Confier LLC to build the 48 affordable apartment units across the street from Dryden High School, just west of 72-unit phase one. The documents were filed on Tuesday the 4th. The design of the second phase’s will be the same as phase one’s, an eight unit per building design by NH Architecture that is one of Conifer’s standard designs. The total project cost is $10.8 million, with the balance come from state affordable housing grants and tax credits. The build-out is expected to take about a year.


4. So a few news bits about 201 College. The partially-deconstructed house at 201 College is now getting torn down, which had nothing to do with approval, and everything to do with break-ins and safety issues – there was evidence of squatters taking up residence, and the expense of a tear-down is worth avoiding a lawsuit or tragedy. Speaking of which, although a ruling on 201 College has yet to be issued and won’t be for a few weeks, Neil Golder’s lawsuit has already been re-filed. The court hearing is scheduled for December. According to an exchange with my colleague Mike Smith, Fox is planning rowhouses along Bool Street, within a 45-foot height limit but spanning the block, as it seems he has a purchase option on neighboring 202 Linden.


5. According to Nick Reynolds at the Times (yes, he jumped papers), the buildings to be deconstructed for the Harold’s Square project are to be vacated by the end of October. Developer David Lubin plans to start the deconstruction process, which is a little more intensive and lengthier than a typical demolition, in November. Things have been complicated by the city’s decision to forego the project in the Restore NY grant application, where the $500,000 was allocated to pay for demolition, and must now be sourced from elsewhere. Once secured, the plan is to file for the permit, and by law they have up to 30 days to start deconstruction from the day the permit is issued. Construction should go for about 18 months, once the site is cleared.

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6. The 8-unit 607 South Aurora project will be seeking “Declaration of Lead Agency” at the Planning Board meeting, and materials have been filed with the city. Project narrative here, SPR application here, drawings here. The big changes since sketch plan were sidewalk and parking lot revisions, and rotating Building D to establish harmony with Hillview Place. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million and aims for a construction timeline of March to September 2017. This is the next incremental step up for Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals, whose M.O. is to quietly pursue modestly-sized infill projects in less dense parts of the city (ex. the two duplexes planned for 312-314 Old Elmira). In a change of pace, the staff of Sharma Architecture are the designers this time around.


7. From the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, the new two-family house at 123 Eddy Street has been granted zoning variances. Expect the Sharma-designed two-unit, six-bedroom rental property to start construction next year in time for the 2017-18 academic year.

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6. House of the week. Instead of one underway, this week will show two recent completions. Leading off is this house on West Hill’s Campbell Avenue, built by Carina Construction. This project came up in a weekly roundup back in late May – it’s a $320,000 project per the permit filing with the city, with $280,000 lent by Tompkins Trust. The contrast between the wood siding and the (fiber cement?) vinyl siding is a nice touch, as is the two-story porch. Definitely a unique house, and a showcase of just what kind of variety one can do with modular pieces if they’re willing to get creative.

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Now for house number two. This isn’t a new build, but a very thorough renovation. Every time I take photos, I run into the owners, and normally I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But, given that I’ve run into him twice, he’s familiar enough with me that we’ve had a conversation about his work.


This is in Fall Creek on North Aurora. The couple who own this place moved in from Pennsylvania, they were just starting retirement when the wife’s father was no longer able to take care of it. It had been a duplex, but the other unit was more workshop space. The building was in good shape, but these folks wanted to modernize and refresh it, so they decided to do a to-the-studs renovation, basically turning it into a new home within an existing shell. Fiber cement, wood shingles, a few modern touches (the south bumpout, the unusual gable/shed hybrid dormers), a carriage house, a lot of work went into it over the past year and a half and it shows.

210 Hancock Construction Update, 9/2016

6 10 2016

I try not to sit on these for too long, but it’s been a busy week with the Voice.

The main apartment building is in the process of having its foundation walls dug, formed and poured. The forms are put in place to hold the concrete as it is poured and cured, and then the construction team (led by Lecesse Construction) moves on to the next section. The rebar grid sticking out of the concrete gives it additional strength and rigidity. The steel piles are being inserted with the hydraulic hammer, which should be wrapping up any day now if it hasn’t already. The four-story apartment building is divided into four sections – the two with concrete pours underway, the southern two, will host TCAction’s daycare and non-profit office space. The northern two will host indoor ground-level parking.

The soil in Northside is not so great, much of it lies in the 100 or 500-year flood zone and is too unstable for less expensive slab/shallow foundations like what they use in many of the projects on the hills. For a large project like this, the safe, albeit more expensive and intrusive approach is to do a deep foundation. However, the wood-frame townhouses are small enough and light enough such that a shallow foundation can be used – you can see foundation work for the five rental townhouses in the last two photos. The seven for-sale townhouses will follow a little later this November, the original plan was to have them open in June 2017, but they have been pushed back to late fall 2017 as a result of the contractor switch.

It looks like, however, they have added the interest form for buying a townhouse to their website here. Under the working name “202 Hancock”, this $2.36 million project will have five two bedroom units (1,147 SF) to be sold for about $114,000, and two three-bedroom units (1,364 SF) for $136,000. They will be available to those making 60-80% of local AMI, or $37,000-$49,000/year. The townhouses would be a part of the Community Housing Trust (CHT), keeping them affordable even as they are sold to others in later years. More info on those units here. For those qualified and preferring to rent an apartment or townhouse, the form is here.

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Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 9/2016

4 10 2016

I wanted to wait until the Voice condo piece was published before putting these photos up. Work has started on the twelve condominiums planned for 215-221 West Spencer Street. The project, dubbed “Ithaka Terraces”, is the idea of Ed Cope, a retired Cornell biologist who owns the local property management firm PPM (Premium Property Management) Homes.

215-221 West Spencer Street is a steeply sloped 0.47 acre site that was previously home to a multistory apartment building. The building had fallen into disrepair by the early 2000s, and the city bought the property for $530,000 in 2003 with plans to turn it into affordable housing. However, that plan was thrown off track after the building burned down not long afterward. The site was then used as an informal parking lot by nearby residents for a number of years while the city figured out what they wanted to do with it. The city deeded the property to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency in 2013, who attempted to sell it as affordable housing, but found no takers at the $100,000 starting bid. Cope picked up the property when it was offered for sale to general housing, paying $110,000 in March 2015. Sketch plans were presented a few weeks later at the March Planning Board meeting.

The parcel is zoned R-3a, and the property required some variances for having parking within rear yard setback, which the planning board and BZA were comfortable with given the steep topography of the site. The property was approved by municipal boards last fall. Long story short, it’s classically-inspired urban infill.

The plan is to have the buildings ready for occupancy by September 2017. Units range from $265,000-$390,000, depending on size and location. Two of the units are 3-bedrooms, and the other ten are two-bedrooms, ranging from 637-1311 SF. For those interested, more information can be found at the just-activated website for the project here.

Along with Ed Cope (operating as “Net Zero NRG LLC”) on the project team is architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, Taitem Engineering for structural engineering, T.G. Miller P.C. for site surveying and civil engineering, and green building expert AquaZephyr as general contractor. All of those businesses are local. The sawhorses in the photos say McPherson Builders, but they could be a subcontractor, or on loan.

In the now two-week old photos below, Building A is already under construction, while the site for building C has been leveled. More specifically, the foundation has already been dug, formed and poured for Building A, and the first-floor walls have been erected. Like their little pioneer across the street, The buildings are designed to be net-zero energy capable. The slab foundations will be insulated with R15 rigid foam, and the first floor walls use insulated concrete forms (ICFs) similar to the Fox Blocks used for the Thurston Avenue Apartments a couple of years ago. The walls are put together block-by-block, with concrete poured into the inside gaps. This provides insulation on both the interior and exterior of the wall.  The building will use electric air source heat pumps for winter heating and summer cooling, with the electricity provided from a solar array Cope owns in the town of Caroline. The buildings will seek net-zero certification once they are completed.

Here’s the press release from Ed Cope that I received as part of our Q&A:

One of my primary interests in Ithaca housing is to help improve the overall community. My development goals all come from that objective, and so for the past few years I have worked to identify sites that are a very inefficient use of space, and are therefore mostly vacant and difficult to build on which is why they are still in need of development.

This combines with my longtime interest in efficient use of energy which includes building energy-efficient buildings. This interest leads me into risky but rewarding projects and works well with the city’s infill development initiatives. At PPM Homes we have transformed many of the older houses that we have acquired into much more energy-efficient dwellings.

One of our successes was the complete rebuild of a rundown property on a steep and difficult site at 201 S. Aurora. We were able to transform this property into a beautiful and more appropriate “gateway” to South Hill, a sharp contrast to the decrepit and crumbling house it once was.

The Ithaka Terraces project is our second effort at completely new development, the first being across the street at 228 W. Spencer where we took an impossibly small and impossibly steep postage stamp of a site and built a netzero energy 2-bedroom house.

This house, which is now on the market, is currently powered completely by PPM Homes offsite solar array which incredibly also provides all of the electricity for many of the properties that PPM Homes manages.

The condos at Ithaka Terraces will also be powered by an additional solar array that we will be built by Renovus Energy next to our current array which is 15 miles outside of Ithaca.

Both of these properties on West Spencer Street are built on sites that are extremely difficult on which to build. They have been vacant for years and would probably have remained vacant for years to come. Special engineering consideration due to the peculiarities of building on the sites has been handled by Tatiem Engineering.

The Ithaka Terraces project also responds to the recognized need for condominiums downtown. Three blocks from the Commons and consisting of 12 two and three bedroom units, these condominiums will provide upscale quality and energy-efficient living.

In the interest of reflecting Ithaca’s namesake our design will add a pleasing Greek aesthetic to this part of West Spencer Street. The project should be complete by this time next year and be available for reserving units by early summer. Our website for the project is up and running at .

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Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 9/2016

1 10 2016

Check out that glass curtain wall going up on the Vet Research Tower. The lighter hues vs. the original dark glass gives the building a airier, less ominous presence. We’re starting to see some HVAC rough-ins going in the new library/administration building. The deconstruction of existing wings appears to be wrapped up and it looks like works has started on the frame of the new academic building to go between Schurman Hall and the VRT. Although not visible from these photos (because it is a pain to maneuver around the vet school), Cornell and its contractor Welliver have been working on the foundation and underground utilities, and construction of a new second-floor cafeteria space.

A separate project, the Community Practice Service Building, is in the design phase. CPS is what you think it is – fourth-year students, as part of their final year of education, provide low-cost veterinary services to the greater Ithaca area. It will replace the Poultry Virus Lab, which will come down in December. The CPS Building will take just under a year to build.

For those with some serious dough lying around, the new academic building’s naming rights are available for $20 million, and the administration building’s naming rights are being offered for $7 million. For the rest of the 1%, a lecture hall goes for about $1.5 million, and regular classrooms for $250,000. The most inexpensive options appear to be tutorial rooms for $75,000.

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News Tidbits 10/1/16: Sketchy Details

1 10 2016

1. Over in Lansing, it looks like Park Grove Realty is having a rough time getting their plans rolling. Legions of angry homeowners turned out at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a requested zoning change for a 20-acre Bomax Drive property that Park Grove seeks to build 140 apartments upon. The meeting wasn’t about the project, which will follow the zoning change once approved. For the record, the meeting was only about the zoning change, which is currently zoned for office park business/technology and has been owned by Cornell since 2008.

The unusual thing is that the primary opponent seems to be the Jonson family, of development company IthacaHome, formerly known as Forest City Realty. They built some of Lansing’s 1990s subdivisions and the Heights of Lansing project at the end of Bomax Drive, which is stalled out due to a lack of interest and Ivar Jonson’s passing. The claim from Janet Jonson is that if left commercial office/tech, then maybe an office building would be built and executives would build homes on some of their vacant lots. Even Larry Fabbroni was there to say an office building would generate less traffic than housing would. The meeting was very heated, according to the Lansing Star’s Dan Veaner.

The village planning board was there to listen, but not especially sympathetic. For one, there’s plenty of undeveloped commercially-zoned land; but there is a housing shortage. For two, although some complained “transients” would lower their housing values, these units will be going for $1,400-$1,900/month. The board’s not focused on the project just yet, that will come in due course. Meanwhile, the trustees moved to schedule public review for the zoning change, with that meeting planned for October 17th.

A couple miles away, Park Grove has also been getting flack for taking down willow trees as part of a plan to reduce root damage and mold issues, and to expand parking and add a 425 SF rental office on the Triphammer Apartments (former Chateau Claire) property. The heavy-handed approach was not well received. In short, Park Grove’s principals are the village pariahs at the moment, though they have brought some of it on themselves.


2. Just a brief check-up on the Maplewood Park redevelopment. The project team has been busy over the past month making revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of its determination of adequacy, and the DEIS was just accepted for public review as of the town of Ithaca planning board meeting on the 20th.

A digital copy of the revised DEIS can be found on the town’s website here. A public hearing will also take place on October 18th. The SEQR review period is 45 days from acceptance, so public comment will be accepted on the document up to 4 PM on Halloween.


3. As part of their campus housing study, Cornell launched an extensive survey of their students. A summary and a link to the full results can be found on their webpage here. The university also held public forums this past week on campus to hear opinions from the community and explain what happens next (what needs work, how much campus housing is needed, where on campus, what student segments, strategies for the next 25 years, and so on).

Among the grad and professional (MBA/JD/MPH/etc) students, more anticipated living on campus when they arrived, than actually did – 32% vs. 18% of respondents. On average, G/P students felt they should pay about 7% less than they do. They want Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, on-site laundry and package/mail delivery. Outside, they want wider sidewalks and more frequent bus stops/service, and parking fees should be bundled in rent if parking is offered.

Those off campus preferred Downtown (26%) and Collegetown (24%). Grads and domestic students preferred Downtown, professional and international students preferred Collegetown. Grad students tended to be more satisfied with their housing than undergrads.

Similarly, more undergrad respondents want(ed) to live on campus – 56% do or have, 78% want/wanted to. That stat’s a little weird, since freshmen are required to live on campus. Only about 45% describe an apartment as ideal housing, vs 88% for grad/prof students. They also want Wi-Fi and laundry, as well as study areas and dining nearby. 49% selected Collegetown as their preferred housing choice, with another 36% preferring an on-campus location if available.


At the public forums, the university presented a few potential building sites for new campus housing. The goal was to have sites away from full-time residential areas (less hassle), easy to prepare (less physical hassle), accommodate 300-500 students (scale efficiencies) and be near existing facilities (quality of life and infrastructure). Three north campus locations were presented – CC parking lot, the side lot at RPCC, and the fields next to Appel Commons. The RPCC and CC locations show up on the 2008 Master Plan as well, 3-6 floors and up to 200,000 SF of space. So it seems those two locations have a more sustained interest. The city of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights have a boundary line that straddles those sites, a latitudinal line just south of Jessup Road. If something were proposed, most of the land is in the city, but the village would have to vote to defer decision-making to the city. That is a potential complication that Cornell has to keep in mind.


4. The Evergreen Townhouses project in Dryden will be the subject of a special meeting of the town planning board on Wednesday October 5th at 7 PM at the Varna Community Center. The full suite of documents, including county review, planning board notes for the town board (recall that in Dryden, the town board votes to approve projects instead of the planning board), sewer capacity report and concept plan description can be found here. SEQR has been reviewed and a traffic study has been completed. The project will need a PUD approval, since 36 units exceeds what the zoning allows (28). If the PUD is approved, land will be deeded to the town for its recreational rail trail. Like the Park Grove project in Lansing, this rental proposal has seen a fair amount of opposition, due to traffic and concerns about renters, and the possibility of encouraging suburban sprawl east of Varna. Oddly enough, for being this far along in the process, there still haven’t been any detailed renders of the townhouses released to the public.

5. Here are a few details about the 607 South Aurora project. Readers might recall the sketch plan was presented at the August Planning Board meeting.

As I discovered this week, sketch plans are actually off the record. Meaning that a developer doesn’t have to give it to the city for publication if they don’t want to. Apparently, John Novarr is going this route – although images for his townhouse project on the 100 Block of College Avenue were presented last week, the city has no official record of them, and he said he has no intent to share plans until he’s ready for the city to declare itself lead agency. For what it’s worth, the project, geared towards Cornell faculty and staff, was well received by the Planning Board.

On the one hand, not sharing the sketch plan limits public exposure and the risk brought by exposure, and it allows the board to eliminate the most controversial aspects before the public can see them. On the other hand, it’s less transparent, and makes me an unhappy camper.

Back to the topic at hand, 607 South Aurora as initially conceived calls for 4, 2-family, 2-story houses on the property, while retaining the existing house. That’s a total of 8 units, and 24 bedrooms total. Parking would be in two sections tucked back from the street. The project is not unlike the one approved for 312-314 Old Elmira Road in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. Although STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest presented the project at the August meeting, STREAM is not in charge of this proposal. The project is being designed by Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma for local developer Charlie O’Connor.

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Charlie O’Connor is a part of Modern Living Rentals, and regardless of how one might actually feel about their work, it is probably the most transparent development/rental company in the local market. True to form, a quick check of their website turned up images of 607 S. Aurora. It looks like the same general design will be used for each building, and each unit will be 3 bedrooms and about 1,122 feet. I hope they change up the exterior colors for variety’s sake. The board and planning department was fine with the buildings, but suggested revisions to the site plan, so the next iteration will likely have a different site layout.

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6. Sorry, didn’t realize the lens was smudged. This very subtle duplex is underway in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, behind an existing duplex at 512-14 West Green Street. Because it fits in all the setbacks (it’s a very large, deep lot for an inner city parcel) and the rear of the property falls into the State Street Corridor’s CBD-60 zoning (i.e. no parking required), this project never needed more than staff-level approval from the city. Honestly, were it not for a small disturbed area at the curb-cut from construction vehicles moving in and out, one would never know this duplex was under construction.

The property is owned by the Ciaschi family, and appears to have been passed between family members since at least the 1960s. A building loan filed on June 17th indicates that Tompkins Trust lent $330,000 towards the project. As with many smaller builds, this a modular by Ithaca’s Carina Construction. Carina is supplied by Simplex Homes, and it looks like this 3-bedroom/2-unit is based off Simplex’s “Elkton IV” plan (but that could be wrong). Give how far along the outside is, it would not be a surprise if renters move in by the start of October.


7. The near-death Black Oak Wind Farm could actually happen, if they pay Enfield the money they want for FOIL costs. Using the original EIS, they’ve reverted to the initial plan, including use of the landowners’ properties who tried to pull out in the face of the project’s rancorous opposition. The BOWF project team had been attempting to move two of the turbines to accommodate property owners who changed their mind about being associated with the project, but the Supplemental EIS had been caught in legal red tape with the town of Enfield and the town of Newfield to its south, where one of the alternative sites was planned. So the new plan is to just go forward with the original signed contracts and build what was proposed before the 2015 SEIS. The project team has requested final approval, but the town has said they want to be paid $19,000 for the cost of handling all the FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) requests, of which they’re not sure who’s actually required to cover the cost.

This project and its manager, Marguerite Wells, have probably been put through a greater Hell than any other proposal in this county, which is really, really saying something. Let’s recall, apart from the opposition that has demonized the project manager and the investors (successfully, one could unfortunately argue), that when they considered the alternative site, Newfield’s town board rewrote their wind farm law to implicitly but effectively ban wind turbines from the town. The BOWF project has been incubating for nine or ten years.

According to Marguerite Wells, if they can’t get approval at the Enfield town board’s October 12th meeting, the wind farm proposal dies. And with it, pretty much any commercial wind turbine plans for Tompkins County (looking at Newfield, maybe single-family turbine plans as well – the way the 2016 revision is written, a homeowner can’t even hook up a little one to their roof, as it’s too close to an occupied structure).

8. Here’s a little kick in the pants to end the week. It was reported in Bloomberg of the five Ivies that have released results so far, Cornell’s endowment did the worst in the past year, with a -3.3% loss (which comes out to a drop of about $200 million). The university is taking reactive measures, including moving its investment offices to New York City. “The investment committee believes over the long term the relocation to New York City gives us even better access to potential staff who might not be willing to move to Ithaca,” said Cornell CFO Joanne DeStefano. That’s a bit deflating.