105 Dearborn Place Construction Update, 5/2019

24 05 2019

We’ll change up the format a bit for this post. Below is a recent email from Ithaca resident Joan Jacobs Brumberg:

I had an opportunity to talk yesterday with Elizabeth Classen Ambrose who is the organizational power behind a growing Bridges community. I wanted to find out more about Library Place interiors but we ended up spending a fascinating hour talking about The Craftsman, a new kind of Ithaca residence for the elderly resembling the group homes in Holland and Denmark.

Four things about this project — to be completed in November 2019– strike me as important for the public to know:
1. This is a new form of independent living for 16 older folks who do not want home or apartment to care for. Each individual room is lovely with private bath and fireplace, small refrigerator. I believe you bring your own furnishings, ie.,  the things you care about most.
2. No upfront payment and no lease.
3. Residents have access to special Car Share vehicles and also Bridges shuttle service if they do not drive.
4. Many amenities for the elderly: warming pool, gym, a trainer, maybe podiatrist and physical therapy. And a special add on: garden space.

I told some people my age about this facility and everyone asked “How did you learn about it?” Even if they are candidates for Library Place, my friends have older parents, relatives, and friends who are burdened with private homes or apartments that are increasingly hard to care for.

***

It came as part of an article pitch for the Voice, but since I did an article about Bridges for the Voice two years ago, I declined. The website for the new house is online, with plenty of rather sumptuous interior renders (a few embeds are below many more are on the website). The twelve bedrooms (eight single-occupancy, four double-occupancy for couples) will feature heated floors, fireplaces in some units, large-screen televisions, optional dry bar with refrigerator and hot beverage maker, and private deck or patio areas. Other planned features include an on-site fitness center, storage room, car share, spa and salon services, on-site concierge, and lush landscaping befitting a high-end independent living facility. Residents are expected to be able to go about their daily activities with little to no assistance, but cooking, cleaning and laundry are taken care of by staff. Pending “interviews” by staff for compatibility, residents may even be allowed to have their pets join them.

Schickel Construction has the house largely finished from the outside. Painting of the cedar shingles continues, and architectural detailing/trim (balconies, porch columns) is ongoing. The stone veneer has yet to be attached to the built-out cinder block basement level, but all of the windows and most of the doors have been fitted. No photos of the back side, because there was a kitchen staffer on break who was clearly uncomfortable with this shutterbug.

More background info about the project can be found here.

 





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 4/24/19

25 04 2019

1. Here’s a real estate sale worth noting. A vacant 25-acre parcel of land between 1758 and 1786 Trumansburg Road (just south of Jacksonville) sold for $140,000, according to a deed filed with the county today. What makes this sale interesting is that the buyer is an LLC associated with the operating address of Classen Home Health, the senior healthcare firm run by local businesswoman Patty Classen. The Classen family has not been shy about investing in development projects, though her sister Elizabeth is the more active one at present. Elizabeth owns the Bridges Cornell Heights skilled care facility, and  is also involved as a partner in Travis Hyde Properties’ 66-unit Library Place Development. Taking a semi-educated guess, there’s a good chance this property will be developed out into senior housing at a later date, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

2. Meanwhile, over in the village of Lansing, the former Autodesk Building has exchanged hands. The 19,470 SF office building on 2.37 acres sold for $4.14 million, from the Colbert family of commercial landlords (Greenstate Properties) to an LLC led by local businessman and developer Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate. The Colberts developed the property and opened the building in 2002. The price was substantially more then  the assessment of $3.15 million, but that’s probably not because of a planned redevelopment. It likely has more to do with having a tenant lined up for the building, the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County, who will build out and operate a 40-bed detox facility at the site. A stable, long-term tenant is a strong asset to have when selling a property. The village of Lansing has not been a fan of the project (the argument being, those in treatment “don’t belong [here]” and pose a safety threat), but since it’s just an interior renovation and medical uses are permitted in its zoning, there’s not much the village can do as long as everything remains in compliance with code. The sale may be finished, but the facility won’t host overnight stays until at least the summer, and the renovations won’t be finished until late 2020.

3. How often do I report things out in Enfield? Practically never. But the town planning board is reviewing a pair of small apartment projects this month. Patrick Head, owner of Head’s Excavating, plans to build a pair of four-unit apartment buildings, each on a different site in the town. The first would be at 1795 Mecklenburg Road, and the other on the southwest corner of Enfield Center Road and Van Dorn Road. All of the units would be rentals, two bedrooms each, and according to the Environmental Assessment Forms, it looks like each unit will be about 1200 SF, with either two floors or one floor with a finished basement. Both properties are currently vacant; the former used to host a farmhouse but was destroyed by fire in September 2015, and the later is a vacant 5-acre lot that was created through the subdivision of a larger property.

4. Sticking with the rural towns for now – out in Danby, plans are underway for a new mixed-use project at 1839-1849 Danby Road. The development calls for a small commercial retail plaza and a space for a cafe or restaurant, as well as additional residential rental space. 1839 Danby Road is a two-family house with six bedrooms, and 1849 Danby Road is a four-unit apartment house with six bedrooms, along with a couple of garages and sheds.The historic portions of the homes would be saved and incorporated into the development, which is designed to incorporate sustainable building practices (green roofs, alternative energy sources), and create a “town center” like sense of place in the hamlet of Danby. That includes a small B&B, a seasonal food market, and the small market/cafe. Ultimately, if successful the project would expand out to fifteen housing units and two more commercial spaces. It’s not big by most standards, but it’s notable for a 3,500-person town. Property owner Olivia Vent is the developer, and the plans are being designed by Ben Rosenblum Studio.

5. According to the town of Dryden’s planning department, the medical project at 2141 Dryden Road will be fairly modest in size – two floors, 3600 SF. The 908-acre Mill Creek subdivision on Caswell Road is listed as 40 lots, up one from the previous 39, though it could just be something like a stormwater parcel. Also of note, the Route 13 development study from Warren Road to the western boundary of the village of Dryden. With several large development floated for the corridor, the county has an RFP out to do a study for “strategic guidance” so as to allow development while minimizing potential negative impacts (traffic, environmental degradation from in-commuters, etc.) The RFP for that closed on the 22nd.

6. Will the Lansing Meadows senior housing ever happen? Developer Eric Goetzmann of Arrowhead Ventures is trying to change the senior housing in the Lansing Meadows project again. Given that the village and the county have had it up to their proverbial necks with his shenenigans, this has the potential to be very poorly received. The approved plan as it stands is for twenty two-bedroom units. It was supposed to start construction last year, but was delayed a year due to construction bids coming in higher than anticipated. Either the bids have come in too high again and he’s trying to value engineer the project, or some other issue has arisen. We’ll see how this one goes next Monday.





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: