Village Solars Construction Update, 2/2017

27 02 2017

The Village Solars have made progress on their latest pair of apartment buildings. Building “I” has made more progress on its exterior finishes, while “J” is fully framed, roofed and shingled. Both of these will likely open this spring.

It’s starting to get that point where the second stage of the Village Solars may be getting ready for review by the Lansing municipal boards. The last big phase, Phase 4 with Building “K”, “L” and “M”,is likely to get underway this year for a completion in 2018, and phase 2A, the mixed-use Building “F”, has been something of a question mark for exact timing. That will finish out the initial 206 market-rate units, which range from studios to three bedrooms.

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There’s an early site plan floating around showing a potential buildout second stage expansion, and although it’s outdated, it gives an idea of the general layout of later phases. Most of the later buildings would be built to the east of the initial phases, as infill between existing apartments. The total number of units in the second expansion was initially about 136 units, but given the recent trend of breaking up larger units into smaller studio units to satisfy market demand, the number is likely to be higher when formal plans are submitted.

Right now, they seem to be about the only large-scale solution to Lansing’s development quandry – the first phase uses natural gas, but with the assistance of green advocacy group Sustainable Tompkins, the later phases have been built to utilize all-electric services with air-sourced heat pumps. This led to new utilities layouts, and the merging of “G” and “H” into one building.

According to an Ithaca Times article from last March, for a 12-unit building at the site (construction cost $2 million), the upfront cost increase was $50,000-$60,000, an increase of 2.5-3%. This is balanced out by the 30-year savings on energy costs for the building ($40,000-$80,000), and a premium on the monthly rents of about $50. Units go for $1050-$1650/month, depending on size and location. Six of the Daikin heat pump units can be seen in the third photo from top.

 

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News Tidbits 2/25/17: Creating a Place to Call Home

25 02 2017

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1. It looks like the homes designed for Tiny Timbers won’t just be limited to Tiny Timbers. The company has partnered with realtor Brent Katzmann for a to-be-built house in Lansing’s Farm Pond Circle housing development touts a Tiny Timbers-based home design by STREAM Collaborative. 1.09 acres and a 2 bed, 2 bath 1,430 SF house for $219,400. The relatively low price compared to most new builds is in part due to Tiny Timbers’ modular approach – the “Big Cube” retails for $156,900 with a finished basement, and the Farm Pond parcels go for $39k-$45k, so not counting the soft costs (permits/marketing), that pretty much sums up the costs.

Farm Pond Circle is a 19-lot subdivision in Lansing town that was the brainchild of the late Jack Jensen. All homes have to exceed state energy code by 20%, cannot exceed 2600 SF, and cannot use aluminum or vinyl siding. A couple lots have been aside for affordable single-family home construction. After Jensen’s passing in 2014, another local homebuilder, Bruno Schickel (Boiceville Cottages), picked up the undeveloped lots (10 of the 19) for about $165k last February, and intends to follow through on Jensen’s plans.

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2. Speaking of Tiny Timbers, it appears the budding modular timber-frame builder is expanding their offerings into a full line of homes. Tiny Timbers now has 16 different models in five series. Prices range from a completed 600 SF model with no basement at $109,900, to a 1,950 SF model with finished basement at $197,900, land and well/septic not included.

In a blog post on their website, Caleb Dolph, builder Buzz Dolph’s son and the guy in charge of marketing, says that the first sold house is underway in Hector (if Ithaca had exurban areas, Hector would be it), at least five others are in contract, though it’s not clear if any of those are for the 15-lot Varna site. Given that they planned for ten houses in 2017, the Tiny Timbers staff might have underestimated the market, which is more a fortunate challenge than a complaint.

3. A local non-profit is looking to expand its real estate footprint a little bit. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) is seeking to buy a run-down house at 626 West Buffalo Street and renovate it into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The county would provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the house is for sale for $99,999, the purchase offer is for $95,000, and a further $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

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4. Staying on the topic of special needs housing, the Second Wind Cottages is looking to add another three cottages in Newfield this year. The cottages are modest, ~200 SF and costing $12-$15k each to build. As reported by the Times’ Jaime Cone, every unit provides shelter to a formerly homeless male. Rents are “pay as you can”. A small community facility provides services like a kitchenette, office, washer and dryer. Three more cottages are planned for 2018, which will round out the “campus” with 18 units. A similar facility is planned up the road, one that will house homeless women and children. Although Newfield is a ways out, both sites are on the bus line into Ithaca.

The Second Wind Cottages are a private endeavor by businessman Carmen Guidi, and paid for through grants, fundraisers, and donations (money, furniture, etc). Volunteer labor similar to that used for Habitat for Humanity is utilized and welcomed. Like with the OAR house, by providing a safe, warm space to live, these units may help reduce homelessness and the issues homelessness creates.

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5. Work has yet to start on the new two-family home planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown, but it looks like developer/landlord Nick Lambrou is seeking major changes to the project. Lambrou wants to replace the approved design at top, with the one below, which is copied from a Craigslist posting. The designs are both by Jagat Sharma, but the new plan is a variant of the two-family homes that Sharma’s doing for Charlie O’Connor at the recently-approved 4-building 607 South Aurora project.

The property falls into the East Hill Historic District, which is under the ILPC’s jurisdiction. According to Bryan McCracken, the city’s Historic Preservation Planner, the design will be heading for review within the next month or two.

The design has been used before so there’s familiarity with the design and lower risk, plus there are possible cost efficiencies if using the same contractors as O’Connor, because they’ll move quicker as they’ve done it before. On the other hand, unlike 607 South Aurora, this property is in the East Hill Historic District, and full-time neighbors on Orchard Place have been watching these plans very closely – they’re wary of students, and will likely not be fans of the projecting second-floor porch, as the previous version was tucked into the building. Not sure using a slightly more decorated version of a design being deployed elsewhere will get the ILPC’s blessing, but we’ll see what happens.

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6. Why yes, Lansing town is still hopping mad about the natural gas issue. The town supervisor cites the tap-out as the cause of delay for Robert Weinstein’s 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, although the previous documentation says it’s a sewer issue – the developer has to deploy an Orenco modular sewer system, which has to be approved by the NYS DEC.

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7. Here’s a copy of Maplewood’s buildout timeline. The first Maplewood apartments should start construction in May 2017, pending no issues. Generally, the crews will be working from the outside in; buildings closer to Maple Avenue and Mitchell Street have earlier construction schedules, while those interior to Maplewood will start in the fall or early winter. Also, street names. Veteran’s Place will continue to be the main thoroughfare, but from north to south, it will intersect with “James Lane”, “East Sylvan Mews”, and “Lena Street”. James Lane wraps around to form the secondary N-S thoroughface on the east side of the parcel. James and Lena Mitchell were the original owners of the property when Ithaca was first settled in the early 1800s.

The Stormwater Property Protection Plan (SWPPP) still needs to be okayed by the town of Ithaca, but that’s about the only thing left before final approval is granted.

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8. It looks like the Planning Board meeting should be interested. Not a whole lot being decided, but some sketch plans have been submitted. For rental projects aiming for August 2018 openings, Feb-Apr is going to be the primary submission period, as they seek approvals by May or June so that construction can run on a Summer 2017 – Summer 2018 schedule.
AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time
1.Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place, Tax Parcel 9.-3-11
Applicant: Lee and Elizabeth Ambrose
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

4.Site Plan Review
A. Project: Apartments (11 Units) 6:30
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

B. Schwartz Plaza Redesign- Sketch Plan 6:50

More on that here.

C. 238 Linden Avenue – Townhomes – Sketch Plan 7:10

238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

D. 372 Elmira Road – McDonalds Rebuild – Sketch Plan 7:30

If Ithaca’s lucky, it’ll have upscale features like the one finishing up in Dryden. Otherwise, a modern update to the 1980s design is plausible. A number of older McD’s restaurants nationwide have been upgraded to the new design in the past few years.

E. 301 Eddy Street – Student Apartments 7:50

This is intriguing. 301 Eddy is a Nick Lambrou property in an MU-2 zone – a four-story, 8-unit/37 bed apartment building built in 1995, and it’s also the address for Collegetown Park’s parking lot. One possibility is replacing part of the parking lot with another apartment building – Lambrou may push to six floors, but it’s not his style. He’s described his offerings as “boutique” buildings, properties with less than 20 units and 20-50 bedrooms. Recent examples include 2015’s 116 Catherine Street, and 2012’s 309 Eddy Street. If the past is any precedent, this will be a Jagat Sharma design.

5. Zoning Appeal: #3057, Area Variance, 109 Dearborn Place 8:10

6. Old/New Business: Special Meeting Chainworks District DGEIS – Transportation 8:20

7. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal) 8:30
B. Director of Planning & Development(verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)





Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 2/2017

23 02 2017

Poet’s Landing is moving along. Framing for the first eight-unit building is underway; the slab foundation has been poured for two more. The other four buildings in the 48-unit project will come along as the weather warms up – it’s possible that LeChase may have the sites cleared forms ready for the rest of the foundation pours, but they may be buried under the snow (this was the first place I visited last Saturday morning, so the unseasonable heat had yet to do its melting magic).

According to an article published just yesterday, Boston Capital has bought the Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) awarded to Conifer Realty to help finance the project. The Boston-based real estate investment firm paid $7.6 million. Boston Capital can apply those credits to the taxes on its holdings, and Conifer gets the money it needs to pay for hard and soft development costs (which total $10.8 million, the rest coming from federal/state grants and equity). Boston Capital is a frequent partner of Conifer, having bought their LIHTCs many times in the past, including those awarded to the 72-unit first phase of Poet’s Landing that opened a few years ago.

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Quoting Housingfinance.com, which also had the first actual render of the project shown above:

“Located on 10 acres, Poets Landing II will feature 16 one-bedroom, 24 two-bedroom, and eight three-bedroom units in six two-story buildings. Units will include central heating and air conditioning, dishwashers, patios/balconies, and storage. Residents at Poets Landing II will have access to the community amenities at Poets Landing I, which feature a leasing office, a great room, a computer workstation, a laundry center, and a playground. The apartments will be available to families earning 60% or less of the area median income.”

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902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 2/2017

22 02 2017

Visum Development’s townhouse project at 902 Dryden Road in Varna is coming along. The 8 new townhouses are divided up into three building sections – 3-unit section “A”, closest to Fall Creek; 3-unit section “B”, closer to Dryden Road, and 2-unit section “C”, which has a shared wall with the existing two-unit house.

“B” appears to be the furthest along – fully framed (wood frame), roofed, sheathed with ZIP panels, and windows have been fitted. “A” is undergoing framing of its second floor, and “C” is waiting for its foundation to be poured, with forms in place and underground utilities routed and capped.

Visum’s Facebook page says 32 new beds, which is half-right; the eight new townhouse units will have 26 bedrooms. The other six bedrooms come from the existing two-family, which will be renovated. So it depends on one’s definition of “new”. The final product has eight 3-bedroom, 2 bath units and two 4-bedroom, 2 bath units.

While Visum and Modern Living Rentals are different entities with partial ownership lap, MLR handles all of the renting and property management for Visum. The four-bedrooms are renting for $2400/month, and the 3-bedrooms for $1,500-$1,950/month. Quoting the ad:

“Brand new construction in late 2016, has all the amenities needed! Brand new EVERYTHING, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, kitchen complete with a dishwasher! Great sized rooms with ample closet space, all custom tiles bathroom as well! Washer and dryer IN unit!”

Varna has lower premiums on land, taxes and somewhat lower development costs, and those are all savings to the developer. But because it’s not a captive market like Collegetown, or as desirable as Fall Creek, the rents are lower. In short, Varna has lower development costs and also lower revenue. In this case the project team feels those two overarching factors balance out, and the townhouses are able to provide a comfortable return on investment.

All units have August 1st as the move-in date. STREAM Collaborative is the architect, Bella Faccia Construction is the general contractor, and Emery Construction of McGraw is doing the framing. More information on the project can be found here.
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News Tidbits 2/18/17: Credits and Loans

18 02 2017

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1. Over in Lansing village, it looks like the new Arleo medical office building is starting to moving forward. A sketch plan of the project was presented at the village planning board’s meeting earlier this week. Although Lansing doesn’t upload accessory docs like site plans and elevations, this one has been floating around for the past several months in marketing material as “Cayuga Ridge”. Quoting the May 7th 2016 news roundup:

“The new one-story building, which appears to be designed by Binghamton-based Keystone Associates, would be off of Warren Road, although it looks like the building would be accessed from a driveway coming off of Uptown Road. The 2.71 acre property north of 100 Uptown Road is zoned “Human Health Services District” by the village, and borders undeveloped land owned by Cornell, and several other suburban medical office buildings built over the past few decades. The resolution on the attached site plan is too low to determine the square footage, though it looks to be in the low tens of thousands.”

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2. For those who like their cottages tiny – it looks like Schickel Construction has begun work on the spiritual successor to their 140-unit Boiceville Cottages project in Caroline. The 40-house rental development is called “La Bourgade on Seneca”, and is located in the town of Hector, in Schuyler County just outside of Burdett village. For the record, Bourgade is a French term for an unfortified village or settlement. More details can be found on the website here. There will be two cottage types available -, “The Classic”, a 2-bedroom, 900 SF plan that will rent at $1,495/month, and “The Spacious”, a 2-bedroom with a dormer loft space totaling 1,000 SF and renting at $1,695 month. The house very much like their Boiceville cousins, but with angled eaves (dunno what the correct term is and google’s not helping – if there’s an architect reading, please chime in). All units will have lake views.

Personally, I see this as a stretch for the Ithaca market, since it’s 25 miles west of the city. But it might tap into a more plebeian contingent the wine country crowd, the wealthier of whom have taken to building grand vacation or permanent homes along the Finger Lakes in recent years. The first 9 units, three clusters of three, are currently under construction, as is a community center. Delivery is expected in May 2017.

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3. It looks like Ithaca College is putting some more thought into their housing needs. The college has been meeting with planning firm U3 Advisors to explore the possibility of new off-campus student housing.

U3 Advisors is already familiar with the area, as they are also under contract with Cornell to formulate their off-campus housing plan. Unlike Cornell, however, Ithaca College has no plans to grow enrollment – the master plan expects it to stay steady around 7,000. However, many of the dorms are reaching the end of their useful lives, meaning that the college can either sink a fair sum into renovation and replacement of utility systems, or tear down and build anew. An off-campus option could either be a private entity on private land, or a deal on IC-owned land like what Cornell and EdR are doing with Maplewood. A 200-300 bedroom off-campus option could mesh with the town of Ithaca’s visions for a walkable South Hill neighborhood on the intersection of Route 96 and King Road.

It’s still just studies and meetings at this point, but as the oldest dorms hit 50 years old on South Hill, there might be something fresh in the pipeline. We’ll see what happens.

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4. Ithaca’s West End will be welcoming a new tenant in the next couple months. Courtesy of Nick Reynolds over at the Times, the USDA is shifting its regional office out of Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, and into Fulton Meadows, a commercial office building at 225 South Fulton Street. the move is being undertaken in anticipation of the construction of Tim Ciaschi’s new Cayuga Medical Associates office building, which is set to get underway at Community Corners later this year.

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5. Looks like we have an idea of the price tag for Visum Development’s 201 College Avenue. According to a construction loan filed with the county on the 15th, S&T Bank loaned Todd Fox’s company $7,870,673 to help cover the costs of the project. The breakdown in the filing says $6,841,038 for hard construction costs (materials/equipment/labor), $507,000 in soft costs (permits/legal/marketing/financing fees), $300k in contigency and $226k in interest reserves. Add in the $2.64 million for the land purchase, and the total comes to $10,514,180.

That’s something of a premium because the project is on an accelerated schedule after the big hullabaloo with Neil Golder and the city Planning Board last fall. Note that the loan doesn’t cover all the costs and that there is money from other sources, like cash equity from Visum itself.

S&T Bank is a regional bank based out of Western Pennsylvania, but they’ve been making inroads into Ithaca’s commercial lending market. S&T Bank also financed the construction of the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Route 13, lending $5,973,750 to the hotel developers.

Quick aside, I think this is the first time I’m seeing the square footage calculated out – 201 College will be 33,398 SF.

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6. Hopefully this runs after by INHS refinancing explainer, so it makes more sense. Quick rehash, low income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) are sold to banks and similar financial institutions so that they get the tax credit, and the affordable housing developer gets the money they need to move forward with a project. With that in mind, here’s an interesting though unfortunate tidbit from INHS’s Paul Mazzarella:

“This following may be more than you want to include in this article, but it is relevant.  The pricing of tax credits exists in a marketplace where they rise and fall in value.  In past projects completed by INHS, we’ve received from $0.91 to $1.02 of equity investment for each dollar of tax credit.  The pricing of tax credits has recently plummeted because of the recent election and the uncertainty in DC.  This is mostly due to discussions about changing the corporate tax rate.  A lower corporate tax rate will mean that companies have less profits to shield from taxes and therefore the demand for tax credits will be reduced.  Even though no changes have yet been made to the corporate tax rate, just the discussion about this has reduced the pricing of tax credits to around $0.80.  What does this mean for INHS? It means that the project that we’ve been working on for several years suddenly has a funding gap that didn’t exist a few months ago, due entirely to investor’s fear of risk due to an uncertain future..  This is true for every tax credit project in the country and has all of us struggling to make the pro formas work.”

Sigh. Politics.

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7. The Times has the first render for Habitat for Humanity’s two-family townhouse project at 208/210 Third Street on the city’s Northside. It looks to be the same architect as the 4-unit project for 402 South Cayuga – I can’t seem to find the architect offhand as a few designers have donated time and energy, but local planner George Frantz shepherded the project through the approvals process. Each unit is about 1500 SF. The plan for the $305,000 project is to break ground in April and have the move-in ceremony in Spring 2018. As with all local Habitat projects, a portion of the construction will come from volunteer labor, including 500 hours of “sweat equity”, and homeownership classes that the two recipient lower-income families (making 60% AMI or less, $32,000/year) will need to complete as part of the deal.

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8. Wrapping this up with the local agendas for next week – the town of Ithaca will be looking at a home B&B permit on Bostwick Road, a retaining wall for Ithaca College’s track, and finishes touches on the Maplewood approvals. The city’s project review meeting indicates the city plans to look at the subdivision at 109 Dearborn Place, Declaration of Lead Agency and Environmental Review for the 11-unit 107 South Albany Street plan,  and “Approval of Conditions” for City Centre, which is just making sure they’ve completed everything asked for in the final approval. In sum, nothing too exciting at the moment, but we’ll see if the city has any new projects coming up when the actual PB agenda comes out next week.

9. Quick note to wrap up – the woman behind the Rogues Harbor Inn in Lansing has purchased a prominent and historic building on Freeville’s main drag. Eileen Stout purchased 2 Main Street, a mixed-use building with restaurant space, a tile shop and three apartments, on Thursday for $132,000. The seller was Tompkins Trust and it’s well below assessment – doesn’t look like a foreclosure though. The bank bought the property for almost double the price in May 2016.





News Tidbits 2/11/17: Cooperation Required

11 02 2017

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1. It looks like the plans for 107 South Albany Street are getting a major revision. Readers might recall that previously approved plans called for a rear addition onto an existing house to create a 9-unit, 11-bedroom apartment building. The latest plans are a little more substantial.

For one thing, the existing house would be no more under the new plan. In its place looks to be a 3.5 story, 8,427 SF, 11-unit apartment building, all one-bedroom apartments. Developer Stavros Stavropoulos has once again turned to local architect Daniel Hirtler for design work; for each of them, this is the largest project they’ve worked on to date. Hirtler came up with a design that offer contextual features like a cornice and an orthodox window arrangement, but adds a modern vertical stair element in the middle of the structure to keep the design from being an imitation. Zoning is CBD-60, so no parking is required, 100% lot coverage is allowed, and the 40.5′ proposal is comfortably within the 60-foot height limit.  According to the SPR filing, the construction cost will be about $900k and the construction period will be from September 2017 to June 2018.

As much as I dislike seeing attractive old houses come down, the new design fits well into an older urban context. Plus, if the medical practice on State ever gets redeveloped, 3.5 floors offers a nice transition to the lower-density structures further south. I’m not a super big fan of the blank wall next to the recessed entry, although the intent is to make it interesting with light fixtures, a brick pattern and an iron trellis that will be grown over with vines. Fiber cement will be used on the upper floors, with brick veneer and granite accents at street level.

On another note, it looks like the city will be looking at a one-lot subdivision next month at 109 Dearborn Place in the Cornell Heights Historic District – the owners, a married couple who are renovating the old PRI into a historically appropriate two-family residence, are looking to sell some of the land as part of the “partnership dissolution”. The PRI renovation is expected to continue. The application says a house was previously located on the undeveloped portion of the property (a glance at old maps indicate a schoolhouse was located on-site in the 1920s). It’s worth noting that the wife is also the owner of Bridges Cornell Heights, a high-end senior living facility on the next block. Bridges previously subdivided a Cornell Heights lot in 2005 to build a second residence to serve its deep-pocketed clients. Any new house would need to go through ILPC review.

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2. Meanwhile, the Ithaca Common Council had their monthly Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting. It looks like the revised 323 Taughannock project has been caught up in the TM-PUD, so it will have to get Common Council approval. Apart from a certain councilor’s general objections to housing near or on the waterfront, this one isn’t likely to stir up much controversy. The construction timeline for Steve Flash’s 8-unit , 16,959 SF owner-occupied townhouse project is June 2017 – January 2018, with an estimated value of $2-$3 million. Potentially, there could be 16 units, since each townhouse comes with a live/work space that could be converted to a separate studio apartment unit.

Also included at the meeting was a session on electric car infrastructure, votes to send laws allowing dogs in Stewart Park and a temporary altar to the Common Council, votes to circulate a zoning amendment to allow brewpubs in business zones, and a discussion of tree plantings. The Maguires also discussed possibly shifting their project to Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart, which is covered on the Voice here.

3. The city of Ithaca has been awarded funding to build a replacement bridge for North Aurora Street over Cascadilla Creek. Continuing the city’s heavy infrastructure investments of the past few years (for instance, the bridges as Lake Street, East Clinton Street, and the work planned for Brindley Street/Taughannock Boulevard), the state is giving $1.178 million towards the replacement span. Engineering work and public meetings will take place in 2017 and early 2018, with construction and completion by 2019.

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4. Over in the town of Ithaca, final approval has been granted to Cornell and EdR’s Maplewood project, meaning that everything is good to go and barring any unforseen circumstances, the 441-unit, 872-bed complex should be open for graduate and professional students by the end of July 2018. The difference between preliminary and final approval is that in preliminary, the concept is greenlighted but there needs to be additional filings completed – tree planting schedules, revised labels on diagrams, construction staging plans, and proof of final approval from the city for their portion. For those who are wondering, the 150-200 workers on-site will be parking at a temporary lot behind the Kinney Drugs at East Hill Plaza, and will be walking the five minutes down Mitchell Street to get to the job site. The first building should start to rise in late Spring of this year, with new structures rising in stages as we go through the rest of 2017.

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The town planning board also reviewed revised plans for the Rodeway Inn at 654 Elmira Road, where the old wings will now be torn down and rebuilt on the same footprint and an enclosed corridor will be built into the new wings. The final result will have a net increase of four motel rooms, to 44 (the previous plan added only two motel rooms). The plan for renovating the single-family home on the property into a community center is unaffected by these changes and moving forward as originally planned.

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5. It’s been behind schedule a few months, but DiBella’s Subs is expected to open at 222 Elmira Road on February 16th.

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6. It seemed a little odd when The Computing Center stated in their IDA application that their plans had already been approved, and there was nothing on file. Turns out they’re hoping to get approval for their 4,600 SF HQ from the town of Lansing next week.

The full suite of documents can be found on the town of Lansing’s website here. It looks like the farmhouse next door to 987 Warren Drive will be spared from the wrecking ball; although The Computing Center bought the property, it’s being subdivided and the barn-turned-garage is the only building that will be torn down. Lansing has one of the more lenient planning boards, so although this probably won’t be fully approved next week, there’s a good chance this project will receive final approval by the end of March.

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7. Over on West Hill, a large vacant parcel on Bundy Road just exchanged hands. The 66.98 acre parcel has been marketed for the past few years as a development opportunity – it has municipal water and sewer, and it’s a stone’s throw from Cayuga Medical Center, Overlook and the Conifer/Cornell developments off of Route 96/Trumansburg Road. Its previous ownership, a family that has owned it in some form since 1964 (moving between members in 1984 and 1991), had it on the market for $359,900.

The buyers, a husband-and-wife pair of medical doctors who live nearby, paid $305,000 for the deed, according to a filing on the 9th. An online search for future hints doesn’t really give much guidance – the doctors have donated modest amounts to Finger Lakes Land Trust and have signed some anti-fracking petitions, and while they own undeveloped properties around them, this parcel isn’t adjacent to their house. It doesn’t really fit the Land Trust’s ideal land donations either, since it’s been substantially subdivided with medium-density residential, and borders a growing corridor. So, it’s hard to gauge just what exactly is planned here. For the record, the land is currently zoned medium density residential (max 3 floors, up to 2.9 lots/acre), but the town’s new comprehensive plan sees the property as new urbanist medium density (5-8 units/acre small-scale mixed-use), with undeveloped open space towards the southwest corner of the parcel.

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8. Let’s finish this week off with a talk about energy. Good news first – there might be a solution to the West Dryden pipeline issue. Background here, but the nutshell is, Lansing has tapped out their natural gas capacity, and in order to accommodate new development that would need natural gas, NYSEG needs to build a higher capacity pipeline from their current facilities in the town of Dryden. This new pipeline would go along West Dryden Road, but has run into fierce opposition, mostly because Dryden residents are famous for being anti-natural gas – this was the town that took on the fracking companies and won. Keep in mind, these folks aren’t just disdainful of natural gas, they are adamantly opposed. So using their property to accommodate something they don’t like is a bit like asking to build an abortion clinic next to an evangelical church because that just happens to be where the land is cheapest, but they would have to share a driveway.

Unsurprisingly, the town of Dryden enacted a moratorium on large-scale pipeline installation. The town of Lansing is not happy because it stymies their development, and they’re extra-concerned that their biggest property taxpayer, the Cayuga Power Plant, is about to go belly up and leave the town with $100 million less on its tax rolls. The county wants to move away from fossil fuels, but it also wants to encourage development and not leave Lansing in the lurch.

This week, a plan was put forth that might accommodate both needs. A small compressor station would be built to keep pipe pressure from falling too low during times of peak demand, so that guarantees service for existing customers. The second prong is to wean existing development off natural gas and encourage new development to use other means – electric heat pumps, like those to be used in Maplewood and City Centre. This encouragement would be given through subsidies or tax breaks. The compressor station and the incentives would be in effect by late 2018.

It looks promising, but the feasibility studies are still ongoing, and Lansing is not totally on board. Both Lansing Village and Lansing Town feel they were not represented during these discussions with NYSEG, and that heat pumps are a major financial burden to saddle homebuilders with. They also wonder if the electrical grid would be capable of supporting so many heat pumps.

Speaking strictly from my experience, I’ve visited construction projects with heat pumps, and while they are a cost increase, it’s a couple percent more than the same structure with conventional heating – there’s a recently-built single-family house I can think of offhand where the cost of heat pumps was about $5,000 more on the $200,000 construction cost. If it’s incentivized, one could make it financially sensible, at least for residential options if not all. Also, I’m wary of Lansing’s reasoning because they piddled away the three town center projects five years ago – if they had stayed on top of it, they’d have $50 million more in property value and this wouldn’t be such a pressing issue now.

That being said, there are problems with this area’s approach to alternative energy. Newfield is the big culprit here – they’re about to put in a moratorium on commercial solar panel installations, which is worrying since this is the same town that redesigned their wind turbine law to ban them in essence. If municipalities are limiting residents’ abilities to turn to alternative energy sources (many urban areas have to turn to commercial arrays or turbines because there’s not enough room/too much demand on-site), then the community will be unsuccessful in weaning the population off of fossil fuels. But Dryden, which is in the process of changing their laws to accommodate large-scale solar arrays, is at the forefront of this issue – those panels could provide the electricity for the heat pumps and help turn the tide on energy sources. It only works if everyone cooperates.

 

 





News Tidbits 1/20/17: A Week Late and A Day Early

20 01 2017

1. In the town of Ulysses, work continues on a rezoning and reimagining of the hamlet of Jacksonville. The town held a meeting for public feedback this past Thursday. For those who are unfamiliar, Jacksonville is a cluster of a few dozen houses and a few small businesses about two-thirds of the way up Route 96 from Ithaca to Trumansburg. The town is working with local urban planning firm Randall + West to redevelop the hamlet, which has been plagued in recent decades with not just the standard rural upstate flight, but total disinvestment in some parts as a result of a massive gas spill in the late 1970s that poisoned the wells of neighboring properties, which Exxon bought and left in a state of low, sporadic maintenance.

However, some areas are served by municipal water systems, and the town is looking at expanding the hamlet zone, and creating a hamlet center zone in the hopes that they can give the hamlet “quality growth” and a Trumansburg-like flavor – small shops and density at the core, and somewhat walkable for basic errands, with sidewalks and interconnected streets. It’s a bit reminiscent the old “nodes” concept pushed by the county about a decade ago, but with more emphasis on walkability. The zoning brief shows participants have expressed a preference towards small-lot houses and 2-4 floor mixed use. With the latest public meeting completed, the plan is to have a zoning draft ready by March.

For the record, Ulysses permited 11 new homes in 2016, so even if the revised Jacksonville hamlet zoning becomes more accommodating, don’t expect a boomtown.

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2. From the IURA Neighborhood Investment Committee agenda, a few more details about Habitat for Humanity’s plans for 402 South Cayuga Street. Four units, $720,000 construction cost, about $799,500 with soft costs. Savings from volunteer labor reduce the cost to $709,500. Funding comes from $100k in cash equity attained by the sale of the Morris Avenue townhouses, $300k in grants and $120k in HUD funding. Private donors and grants are expected to contribute about $189k. The initial design and land purchases expenses are being covered with funds from the $50,000 sale of a 32-acre parcel in Trumansburg for public green space. With multiple transactions required before anything can move forward, the plan is to break ground in June 2018 with construction lasting from 18-24 months.

The units will be sold to families making 30-60% of local AMI (i.e. $16-$32k/year) who put in the requisite sweat labor and take approved home-ownership and finance courses. The units will be solar-capable, though they’re still debating if the panels will be installed by Habitat or the responsibility of owners. By the way, the bright colors of the units are intentional.

The committee has said this project pretty much checks off every box on their want list, and Habitat for Humanity has been named preferred developer; contingent on approvals, the IURA will sell the property to the non-profit for $32,000.

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3. For those that might have missed it, the Times’ new journo, Matt Butler, did a nice piece on TCAction’s Amici House development. The 23-unit project will be up for prelim approval at this month’s Planning Board meeting. In the piece, TCAction Director Lee Dillon notes that it’s not strictly for drug rehab, it’s for homeless youth regardless of the presence of addiction. The project also provides a low-cost childcare center with five HeadStart classrooms able to support 40-45 kids. Apart from a couple of concerns and complaint, reactions have been generally receptive to the plan, which will be located at 701 Spencer Road on the southern edge of the city.

As a former Head Start student, I never knew it was geared towards low-income families until I was in high school. There’s a lot of real, tangible value to Head Start as an early education program, especially in a community like Ithaca where the school district the kids enter into is capable and well-regarded. I applaud the Amici House project and look forward to its construction.

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4. Tiny Timbers is getting quite creative. In addition to the five existing designs, Buzz Dolph’s team, working with architect Noah Demarest, have rolled out two new designs. The first is a one-story, two-bedroom house which looks to be in the 630 SF range, with the option of deleting the second bedroom available. The second design is called “big cube”, with a 21′ x 21′ footprint (two stories, 882 SF), slightly larger than the 18′ x 18′ regular cube. The website seems to be down for an update at the moment, but the 3D panorama still works.

The town of Dryden has granted approval to the Varna site, so at this point marketing and sales of the home sites should be getting underway soon. If successful, Tiny Timbers could be a solution to meeting an underserved and difficult-to-serve segment of the Ithaca market – new, modestly-priced homes.

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5. Here’s the funding application for the first stages of the Tompkins County Heritage Center. The request is for $35,500 from the legislature. That would cover community presentations, legal fees for partnership agreements, a retail space plan, branding language and design, concept overview, website, floor plans, exhibit design and the launch of a capital campaign later this year (May for the silent campaign, October for the public campaign). Along with the capital campaign, primary funding may come in part from the $500 million URI fund that the state awarded to the Southern Tier back in 2015. The History Center and its partners are exploring some of the way they can reuse the 18,000 SF space currently occupied by Tompkins Trust; for example, multimedia presentations in the former bank vaults. STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the new floor plans, STREAM will work with St. John Design Group to do the branding, and Todd Zwigard Architects will handle exhibit design. The Solstice Group will be providing guidance in assembling and running the capital campaign.

To be frank, I’m still not sold on the idea of the Heritage Center being a driver of tourism itself, but I could see it being an enhancement to downtown Ithaca’s other offerings, as well as a gateway for visitors staying at the new hotels near or soon to be open within a couple blocks of the site: “Come for the colleges, wineries and gorges, but check this out while you’re here, you just might find other things you want to do and see”.

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6. The initial December 2016 jobs reading of 73,800 rounds out the 2016 jobs reports. Tallying up the average, the initial estimate for the Ithaca metro for 2016 is 71,600, an increase of 1.7% from last year’s average of 70,400. As always, take the initial estimates with a grain of salt, since they’re liable to be adjusted a fair amount in the big March revision. However, should they hold up, it gives Ithaca the highest percent growth of any New York State metro in the past year (although for the record, NYC added 1.1%, or 109,000 jobs in the past 12 months, basically an Ithaca and a half). For reference, the 2011 jobs average was 66,200, and the 2006 estimate was 62,600.

With the exception of those neighborhoods closest to the universities, the biggest driver of the housing affordability crisis is not student population growth, which was about 196 over the past year (+285 Cornell, -89 IC). It’s the people relocating to/near Ithaca for work. That doesn’t capture the imagination and emotion as much as saying the city’s being overrun by obnoxious 20-year olds.

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7. Not everything recorded in an interview makes it into Voice articles due to space constraints. Here are some transcribed notes from the “State of the State Theatre” piece that didn’t make the final cut:

Q: Where do you see things going in the next 15 years? What will the State Theatre of 2030 be like?

Doug Levine: We’d be fresh off celebrating our hundred year anniversary! They don’t build theaters like this anymore, we’ve made a lot of improvements to the building, we’ve completely renovated the restrooms. Technologically, we’ll be a lot more advanced, paperless ticketing will be a seamless transaction. We want to maintain the building charm, it’s just a grand palace, but behind the scenes, we’re getting more efficient and innovative, we’ve upgraded to LEDs, and the stage sound and lights will be a lot more cutting-edge, and we’d like to be more energy efficient. I would like to see more flexible seating in 15 years. We’d stay with DSP [Dan Smalls Presents] long-term, that’s worked out really well for us. We’re going in a good direction and I want to keep building on that success.

Q: Dovetailing off that, Ithaca is one of the few growing areas of upstate, and it’s increasingly seen as a tourism and leisure destination. Do you see ways for the State to tap into that? What other opportunities do you see (I noticed something called Ticketfly)?

DL: Conferences are a growing opportunity, the growing economy has led to a spike in conferences from all over the state wanting to come here, and those thinking creatively reach out to us, we had 2-3 last year and [we have] more planned, they’ll use us and Cinemapolis, it’s never going to be a big component but it’s nice to have those groups coming in. We average over 50,000 a year through our doors, 40% from beyond Tompkins County – New York, Philadelphia, Canada.

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8. It looks like the town of Ithaca wants to extend their two-family home moratorium beyond the initial 9 months. 9 months was explicitly chosen after considerable concern from developers and homebuilders last Spring stemming from the initially-proposed 12 months, which would have impacted two construction seasons. The town doesn’t even provide a new timeline, it leaves a blank next to 2017. Really burning through the goodwill here.

 

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8. Looks like a rather luckluster agenda for the planning board next Tuesday. A bunch of projects up for preliminary and/or final approval. These meetings could start becoming very light on substance if there isn’t more in the pipeline. Here’s the schedule:

1. Agenda Review              6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor    6:01

3. Site Plan Review
A. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center                               6:10
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (TC Action)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
B. Project: City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)       6:30
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Consideration of Preliminary Approval

C. Project: College Townhouse Project 7:00
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

D. Project: Apartments (5 Units) 7:30
Location: 126 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

E. Project: Apartments (9 Units) 7:50
Location:210 Linden Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

F. 107 S Albany St – Sketch Plan 8:10

Presumably, the Stavropouloses are heading back for some type of major revision to their 6-unit, 9-bedroom proposal. The previous plan was an addition onto the back of the existing century-old property. We’ll see what is changed, and by how much. Zoning is CBD-60 – five floors, no parking.
G. 821 Cliff Street – Parking for Business in a Residential Zone 8:30

Parking for the medical office building at 821 Cliff Street; perhaps an expansion to help market it, as I see postings for its space scattered throughout commercial listings. Nearby properties are vacant land.

4. Zoning Appeal: 8:50
#3056, Area Variance, 301 E State St.

5.Old/New Business:
A. Sidewalk on Worth Street -Planning Board Resolution to Board of Public Works
B. 2017 Planning Division Work Plan – Planning Board Comments
C. Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House)

Regarding 5B., Apparently the city is still having discussions with Fane regarding a development of 330 College Avenue, the former Green Cafe on the SW corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road in inner Collegetown. I write “a” redevelopment because the previous 12-story proposal didn’t look like it was going to make friends and influence people. Also on the long-term agenda are the Maguire plans for the Carpenter Business Park, Ithaca Gun, and Chain Works, which is still undergoing environmental review. Those are going to be long slogs, so don’t worry about missing anything.