News Tidbits 1/21/18: Twice in One Weekend

21 01 2018

1. It appears that 107 South Albany Street has had its exterior design heavily altered, even as the building is just starting framing. The old design’s flat roof and unusual stair column feature have been toned down to a pitched (gable) roof of about the same height and dimensions. According to ads on Zillow, the 1-bedroom units, which will be ready for occupancy by August 1st, will go for about $1,395/month. For the price comes a fully furnished unit with indoor bike storage, high-end appliances, tiled bath, custom cabinets and high-speed internet. Water and snow removal are included in rent, electric is not. Fairly certain Daniel Hirtler is still the architect for Stavros Stavropoulo’s latest residential project.

To be frank, I don’t know how much an exterior design can change without having to go back to the planning board – offhand, I think they can do pretty much whatever changes they like, so long as they don’t violate zoning laws or change the habitable square footage.

2. Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects totally revamped their website. Among the snazzy new updates was a video.

Now, there are an embarrassing number of HOLT projects I can think off the top of my head, but while watching the 1’22” film, there was one project I did not recognize at all. Above, we see two 4 or 5 story residential buildings along a waterfront – the perspective renders behind the gentlemen’s shoulder are likely all part of the same design set, and the white vehicles in the concept site plan are parked boats. It also appears TWMLA is involved as the landscape architect.

Blowing up the image gives the name “Lembeck Landing”. At first, I thought it said Lambrou Landing, and had reached out to see if it was part of City Harbor; the response was that this appears to be another project. I tried to analyze the streets, it doesn’t look like an Ithaca map, and one street may be named “Porter”. Probably not Ithaca, but someone’s getting some nice waterfront housing. Watch the video for brief shots showing the inside of CFCU’s new HQ and some selected material finishes.

Update: It’s Watkins Glen. An undeveloped parcel near its Porter Street. Thanks to Keith Eisenman for solving the mystery.

3. Let’s just touch on the waterfront real quick. City Harbor is going to be a very substantial project. The first sketch plan involved two large apartment buildings and medical space for Guthrie Clinic; Guthrie would lease its recently purchased warehouse at 770 Cascadilla Street to Greenstar for a bigger, grander co-op; and a third location that will be presented at this month’s planning board meeting. The apartment buildings will be 4 or 5 floors and had ground-level parking with large amounts of surface parking for Guthrie, something that planning board was not a fan of. The other Cascadilla industrial building, 750 Cascadilla, may come down for more parking.

On the one hand, underground parking is out of the question due to the high water table, and above ground parking structures have to contend with soil issues as well, likely leading to deep foundations and increased costs. But an asphalt sea on the city’s shores is not something that will get the board’s approval.

Still, we are potentially talking hundreds of units, as well as a substantial amount of commercial space (and perhaps jobs) with the Guthrie component and the Greenstar expansion. It may very well be that this and the Green Street Garage plan will be the big development stories for the year.

4. Cornell will not the idea of that glass “hat” die; they’re calling it a “suggestion of a future roof pavilion”. The city’s ILPC probably isn’t comfortable with that suggestion being so close to the historically-designated Arts Quad. Anyway, renovations are underway on Rand Hall into the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. The $21.6 million project, about half of which is funded by donations, will be ready for students and staff in August 2019.

5. It sounds like the city has had just about enough with the state’s aerial apparatus fire code changes that halted much of Collegetown’s approved development projects. They’re prepared to take steps to eliminate parking on Linden because the new state law says Linden is too narrow as-is to have construction taller than 30 feet. This seems to be in addition to the power line issue. For 210 Linden, whose developer (Visum Dev. Group) specifically applied for some kind of relief, it would just be in front of the building; Todd Fox had already started work when the building codes department were notified and started enforcing the new code, which is not a good scenario.

Ithaca would prefer the state grant a broad variance (the new code has apparently been an issue across the state), and normally removing parking wouldn’t “fix” the underlying problem, but since New York State did not notify municipalities they were changing the law, they’re attempting to compromise on something that they normally would not. It might also explain why activity in Collegetown has been quiet these past few months outside of the inner core, where the streets are wider and the power lines are underground. The city is looking into how to make development work with the fire code if the state refuses to budge on code modifications. To be fair, there is tens of millions in development and its associated tax revenue that the city was expecting and that the state, in the midst of a budget crisis, is (literally?) hosing them on.

Whatever the city decided at its BPW meeting last week, it seems to have made Visum happy. They’ve started marketing 210 Linden’s units again. It’s saying there are 10 4-bedroom units, and 1 1-bedroom unit, while my notes say 9 4-bedroom units. Maybe the basement was reconfigured? Not sure.

Update: According to a Visum Rep, 210 Linden is 9 4-bedroom units and has added a basement 1-bedroom unit. So now it’s 10 units, 37 bedrooms.

 

6. Around the county, not a whole lot else on municipal agendas at the moment; one of the reasons for no update last week. Dryden town’s planning board will be looking at plans for a new warehouse next to 51 Hall Road, as well as a 5-lot subdivision at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road for Tiny Timbers, the Dryden-based modular home builder. Tiny Timbers uses the warehouse at 51 Hall Road, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the new one is purpose-built for Tiny Timber’s growing business. The town of Ithaca planning board cancelled their last meeting.

The city is fairly quiet. The planning board agenda for next week is short and mostly contains smaller submissions – the pair of infill duplexes proposed at 209 Hudson are on the agenda, with some slight design tweaks (the eyebrow windows are an interesting touch on the rear building). To the developer’s (Stavros Stavropoulo’s) credit, the units are design to accommodate families rather than students – the giveaway are the separate dining room areas, vs the eat-in kitchens one typically sees with student rentals. Senior planner Lisa Nicholas also gave written kudos for the quality exterior material choices (Hardie Board fiber cement panels, aesthetic wood timbering, stone retaining walls).

A fly in the ointment, per reader email: none of the bedrooms are legal for 2-person occupancy. They are 115 SF each; the state fire code says double occupancy must be at least 120 SF. So that would be an issue if one considers couples’ bedrooms.

The board is expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms needed before a negative declaration for adverse impacts can be declared. The 4-bedroom addition for Sophia House (111 the Knoll, Cornell Heights) is up for final approval. The proposed playground at Stewart Park is also up for discussion, with the board once again expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms.BPW is not comfortable accepted the $1.7 million playgrounds, gardens and splash pad unless Friends of Stewart Park creates a $75,000 annual maintenance fund. Lastly, City Harbor will be up for a second round sketch plan, informal discussion to obtain feedback for any future formal submission to consider.

The Nines project (311 College Avenue) is not on the board’s agenda this month. Things are up in the air, as the ILPC has chosen to pursue historic designation, even as there is an active project submission. A little awkward, certainly.

On the 30th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to finalize the form-based code for the Planned Unit Development to be deployed for the Chain Works District.

According to notes from the city Planning Dept, the city approved $130 million in development in 2017. There were 29 projects with 568 housing units, 107 of which are designated affordable for lower & middle income (LMI) households. Also approved was 28,600 SF of new retail & office space. These were from a summary sheet from the planning department, and the detailed write-up will come next month.

7. On a closing note, preliminary estimates suggests that Tompkins County added an average of 1300 jobs over the 2017 calendar year, bringing the average annual job count to 65,300. The gain is just over 2.0%, comfortably above the national average of about 1.5%, but nothing that screams ‘boomtown’. Since 2007, the annual average has increased by 7,700 jobs, +13.8%. The numbers suggest that the gains are slightly better in the fall and spring (7500 – 7700 jobs) than for the summer and winter (7000 jobs), indicating that academic year seasonal jobs are growing slightly faster than the overall market.





News Tidbits 1/20/18: Here We Go Again

20 01 2018

1. It looks like Cayuga Orchard will be moving forward this spring. At the moment, the 102-unit apartment project is going up for a few tweaks to the town of Lansing planning board, mainly just to get approvals for a pair of monument signs. Whitham Planning and Design is handling those last details. The project already went out for construction bids, and with a cost estimated at $25 million, which will surely help Lansing’s bottom line. With no tax abatements, and about $26.50/$1,000 assessed, the back-of-the-envelope suggests about $660,000 in taxes (however, using the hard costs alone is likely low-balling the tax assessment). The project is able to move forward thanks to a plan to pay for a sewer line extension to meet the needs of residents; the plans had long been held up by issues and red tape regarding a modular on-site sewer treatment system.

On the site plan, from left to right, are three roads – to be named “Harvest Drive”, “Blossom Road” and “Liberty Lane”. Positive connotations as most are, except one case I know – here’s a story of a downstate project where the Staten Island borough president used his right to rename roads to give a project names meaning deceit and greed. Liberty Lane is designed to be extended for whenever local developer Jack Young decides to go ahead with his 117-unit “English Village” single-family home and townhouse project on the 100-acre property to the west of Cayuga Orchards. Right now, Young’s focus is on a few home lots he’s subdividing on East Shore Circle.

The housing is intended to be rentals in the upper-middle (premium) market, and the 26 1-bedroom and 76 2-bedroom units are welcome in a community with a tight housing supply. As for the design…meh. It’s not terrible, but the dispersed home strings and front-facing garages over-emphasize suburban aesthetics (nothing against Stampfl Associates, they actually have some neat projects). Look for the first units to come onto the market in Spring 2019.

2. For sale, another chunk of Ithaca’s near-waterfront. 798 Cascadilla is a 18,271 SF one-story flexible office space building that was renovated in the 2000s, and is home to Palisade Corporation, a software firm specializing in decision making/risk analysis tools. Palisade is doing just fine, but this is a case where they might be sniffing out an opportunity.

Consider the location. It’s next to Carpenter Business Park, which was just picked up by a team of businesses led by Cayuga Medical Center and Park Grove Realty, ultimately expected to be a large mixed-use development. That purchase was $10 million on a property that had sold for just $2.7 million less than two years earlier; a bidding war drove the purchase sky high. Next door, Guthrie Clinic picked up Palisade’s neighbors, a storage facility and a former printing press/warehouse of Cornell University, for $2.85 million, $150,000 over asking price. Paying at full or above asking price is pretty rare for commercial real estate in Ithaca. Guthrie has recently been in talks with Greenstar Co-Op to convert the storage facility into a new grocery store and cafe. In the City Harbor plans, where Guthrie and Greenstar are involved, there have been some site plan concerns note around issues like parking, that a purchase here could help solve.

Zoning on the site is newly-minted “Market District”. Hotels, restaurants, retail, housing, healthcare facilities, food production facilities, and housing. Up to five floors/63 feet, 100% lot coverage. But honestly, given the recent PUD-OD proposal, zoning regulations are not the end-all, be-all; if someone wants to try for an additional floor by throwing in a few affordable housing units, they could. Not saying that’s a great idea, but they could.

If I had to take a guess, Palisade is feeling out the market and seeing what kind of deal they can get for their building. It was an unusual choice of locations when they bought it in 2004, but they might make a tidy sum for being in the right place at the right time. Maybe.

The asking price for 798 Cascadilla is $2.7 million. The tax assessment is for $2 million. Pyramid’s David Huckle is the sales agent in charge.

3. A long time ago, back in 2009, a West Hill property was talked of as a potential development site. Now that property has exchanged hands. For the moment, its future is still fairly murky.

Kaderli Trade, a Panamanian business with Swiss ownership has owned a 68.5 parcel of land just west of Warren Place since 1977. The property is vacant, and assessed at $320,000. It just sold on Thursday to the Rancich Family for $360,000, a modest gain, and a pretty good price for vacant land.

The Ranciches are probably best known for being the original planners of the Enfield Wind Farm, and for Carrowmoor, a mixed-use project that would have had retail space, office space and up to 400 units in clustered housing on a 158-acre parcel just northwest of Kaderli’s parcel. The motif was a traditional English village. Buildings would have aesthetic half-timbers and gable roofs. It would have used alternative energy (heat pumps were practically unheard of at the time) and been priced mid-market for for-sale units. However, this was 2008-09, the recession was biting hard, and Carrowmoor never moved beyond the drawing board. Most of the renders have disappeared, but I still have one from 2009, before I knew how to crop screenshots. Less known but still important, the Ranciches also played a role in the development of the Conifer Linderman Creek affordable housing.

If someone were to ask what the development likelihood were based on the above information, it would get a shrug from me. The Ranciches haven’t had much success, but this purchase suggests they have some sort of interest, and the location is one the town has noted for potential development – existing zoning is Medium Density Residential, and the 2014 Comprehensive Plan plans traditional/new urban design medium density. That’s T3-T5 for the New Urban transect buffs, averaging 5-8 units/acre by the town’s count. It’s close enough to the municipal water that new pump stations and tanks wouldn’t necessarily be needed. In sum, the town would be open to something substantial. But who knows.

4. 46 South Street, this Claudia Brenner/INHS mixed-income mixed-use project in Trumansburg (Hamilton Square is no longer the official name) continues to go through the boards. My Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor covered the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, where about ten people spoke for an against the proposal. It’s probably better that she cover 46 South, because I would find it hard to maintain impartiality.

On the one hand, there is the opposition. The “Trumansburg Neighbors Alliance (TBNA)” turned in a Change.org petition with 492 signatures, along with paper petitions they say brings the number up to 669. They say 432 are in Trumansburg, Ulysses, or the Trumansburg school district, which includes large sections of Schuyler County and Seneca County. From their Facebook page, they don’t have accurate numbers.

At this time, there are actively trying to re-impose a village-wide moratorium after the previous decade-long moratorium expired. The zoning was revised in 2012 and re-analyzed in 2016. The South Street housing fits its zoning.

There are plenty of others who have already spoken in favor of this proposal – the Lansing Star has had a harsh word for the opposition, and some residents in Trumansburg are speaking out in favor of the South Street housing.

Let’s go through some of the fallacies with the opposition’s issues:

Too many rental units, not home ownership, out of balance and character with the neighborhood .

46 of the 73 units are affordable (LMI) rentals – most (40 of 46) are in the two story building in the middle of the property. Here’s the thing with lower-moderate income families; a lot of folks are getting by paycheck-to-paycheck. They don’t have the money for a 15% or 20% down payment on a house, for which the median sales price in Trumansburg in 2017 was $255,000, up 38% from the $184,500 in 2012. Thankfully, groups like INHS will work to cover the down payment and sell homes to LMI buyers well below market-rate, like the townhouses on Hancock going in the $110-$145k range, about half of the market rate for a new townhouse in Ithaca.

However, funding for purchasable units is much more difficult to get. A bank isn’t going to fund a plan that doesn’t generate a good profit, so they have to turn to state and federal funds. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. In short, this argument boils down to ‘these people are too poor to live in our village’.

Does not fit ‘village character’ and 2008 Village Comprehensive Plan priorities

Character is always a bad argument to give a planning board; it overly relies on demographic perceptions, which include details like age, income and race. The 2008 Comp Plan notes historic buildings, non cookie-cutter design, and tree-lined streets. Homes are 1-3 floors. Well-designed multi-family buildings that fit the village fabric, especially those with design features friendly to seniors, were encouraged. Affordable housing is strongly encouraged.

Below are some of the building elevations, pulled from the submission here. Let’s gauge based off the Comp Plan statements – there are no historic buildings on site, it’s vacant land surrounded by housing of varying ages. Designs incorporate porches, gables, bracketed eaves, dormers and other features of Trumansburg’s older housing stock. They are generally two floors. There will be several townhouse and single-family home designs interspersed throughout the site.

At 40 units, the apartment building is not unlike the existing Juniper Manor; as with other INHS projects like Breckenridge Place and 210 Hancock, many of these units are expected to rent to seniors – about 60% of Breckenridge is seniors, and although I don’t have stats for 210, I’d say it’s a generous percentage. The project is 72 units, 140 residents, over a 19.12 acre parcel. That is 3.77 units/acre, 7.3 residents/acre. That is less dense than the older part of the village.  Even the Tamarack/Larchmont housing, which is one of the areas of strongest opposition, has about 2.5 units and 7-9 residents per acre.

So density’s in line, it has affordability within a mixed-income layout, the apartments are senior-friendly and designed to blend in; it meets the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

The developers did not ask residents how best to fulfill Village needs…they just decided!

No, they didn’t. Remember the community meetings to get ideas and feedback last July? The August listening sessions? The major plan revisions in response to community concerns? They’ve been listening.

Now that we have that covered, let’s take a look at some of the comments from the folks who are opposed:

From the petition:

“…we do not have the police to keep track of this ridiculous project.”

Ithaca problems must remain in Ithaca and not be spread to us

“These kind of “developments” only bring low income, low quality people.”

From the TBNA facebook page:

there is enough drug dealing on the other end of town probably not a good idea to add to it”.

“Turning trumansburg in to [sic] ithaca have fun with that will have a lot of crime”

I’ve not hidden the fact that I grew up in affordable housing. So these comments that say its occupants are drug addicts, criminals, problems and burdens is very hurtful. I can appreciate TBNA’s attempts on their page to celebrate when housing is announced in Ithaca, but honestly in this context it just reads as a selfish desire that those less well-off will go elsewhere and stay out of the village. For a community that prides itself on its social progressiveness, it’s very disappointing.





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2017

20 12 2017

Given how long this project seemed to be be stuck in post-approval financial purgatory, it still surprised me when I see construction underway at the Hilton Canopy hotel site on the 300 Block of East State Street.

One imagines that summer 2018 will be a construction nerd’s paradise, as cranes for City Centre, Harold’s Square and the Hilton will dot the city’s skyline, no doubt making their way into future TCAD imagery. But for now, it’s subsurface work. The Canopy is excavated, lagging, H-beams and steel tiebacks have been erected to hold the soil back, and wooden forms are being assembled for the concrete pours. 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. For commercial buildings like the Canopy, stronger steel forms with plywood sheet ply are used. In this case, since the walls are quite tall, workers have installed brackets and scaffolds along the forms so that they can stand and work higher up on the walls. Specifically, I think it’s a Symons Steel-Ply Forming System that is being used.

The footprint of the site also has some less imposing wood forms that have been assembled, and interior to those some steel rebar has been laid, to add strength to the concrete as it cures. Some of the basement concrete slab has already been poured along the perimeter, and some is being readied for pours. The elevator shaft and north stairwell will occupy some of the footprint of where the rebar grid is in the second and third photos below. The basement will consist of storage rooms, utility space, a fuel room, laundry facilities, housekeeping office, main offices for hotel staff and back-end operations, restrooms and a breakroom. The smaller forms with the square outline on the south side of the site look to be about where the money counting room and/or data/communications room will be.

Note the light rigging onsite – December’s short daylight hours are no conducive for outdoor construction. Floodlamps are a way around that.





News Tidbits 12/9/17: Not Enough Time in the World

9 12 2017

1. The good news is, Maplewood is progressing. The bad news is, it is not progressing fast enough. A combination of bad weather (rain-outs), and staffing issues. The weather delays had been so bad (with rain 2.5x monthly normals in October) that some subcontractors walked away to take other jobs – while the ~200 Maplewood construction jobs are quality union labor, it’s been difficult to get a full week’s work in. It’s a Monday-Friday job; with a rain-out, they lose a day in the week. That means they also lose out on a day’s pay. Over the past year, 37 days have been partially or fully rained out. A provision in the subcontractors’ contracts allows them to leave for other jobs id the issue becomes too severe, so some have done just that. Not hard feelings, just a tough situation for everyone.

Now about 25 days behind a very tight schedule, EdR and LeChase are asking to be allowed to regularly work 8 AM – 4 PM Saturdays. The town is open to this, but wants more documentation before signing off. So, expect a six-day workweek during the winter and spring. The goal is still to deliver the $80 million, 872-bed project by July.

2. The Seneca Street Garage is “showing its age”. As the garage is now about 45 years old and is designed to last about 50 years, some components are starting to deteriorate. The city has constructed some shoring posts to keep the concrete pillars relatively stable. They are not at risk of collapse, but the tension cables, which are used in combination with rebar to provide for a heavy-duty concrete structure with fewer columns, are starting to wear out. Decades of salt, water and corrosion will do that.

The city will lose about 20 parking spaces from the life-extension measures. The Times is reporting that the city hopes to get another ten to fifteen years out of the garage, and hope to have a plan for replacement parking in place within ten years. That could be a demo and rebuild of the garage, or it could be something more substantial, like the Green Street Garage project. It’s something to mull over now, but there are no big decisions planned anytime soon. Perhaps a Seneca Street rebuild with mixed uses ends up being one of the big urban developments of the late 2020s.

3. A development site on West Hill has exchanged hands. As covered previously, Bella Vista was a planned 44-unit condominium project on Cliff Street that was approved in 2007, and never came to fruition. The site it was proposed for, an 11.71 acre property at 901-999 Cliff Street, was put up for sale in December 2015 for $395,000. Finally, it has been sold.

The developer, Mauro Marinelli as Primary Developers Inc., sold the land to American Blue Sky Holdings LLC for $330,000 on the 5th. The LLC is owned by local businessman Greg Mezey, who previously bought the 12,000 SF medical office building next door at 821 Cliff Street for $945,000 in February 2015. Since then, he and realtor Ryan Mitchell have undertaken some modest building and site improvements. As Red Door Rentals, they own and manage a few apartment houses with a total of about 25 bedrooms.

So what does that portend here? Good question. Watch and wait, for now. The Bella Vista project could still be built, but it must be re-approved by the city of Ithaca, since project approval is only good for two years. Zoning is R-3a, primarily residential uses with up to 4 floors and 35% lot coverage. Parkin is one space per unit or three bedrooms (whichever produces more), and small-scale commercial is allowed with a special permit. The site’s topography is a challenge, but the size of it and its proximity to downtown and the West End make it an interesting opportunity.

4. It looks like the first phase of Dryden’s Maple Ridge subdivision has just about filled out. For owner/developer Paul Simonet, it’s been a long time coming – the development launched right before the recession in 2008, and development didn’t really take off until the economy recovered. In 2013, there were three houses. By November 2014, only four houses had been built, with a duplex underway. Now, there are ten homes, and just about all one of the home lots have been sold. Some of the lots in phase one were combined by buyers.

Interesting, many of the homes built in Maple Ridge are modulars – I half-jokingly suggest that Carina Construction take prospective buyers through here to show them the variety of options one can pursue with modulars. It looks like this latest build on Applewood Lane will also be a modular – the foundation is built (note the dark Bituthene membrane for moisture protection), and the pieces will be trucked over and craned and assembled shortly, if they haven’t been already.

Ultimately, Maple Ridge is supposed to be three phases and 50 lots, and phase two will have about 29 lots, and since these are larger, they’re less likely to consolidated as phase one’s were. Given the need for a new road and infrastructure, sales seem unlikely until well into next year. The village minutes (the few they upload) does show that Simonet is actively pursuing the second phase.

It also answers a question from last week – the Elm Street office/warehouse complex will be the new home of the Ithaca Ice company, after some modest renovations.

5. The Lakeview affordable housing plan for the 700 Block of West Court Street, now called “West End Heights” was selected to receive a $100,000 grant from the inter-municipal and Cornell affordable housing fund (CHDF), but the funds will be delayed a little bit because they need to be moved into the 2018 budget, as the check will be going out in 2018.

6. The latest phase of the Village Solars (the reconstruction of 102 and 116 Village Circle) is being built with a $6 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company. The agreement was uploaded to the county’s records on the 7th. The contractor is “Actual Contractors LLC” with an address at Stephen Lucente’s home on the lake – it’s their in-house construction crew. Albanese Plumbing will be rigging sprinklers, heating and water pipes, T.U. Electric will be doing electrical and fan installations, and Bomak Contractors of Pennsylvania is the subcontractor for excavation, bedding and foundation work. Apparently Larry Fabbroni, the consulting architect, charges $90/hour for design work, while engineering/surveying is $107.50/hour.

102 and 116 comprise 42 units (24 and 18 units respectively), but if you’ve been reading the construction updates for the project, then you already knew that. The loan says both buildings have to be completed by August 15th, 2018.

7. Not a whole lot going on at the moment. Lansing town will be hosting a Planning Board to look at a telecommunications tower, and three new 1-acre home lots to be carved from a larger lot off East Shore Circle. The city’s project review meeting is so slim, they didn’t need to attach any files – just the old business with the Sophia House addition on the Knoll, and that’s it. The city Board of Public Works will be looking at plans for a new inclusive playground at Stewart Park.





News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





News Tidbits 11/25/17: Not Going to Plan

27 11 2017

1. It looks like the Lambrous have started work on the new duplex they’ve long planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown. Foundation work is underway for the two-unit, six-bedroom home, which utilized Superior Foundation Walls and modular units. The building sits on the edge of the East Hill Historic District, so to make the building compliant with the ILPC’s wishes, it features Hardie Board siding, simulated shakes, scuplted brackets and an attic vent, and detailed railings and porches. The design went through a couple iterations, with the first being historically appropriate but expensive stick-built design, and the second a modular scheme that was non-compliant with the ILPC. The Lambrous plan to have the new three-bedroom units available for rent by August.

2. Lansing’s Milton Meadows affordable housing project is up for final approval next Monday, and it looks like the first 72-unit phase will be the only phase. According to documentation filed with the town, the presence of poorer soils and more wetlands than anticipated means that Cornerstone will not be undertaking a second phase. It does raise further questions regarding adjacent parcels and the amount of money the town of Lansing can reasonable gain since this sounds like a recent discovery. The final site plans here show no indication of Cornerstone Development Group buying the remaining 8.9 acres that were intended for phase two.

There are no huge obstacles to prevent approval, although some town officials are unhappy that they didn’t apply a stronger hand to the town center development plan (i.e. laying the roads and infrastructure as they wanted, and charging a higher price for the parcels). While most of the darts have been levied towards Cornerstone (some perhaps unfairly due to it being affordable housing), the town planning chair has also targeted Tiny Timbers for using Conlon Road as its primary ingress/egress in their sketch plan. But with sales already negotiated and approved, the town’s legal options are limited, and since they already dropped the ball on the town center once, the optics aren’t pretty. Any work Cornerstone does is dependent on state and federal grants that are highly competitive and awarded only a few times per year, so don’t expect much for at least a year or two after approval.

3. It looks like the land for the proposed extension of South Meadow Square has been fenced off. A query to the folks in PetSmart next door didn’t turn up much, although they said there had been some water and sewer work to prep for the new 7,315 SF addition approved earlier this year. I did not see what the current conditions are for the approved 14,744 SF addition on the south end.

4. The county and the city have competing views of the NYS DOT’s future in Tompkins County. The county has reiterated its hope that the DOT relocates to a location next to the county airport. The city would prefer a location in Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart and the proposed Maguire dealership campus. The request for state grant dollars depends on the airport proposal, and the DOT has stated preference for a site near the airport.

However, if grants are not awarded, the airport is still considering a plan to build a $1-2 million customs facility that would allow to become an international airport, servicing passenger jets from Canadian hubs (Toronto, Montreal). In the short-term, work is underway to add service to Chicago, which has an on-time percentage comparable to Detroit (80%), and better than Newark (60%) and Philadelphia (70%). Cornell is actively assisting, trying to persuade airlines as part of its “Global Cornell” initiative.

5. So here’s the city of Ithaca’s parks master plan. There’s a few interesting things of note in terms of acquisitions and de-classifications (sale).

First, a quick note – the city is legally required to replace any park land it sells off with newly acquired park land. So with that in mind, the city looked at its parks and found five that are “vastly underutilized” – Columbia Street Park (0.25 acres), Dryden Road Park (0.08 acres), Hillview Park (0.74 acres), Maple Grove Park (0.47 acres), and Strawberry Fields (9.16 acres).

The city would like to sell off the first four on that list, and replace them with a new acquisition somewhere in the city that has at least 1.54 acres, but the city is looking for up to 12 acres. Proximity to population centers, arterial roads, pedestrian access and minimal site prep are some of the big deciding factors in that acquisition process. Meanwhile, Strawberry Fields would be held for either designation as a “school park” to be managed in conjunction with the ICSD, or as a “teaching preserve” for practice field research and instruction.

If the city did opt to sell those four parks, well, there’s some development potential, though they wouldn’t be prime. Maple Grove is a Belle Sherman cul-de-sac surrounded by single-family homes. Dryden Road Park is a small triangle next to the parking garage, and while technically an MU-2 zone for six floors, it’s just as likely Cornell would pick it up amd add it to its tax-exempt rolls since it’s next to Cascadilla Hall. Hillview and Columbia Street on South Hill (R-2a zone) could potentially become a few home lots or a small apartment complex, but the land’s sale would be a political challenge.The city procedure would be an advertised sale offering through the IURA, followed by a grading system of applicants that meet the city’s specified price, as they did with foreclosed lots that became the Ithaka Terraces and 203 Third Street.

Not too keen to get in the weeds on this, since this would be controversial with neighborhood groups, but it’s really just a thought exercise at this point – any potential land sale would be on a long-term, 5 year+ time scale, and the city would need to have new land ready to be acquired for recreational uses. Even thatcould cause problems when neighbors complain that an untouched property becomes a public park that attracts people (this has been an issue with proposed extensions of the South Hill Rec Trail). There is plenty of time to debate the merits and drawbacks of long-term property assets. Right now, the focus is repair and renovating existing facilities in city parks.

6. Looking at the city’s planning board agenda for next week, it’s a short one. The duplex at 601 South Aurora and the Brindley Street Bridge are up for final approval, and a pair of new sketch plans will be reviewed – one is likely to be small, and the other a revision, potentially a downsizing. I’ve heard through the grapevine that several rental developers are holding off or even cancelling plans because they’re concerned about the impacts of Cornell’s 2,000 new beds for their North Campus – although right now there’s nothing formal apart from a statement of intent. Ideally, Cornell puts some concept forth soon, with plans not long thereafter; otherwise, there’s the risk that the local housing situation gets worse. Perhaps the reasonable worst case scenario is that, with recent federal attacks on higher education, Cornell is forced to trim its budget and cancels the housing plans, while still adding students to compensate for financial losses – basically, a sudden large growth in demand without growth in supply.

First, 209 Hudson. This was previously mentioned in a Voice article, it’s potentially a small-scale infill project by frequent infill developer Stavros Stavropoulos. The early plan for two of three rental buildings was shelved due to the South Hill overlay, and its possible that, given the relatively large lot, Stavropoulos may be planning a subdivision to build an additional two-family rental unit. Dunno if he can legally pull off more than that, however. R-2a with overlay allows a 1-2 family structure as a primary, with an accessory apartment in a secondary structure.

The second is 119-123 College Avenue. This is unusual in that this was the site for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project, a 67-unit, multi-building plan for rentals geared towards visiting Cornell faculty and staff. However, the recent NYSEG power line issue has proven problematic, and the last I checked, the project team was supposed to go before a state building codes board in Syracuse this month to get a variance to allow construction, on the basis that the power lines will soon be buried. The minutes are not online, so it’s not clear what the ruling was. While CR-4 zoning allows 45 feet as the plan is currently designed, a variance denial by the state would limit structural height to 30 feet, and would substantially impact the project’s feasibility in pricey Collegetown, as well as alter the design. For the record, 119-123 does not imply a smaller project; 123 College Avenue never existed, the three homes removed for this project were 119, 121 and 125. We’ll see what the revised plans look like next week.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the floor (3-minute maximum per person) 6:05
3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Duplex 6:15
Location: 601 S Aurora Street
Applicant: David Putnam
Actions: Public Hearing, Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a duplex on the .186 acre (8,114 SF) vacant lot. Site development includes parking for two cars, walkways, landscaping, a continuous sidewalk along the property frontage, drainage improvements and a trash enclosure. The applicant has designed curbing and on-street parking on Hillview Place in cooperation with the City Engineering Division. The project is in the R-2a Zoning district. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5. (C.)(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (c)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Brindley Street Bridge Rebuild and Relocation 6:35
Location: Intersection of W State Street and Taughannock Blvd
Applicant: Addisu Gebre for the City of Ithaca
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
Project Description:
The project will relocate current Brindley Street Bridge to align with W. State St./Taughannock
Blvd. intersection through the construction of a new single span extending Taughannock Blvd. over
the Cayuga Inlet to Taber Street. The project will retain existing Brindley Street Bridge and south approach road for pedestrian and bike use. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) for which the Board of Public Works, acting as Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance in 2016.

C. 209 Hudson Street – Subdivision & Site Plan Review – Sketch Plan 7:05

D. 119-123 College Avenue – Sketch Plan 7:35

4. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Collegetown Design Guidelines – Megan Wilson
B. Parks Master Plan – Megan Wilson

5. Reports 8:40
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 11/2017

23 11 2017

These are turning out quite nice. Building “A” is practically complete from the outside. The plant boxes outside the windows have even been stocked with small ornamentals. About the only thing left are the exterior finishes on the front facade columns. Building “C”, the smaller building to its east, is also nearly finished from the outside. I suspect the wiring coming out of Building “C” just above the parking area is for electric car charging stations.

Building “B”, the other large condo structure, is fully encased in plastic sheeting and wood ribbing. Stucco generally needs to be applied in dry, temperate weather conditions, above 40 F at a minimum. Given Ithaca Novembers, that means McPherson Builder has basically turned the building into a dry, heated bubble so that can apply the stucco properly. Building “D” is still being roofed, and is just getting its windows fitted. It looks like the scratch coat for the stucco is being applied over the water barrier, and the brown coat and the finish coat will come later, meaning that “D” will eventually be bubbled in as well.

Most of the concrete curbs and steps have been formed, poured and cured at this point. The grand staircase will make for a nice shortcut from South Cayuga Street to West Spencer Street.

The marketing material appears to be using the phrase “Arriving here is what you are destined for“. Tje website doesn’t indicate how many of the twelve units are spoken for (if any; the project is in the soft marketing stage, where they’re accepting inquiries but there aren’t any formal real estate listings). The two-bedroom and three-bedroom units go for $299-$434k, depending on size and location.