News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 3/2019

27 03 2019

Not a whole lot to say at the moment – everything above surface level on the site has been cleared as of the end of February, and grading/leveling is taking place. Part of the existing 1960s foundation will be reused for underground parking, and part of it will be taken out. According to the project team, an examination of the existing foundation column footers vs. the blueprints found that eight of the column footers were not where indicated on the as-built drawings. That created a conflict with portions of the new structure, ans so these column footers are being removed (probably by the demolition subcontractor, Gorick Construction of Binghamton; LeChase is the general contractor overseeing the whole project).

It might seem weird, but this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Half the footers were missing outright at Ed Cope’s Ithaca Glass site, which led to a total overhaul of the project plans (now held by Visum, although I haven’t heard anything about the plan since the transfer was announced in November).

It’s a bit unusual since the project is already underway (or at least, the site prep is), but Library Place has yet to receive approval for a tax abatement. The Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will be receiving the tax abatement application in early April and the board will get their first glance at it on April 10th. A public hearing on the abatement will be held sometime before the May 8th IDA meeting. Assuming the application is approved at the May 8th meeting, pile driving would start within a few days of approval.





105 Dearborn Place Construction Update, 2/2019

26 02 2019

When you’re building a $4.2 million, 12-bedroom/16-person mansion for wealthy seniors, the material choices tend to be somewhat more upscale. At 105 Dearborn Place, over the typical Tyvek are a yellow waterproof barrier and traditional cedar shingles. These will be painted at a later time. The CMU block walls of the partially-exposed basement level will be layered over with cultured stone.

With the house fully-framed, the structural details are starting to show; along with banks of windows and shed dormers, and there are no less than five porches on the second level, four recessed and a more traditional open porch at the rear of the 10,930 SF building. Some of the architectural details will show up later (roof brackets, railings and balconies), and the porte-cochere has yet to be assembled.

A truck on site and crew in full plastic suits suggested that spray foam insulation was underway inside, so the utilities rough-ins (electrical, plumbing, HVAC) are probably in place, but drywall, cabinetry/fixtures, and flooring are not. The insulation is being applied by Hybrid Insulation Systems of Ithaca.

There don’t appear to be any promotional advertisements for the new building yet, but keep an eye out as it moves closer to completion later this year. Owner Elizabeth Classen has been quite busy in the past year, signing on as a partner in Travis Hyde Properties’ Library Place project on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street.

More information on 105 Dearborn Place can be found here.

 





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 2/2019

17 02 2019

I’ll admit I’ve actively avoided writing this one up because it has more twists and turns than a soap opera, and it ends up being extremely hard to follow as a result. There are over forty articles from local outlets regarding the site, and Travis Hyde Properties compiled about two dozen of the pieces it liked onto their website. The Voice has eighteen Old Library articles on file, but because of a tag mix-ups, it’s more like thirty. Here’s an attempt to distill everything into one post.

The Old Library site refers to the former Tompkins County Library, located at 310-14 North Cayuga Street. From 1967 to 2000, the library was housed there. However, once the library moved downtown in 2000, the building was used for day reporting for low-level criminal offenders, and for records storage. These were eventually relocated to other properties, and the 38,630 SF would be vacant by early 2015. However, the county didn’t like the idea of hanging onto it. Its unusual interior design (a large atrium) was difficult to adapt to other uses, inefficient from an energy standpoint, and the building’s utilities systems were running short on useful life, and would be expensive to replace. As a result, the building was declared surplus.

The idea of a Request for Expressions for Interest (RFEI), was hatched in late 2013. An RFEI is basically a prerequisite to a Request for Proposals (RFP), feeling out interest by asking for less paperwork – an RFP to RFPs in a sense. While the building was no longer useful for the county’s needs, it sits on a site close to downtown Ithaca, next to historic DeWitt Park (and in the DeWitt Park Historic District). It’s walkable, and the city’s 2013 rezoning allows up to four floors and 50 feet. The RFEI stressed mixed uses with an emphasis on senior housing, and compatibility, energy efficiency, and growth of the tax base. The hope was that someone would use the site to help the county meet its goals, though the county was unsure how it would go – an earlier RFP in 2000 garnered no interest in the property.

As luck would have it, there were six responses to the RFEI, which can be found here. Two, INHS and IAD, dropped out before an RFP went out – INHS had acquired the 210 Hancock site and decided to focus on that. The DPI condo proposal declined to respond to the county’s RFP, citing frustrations with the county’s frequent delays, and that had one of the favored proposals in the feedback I received. The other two “reader’s choices” were Cornerstone’s affordable housing plan, and Franklin Properties collaboration with STREAM Collaborative, which called for reusing the structure of the building.

By the time the RFP has been issued and responded to in April 2015, three projects were up for review – Cornerstone’s 73,600 SF 54-unit affordable housing plan (<80% AMI), Travis Hyde’s 72,500 SF, 60-unit market-rate senior apartments plan, and Franklin/STREAM’s 58,000 SF building, with 22 higher-end condominiums and medical office space. All would pay the county $925,000 for the site.

The next few months were not enjoyable. The Cornerstone project asked for a PILOT tax agreement and lost county support. That left Franklin and Travis Hyde and Franklin Properties. The Franklin project had strong public support. But in June 2015, the county Old Library Committee of legislators recommended the Travis Hyde project 3-2. Two legislators genuinely favored Travis Hyde, one voted in favor just to move it out of committee, one liked the Franklin proposal though expressed some unhappiness with all of them, and one thought all three proposals were outright terrible.

A week later came the full county legislature’s vote – 6-6, a hung vote with two absent. Neither proposal had the eight votes of support needed to move forward. That’s when things started to get ugly. The city’s Common Council and Planning Board submitted letters recommending the Franklin proposal, which ruffled some feathers in the legislature. One legislator was accused of an ethics violation because the Travis family donated to her congressional campaign two years earlier, and recused herself from future votes. The Old Library plan was sent back to committee, where the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. There was a very good chance neither plan would get the required eight votes, and the county would be unable to make a decision on how to sell off a property they didn’t want. More failed votes ensued.

Finally, in early August, the Travis Hyde proposal got the nod in an 8-5 vote. There was definitely some bitterness afterwards, and an air of unscrupulous behavior. A legislator who switched his support to Travis Hyde would lose re-election to a strong advocate for the Franklin project later that year. He moved districts and into Fall Creek just as the other deciding vote retired from the Fall Creek district; there have been accusations it was orchestrated, but nothing was ever proven, and believe me, my then-editor, Jeff Stein who’s now at the Washington Post, had worked hard to find something.

For the record, this is why I have a strong aversion to RFPs. It works well when there’s one clear choice. But here, the disconnect between suburban and rural legislators, and passionate city residents, as well as all of the fighting and accusations that went with it, really created an unpleasant and rancorous experience. I dread the RFP for the NYS DOT site, which will come up in a year or two.

The project wouldn’t begin to move through municipal review until early 2016. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC), who had stated a strong preference for the Franklin proposal, was first up – there was no point in going to the planning board if the ILPC isn’t on board (and the Planning Board is generally the more accommodating of the two). The project they were first presented had 51 units, 6,500 SF of space for senior services Lifelong, community space (2,000 SF), and a modest amount of street-level commercial space (4,000 SF).

There were eight different designs that the development team submitted in an effort to satisfy the ILPC. Here’s the major ones – One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight, the final design. If you want to be picky, there are some minor revisions too, for things like facade materials tweaks. As review continued, it was decided that it would be more efficient to hold the ILPC and Planning Board meetings on the project at the same time in one group, so that one panel wouldn’t contradict the other.

After several months and several major redesigns, it wasn’t looking good. The ILPC felt that every design was simply too big and one called it “an impossible building”. County staff and officials were getting angry because they felt that the city was trying to spite them, and one planning board member’s comment was effectively “you should do what we tell you to do,” so once again, the project site was in an uncertain and acrimonious situation.

By October 2016, the plans had been modified to be 17 percent smaller, 73,400 SF with 57 units. This included a 950 SF ground-floor commercial space and a 1,900 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, which had made the decision to stay in its building next door and not move into the new building. Some of the indoor parking was moved to an outdoor rear lot to shrink the structure further, and the fourth floor was set back from the rest of the building. This too was turned down, but there was just enough of a window for possible approval that Travis Hyde decided to give it one more shot.

Frankly, this project was hanging by a thread. Travis had informed the county that he was “bruised and battered”, but would make one last attempt. The last shot was February 2017’s meeting. The foundation of the old library would be reused in the latest design, and the third floor was pulled back from the street. It passed, 4-3. One vote essentially made all the difference. That allowed the project to move forward with environmental review SEQR) from the planning board.

This reviewed version called for 54 senior apartment units, 32 parking spaces, a 2,000 SF community room, 1,160 SF of retail, and 86,700 SF of total space, as the interior parking was now underground as part of the reused old foundation. The sale of the site was approved by the county after the project was greenlighted, in September 2017. The 3 no’s in the 11-3 vote were two Franklin proposal advocates and the legislator who said all the projects were terrible two years earlier, so points for consistency.

The actual interior layout at this point, is something of a question mark. In May 2018, it was announced that the project would be partnering with luxury senior services provider Bridges Cornell Heights on the project. As part of that, the design was updated to 67 units, though there was no change in total square footage. According to the press release, “(o)n site, there will be a restaurant, a la carte home health services from an on-site agency, a community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, pool and parking. The partners will also work with Lifelong to provide on-site activities and programs.” Units will be a mix of 1-3 bedrooms, market rate and available to renters 55 and older. The name of the project also changed, from “DeWitt House” to “Library Place”.

Continuing the theme of controversy with the project, by the time financing was secured for the now $17 million plan (up from $14 million in 2014), the building’s roof had become structurally unstable. The fear was that construction workers could be inside if it suddenly collapsed. An engineering report filed by Ryan Biggs/Clark Davis Engineering and Surveying in August led the city’s director of code enforcement to condemn the building. The initial demolition plan was to seal the building up and cart out the asbestos in sealed containers, a “contained” demolition. The new plan was to demolish on site with spraying to prevent airborne contaminants, a “controlled” demolition. This led to community protests, and the mayor threatened to torpedo the project unless a second engineering report was carried out by a third party engineer of the city’s choosing, with no affiliation to Travis Hyde. The second report, from Dende Engineering, confirmed the first report’s findings, so the city okayed, if somewhat begrudgingly, the new demolition plan. In response to the demolition, a neighboring couple wrapped their nearby home and rental buildings in plastic as a dramatic show of concern, which caught the attention of broadcast media.

The project is seeking a tax abatement, but the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) has yet to schedule a meeting to review the application and take a vote.

Demolition and site prep is expected to last through the winter, and construction will begin during the spring. A fall 2020 opening is anticipated. Alongside Travis Hyde Properties and Bridges Cornell Heights, the project team includes HOLT Architects for the building design (all eight of them), TWMLA for the landscape architecture, LeChase Construction as general contractor, and Hayes Strategy for marketing. Gorick Construction of Binghamton is handling the demolition, with Delta Engineers, Architects and Surveyors doing the air quality monitoring. The project website is here, as are the air quality reports.

December 9th:

January 19th:





News Tidbits 1/18/2019

19 01 2019

It’s been a while. Let’s start with the bad news first; projects that have been cancelled over the past month, or are on the ropes.

1. Heading over to Lansing, the Lansing Senior Cottages is dead. The project, which was developed by Beer Properties in conjunction with Hunt Engineers, had been reduced in size from the initial proposal, from 108 units to 97 units, in 84 buildings (71 single-family, 13 two-family) on about 40 acres. In order to move forward as a pocket-neighborhood housing development (houses closer together than permitted under a medium-density residential zone in the village), it would have needed a Planned Development (PDA) designation from the village of Lansing.

The Planning Board has eight criteria to establish a PDA, and felt that the project didn’t meet four of the criteria (maximum choice in ownership types and occupancy tenure, convenience in location of non-residential facilities, efficient use of land, and desirable change in environment), and was therefore insufficient to merit a PDA. Their vote to deny the PDA also killed the project, since the design isn’t possible in Lansing’s medium-density zone. The density is the legal, albeit at the maximum allowed, which in sewered areas is 20,000 SF (0.46 acres) per single-family, and 25,000 SF (0.57 acres) per two-family. But the law states they have to be on their own, non-clustered lots, with setbacks, minimum road frontage and so forth. In other words, a conventional suburban subdivision.

The site was originally approved for just such a project, the high-end, three-phase, 31-lot Millcroft development, of which only the first phase was ever platted and prepped before the Great Recession kicked in and the market for very large, very expensive homes shrank. The Bush family limited homes to 2,500 SF or greater, and with half-acre lots selling for $80,000, it was clearly geared toward high-end homes, but they lack the combination of acreage or lake views that are the usual prerequisites of Lansing’s $500k+ home sales. Well over a decade later, and the thirteen home lots still have yet to be fully built out, and interest has never been strong. Three of the four recent home sales here sold under assessment, which is a rarity in Tompkins; last year, it was less than ~6% of properties.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Millcroft land went up for sale in 2017. When the Bush family sold a purchase option to the Beers, it was taken about as well as a stick to the eye, and Millcroft Lane residents strongly opposed the 800-1,200 SF senior cottages. In theory, the remaining eighteen lots in the subdivision are still an option, or another layout could be submitted; but a developer is not legally obligated to build houses as big or expensive as the first phase if the Bush family agrees to remove the covenants, which the Beer cottages proposal shows they very are open to.

As for the Beers, it’s a shame the plan won’t move forward, as senior rentals (and senior for-sale, more crucially) are an underserved market in Tompkins County. Potentially, other locations in Lansing or elsewhere might be suitable and more open to cluster-style senior cottages, but after sinking tens of thousands into this proposal, the Beers are unlikely to submit something else in the near future.

2. A little further north in the town of Lansing, a pair of projects are struggling. The 102-unit Cayuga Orchard Apartments project is up for sale from WB Property Group of New York City, as is a 28-lot subdivision, Cayuga Way, which was intended for high-end homes. Cayuga Orchard is asking $3.1 million for the 30.5 acres and plans, though the seller has stated interest in a Joint Venture partnership if a potential buyer is interested and willing to negotiate. The ad briefly states:

“30.5 acres, now approved for 102 units, approved to tap into municipal sewer. Open to JV or to sell outright Located in prestigious town of lansing, best in class schools, 15 min from Cornell University Extremely long approval process for multifamily.”

To be fair, the town of Lansing is one of the easier municipal approval processes in Tompkins County, though an uncertain and red-tape-filled process has been cited as both a barrier to affordable housing and housing development within the county.

The Cayuga Way ad, also from WB Property Group, is for either all 28 lots or by the lot:

“All approved for 28 lot subdivision, roads/improvements are in. Best piece of land remaining in the prestigious Lansing area on “the hill.” All wooded lots. 15 minutes from Cornell University, Downtown Ithaca, and Ithaca and Lansing High Schools.”

Price on request, also called price on application (POA) can be done for several reasons – market fluctuations, a fear of influencing other properties if higher or lower than expected, and more questionably, a chance to size up buyers to see how much they can afford. Presumably, a buyer seeking 1500 SF homes here wouldn’t want to pay as much as someone thinking 3000 SF. Joint ventures are also being considered for this project.

For a town hoping to develop its way out of the continued decrease and likely loss of what was once its largest taxpayer, this isn’t good news. But we’ll see if a partner or buyer comes along.

3. This one was a bit surprising. The Dryden town Zoning Board of Appeals shot down a 3-lot subdivision at 1932 Slaterville Road. The plan was for Habitat for Humanity to buy the property, create two more lots and renovate the existing dilapidated 150 year-old farm house, all three of which would have been sold to qualified low-income families who put in the “sweat equity” to help build and renovate.The variance was needed for a flag lot, because with the land acquisition and renovation costs, the project only penned out financially with two more lots.

On paper, that actually seems like a slam dunk. I thought it would be smooth sailing after Dryden’s Planning Board, which is advisory but tends to be less pro-development than Dryden’s other board, had recommended the variance be approved; in fact, David Weinstein, one of the planning board’s most stringent members, was very supportive, citing the desperate need for affordable housing and feeling its 1-acre per lot density was appropriate for the area. But then the Zoning Board of Appeals runs out with this:

It’s like they’re talking about two totally different proposals. I’d also like to point out that describing affordable owner-occupied housing as “there would be an undesirable change of the neighborhood, which is not in the character of the neighborhood, and could possibly have detriment to the neighborhood” is a really tasteless and poor choice of words.

With the denial of the variance, the project is dead. That’s unfortunate for Habitat, who due to logistical difficulties had to cancel their previous project for four townhomes at 402 South Cayuga Street. As for the $40,000 they were due to receive from the joint Cornell-city-count Community Housing Development Fund, it will go unused.

 

4. Emmy’s Organics is not moving forward with their Cherry Street project. The plan ran into trouble when initial geotechnical studies found that the soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building, and not even stable enough to support a parking lot. The IURA hired a second geotechnical engineering firm (John P. Stopen Engineering) for $5,000, which found that it would be possible to build, but only if the top three feet of soil were removed, which would raise the project cost. The IURA was willing to consider a larger loan, but Emmy’s decided the project, which was on a tight timeline, was simply no longer feasible. The owners are now looking to build elsewhere, so not only is the $1.4 million project and its 5-10 new jobs are lost, it’s not clear where the firm will move and what’s going to happen with their existing 19 mostly living-wage jobs. It also puts the IURA in a spot because the undeveloped remainder of Cherry Street just became a lot less desirable for smaller light industrial projects like this one.

The project was to use $175,000 in NYS-administered Community Block Development Grant Funds (CDGF) for job creation for low and moderate-income households. These funds have to be allocated by the city by March 31st, or they have to be returned to the state. In a rush to use them before they lose them, the IURA is proposed to shift $49,000 towards lighting improvements in Titus Park, and $126,000 towards $290,000 in acquisition costs to buy the 9,100 SF Immaculate Conception gymnasium from the Catholic Diocese, for use in indoor recreation and presumably as part of the sale of the rest of the property to INHS. The IURA is not totally sure if either use qualifies for the funds, but they’re in a rush to find alternatives before the state takes the money back.





News Tidbits 12/9/18

9 12 2018

1. Let’s start out in Lansing. Milton Meadows if officially underway. The 72-unit apartment complex, the first development to get off the ground at the Lansing Town Center site off Route 34B, will be targeted at the 50% – 80% area median income range (~31k-~48k for a single person household) and give priority to income-qualified veterans.

The plan is to roll out the $17.1 million project in stages as the buildings are completed next year. Nine of the structures will be apartment buildings ranging from 6,600-10,200 square feet (SF), with 8 apartment units apiece. The buildings are designed so that all the units in a structure are the same size range, so all one-bedroom buildings (4), all two-bedroom buildings (3), and all three-bedroom buildings (2). The last building would be a 3,100 SF community center. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. The project will be built to LEED Silver energy standards.

Funding comes from a variety of state and local sources, the largest single grant being $5.1 million courtesy of New York State. The first units should be ready by late spring, and the last units will come online next fall.

2. In the next round of county/city/Cornell affordable Housing Development Fund recommendations, breakdown above. Habitat gets some funds towards one of its home builds and to buy two other sites, INHS gets additional funds towards their citywide renovation project, and Visum’s 327 West Seneca Street gets $200,000 (this project was carried over from the last round, because they wanted to make sure Visum knew what it was doing). Perhaps the most interesting component here is the NRP Ithaca Townhomes project on West Hill near Cayuga Medical Center, which has received approval, but with a lack of high-value state funds, it has languished in post-approval funding hell. The original breakdown was 66 units in phase one and 39 in phase two, so the 69 here suggests something was modified a little bit.

Unit sizes will range from $850/month, 745 square-foot 1-bedroom units to $1500/month, 1,344 square-foot 3-bedroom units, with most units being two or three bedrooms. The infrastructure improvements (streets, lighting) will be privately built and maintained by the developer. Seven units (2 1-BR, 3 2-BR, 2 3-BR) will be set aside for the mobility impaired, three units for those with hearing or vision impairment (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), and three units for those with special needs (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), defined in this case as recovering victims of domestic violence situations.

The original plan was to start construction last spring, and frankly, the project probably still needs a sizable state grant before funding can go ahead. But with this funding, it’s another piece of the puzzle. If it has some dedicated funds already, and the state doesn’t have to fork over as much, then the state is more inclined to support the project because on its end, it gets more bang for the buck. So keep your fingers crossed.

3. The rumor mill says that Vecino is falling for Ithaca like a teenage girl for a boy band crush. The multi-state firm specializes in two types of housing – affordable housing (under names like Asteri, Mosaic, Libertad and Intrada) and student housing (Muse), which makes Ithaca a good fit. Rather conveniently, Vecino projects identify segments of their target market in the building name. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage in Ithaca, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing – the only other one I’m aware is in a converted warehouse in Troy (which all my Albany colleagues call ‘hipster central’ or ‘Williamsburg North’, the downtown far removed from its days as ‘Troilet’). The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. Of course, the Voice commenters hated this with a passion because artists = leftists liberal dirty hippie types = evil incarnate. I’ve learned that the softer reactions tend to be with affordable senior and affordable veterans housing, which I cynically suspect is because the most vocal complainers tend to be more politically conservative in their views, and seniors and vets tend to be more politically conservative than the general population – so rather than engaging in circular fire, some, but definitely not all, will hold their tongue.

But, while the commenters didn’t like it, the city planning board did. It’s 120 units (40 studio, 60 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing (50-80% are median income, just like Milton Meadows in item 1), which is a hefty amount and critically needed. A number of units will be set aside for specialized needs and administered by Tompkins Community Action, which will be offered office space in the building. The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design. The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

4. My only regret is that because the working title of 116 Catherine was 114 Catherine, readers will be confused for years to come. Jagat Sharma designed a tasteful three-story infill building in Collegetown to the rear of 116 Catherine and the Mission Apartments – these would join the rest of the Lambrou properties that comprise Eddygate Park. Also like 116 Catherine, it’s three units – two six-bedroom units, one five-bedroom unit, about as student-oriented as a project can be. Still, infill is much more preferable to a parking lot in Collegetown. Every bit of housing helps, and it’s a couple million dollars of assessed property to help fill local coffers. If the Lambrous choose to pursue this one, which is smaller than what the CR-4 zoning allows and is tucked away from the street, the planning board is unlikely to give them much trouble.

As for the Sharma-designed building that would potentially built in the foreground of this project, 301B Eddy, the last I heard was that it was not an active pursuit, if not totally off the table.

5. Here we have a do and a don’t. Do: hire a seasoned architect like Jagat Sharma, who knows his way around city staff and boards. Don’t: design anything without checking to see if the rules and regulations changed. In this case, they did, quite a bit.

The problem here with 312 East Seneca Street isn’t the development plan, which calls for ground-floor retail and studios and 2-bedroom apartments on the floors above. That’s all fine and dandy. But the city has really been focused on increasing the quality of building designs submitted for review in Ithaca, and that was codified into the Downtown Ithaca Design Guidelines, which were enacted as law earlier this year. If this were 2013, Sharma and developer Stavros Stavropoulos would probably be okay. As of now, they are not. The only part of this design that’s acceptable is the first three feet facing East Seneca Street. The exposed CMU walls on the sides? Not allowed. And according to the Times’ Matt Butler, the planning director seemed a bit insulted by the design.

Potential design options that would be compatible include additional interior facade visual elements, facade articulation and alternative side materials (brick, stone, metal panel, fiber cement, and for the sides only, synthetic stucco/EIFS) and possibly a step down in height at the rear, since the site is on the edge of its zoning.

Consider for comparison, the new Tompkins Financial building. It’s an interior block site, and while it builds very close to the boundary line and they have (and could have) bigger neighbors, the sides and rear have windows, facade variation and articulation, brick and metal panels, and design elements like sunshades and a small top floor setback. That’s very much in the mindset of what the city is looking for in the design of a downtown project. In any case, if the Stavropoli want to do something here, the sketch plan design will need to be substantially modified before there’s any hope of approval, and some meetings with city staff couldn’t hurt.

6. There have been some potential issues that have sprung up with the Emmy’s Organics project at the end of Cherry Street. The soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building. If that’s the case, the project may not move forward, which may also result in Emmy’s moving itself and its jobs out of the city. The IURA will vote on Thursday to authorize $5,000 to hire an engineering firm to do an analysis of the geotechnical reports to see what special requirements a foundation would need, and if those requirements make the project infeasible.

7. Quick little note here – Lansing Meadows was delayed this past summer because developer Eric Goetzmann “was not able to secure contractors – too much other construction going on”, according to an email from TCAD’s Heather McDaniel. With TCAD and the village blessing, the construction start has been pushed back to Spring 2019.

8. It’s been a while since 46 South Street (formerly Hamilton Square) has updated their website, but to wrap up this post, here’s some good news for affordable housing advocates – the 73-unit, mixed-income, mixed rental and for-sale proposal by Claudia Brenner and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has passed the Trumansburg planning board’s SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review). That means that the environmental impacts are effectively mitigated by the project team. Site plan approval has yet to be issued, and is likely to be hotly debated with neighbors who have been opposed to the project since the proposal was introduced in May 2017. Review began about a year ago, and likely has a few months more yet ahead of it – certainly one of the longer review processes as of late.

On a happier note, color renderings! Nice variation in materials and style. For those so inclined, the 2 hour audio from the planning board can be found on the village website here.





News Tidbits 11/26/18

27 11 2018

Just to get this out in time, he’s a look at what will be a rather long but very interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting tomorrow evening.

1 Agenda Review 6:00

2 Special Order of Business – Planning Report on ILPC recommendation to designate the former Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad Station at 701 West Seneca Street. 6:05

3 Privilege of the Floor 6:20

4 Approval of Minutes: October 23, 2018 6:35

5 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 6:40
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Distribution of FGEIS & Review of Schedule – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca.

No decisions expected tonight, but the distribution of the FGEIS (Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement) is a major step forward. From here, the Planning Board will review and critique the document, and when satisfied, it will vote for a resolution of completion. A recommendation to adopt the Chainworks PUD zoning and the FGEIS findings will follow, and if successful, the Common Council will also vote to adopt the PUD zoning. That would complete generic review for the site – new builds would still come to the board as necessary, but renovations could potentially begin not long afterward. Timing-wise, the final approvals are still a few months out, but this massive 910+ unit project is slowly closing in on approvals, and potentially, construction.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:55
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). All NCRE materials are available for download at: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

Materials provided indicate that city planning staff are reasonably satisfied that the energy impacts of the massive North Campus housing plan have been mitigated. The only new letter on record this month is a letter of concern from the City Historic Preservation Planner about the project’s visual and aesthetic impacts on the Cornell Heights Historic District to the west.

C. Project: Apartments (12 Units) 7:25
Location: 327 W. Seneca Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for Visum Development
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a three-story apartment building with 12 units. Project development requires the removal of the exiting building and parking area. The project will include exterior bike storage, a trash enclosure, walkways, landscaping, signage, and lighting. The project is in the B2-d Zoning District and has received the required variances for front-, side-, and rear-yard setbacks. A small portion at the rear of the property is in the CDB-60 District. The project has received Design Review. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

Not much to add regarding Visum’s workforce housing (80% area median income) proposal for the State Street Corridor. The project is expected to receive $200,000 from the latest round of the Community Housing Development Fund, the affordable housing fund jointly paid into by the city, county and Cornell. In this case, Cornell will cover $170,000 and the city $30,000. Cornell doesn’t have any hand in this project, but having one entity pay most of the grant for a given project makes it less complex to administer. 

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:35
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11).

Note that IFR is a Travis Hyde Properties business entity. The attempt to gain approval for an environmentally compromised project site is likely going to be more heavily scrutinized given the recent controversy regarding proposed demolition procedures for the Old Library site.

E. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 7:55
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of SEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally nonconforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).

F. Project: Maguire Lincoln 8:15
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. Landscape design will improve vegetative cover; however, it will not meet the City of Ithaca’s impervious/pervious requirements (12%). The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review.

G. Sketch Plan – 312 E Seneca Street, Jagat Sharma 8:35

312 East Seneca is a 4,482 SF three-story mixed-use building on the edge of Downtown Ithaca. The building was long-owned by Ithaca architect Jagat Sharma, who ran his practice from the building (1416 SF), the Alley Cat Cafe (1926 SF), and a four-bedroom apartment (1140 SF) on the upper floors.

A few years ago, the site was floated as part of the potential footprint for Visum Development’s Seneca Flats mixed-use project, though at the time it was made clear that it was not an essential property to the development, and simply a possibility if Sharma chose to sell to Visum. Sharma didn’t – in September, he sold the building to an LLC associated with the Stavropoulos family for $800,000, double the assessed value. That lofty price relative to assessed value was a big clue something was planned here, and it looks like the first glimpse of that will come tomorrow night. The Stavropoli of West Hill have been growing their assets through acquisition or development for the past several years, including the 4-unit North Aurora project in item E. above.

Normally, the Stavropoulos family is low-key about development, preferring lower-profile infill builds in established neighborhoods – the largest project of theirs to date is the 11-unit 107 South Albany project. They often turn to local architect Daniel Hirtler, but this time, Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma will have a hand in redeveloping the building that housed his office for so many years. This would be Sharma’s first building downtown since the Greenstate Building (127 West State Street) in 1991. For the record, this would be their second Sharma commission, with a duplex planned for 209 Hudson Street being the other (granted, that’s also a modular structure).

Zoning-wise, this is CBD-60. Within that zone, Sharma can design a five-story building up to 60 feet tall, no parking required, with any variety of commercial or residential uses. Any design will have to conform with the recently-adopted Downtown Design Guidelines. The Stavropoli are likely to do all-residential or residential with ground-floor retail. The current building is quite narrow, but it also only occupied the east half of the lot – a new structure could practically touch the neighboring building at 308 East Seneca.

H. Sketch Plan – 114 Catherine Street, Jagat Sharma 8:55

Things are about to get a bit confusing. A few years ago, the Lambrou family, mid-sized Collegetown landlords and developers of Collegetown Park, presented and built an infill project at 114 Catherine Street – while all the working docs used 114 Catherine Street, the address of the existing building set back into the lot, the new 3-unit, 17-bedroom building was christened 116 Catherine Street.

This new building is expected to be a replacement for the existing 114 Catherine Street, the Mission Apartments, and is expected to complement 116 Catherine in appearance (Jagat Sharma designed that as well). Zoning here is CR-4, up to four floors, with a maximum of 50% lot coverage (but not parking required). Expect this to be student housing – probably not too big, a few dozen beds at most, but something to take note of nevertheless.

I. Sketch Plan – 130 Cherry Street, Residential, Vecino Group 9:15

130 Cherry Street is a 4,600 SF auto body shop that’s been for sale for quite a while now. The rumor mill says Vecino CEO Rick Manzardo was walking around the area a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like there was a reason for that. The plan being floated is affordable “artist housing”. This wouldn’t be a new concept to Vecino, who renovated a vacant warehouse in Troy into the 80-unit Hudson Arthaus. What makes the Arthaus unique among affordable housing is that it offers on-site amenities geared to artists, as well as income-based rents for those who make only a modest living while engaged in their creative pursuits.  Those amenities include a wood shop, on-site storage units, gallery spaces managed by a local non-profit, and a computer/digital work suite.

Zoning here is “Cherry Street District” Waterfront Zoning. Since it’s north of Cecil Malone Drive, housing is allowed – but not on the first floor. The first floor is for light industrial and many commercial uses, including restaurants, stores and offices. No ground-level storage permitted, however. In this “artist housing” format, the first floor would likely be the exhibition/gallery.workshop space. The building may be up to five floors with 100% lot coverage once setback requirements are met. Bonus for this site, the Cherry Artspace is a few hundred feet away. With about 179,000 SF in building capacity offered by the site and zoning before setbacks are considered, a potential project could be fairly sizable.

6. Old/New Business 9:35

7. Reports 9:40
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

8. Adjournment 10:00