News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





Rodeway Inn Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

The synopsis of the project can be found here.

This was one of the more interesting visits because I ran into the owner, Pratik Ahir of JAMNA Hospitality Inc., while taking photos. Granted, there’s often that uncomfortable initial tension of “who’s taking photos of my property and why”, but I’ve been in touch with him through email before, so once I introduced myself the mood was much friendlier.

From what Ahir told me, this project could serve as a textbook example of the perils of renovating older buildings. One of the big reasons for the change in project scope was that one wings’ exterior walls partially collapsed during the initial work. So trying to make lemonade from lemons, Ahir decided to revise the project from additions to existing wings, to constructing brand new motel wings. This change also doubled the project cost.

The motel should be fully open for occupancy around October 20th. The rooms appears to be no-frills but comfortable and tastefully appointed for travelers, and given Tompkins County’s premium on hotel room rates, a clean, economical option is welcome. The interior architecture is pleasant enough, while the exterior…I wouldn’t say it looks bad, but it is something of a hodge-podge of architectural features that aren’t ugly, but don’t quite mesh.

Ahir says he has plans to put his 70-room Sleep Inn project out for bid to a couple of preferred contractors, and hopes to start that project in the next few months. His partnership is with Choice Hotels (Rodeway is their economy motel unit), and he identified a market need for a new lower-middle segment hotel in the area, and Sleep Inn seemed like a good fit. Choice Hotels agreed, and the only Sleep Inn between Albany and Buffalo was green-lighted by the corporate parent.

We also touched on the presence of a couple other chain hotel specialist firms buying into or looking to buy into the Ithaca area. The temptation is there, and some, like Rudra Hotels/Rosewood Management, who did the Holiday Inn Express at 371 Elmira Road earlier this year, have established their footprint. Others are still figuring out their next step. On a related note, a number of smaller regional banks see Ithaca as a safer investment than other regional cities thanks to its economic stability, and this interest may result in a little more financing available for project developers over the next few years. Ahir says financing has been arranged for the Sleep Inn.





Cayuga View Senior Living Construction Update, 9/2017

2 10 2017

The official groundbreaking for the Cayuga View Senior Living project was back on August 9th. Since that time, the basement level of the Cayuga View Senior Living project has been built out work has begun on the ground level floorplate, and the construction of masonry stairwells and elevator cores. It looks like the big supplier for the CMUs is Zappala Block out of Rensselaer (“REN-suh-lur”).

The Taylor the Builders (general contractor) press release alternately states 50 units and 60 units in the mixed-use project, but the number I’ve long heard is 60, 48 2-bedroom and 12 1-bedroom. The 2,680 SF of first-floor retail is split evenly between the two wings of the building’s ground floor. One of the things that pops up fairly often in the marketing literature is the attempt to sell it to snowbird retirees who leave the area during the cooler and cloudier months for more pleasant climes, which the Thaler family co-developing Cayuga View has long done.

“We are proud to partner with Manley Thaler and Rochester’s Cornerstone Group, to bring this scenic mixed-use development to the Village of Lansing,” said Taylor president Karl Schuler at the groundbreaking. “This project addresses a specific niche and community need for market-rate senior housing, while doing so with an overall development that more than satisfies a lifestyle choice among the growing populous {sic} of mature adults in this market.” It’s going to be a busy time for Rochester-based Taylor, as work is also getting underway in Downtown Ithaca on the 12-story Harold’s Square project this month.

Noting the gaps above the window and door rough openings, my semi-educated guess would be that it’s set aside for later architectural finishes, maybe polished stone or similar. It’s a little hard to cross-check with renders because 1) only one render of the project has ever been formally released, and 2) that render does not really show the slope of the site of the walkout basement level. An earlier render from a couple years ago predates the current window layout, but lends credence to the possibility. The below-grade base of the concrete foundation (or will be, once backfilled) looks to be insulated with Dow rigid foam board insulation with a black waterproofing membrane over the top.

The project timeline calls for a Spring 2018 opening. A synopsis of the project can be found here.

 





Village Solars Construction Update, 9/2017

1 10 2017

It looks like the Village Solars are moving along, albeit at the slowest pace in years. Since 102 Village Place was torn down back in June, the site was cleared, the foundation and underground utilities reconfigured, and framing has begun on its replacement. The wood frame was up to the top floor by the time of this late September site visit, and erection of the roof trusses was due to take place in just a few days. The housewrap is already in place, and as the interior receives its frames, pipes, wiring and rough-ins, work will being on window and door fittings. Probably looking at an early spring finish here.

Note that it’s not uncommon to just housewrap over the rough openings, and cut out the holes later. The excess will be trimmed off and the edges will be fastened back to the inside wall, allowing for a tight and complete wrapping of the rough opening.

Interestingly, none of the other tear-downs or new building sites have started, meaning that only one building is currently under construction. That’s rather unusual for Lifestyle Properties, whose in-house construction crew typically works on 2 or 3 buildings at a time. There was a dirt pile near one of the future building sites, but it’s been that way for a while, so it’s likely being used as a staging area. The limited construction suggests that the Lucentes may be falling behind their anticipated construction timeline, which generally calls for two or three buildings a year in order to stay on track.





Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 9/2017

1 10 2017

It looks like the first units are coming onto the market. Conifer Realty has the application up for the first apartments, as do third-party websites like apartments.com. Oddly enough, the apartment.com listing says 16 3-bedroom, 16 2-bedroom and 16 1-bedroom units. This is incorrect. There are 8 3-bedroom, 16 2-bedroom, and 24 1-bedroom units. One can tell from sight alone because Conifer uses the same three building plans in all of its suburban apartment clusters. One design consists of eight 3-bedroom units, the second design is eight two-bedroom units, and the last design is eight one-bedroom units. For units on each floor, mirroring each other in layout. Keeps things simple and materials costs down.

Keeping with the blog-only nomenclature, buildings “A” and “B”, the two that are basically complete from the outside, are the one bedroom-units. “C”, “D” and “E”, which are receiving exterior lighting rigs, trim and architectural features like balconies and patios, are the 2-bedroom clusters. Building “F”, which is still at the housewrap stage and the building that is least furthest along, is the three-bedroom cluster. For proof, consider the building that was badly damaged in this summer’s fire – it was reported that 31 people were left homeless. That would most likely imply it was the three-bedroom design, which would have 24 bedrooms.

The general rule of thumb is one person for bedroom for basic planning purposes. Affordable housing family units, for whom these three-bedroom apartments are intended, may average more than that because of income guidelines, and that two adults or multiple children may share a bedroom. Likewise, on the other end of the scale, properties with empty nesters or more affluent owners/renters may have numbers average less than one person per bedroom due to guest bedrooms, or conversion of bedrooms to home offices or hobby rooms. Owner-occupied single family homes often fall in this category, where the typical home is three bedrooms, but the average owner-occupied household size is 2.5. There are a number of companies dedicated to studying the number of people likely to live in a unit based off its location, size and intended market, and applying those figures to calculations like the number of students expected to be added to a district, or the number of car trips generated.

Curbing has been laid, the parking lot is paved and striped, streetlamps are in place and the concrete sidewalk is being poured. The process to build sidewalks is pretty similar to the work for foundations – excavate the path, build the formwork to keep the concrete in place as it cures, lay down some steel rebar to provide additional strength to the concrete, pour, level and smooth, and run a finishing trowel to create an edge so that the concrete has an expansion joint to help expand and contract without cracking the sidewalk. The steel plugs are to keep the forms in place.

The building that was damaged by fire is under reconstruction. The east wing was destroyed by the flames and was torn down. The only thing being reused for those four units is the slab foundation. The four west wing units were salvageable, but they did need an extensive renovation. Damaged trim and siding sections will be replaced, and on the inside, drywall damaged by water has been removed and new sheets are being hung. It looks like some of the appliances were saved; peering through the windows, a refrigerator was sitting in the middle of the floor in an upstairs unit. Closer to the fire, it’s more of a gur renovation, with only portions of the exterior salvaged, while the inside is replaced from the stud walls out. Taking a guess for the typical construction length of units so far, the renovated and rebuilt units probably won’t be ready for tenants for another five to six months.

According to the advertisement on Conifer’s website, amenities and feature include

Dishwasher
Garbage disposal
Wall to wall carpeting
Patio or balcony available
Walk-in closets
Discounted cable package
Central air conditioning
Smart card laundry center
Fully equipped Fitness room
Computer lab
Clubhouse with great room
Controlled building access
Key fob hardware
Professional on-site management
24 hour maintenance
Ample parking
Beautifully landscaped grounds
Accessible for people with disabilities
Close to shopping, schools & medical facilities

1-bedroom units are 716 SF, 2-bedroom units are 950 SF, and 3-bedroom units are 1,150 SF. Lease are 12 months with a month’s rent as security deposit. Three units will be adapted for mobility-impaired residents, and a fourth unit will be adapted to individuals who are hearing or vision-impaired.

According to a filing with the state as part of the grant application, the gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $724 to $1,070 a month, to be occupied by households with incomes 50% to 60% of area median income.

2017 AMI in Tompkins County is $53,000 for a single person, and $60,500 for a two-person household, and $68,100 for a three-person household. Therefore, the income limits are $26,500-$31,800 for a single person, $30,250-$36,300 for a two-person household, and $34,050-$40,860 for a three-person household.

Conifer and contractor partner LeChase Construction will be delivering the $10.8 million project over the next few months, and that should wrap up Conifer’s Ithaca work for the time being. The programmatically similar Milton Meadows project in Lansing is being developed by a competitor, Cornerstone Group. The two firms’ Rochester headquarters are about six miles apart; their apartment projects are about twelve miles apart.





News Tidbits 9/23/17: It’s All In The Hips

23 09 2017

1. Points for being open and blunt, one supposes. The chairman of the town of Lansing Planning Board, typically one of the easiest boards to get approval from in the whole county, voted against the customary declaration of lead agency on the Lansing Trails affordable apartment complex planned for the town center. The reasoning was a fear that its lower-income occupants would create more crime. Rather surprising that it wasn’t veiled behind the usual guise of “concerns about neighborhood character”.

Other PB members did raise more appropriate concerns that the 581-a tax abatement to be pursued by the project may end up offsetting the property tax increase enough to cost the town, mostly through the enrollment of new students in the Lansing school district. A third-party study explained that there would likely be 43 students in the roughly 200-bedroom complex, of whom 14 would be relocations from other parts of town, and 29 who would be new to the district. Reflecting national demographic trends, local school enrollments have been in decline as Millennials are replaced with their less numerous Gen Z peers, so it’s not really a question of capacity since the schools were designed for larger class sizes, but a concern about the tax obligations and avoiding the burdening of other taxpayers. Town supervisor Ed LaVigne has spoken in favor of the project as workforce housing by a responsible developer and property manager.

The Star’s Dan Veaner takes the middle road in his editorial, noting the project fills a need, but worried about the tax impact. I’d argue that’s while it’s a fair question, it’s probably a bit premature. There have been discussions for the other parcels in the town center that just have yet to come forward. Tiny Timbers is potentially 60 units of mid-priced owner-occupied housing (at $200k per home, that would be $12 million without counting site-wide improvements like sidewalks and community greenspace), and there are possibilities for the other parcels that are being drafted up and fleshed out before being made public. We the public don’t know what those are – there could be market-rate senior housing, patio homes and mixed-uses like the projects submitted in 2014. If three or four are affordable housing, sure, be concerned. But the town knows all the proposals, and hopefully its committee selected its choices for each lot with sound logic in mind.

2. Speaking of Lansing Trails, according to the new planning board comments, its name has been changed to “Milton Meadows”. Milton was actually the original name for Lansing, indirectly – Milton was changed to Genoa in 1808, and Lansing was split off from Genoa in 1817, the same year Tompkins County was established. It’s worth noting that “Lansing Meadows” is already taken. This would be name number three, since they had previously changed Lansing Commons to Lansing Trails.

The updated documents note that the second phase and its 56 units aren’t likely to start construction for 3-5 years, depending on external factors such as the availability of affordable housing grants, and how well the local market absorbs phase one.

3. Staying on the topic of affordable housing and taxes, the town of Ithaca will be reviewing a PILOT proposal from NRP Group to offset some of the property taxes with the Ithaca Townhouses project approved for West Hill near the hospital. Readers may recall the Ithaca Townhouses are a 106-unit, two-phase project that will be rented to households making 50-130% of area median income, with an option for renters to purchase units after a 15-year period.NRP Group is asking for the PILOT to offset the higher initial cost of using electric heat pumps in place of conventional gas heating, the difference of which they estimate to be about $300,000 upfront.

The town utilizes a few PILOT agreements, either with some of its 55+ affordable housing (Ellis Hollow Apartments, Conifer Village), the College Circle Apartments that Ithaca College purchased a few years ago, and Ithaca Beer. The combination of a lower assessed value and a PILOT generally seems to take about 25-30% off the total property tax bill.

4. Here’s a little more info on the the proposed Brown Road Pocket Neighborhood in Danby. The above image appears to be the preferred cluster housing that the development team (led by Newfield businessman Mike McLaughlin), but conventional zoning only allows for the layout shown here. Small-scale cluster zoning has found a market in the Ithaca area over the past few years with projects like New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood and the long-planned Amabel project, and Danby’s take on the concept would benefit from lower land costs, which would help keep the overall costs down and make the for-sale homes available to a wider swath of the county’s potential homeowners. The homes, which are modest 1,000 SF one and two-story plans that share a communal parking lot, are designed for residents who wish to age in place.

5. Some revisions have been made to the design of Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit townhouse project at 802 Dryden. To create a little more visual interest, the townhouse strings have been diversified a bit – the rooflines were modified on two of the six strings to create a hipped roof, while the other four remain gable roofs. The fenestration was also updated, and sections of the building faces were bumped-out modestly, distinguishing individual units within the strings. The overall effect gives them a distinct appearance from their counterparts up the road at 902 Dryden, and allows the team at John Snyder Architects to give the recycled design their personal touch. Other documents, like the cover letter, utilities plan, and landscaping plan can be found here.

The public hearing is scheduled for next week, but to be honest, these haven’t generated much attention, let alone controversy. The biggest issue right now is water supply, which relies on the Bolton Point system shared by both Ithaca and parts of Dryden. 802 Dryden can get its water issue remedied by tapping a segment in the town of Ithaca’s jurisdiction, and Ithaca is interested in transfer control and maintenance of the control valve that allows that to Dryden. Given Charlie O’Connor’s South Hill debate currently underway, the relative shrug this project has received from the public might be a welcome relief.

6. Nothing new on the Ithaca City Planning Board agenda next week. That’s not to say there aren’t several projects in the works, they just aren’t ready to submit formal proposals at this time. Lakeview’s special needs and affordable housing is up for approval, as is Charlie O’Connor’s duplex at 217 Columbia (even if the South Hill overlay goes into effect, this project would be grandfathered in because it started review under existing zoning). It looks like Lakeview will use the same kind of vibratory pile-driving used at INHS’s 210 Hancock, subcontracted to Ferraro Pile and Shoring by general contractor Hayner Hoyt.

Speaking of INHS, they will be taking part in the public hearing for their 13-unit Elm Street reconstruction on West Hill, and public hearings are planned for the Nines replacement at 311 College, and Elizabaeth Classen’s ILPC-approved 16-bedroom senior mansion in Cornell Heights. The Nines inspired several letters of protest, and first ward aldermen George McGonigal chimed in his hopes that the affordable housing would be reduced for Lakeview and INHS (the planning board disagrees).

Here’s what the board has to look forward to on Tuesday:

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

  1. Agenda Review 6:00
  2. Special Order of Business- Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown and Downtown– Megan Wilson 6:01
  3. Privilege of the Floor 6:30
  4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:40

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will contain sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ-1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1) (k) and (n), and the State
Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Elm St Apartments 7:10

Location: 203-211 Elm St

Applicant:Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:
The proposed project consists of the demolition of a two single family homes and one duplex and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: Duplex 7:30

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to install a duplex with one 3- bedroom apartment on each floor. The
new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Apartments 7:50

Location: 311 College Ave (The Nines)

Applicant: Jagat P Sharma for Todd Fox

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a six story, 80’ high building plus basement. The first floor will have an approximately 825 SF commercial space and five studio apartments, upper floors will have a combination of 21 studio and 24 loft apartments for a total of 45 dwelling units. The applicant’s intended market is students. Project development will require the removal/ demolition of the existing structure and all associated site features. The existing building incorporates the original Number Nine Fire Station and was identified as a structure worthy of further research in a 2009 study titled Collegetown Historic Resources Worthy or Detailed Research; Icons of Collegetown, Individual Buildings, Architectural Ensembles and Landscape Features. The project is in the MU-2 Collegetown Area Form District (CAFD) and requires Design Review. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca
Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Bridges Cornell Heights Residence (Senior Housing) 8:10

Location: 105 Dearborn Place

Applicant: Elizabeth Classen Ambrose

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a two story single family residence with 12 bedrooms
to house up to 16 people on the .446 acre lot. The building will have a footprint of approximately 4,150 SF, including porches. Site improvements include a porte couchere, a driveway and parking area for nine cars, three patios, walkways and landscaping plantings. The site is currently vacant. Site development will require the removal of approximately 25 trees of various sizes. The applicant is proposing to use the Landscape Compliance method, which requires Planning Board approval for placement of the parking area. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District and the Cornell Heights Local Historic District and has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC). This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)(4) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

4. Zoning Appeals 8:30

5. Old/New Business 8:40
A. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 411-415
College Avenue- The Chacona Block
B. Upcoming Planning Board Recommendation to Approve Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown &
Downtown – discussion





News Tidbits 9/16/17: The Big Surprise

16 09 2017

1. Ostensibly, the biggest newsmaker of the past week was the announcement of the Green Street redevelopment in Ithaca’s downtown core. To be frank, I was freaking out at my desk. Even more astounding was that the city slipped it out so casually, embedding it in a monthly PEDC meeting file that typically focuses on more mundane legal and planning concerns.

All photos that follow are from Jolene – pardon the marginal quality, we were both in note-taking mode, and these presentation papers weren’t given out to the public. North is towards the top of the floor plan images.

While the documents have yet to be uploaded to the city’s website, some basic details were released during the meeting – the number of parking spaces for the whole complex is 525. There would be two towers with residential units, a U-shaped west tower and a boxy east tower with projecting corners. 15 floors apiece. 350 units, “designed to appeal to a broad demographic”. Abatement likely, with the details to be ironed out as the percentage of affordable units is determined. The middle portion will also have residential units on top of the existing garage. 30,000 SF of conference space is planned under the eastern tower, if my notes are right.

The first floor appears to have at least two retail spaces, a lobby area, and an office, probably for management of the complex. The middle section will retain access to Cinemapolis and the garage. On levels two and three would be rebuilt garage sections (note the center section was rebuilt ten years ago and unlike the ends, is in good shape). Another floor of parking will be added.

Cooper Carry is the architect, and the initial design looks fairly safe, attractive if not particularly inspired. After the Marriott, it’s good to be wary of potential value engineering. It appears to use brick veneer, Nichiha-like metal panels and maybe fiber cement. Also, with Harold’s Square and City Centre off to the left, this would arguably create a broad-shouldered if stubby skyline for downtown Ithaca, more impressive than many communities Ithaca’s size.

My notes are that Marriott co-developer Jeff Rimland had non-public information about the Green Street garage because he owns the ground facilities under the garage’s eastern deck, and would be impacted by renovations. He was made aware of city looking at their options and put something together. The city only learned about the plan four weeks ago, and mayor Myrick wanted to make sure it was brought forward for public discussion and to determine if it was a wise choice to move froward. Ostensibly, if this came out as a surprise, a hornet’s nest of opposition would be stinging. Being transparent now helps later.

It seems the intent is an RFP for the garage for the sake of fairness, but I dunno how effective that will be. Rimland has a big advantage as owner of a portion of the parcel, since any other developer would need to arrange legal agreements with him in order to carry out a project. It was suggested by Brock, who has never been a fan of development, and I cynically wonder if this was an attempt to ensnare or at least stall the proposal. An RFP does put the city in a more legally comfortable position, perhaps. On the flip side, I cringe at the thought of another Old Library-like mess.

On a final note, there’s also a name, seen in the lower right of the rendering – “Village on the Green”. Very punny guys.


2. The other big news item of the week was 311 College Avenue, more commonly referred to as “The Nines replacement”. The Nines is a much-loved restaurant and bar that has long been a part of Collegetown’s drinking and musical scene – in the late 2000s, if I had to describe Collegetown bars, where Johnny O’s was the “fratty frat” bar and Chapter House the erudite tweed-clothed crowd, The Nines was the laidback, indie band geek-turned-rocker. Add in its location in a ca. 1908 fire station, and one of the few sizable outdoor patios in Collegetown, and one can understand that a project on this site was never going to be warmly received.

Granted, I’ve been raked over the coals a couple of times for the article, whose first headline said The Nines was being kicked out. It was an honest copy-editing mistake. For breaking news I publish ASAP, like with the Green Street development. However, that’s discouraged because the business pieces are useful for filling slow periods during the day, or to give time for others to prep articles during the early morning. Many of my articles are written in the late evening, submitted to the schedule, and skimmed through before hitting the website. In this case, I submitted Sunday night, my editor Jolene read through it early Monday morning, she thought the opening lines implied an eviction and changed the title (the original was a generic “Apartments Proposed for The Nines”). Sometimes title get changed for clarity or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but this particular time it created a false statement. I didn’t see it until I was at work on Monday, and uncomfortable conversations ensued. Sorry all. The next article won’t wax poetic.

Anyway, with that error noted, it makes this next opinion segment more uncomfortable. I’m not a developer. But if I were one, and heard the property was being put up for sale, I’d probably have steered clear. With all due respect to Todd Fox, my gut feeling is that the cons outweigh the pros.

Ithaca is not an easy city to do a project in. A developer has to pick and choose their battles. In this case, the battle is taking a building with some degree of historic value, but more importantly a lot of local sentiment attached, and proposing to replace it with, frankly, a mediocre design with high-end student units. I understand the economics of the site, the market, and the unfortunate though economically necessary impacts building flush to lot lines has on the ability to install windows on the sides. My concern is external impacts, by creating an emblem for opposition to organize around, because it wraps several perceptibly negative impacts into one proposal. That may make future projects that much more difficult. I worry that whenever a controversial plan is brought forth in years ahead, it will be pejoratively described by NIMBY types as “just like that Nines replacement”.

It has taken years for Ithacans to become slowly more amenable to density and development. Proposals that inadequately address community concerns threaten that progress. Consider the case of Jason Fane. He toyed with the city plenty of times. Eventually it caught up to him and he got burned. The sad part is, 130 East Clinton was a solid project, and to this day I believe that had it been another developer, those apartments would have been built.

Anyway, the ILPC would like to preserve it as-is, which draws the question why the discussion never moved forward 18 months ago when they had the chance. I don’t think that’s likely at this stage, and an overbuild probably wouldn’t work due to development costs (foundation shoring, elevator if 4+ floors) with respect to developable area – the big front yard setback is an impediment to that. I heard that an offer was floated to Neil Golder to move his house at one point during the 201 debate, so maybe moving all or at least the front (1908 wing) of the old station No. 9 is possible, but the expense would be great. As for the new building’s design, maybe modest fixed windows in the north/south brick faces, or glass block features like on Sharma’s 307 design, or even something as minor as a mural on the CMU blocks would help.

But, all that might be grasping at straws. This was always going to be controversial. I won’t fault someone for seeing an opportunity, even if it’s not a plan I’d advocate. It all depends on one’s appetite for development opportunities, and sensitivity to potential blowback.

3. For sale: 405 Elmira Road. 0.74 acres of parking lot next to Buttermilk Falls Plaza. List price: $465,000, courtesy of Pyrmaid Brokerage. Also noting – the chain hotelier who bought the former Tim Horton’s next door from the same seller for $640k in January 2016. Timmy Ho’s 0.75 acres is a little small for a hotel on its own, but combined with this lot, suddenly plans start to look quite viable for a mid-sized chain in the city’s suburban-friendly SW-2 zoning. Someone else may come along and buy it, but let’s see what happens.

4. It appears the 24-unit Pineridge Cottages project is off the table. The project, planned for the corner of Mineah and Dryden Roads in Dryden town, was greatly scaled back by developer Ryzward Wawak after water tests led to concerns about having enough to supply all the units. At this time, the plan is for four cottages, each a two-bedroom unit.

5. The Times’ Matt Butler has a nice summary and brief interview with Lakeview Health CEO Harry Merriman regarding the 60-unit affordable housing plan for 709-713 West Court Street. Some of the obstacles the project faced wouldn’t be a surprise to readers of this blog – the soils require a more expensive deep (pile) foundation, and land acquisition costs are climbing, which increases the overall costs involved with bringing a proposal into reality, let alone a plan that focuses on affordable housing. The increase in units from 50 to 60 was driven by the need to balance out revenue with expenditures and make the affordable housing economically feasible. Incremental cost increases per unit are significantly less than overall structural costs, so the per-unit expense for 60 units is less than 50, making the project more appealing in competitive grant processes.

Of the 22 units to be set aside for formerly homeless individuals, six will be reserved for HIV-positive clients of STAP, the Southern Tier Aids Programs. Those infected with HIV tends to experience much higher homelessness rates than the general population, with at least 81 homeless HIV-positive individuals in Tompkins County alone. This makes it hard to do things like refrigerate medication. These six units are a small number perhaps, but for those six folks it will make a huge difference.

6. Another feather in the cap of the local STEM sector of the economy. Biotech startup Jan Biotech Inc., based out of the Cornell Business Park by the airport, has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that will be used in the research and production of an HIV diagnostic for detection and quantification of latent HIV-infected reservoirs in patients –  cells that have the virus but aren’t actively producing HIV, which current anti-retroviral therapies struggle with. Potentially, the diagnostic could help test new medicines for their ability to target those cells, and lead to a true cure for the virus before AIDS can occur.

Along with new equipment and renovated facilities, the grant is expect to result in the hiring of another 5 to 10 scientists and engineers for the four-person firm. Which is great, but truly, it’s their work to try and improve our treatment and medicine of a deadly virus that’s more important. The very best of luck to them.

7.  A bit of news from the Cornell Daily Sun regarding the additional 2,000 beds Cornell would like to build on its North Campus, as part of its freshman expansion and “Sophmore Village” plan. The university would like to begin construction on the first dorms in 2018, and start increasing student enrollment by 2020. For that to happen, the plans pretty much need to come forward for formal planning board review within the next few months. Presumably, they’d like to have the dorms ready by August 2019 – these will be used as flex space initially, so that existing dorms like Balch and Clara Dickson can start renovation. At a bare minimum, it takes three months to go through the city planning board. Given this project’s proximity to Cayuga Heights, the local patricians will want to have their say as well, even if it is just outside village lines. With the size of the project and a minor amount of inter-municipal complexity, four months from sketch plan to approval seems realistic. Considering the need to request and award contract bids, it would seem plausible that Cornell puts the dorms forward this fall for review, with approval expected by late winter. Bids would be requested and awarded during the Spring, and construction would start by June. Whatever the case, the first construction plans are likely not far off.