News Tidbits 6/10/2018

11 06 2018

1. For those of you looking out for something interesting next week, here’s your notice. In the village of Lansing Monday night, a sketch plan is set to be shown involving a cluster home development on the remaining phases of the Millcroft property, about 40 acres off of Millcroft Lane and Craft Road. According to the agenda, the proposal comes from Ithaca-based landlord/developer Beer Properties in partnership with Hunt Engineers.

The back story here is that the Millcroft subdivision was approved in the mid 2000s as a three-phase, 31-lot development for high-end ($500k+ homes). As it turns out, the market for that, absent lake views and on relatively small lots, isn’t so great. The Great Recession didn’t help either. The first phase of 14 lots is mostly built out, and the second phase was approved and shows up on town maps, but no construction has taken place. The village has been aware of a project in the works since at least February.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the property listing for the land, which was on Zillow for quite a while – I recall a figure around $850-$950k. The property falls in the village’s medium density residential zone, Cluster zoning means the lots themselves are smaller to preserve natural space. However, the maximum number of units is the same as maximum allowed by regular zoning – 40 acres in sewered Lansing village MDR means up to 87 units, if I’m doing the math right. Not sure if single-family, townhome or otherwise, so keep an eye out for a follow-up.

2. For sale, 15.31 acres off of Wellsley Drive in the village of Dryden. Sewered, watered, and originally planned for 36 homes but never approved. Price of the land $149,900.

Here’s maybe the more interesting part – this borders Maple Ridge. Maple Ridge’s first phase is built out, and the developer, Paul Simonet, would like to build the roads and lay out phase two (and eventually phase three). However, the village’s issue is that there’s only one entry and exit into the development – something they’ve been hesitant to sign off on because of possible safety/access issues.

Now, this may have already been resolved – the village of Dryden has only updated their website twice since February, with legal paperwork for keeping fowl – but if not, there’s the option of buying the Wellsley Drive property and routing a road through there. Maybe $150k plus the extra road work isn’t in Simonet’s price range, but it’s at least an option.

3. The village of Trumansburg commissioned an independent study from Camoin Associates (the same folks who did the Airport Business Park study) looking at the financial impacts of 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) on the village. I’ve been told this wasn’t public yet, but it’s on the village’s planning board webpage, so I dunno about that.

Quick refresher: 73 units. 56 affordable, 17 market-rate. 6 affordable rental townhomes, 40 apartments, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, and 17 market-rate units, single-family and townhome style. 140 residents at full buildout in 2023, assuming one per bedroom.

Here’s the TL;DR on the finances. The net income to the village itself is -$23,757/year when fully built out. The unfortunate truth of residential development is that, frankly, people have needs. They use roads, they call police and fire, they use municipal power lines and water pipes and sewer mains. It is not offset by the village’s share of property taxes, here in this mixed-income example, or in the vast majority of cases. This is a reason to advocate housing density, because the impacts on, say, building new roads or infrastructure is often less per unit.

On the flip side, the school district, which makes up a greater share of the property taxes, sees a net increase of $97,669/year when fully built. Tax revenue more than offsets the expenditure of approximately 33 new students. Not everyone living in has a child, but everyone pays school taxes. This money not only helps the district, the incoming students help ameliorate concerns that declining enrollment may soon lead to consolidation with a neighboring district.

Economic impacts can be broken down into three components – the construction jobs, long-term operation/maintenance, and growth induced by the new residents, who will not just live locally, they will also shop, dine and spend money in the village. There will be an estimated $18.17 million spent on construction, $1.45 million will be spent within the County, creating 20 construction job-years in total (note there are multiple guys on site once, the project is expected to be fully complete within five years), and nearly $695,000 in total earnings. Operation/maintenance in perpetuity creates the equivalent of two jobs, creating $60,732 in earnings and $229,782 in sales. The households will spend nearly $1.7 million yearly within the County, which will support 20 total jobs with over $676,500 in earnings per year. In other words, $2 million spent in the county, 22 jobs and $737,500 in net new earnings from having those 140 more residents in the village.

By the way, if one was inclined to read 289 pages of public comments about 46 South, that can be found here. The project will be discussed at the village board’s meeting Monday evening.

4. Let me note this before I forget again – Park Grove’s Bomax Drive Apartments have started construction. The first two strings of 10-unit, three-bedroom townhomes are expected to be completed by Spring 2019. I’ll make a site visit soon for a longer write-up.

5. Meanwhile, the Triphammer Row townhomes are on pause until the road situation gets worked out. The village won’t sign off on using M&T Bank’s parking lot as an entry route, and the Sevanna Park condos don’t want to allow access to the 15 units through their private road. As a result, the village is seeking to have the road turned over to them, in part to encourage this for-sale plan, and in part because will ownership of the entry road to Sevanna Park will allow them to install better curb cuts and traffic control.

6. Here’s a for-sale property with some small-scale redevelopment potential, this one in the city of Ithaca. A dilapidated house is for sale at 815-17 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. thanks to unsympathetic additions, the historic value is marginal. A buyer could restore it, or if interested, since it’s a double-lot, they could split the lot in two and do a two-family home on each property. Given other recent projects in the area such as 202 and 204 Queen Street and 128 West Falls Street, it appears to be an opportunity to do some modest densification keeping with Fall Creek’s fabric without upsetting the community too much in the process. The property is for sale for $269,000.

7 Let’s tie this up with something intriguing. Next week, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee is being asked to support a grant application by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to the New York Main Street (NYMS) grant program. They are seeking $322,500 from the state to leverage work on four downtown projects – a commercial project in the Clinton House, a commercial project in the Boardman House, a “commercial and housing project” at 108 West State Street (the Ithaca Agency Building), and a 12-unit development by Visum Development in the West State Street Corridor. Any rehabbed housing units will be required to be 90% area median income for at least five years, but I dunno if either housing plan has existing units, I think the Ithaca Agency Building was all office space. STREAM Collaborative just moved into the second floor, so they would know best.

Quick postscript here – there’s nothing but an outline according to the DIA’s Gary Ferguson, so no Voice writeups for a while yet.





News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.





Masonic Temple Renovation Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

The Masonic Temple renovation is low-key but worth an explainer. Here we go:

The 17,466 SF Masonic Temple at 115-117 North Cayuga Street is a bit of an unusual building. It was one of the last designs by prolific local architects Arthur Gibb and Ornan Waltz, and completed in 1926. The style is Egyptian Revival, which was also used for the Sphinx Head Tomb at 900 Stewart Avenue, and to a lesser extent in the Carey Building, which was built around the same time. Egyptian Revival architecture uses what are or are perceived to be Egyptian motifs (stark facades, strong symmetrical elements, Egyptian-themed ornamentation), and experienced a resurgence in the 1920s following the opening of King Tut’s tomb – the early 20th century designs are sometimes grouped in as a subcategory of Art Deco.

Keep in mind that Freemasonry is a loose affiliation of fraternal groups, with some degree of secrecy (that they like to play up, for better or worse). Although diminished in this age, they played a role in community social life much as Greek Life does on college campuses. The Ithaca Freemasons wanted something exotic with just a hint of foreboding, so the architects went with minimal ornamentation, strong symmetry, simple, slit-like windows, and a bare, impassive facade, here a thin limestone veneer over a steel frame (a modern idea for the time). To quote William D. Moore’s Masonic Temples: Freemasonry, Ritual Architecture, and Masculine Archetypes, “a critic claimed that Ithaca’s Masonic Temple could help visitors to imagine themselves ‘transported to the civilizations of the Pharaohs…There is no mistaking this structure for an abode of commerce’.”

By the 1990s, the Masonic Temple had fallen into disuse, and local developer and major landlord Jason Fane picked it up in 1993. Fane had made his intent clear that he preferred to demolish the building and build new on the site, a stone’s throw from the hear of Downtown. In response and concern to that idea, the building was landmarked in 1994. You could probably see some parallels to the Nines situation here, only the Nines owners aren’t already multi-millionaires and don’t have a negative public image.

It’s a difficult building to reuse. Not only does one contend with the extra hurdles and costs of working with a landmarked historic structure, but the rooms are cavernous and the building has been described as functionally obsolete – its outdated mechanical systems and lack of handicap accessibility have made it a difficult sell to prospective commercial tenants. The last tenant was the Odyssey nightclub, which moved out over a decade ago. Older folks tend to remember a restaurant prior to that, Europa.

Fane himself was never a big fan of what was considered his “white elephant” property; out of concerns he was letting it decay to the point of an emergency demolition, the CIITAP tax abatement rules were modified in 2014 to say that applicants had to be code compliant on all their other existing properties, and was targeted at Fane, who was seeking an abatement at the time for an apartment proposal at 130 East Clinton Street (it was denied and the project was never built).

The best way to describe the Masonic Temple problem is that it’s not the location, and it’s not out of a lack of interest – it was simply the cost of making it code-compliant and more accessible for tenants. Early plans considered putting The History Center here, while an earlier plan from 2012 considered buying the property from Fane and making it into a community center. The 2012 plan never made much headway – Fane was not keen on selling, and he still harbored hopes of demolishing it. The History Center plan was also seen as more expensive than a specialized space for The History Center.

The city has long hoped that they and Fane would see eye-to-eye, and finally it appears that dream is coming true. In July 2015, the city Common Council voted to support an application from Fane to the New York State Main Street Program, a state-sponsored grant program that encourages revitalization efforts at historic sites in downtown urban centers. In December of that year, the state awarded Fane a $500,000 grant towards the rehabilitation of the building (which cost a little over $1 million total). The initial plans were to get the ball rolling on construction in summer 2016, but it does appear that much-lauded renovation plan is finally moving forward now.

The renovation, designed by architectural preservation specialists Johnson-Schmidt & Associates of Corning, calls for the creation of three commercial spaces, the installation of a ramp at the rear of the auditorium, and a new elevator on the southwest side of the building. With the interior kitchen still intact, it is likely that at least one of the commercial spaces would be geared towards a restaurant tenant.

A new roof membrane will be applied, the exterior limestone and stucco will be cleaned and repaired, the street windows repaired and repainted, and the auditorium windows, which had been boarded up by previous tenants, will be replaced with similar-looking new windows. The front entrance’s stone steps would be redone, and the front doors and lamp posts would be restored. The Ithaca Landamrks Preservation Commission signed off on the work in January 2017. The plans can be seen in the application here.

At the moment, it looks like asbestos abatement is underway, and the ground-level light wells are having their deteriorated concrete removed and replaced. Kascon Environmental Services is performing the asbestos removal, and McPherson Builders Inc. of Ithaca is the contractor-of-record. I asked Fane via email if the plans had changed at all since January 2017, or if there were any tenants on board, but as is often the case with him and his lawyer/representative Nate Lyman, there is no response.

3/30/2018

4/28/2018





City Centre Construction Update, 4/2018

12 05 2018

Mostly just clearing out my stash at this point; as the webcam shows, exterior framing is up to the third floor.

A number of changes have been made to the City Centre project, inside and out. Whitham Planning and Design shepherded the alterations through the planning board, which was generally okay with them. Among the revisions:

-Landscaping Changes. Among them, street tree species and layout, and tree grates are being replaced with FlexiPave porous paved covers. The number of shrubs was decreased, perennial flowers increased. Bike racks were relocated, street lights, curbing and curb ramps were adjusted, concrete planters were added by the parking drop-off area, a pergola with string lights was added, bollards were added, the sidewalk width along East Green Street was reduced from 6′ to 5′, and pavers were changed to a slightly darker shade of grey.

-On the first floor, the lobby layout was reconfigured, and some exterior doors were relocated for ease of access. The number of retail spaces was reduced from four to three, but the total square footage for the retail is about the same (11,000 SF). A storm water vault and fire pump room were added in the underground garage, and the parking spaces were reconfigured slightly to accommodate (still about 71 spaces).

-The unit mix has changed from 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms, and 53 two-bedrooms, to 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. Still 192 units total, but with fewer studios and two-bedrooms and more one-bedrooms, basically. This might have to do with what’s easiest to rent to the target market (young professionals, a few downsizers, deep-pocketed students). Perhaps studios aren’t seen as having enough space for the upmarket market segment.

-The exterior facing materials have been changed from Nichiha aluminum panels to Overly Dimension XP Metal Systems, and Alucoil Larson ACM aluminum panels. The color palette is generally the same, perhaps slightly greyer with the revised paneling. Air intake vents were added to the building facade. Fenestration (window size/arrangement) was also changed up.

The floor buildout is a rather interesting process, because they’re practically building from the inside-out as each floor is added. The interior steel stud walls and structural steel supports go up first, then roof decking overhead, and then what appear to be prefabricated modular exterior wall panels with Marvin Windows already fitted. The dark panel is Dow Thermax Xarmor, which apart from sounding like a Star Wars extra, is a heavy-duty fire-rated fiberglass insulation board covered with a dark exterior facer that serves as a water barrier. These panels can be set into place very quickly, saving time and labor costs. The ground-level is more typical fireproof gypsum sheathing. The steel rails on the upper floors are likely for the aluminum exterior panels, so they may clipped into place.





News Tidbits 4/28/2018

28 04 2018


1. Let’s start with a quick summary of the Planning Board meeting. Generally, it was no big deal. As the Times’ Matt Butler and the Journal’s Matt Steecker relay, the revised City Centre plans were generally acceptable, though in light of the recent Toronto vehicular mass causality event, some concern was expressed about having outdoor spaces without protective bollards in place. Gee, and we all thought runaway trucks were bad enough. It seems the board was also not happy about the “Dark Ash” color on the Hilton, whose revised color palette I called “the embodiment of an Ithaca winter” in last week’s post. Everything else pretty much moved forward to next steps in the approval process with only minor commentary.

I have it on good word next month’s meeting will be more interesting, but let’s see if I eat those words in a few weeks.

2. A pair of news notes courtesy of the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport. For one, the airport is being pressured by airlines to lengthen the Jetways to accommodate larger planes (sorry to thefolks to the email blast, I initially wrote runways). That’s actually a good problem to have in that most airport opt to expand in an effort to lure traffic, they don’t usually have airlines asking them to please expand so they can bring more passengers in and out. Longer Jetways, or jet bridges (apparently Jetway is trademarked the way Kleenex is) allow larger aircraft to be serviced at the terminal.

The other bit is kinda related – Ithaca is a destination for national and international travel, thanks to the colleges (researchers, students and their families) and tourism. The county is also one of the very few east of the Mississippi whose largest minority group identifies as Asian descent, and over 9,000 students at the local higher ed institutions identify as Asian. The county is hoping to grow its share of Asian and especially Chinese international visitors, since they spend an average of $15,000 when visiting the United States, and local businesses would like to encourage their local patronage.  A welcoming event is planned for May 9th, as well as cultural welcoming training and events.

The initiative is being paid for with a $30,000 grant from the local tourism board, as well as money from other organizations like the airport. The airport benefits not just from the travel inbound and outbound, but airlines base their needs on the entire travel route – the more international an airport’s clientele, the more lucrative it is per seat for an airline. That’s a big reason why airlines tend to favor Ithaca-Tompkins for retention and expansion over Elmira-Corning and Binghamton’s more domestic clientele.

3. Let’s take a look at what went on the market this week. For the potential homebuilder, the 9.75-acre “Brian Lane” subdivision in the Eastern Heights neighborhood in the town of Ithaca. To quote the listing from Howard Hanna RE (courtesy post from First Tioga Realty’s Roger Katchuk):

“Prime Development opportunity in one of the great sub divisions in the Ithaca market, Eastern Heights. Area of nice homes. Minutes to Cornell & Ithaca Colleges. Minutes to down town Ithaca. Preliminary approval and document work done by developer with the Town of Ithaca.”

The back story behind this is that it was the larger half of a single-family housing development that never got off the drawing board. The Frandsens, who developed much of Eastern Heights, have owned the land since the 1960s, and developed it out in phases, with John Street being the last major addition. The unapproved plan back in 2007, and then the approved version in August 2012, was to develop this parcel out into sixteen lots, a stormwater lot and a street (called “Brian Lane”, which is a “paper road”. Although originally approved in July 1986 with John Street, a good chunk of Eastern Heights was never built out as intended, but the proposed roads are still shown on maps). The other half was “Edwin Lane”, a six-lot subdivision which also never got off the ground. A neighbor actually did what pro-development folks say neighbors should do if they don’t like a project – make an offer to buy the land. They did, it was accepted, and the land was reconfigured and sold to the town for use as a future park, hence the thin red lot reconfiguration lines in the tax assessor’s map above. There were concerns about the steepness of Brian Lane and the length of the cul-de-sac, though nothing that was insurmountable.

For context, while there has not been any recent attempt to develop the land to the east, the land to the south of the property has been for sale for a few years, and marketed for development potential – in fact, the 26-unit concept sketch shows single-family home lots on Brian Lane. In theory, a very proactive developer could buy both.

However, while the 9.2 acre Slaterville parcel comes with a house (1564 Slaterville Road) and is going for $949,000, the listing price here is only $295,000. For reference, the 2018 Assessment value is $121,100.

By the way, random fact of the week – although she now lives in Penn Yan, NY-23 congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano served for ten years in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the town of Ithaca Planning Board.

4. Now for the other notable new listing of the week. 501-507 South Meadow Street in the city of Ithaca is back on the market. This would be the second time it shows up on the blog. The first was when CFCU bought the 0.63 acre parcel for $1,555,550 back in March 2015. At the time, CFCU planned to eventually redevelop it for its own needs, likely a new headquarters. However, that plan was cancelled when they decided to renovate and move into Bank Tower on the Commons instead. Being excess property they no longer have use for, they’re putting it on the market for $2.49 million, a hefty markup from what they paid. The tax assessment is not so lofty – only $1.2 million.

The one-story, 9,203 SF of strip-style commercial space has housed offices and restaurants, and is in the city’s flexible SW-2 zoning. Mixed-uses allowed, with pp to 5 floors/60 feet, 60% lot coverage, and the only required setbacks are rear yard (10-20 feet depending on parcel). It definitely has potential for something interesting. We’ll see what happens.

5. Let’s take a look on the flip side of the sales coin- actual sales. Visum Development Group’s Todd Fox sold the first building he ever built this week, a duplex on South Hill. Click the link to Visum’s Facebook account for one of those “bootstraps” kinda stories about how he had little money and little idea if it would pan out.

Fox definitely got his money’s worth. 644 Hudson Street and 211 Columbia Street to rental investor Suzanne Roberts for $835,000 – substantially more than the combined assessment of $700,000, but the sale takes into account rental income potential, especially 644 Hudson, which is a stone’s throw from Ithaca College. Being newer buildings (2010 and 2012) also helps, since there’s no long-term deferred maintenance to speak of.

Flash forward to the present, and Fox’s company Visum, by one measure the fastest growing business by revenue in upstate NY, has construction valued in the tens of millions underway, with much grander plans. No doubt the money from this sale would help pay the upfront costs to carry some of the incubating projects through the design, engineering and legal/project review phases.

6. Here’s a quick rundown of planning board items from around the county. The town of Ithaca’s PB will be reviewing a plan to create three new home lots on Orchard Hill Road on West Hill, and a “reaffirmation of SEQR determination” for the Sleep Inn just getting underway at 635 Elmira Road. The reaffirmation is because the zoning variance expires in a couple of months, and that was a close vote they’d rather not repeat. Nothing has changed with the project itself.

Over in Dryden, a few minor projects will be up for review. The United Auto Workers wants to purchase 1495 Dryden Road and do a pair of small office space additions totaling 816 SF that would require board approval. A concept plan will be shown for a “development idea” for 44 acres next to 1502 Ellis Hollow Road that would create an ~10 building, 5-7 dwelling “small-scale intentional community within an ecological paradise“. Some market-rate some affordable at 80% area median income, passive solar timber frame/straw bale homes, micro-enterprise (farm stand) options with minimal land disturbance. The question to be discussed at the meeting is whether for-sale lots under conservation zoning or leased space works better. A contractor yard wishes to expand with a new pole barn and parking at 1756 Hanshaw Road (to be reviewed in May) and Camp Earth Connection at 63 and 129 Hammond Hill Road would like to build a 600 SF cabin for bunking, and potentially 6-8 more small cabins and a small lodge over the next several years. Camp Earth Connection is a hybrid of a campground, a retreat center and passive recreation facility.

Ulysses and Danby have some minor lot subdivisions, and Ulysses also has review of zoning language for an outdoor boating sales and storage operation.

 

 





News Tidbits 4/21/2018

21 04 2018

1. Just a few things since there isn’t much on the table at the moment…a look at next week’s planing board agenda.

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III. A. City Centre, 301 East State Street – Consideration of Project Changes and Conditions 6:20

The blog has touched on this previously, and it can also be seen by hawk-eyed passerby or webcam visitors. While the general massing and materials are staying the same, there are some pretty substantial changes to interior and exterior details, including significant revisions to site layout, landscaping and fenestration. New materials are also being deployed, though these are designed to look similar to the initially-approved materials.

B. Hilton Canopy Hotel, 115 Seneca Way – Consideration of Materials Color Change 6:40

Another project seeking revisions, though these can’t be ascribed to “value engineering”. According to project representative Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design, the manufacturer of the metal panels switched from Cem5 with Swiss Pearl paints to Nichiha Panels using PPG Paints, which will create some subtle color differences.

The second change is that Hilton decided they didn’t like the yellowish fiber cement panels (“Applesauce Cake”) as an accent color, so they’ve been replaced with a dark grey-brown color, “Dark Ash”. I think it’s a little more foreboding to have a group of colors that look like the embodiment of an Ithaca winter, but hey, I’m just an armchair critic. Not mentioned, but it looks like based on the elevations that some trim pieces were deleted as well, as well as a glass entry on the north elevation.

C. Retail Expansion, 744 South Meadow Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing 7:00

Doubt there will be too many speakers during this public hearing. Benderson’s 3,200 SF is moving along. Corrugated aluminum and a “Brazilian rain screen” on the front, Brick pier for an accent, and the usual CMU and EIFS (aka masonry and synthetic stucco) on the back half. No named tenant. From experience, Benderson doesn’t say if they have tenants. They will not respond, period, if I ask no one is lined up, but if someone is, I usually get a call back. I prefer rival DLC Management Corporation’s method of monthly press releases, to be honest.

D. Duplex, 207-209 First Street, Declaration of Lead Agency 7:20

No modifications for this small infill project on the North Side by local businessman David Barken. Should be a fairly cut-and-dry affair. More on the project here.

E. GreenStar Co-operative Market, 750/770 Cascadilla Street, Declaration and Reviews of Parts 2 and 3 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form, 7:40

Not many changes with this plan. They’ve spoken with city engineers about their traffic study, and the city would like a few more bicycle and pedestrian features, as well as a few parking spaces designated for a car-share service like Ithaca CarShare. They also want a firm plan for traffic management while construction is underway, since it’s right next to Route 13. Other than that, looks like smooth sailing.

On an additional note, GreenStar has initiated the Tompkins County IDA tax abatement request process. This was stated in the plans early on, so it’s an expected action. The City of Ithaca announced in an email that a public information session that will be held Monday, April 30 at 5:30 p.m. However, they didn’t provide any supplemental information or links in the email, and nothing appears to be in the city’s document database. Nothing on the IDA’s website yet, either.

F. The Lux, 232-236 Dryden Road, Request to omit rooftop mechanical screen.

STREAM Collaborative, the architects of the project, are requesting on behalf of the developer, Visum Development Group, to delete sections of the fiber cement screen up top. This is often met with a stern “no”, but in this case they’re trying to show through sight-line diagrams that the effect will be minimal, though I suppose from farther vantage points that can see the roof, it would still be less attractive. The board’s objective is to figure out what suffices. Not sure whether this deletion is financially motivated, or if there safety/equipment concerns with the screen.

Not to be cynical, because it’s not my money and many people work hard to make these projects happen, but it does look like there are up to three projects previously approved that are coming back before the board this month wholly or in part for value engineering, which is not a great message to send. A member of the board isn’t likely to shoot anything down regardless of its negative aesthetic or neighborhood impacts because no one wants a half-finished building. But this may lead to much longer stipulations for approval, and a more stringent Planning Board that lengthens the initial approval process.

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks District FGEIS – Special Meeting in May
B. Planning Board comments on the proposal to allow the Planning Board to grant Special Permits

2. For all the Varna/Dryden readers – a developer is proposing a multi-family project in Varna, and would like to host an open house and community meeting at the Varna Community Association building Monday May 14th. Chances are, it they’re going to this much effort, it’s a sizable project. Give them (whoever it is) some benefit of the doubt. They’re not surprising people with a planning board submission, they want input first.