News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 12/2017

29 12 2017

So there’s a lot going on. You can scroll through the 40+ photos below, or you can check out the conveniently placed webcam that EDR installed at all their projects. It seems like Mother Nature is out to stop this project at just about any cost – as explained by the Voice and the Times, EdR has lost 25 days of construction time due to weather (rain) delays, and that forced the project team to not only ask for extended hours earlier this year, but they also had to request earlier this month to be allowed to work on Saturdays. Now LeChase and their subcontractors have to contend with multiple days of subzero temperatures, in what is likely the longest and most severe cold snap in over a decade. It’s one complication after another. The webcams shows they’ve put up heavy-duty plastic sheeting to keep the extreme cold at bay as the crew continues work on the townhouse strings.

There are 27 buildings in some state of construction, from foundation work to framing to exterior facade application, and all manner of interior work from framing, to rough-ins, and for the furthest along, insulation and perhaps drywall hanging. Fixtures, primer coats of paint, and trim pieces (moldings, baseboard) will follow. There are have been some minor exterior design modifications (like the dormers in the buildings along Mitchell Street), but otherwise it’s as-approved.

More specifically:

Apartment Building B: Framing (top floor)

Apartment Building C: Framed, sheathed, windows fitted, some exterior facade materials attached

Apartment Building D: Foundation finished, stairwells erected, framing just starting

Apartment Building E: Foundation slab work

Apartment Building F: Foundation slab work

Townhouse Strings:

At, Bt, Ct, Dt, Ht1, Jt1, Jt2, Kt1, Community Center – unclear, not above ground level or readily visible

Et1 – slab

Ft, Gt2, Kt2 – framed, sheathed (partially for Gt-2), exterior facade work for Ft and Kt2

Gt1 – slab (in photos, now framing first floor based on webcam)

Ht2 – first floor framing

It1 – framed, sheathed, windows being fitted

It2 – framing

Lt, Mt – framing (top floor)

Nt, Ot, Pt – framed, windows fitted, fiber cement siding attached

I have to say, based off the work so far, I’m liking what I’m seeing, even with the tweaks the architectural designs and materials appear to be good quality. Here’s hoping the project team can maintain their tight schedule against the environmental odds.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 12/2017

18 12 2017

Some progress on Visum’s latest project, “The Lux” at 232-236 Dryden Road in Collegetown. 232 Dryden, the building closer to Dryden Road, has started work on exterior framing – the partially-above grade basement level, built into the slope of the site, appears to have been framed with Amvic insulated concrete forms (ICFs), similar to those seen at the Ithaka Terraces and the Fox Blocks at the Thurston Avenue Apartments. These are thermally insulated plastic blocks filled with concrete – they tend to be a more expensive approach, but they also tend to have a higher grade of insulation (higher R-value), making for a more energy-efficient structure. There has been talking of making the complex net-zero energy capable, provided that the energy of an off-site solar array can be procured. STREAM, the architect of The Lux, also did the Ithaka Terraces. The exterior walls will be assembled block by block, with new pours as rows of blocks are set in place. The rebar provides additional stability. It appears the cinder block elevator core/stairwell has been assembled as well.

232 Dryden might be the more visually prominent of the two building, but it is also the smaller one – it will have 20 units and 53 bedrooms. 236 Dryden will host 40 units and 138 bedrooms.

Speaking of 236 Dryden,  Welliver has the foundation excavated, and the steel piles are in. However, judging from the steel rebar sitting on the edge of the site, the concrete pours have yet to take place, and it looks like the wooden forms are just now being built on the far side of the footprint.

Pessimistically, I could note that this is one of the few Collegetown projects that was able to move forward after the building code change that brought multiple other projects to a halt – the power lines on Dryden Road aren’t close enough for the project to infringe on the new regulations. I had heard Visum might actually pay for the burial of power lines on the 200 Block of Linden Avenue, but even if they did, they would still have to deal with NYSEG’s slow schedule.

 





400-404 & 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 12/2017

17 12 2017

400-404 Stewart Avenue, a.k.a. the former Chapter House site, is fully framed and the brickwork is in progress. The brick veneer is Redland Brick Inc.’s Heritage SWB, and is similar in appearance to the original brick of the Chapter House, which was damaged beyond repair in an April 2015 fire. So the way this has gone is that yellow closed-cell spray foam was applied over the sheathing, probably by a subcontractor such as Goodale Spray Foam out of King Ferry. Closed-cell spray foam, made with polyurethane and applied a few inches thick, provides insulation under the brick. Brick is a tricky material in some ways – the plywood ZIP Panels are great for sealing a structure to make it air-tight, but brick absorbs moisture, so the spray foam not only serves as an insulator, it also provides a protective moisture barrier between the plywood and the brick. It’s typical to have a drainage gap underneath the brick so that they can dry out, otherwise the uninsulated brick is at risk of long-term moisture damage.

The roof looks to be covered in tar paper or similar material; this will eventually be layered over with chamfered asphalt shingles. The roof ZIP panels that make up the “awning” being built over the first floor will be covered in shingles as well, but those will be more expensive simulated slate. The trim pieces like the cornice may be cast stone or fiberglass over wood, and it looks like the window sills and heads might be cast stone. It looks like they’re using Marvin Windows for the windows themselves.

406 Stewart Avenue is still being framed with ZIP panels, now up to the third floor with just the roof trusses left. The drawings I have on file suggest the fenestration has been changed – the position and size of the second floor windows are different from the renderings, in particular the window on the far left of the front face, and one of the windows on the north side was moved further back from the street. It suggests some modest interior alterations, but the ILPC will be watching this like a hawk since these builds are under their jurisdiction (the East Hill Historic District).





News Tidbits 12/9/17: Not Enough Time in the World

9 12 2017

1. The good news is, Maplewood is progressing. The bad news is, it is not progressing fast enough. A combination of bad weather (rain-outs), and staffing issues. The weather delays had been so bad (with rain 2.5x monthly normals in October) that some subcontractors walked away to take other jobs – while the ~200 Maplewood construction jobs are quality union labor, it’s been difficult to get a full week’s work in. It’s a Monday-Friday job; with a rain-out, they lose a day in the week. That means they also lose out on a day’s pay. Over the past year, 37 days have been partially or fully rained out. A provision in the subcontractors’ contracts allows them to leave for other jobs id the issue becomes too severe, so some have done just that. Not hard feelings, just a tough situation for everyone.

Now about 25 days behind a very tight schedule, EdR and LeChase are asking to be allowed to regularly work 8 AM – 4 PM Saturdays. The town is open to this, but wants more documentation before signing off. So, expect a six-day workweek during the winter and spring. The goal is still to deliver the $80 million, 872-bed project by July.

2. The Seneca Street Garage is “showing its age”. As the garage is now about 45 years old and is designed to last about 50 years, some components are starting to deteriorate. The city has constructed some shoring posts to keep the concrete pillars relatively stable. They are not at risk of collapse, but the tension cables, which are used in combination with rebar to provide for a heavy-duty concrete structure with fewer columns, are starting to wear out. Decades of salt, water and corrosion will do that.

The city will lose about 20 parking spaces from the life-extension measures. The Times is reporting that the city hopes to get another ten to fifteen years out of the garage, and hope to have a plan for replacement parking in place within ten years. That could be a demo and rebuild of the garage, or it could be something more substantial, like the Green Street Garage project. It’s something to mull over now, but there are no big decisions planned anytime soon. Perhaps a Seneca Street rebuild with mixed uses ends up being one of the big urban developments of the late 2020s.

3. A development site on West Hill has exchanged hands. As covered previously, Bella Vista was a planned 44-unit condominium project on Cliff Street that was approved in 2007, and never came to fruition. The site it was proposed for, an 11.71 acre property at 901-999 Cliff Street, was put up for sale in December 2015 for $395,000. Finally, it has been sold.

The developer, Mauro Marinelli as Primary Developers Inc., sold the land to American Blue Sky Holdings LLC for $330,000 on the 5th. The LLC is owned by local businessman Greg Mezey, who previously bought the 12,000 SF medical office building next door at 821 Cliff Street for $945,000 in February 2015. Since then, he and realtor Ryan Mitchell have undertaken some modest building and site improvements. As Red Door Rentals, they own and manage a few apartment houses with a total of about 25 bedrooms.

So what does that portend here? Good question. Watch and wait, for now. The Bella Vista project could still be built, but it must be re-approved by the city of Ithaca, since project approval is only good for two years. Zoning is R-3a, primarily residential uses with up to 4 floors and 35% lot coverage. Parkin is one space per unit or three bedrooms (whichever produces more), and small-scale commercial is allowed with a special permit. The site’s topography is a challenge, but the size of it and its proximity to downtown and the West End make it an interesting opportunity.

4. It looks like the first phase of Dryden’s Maple Ridge subdivision has just about filled out. For owner/developer Paul Simonet, it’s been a long time coming – the development launched right before the recession in 2008, and development didn’t really take off until the economy recovered. In 2013, there were three houses. By November 2014, only four houses had been built, with a duplex underway. Now, there are ten homes, and just about all one of the home lots have been sold. Some of the lots in phase one were combined by buyers.

Interesting, many of the homes built in Maple Ridge are modulars – I half-jokingly suggest that Carina Construction take prospective buyers through here to show them the variety of options one can pursue with modulars. It looks like this latest build on Applewood Lane will also be a modular – the foundation is built (note the dark Bituthene membrane for moisture protection), and the pieces will be trucked over and craned and assembled shortly, if they haven’t been already.

Ultimately, Maple Ridge is supposed to be three phases and 50 lots, and phase two will have about 29 lots, and since these are larger, they’re less likely to consolidated as phase one’s were. Given the need for a new road and infrastructure, sales seem unlikely until well into next year. The village minutes (the few they upload) does show that Simonet is actively pursuing the second phase.

It also answers a question from last week – the Elm Street office/warehouse complex will be the new home of the Ithaca Ice company, after some modest renovations.

5. The Lakeview affordable housing plan for the 700 Block of West Court Street, now called “West End Heights” was selected to receive a $100,000 grant from the inter-municipal and Cornell affordable housing fund (CHDF), but the funds will be delayed a little bit because they need to be moved into the 2018 budget, as the check will be going out in 2018.

6. The latest phase of the Village Solars (the reconstruction of 102 and 116 Village Circle) is being built with a $6 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company. The agreement was uploaded to the county’s records on the 7th. The contractor is “Actual Contractors LLC” with an address at Stephen Lucente’s home on the lake – it’s their in-house construction crew. Albanese Plumbing will be rigging sprinklers, heating and water pipes, T.U. Electric will be doing electrical and fan installations, and Bomak Contractors of Pennsylvania is the subcontractor for excavation, bedding and foundation work. Apparently Larry Fabbroni, the consulting architect, charges $90/hour for design work, while engineering/surveying is $107.50/hour.

102 and 116 comprise 42 units (24 and 18 units respectively), but if you’ve been reading the construction updates for the project, then you already knew that. The loan says both buildings have to be completed by August 15th, 2018.

7. Not a whole lot going on at the moment. Lansing town will be hosting a Planning Board to look at a telecommunications tower, and three new 1-acre home lots to be carved from a larger lot off East Shore Circle. The city’s project review meeting is so slim, they didn’t need to attach any files – just the old business with the Sophia House addition on the Knoll, and that’s it. The city Board of Public Works will be looking at plans for a new inclusive playground at Stewart Park.





News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 10/2017

23 10 2017

Continuing yesterday’s theme, here’s another one of Collegetown’s development opportunities playing out, though perhaps it was less obvious as the Linden Avenue properties – coming soon to Ithaca, 60 units with 191 beds of student housing at 232-236 Dryden Road, just east of Collegetown’s core and part of the eastern transition to the Belle Sherman neighborhood.

Once again, this is a case of Visum Development Group scouting potential opportunities at the right time and place to make something happen. Along with a large surface parking lot, the previous building on this site was a 30-unit apartment building and the former dormitory for the historic Cascadilla School, a private school with a 140-year history on the corner of Oak and Summit Avenues in Collegetown. The 4-story building once housed dorms, a dining hall and a gymnasium, but after its sale to private ownership after World War I, it was remodeled again and again, each seemingly more unsympathetic than the last. By the late 20th century, it was a grim, awkward-looking box, stripped of ornamentation and of its historic value. The previous owner, the proprietor of the Hillside Inn, had owned the property for several decades; Visum paid about triple the tax assessment ($7.65 million vs. $2.55 million) to buy the property in September.

There are two buildings to be built, totaling 84,700 SF – 232 Dryden (The Lux South) and 236 Dryden (The Lux North). This allows for different plane grades, meaning they’re different elevations. That makes it easier to blend in with the neighbors, and creates less ambiguity with height limits, something that bedeviled Visum with its 201 College Avenue project. As with 210 Linden, zoning is CR-4 – four floors, 45 feet from average grade, no parking required with a city-approved transportation demand management plan (TDMP). Usually, that means free bus passes or Carshare registrations, ample bike storage, and explaining how students can easily commute to campus by walking.

The project was proposed in March 2017 and approved by August. Overall, the changes were fairly modest. No zoning variances and little public opposition helped to create a smooth review process. The biggest change came during the design review process, and affected the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity, and the balconies are throwbacks to the Cascadilla dormitory’s long-gone shingle-style balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (that is the actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (real stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

The loan, for $16,354,628, was granted by S&T Bank, a regional bank based in Pennsylvania that has no retail banking presence in Ithaca, but has served as the financier for several projects, including the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Elmira Road, and Visum’s just-opened 201 College Avenue project. A breakdown of the costs shows the total project cost is $22,780,334. There’s $13,020,010 in hard costs (materials/labor), $7.65 million for property acquisition, $475,000 in soft costs (architect/engineering/legal), $250,000 for the demolition, and the rest is for taxes during construction and interest reserve (interest on the construction loan during construction). $650,000 (5% of the hard cost) is set aside as contingency funds just in case the expenses clock in higher than expected.

Despite the rather pretentious name and logo, it’s hard to argue the amenities don’t live up to the premise – according to the marketing website, tenants of The Lux and other Visum properties have access to a media lounge, study room, hot tub, sauna, full-service gym, game room and outdoor terrace. Tenants will have trash removal, stainless steel appliances, in-unit washer and dryer, and bike storage. I feel poor just typing this stuff out. Units are 1-5 bedrooms, with the smallest being 1 bed, 1 bath and 435 SF, and the largest being a 1693 SF, five-bedroom, five-bath. Rents will be $1200-$1300/month. Visum is running an offer that if all tenants on a lease (presumably a larger unit) can show they’re members of a registered student org, they get 10% off the first month and a $150 check will be given to their organization. Many larger Collegetown units are legacy properties among student groups (fraternity annexes, bandies, club and NCAA sports), passed down from year to year by members of the org. This may be a clever move to make next years’ renting a bit easier on Visum, whose CEO noted softening in the market this year.

A trip to the site shows caisson (steel pipe) piles have already been laid for The Lux South, and demolition is ongoing of the old apartment building on the site of The Lux North. The pipes extend down to the solid shale bedrock 46 feet below grade, according to local engineering firm Elwyn & Palmer. A deep foundation by any measure. A benefit to building in Collegetown is that the ground is much more amenable to deep foundations than the weak, water-logged soils of the West End.