News Tidbits 4/12/19

13 04 2019

1. Here’s a story of a clever use of space – Therm Inc. has recently expanded its facility on South Hill, and stopped leasing space from the nearby South Hill Business Campus as a result. That left an 18,870 square-foot hole to fill in Suite 30.

The site’s business manager, Linda Luciano, had had artists inquiring for a space, but never something that small enough to fit their needs. This vacancy was a chance to try something new, to build little studio spaces within the larger open floor plan of the warehouse space. It’s worked out well. Extremely well, as Ithaca Times editor Matt Butler reported this week as the Times feature article. Segment below:

” ‘A few studios’ turned out to be a severe underestimation of how many Ithaca artists desperately wanted their own studio space. With a calculated proposal for six studios in hand, she went to the building’s owners to lay out her vision, and they were receptive. Luciano then set about contacting artists who had previously reached out to her about renting space, meanwhile losing sleep over fears that she wouldn’t be able to find tenants for the studios and would have to start over with a new plan.

“I started calling people on my list, and we planned an open house,” Luciano said. “Before we could have the open house, they were all rented. That’s when I said ‘Oh my god.’”

It hasn’t slowed down since that initial wave, either. Seeing the success of the first push in October, Luciano and building owner Andy Sciarabba came up with a plan to add four more studios to the original six, deeming it Phase Two. Those four sold immediately in December, before they were even built. The same went for more units that were proposed in January. After the final phase, which is currently underway, Luciano plans for 27 more studios constructed in the former Therm space, with a much-requested gallery space included. Those are scheduled to be finished and opened in August; half of them are already leased…”

To put this in perspective, there are eighteen now plus a small kitchen and lounge space, and the addition will provide 27 more studios and a gallery space. The new build has so far taken over about a third of Therm’s old space, so the addition will likely the fill the rest of it out. The studios are a few hundred square feet each and rent for $275-$450/month depending on size (the price includes water/AC/electric/heat, with free parking), and leases are 12-month. I had not heard of anything trying this on a large scale, but it appears to be working out very well for the South Hill Business Campus, which hopes to spruce up the exterior to draw a little more attention to “Artist Alley”. It gives artists their own spaces outside of home, it offers collaboration between studios, and this seems to have tapped into a critically underserved market.

For those who want to call dibs on the last studios before they come onto the market next summer, the contact webpage is here. If you want to check them out in person, the address is 950 Danby Road.

2. Touching real quick on a pair of Dryden projects in the early stages. The “Mill Creek subdivision” is quite frankly a monstrosity in size. This is a 908-acre property on Caswell Road just west of the village of Freeville, and the plan would be to subdivide it into 39 home lots. No further subdivisions would be allowed, only single-family homes would be permitted, and it’s not clear if the developer is pursuing conservation zoning – per planning board minutes, it seems that the lots will be plated and the road laid out, and then sold parcel-to-parcel to custom builders.

If the owner did want to build, they have the expertise to do so – a deed check shows this property is owned by the Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties and have built out thousands of housing units in Tompkins County since the 1950s. The unimproved land is valued at $1,132,600, about $1,250/acre, and has been in their possession since 1954, so this doesn’t appear to be a rash decision.

Doing the math and removing a small amount for internal loop road still gives over 20 acres per lot, these properties would be very large and potentially expensive, because with improvements, that much acreage will be worth more and it will add up quickly. Maybe it’s a bit out of character for this blog, but this proposal actually seems rather worrying from an environmental and infrastructure perspective. Density in urban areas tends to draw the most attention, but these lots could potentially have much bigger impacts because of the amount of natural space that would be consumed by a sprawling high-end housing development.

As for the medical facility at 2141 Dryden Road, it sounds like it will be a two-story facility, and while they suggested parking in the front, the board requested to move it to the back (a couple handicap spaces in front are okay). There was some concern with its choice of locations (the board would much prefer the office be located in the village or a more built-up area) and curb-cuts/traffic impacts.

3. For the creative types: the Collegetown Small Business Alliance is sponsoring a contest to design streetlight banners for the neighborhood, like the ones on the Commons. The plan is to make up fifteen of them and have them hanging for two years. Here are the design criteria:

Designs that are timeless will be favored. Avoid using trendy colors, fonts that may fall out of taste.

– Collegetown is at the intersection of the Cornell campus, student life, and the Ithaca community, and as such, designs should be inclusive of all of the following groups: Cornell students, Collegetown businesses, and the City of Ithaca.

Consider these banners as creating a brand and identity of Collegetown as a whole.

Submissions must be a 24″ x 60″ image, 300dpi, with a legible “Collegetown” on the image. May include photographs, graphic designs, or scanned images. No inappropriate content. Submission are due by 11:59 PM on Tuesday April 16th, and are to be submitted here. First places get $125 and their design on the flags, second place $75, and third place $50.

4. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there are some unusual LLC formation notices in the Journal classifieds. 628 West Seneca Street LLC, 625-27 West Buffalo Street LLC, 629-631 West Buffalo LLC, and 205 North Fulton LLC have all been created in the past couple of weeks. They are a parking lot, an apartment house, a one-story commercial building (Emmy’s Organicsm which they will vacate for larger digs in then ear future), and another one-story commercial building (Superior Glass) respectively. They are all owned by the same guy (Robert Bond).

The LLCs are all registered to the address of Alternatives Federal Credit Union across the street at 125 North Fulton, which is a little worrying because AFCU bought 634 West Seneca a few years ago and tore it down for a parking lot. It would be very unfortunate if they decided to take down more buildings for surface parking, given that this is an area the city’s trying to build up. It’s also not clear what might happen to the Rhine House in such a situation. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on.





News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, if I make $50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.

 





News Tidbits 3/31/19

31 03 2019

1. A couple items of note from the latest Dryden Planning Board agenda – one is a new housing subdivision called Mill Creek, but the number of lots and location is not disclosed. The other appears to be plans for a new medical office building at 2141 Dryden Road, which is currently a vacant lot near near Willow Glen Cemetery. Google Maps seems to struggle with locating the 3.3 acre lot, so the screenshot is from the county’s map. The parcel is zoned “Mixed Use Commercial” and appears to be outside the sewer service areas. This still allows for a pretty substantial building – 40 foot setback from the front, 25 feet from the rear, 7.5 feet on either side, maximum 60% lot coverage and up to 35 feet in height, which for a medical office is typically two floors (13-14′ feet per floor). Put it this way, a building built to maximum dimensions would have a gross square footage of about 86,000 SF per floor, though whatever is planned here is likely to be much less than that. Anyway, it’s something to keep an eye on as plans develop.

2. A sign of the times. The property value of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall plunged this year, from $31 million to $19.35 million, a 38% drop. This is the result of high vacancy rates and a deteriorating long-term outlook. Downtown boosters will note with some schadenfreude that’s quite a different picture than the state of business affairs a generation ago, when downtown was in the doldrums and the mall (always in my mind the Pyramid Mall) was the center of activity.

This poses a substantial problem for the village of Lansing, but luckily, other development around the village was more than enough to offset the loss of valuation in the mall. Overall property value in the village inched up from $476.3 million to $479.5 million. Borg-Warner’s property value jumped a million dollars, and projects such as the East Pointe Apartments and Cayuga View Senior Living have also contributed to the growing property tax base.

There’s been a persistent rumor that Maguire or Guthrie are buying the mall. The short answer is some outreach was done, and no, they’re not. It’s not even possible for them to do that because Namdar’s mode of operation is to sell off the mall in sections. The long answer, with quotes, will be an article in the Voice next week.

3. When the state wants something, it can move very fast – the request for contractor bids is already out for the new proposed NYS DOT facility off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing. The bids on the $13.8 million project close April 24th. Here are the specs in brief:

“This project includes new building construction of the NYSDOT Tompkins County Sub‐Residency Building as well as site development and construction that includes asphalt concrete pavement, drainage, water & sanitary sewer work. The new NYSDOT facility will consist of office space, workshop space, truck parking and salt storage. The approximate square footage of the various structures are as follows: subresidency
maintenance building (30,000 SF), cold storage (5,000 SF), salt barn (8,200 SF), hopper building/covered lean-to (2,500 SF).

The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms.

The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features including a fueling station, parking for 40 vehicles, and storm water management facilities. The project will require construction of an access drive from Warren Road and the extension of utilities.”

I have not seen an updated site plan for the project. The image in last week’s Tompkins Weekly is from the SEQR Review, which is outdated. In February, a $1.5 million grant was awarded to build a refueling station closer to the airport, which has resulted in significant site plan changes to the DOT site (I’m not able to find the document offhand, but the written description stated a rotation of the main building and movement of other structures away from the residential properties to the north).

4. Word, or rather warning, to the wise. Local businessman Andrew LaVigne defrauded investors in his “Cascadilla Landing” project, to the tune of $4.6 million. Now he’ll be going to jail for 20 years, which at 66 years old, is most likely the rest of his life. So comes to an ingnomoius end to one of Ithaca’s first major projects of the decade. The 183-unit mixed-use project was proposed in the summer of 2012,  received preliminary approval that September, and did not move any further than that. Plans by local architect John Snyder included a small amount of neighborhood retail space, and covered ground-floor and outdoor surface parking. The land, owned by the Cleveland family, was sold in November 2017 and is now the site of the City Harbor development. There hasn’t been much news about City Harbor recently, but the rumor mill says that a new architect is revising the project design and site plan.

5. I accidentally dropped the ball on the Fall Creek County Office Building study. During the March PEDC meeting in which the concept was being presented, I tuned in online and had taken screenshots for my own reference, and my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi wasin the meeting doing the official writeup. However, I never checked to see what she was covering and had assumed a big roundup. Her focus, though, was on the Lime Scooters, and it was an excellent piece, but the county office building didn’t make the news.

Anyway, the county presented about eight separate plans, seven of which had the same interpretation for the office building – a 10,500 SF that would be built to include the historic structure at 408 North Tioga in its footprint. Most of the plans differed in the amount of housing and parking, from one single family homes to three single family homes to two duplexes (two two-family units, total of four) to five townhouses. This also impacts the total amount of parking ,which ranged from 27 to 48 spaces depending on the housing footprint and whether tandem parking was used. The last plan was a proposal with no housing on-site, and selling off 408 North Tioga for an office building with an 8,400 SF footprint. All plans assumed a three-story office building plus basement, and housing designs compatible with Sears Street (1.5-2.5 floors). The mix of county occupants is still being determined, and any housing plan would likely involve an affordable housing developer like Conifer or INHS.

The county legislature is expected to get an update on the plans at their meeting on the 2nd, and make a decision on whether or not to buy the Fall Creek property at their April 16th meeting.





News Tidbits 3/30/19

31 03 2019

original renders

revised renders

1. Let’s start off with an update from the city of Ithaca Planning Board. As reported by the Times’ Edwin Viera, The board was not happy about the proposed changes to the GreenStar project, which were summarized in a previous blog post here. The revised site layout and materials were approved, but the board was unhappy about the loss of windows on the northeast faced and asked for an alternative if windows were no longer feasible, either graphic art or a GreenStar insignia to provide visual interest. The project will be back before the board next month.

Apparently, it was the month to express discontent, as issues were also raised with the City Centre signage and design components of the Vecino Arthaus project, which did away with the grime graphics and went with a marginally better blocky red facade, but I will henceforth call “architectural chicken pox”. Some concerns were also raised with ADA compliance, and the board asked for windows in the stairwells to encourage their use. The environmental review was okayed, and the project will be heading for preliminary approval next month.

The planning board granted preliminary approval to Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion, but the project also needs approvals from the town of Ithaca (to be discussed next Tuesday) and the village of Cayuga Heights. The goal is to start construction on the 2,000+ bed project by this summer. The Chainworks District’s final generic environmental impact statement (FGEIS) was also accepted on a unanimous vote – it’s not approval of the 1.71 million SF mixed-use project, but it’s a big step in that direction. The summarized 127-page report is here, and the city report establishing its findings and review of proposed mitigations is here.

This didn’t come up much before, and that’s probably a good thing because it was rather drab, but 402 South Cayuga Street was revised with a larger window on the three bedroom unit (at far left) and some more vibrant colors. However, to stay within budget (something that defeated INHS once before and Habitat for Humanity as well), the project asked to stick with vinyl, to which the board okayed. Expect this 4-unit for-sale low-to-moderate income townhouse project to begin construction later this year, with completion before the year is out.

2. It was a bit surprising to see how far ahead Cardamone Homes has their Woodland Park project planned out. Quick refresher, this is a 65ish unit residential development off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing; the original plan from the early part of the decade was for about 80 units, but it was reduced after initial approvals. The “-ish” part comes from the 25 single-family home lots, since at least one buyer chose to merge with its neighbor. The other part of the development consists of 40 townhomes, and as ecerything Cardamone does, these are high-end “McMansion” style products. A 2,800-4,000 SF Frank Betz-styled home typically goes in the $550k-750k range with a few customized models even higher than that. The 2,500 SF townhouses are priced in the low to mid 400s. This is arguably the only gated community in Tompkins County.

The project began construction around 2014, and it looks like they’re expecting construction to continue through 2026. It looks like 2019 will see four new townhomes (including the two above, 6 and 8 Woodland Way in a photo from last month), and two or three single-family homes along Oakwood Drive. IT’s a bit of a guessing game on the homes because they use “to be developed” (most), “to be built” (2) and “to be constructed” (1). The site also shows three for sale, but it’s dated, as one of those was sold in January. McMansions may not be fashionable as they were fifteen years ago, Woodland Park still sells at a steady enough clip to keep the project moving along. The long story short for Woodland Park is that construction will be continuing at its slow but steady pace for quite some time yet.

3. Just a little something here from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board – the town of Ithaca is looking to build a modest expansion to its Public Works facility. The Public Works department at 106 Seven Mile Drive handles snow removal, paving, yard waste collection, vegetation control, storm water management, and parks/trails/water/sanitary sewer/road maintenance services. The department has been growing in recent years and needs additional space. A feasibility study was commissioned last June, and a plan is now moving forward.

Overall, it’s not a large addition to the 19,400 SF building; 1,425 SF of office space, six parking spaces and minor landscaping and grading. The project is a small institutional addition, and per state guidelines, it will likely not be going through an in-depth environmental review. The addition is a bit unusual in that it’s essentially a bumpout of the existing space, one that creates a completely new face for the public entrance and offices. Expect an unassuming one-story addition with aluminum windows and metal exterior panels. The addition will be designed by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates). It’s the same group of firms that did the study last year.

4. Quick note to point out that 327 West Seneca Street is nor long for this world, if the plastic and plywood are any indication. They’re indicative of asbestos removal prior to demolition – seal a build up, take the asbestos out, take the building down. Visum Development Group is planning a 12-unit “workforce housing” moderate-income apartment building on the site.

Speaking of Visum, Ithaca’s prolific developer has been scouting new markets for a while, and landed in Boise, Idaho for their next project, “The Vanguard”, an eight-story, 75-unit apartment building in Boise’s downtown. According to local reports, most development projects finish municipal review in two months, something that is flat out impossible for a project of substantial size in Tompkins County. Interestingly, it comes with no parking, and instead hosts bike racks for 75 bikes. Don’t take this to mean that Visum’s no longer interested in Ithaca, however; there have at several projects in the works, including condominiums in Ithaca town, 201-207 North Aurora, 815 South Aurora, 413-15 West Seneca and the State/Corn Street trio.

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5. Dunno if Instagram embeds are going to work here, but click STREAM Collaborative’s post just above if it doesn’t show up. The modular pieces for 323 Taughannock have begun arriving on site and are being assembled. The units were built by Benson Wood Products and are being put together but a local firm, D Squared (the Dakes) of Lansing.





119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 3/2019

21 03 2019

No recent online presence for John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s 119-125 College Avenue project, the College Townhouses (which, as covered in the summary page, were townhouse-like until the fire code was changed). The south building is fully framed, a steel frame with gympsum sheathing, a more expensive design but also fireproof. The north building is framed up to the first-floor (the basement is partially above-grade), but the elevator core is topped out, and Welliver’s construction team planted left their mark with an American flag perched at the top. If it’s like it’s neighboring a couple blocks away, the sheathing will get a roll-on waterproof barrier, and perhaps metal rails and clips for installation of fiber cement and zinc panels.

The project, intended for visiting Cornell faculty and staff (so far, there are no online apartment postings to support of refute that plan) will bring 67 units/90 bedrooms to the market, and still looks to be on track for an August 2019 opening.

Quick aside – is everyone clear that it’s Novarr and Proujansky who are planning that Collegetown megaproject? There are so many rumors flying around that even the beat cops are asking my editor at the Voice about it. The project has been delayed twice, but is supposed to make an appearance before the city Planning Committee next month.

There have been some very scary rumors about this project, and one of the big problems right now is that these rumors aren’t being refuted because everything is “a secret”, no one really knows what the truth is. Only JoAnn Cornish, the city Planning Director, has been willing to put anything on the record, and even then it was just a brief description. Since January, this project has managed to be the worst-kept development secret in Tompkins County, which arguably Novarr and Proujansky could try to blame on the mayor for his State of the City address, but really if they had wanted him to not say something, they would have said something to him or said something themselves. I give Newman Development and Scott Whitham a lot of credit for “taking the bull by the horns” and issuing a press release about City Centre before rumors could circulate. I think this project would have benefited from a similar approach.

It’d be one thing if it was a relatively modest proposal. If we were talking about 119-125 College Avenue, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But with this megaproject being described as a $600 million endeavor, there are multiple real estate and related business decisions around the city and county that are in a holdover pattern because everyone’s heard about “John and Phil’s plans” but no one knows what’s going on, not to mention community groups fearing the worst. We’ll see if the big reveal gets delayed again, but for a lot of reasons, I really hope not.





News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.