238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

22 07 2018

Might be jumping the gun a bit on this, but the fence encroachment into the street, pile driving equipment and steel/caisson tube liners on site are leading me to believe this one is in site prep.

Consider this project thr second half of a 2-for-1 package deal from developer John Novarr. Novarr and his business partner, Phil Proujansky, own a fairly large and widespread set of local properties, with the massive Collegetown Terrace project being the best known ($190 million investment, 1,250+ beds, 16 acres). Most of the rentals operate under Novarr-Mackesey Property Management. Their latest development was on behalf of Cornell, the 76,000 SF Breazzano Family Center for Business Education, which was dedicated last fall, an imposing six-story building at 209-215 College Avenue in Collegetown.

When Novarr first bought the properties that would be demolished to make way for the Breazzano, he bought a ramshackle six-bedroom house at 238 Linden Avenue for $1.35 million – this was in December 2010, before he had assembled his final, full group of properties (and realized Pat Kraft was flatly not interested in selling to him, later doing his own redevelopment at 205-07 Dryden), so the purchase of 238 Linden could be seen as a secondary purchase to give room for flexibility, and a place for construction staging in the notoriously tight spaces of inner Collegetown. In its last few years, Novarr did not rent out the house, which was in poor shape and torn down in June 2015. A redevelopment was always intended at some point, through it was only as the Breazzano plans were drafted did Novarr and Proujansky settle on a concept.

Inner Collegetown is a captive rental market – regardless of economic recessions, there will always be students willing to pay a premium to live near Cornell’s campus. The Breazzano project presented a unique opportunity – the project will serve up to 420 Executive Education students, who tend to be older, deep-pocketed, and infrequent visitors to campus, coming up for a few weeks of the year.

The new 238 Linden is designed to tap those Executive Education students who might come up more frequently, or prefer to have a second place to call home during their matriculation with the Johnson School. The project is a 13,715 square-foot building with 24 efficiency units (studios). It will be 4 stories with a habitable basement, just under 50% lot coverage, and is fully compatible with the site’s CR-4 zoning.  Each fully above-ground floor will host 5 efficiency units, with four in the partially-exposed basement. While intended for Johnson Executive Education students, it does not appear it would have provisions limiting the units to E-MBAs.

The design intent was to create a townhouse-like appearance, in form if not in function. The exterior includes fiber cement panels to complement the colors of the Breazzano, aluminum windows and a glass curtain wall with energy-efficient glazing. A number of green features are included in the project, such as LED lighting, low-water plumbing fixtures, and a sophisticated VRF high-efficency HVAC system, which uses air-source heat pumps.

Plantings, walkways, steps and retaining walls are planned, with decorative entry stair bridges and little landscaped courtyards to provide a pleasing aesthetic for the basement units. As with all inner Collegetown projects, no parking is required so long as a transportation demand management plan (TDMP) is filed and approved by city planning staff. During Site Plan Review, the project cost was estimated to be about $2 million.

The project had a pretty quick trip through the planning board – it was proposed in March, there were very few suggested aesthetic changes, and since everything conforms with the size and intent of zoning, the board was pretty comfortable with the proposal. However, while it was approved in July 2017, the project was unable to move forward because of a change in state fire codes that essentially made construction along Linden Avenue illegal for any building taller than 30 feet (and 238 Linden is 45 feet tall), because Linden is too narrow. The way around this was to petition the city Board of Public Works to treat the parking space on the street in front as a loading zone, creating a “wider” street since a fire crew would no longer have to worry about parked cars along the street frontage. This made it easier for the project to obtain a fire code variance from the state. Normally, BPW would reject this, but 238 Linden and Visum Development’s 210 Linden had already been approved when the code was changed, so they got a special, rare accommodation. Suffice it to say, any other Linden project would be difficult if not impossible under the revised state fire code.

As with all of his other projects, the architect is ikon.5 of Princeton, with local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture serving as the project team representatives, and T.G. Miller P.C. providing the civil engineering work. The modern design may not be to everyone’s taste, but Novarr likes the architecture firm’s work so much, he asked them to design an addition to his property in Cayuga Heights. Beauty is in the eye of the wallet-holder. No word on who the general contractor will be, but Novarr has often turned to Welliver for his construction work. The original buildout period was estimated at ten months, so a plausible occupancy for 238 Linden would be complete by Summer 2019.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

16 07 2018

The last of Visum’s trio of Collegetown projects underway is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom building at 118 College Avenue. Officially, one other Visum project has city approvals and is permitted to start construction, a close fraternal twin to 118 College just a few houses up at 126 College Avenue. However, the existing house is rented out for the academic year, so any build-out there (and Visum seems to have deep enough pockets to eventually do it, all things considered) will not begin until June 2019 at the earliest.

As with 210 Linden, Romig General Contractors is in charge of the buildout, and Taitem Engineering is doing the structural engineering – as with Visum’s other projects designed by STREAM Collaborative, the building is built to be net-zero energy capable. Using electric heating and appliances, energy efficient fixtures, low-E windows, double-stud exterior walls and high grade insulation creates a very high degree of energy efficiency that they hope to tie into an off-site solar array, offsetting the carbon footprint of the building and its use.

118 College still has another floor to go before it’s topped out, and the mechanicals will be hidden inside the historically-inspired “Italianate cupola” penthouse. Water and sewer service was installed this past week. I’m uncertain this one will be ready in time for returning Cornell students late next month, though it’s not impossible given that it’s a relatively small wood-frame structure. So far, with the rough window openings I’m seeing one substantial difference from the renders – the windows on the wings of the front facade are smaller than originally planned.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

15 07 2018

With 400-404 Stewart Avenue complete, developer Jim Goldman is focusing on the completion of the other half of his reconstruction, 406 Stewart Avenue. This is the property that Goldman originally owned and was destroyed in the spread of the fire that erupted at the Chapter House building. Architect Jason K. Demarest’s 3.5 story design is completely framed and sheathed in ZIP Panels; the panels are then covered in HydroGap, a premium grade housewrap to remove excess moisture while keeping new moisture from penetrating into the plywood sheathing. This is then layered over with (what I suspect are fiber cement) shakes, in contrast to the first floor’s lap siding.

My first inclination was that they needed to be painted, but looking at the design render, it appears as if the project team decided to reverse the brown and red siding bands, so now the first floor is red like the original building, but the upper floors are brown. This is not the first major change to the design, which was approved by the ILPC, but any revisions may have been done out of committee view at the staff level. The fenestration on the third floor is different, and the dormer on the gable roof was deleted. Note the partially glazed-in access stair for the third floor apartments, and the quarried bluestone stair columns and base.

There’s still a fair amount of work to do on the exterior with facade installation, trim and finish pieces and the installation of a steel grate to access the enclosed stair column. The one inside shot shows drywall hung with doors and some trim in place, but some pieces are still missing, the wall needs to be painted and the floors have to be finished. However, it’s not an especially large building (four units and eleven bedrooms as-approved), so chances are pretty good this will be ready to go by mid-August.

As for the Chapter House, a few shots through the window glass show the carpeted staircase leading up to the eight apartment units, and an unfinished 3,000 SF commercial space still looking for a tenant.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update 7/2018

13 07 2018

Time to take a look at Visum’s smaller Collegetown projects. 210 Linden is the largest and furthest along; the city allowed them to hook up to water and sewer service this week.

Note there are some clear differences between what was originally approved, and what’s being built. The fenestration is a different layout – the top floor windows originally did not line up with the window arrangement of the other floors. Secondly, the floor-to-ceiling multi-pane treatment on the top floor’s front (east) facade has been eliminated, given a similar if slightly glassier treatment as the other three floors, which had a balcony window reduced in size. The most likely guess is value engineering – save cost, save time, especially the latter since the building needs to be open by mid-August.

The overall shape remains the same, but with these changes it’s a bit of a question mark as to the appearance of the final materials – it’s probably the same as approved, since the vertical wood rails over the sheathing indicate the LP SmartSide fiber cement lap siding is coming at some point. The sheathing is a mix of Huber plywood zip panels with its specialized tape system, and TYPAR housewrap over plywood panels courtesy of North Main Lumber, a regional lumber sales chain. Romig General Contractor is doing the build-out, and their work with Visum is arguably the first multi-family project they’ve tackled in the Ithaca area.

Although 210 Linden is too small to host much in the way of amenities (it has a garbage collection room and bike room in the basement), its 37 residents will have full access to the amenities offered in The Lux just up the street. Connecting the dots, those were probably quartz countertops in the Lux update; seems plausible the same high-end fixtures, cabinetry and appliances would be used in both.

The background info/intro to 210 Linden can be found here.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 7/2018

12 07 2018

This one is in its home stretch. It’s rather striking how much the front balconies stand out, probably the result of the contrast in materials. The upper levels will use LP SmartSide white and marigold yellow fiber cement lap siding, and the lower levels are a black brick veneer (Endicott Thin Brick colored “Maganese Ironspot” with charcoal-colored mortar). The balconies use white Smart Trim and “Redwood” Allura fiber cement straight edge shingles. The architect, STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest, designed the balconies to be a nod to the original appearance of the previous building on the site, the private Cascadilla School dormitory.

The second and third photos are practically a progression pic, showing that the balconies are framed in wood, walled with sheets of ZIP plywood sheathing, and then faced with the exterior materials. Some exterior finished still need to be attached, the concrete pours are ongoing for the Dryden Road entrance, and it appears the roof membrane has yet to be laid.

As far as the interior goes, the construction crews were using a front loader to lift countertops to units, so it seems likely drywall hanging and painting have been finished, and the floors may be installed but not yet finished out. Fixtures, appliances, doors and trim pieces probably have not been installed yet, though perhaps the lower-level units are further along. It’s a pretty tight deadline to get the buildings complete, with move-in day expected to be August 17th.

Outside of Maplewood, at 207 beds (I’ve presumed net gain at 140-150) this will be the largest non-Cornell project coming onto the Collegetown market this year. Given market concerns about the absorption of Maplewood units as well as the size and the timeline of Cornell’s future North Campus dorms (2000 beds, with two phases opening in 2020 and 2021) it might be the last large Collegetown project for a while. A few midsize 50-100 bed projects will likely come along in the interim, perhaps the Nines replacement, and the rumored replacement for the Chacona Block (411 College Avenue, home of Student Agencies), which is expected to head before the planning some time within the next twelve months. Novarr’s faculty/staff focused apartment buildings at 119-125 College Avenue have yet to begin construction and seem to be a big question mark. It’d be a shame if it still failed to move forward even after the resdesign to accommodate fire code changes.

According to the FAQ on The Lux’s website, units will be furnished and pets are allowed for a $150 fee. The eight parking spaces are available for rent to tenants on a first-come, first-serve basis at $200/month.  Units are $1,200-$1,300/month per bedroom, and includes access to an on-site fitness facility, rooftop terrace and hot tub, security system, sauna, game room and study room (most of those in 232 Dryden, “Lux South”). There’s no beating around the bush, this is high-end student housing, “creme of the creme” as one of my grad school professors would say.

On a final note, quick shoutout and well wishes to Visum Development VP Patrick Braga, who will be leaving his position to do a Master’s in Urban Planning at Harvard. In a world where developers and city planners often run in their own circles, it’ll be good to have someone with strong experience in both.





News Tidbits 6/23/2018

23 06 2018

1. The Town of Dryden has rejected the Planning Board’s suggestion for a Varna moratorium. The vote was 3-1, with one absent. This means that Trinitas may continue with the project review process – it does not mean Trinitas will automatically be able to build their proposal as currently drawn up, since planning board review, town board approval (Special Use Permit) and zoning board approval are still required.

Unfortunately no members of the press were present at the meeting – I found out through reader email. Most were covering the Democratic Party NY-23 candidate forum, and the first mention of the moratorium vote online was in the uploaded board agenda that went up just a day earlier.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

2. When I first broke the Lansing Senior Cottages story for the Voice, there was something I was concerned would happen, but didn’t include in the write-up, because speculating gets me in trouble. But these are homes looking at middle-class seniors, placed next to $500,000-$700,000 homes. The residents of those luxury homes aren’t happy, as reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star.

They’re angry, which is fair in the perspective that when the property was plated, there was no sewer available here, and the plan was to keep it all high-end 2500+ square-foot homes. But the owner/developer of the land is selling off the future phases without any of the old covenants in place, meaning it’s subject to standard village zoning. 800-1200 SF cottages for seniors, some of which may potentially be for sale, is a welcome proposal to the eyes of the county. It seems unlikely this is going to hurt their home values; this is mid-market senior housing, not college student apartments (the only beer on the front lawn you’re going to see is if developer Beer Properties puts up signage). Plus, if you’re going to poll public opinion on this one, wealthy homeowners vs. middle-class seniors is not going to engender support for the homeowners. They could try a lawsuit against the landowner, but I’m doubtful it’s much of a case unless their covenants explicitly said what the undeveloped land would be used for.

The project is currently 107 units over multiple phases, about twenty more than allowed by zoning as-of-right, so it will need to go through a PDA with the village Board of Trustees’ consent, and Planning Board approval.

3. The Crossroads Life Center planned for the 100 Block of Lansing’s Graham Road is no longer alive. The project, which called for a meeting and retreat space to be owned and maintained by the Cornell International Christian Fellowship, fell through, and the land it was proposed for is once again up for sale. The 9.35 acre property (about 3-4 acres were to have been subdivided for the project) is for sale for $239,000. A couple half-acre home lots could be easily subdivided off along Dart Drive, but further development would have to address an old family cemetery towards the rear of the property. Zoning is medium density residential. Maximum buildout without special planned development area (PDA) rules is about 20 units under the village’s Medium Density Residential zoning.

4. Speaking of land for sale in Lansing, Cornell is actively marketing the remaining vacant parcels in its Business Park. Most of the park was built out in the 1980s and 1990s, with only a few building additions in recent years. A 5-acre parcel is available between 20 and 33 Thornwood (foreground in the aerial) for $63,000, and a 22-acre parcel is available for $276,000 (it may be subdivided further), and a 6.89 acre parcel next to airport is available for $86,500.  Lansing zoning doesn’t allow housing here, and so a commercial or industrial project will need to deal with the gas moratorium. A run-of-the-mill office building might be able to make the finances work, but an industrial or lab building with high energy needs is probably is out of the question until some gas is freed up (i.e. the airport renovation), or energy alternatives become more cost efficient.  The county is working on financing a Business Energy Navigator Program to help interested businesses determine their needs and options. Should something happen up here, look for an update.

5. The town of Ithaca is looking at expanding their Public Works Facility at 106 Seven Mile Drive “to better accommodate [their] growing employee base”, and is doing a feasiblity study to see how much and what costs they can expect. The study would be conducted by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates), and is projected to cost about $21k for all parties. The town board will vote to authorize the study next Tuesday.

6. The good news for the county was that the state gave Milton Meadows a big grant to move forward. The bad news is, they were hoping for three grants, the others for NRP’s Ithaca Townhouses and Lakeview’s West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street). The county is trying to find other funding streams with which to get these affordable housing projects to move forward this year.

The Ithaca Townhomes would add 106 units in two phases near Cayuga Medical Center. West End Heights would add 60 units, including units for those with special mental health needs, and units for those currently experiencing homelessness.

7. Not a big city planning board agenda meeting this month, but still some interesting details. Here’s the rundown.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:15
Location: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Potential Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:30
Location: 101 Pier Road
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision is to partition out the square of land Guthrie Clinic would be using for their new medical office building as part of the City Harbor development – they want to own their own building and parcel.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 6:45
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval – Recommendation to BZA

This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

B. Project: GreenStar Cooperative Market 7:15
Location: 750-770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for the Guthrie Clinic (Guthrie owns the land)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

Since the last round, plantings were added, the lighting and front entrance was revised, and the project team is in discussions with the gas station next door to add planting and landscaping there as well.

C. Project: Apartments (60 units) 7:35
Location: 232-236 Dryden Road
Applicant: STREAM Collaborative for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Approval of Revised Transportation Demand Management Plan

“The applicant has revised the site plan such that the previously proposed off-site parking is no longer included in the project and has updated the TDMP narrative to reflect this.”
D. 327 W Seneca St- Housing 7:45
The new shiny. 327 West Seneca is a B-2d-zoned property on the edge of the State Street Corridor – B-2d allows multi-family housing up to 4 floors and 40 feet with 75% lot coverage. It is currently a nondescript 3-unit apartment building, that’s been for-sale for almost a year now (asking price $264,900).
A cursory search of LLC filings finds 327 W. Seneca LLC was recently registered in Tompkins County, and the address it is registered to, is the business office of Todd Fox, CEO of Visum Development Group. This may be the project alluded to in the New York Main Street grant to be written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which talks about a 12-unit project by Visum planned somewhere in the State Street Corridor. No guarantees, but this seems likely to be that project.
5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3099, 314 Taylor St, Special Permit
#3100, 128 Falls St., Area Variance
#3101, 437 N Aurora St, Area Variance




Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 6/2018

15 06 2018

There was an interesting story going around that Maplewood was in serious trouble due to water pressure issues, to the point where its ability to legally house its residents was at risk (no water pressure would have made for a hazardous fire risk). That would have been a huge story had it panned out, but a little bit of checking with the town of Ithaca codes department and the development team turned up no dire situations unfolding, all is going as planned (a welcome change given all the weather and contractor issues that have plagued the project’s tight work schedule so far). There was some worry about water pressure back when the project was first proposed, which is why a new 600,000 gallon water tower is going up on Hungerford Hill Road.

It’s a little sad to see the French Lavender florist and gift shop is closing down after eleven years. It’s not clear if it’s related to construction, or if the timing was coincidental. Coal Yard Cafe was doing a brisk mid-day business at the opposite end of the Maplewood site. With 872 new residents expected by the end of the summer, the site will have appeal to retailers and service providers.

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Webcam link 1 here (updated ~15 minutes).

Webcam link 2 here (updated ~15 minutes).