The Tompkins County Housing Strategy

18 05 2017

The County’s Housing Strategy draft was originally going to be in the next news roundup, but it’s large enough to do separately, and my colleague Kelsey is tackling this meeting for the Voice. For those who couldn’t attend the Housing Strategy hosted by the county last Wednesday evening, the presentation is here and the outline is here. Comments can be sent to the Planning Department here from now through the end of the month.

First, quantities. This was touched on in the news round-up a couple of weeks ago, but the county would like at least 580 units coming online each year, plus specialty student and senior housing. For comparison’s sake, the county hasn’t exceeded that value since 1994, when Kendal was permitted in Cayuga Heights, and prior to 2016, the last time it exceeded 500 units was in 2000.

In more recent years, the value bounced between 200 and 300 units in a given year; during the recession, it dropped into the mid-100s. The article linked above is older, so it lacks the 2015 values, which were 279 units countywide, consistent with 2012-2014. Then we get to 2016, which was just finalized by HUD. There were 575 units, of which 121 were single-family homes, and 454 were multi-family structures. Let’s present that by community (click on the table to expand):

Cayuga Heights and Freeville didn’t approve a single unit, while the 271 units in Ithaca city is their highest stat since 2000, and the second highest in the 35-year online record. Dryden village’s growth can be attributed to Poet’s Landing Phase II, Ithaca town’s to Cayuga Meadows, and Lansing town’s to the Village Solars.

The point of this is to illustrate that 580 units annually is a lofty figure, but it is an attainable goal.

Then we get to locations. The ideal is to focus the growth in the city of Ithaca – since these stats are non-student housing, the targeted areas in the city include Downtown, the State Street Corridor, West End/Waterfront, and anything they can displace from the big box corridor on the southwest side. If a good opportunity for infill presents itself elsewhere in the city, that’s great, but it’s not the focus.

However, not everyone wants to live in Ithaca. Land in the “nodes” is cheaper and oftentimes the approvals process is easier. The county envisions 50-100 in the villages and growing hamlets like Varna and South Lansing, were a town center concept is in the RFP review process. Rural hamlets would see a handful of units annually (30 or less), and other locations basically just refers to Lansing’s suburban sprawl between the village and South Lansing. The town is hellbent on development any which way it happens, conventional approaches are the easiest to get financed, and the county’s not going to fight them.

The county’s housing strategy is three-pronged: Information/Collaboration, New Units and Existing Units.

  • Information and Collaboration includes a virtual housing office for resources and a collaborative network to formulate and pitch housing solutions. It’s kinda vague in the notes.
  • New unit strategies include support for targeted new development, streamlining zoning and examining potential incentives through the IDA.
    • Targeted new development can include RFQs for government-owned surplus property, early community engagement regarding DFAs (Development Focus Areas) and assistance in producing “shovel-ready” sites through things such as sewer access and energy hookups.
    • Streamlining zoning is to make it easier to get an initial product that will look like the final product – less uncertainty, less money spent on revisions. Inclusionary zoning seems pretty much dead in the water, as the county doesn’t seem to know if the community will support incentives for affordable housing, or if will even be effective. Done wrong, an inclusionary ordinance could actually result in less housing, if the burden is too great for the incentives offered.
    • Additional IDA incentives could include mixed-market or all-affordable rentals being eligible for abatements, and possible an abatement for any neighborhood or community who builds in inclusionary zoning. Looking at you, Trumansburg.
  • Existing unit strategies include the encouragement of rehabs (especially from rentals to owner-occupied), code enforcement and fair housing enforcement. Airbnb is still a tricky issue, so expect some tweaks to regulations on what constitutes rentals, hotels and legal occupancy.

There’s also a strong support/monitoring component in the strategy, which basically is a tracker of all projects underway, what stages, what they consist of, and so on. Beat you to the punch guys.





News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

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4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

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7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





News Tidbits 4/29/17: Happy Birthday Mom

29 04 2017

1. The Times’ Matt Butler has written a great summary of almost everything you wanted to know about the Ithaca development approvals process (formally called entitlements). Basically, Ithaca’s high standards and arduous review process come with pros and cons. On a positive note, the city is more likely to get a nice product, the drawback is that it scares developers off. For those who do give the city a spin, the city is a desirable investment for a number of reasons (affluent residents, steadily growing economy), but the lengthy process generates uncertainties (bad for financing) and requires more money (bad for affordability).

There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but it really helps if the city gives developers a set of guidelines for what they’re looking for in a design, rather than forcing them to rely on antiquated zoning. Design guidelines were recently approved for Downtown and Collegetown, which should help, although an overhaul of the zoning would be much welcomed. However, in a city famous for its activism, even the most well-orchestrated plans can be broadsided by NIMBY grassroots, so even with these heavily-structured guidelines, building in Ithaca is likely to have uncertainties and challenges into the foreseeable future.

2. A couple of grants worth noting – Tompkins Community Action was awarded $3.7 million by the state to go towards construction of their Amici House project at 661-701 Spencer Road in Ithaca. The funds will cover about 45% of the $8.25 million construction cost. Work is supposed to begin this summer on the mixed-use project, which includes 23 studio units for vulnerable or previously homeless youth, and a 7,010 SF daycare/early education facility.

In other news,the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County was awarded $500,000 by the Care Compass Network Innovation Fund to use towards the establishment and operation of a 20-24 bed detox facility, much needed resource as the heroin epidemic continues to grip the nation. CCN is a non-profit consortium funded by Southern Tier health centers like Guthrie, Cayuga Med and Binghamton General. ADC-TC is a non-profit that focuses on substance abuse education, prevention and outpatient treatment. No facility was named in the announcement.

On a third note, the sale of 626 West Buffalo Street was completed. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) intends to renovate the house into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The house was purchased for $95,000, and an additional $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The county voted to provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

3. Tiny Timbers seems to be to a good start. The fledging modular timber-frame company run by the Dolph Family has added several members to its construction crew, and they will build the frame components out their newly-adapted warehouse-mill on Hall Road in Dryden. The house in Hector is nearly complete, two more are being prepared (both big cubes), and the gravel road is being constructed for their just-approved five-lot subdivision at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road. Going off the wording of their last blog post, it looks like three of those lots are already reserved or purchased (one lot is a conservation area).

4. Let’s not beat around the bush – you’re coming here for a bit of inside information, not just a news round-up. One of the reasons Dryden and Tompkins County have each committed $1,750 to an infrastructure study of the Route 13 corridor is that there is a concept proposal on the table from INHS for a mixed-use development with retail and 250 affordable housing units, on approximately 50 acres of a 100 acre parcel – half of it is north of the rail trail and would be conserved, possibly through Finger Lakes Land Trust. At 5 units/acre, it’s below Varna’s highest densities, but it’s about the rural threshold of about 2 units/acre.

As it so happens, a quick check of the county’s property tax map shows a 100.44 acre parcel of vacant farmland across the street from 1477 Dryden Road, outlined in blue above. The back half is Fall Creek, so given buffers and general environment concerns, it’s good sense to leave it alone. The land has been owned by the Leonardo Family (the ones who ran The Palms) since 1942.

I asked Dryden Town Planning Director Ray Burger about it, and he knew only what the county said. But it’s something to keep an eye on as the town figures out whether or not to extend sewer to that parcel.

5. It seems like there’s quite the tempest going on in Lansing. Let’s review. All this comes courtesy of the Lansing Star (not for lack of trying on my part. Almost all Lansing staff and officials ignore my phone calls and emails, except zoning officer Marty Moseley. Thanks Marty.).

I. Over in the village, the “Preservation Party” lost the village election by a large margin to the incumbent Community Party by a roughly 75/25 split (240 votes vs 80 votes). This result should settle the Bomax Drive rezoning from commercial tech space to residential once and for all.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

II. Lansing town has inked an MOU with Cayuga Heights and Lansing village to install a sewer line up Triphammer Road to create a small sewer district. However, it’s impacts would be substantial – it would have three primary users – the 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, the 117-unit English Village project, and the RINK, which is expanding its facility. The developers want the sewer so much, they’re paying for it in what town supervisor Ed LaVigne is calling a “public/private partnership”. Properties that do not hook up would not be hit with an increased assessment, according to LaVigne and county assessor Jay Franklin.

A back of the envelope estimate suggests $50-$60 million in increased land assessment, and $1.5 million+ in property taxes. Perfect for offsetting a rapidly devaluing power plant that was once your town’s biggest taxpayer. The village boards still need to sign off on the MOU, but Lansing town is desperate to make a deal.

III. The Lansing Meadows senior housing seems to be worked out, and it includes the  small community-focused food retail component desired by developer Eric Goetzmann. The public hearing is on the 1st; if approved next month, the construction bids will be posted shortly thereafter with an intended summer start on the 20-unit mixed-use project.

IV. Just…wow. On the one hand, LaVigne et al. have a right to be upset. Their town’s biggest taxpayer is faltering, they’re trying encourage as much development as they can to offset the plunge in property taxes, and with debates like the West Dryden pipeline, they have a right to be frustrated. But to say the county’s sabotaging your town is a whole different ball game. To say “[r]ight now The County is on the sh** list as far as I’m concerned,” well…

He deserves sympathy. There’s a lot of BS mixed in with the good of Tompkins County, and his town and its schools are in a real bind. Poo pooing them isn’t helping anybody. But…he can’t magically change how people in Dryden or Ithaca think. Ask solar companies if they’d be interested in town properties, find a way to make residential heat pumps and renewables work. Hell, work with TCAD, talk with Heather McDaniel and the green groups and come up with ideas. I had a professor in grad school tell me that “you lure more flies with honey than vinegar”. LaVigne has a right to be upset, but this isn’t a good look.

6. Now that a few people at INHS and County Planning have been annoyed (sorry guys), back to the news. The Journal is reporting that the town of Ulysses has acquired three Jacksonville properties from Exxon Mobil, in what they hope is the next step in closing a disastrous chapter in the town’s history. Back in the 1970s, the former Mobil gas station at the corner of Jacksonville Road and Route 96 leaked enormous amounts of gasoline and poisoned the hamlet’s groundwater – one report says a person passed out from noxious fumes when they turned on their shower.

The state DEC became involved and ordered Exxon Mobil to clean up the mess, which was carried out from 1984 to 1988, and the multinational gas company purchased most of the affected properties and demolished them – an 1827 church was left intact. The DEC’s case file was finally closed in 2005 after the test levels had receded to more acceptable readings, but Exxon Mobil has continued to own the property, letting the church fall into disrepair.

The town is buying the church at 5020 Jacksonville Road, a 0.275 acre vacant lot at 5036 Jacksonville Road, and a 0.656 acre vacant lot at 1853 Trumansburg Road for $5,001 (the trio’s total assessed value is $84,700). The plan is to install a septic for the church at 5036, renovate the church just enough to keep it from rotting out, and once the building is stable, the plan is to resell to someone looking for a unique fixer-upper. If no buyer is found, the town plans to eventually restore the church on their own. The larger lot on Trumansburg Road is being considered for resale towards private development, or use as a TCAT park-and-ride.

7. Is the Canopy Hilton underway or isn’t it underway? Still kinda hard to tell.

8. On the other hand, it looks like the new medical office building planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, is starting demo work. The stone is being stripped from the existing buildings, to be reused on other structures. The Cayuga Medical Associates plan calls for a $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road, 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space.

9. Nothing too exciting from the planning board agendas around the county – Lansing has nothing up, Cayuga Heights has nothing of note. Over in the town of Ithaca, Cornell plans to try again with its Peterson Parking Lot replacement (after the disastrous first try last April), the 15-lot Monkemeyer subdivision on East King Road continues review, and a 2-lot modification is up for consideration. In Dryden, the advisory planning board will continue review for the Tiny Timbers Ellis Hollow subdivision mentioned earlier, and a 7-lot subdivision of the former Dryden Lake golf course; there will also be some solar panel discussion, and possibly some info on the ~20 unit Pineridge Cottages project planned for Mineah Road.

 





Village Solars Construction Update, 4/2017

19 04 2017

At the never-ending Village Solars apartment complex in Lansing, Building “I” is nearly complete from the outside. It sports a few details that make it stand apart from earlier phases – the balconies railings are a different design, a dark-colored fiber cement board is being used for some of the balcony alcoves, and the heat pumps have been hidden away under a wood lattice screen. Given how clean the immediate project site is, it would not be a surprise if this building is aiming for a May 1 occupancy.

Meanwhile, Building “J” is a little further behind – the windows and doors have been fitted and the roofing is complete, but the exterior wood grain and fiber cement panels are still a work in progress, as is the building trim. The doors on the upper levels will likely lead to small juliette balconies like those seen here. Inside, it’s stud walls and rough-ins, and there did not appear to be any drywall hung yet.You can see the unscreened Daikin heat pumps in the fourth photo below. It looks like the roofing was done by T and J Associated Contractors out of Auburn.

It doesn’t look like work has started on Phase 4 yet, which should consist of the last three buildings in the first stage of build-out (“K”, “L”, and “M”). If it’s anything like the previous phases, the construction team will start with the Phase 4 site clearing this summer. The later stages of development call for multiple phases to the east, and possible replacement of some of the older 1970s apartment buildings with newer structures [3/22 Town Board Minutes]. Potentially, the complete build-out would be around 423 units, from 400 SF studio micro-units to 1,185 SF three-bedroom two-bath apartments. Keep in mind, that would be several years out, well into the next decade. Along with those units come community space, retail components, expanded trail and outdoor components and a bus stop.

Rents look to be in the middle of the market – the micro-unit studios start at $865/month, going all the way up to top-of-the-line three-bedroom units at $1680/month. One-bedrooms and two-bedrooms start at $950/month and $1260/month respectively.

While looking around, an older gentlemen walking his dog went in and out; dunno if it was a relative of the Lucente family (the owner/developers, d/b/a Lifestyle Properties), or a curious onlooker.

 





News Tidbits 4/15/17: Good and Bad Decisions

15 04 2017

1. It looks like the Lansing Meadows issue is being resolved. Village mayor Don Hartill has issued a sort of mea culpa for not sending the project to the Planning Board before inviting it to the Village board of Trustees, saying the Planning Board was caught off guard and it was his and the village attorney’s fault. So the project will visit the Planning Board with Hartill and developer Eric Gortzmann on hand to answer any questions the planning board might have. A workable solution is possible – the planning board isn’t necessarily opposed, they would prefer more housing but could be willing to hear out a commercial component so long as it’s set back from the road and screened from the homes by foliage. Optimistically, the cafe/diner and twenty senior housing units might be good to go within a month.

2. The Biggs Parcel is up in the air. There have been no offers since going on sale last July, and the contract with realtor CJ DelVecchio has expired. The county has decided not to renew while they weigh options. Options being weighed for the three-month hold include a smaller housing development on eight of the acres on the corner of Indian Creek and Harris B Dates Drive, and/or a solar farm, which may split neighbors between a low-intensity, eco-friendly project, and losing a portion of the woods so that the solar panels could operate. There is no plan for another Cayuga Trails-type project like what NRP proposed before the discovery of more extensive wetlands convinced them to cancell the project in September 2014.

3. The town of Ithaca has selected its firm of choice to conduct the economic development study and strategic plan for its Inlet Valey corridor southwest of the cityConsultEcon, Inc. of Cambridge, in partnership with Behan Planning and Design of Saratoga, was selected from six applications. Behan has previous experience in the area; in fact, they won an award for their work on the 2012 Varna Master Plan over in Dryden. The town will pay $30,000, and the state will pay $30,000 through its Empire State Development division. Although not state in the town agenda, I believe the time frame to perform and submit the study is six months.

According to Ithaca town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, the goal is to turn Inlet Valley from an auto-centric hodge-podge with no overarching character, to a semi-rural neighborhood with an agribusiness, “artisanal industrial”, and tourism focus, capitalizing on Ithaca Beer and the existing and proposed lodging. The Sleep Inn proposal submitted a potential rustic streetscape that gives an idea of the aesthetic the town seems to be going for.

4. From the PEDC, the Southside housing plan is ongoing, and the IURA has hired their new planner after Lynn Truame left for INHS. There was considerable discussion over the Waterfront rezoning, with general conceptual support, although the First Ward councilors are not fans of mixing housing with light industrial areas, or forcing businesses to compete with housing developers for waterfront sites. Councilwoman Brock (D-1st) was opposed to housing in the Cherry Street Corridor. The proposal was granted by vote the permission to circulate for review and comment, so there’s still time for thoughts and opinions to be contemplated and discussed.

5. On another note, many of the speakers at the PEDC meeting were there to speak out against the City Centre project at 301 East State Street, not because they didn’t like the building (well, most of them), but because it didn’t have affordable units, which they felt should be a requirement for abatements.

I support that to a degree, but I’m also aware that, all other things equal, the revenue loss from the affordable units has to be made up for somewhere, usually by passing the costs on to the other tenants. In that case, the city ends up with a lack of units for those with middle incomes. I like the idea of modestly more generous zoning as a tradeoff to the inclusionary housing component, but as a proposal, that didn’t go over so well – developers didn’t like it (because to build more they need bigger loans, so it hurts smaller developers), anti-development folks didn’t like it (because affordable or not, it’s more of what they don’t like), and there was significant uncertainty on whether it’d be effective.

The county IDA had its vote for the sales/mortgage/property tax abatements the following day, and they decided to grant the abatements 5-1, with legislator Will Burbank opposed. The 192-unit mixed-use project is expected to begin construction with the next couple of months, for an early 2019 completion.

6. Once in a while, you get a project so despised by neighbors, they decide to run for office as single-issue candidates – namely, to stop the project. That’s what happening in Lansing village. Mayor Donald Hartill and two incumbent trustees, Ronny Hardaway and Patricia O’Rourke, are being challenged in the May election by mayoral candidate Lisa Bonniwell and two trustee candidates, Gregory Eells and John LaVine. Their goal is to overturn the rezoning of the Park Grove property on Bomax Drive, which rezoned commercial/tech office space to multi-family, enabling a 140-unit apartment project to move forward with planning board review.

This is not the first time something like this has happened in Lansing. When the Lansing Reserve affordable housing project was proposed in 2011, two residents opposed to the project, Yasamin Miller and Brian Goodell, ran against incumbent trustees on a single-issue platform of stopping the project. They lost by 2:1 margins, but Lansing Reserve never moved forward, and since then the land has been bought by the village for park space.

Although in a Voice capacity I can’t formally take sides, I have big issues with the challenger’s platform. I’m not a big fan of the Park Grove as a project, but the rezoning makes sense. As the county’s airport business park study demonstrated, the demand for new commercial and industrial space is very limited, while from the Denter study, it is clear the demand for housing is quite strong (5,000 units in the next decade). It amazes me that the challengers are saying the project will lower property values in a village with substantial price appreciation and major affordability issues (but as noted by the Star, Bonniwell’s family developed the expensive and still incomplete Heights of Lansing project nearby, so she has a vested interest in limiting housing).

Not only that, in the interview with the Lansing Star, challenger LaVine suggests the village should look at eventually merging with the town of Lansing, which is completely contrary to the village’s formation in 1974 as a reaction to the mall, when residents demanded for stricter zoning that the town didn’t want to accommodate. The town has much looser zoning than the village. If voters think for one moment that the town wouldn’t seek to change zoning in the village to build up the tax base and cope with the likely loss of the power plant, they’re in for a rude surprise.

7. On the agendas, nothing too exciting this week. The town has a couple of telecom towers and a 600,000 gallon water tank for Hungerford Hill Road. Over in the city, it’s project review week, but zoning variances suggest another nicely-detailed garage from STREAM Collaborative (STREAM does really nice garages), a couple of home additions, and a new 1,695 SF house at 412 Worth Street in Belle Sherman designed by Jason Demarest. The property is a flag lot that straddles the city-town line, so it would be neigh impossible to do anything without a variance. Ulysses will just be discussing zoning, and the other towns and village will be doing their regular meetings later in the month.

 





News Tidbits 4/8/17: Please Don’t Document-Dump on Fridays

8 04 2017

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. The town of Dryden planning board did not take too kindly to the Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden Road outside Varna. The board denied recommendation for approval unless some stipulations are met first; some might be easier, like a vegetative buffer with the neighbors and a shared driveway. Others will be trickier – the board recommended removing all the solar panels and replacing them with electric heat pumps, and board members strongly encouraged reducing the number of units.

Not to downplay the value of heat pumps since they’ve become the preferred sustainable feature for projects going before local boards these days, but there is a substantial initial cost involved for their installation, and it takes a few decades for the energy savings to pay off. Some of the cost for the pumps can be balanced out through density of units, because some flat development costs (for example, the cost of land acquisition) can be distributed out; but fewer units with a more expensive feature is the classic “do more with less money” conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Disclaimer, these are ballpark figures and every project has its nuances or other factors to consider, like tax rates, contractor bids and logistical costs.

The Village Solars heat pumps are a $50,000-$60,000 cost, $4,000-$5,000 per unit. Phase 1 didn’t have the heat pumps, but the later phases do, and those later phases are about $2 million-$3 million per 15,000-20,000 square-foot building, with 12-22 units depending on configuration. In the case of 1061 Dryden, each 6-unit string is about 10,800 SF (1800 SF per unit, no common areas), and given the $4.5 million total cost, we’re talking a ballpark estimate of around $750,000 per townhome string. If one assumes proportional costs for the heat pumps based off square footage, that’s $30,000-$40,000 per 6-unit string. So it is a higher incremental cost per string, and more of a burden per tenant. The Village Solars rent for $1600-$1650 for a three-bedroom, and the going rate for new units in Varna is about $1950 for a 3-bedroom, if the new townhomes at 902 Dryden is any indicator. The rent increase for the Village Solars was about $50/unit, but those units are smaller, so you’re probably looking at a larger amount, conservatively $75/unit, for the Evergreen units.

Going off those numbers, it looks like heat pumps are possible, although the units will likely be somewhat less affordable as a result. It isn’t clear if that disables the proposal, because it depends on imputed vacancy rates at different income levels, and whatever the required income is to make the necessary Return on Investment. However, the project would become less feasible if there are substantially fewer units and the construction cost per unit shoots up – because of the combination of flat vs. incremental expenses, taking away six units won’t drop the cost $750,000, it’ll be less. The cost of the solar panels is also an unknown, as are the costs of doing these revisions to please the board. The development team was not at the meeting, which is unfortunate; we’ll have to wait and see how this moves forward.

2. Speaking of the Village Solars, according to the latest minutes from the Lansing Town Board, Lifestyle Properties is exploring taking down some of the old Village Circle Apartments, and replacing them with new buildings. These older, 8,000-12,000 SF structures date from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and have 8-10 units per building. Since the newer buildings are about 15,000-20,000 SF and tend to have 18-22 units, that could explain where the 423 units statistic came from last month – some of it comes from buildings on new sites, some are replacement buildings for existing structures.

3. The city Common Council held their monthly meeting, and signed off on the IURA sale of 402 South Cayuga to Habitat for Humanity with little debate, and while the TM-PUD for 323 Taughannock was a bit problematic due to some confusion with the minutes from the public hearing, the approval was carried unanimously. The project is now free to go before the Planning Board for State/City Envrionmental Quality Review, and the Design Review is considered complete.

Side note, the city’s four fire stations were renumbered. The old numbers hailed from the days before the stations consolidated in the 1960s and 1980s, and were confusing for many. Fire Station No. 9 (309 College Avenue in Collegetown) is now No. 2, insert joke here. Central Station (310 West Green Street) becomes Station 1- Central, Station 5 (965 Danby Road) becomes Station 3- South Hill, and Station 6 (1240 Trumansburg Road) becomes Station 4- West Hill.

4. Bucket list objective achieved – an interview with Jagat Sharma. Some will be in the Voice, maybe Friday afternoon of Monday morning; but rather than leave the excess on the proverbial cutting room floor, here were some portions left out of the piece for the sake of brevity, or because they’re too technical for the general audience:

Q: So, what’s your thought process when designing a building? Apart from necessities like zoning and client requirements, do you take cue from surrounding buildings, the environment…what are you thinking about as you sketch the first concepts of a new building?

JS: For infill projects, the sites are very narrow. My project at 409 Eddy, if I recall correctly, is a very narrow site. My clients had never hired an architect before, and it was a challenge to convince them. Most of them, they think how many rooms they can rent, so you give them a number, and you work it out, and you figure out the design from the surrounding context, how the buildings line up, how the window patterns line up, symmetry, scale. You lay out a plan for how the windows would fall, how would it match with the existing window lines on surrounding buildings. Frankly, back then (409 Eddy was built in the mid-1980s) there was not much context, many buildings were in poor condition, you had some brick buildings, but otherwise not much. You try to relate it to what you’ve done before, the streetscape, you try to change up things with color, bay windows, you play with that, organize everything in a symmetrical way. Later on, my later buildings in the past 10-12 years, I’ve begun to take more liberty, play with them [the designs] more, 3-D effects, projections, penthouses, balconies, corner windows and more glass. And at the street level, they’re more urban, they have colonnades, like 309 Eddy, it looks very nice. But all of them…if you’re the only actor on the stage, you’re playing your own thing. If you look at Collegetown, Eddy Street and up, 309, 303, 301, some are angled, they’re different materials – if you’re in the middle of those, you feel like you’re in a hill town, it’s a good feeling.

Q: And how would you describe your experience with working with the city and its various interests?

JS: You earn respect from them by being honest and sincere. I deliver what I say I do, we don’t change things at the last minute. The city is happy with that. I have a good relationship with the Planning Board, what they are looking for, they want good materials, detailing. The building department wants to make sure you meet the codes; we sit down and meet if we have different interpretations on how the code reads – but you have to work on it from day one. It takes time, building inspectors, commissioners come and go and you have to earn their respect each time by doing the right thing, don’t hide anything.

5. According to Matt Butler over at the Times, Lakeview Ithaca might be a little larger than initially anticipated. In a report on homelessness, he mentions a meeting attended by Lakeview’s CEO, who said the new building would have 56 affordable units (vs. the 50 previously reported in the IURA application), with 28 reserved for those with mental disability. A time frame of fall 2018 – fall 2019 is given for construction, somewhat slower than the April 2018 start reported in the IURA application.

6. A couple of interesting things to note from the ILPC Agenda for next Tuesday, apart from the usual stairs, porches and windows. One, 123 Eddy got a revamp in accordance with the commission’s design guidance – gone is the porch, and more detail was strongly encouraged. I still prefer the previously-approved design, but this is an improvement from the Craigslist ad.

Meanwhile, downstate businessman Fei Qi is finally heading back to the board with a plan for the historically significant but structurally deficient 310 West State/MLK Street. Previously, he wanted to do 3,800 SF of office space in a renovation partially financed by state tax credits, but it wasn’t funded and the office market is a bit lackluster in Ithaca anyway. At the time, residential was ruled out due to fire safety issues.

However, this new plan is a residential project. It’s a proposed 12-bedroom “co-op” living arrangement (Co-op? SRO [Single Room Occupancy]? Neither one is a terrible idea, although SROs have negative connotations). JSC Architects of suburban NYC (Fresh Meadows) would remove a rear chimney, put in new shingles, add a wheelchair ramp and skylights, along with the to-the-studs internal renovation. It’s an interesting plan, though the ILPC might be iffy on some of the details. We’ll see how it goes over.

7. If you all could pardon me on this, the city document-dumped Friday morning, and I don’t have the time at the moment for a full write-up. But the projects memo is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here’s the brief summary:

A. McDonald’s would replace their existing 4,800 SF restaurant at 372 Elmira Road with a new 4,400 SF building.

B. Benderson Development wishes to renew approvals for a 14,744 SF addition to their shopping plaza at 744 South Meadow Street (this would be on the south end next to Hobby Lobby, where KMart’s garden center was years ago), and build a new 7,313 SF addition at the north end of the strip. Apparently, Ithaca’s a safe harbor in the ongoing “retail apocalypse”.

C. 323 Taughannock as noted above

D. DeWitt House is moving forward. With ILPC Design Approval (Certificate of Appropriateness) in hand, envrionmental review still needs to be conducted. Site plan review docs note it’s a $17 million project with a December 2017 – March 2019 construction timeframe.

E. Novarr/Proujansky’s 24-unit 238 Linden apartment project

F. 118 College Avenue, carried over from the previous month, and

G. Finger Lakes Re-Use, carried over from the previous month.

 

 





News Tidbits 4/1/17: High Energy Debates

1 04 2017

1. There might be yet another potential hang-up with the Lansing Meadows project. Previously, developer Eric Goetzmann presented planned to the Lansing village Board of Trustees to densify the initial 12-unit plan and add a small retail component, such as a coffee shop, diner or similar gathering venue. The idea was well received, and so Goetzmann approached the planning board with 20 senior housing units and a small commercial lot TBD, where it was A) news to them, and B) not-so-well received.

According to the Lansing Star, the objection is not to the housing; in fact, the planning board said they’d prefer another four housing units rather than commercial. But they’re not comfortable with the sudden change, and Goetzmann’s looking at the additional costs of revised plans because the Board of Trustees and the Planning Board were not on the same page. It is kind of a weird situation, although not unprecedented (it bears some similarity to the 201 College debate in Ithaca city last year, where the Planning Department and Planning Board were not on the same page). The boards are supposed to meet in early April to retify their differences so Goetzmann knows what he can move forward with, hopefully by this summer.

Looking at the screenshot above, Salem R. LaHood of suburban Syracuse is the architect; apart from being a design partner for some high-end outlet malls, I can’t find much else on his resume.

2. The solar arrays planned in Dryden are getting are less-than-welcome reception, per Cassandra Negley at the Ithaca Times. The argument is pretty similar to the one often used on affordable housing – “we know it’s needed and we like it in concept, but we don’t want it anywhere near us”. But then far from one person is close to another; and it results in lackluster solutions, like affordable housing so far out that it’s isolated from needed goods and services.

One of the biggest sources of opposition is from family and friends of those interred at the Willow Glen Cemetery, which is the landscaped area south of the panels in the image above. Although many of the opposed do not even live in New York, let alone Dryden, it’s argued that the project is “sneaky back-room industrial solar” and will “destroy the atmosphere” (coincidentally, the land across the road from Willow Glen is zoned for and being marketed to roadside commercial tenants). It’s fine to be concerned, but looking at this particular site, the anger is a little overblown – there is sufficient room for a green screen of hedges and trees between the panels and the cemetery, which could easily be included as a stipulation as part of the approvals. Sustainable Tompkins is attempting to push back against some of the criticism, but on the balance, the public comment on the Dryden solar arrays is negative.

Let me approach this with an overarching view. Dryden is strongly opposed to an increase in natural gas (much to Lansing’s chagrin). Wind energy has been vociferously opposed just over the valley in Enfield, and Newfield essentially outlawed wind turbines. Solar panels are also being fought in Ulysses and Newfield. In Ithaca, there have been onerous battles over allowing panels on rooftops in historic districts. The energy to power homes and businesses has to come from somewhere; the preference seems to be for a sustainable option, rather than oil or gas piped in from Pennsylvania or beyond. Every choice is going to have its pros and cons – gas is cheap but environmentally unsound; wind turbines are tall and highly visible; solar panels need space for their cells. Frankly, a lightly-populated area on untaxed land owned by Cornell, which would then pay a PILOT fee for the solar panels, seems like a reasonable option. Someone has to step up and lead by example. Why not the town that fought fracking and won?

Anyway, the town pushed their meeting on the project back by one week to digest the onslaught of criticism. The meeting will be held at the town hall on Thursday April 6th at 7 PM.

UPDATE: The April 6th meeting has been cancelled and cannot be rescheduled until additional paperwork about the project has been received.

3. On the topic of energy, it looks like Cornell wants to move ahead with a trial run of its experimental geothermal project. Per the Times, the initial test phases of the “Earth Source Heating” project could take up to six years and $12-$15 million, which is a lot of money given that no one is certain if it will ultimately be a viable source of renewable energy. Some concern is being expressed that the project is too similar to fracking, but unlike the fracking process, where water is used to shatter shale beneath the surface to extract natural gas, the water used here is much lower pressure and kept in a closed loop, in comparison to fracking’s constant expansion of extraction sites. For the time being, the naysayers are assuaged, so now comes years of designing the project and permitting; an extensive Envrionmental Impact Statement (EIS) seems almost certain. ESH would be groundbreaking in more ways than one, if successful.

4. It looks like the major hurdles to the Travis Hyde Properties Old Library redevelopment have been cleared. With the historic district Certificiate of Appropriateness granted from the city’s ILPC, it’s now a matter of going through site plan review – the developer is hoping for an expedited process that’s settled by May, which given the joint meetings between the Planning Board and ILPC, may be possible. The design review is already complete as is most of the documentation, so at this point, it’s just a matter of making sure there are adequate environmental mitigations in place. After that, it’s time for the county to draft up their docs for the $925,000 sale of the property, and hopefully THP can get the mixed-use project underway later this year. The 73,600 SF project will host 58 market-rate units for the 55+ crowd, community space administered by senior services nonprofit Lifelong, and 1,250 SF of street-front commercial.

5. The Tompkins County IDA held its public hearing for the City Centre tax abatements. As expected, the reactions were mixed. A couple of developers not associated with the project (Frost Travis and Todd Fox) came out and spoke in support, which is really great. For one, these guys are invested in the city and knowledgeable about the market, so they should have an idea on whether City Centre would be a welcome economic addition or detraction. For two, it’s nice to see members of the same real estate community standing up for each other. There are cases now and in the not-so-distant past where developers went out of their way to fight other projects, with the parochial scope that as few units as possible would mean as high rents (revenue) as possible. I’m not necessarily saying every project is great and they need to stick up for it, but it’s heartening to see some are taking a broader scope and speaking on behalf of the ones they recognize as beneficial to the community.

The detractors seem less upset about the project itself than the abatements, and there is the fundamental misunderstanding that taxpayers are “paying” for this project. There is no paying; it just phases in the new property taxes on top of the existing value and taxes for the parcel, rather than one big lump increase from the moment of completion. For the sake of example, if they’re paying $100,000 in taxes now, and a given project will bring it up to $1,000,000 in taxes, an abatement means they’ll still pay $100,000 until the site’s developed, then $200,000 right after completion, then $300,000 the following year, and so on until $1,000,000 (plus inflation) is attained. I’ve tried to explain this in the Voice, the Times has tried to explain this, but it’s still a problem.

6. Two Collegetown projects were brought to light at last week’s planning board meeting. 232-236 Dryden, a Visum Development project, would replace a large surface parking lot and rundown 30-unit apartment building with a 191-bed, 2-building complex. 238 Linden, a Novarr-Mackesey infill project, replaces a 10-bed, non-historic apartment house with 24 studio units in a townhouse-format structure designed by his favorite firm, ikon.5 Architects of Princeton. The target market is Johnson students, particularly Executive MBAs who may want to be closer to the university. One of the neat features is that the rear will have a treated “chameleon-like” surface that will change color depending on viewing angle, not unlike the pearl metallics used on some custom cars.

The plan is to have both 232-236 Dryden and 238 Linden underway late this year. Both are likely to have August 2018 openings, although 232-236 Dryden might be a two-phase project, with the second structure coming online in August 2019.

Keen readers will note that the Times has the sole coverage of 238 Linden right now, and this was not in the Voice; Nick Reynolds was at the meeting, I was not, and while I’ve been trying to get renders, I have yet to come through with one. I’d rather play catch-up than sacrifice integrity. I’ll follow up in the Voice eventually, but in the meanwhile, the blog is fair game because I make no money from it.

7. The town of Ithaca planning board looks to have a fairly quiet agenda for next week. Renewing some temporary modular structures at Cornell, construction signage for Maplewood, and An 11-lot subdivision on South Hill, “Ithaca Estates III” featuring Lilium Lane, Monarda Way and Rock Cress Road.

Unfortunately, it’s the Monkemeyer property, where the town has been entertaining ideas of a new urban neighborhood since its new Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2014. Evan Monkemeyer chose to revive a plan from 2010 for two cul-de-sacs off of a new arterial road that would cut through the property; and given the long-term build-out schematic shown above, there would be more cul-de-sacs to come, for a fairly conventional 1990s era suburban layout. Even though he’s apparently mowed the future roads in place on satellite, this doesn’t match up with the town’s Form Ithaca-inspired visions at all. The issue isn’t the housing, it’s the layout. The town’s planning push has been moving away from cul-de-sacs and towards connected streets.

Monkemeyer’s gone down this road before. It didn’t work out very well. Reviving a seven year-old plan that doesn’t fit with the town’s more recent Comprehensive Plan is not, and shouldn’t be, something that is going to sail through the planning board. Token future park space isn’t going to change that. Of course, then he’ll just whine to Rep. Tom Reed again. To Monkemeyer’s credit, the town has been taken uncomfortably long with formulating their new zoning code, it looks like some of the multi-year delay was the town’s fault over who was responsible for a water easement – but given the 6+ years since the issue was raised, it doesn’t appear he was pushing the matter much.