Cornell North Campus Residential Expansion Construction Update, 10/2019

31 10 2019

I’ve been intended to do a formal introduction piece for Cornell’s enormous North Campus Residential Expansion, but the sheer breadth of it makes it an arduous task – I’ve estimated the full write-up will push about 10-12 pages, and it’s one of the reasons why the blog has gone quiet. For now, here are monthly photo updates from the site. For now, background reading and history can be found by reading the Voice archive here and here.

The sophomore village (Site 1) will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF, and a 1,200 seat, 66,300 SF dining facility.This is being built on what was the CC Parking Lot and the former Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity on Sisson Place, now Northcross Road. All buildings in the sophomore village are in the City of Ithaca. The bounds of the sophomore village extend into the village of Cayuga Heights, but only the landscaping.

The freshman village (Site 2) will have three new residential buildings (spanning the City and Town line), with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space. Site Plan Review Documents indicate about 223,400 SF is in the City, and 177,800 SF is in the Town. At both sites, the buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project has an estimated price tag of $175 million and will result in the disturbance of about 25.6 acres at the two sites. The 250-page Site Plan Review (SPR) application can be found here, with supplemental reports here.

As previously noted, Cornell has grown substantially while its housing options have not. The application provides further insight by saying that one of the goals isn’t just to have housing available to 100% of freshman and sophomores, it’s to mandate they live on campus – currently, there is no requirement to live on campus, though freshmen are strongly urged to do so. 800 beds will be sophomores, 1,200 beds for freshmen, and 75 beds for live-in faculty, RAs and support staff. The growth in campus housing from 8,400 beds to 10,400 will also allow Cornell to address long-deferred maintenance to older residential halls and increase its undergraduate enrollment by another 900 (the current undergraduate enrollment is 14,900).

Water will come to the new dorms via Fall Creek and the Cornell filtration plant, sewer sustems will connect to joint city/town/village facilities, and the loss of 396 parking spaces is mitigated in part by the observation that the CC’s Lot inconvenient location and expensive parking permits meant only about 110 spaces were regularly used, and a surplus of parking in other North Campus parking lots means users will be assigned spaces nearby, with enough spaces left over for the few hundred additional vehicles 2,000 on-campus students may bring.

The dorms will tie into Cornell’s centralized energy system, which is primarily fed by the Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP), which is powered primarily by natural gas and reuses waste heat, as well as an increasing set of renewable energy resources, like solar arrays and the lake source cooling program. Since the CHP system relies on natural gas as its primary energy source, it became a major source of contention during review. Cornell has stressed that more renewable sources are in the pipeline and the plan is to have all their energy be renewable by 2035, but that far-flung timeline has not been welcome news to many local environmental advocates.

The project falls in three municipalities and in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed 5 stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town, which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights, but only for landscaped areas. Technically, any one of six governmental bodies could have been lead agency – the city, the village, the town, the NYS Dormitory Authority, the Tompkins County Department of Health, or the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. However, for the sake of coordination, the others consented to allowing the city to be Lead Agency for the project with decision-making authority on the environmental review, while offering their concurring critiques and subordinate reviews.

The buildings are being designed by ikon.5 Architects, the general contractor is Welliver of Montour Falls, and TWMLA is handling the landscape architecture. T.G. Miller is the civil engineer for the project, and Thornton Tomasetti is doing the structural engineering. Taitem Engineering served as an energy consultant for the project, which is pursuing LEED Gold Certification. Canadian firm WSP Global Inc. is in charge of the design of fire protection and mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems, and Ricca Design Studios will handle the interior design and fitting out of the food service areas within the new dining hall. SRF & Associates of Rochester did the traffic study, and John P. Stopen Engineering of Syracuse did the geotechnical work. Intergrated Acquisition and Development (IAD) is the co-developer (non-owner) with Cornell.

Since receiving approval in late June 2019, the project has progressed at a quick pace, with the sophomore village underway just a few weeks later. As of this week, the excavation work and concrete footer pours are already underway. Wood forms are in place to hold the concrete in place as it cures, and rebar, for structural strength, is ready for the pour, capped with orange plastic toppers for safety reasons. Underground utilities installations and excavation work are ongoing at the freshman village site, which started a little later in the fall.

Plans are to have the sophomore village open by August 2021, and the freshman village by August 2022. A project of this size will require a sizable number of workers. The project team expects that 75-100 construction workers will be employed at any one time, 140 on average, and 280 at peak construction periods. The new dorms would create 85-110 jobs after opening, mostly in maintenance and program support roles.

August 4th:

Freshman village site:

Exterior wall mock-up:

September 6th / Sophomore Village Only

 

October 27th: Freshman village

Sophomore village:

 





East Pointe Apartments Construction Update, 9/2019

14 09 2019

We’re about halfway through now, with seven of the fourteen 10-unit townhouse strings open for occupancy, and another two strings coming on each month through the remainder of the year.

The Craigslist ads are fairly standard, though they do raise an eyebrow. Typically, if a place is offering a free month of rent (which is usually deployed in the form of a discount amounting to one month metered out over the 12-month lease rather than a literal free month), they’re not hitting their occupancy goals.

If that’s the case, it probably has less to do with the units, which are by any regard pretty nice, and more to do with the number of them coming onto the market. 140 apartments is a lot to absorb at once in a a suburban neighborhood where students aren’t a significant part of the local rental market. Larger projects in Downtown Ithaca’s can tap into graduate and professional students pretty easily (City Centre relied on students to fill out its less desirable units), and the hills draw both undergrads and graduate/professional students. Meanwhile, Lansing and Dryden have no trouble filling smaller projects, like the 42-48 units the Village Solars brings online each year. East Pointe isn’t doing badly, it just isn’t easy in a small metropolitan area like Ithaca’s to bring a large suburban rental project onto the market in one phase and have it not experience some softness as the initial units are filled.

A full description of the project and its history can be found here.

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Village Solars Construction Update 9/2019

13 09 2019

So there’s been some news regarding the Village Solars buildout. The community center is in flux. The original proposal was for a mixed-use building with ground-level commercial and community amenities, and 20 one-bedroom apartments on the upper levels. Now, it’s an unknown. Per the Lansing Star:

“(T)hey will relocate the community center site to a location more central what will become an enlarged, single development. The lower floor would have amenities like a restaurant, a work-out center, and other features, with apartments on the upper floors. If not, they would build the smaller community center as already accepted by the Town.”

That means that the community center is being moved to another location on the site, and potentially take a different physical form, though programmatically it remains the same (commercial/community use on the ground level, residential above).

When the article says a more central location, it refers to the 96.44 acres of land east of the complex. The Village Solars are owned by Steve Lucente, and the undeveloped land to the east by his father Rocco, who had purchased it in 1960 and was recently planning his own apartment complex (schematic in the early Village Solars site plan below). My understanding is that the two Lucentes didn’t get along at all – I was warned to never bring up Steve when interviewing Rocco. After Rocco passed away about 18 months ago, Steve saw an opportunity to purchase the vacant land to the east from Rocco’s estate, and build a bigger complex in future phases (as yet unapproved). The purchase offer, at least check, is still being reviewed by Rocco’s Executors.

However, this created a problem. Local Law #6 of 2017, the Planned Development Area (PDA, like Ithaca’s PUD it’s D-I-Y zoning) with the town, stipulated that the community center had to be built and open by the end of 2020, and only one more apartment building could be built before it was done. So Steve Lucente and his project team had to make the case to the town of Lansing Planning Board and Town Board give them time to purchase the land and design the new community center, and let them do three more apartment buildings in the meanwhile to keep on pace with their construction plans. If the offer feel through, he’d build the community center starting next summer and finishing in 2021, a year later than initially planned. Generally, of all the communities to have to make such a request, Lansing would be one of the most accommodating.

Officially, only the Town Board really decides PDA amendments. But here, the Town Board was uncomfortable with the request at first, referred it to the Planning Board for guidance, and then after the Planning Board weighed in, it returned to the town board with a recommendation to consider during voting.

This caused some debate, with some of the planning board feeling like their credibility was taking a hint with this latest delay (the community center was delayed at least once, hence why it was explicitly stated in the 2017 PDA revision), and at least one member of the town board feeling as if they were purposely misled since banks would have received the notice of intent to modify the plans several months ago, but Steve Lucente countered that it was not a firm plan and only became firm later in the year when the offer looked like it had a good chance of being accepted. On a 3-1 vote, the town is permitting three more apartment buildings and only two more, and expects a community center to start next year in either the old or the new location.

At this point, the last of the originally permitted buildings, 24-unit 36 Village Circle North (3 three-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms, 3 one-bedrooms and 12 studios) has had its foundation footers poured and is awaiting the concrete slab pour. The tarp and mesh are in place for stability and added strength respectively, and you can see the below-ground utilities poking out, capped for the time being. A surveyor was on site during this visit to make sure everything was level and in good order before the wood frame starts to rise. The three newly permitted buildings are all reconstruction of existing 8-10 unit buildings, into two 18-unit buildings (2 Village Place, 22 Village Place) and one 24-unit building (117 Village Circle North).

Apparently, occupancy rates have been strong. Building “L” (113 Village Circle North) opened in June, and 22 of its 24 units were spoken for, with the other two rented shortly after.

As for the future, it’s not clear. Something will be proposed that may very well require more PDA amendments, but we’ll see. The elder Lucente’s complementary apartment complex was supposed to be around 300 units in size (built over several years), and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Village Solars plan expands by a similar amount.

 





Milton Meadows Construction Update, 9/2019

9 09 2019

The buildings are not yet complete, but Milton Meadows is accepting applications for its 71 units (the 72nd is for an on-site manager). Income qualifications are 50-80% of area median income with first preference to veteran’s; specific on the income levels, monthly rent and associated details can be found at the end of this post, and online on the NYS Homes and Community Renewal website here.

The initial application round was from June 9th to July 9th, and applications were selected by a housing lottery. What that means is that once applications are gathered, those that qualify are put in random order and given a log number. From there, the developer begins the review process starting with the lowest log number as well as any preferential applicants. The lower one’s log number is, the more likely one is to hear back from the lottery. If there are any units remaining after the lottery is complete, those will be filled with later applications. If they’re all full, then applicants will be hanging out on a waiting list. That could be a few months, or longer. INHS has been known to take a couple years to make it all the way through its backlog for its more desirable unit sizes and locations.

The nine apartment buildings generally progressed in the same order as their addresses. 1 Robin’s Way (42 Auburn Road), the community center, is essentially done. 2 Robin’s Way, the southeast corner building with eight 1-bedroom units, will be ready for occupancy by the end of the month. In this southern portion, the lighting and sidewalks have been installed/poured and even the grass seed has been laid. From there, buildings go backwards in the construction timeline – vinyl siding (probably Certainteed), a couple varieties of housewrap (Tyvek and a second blue-faced material), window and door fitting, and framing. 10 Robin’s Way, another building with eight 1-bedroom units, is just getting its shingles attached to the roof, and is otherwise fully framed but not much further along than that. 10 Robin’s Way will be ready for occupancy in the December time-frame, about three months later than first anticipated.

To give an idea of the visual differences between the building configurations, which come in eight one-bedroom, eight two-bedroom and eight three-bedroom flavors, the first photo shows a three-bedroom building on the left, a two-bedroom building in the middle, and a one-bedroom building on the right.

One kinda wishes they had gone with a more visually interesting color palate for the vinyl siding, which is two shades of grey and a tan, but chances are, it was whatever they could get that was durable and cheap in bulk. The early renders showed a different if still soft color palate.

Also in progress is the realignment of Woodsedge Drive with Louise Bement Lane, to make them a proper four-corner intersection. This is being paid for with a $75,000 state grant with in-kind labor from the town.

 





TC3 Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center Construction Update, 9/2019

8 09 2019

Another project to move into the “complete” column. The $6.5 million, 9,875 SF Arthur Kuckes Childcare Center has opened its doors for its young occupants. Interest in the new childcare facility has been strong enough that the facility is already full and has a waiting list, proof positive that affordable and flexible childcare options are in great need in Tompkins County.

Only signage, exterior landscaping and play areas remain on the to-do lists. Photos are limited because construction workers don’t mind their photos being taken, but parents with their young kids do.

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

More information about the project and Arthur Kuckes can be found here.





802 Dryden Road Construction Update, 9/2019

8 09 2019

It’s safe to declare this project as done. A site visit on Friday had some landscapers on site, and a small crew powerwashing the construction dust off the vertical lap siding. The final product is true to the renderings (that’s less common than one might think), the biggest difference I can see is that the pavilion used unpainted wood and corner brackets in the renders, and it’s painted without brackets here. Since the website for the apartments uses renderings in place of its “photos” page, let me be the one to supply the first photos of the finished product.

All things considered, the design is fine, and by being in a less settled part of Dryden right next to Cornell, it draws less attention from Varna residents who might otherwise not be fans if it were closer, and it’s right next to its primary place of “employment”, making for a minimal commute and lower vehicular traffic presence. In addition, with 108 bedrooms, that’s about 108 fewer students and student family members competing on the rest of the local market (these are geared a little more towards graduate/professional students, and some of those come to Cornell with spouses or children in tow).

The developer, Maifly Development of suburban Pittsburgh, did explore purchasing neighboring lots for a second development, but there are no indications that this has been pursued further. Maifly is in growth mode and purchased the under-construction project from the original developer, Modern Living Rentals, in a $2.075 million deal in September 2018.

For the sake of noting it since the emails come in regularly, the Trinitas plan down the road is in a holding pattern while they complete a study of infrastructure needs and impacts as part of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). Other than that, I’m not aware of any other projects undergoing or close to undergoing site plan review in the Varna/366 Corridor.

Granger Construction of East Syracuse led the buildout, STREAM and John Snyder Architects designed the townhouse strings, GMB Consulting Services did the LEED score analysis, T.G. Miller P.C. handled land surveying and Marathon Engineering tackled the civil engineering work – Marathon’s Adam Fishel shepherded the project through the town boards. M&T Bank provided the $8.6 million construction loan.

Before:

After:

 

 





News Tidbits 7/4/19

4 07 2019

1. According to the village of Lansing Code Enforcement office, IJ Construction (the Jonson family) will be starting construction on another “6-plex”, or another six-unit string of for-sale townhomes on the southwest corner of the intersection of Bomax Drive and Nor Way. The units being completed now have sold at a decent clip, with two units sold and a third pending. I believe offhand they have to do streetscape / street lighting improvements before the other three can be sold.

In all probability, while the finishes and details will likely differ as they have in all of the townhome strings at the Heights of Lansing development, these will likely be 3-bedroom, 3.5 bath 2200-2400 SF units intended for sale in the upper 300k – lower 400k range. Previous units have included granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, electric heat pumps and other premium and/or eco-friendly features. Expect these stick-built units to be ready for occupancy sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, the Pizza Hut at 2301 North Triphammer Road is for sale, and the code enforcement officer had heard a rumor a hotelier was looking at it. However, at present, the 3,003 SF 1990s building is still for sale, with a listing price of $995,000. At 1.29 acres, the property could comfortably accommodate a 60-80 room hotel provided it was 3 floors, which is what the village allows. The more recent minutes suggest that the owners are looking for ideas, and that Pizza Hut will be calling it quits regardless.

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2. The proposed downzoning for the 300-500 Blocks of West State Street is being sent back to the Planning and Economic Committee for further revisions. The Common Council voted 8-2 (1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal opposed) to explore proposed amendments by councilor and 2nd Ward/State Street Corridor rep Ducson Nguyen. The amendments include maximum facade length, a hard limit on maximum footprint, and a 4 floor setback / 6 floor max vs. the 3 floor setback / 5 floor allowed.

3. Common Council also voted unanimously to support the INHS PUD for the Immaculate Conception Site. While some quibbles were had for more for-sale units and for larger apartment units for families (3 bedroom+ units are historically the hardest units to fill because of the limited number of applicants), the board expressed appreciation for the project on its merits and gave them the green light to go ahead with review by the Planning Board. The $17 million mixed-use project, which will include several thousand square feet of non-profit office space (the exact amount is in flux) and 78 housing units, is aiming for a Q4 2019 – Q1 2022 buildout, pending grant funding.

4. Also unanimous votes – a vote to support City Harbor’s funding application to the state for grants to fund the public proemande to be built at the development; the award of $70,000 in CHDF affordable housing grant funds to the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga Street for-sale townhome project by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS); cleanup of accessory dwelling code language and some law tweaks (not the same as infill), and a resolution to continue looking at a joint city-county police facility.

5. In potentially big news, thanks to a bipartisan effort of Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Republican State Senator Tom O’Mara, Tompkins County (and only Tompkins County) is now legally permitted to use county funds to support affordable housing development and preservation.

Here’s why that matters. Some of you might be familiar with the joint city-county-Cornell Community Housing Development Fund, which disburses a few hundred thousand dollars each year towards affordable housing projects, up to $400k for an owner-occupied project, and $300k for a rental, supporting the renovation or construction of 556 units since the program launched in 2009. A year might see $600-800k in grants disbursed.

Now here’s the caveat to the city and county contribution; it’s limited because those are federal and state grant funds. They were never allowed to fund a project directly, another government body was the middleman, and it takes time and effort to get those grant dollars back down the line. That slows down the development of affordable housing, and if the grants aren’t awarded for whatever reason, it could greatly curtail the CHDF, which creates the kind of uncertainty that developers seek to avoid, and less likelt to hash out a plan if they think the fund is ever at risk.

CHDF funds are often seed money; they’re hardly ever large enough to fund the development of an affordable housing project on their own. But the awarding of funds shows the community is interested in a certain project, and that development team can then pursue complementary (and usually much bigger) funding sources with a greater chance of being awarded grants. Typically, the funds aren’t disbursed until the project has all of its funding assured and is ready to go – for example, the county’s $100k portion of the $250k awarded to Lakeview Health Services for their 60-unit West End Heights projects in Round 16, is only being voted on to be disbursed now since the project has finally obtained all the funding it needs.

So what does this change mean? The county is expecting to have several applicants with affordable housing plans over the next few years, seeking up to $2.5 million in CHDF funds. Tompkins County is looking to put together a $3 million Housing Capital Reserve Fund with dollars from the county’s general fund, which could then be used as grant money to support infrastructure, development of affordable housing, studies to examine where it would best be built and make the greatest contribution (i.e. bang for the buck) and so forth. Potentially, this new fund that they are now to legally allowed to set up could assist in the development and preservation of another 400 units of affordable housing across the county.

6. On that note, the latest CHDF funding round appears to be a modest one; $80,000 to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of two new homes (30-60% area median income, or AMI) alongside the property under renovation at 1932 Slaterville Road in Dryden, $38,940 to INHS for the renovation of an existing house at 28 Crystal Drive in Dryden, which will sell to a family making 80% AMI and incorporated into the Community Housing Trust to keep it affordable, and $27,800 for an 80% AMI rental unit to be built in the back yard of 622 West Clinton Street in the city of Ithaca.

Quick update on the soon-to-be-built INHS apartment development at 203-209 Elm Street. They’re calling it “Cayuga Flats”. Sure, British English is hip/cosmopolitan, but there’s a bit of well-deserved eye roll. Also, play on words here, that site is by no means flat. The building two stories in the front, three in the back.

The project replaces 14 housing units of varying age and ownership, four of which were condemned because the foundation was crumbling, with a 12,585 SF, 13-unit apartment building containing ten one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units, in the 30-60% AMI range. The project cost for this development comes in at around $2.76 million and the design is by SWBR Architects of Rochester. Build out will take about 12 months.

On a related note, as INHS grows into a regional affordable housing developer, it will be tackling its second project outside of Tompkins County, a mixed-use project on a large vacant lot in the village of Watkins Glen. The project on Second Street will include 34 apartments for those making 47-80% county AMI, and a 7,341 early childhood education center on the ground level.