Eleven Years Later

19 06 2019

Just a quick note here to say thanks for reading the blog. 845,446 views and counting, with 112,347 in the past 12 months, for an average of about 308/day in the past year and 210/day over the life of the blog.

Thank you for all your thoughtful questions and the time you take to read the posts here. I hope they have been a great resource and will continue to be in times ahead.

 





Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport Construction Update, 5/2019

27 05 2019

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer dropped by earlier this month to make the formal announcement that the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport a $9,999,990 grant toward the airport renovation and expansion project. This money was not unexpected, though never a given; along with the $14.4 million New York State grant, the county’s portion of the bill is expected to only be about $260,000 (out of $24.7 million) assuming costs remain stable.

Now underway is Phase 2 of the project, which involves renovation and expansion of the passenger screening checkpoint of the departure lounge and the terminal’s gate area. Gone is the airport entrance canopy, and coming soon are a new concourse for arrivals and departures, and new jet bridges to contribute to the 6 gates that will operate at ITH. (Want more details? Click here). Streeter Associates of Elmira, who built Phase 1, will also be in charge of the buildout of Phase 2. The airport project is expected to be finished before the end of the year.

Oof. Hope you have a jack kit in the trunk.





News Tidbits 5/11/19

12 05 2019

1. The proposed revision (downzoning) along West State / MLK Jr. Street is moving forward with circulation (review by city departments and associated stakeholders), with a couple of major revisions. The zoning would not be CBD-60. It would be CBD-52 for structures with less than 20% affordable housing, and CBD-62 for structures with 20% or more affordable housing. The quirk in the height is due to mandatory floor heights, which will be 12 feet for the first floor, and 10 feet for each floor above – in other words, five floors for projects with a lack of affordable units (=< 80% area median income), six otherwise.

For 510 West State Street, in which all 76 or 77 units are affordable (my unit count is 76, but they typed 77 in a couple sport of the Site Plan Review), the project would remain largely intact. The new setback requirement would push the fifth and maybe a very small portion of the sixth floor back from West State/MLK Jr. Street for the mandatory fifteen feet, so a little square footage would be lost there. The city had initially sought thirty foot setbacks, but the Ithaca Fire Department said that it would not be reachable by their trucks if the fifth floor was that far away from the street face.

Now, some more astute readers might be wondering is this affects Visum’s other West End project at 109 North Corn Street. The answer is no. The setback rule only affects buildings fronting West State / MLK Jr. Street. The downzoning is intended to protect an aesthetically pleasing segment of West State more than anything else. The setback does technically apply to West Seneca Street, but the building height there is 40 feet anyway, which is the same as the setback.

The affected blocks now also include the 300 and 400 Blocks of West State Street. The only publicly known project that would be impacted is INHS’s Salvation Army redevelopment, which was only aiming for five floors on the West State Street side anyway, but could potentially be impacted by the setback rule – the project design is still in the concept stages with no public images.

A speaker during public comment asked to extend the zoning further to Downtown, and some councilors have discussed further downzoning because “the developers can just pursue a PUD”. That thought process ignores the drawbacks. The more areas impacted and the more stringent zoning becomes, the more labor and time intensive it becomes for city staff because it would likely trigger more PUDs, even while resulting in less development in general because a PUD adds months to a project timeline, uncertainty that lenders don’t like, and forces the Common Council to take on the role of a second Planning Board (which some councilors might be fine with, but some definitely would not and raised this as a complaint during the vote on whether to create the PUD overlay to begin with). Also, if the downzoning were to be applied to a property against the owner’s wishes, say the County Annex property for example, it would likely trigger a costly lawsuit. TL;DR, it looks tempting for additional “community benefits”, but could have significant negative impacts and should be used sparingly.

2. Staying in the realm of laws for a moment, there’s an ordinance that should be made aware to residents of Northside and Fall Creek. A proposal from 1st Ward councilor Cynthia Brock would require every rental agreement and every home sales transaction within 1200 feet of the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility’s boundaries to provide documentation of the potential issues and hazards of living near the plant – “you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences and discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of living and operating in proximity to a waste water treatment facility,” as the document states.

The document isn’t ill-intentioned, but this does impact over a hundred existing Northside and Fall Creek homes and apartments, and quite reasonably would have a negative financial impact on them, whether they plan to sell or if they rent out space. There is nothing on record that these residents have been notified of this proposal. City staff don’t even seem comfortable with the proposal as-is, they don’t think Fall Creek residents are substantially impacted and suggested a cutoff at Route 13, but the 1200 square foot radius seems to be the version being considered right now, paying a trip to city attorneys to see if it’s legal to apply it to all rentals, a detail added at the meeting. Honestly, this doesn’t seem well thought out at this time, and poses a burden to existing homeowners who have not been made aware because of the lack of sufficient outreach.

3. Arthaus and Library Place have had their tax abatement requests approved, on 7-0 and 6-1 votes. The former will bring 124 affordable housing units including special needs housing and artist-centric amenities to the city of Ithaca at 130 Cherry Street. The latter will provide 66 senior housing units on the former Library property on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street. Arthaus is expected to start construction at the end of the year, while Library Place will resume this month, with completions in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

County legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voted against the Library Place proposal, citing some of the concerns raise over the lack of affordable housing (three units will now be 80% area median income) and general discontent with the site. In my intro post to the project, I mentioned if vaguely that there was a legislator who thought the affordable housing, condominiums, and Travis Hyde projects were all terrible – that was McBean-Clairborne, who has generally favored county offices on the site instead of housing. The county did a study to consider renovating the old library for offices back in 2011, a couple years before the RFP, but the study found it was financially prohibitive because of the building’s unusual interior layout (that soaring 1960s atrium wasn’t a good use of space, and wouldn’t have been cheap to replace).

4. Carpenter Park is also moving forward, in this case with the pursuit of its special PUD zoning. The project is seeking the PUD because of some quirks in yard setbacks, and soil tests showing that they couldn’t place some of the parking underground as initially planned (so now it’s in an above ground garage between the ground-floor retail and the apartments in Buildings B and C). The project would bring about 411,600 SF of new space, including 208 apartments (42 affordable) and an expansion of Cayuga Medical Center’s medical offices, resulting in the creation of 150 jobs. The vote was 4-1, with councilor Brock opposed. The full council will vote on the PUD next month, and then the project can go to the planning board for design review. Keep in mind that the above designs might change somewhat, though the general scale and program mix should stay the same.

5. The Tompkins County Airport has received a $9,999,990 grant, as announced by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer at a press conference earlier this week. The county was strongly hoping these funds would come through. With the state grant, it means the county is only paying about $260,000 of the $24.5 million bill. Click the link here to learn more about the airport expansion project.

6. The Gun Hill Residences appear to be in the process of selling. A real estate trade magazine notes Southeastern U.S. regional bank SunTrust is giving the buyer a $13.3 million acquisition loan for DMG Investments LLC. DMG Investments is an American subsidiary of a Chinese development firm, DoThink Group of Hangzhou. The company has been active in upstate recently. DMG co-owns a new 322-bed student housing apartment in Albany and has projects scattered across the country. The full sales price has not been discolosed, as the deed has yet to be filed. It was noted that the ca. 1989, 94-unit, 273-bed Gun Hill Residences on Lake Street was nearly completely full at the time of closing (late spring, which is reasonable given a couple of kids might have washed out of Cornell or otherwise moved out). The property was previously owned by Rochester’s Morgan Communities, which was raided by the FBI last year. Morgan purchased the property in February 2011 for $6.15 million, and the current county assessment for Gun Hill is $12.65 million.

OLD render

NEW render

7. Some modest revisions to the Immaculate Conception School plans. Old render first, new render second. The design of the renovated school building has changed substantially, though the overall size has remained consistent. The changes could be due to any number of reasons, from cost concerns to utilities placements necessitating design changes. The single-family homes have been replaced with a four-string of townhomes, and the yellow string has been earmarked for for-sale units.

If I may – make one of the olive green townhome strings red or orange like the houses that have been removed. Keeps it from being so “matchy-matchy”, to borrow a JoAnn Cornish term. More renders can be found on INHS’s sparkling new website here.

On that note, on Monday May 13th the City of Ithaca will hold a Public Information Session for the proposed PUD (Planned Unit Development) for the Immaculate Conception School redevelopment. The Public Information Session will begin at 4:00 PM, in the Common Council Chambers in City Hall. In accordance with the requirements of the PUD, the developer and project team will present information about the project and answer questions from the public.

8. Looking at agendas:

The city Project Review Meeting (the run up to Planning Board meetings) will look at signage changes for the new Hilton Canopy on Seneca Way, a Presentation and potential Declaration of Lead Agency for 510 West State Street (now 50-70% area median income, initially it was 80-90% AMI), The 141-bed, 49 unit Overlook student housing at 815 South Aurora (updated, and review of Full Environmental Assessment Forms Part 2 and 3), final site plan approval for Arthaus and consideration of preliminary site plan approval for the Chain Works District (the focus right now is the renovations for phase one, office space, industrial space and 60 apartments). Apparently, the “Ezra” restaurant at the Hilton is now being called “The Strand Cafe”, after the theater that once stood on the site. More information can be found in the May project memo here.

The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Chain Works as well. Their portion of phase one involves the renovation of two manufacturing spaces into industrial and warehouse space (i.e. minimal work, just a sprucing up of the digs). Also your casual reminder that, unlike Dryden, Lansing or really any other sizable community in Tompkins County, the town permitted the construction of not a single new housing unit – again – last month. It looks the next stage of Artist Alley ($150,000 buildout) and Cayuga Med’s radiation vault ($2 million cost) were permitted.

It appears that the Beer family is heading back for another visit to the village of Lansing Planning Board regarding their until-now cancelled senior cottages project. The only thing known at the moment about this latest iteration is that it would fit the village’s cluster zoning, which means 97 units or less, but not in the same configuration as before (the pocket neighborhood-style homes were too close for code). We’ll see what happens.

Nothing much to note in Lansing town. Review of the Osmica event venue and B&B will continue, as will consideration of the Lake Forest Circle subdivision renewal and the 12,000 SF commercial building proposed for North Triphammer Road just north of Franklyn Drive.

– Courtesy of the village of Trumansburg, we have a new working title for 46 South Street, formerly Hamilton Square – now it’s “Crescent Way”. PApar krief, including revised EAFs, supplements and BZA findings here. The final version has some site plan changes on the location of some townhouse string types, but the overall unit count remains the same at 73 units (17 market rate for-sale, 10 affordable for-sale, 46 affordable rentals). Approval is on the horizon, a little more than two years to the date of when the project was first introduced. The project will be built in phases, with completion not expected until 2023.

 





News Tidbits 5/4/19

4 05 2019

1. Generally speaking, when the opposition is opposed to the aesthetics rather than the purpose, then a project is in good shape for IDA approval. That looks to be the case with the Vecino Group’s Arthaus project. The 124-unit all-affordable (50-80% area median income) project at 130 Cherry Street will be seeking IDA approval for an abatement at the May meeting, after hosting its public hearing this month (minutes here). As noted by the Ithaca Times, apart from complaints about it being too big or ugly, there wasn’t much in the way of opposition to the premise of the project, which is what the IDA is more interested in. As far as the IDA is concerned, aesthetics are something to be handled by the Ithaca Planning Board; if it’s okay with the PB, then it’s okay with them. Chances are pretty good that the abatement will be granted. The abatement is worth about $3.73 million towards the $28.8 million project.

2. It may have taken two tries to get the zoning variance approved, but Habitat for Humanity is moving forward with its redevelopment and new builds at 1932 Slaterville Road in the town of Dryden. The existing 19th century farmhouse will be renovated into a four-bedroom home, a first for the local chapter. The land will be subdivided into two additional one-acre parcels for a new three-bedroom home on each lot, about 1,100 SF each. Each home will cost about $70-$75,000 to build, and the goal is to have them ready for occupancy by mid-2020.

Habitat homes are typically sold to families making under 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), or about $36,000/year. The homes would have built with a combination of professional contractors and volunteer labor, including 350+ hours of “sweat equity”, where the future homeowners actively work as members of the construction crew. In a market starved for affordable housing, every little bit helps.

3. We don’t tend to see many big commercial or industrial buildings listed for sale (if in part because there aren’t many), but it looks like the TransAct Technologies building at 20 Bomax Drive in Lansing is now for sale. Now, before anyone gets nervous, the business isn’t going anywhere; they’ve always leased the space since the building opened in 1998 and have a triple-net lease.

A triple-net lease means the tenant pays everything – insurance, maintenance and real estate taxes (formally, net insurance, net maintenance and net real estate taxes on the leased asset – the three nets).  As a result, the rent is substantially lower than it otherwise might be. It may not be all that lucrative, but the property ends up being a fairly safe investment (though with a lot of fine print to determine who pays for things like if a tornado hits or the foundation cracks), generating a modest amount of rent and functioning like an inflation-protected bond, but guaranteed by the lessee rather than the government. All the better when the tenant is stable and signed on for the long-term as TransAct has been.

For just under $6 million, the buyer gets a fairly new industrial building on 7.54 acres with 18,066 SF of office space, 55,759 SF of warehouse and manufacturing space, and the security of a long-term tenant. This will not be an exciting sale, but it’ll be interesting to see who the buyer is. Warren Real Estate is the seller’s agent, and the offering description with financial data is here.

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4. A little bit of soapboxing. I’ve been seeing and getting some messages to this effect lately. First, I’ll note that the first comment is a bit disingenuous. That’s the highest-priced three-bedroom unit. To quote the range of prices from the Ithaca Times:

“Affordable in this case will include rents for people making 50-80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which means that rents for studios will be between $737 and $1180 per month, to 1,095 and 1,752 [per month] for a three-bedroom apartment, the highest price.”

Anyway, the comments tend to be to the effect of “this isn’t affordable enough, so I can’t support it”. That’s a textbook case of letting the perfect getting in the way of the good. Here is a project with 124 affordable housing units, with 40 of the units set aside for formerly homeless youth and families with on-site supportive services from TC Action. It would do a lot of good to have this project available to the community.

Honestly, the argument feels like the next evolution of the arguments against affordable housing in general. Now that it’s firmly ingrained that there is a lack of affordable housing in Tompkins County and it does negatively affect the community, the next step is to say, essentially, that nothing is good enough. From a pragmatic stadnpoint, since these projects aren’t something banks and credit unions will fully finance because of the lack of a sizable return on investment, it falls to NYS to award grants. The state will not dispense larger tax credits to make a unit drop from 60% AMI to 30% AMI, that’s up to the developer to make up the bigger financial gap. To do that, either they add in higher-priced units to compensate, or the project doesn’t happen. Which is probably the end goal for many of the complainers anyway. It’s kinda like saying you’re available for a date, but only to those who are millionaire PhDs.

Anyway, weigh each project on its merits. But set reasonable goals.

5. As reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, developer Eric Goetzmann is seeking changes to the senior housing to be included as part of the Lansing Meadows project. The primary changes are making Lansing Meadows Drive into a one-way street (thus allowing it to be slightly narrower while still able to host on-street parking), and making each duplex into a triplex – three senior housing units per string, for a total of thirty. As a result, the units will be slightly smaller, though still two-bedroom apiece. The two end units in each building will be 1252 SF with a 395 SF garage. The center unit will be 1114 SF with a 251 SF garage. The third change is that Goetzmann and his project team want to amend the approvals to allow the sale of units in the future (the initial plan still calls for market-rate rentals).

This comes with a set of issues that need to be sorted out. The project has to be complete by July 2020 as required by the village in their approval resolution. The village planning board now has to consider the proposed amendments and consider whether they constitute a major change from the approved Planned Development Area (PDA, the village’s DIY zoning). Doing so would either cause the plan to be delayed and violate the resolution, or if declined for further consideration, the resolution would likely trigger a lawsuit between the village, Goetzmann, and the county IDA, who granted an abatement to Lansing Meadows. If they say the changes are minor in the context of the PDA, then construction is expected to start as soon as the amended PDA is granted (May 13th at the earliest).

The plan is to build the northern triplexes first, and then the southern units. The planning board’s not a fan from an aesthetics perspective, but the village’s code officer that the northern half is more elevated, so this reduces stormwater risks. With construction underway and loose soil on the site, if built later the exposed northern half could result in runoff and flash flooding downhill, into the southern half and its new homes. The commercial component on the east side of the property cannot legally be built until all residential units are completed.

It’s been nine years since this project was first pitched, and most stakeholders just want to get this project out of their hair. It’s not clear when that will happen.





News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

1. Matt Butler at the Times is providing an in-depth check-up on the mall this week. This was a story the Voice had laid groundwork for as well, so it’s nice that one of the local news orgs was able to make hay of it. The mall, like many middle-class local malls across the country has been struggling in the age of Amazon and the retail meltdown. The overall economy might be humming along, but retail closures continue to spike nationwide, with over 6,100 closures planned this year alone, more than the 5,900 announced in all of 2018. With planned new store openings numbering 2,100, it’s practically two stores closing for every one that opens. Retail mega-landlord Cushman and Wakefield estimates 9,000 stores will close in 2019, and over 12,000 in 2020. In the Ithaca Mall, Gertrude Hawk is gone, American Eagle closed up last year, Ultimate Athletics shut its doors, the Bon-Ton closed as part of the shutdown of the whole chain, and the Sears Hometown store is kaput. The mall’s manager cited a variety of reasons, including chain downsizing, poor performance, and some just stopped paying rent.

This has major economic impacts; the mall’s property value has declined by over 60% since the start of the decade, and the village, the county and the schools have to make up those hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue somewhere (and the county and schools have). County legislator Deborah Dawson, who represents the mall’s district, suggested doing something similar to the DeWitt Mall downtown, a mix of local businesses, but the mall is a much bigger space to fill (622,500 SF vs. 117,500 SF in the DeWitt Mall), and DeWitt Mall is mixed-use (retail and 45 apartments). Local businesses and experiential outlets can be part of the solution as Running 2 Places is showing with their 18,000 SF theater this spring, but it’s one component of a solution. Residential could be a component, but some legal and logistic issues would need to be sorted out, which owner Namdar Realty has never shown much interest in; the village has also been lukewarm to the idea. About 40 apartment units were floated for a section of the parking lot (west/on the backside of the mall if I remember right), but that idea died during the Great Recession.

There is so silver bullet here. The owner needs to be more proactive then holding a proverbial gun to its’ tenants heads in order to get them to stay. Local governing bodies also have to keep an open mind for redevelopment ideas – if parts of the mall were torn down and replaced with residential, for example. As it is, the only plans on the horizon are an unnamed tenant for the former Bon-Ton space, and the extended stay hotel planned for the parking lot behind (west) of the Ramada Inn. The future of the mall is hazy; like a species faced with a steadily changing habitat, it’s either adapt and evolve, or perish.

2. Courtesy of their Facebook page, here’s a sketch render of what Salt Point Brewing Compant’s new brewery and taproom would look like. It’s a fairly unobtrusive one-story structure with a gable roof and two wings, presumably the taller one for the brewing tanks and the smaller one for service functions. On the outside are wood accents and a two-story deck for outdoor drinking and possibly dining, if the restaurant option is pursued.

The building, as well as associated landscaping and parking improvements, would be located on about three of the five acres sold as Parcel “D” in the Lansing Town Center development. The remaining two acres are wetlands and would be left undisturbed. Salt Point paid $75,000 for the land, and will bring its project forth to the town planning board in the coming months. No word on any job creation figures yet.

3. The NYS DOT county facility plans are moving forward. The state bought its 15 acres from Tompkins County for $840,000 according to a deed filed on April 24th. The building is classified as a sub-residency facility, a step below a primary regional facility (the main office for Region 3 is in Syracuse).

To review, the plans consist of the 30,000 SF sub-residency maintenance building, a 5,000 SF Cold Storage unit, an 8,200 SF salt barn, and a 2,500 square foot hopper building (covered lean-to). The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features include parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. A new access drive will be constructed from Warren Road.

The town has been less than pleased with the project, which is not bound to zoning code because it’s a public resource facility owned and operated by a government entity. Rather than voice approval, the planning board voted to acknowledge that they simply had no authority to control the project. Some modifications were made to the plans at the town’s request, such as the fueling station being moved onto airport property across Warren Road, but neighbors are still unhappy that snowplows and heavy-duty maintenance vehicles are about to be their next door neighbors.

The facility is expected to be open by the end of the end of the year. Once all staff and equipment have been moved in, the county may pursue a request for proposals/request for expression of interest for the current DOT property on the shores of the inlet near the Farmer’s Market. A 2015 feasibility analysis found that the site could conceivably host a $40+ million mixed-use project, and the site has became more amenable towards redevelopment with the enhanced density and use provisions made to the city’s waterfront zoning in 2017.

4. The Ithaca city planning board granted a negative declaration of environmental review to the 124-unit Arthaus affordable housing project at 130 Cherry Street. According to my editor Kelsey O’Connor, the latest revisions propose a five-story building that would include a gallery, office and affordable rental space. It would include parking for about 36 vehicles and 7,600 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. All of the units would be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80% of the area median income, or about $30,000 to $45,000. The north end of the property will also include a publicly accessible path leading to the inlet.

Speaking in favor of the project were neighborhood business owners and non-profits, and in opposition was councilman George McGonigal, who said both in a letter and in person that it was too big for the site and threatened the industrial character of the neighborhood. They have bigger concerns than housing nearby. Cherry Street is difficult to access with large trucks and commercial vehicles, the Brindley Street and Cecil Malone Drive bridges are small and in poor shape. Secondly, Cherry Street doesn’t provide much room for operations to expand, so that hinders their long-term operational planning. It’s not just lot size, but also the soil – the Emmy’s Organics project fell through because of poor soil not amenable for warehouse and other light industrial functions that rely on a concrete slab. Thirdly, the city’s strict environmental laws, fees and higher property taxes make an urban site less appealing. They can get more land with a lighter tax burden in Lansing, Dryden, or any of the other outlying towns. With these issues in mind, many of the industrial businesses down there now aren’t looking to stick around. Several have already sold or made purchase options with developers as they seek areas with lower taxes, easier access to highways and less strict environmental ordinances.

The unanimous approval by the city planning board allows the project to move forward with consideration for preliminary approval. The goal is to gain approval at next month’s meeting, and once affordable housing funds have been secured, to start construction of the project, likely in December of this year.

5. The Chain Works District presented plans for phase one at the Planning Board meeting. There are four buildings in phase one, of which two are in the city. 43,400 SF Building 21 would be renovated into a commercial office building. The work here is limited to replacing walled-up window openings with new windows, exterior cleaning and painting, and new signage and entrance canopies. Building 24 is a combination of renovation and expansion. The partially built-out basement and first floor would be renovated for commercial office space, the second and third story would be residential, and a new fourth floor would be built for residential uses, for a total of 135,450 SF across 4.5 floors. As with Building 21, new windows would be installed, and the exterior cleaned and painted. New landscaping, sidewalk and parking areas are also planned.

At a glance, the residential in the first phase would host 60 market-rate rental units. Each floor will have one studio unit, nine one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units, and one four-bedroom unit. According to the Site Plan Review document, the project would begin renovation in October, and be open by August 2020. The other two building in phase one are renovations of industrial and manufacturing spaces in the town, Buildings 33 and 34. These will retain industrial uses.

This meeting was only for the purpose of sharing and discussing plans, with no voting at this time. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, the board was reluctant to approve any plans without more information about who will be occupying them. That seems a bit odd, because projects are analyzed for their physical impacts, not the tenants, but the Times article says parking and landscaping may change slightly depending on the tenant. According to project representative Jamie Gensel, the USDA is considering renting out some of the office space. The USDA maintains a research facility inside the Holley Center on Cornell’s campus, and there were plans in the late 2000s to build an addition, which were later shelved during the Great Recession. It’s not clear how much space they’re seeking. Not sure what to make of that writeup, honestly, or being told to move the buildings into a different phase (personally, I’d like to be renovations before any new builds happen).

6. 815 South Aurora Street, aka “Overlook”, also continued its review at the planning board meeting. There were some minor design tweaks, seen in the before image (above) and after image (below). Changes in exterior colors, panels, ground-level entrances and fenestration, particularly on the side facing South Aurora Street. The fire trucks are  to indicate that emergency vehicles will be able to safely pull in and out from the road. Overall, project size remains at 49 units and 141 bedrooms.

There’s been some pushback from neighbors regarding size and neighborhood character. There’s an argument that these are dependent on Chain Works, but that argument doesn’t pass the smell test – if Chain Works didn’t happen, fewer units on the South Hill market would make the project even more appealing to Visum Development and Modern Living Rentals. The planning department wants more geotechnical information and bedrock to be removed, details about the new planting and landscaping, and energy systems. Documents submitted indicate the all-residential development will use electric heat pumps. The board has requested a shadow study and flesh out the environmental impacts, which is a common request for larger developments.

7. At least one project is fully approved. Although it seems at least one planning board member asked for affordable housing, the four-unit market-rate Perdita Flats infill at 224 Fair Street was granted preliminary site plan approval. The project is intended to be a sustainable building showcase of eco-friendly features, a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing. The owner/developers, Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt, will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





News Tidbits 4/12/19

13 04 2019

1. Here’s a story of a clever use of space – Therm Inc. has recently expanded its facility on South Hill, and stopped leasing space from the nearby South Hill Business Campus as a result. That left an 18,870 square-foot hole to fill in Suite 30.

The site’s business manager, Linda Luciano, had had artists inquiring for a space, but never something that small enough to fit their needs. This vacancy was a chance to try something new, to build little studio spaces within the larger open floor plan of the warehouse space. It’s worked out well. Extremely well, as Ithaca Times editor Matt Butler reported this week as the Times feature article. Segment below:

” ‘A few studios’ turned out to be a severe underestimation of how many Ithaca artists desperately wanted their own studio space. With a calculated proposal for six studios in hand, she went to the building’s owners to lay out her vision, and they were receptive. Luciano then set about contacting artists who had previously reached out to her about renting space, meanwhile losing sleep over fears that she wouldn’t be able to find tenants for the studios and would have to start over with a new plan.

“I started calling people on my list, and we planned an open house,” Luciano said. “Before we could have the open house, they were all rented. That’s when I said ‘Oh my god.’”

It hasn’t slowed down since that initial wave, either. Seeing the success of the first push in October, Luciano and building owner Andy Sciarabba came up with a plan to add four more studios to the original six, deeming it Phase Two. Those four sold immediately in December, before they were even built. The same went for more units that were proposed in January. After the final phase, which is currently underway, Luciano plans for 27 more studios constructed in the former Therm space, with a much-requested gallery space included. Those are scheduled to be finished and opened in August; half of them are already leased…”

To put this in perspective, there are eighteen now plus a small kitchen and lounge space, and the addition will provide 27 more studios and a gallery space. The new build has so far taken over about a third of Therm’s old space, so the addition will likely the fill the rest of it out. The studios are a few hundred square feet each and rent for $275-$450/month depending on size (the price includes water/AC/electric/heat, with free parking), and leases are 12-month. I had not heard of anything trying this on a large scale, but it appears to be working out very well for the South Hill Business Campus, which hopes to spruce up the exterior to draw a little more attention to “Artist Alley”. It gives artists their own spaces outside of home, it offers collaboration between studios, and this seems to have tapped into a critically underserved market.

For those who want to call dibs on the last studios before they come onto the market next summer, the contact webpage is here. If you want to check them out in person, the address is 950 Danby Road.

2. Touching real quick on a pair of Dryden projects in the early stages. The “Mill Creek subdivision” is quite frankly a monstrosity in size. This is a 908-acre property on Caswell Road just west of the village of Freeville, and the plan would be to subdivide it into 39 home lots. No further subdivisions would be allowed, only single-family homes would be permitted, and it’s not clear if the developer is pursuing conservation zoning – per planning board minutes, it seems that the lots will be plated and the road laid out, and then sold parcel-to-parcel to custom builders.

If the owner did want to build, they have the expertise to do so – a deed check shows this property is owned by the Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties and have built out thousands of housing units in Tompkins County since the 1950s. The unimproved land is valued at $1,132,600, about $1,250/acre, and has been in their possession since 1954, so this doesn’t appear to be a rash decision.

Doing the math and removing a small amount for internal loop road still gives over 20 acres per lot, these properties would be very large and potentially expensive, because with improvements, that much acreage will be worth more and it will add up quickly. Maybe it’s a bit out of character for this blog, but this proposal actually seems rather worrying from an environmental and infrastructure perspective. Density in urban areas tends to draw the most attention, but these lots could potentially have much bigger impacts because of the amount of natural space that would be consumed by a sprawling high-end housing development.

As for the medical facility at 2141 Dryden Road, it sounds like it will be a two-story facility, and while they suggested parking in the front, the board requested to move it to the back (a couple handicap spaces in front are okay). There was some concern with its choice of locations (the board would much prefer the office be located in the village or a more built-up area) and curb-cuts/traffic impacts.

3. For the creative types: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance is sponsoring a contest to design streetlight banners for the neighborhood, like the ones on the Commons. The plan is to make up fifteen of them and have them hanging for two years. Here are the design criteria:

Designs that are timeless will be favored. Avoid using trendy colors, fonts that may fall out of taste.

– Collegetown is at the intersection of the Cornell campus, student life, and the Ithaca community, and as such, designs should be inclusive of all of the following groups: Cornell students, Collegetown businesses, and the City of Ithaca.

Consider these banners as creating a brand and identity of Collegetown as a whole.

Submissions must be a 24″ x 60″ image, 300dpi, with a legible “Collegetown” on the image. May include photographs, graphic designs, or scanned images. No inappropriate content. Submission are due by 11:59 PM on Tuesday April 16th, and are to be submitted here. First places get $125 and their design on the flags, second place $75, and third place $50.

4. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there are some unusual LLC formation notices in the Journal classifieds. 628 West Seneca Street LLC, 625-27 West Buffalo Street LLC, 629-631 West Buffalo LLC, and 205 North Fulton LLC have all been created in the past couple of weeks. They are a parking lot, an apartment house, a one-story commercial building (Emmy’s Organicsm which they will vacate for larger digs in then ear future), and another one-story commercial building (Superior Glass) respectively. They are all owned by the same guy (Robert Bond).

The LLCs are all registered to the address of Alternatives Federal Credit Union across the street at 125 North Fulton, which is a little worrying because AFCU bought 634 West Seneca a few years ago and tore it down for a parking lot. It would be very unfortunate if they decided to take down more buildings for surface parking, given that this is an area the city’s trying to build up. It’s also not clear what might happen to the Rhine House in such a situation. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on.





News Tidbits 3/31/19

31 03 2019

1. A couple items of note from the latest Dryden Planning Board agenda – one is a new housing subdivision called Mill Creek, but the number of lots and location is not disclosed. The other appears to be plans for a new medical office building at 2141 Dryden Road, which is currently a vacant lot near near Willow Glen Cemetery. Google Maps seems to struggle with locating the 3.3 acre lot, so the screenshot is from the county’s map. The parcel is zoned “Mixed Use Commercial” and appears to be outside the sewer service areas. This still allows for a pretty substantial building – 40 foot setback from the front, 25 feet from the rear, 7.5 feet on either side, maximum 60% lot coverage and up to 35 feet in height, which for a medical office is typically two floors (13-14′ feet per floor). Put it this way, a building built to maximum dimensions would have a gross square footage of about 86,000 SF per floor, though whatever is planned here is likely to be much less than that. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on as plans develop.

2. A sign of the times. The property value of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall plunged this year, from $31 million to $19.35 million, a 38% drop. This is the result of high vacancy rates and a deteriorating long-term outlook. Downtown boosters will note with some schadenfreude that’s quite a different picture than the state of business affairs a generation ago, when downtown was in the doldrums and the mall (always in my mind the Pyramid Mall) was the center of activity.

This poses a substantial problem for the village of Lansing, but luckily, other development around the village was more than enough to offset the loss of valuation in the mall. Overall property value in the village inched up from $476.3 million to $479.5 million. Borg-Warner’s property value jumped a million dollars, and projects such as the East Pointe Apartments and Cayuga View Senior Living have also contributed to the growing property tax base.

There’s been a persistent rumor that Maguire or Guthrie are buying the mall. The short answer is some outreach was done, and no, they’re not. It’s not even possible for them to do that because Namdar’s mode of operation is to sell off the mall in sections. The long answer, with quotes, will be an article in the Voice next week.

3. When the state wants something, it can move very fast – the request for contractor bids is already out for the new proposed NYS DOT facility off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing. The bids on the $13.8 million project close April 24th. Here are the specs in brief:

“This project includes new building construction of the NYSDOT Tompkins County Sub‐Residency Building as well as site development and construction that includes asphalt concrete pavement, drainage, water & sanitary sewer work. The new NYSDOT facility will consist of office space, workshop space, truck parking and salt storage. The approximate square footage of the various structures are as follows: subresidency
maintenance building (30,000 SF), cold storage (5,000 SF), salt barn (8,200 SF), hopper building/covered lean-to (2,500 SF).

The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms.

The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features including a fueling station, parking for 40 vehicles, and storm water management facilities. The project will require construction of an access drive from Warren Road and the extension of utilities.”

I have not seen an updated site plan for the project. The image in last week’s Tompkins Weekly is from the SEQR Review, which is outdated. In February, a $1.5 million grant was awarded to build a refueling station closer to the airport, which has resulted in significant site plan changes to the DOT site (I’m not able to find the document offhand, but the written description stated a rotation of the main building and movement of other structures away from the residential properties to the north).

4. Word, or rather warning, to the wise. Local businessman Andrew LaVigne defrauded investors in his “Cascadilla Landing” project, to the tune of $4.6 million. Now he’ll be going to jail for 20 years, which at 66 years old, is most likely the rest of his life. So comes to an ingnomoius end to one of Ithaca’s first major projects of the decade. The 183-unit mixed-use project was proposed in the summer of 2012,  received preliminary approval that September, and did not move any further than that. Plans by local architect John Snyder included a small amount of neighborhood retail space, and covered ground-floor and outdoor surface parking. The land, owned by the Cleveland family, was sold in November 2017 and is now the site of the City Harbor development. There hasn’t been much news about City Harbor recently, but the rumor mill says that a new architect is revising the project design and site plan.

5. I accidentally dropped the ball on the Fall Creek County Office Building study. During the March PEDC meeting in which the concept was being presented, I tuned in online and had taken screenshots for my own reference, and my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi wasin the meeting doing the official writeup. However, I never checked to see what she was covering and had assumed a big roundup. Her focus, though, was on the Lime Scooters, and it was an excellent piece, but the county office building didn’t make the news.

Anyway, the county presented about eight separate plans, seven of which had the same interpretation for the office building – a 10,500 SF that would be built to include the historic structure at 408 North Tioga in its footprint. Most of the plans differed in the amount of housing and parking, from one single family homes to three single family homes to two duplexes (two two-family units, total of four) to five townhouses. This also impacts the total amount of parking ,which ranged from 27 to 48 spaces depending on the housing footprint and whether tandem parking was used. The last plan was a proposal with no housing on-site, and selling off 408 North Tioga for an office building with an 8,400 SF footprint. All plans assumed a three-story office building plus basement, and housing designs compatible with Sears Street (1.5-2.5 floors). The mix of county occupants is still being determined, and any housing plan would likely involve an affordable housing developer like Conifer or INHS.

The county legislature is expected to get an update on the plans at their meeting on the 2nd, and make a decision on whether or not to buy the Fall Creek property at their April 16th meeting.