News Tidbits 7/7/2018

7 07 2018

1. The infill project at 209 Hudson has been revised and reduced in size. The new plan from the Stavropoulos family of developers calls for just one new duplex at this time, on the existing lawn and swimming pool of the extra-large lot. The rear duplex was eliminated in the revised plan. A small zoning variance is still required for the subdivision (side yard deficiency), but it’s less likely to catch the ire of BZA members this time around because more mature trees are preserved in this reduced-size iteration. Modest bay window projections, fiber cement panels and wood trim will help create a higher quality product.

The duplex would be a quick build since it’s modular, but it’s not going to be ready in time for fall semester – spring (January) would be feasible, if the individual units are assembled before the snow flies. The Planning Board will make their recommendation this month, and the BZA will have their vote in early August, with potential final approval in late August. Quick note, as this has fallen under the threshold for the Ithaca project map (3 units or more), it has been removed.

Also due for review this month are final approvals for 128 West Falls Street (above) and a 3,200 SF endcap addition at South Meadow Square, and approval of a subdivision at 508-512 Edgewood Place.

2. Recently, Visum Development posted photos on their Facebook/Instagram taken during setup for an interview with Park Productions, and Ithaca College student media group. Normally, that’s not something to write about, but this caught my attention:

327 West Seneca is the new all-affordable project they introduced at last month’s planning board meeting. As for the others, I don’t have much of a clue. Ithaca does not have a Main Street, so that’s likely another community. 409 State may refer to an older building at 409 West State or 409 East State, but 409 East State is Travis Hyde’s Gateway Center property (and who at last check had no plans to sell).

As for the others, it looks like the first number was erased. Also of note, there is no East Cayuga, it’s just North and South. So I dunno quite what to make of it – hints of projects with some red herrings, it seems. Worth a look, but it’s not much to work with just yet.

3. Time for a little more speculation. A vacant lot east of 404 Wood Street in the city of Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood sold for $70,000 on June 26th. The buyers were a husband-and-wife pair who also happen to work for Taitem Engineering, a prominent local consulting engineering firm with specialties in structural engineering and associated branches in the context of green/sustainable building operation. The pair previously did a LEED Platinum, net-zero energy home in Ulysses two years ago. The likely guess here is that they’ll be building their next net-zero energy residence on this lot.

As previously noted when the property went up for sale in January 2016 (it was later subdivided from 404 Wood, which was sold a while ago), “(p)laying with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.”

TL;DR – if they want to do a small infill net-zero apartment building, they can. If they want to do a sizable single-family residence, they can do that as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

4. On the policy side, the Ithaca Common Council voted Wednesday night to move forward with a CIITAP stipulation stating projects pursuing the tax abatement must have a mandatory affordable housing component of 20%, available to those making 75% Area Median Income, affected all residential projects with ten units or more.The extension of CIITAP applicable properties along the Waterfront was also approved.

The policy comes forth after considerable debate over the right percentage and right income to apply. It’s the Goldilocks principle – too little and you don’t add an appreciable amount of affordable housing and may even decrease the amount once redevelopment occurs in lower-income blocks, too much and developers just won’t build (the Portland problem), and those who stick around will renovate existing buildings instead, meaning less supply overall, fewer existing lower-income units and accelerated gentrification. Among things discussed Wednesday night, a proposal to modify the mandatory size requirement of affordable units from a minimum of 80% the square-footage of the market-rate to 100% failed 5-4 (needed six), the % of affordable units went from 10% to 25% (the 25% was the First Ward’s George McGonigal, who has a history of being opposed to new market-rate and affordable housing, and did not get a second to open discussion).

It’s too early to say if this is too much or not enough – the City Harbor folks were in attendance for the discussion (they were at the meeting for a different topic), but didn’t raise concerns to 20%, so it seems likely their project is able to continue. The county IDA is the grantee of abatements with the city in an advisory role only, so they’ll have the final say on the application of the new law.

5. Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Childcare Center has the funds it needs to move forward. The project, first proposed in February 2016, calls for an 8,000 SF, $4 million building, plus a $1.5 million endowment for operating costs. State funds support much of the cost, as well as a $2 million donation from Ithaca CEO and major TC3 donor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the center will be named.

According to Jamie Swinnerton over at Tompkins Weekly, the project includes six classrooms with two infant rooms, three playgrounds, and be, in part, staffed by students studying to be teachers and childcare providers. 12 jobs will be created, and since it’s for faculty, students and staff, those jobs are expected to be full-time and all year-round. The building is expected to be partially opened by the start of the Spring semester, and fully occupied by the Fall 2019 semester.

Design-wise, the latest design in Tompkins Weekly shows smaller windows and the loss of some hipped roof bumpouts at the rear of the building (older version here). Value engineering noted, but the goal of helping students with children stay in school, and get the degrees they want to build their professional foundations on outweighs any shade thrown at the design changes.

6. Also finally moving forward – Lansing Meadows. There was an 11th-hour holdup for the 20-unit senior housing project when the village expressed discomfort with accepting future ownership of Lansing Meadows Drive, feeling the turns were too sharp and posed a liability. Developer Eric Goetzmann relented and agreed to maintain the road as a private road, and the village board approved the project 3-2; there are still a lot of sore feelings about the often-delayed and arguably underwhelming final proposal. Goetzmann has until July 31st to obtain permits to begin construction, or else the county IDA will recommence seeking clawback reparations from abated taxes, most of which went toward the BJ’s that was built in 2011-12.

7. Let’s slay some inbox rumors. East Hill Village is not cancelled. Nor is Trinitas’ Dryden Townhomes project. I checked with the project teams – both are still active projects. However, East Hill Village is waiting on the town of Ithaca to finish updating its zoning to a more form-based code, and the project will not move forward until that happens.

8. For fun: here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet on how the Ithaca metropolitan area lines up with other metros on new home construction permits since 1980. Key takeways – Ithaca/Tompkins County was in the top 10% of metros in 2017 for multi-family housing permits per capita (30th of 381), but it lags quite a bit in the construction of single-family homes, so its overall rank is only the 64th percentile (137th of 381). Even then, it’s still one of the fastest growing housing markets per capita in the Northeastern United States. 2016 and 2017 have been strong years, while 2015 and earlier were generally well below the national average.

The multi-family number per capita is arguably skewed higher than a typical year thanks to large projects like 441-unit/872-bed Maplewood, but the message seems to be that the community is seeing real results from its push for housing. However, with a lack of single-family being built, Ithaca and Tompkins County need to figure out ways to compensate for what single-family provides (i.e. home ownership). It’s not necessarily “we should build more single-family homes” although that is part of the answer. It’s also encouraging suitable single-home substitutes (condos) in desirable areas while maintaining a strong, steady flow of new units as the local economy continues to grow.

 





News Tidbits 6/23/2018

23 06 2018

1. The Town of Dryden has rejected the Planning Board’s suggestion for a Varna moratorium. The vote was 3-1, with one absent. This means that Trinitas may continue with the project review process – it does not mean Trinitas will automatically be able to build their proposal as currently drawn up, since planning board review, town board approval (Special Use Permit) and zoning board approval are still required.

Unfortunately no members of the press were present at the meeting – I found out through reader email. Most were covering the Democratic Party NY-23 candidate forum, and the first mention of the moratorium vote online was in the uploaded board agenda that went up just a day earlier.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

2. When I first broke the Lansing Senior Cottages story for the Voice, there was something I was concerned would happen, but didn’t include in the write-up, because speculating gets me in trouble. But these are homes looking at middle-class seniors, placed next to $500,000-$700,000 homes. The residents of those luxury homes aren’t happy, as reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star.

They’re angry, which is fair in the perspective that when the property was plated, there was no sewer available here, and the plan was to keep it all high-end 2500+ square-foot homes. But the owner/developer of the land is selling off the future phases without any of the old covenants in place, meaning it’s subject to standard village zoning. 800-1200 SF cottages for seniors, some of which may potentially be for sale, is a welcome proposal to the eyes of the county. It seems unlikely this is going to hurt their home values; this is mid-market senior housing, not college student apartments (the only beer on the front lawn you’re going to see is if developer Beer Properties puts up signage). Plus, if you’re going to poll public opinion on this one, wealthy homeowners vs. middle-class seniors is not going to engender support for the homeowners. They could try a lawsuit against the landowner, but I’m doubtful it’s much of a case unless their covenants explicitly said what the undeveloped land would be used for.

The project is currently 107 units over multiple phases, about twenty more than allowed by zoning as-of-right, so it will need to go through a PDA with the village Board of Trustees’ consent, and Planning Board approval.

3. The Crossroads Life Center planned for the 100 Block of Lansing’s Graham Road is no longer alive. The project, which called for a meeting and retreat space to be owned and maintained by the Cornell International Christian Fellowship, fell through, and the land it was proposed for is once again up for sale. The 9.35 acre property (about 3-4 acres were to have been subdivided for the project) is for sale for $239,000. A couple half-acre home lots could be easily subdivided off along Dart Drive, but further development would have to address an old family cemetery towards the rear of the property. Zoning is medium density residential. Maximum buildout without special planned development area (PDA) rules is about 20 units under the village’s Medium Density Residential zoning.

4. Speaking of land for sale in Lansing, Cornell is actively marketing the remaining vacant parcels in its Business Park. Most of the park was built out in the 1980s and 1990s, with only a few building additions in recent years. A 5-acre parcel is available between 20 and 33 Thornwood (foreground in the aerial) for $63,000, and a 22-acre parcel is available for $276,000 (it may be subdivided further), and a 6.89 acre parcel next to airport is available for $86,500.  Lansing zoning doesn’t allow housing here, and so a commercial or industrial project will need to deal with the gas moratorium. A run-of-the-mill office building might be able to make the finances work, but an industrial or lab building with high energy needs is probably is out of the question until some gas is freed up (i.e. the airport renovation), or energy alternatives become more cost efficient.  The county is working on financing a Business Energy Navigator Program to help interested businesses determine their needs and options. Should something happen up here, look for an update.

5. The town of Ithaca is looking at expanding their Public Works Facility at 106 Seven Mile Drive “to better accommodate [their] growing employee base”, and is doing a feasiblity study to see how much and what costs they can expect. The study would be conducted 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), and is projected to cost about $21k for all parties. The town board will vote to authorize the study next Tuesday.

6. The good news for the county was that the state gave Milton Meadows a big grant to move forward. The bad news is, they were hoping for three grants, the others for NRP’s Ithaca Townhouses and Lakeview’s West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street). The county is trying to find other funding streams with which to get these affordable housing projects to move forward this year.

The Ithaca Townhomes would add 106 units in two phases near Cayuga Medical Center. West End Heights would add 60 units, including units for those with special mental health needs, and units for those currently experiencing homelessness.

7. Not a big city planning board agenda meeting this month, but still some interesting details. Here’s the rundown.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:15
Location: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Potential Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:30
Location: 101 Pier Road
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision is to partition out the square of land Guthrie Clinic would be using for their new medical office building as part of the City Harbor development – they want to own their own building and parcel.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 6:45
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval – Recommendation to BZA

This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

B. Project: GreenStar Cooperative Market 7:15
Location: 750-770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for the Guthrie Clinic (Guthrie owns the land)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

Since the last round, plantings were added, the lighting and front entrance was revised, and the project team is in discussions with the gas station next door to add planting and landscaping there as well.

C. Project: Apartments (60 units) 7:35
Location: 232-236 Dryden Road
Applicant: STREAM Collaborative for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Approval of Revised Transportation Demand Management Plan

“The applicant has revised the site plan such that the previously proposed off-site parking is no longer included in the project and has updated the TDMP narrative to reflect this.”
D. 327 W Seneca St- Housing 7:45
The new shiny. 327 West Seneca is a B-2d-zoned property on the edge of the State Street Corridor – B-2d allows multi-family housing up to 4 floors and 40 feet with 75% lot coverage. It is currently a nondescript 3-unit apartment building, that’s been for-sale for almost a year now (asking price $264,900).
A cursory search of LLC filings finds 327 W. Seneca LLC was recently registered in Tompkins County, and the address it is registered to, is the business office of Todd Fox, CEO of Visum Development Group. This may be the project alluded to in the New York Main Street grant to be written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which talks about a 12-unit project by Visum planned somewhere in the State Street Corridor. No guarantees, but this seems likely to be that project.
5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3099, 314 Taylor St, Special Permit
#3100, 128 Falls St., Area Variance
#3101, 437 N Aurora St, Area Variance




News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.