News Tidbits 1/21/2019

22 01 2019

1. A quick note regarding the county’s feasibility study of a new county office building on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street on the edge between Downtown and Fall Creek – Ithaca’s HOLT Architects has been tapped to perform the analyses. The idea isn’t totally new to HOLT, who had drawn up rough ideas of a joint city-county office building as part of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s 2020 Strategy way back at the start of the decade. This process will quietly continue until the results are ready for review and discussion sometime in March.

In an off-record conversation with a county official, the topic came up of, “why not just move to one of the office buildings in the Cornell business park”, as the county Department of Health has done. This person pointed out that it would much easier to buy a building, renovate it, move in and start operations. Except for one bring problem – the suburban office park is hardly accessible, and so the choice of county occupants would be fairly limited, given the need for the county’s less well-off to be able to access the site. A location on the fringe of Ithaca’s Downtown is much more walkable and readily approachable from buses, bikes and so forth, while a Cornell business park is really only readily accessible to those coming by car or the occasional bus. So the county is willing to walk on coals and risk the ire of nearby residents in order to maintain a more accessible facility.

2. Before it was officially announced, the rumor that INHS was selected for the Immaculate Conception School had been floating around for a few weeks. Most of the city staff and officials I’ve spoken with were actually breathing something of a relief, because most of them know and trust INHS. Or rather, they trust INHS to be one of the less divisive choices out there. They’re local, they plan to have a mix of affordable housing and office space for family services-related non-profits, and they’ll be going through an open house process that will give residents a chance to help shape the project before anything goes up to the city for review.

Two details worth noting – for one, INHS does have timeline in mind for its redevelopment (new construction and renovations) to the site. It would like to have tenant occupancy by December 2021, so they’ve got three years to go from start to finish. Expect meetings this Spring and Summer, and probably a project submission by late summer for a fall planning board review and approval by the end of the year. That will give them time to start applying for and attaining affordable housing grants, and to break ground on the redevelopment sometime in 2020.

For two, the city of Ithaca intends on buying the school gymnasium on the northeast side of the parcel. The gym would be used for indoor recreation by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), which is just next door. They’re looking to pay $290,000 for the parcel. It is not clear if this was planned in conjunction with INHS, if INHS developed two separate purchase plans to accommodate that possibility, or if it simply throws a wrench into things. Generally speaking, gym access and affordable housing were the two signaled prerequisites for any city consideration of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), the DIY Zoning that would give more flexibility with site redevelopment. Regardless of PUD, I suspect renovation of the school and Catholic Charities buildings are one key redevelopment feature, and on the new construction side, the parking lot on the corner of North Plain and West Court Streets isn’t long for this world.

3. Tenant number two has been confirmed for City Centre – Collegetown Bagels will be moving from its 1,500 SF location at 201 North Aurora Street, to a 2,300 SF ground-level retail space inside the 192-unit apartment building. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, “Gregor Brous, owner and operator of Collegetown Bagels, decided to make the move after finding out the current building CTB is located in is being demolished.”

For the record, that’s a couple of years out. Visum Development does have plans for the site, which involve a mixed-use apartment building with approximately 60 units above ground-level retail. A sketch plan review was conducted back in 2015, but the plan has not undergone any formal review, and it has to undergo some redesigns anyway since they had planned to buy Jagat Sharma’s parcel at 312 East Seneca Street, and consolidate it into their project. Sharma instead sold to developer Stavros Stavropoulos, who has his own plans for a six-story building. The rumor has been that any redevelopment of the site is still a year or two away, but it is a likely prospect in the medium-term.

As for CTB, the larger space will allow them to try out some new concepts, expand their drink menu, and from the sound of it, add some alcoholic beverages to their offerings. This is not the first time they’ve looked at the Trebloc site, as they had tentatively agreed to move into State Street Triangle, had the building been approved and built.

4. Just to mention the Planning Board Agenda, for the sake of brevity, here’s the link, but not much is actually being decided on this month. Wegman’s is seeking yet another two-year extension on the 15,700 SF retail building they had approved in December 2014 (long rumored as a Wegmans-owned liquor store or a homegoods store similar to Williams-Sonoma). Amici House is seeking some signage variance approval and approval of site plan changes already made. This is likely to pass since its material color and detail changes, but because this was already done without consent and they’re going back to request consent after the fact, the board may have some harsh words. Amici House attends for its 23 studios to be available for occupancy by young, formerly homeless or otherwise vulnerable individuals by February 1st. Site plan approval is also on the agenda for the Maguire Ford Lincoln renovation and expansion. New proposals are the 200-unit mixed-use Visum affordable housing duo shared on the Voice today, and the Modern Living Rentals proposal for 815 South Aurora, which as touched on the other day, is likely to be pretty sizable.

The supplemental on the Falls Park senior housing project notes that the project is intended to qualify under Ithaca’s Green Building Policy under the “Easy Path” scoring system, and perhaps a bit disappointingly, the smokestack for Ithaca Gun, once intended for incorporation into the public space, will be coming down so that the ground beneath it can be cleaned during the remediation. However, smokestack bricks will be available as mementos for those who want them.

Heading to the ZBA will be a lot subdivision to split a double lot on Homestead Road back into two lots, the Amici House signage, and Agway’s plan to rebuild a 700 SF storage shed destroyed by fire, with a new one-story 1,400 SF structure. Zoning on its waterfront site requires two floors, but the new shed is only one floor and needs a variance.

 





News Tidbits 1/20/2019

21 01 2019

Now to start digging into the odds and ends:

1. For those interested in learning more about the Carpenter Business Park proposal, Northside United, the neighborhood group that represents the Northside Neighborhood, will be hosting the development team for a presentation and Q&A on Monday, February 4th 6pm at the Quaker Meeting House on 120 Third Street. Here’s the project breakdown as provided in email by Northside United:

Affordable Housing. A 4-story building with 42 one and two-bedroom units of working family housing will be sited near Farmer’s Market and 3rd Street and targeted at those in the 50-60% of area median income ($30,000-$35,000 household income range). The affordable units are in a separate 4-story building from the market rate units, they say due to federal/state requirements for low-income housing tax credits. Park Grove Realty (with staff formerly associated with Conifer) will manage the affordable units.

Market Rate Housing. In addition to the building affordable housing, two other 4-6 story buildings in the development will be targeted at market rate rents (and also include commercial/retail).  Maybe 150 or so units of market rate housing.

CMC Medical Office Building. This 4-story building, at the east end of site near Cascadilla Street, is slated to be mostly medical/specialist offices and a still to be defined “healthcare location,” but not a “convenient-care” type facility.

Commercial Space. Tentatively there will also be approximately 20,000 feet of commercial space in the development.

Neighborhood Design and Features. They talk about this being a small “new neighborhood” of its own, but knitted together with our existing Northside neighborhood.

Community Gardens. Ithaca Community Garden retains its current size (following a land swap) and becomes permanent (pending agreement with Gardens and City). As this is being negotiated with the Gardens and City, NU probably does not need to spend time on it.

Opening Fifth Street to Rt. 13 is being considered.  

Northside United participants have asked the development team consider an urgent care or dental clinic on-site, screening the parking from the rode, better pedestrian and bike access (with reference to Form Ithaca’s boulevard concept), consider townhomes vs. multistory buildings, making the Fifth Street access pedestrian/bike only, well-designed green space, include a local committee of officials, residents and developers to guide the design process, and satisfaction with the affordable component, though they’d like it mixed with other buildings. That last one is always tough, because state-administered affordable housing grants don’t allow this out of concern the market-rate section goes bankrupt; so if they were in the same building, they would still have to be one contiguous entity within the building, as with Visum’s Green Street proposal.

Kind word of advice – if you want to attend but are not a Northside resident, be as respectful like you’re a guest invited to someone else’s house. In the 210 Hancock debate, Fall Creek was strongly negative to the affordable housing proposal, which was in neighboring Northside and better received in Northside. But Fall Creekers had a habit of steering the conversation, which created tensions with Northside United.

2. Dryden’s Tiny Timber Homes has been keeping busy. The firm is rolling out a new line of smaller homes in an effort to better meet the needs of the middle-income housing market. The first home shown above is their first truly tiny timber – a 330 SF home that sells for about $75,000 fully finished. The second example is a U-shaped ranch home being built on Landon Road in the town of Caroline; that 2-bedroom, 856 SF home on 1.2 acres is selling for $199,000, which is practically the maximum buying power of the median family income in Tompkins County (3.4 * $59,000 = $200.6k). The new line of homes will include designs ranging from the 330 SF example, to 1,100 SF, which can be built for $150-$200/SF depending on the home model, location and features.

Tiny Timbers has also rolled out its next cluster development, a 20-home development on 6 acres on a vacant West Hill at the dead end of Campbell Avenue. Plans call for screened parking, a community garden and a multi-use trail. As reported by my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi, the Planning Board was enthusiastic but cautioned that West Hill was generally averse to any new development. I dunno if that is totally true in this case; I had a conversation with George McGonigal a few years ago when Tiny Timbers bought the property, and he was cautiously optimistic for owner-occupied housing as long as they weren’t “packed like sardines”; dunno if ~3 units/acre passes the test. This would be their second such development, following the Tiny Timbers Varna plan, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, which has sold at least four of its fifteen lots (the website shows three sold, but it’s not clear when the webpage was last updated) and is undergoing site prep for the new homes. The homes here would likely be similarly priced, in the $200k-$275k range, and 850 SF – 2,000 SF.

3. Here’s a look at the New York State Department of Transportation’s plan for a new regional facility on Warren Road in the town of Lansing. Here’s a description of the plan as reported by the Lansing Star, per DOT representatives at the meetings to the county and town last week:

“Buildings on the site will include a 30,000 square foot ‘sub-residency’ maintenance building, a 5,000 square foot Cold Storage, a 8,200 square foot Salt Barn, and a 2,500 square foot Hopper Building (covered lean-to). The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features including a fueling station, parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. The project will require construction of an access drive from Warren Road and the extension of utilities.”

As is often the case with high-priority state projects, the construction time frame is fast – the governor’s office wants the site built and fully operational by the end of the year. Also, much to the chagrin of some very unhappy neighbors who don’t want a DOT facility nearby, the town of Lansing is not Lead Agency in environmental review – the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is, given proximity to the airport (the county sold the 15.5 acres of land to the airport last September). Public resource projects by the state, like state-owned office buildings, state maintenance facilities and labs, are generally excluded from local zoning codes and do not have nearly as lengthy of an approval process. The nearly 1,000 page Environmental Site Assessment report can be found on the DOT website here. CHA Companies (formerly  Clough Harbor and Associates) of Albany, a prominent state contractor, did the assessment on behalf of the state.

There’s always going to be a bit of limitation in where the state can go with a project like this. The state wants out of the waterfront, not just because the county wants the land to be redeveloped, but because the salt and vehicle fluids could pose risks to the water quality of the inlet and lake (and DOT doesn’t want to be on the hook for that), access to 13 is more difficult due to urban traffic, the location isn’t efficient to where the state plows state roads previously handled by the town, and lastly, the state has simply outgrown the waterfront site -it needs more land, and taking the railroad’s or the Farmers Market’s is not a viable option. The state did originally plan using a site in Dryden on Ellis Drive, but the state determined that response time to urban areas was too long, and since some of the land was federally designated as wetland, the site was too small.

4. In the county’s deed filings, one of the more common recordings is the easements filed by NYSEG, often for new line connections to the power grid. Once in a blue moon, they turn up something interesting. The above site sketch comes courtesy of one of those filings. Scott Morgan owns 543 Asbury Road, and in 2015 he had proposed eight duplexes on the property, but the town had issues with that much density on a rural lot, so Morgan shelved the plan and the town amended the code to prevent such density on rural parcels. In turn, it appears that Morgan subdivided the 5-acre lot into four parcels, and is building a duplex on each. If they’re like his Lansing rentals, expect them to be ranch-style units with two bedrooms each.

 





News Tidbits 1/19/2019

20 01 2019

Now, let’s take a look at some notable property sales over the past few weeks. To make this easy, most sales documented in this post will use a standardized format for each entry.

1. What sold and for how much? 8 and 28 Newfield Depot Road, the parcel IDs for the 188-unit Valley Manor Mobile Home Park in Newfield, for $2,300,000 on 12/19/2018.

Who was the seller? Jim Ray Homes, a local manufactured and mobile home dealer, and mobile home park operator.

Who was the buyer? Cook Properties of Rochester, a mobile home management firm with properties across upstate New York.

Anything else? Not especially. The sale was just short of the tax assessed value ($2.3 million vs. $2.369 million), and while it’s a change of ownershipp, it’s also likely a maintenance of the status quo. Still, it’s a high-dollar sale worth noting. The assessment for mobile homes and manufactured homes is a bit funky, and I think the owners only own the lots, which likely contributes to the low price per unit.

2. What sold and for how much? 232 South Geneva Street for $533,000 on 12/20/2018, and 311-13 Farm Street in Fall Creek for $700,000 on 12/20/2018. 232 South Geneva is a 5-unit apartment building in the Henry St. John neighborhood; it sold for $302k in 2013, and $200k in 2008. 311-13 Farm Street is a 3-unit apartment building that sold for $505k in 2009. It includes 15 rentable bedrooms, and a portion that was set aside as an AirBnB by the previous owners, who had it on the market for $750k (assessment $610k). Both are small multi-family examples of the rapid price appreciation Tompkins County has been seeing in walkable urban areas.

Who was the seller? Jeremy Dietz for 232 South Geneva, and S&Y Investments, a California-based LLC (sales docs indicate the owners are John Scarpulla and Allyson Yarbrough) for 311-13 Farm Street.

Who was the buyer? An LLC associated with local landlord and developer Charlie O’Connor, owner of Modern Living Rentals.

Anything else? Don’t expect teardowns here. Generally speaking, that’s not MLR’s approach to Ithaca’s inner neighborhoods. Do expect them to stay rentals, probably with a renovation in the near future (see: 1002 North Cayuga Street and 202-04 East Marshall Street). O’Connor is flush with cash after his multi-million sale of the under-construction 802 Dryden Road to a Pittsburgh-based real estate investor last fall.

3. What sold and for how much? The Sprucewood Apartments in Northeast Ithaca, for $8,640,000 on 12/21/2018.  Sprucewood is a 108-unit apartment complex completed in 1966. All units are three-bedrooms, in eighteen six-unit buildings.

Who was the seller? The Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties in Ithaca. They own a host of other housing developments, including the Village Solars under construction in the town of Lansing.

Who was the buyer?  Winston Square LLC, an LLC associated with Stratford Management, a multifamily housing management firm with locations in six states.

Anything else? A case of “under new management”. The Lucentes are a whole lot richer, and Stratford, which mostly owns older apartment complexes across upstate, finally gets a toehold in the stable and lucrative Ithaca market. With it comes a new website and a name change, from Sprucewood to Winston Square. The apartments are primarily located on Winston Court, and the name comes from the late Rocco Sr.’s penchant for naming streets after cigarette brands in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the nickname “Cigarette Alley” for Northeast Ithaca. I don’t imagine that will be a part of the advertising pitch.

4. What sold and for how much? 815 South Aurora Street, for $385,000. The property includes a 2,845 SF industrial building and a 2,537 SF warehouse on 1.85 acres on South Hill. A radio and telecommunication tower is on site.

Who was the seller? Harold Fish. The Fish family has owned the property since at least the 1950s.

Who was the buyer? “IC Overlook LLC”, which appears to be associated with Modern Living Rentals and its owner, Charlie O’Connor.

Anything else? With Todd Fox, O’Connor proposed an 87-unit (all studio units) apartment building for the site in 2015, and in order to move forward, the duo had to make a case for the city to change its rules for building near radio and telecommunication towers. Most communities use the height plus 10 feet; at the time, Ithaca used double the height. This is a 170-foot tower, so that meant a 340 foot radius, instead of 180 feet as seen in most communities. The logic is the height plus a bit for bounce; but planning staff mused that Ithaca was a bit paranoid when the legislation was drawn up in the 1990s. The zoning code was revised, but such that it’s height plus 20% – a 204 foot radius, so the project had to be redesigned a bit. The last that was heard, plans were being for a 125-bedroom project in December 2016, but nothing came to light.

Until now. A sketch plan is scheduled for the planning board meeting next week.

5. What sold and for how much? 327 West Seneca Street, for $235,000 on January 11th.

Who was the seller? The estate of Orson Ledger, a man who was known in his decades of Ithaca for providing affordable housing by running his properties into the ground so that assessments would be low. Folks involved with Ithaca’s rental market in decades past tend to have strong opinions about Ledger, who died in a car accident five years ago.

Who was the buyer? An LLC tied to Visum Development Group.

Anything else? It means Visum’s 12-unit workforce housing proposal approved for 327 West Seneca Street is now one step closer to happening.

6. What sold and for how much? 305 West Green Street, for $560,000 on January 17th. 305 West Green Street is the former Ithaca Plastics. The property hosts a 2,400 SF home and a 5,150 SF industrial building.

Who was the seller? Richard and Sharon Buechel of Dryden, who had owned the property since 1989.

Who was the buyer? Cascade Studios LLC, which is registered to the address of Ithaca musician Brian Thrash.

Anything else? Generally not wise to take guesses on these sort of things, but plans for a music/recording studio, perhaps?

7. Something that catches the eye – local landlord Ed Cope has been actively selling off many of his rental properties. 310 Farm Street was sold for $365,000 on 12/28 to Jonah and Alicia Freedman, as was 312 Farm Street, for $395,000 on the same day. 513 South Aurora Street was also sold on December 28th, to Andrew Schreck for $425,000. Cope sold out of his share of 324 West Seneca Street for $180,200 on January 17th, and sold out of his share of 318-20 West Seneca on the same day for $349,800. That’s in addition to the sale of 115 Linn Street for $540,000 last October. That’s six sales in four months.

Vice-versa, Cope bought 107-09 Hudson Street from the estate of Sophia Tselekis for $540,000 on January 10th. Previously, Cope purchased 115 Hudson for $495,000 in October, and 108-110 Hudson Street for $460,000 in September.

All of this is to suggest that Ed Cope has been a very busy man lately. It would look as if he’s selling off properties to finance purchases of other properties clustered on the 100 Block of Hudson Street, just south of downtown and Six Mile Creek. Cope already owns 105 Hudson Street and 201 South Aurora Street on the corner, 114 Hudson, 117 Hudson and 118-120 Hudson. That leaves three properties in that cluster of eleven that he doesn’t own – 101, 111 and 112 Hudson Street. It’s not clear if something is in the works, but it is curious.

Now onto building loan agreements:

8. Where property received the construction loan? 232-236 Dryden Road, also known as “The Lux”, a 206-bedroom pair of student-oriented apartment buildings completed in 2018.  Visum Development Group completed the project, and plans are in the works for an eight-unit, 16-bedroom third building at 238 Dryden Road.

Who gave them the money? MF1 Capital LLC. The LLC is joint venture between real estate megafirm CBRE, Limekiln Real Estate of New York and Berkshire Group of Boston. According to online reports, it’s a mortgage REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) focused on providing cash equity to multifamily (about 75% of its business) and seniors housing (the remaining 25%). A bridge loan is a short-term (2-3 year) financial solution, used as a “bridge” when a developer needs quick cash for a prime opportunity and has yet to obtain conventional construction loans. They’re usually easier to obtain because the analysis that goes into determining whether or not to extend the loan is less extensive, usually based on property value (which means a high-value loan in the case of a large Collegetown property). The trade off on these loans is that they often come with a high interest rate; and with that short term period, the loan will have to be paid back within a few years.

What it suggests here is that Visum has put most of its revenue right back into its latest plans in the form of working capital, and that there’s high confidence both in themselves and from the investor that those plans will be successful. That seems to make the most sense given Visum’s explosive growth. On a related note, $1.5 million would be about right for a new eight-unit apartment building on this site.

 

 





News Tidbits 1/18/2019

19 01 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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





Tompkins Center for History and Culture Renovation Update, 12/2018

28 12 2018

The new Tompkins Center for History and Culture is progressing towards its April 2019 opening. There’s not much to see from t he outside, since this is an interior renovation, albeit a major, to-the-studs renovation. Some non-load bearing walls have been removed and the interior has been opened up. Back in October, the History Center spearheaded a community effort, called “Moving History Forward”, to move its thousands of historical artifacts from their old location in Gateway Center to the new TCHC a couple blocks away. Not only did it engage the community (the move required 330 volunteers), it also saved about $40,000 in moving expenses.

According to the building permit from October, LeChase Construction is on board as the general contractor for the $1.8 million project. Although based out of Rochester, LeChase maintains offices throughout the state – the firm opened an office in Ithaca, but the company website does not suggest it’s full-service, if it’s still used at all. Most Ithaca work is overseen by the Syracuse office. Matco Electric Corporation of Vestal is in charge of electrical work and rewiring, Lansing’s DFM Mechanical is doing the plumbing, and Eagle Mechanical of Wolcott (Wayne County) is doing the general mechanical work. Local firm Hayes Strategy is serving as the construction project manager, and STREAM Collaborative is designing the interior renovation. New York’s Tessellate Studio is designing the new exhibit area within the renovated space, and some of those images are included below. From Tessellate’s website:

“The intent of the exhibits at the History Center in Tompkins County is to connect audiences to meaningful history and narratives about the past, present and future of the region through the use of interactive, immersive, media and object-based experiences. For this project, Tessellate designed a flexible series of modular Story Pods to work as a physical, visual, and technical system to accommodate current and future needs of the museum. This allows for an open floor plan, use of vertical space and height, dynamic header text/images, visitor seating, accommodating for groups, and the blend of physical, interactive and media design offered an optimal storytelling experience.”

Quick aside, Marchuska Brothers Construction was the county’s general contractor, Johnson Controls had the mechanical contract and Richardson Brothers the electrical contract for the initial renovation work. Not sure why there was a switch. The switch was because the History Center hired their own set of contractors for their buildout needs. From the architect, Noah Demarest: “The county owns the building so they had a contract to deal with some core facilities issues. Now the History Center is using their own contractors for the tenant build out. So it wasn’t a change, just the result of the open bidding process of two different entities working in the same space.”

A project description and development timeline can be found here.





News Tidbits 12/9/18

9 12 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





TC3 Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center Construction Update, 11/2018

24 11 2018

Normally I’m a little more on top of construction starts, but Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3) is somewhat isolated, so I rarely check it out. This time it paid off.

Over at TC3, the footers are in, the foundation slab has been poured and the steel frame is being assembled for what will be the newest addition to the college’s campus, a $6.5 million, 9,875 SF daycare and early education facility. The construction costs are about $4.5 million, covered in part by $2.5 million in state grants and a $2 million donation from Arthur Kuckes, the founder of local firm Vector Magnetics, and a longtime supporter of the college. The funding goal was 50% state sources, and 50% private donors. The remainder of the funds will be used to pay for equipment purchases to outfit the facility, and to set up an operating endowment. The previously vacant project site was selected for its easy vehicular access and picturesque views.

The purpose of the building is multi-pronged. For one, it provides a much-needed daycare option for students with infants and young children, giving parents more flexibility to take classes while their kids are in a safe, stimulating environment nearby (it’s also open to the children of faculty and staff). A 2014 feasibility study commissioned by the college found that about 5,400 children in Tompkins and Cortland Counties are in need of third-party childcare, and that existing providers, ranging from formal childcare facilities to babysitters, serve about 3,000 children in the study area, meaning a 45% deficiency and by extension, a lack of affordable childcare options. The existing on-site daycare can care for 33 children, and does not have the capacity for infants. The new facility is expected to serve up to eighty children in two infant rooms and six early childhood classrooms, and create a dozen jobs. The college expects about 90% of the enrollees will be the children of students, with a small number of faculty and staff children. If there are still openings (few if any are expected outside the TC3 community), members of the greater Tompkins-Cortland community may apply.

Secondly, it gives students in the Early Childhood education program a greater chance to develop hands-on experience. The Early Childhood program also expects to increase its number of on-site student interns from 14 in the current campus daycare, to 45-50 students over the course of a typical year.

The project was first publicly announced in February 2016, with a somewhat grander design that was toned down (value engineered) in an effort to stay withing budget and start construction sooner rather than later. The fundraising campaign launched in June of that year, and the project went out for construction bids in February 2018. The project expenses still increased somewhat in the few years from conception to execution, growing from about $5.5 million to $6.5 million. The groundbreaking in May suggested an opening by the end of 2018, but Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan (SWPPP) stated August 2019.

According to the construction documents (all 702 pages of them), local architect Claudia Brenner designed the new facility, with Lansing’s Dende Engineering on board as a structural engineering consultant, T.G. Miller for surveying and civil engineering work, Jade Stone Engineering PLLC of Watertown for mechanical, electrical and plumbing design and engineering, Ithaca’s TWMLA for landscape architecture and Albany’s Ran Fire Protection Engineering for the sprinklers and other fire suppression systems.

The foundation is a standard concrete slab-on-grade shallow foundation, and given the immense need for fire protection for a facility like this, the frame will be fireproofed steels, with extensive fire suppression systems (fire-rated doors, sprinkler system), and fire-rated gypsum board sheathing. Finishes will include masonry, fiber cement, and metal exterior panels, and asphalt and metal roof materials. Windows will be typical commercial-grade aluminum frame, and the trim will include wood and metal flashing. Note that the exterior play areas will include not one, not two, but three play areas, for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers respectively. In the photos brlow, the foundation appears to be finished, with some rebar and orange rebar safety caps still on-site. The steel skeleton is still being assembled, with some roof trusses and corrugated steel decking sitting near the structure, ready to be hoisted into place.

Site plan, as seen in the geotechnical report.

Interior render.

Current design, front entrance.

Older design, rear wings with the pre-school and toddler playgrounds.