201 College Avenue Construction Update, 6/2017

12 06 2017

201 College is moving right along. W. H. Lane has been charging ahead at a rapid clip in order to have the 44-unit apartment building ready for occupancy in August. the front (west) half is further in the construction process – fireproof Georgia-Pacific DensGlass fiberglass mat sheathing, coated and sealed a pitch black air/vapor barrier (Carlisle Barriseal?), and layered with Dow Thermax polyiso insulation boards. The Thermax is coated in a reflective outer layer to repel incoming solar radiation and keep the building cool during the summer. Or at least, that’s what one of the construction guys told me. Some windows have been fitted into the structure on the lower floors.

The back half is not as far along. The northeast and east walls remain bare steel studs, while the southeast wall is just getting its DensGlass mats installed. The paired window layout might seem a little unusual, but many of the units will utilize a “mezzanine” intermediary floor to increase the living space in each unit.

One detail that has appeared to have changed from the images on file here are the stairwell windows above the front entrance. The drawings show one square window for each floor, while the finished building will have a pair of smaller square windows.

The front facade might seem a bit bland at the moment, but a plethora of exterior finishes should give the building a more visually interesting appearance – A large Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore (aka fancy off-black) metal canopy above the entrance, and fiber cement panels in shades of Allura Snow White, S-W Gauntlet Grey, and S-W Chinese Red, as well as woven bamboo siding. A stucco aggregate will be applied to exposed foundation sections (when you’re spending $10 million, you can afford the real deal over DryVit), and white cedar panels with a clear protective finish will be used for canopy ceilings and architectural screens. Long story short, variety of colors and materials should help break up the mass and make it look less overbearing.

With August just a scant two months away, we’ll have an idea of how nice the final product looks soon enough.

 





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 4/2017

19 04 2017

Dropping by Visum Development Group‘s 201 College Avenue project, I was a little surprised that one half of the building is so much further along than the other half.

201 College is a “H” or dumbbell-shaped structure – the bridge between the two halves hosts the elevator shaft and part of the circulation (hallway). The west wing has completed structural framing, the exterior stud walls are being installed, and even some of the sheathing (fire-rated GP DensGlass fiberglass mat gypsum) is up on the ground level. Peering inside, it looks like some of the interior stud walls have already been set.

In contrast, the east wing isn’t that much further along than it was two months ago – the ground level masonry has been built-out, but the structural steel has not advanced since the February update. It’s not a sign of any difficulties, and other structures have taken or are taking similar approaches – Tompkins Trust’s new HQ has topped out, for example, but the north and east wings have yet to be built out beyond the elevator core. Still, it will take several weeks for the east wing to catch up when William H. Lane Inc. moves ahead with that side of the structure.

According to the construction loan docs filed with the county, the 33,398 SF project is being funded with a $7,870,673 loan from Pennsylvania-based S&T Bank, separate from the $2,640,000 from Visum and its backers that went towards purchase of the property. Hard costs, which are the construction materials and labor, comprise $6,841,038 of the loan, while soft costs comprise $506,984 (permits, legal, marketing, architect and engineering fee, liability insurance, financing costs such as loan fees/taxes/recording costs). An additional $300,000 serves as contingency (your “cover your butt” cash in case of unexpected expenses or poor occupancy rates), and $226,158 is set aside as interest reserve (a special savings account that pays the lender interest on the construction loan while the building is under construction – the objective is to get the building done and occupied before the reserve runs out).

The timeframe is quite tight on 201 College, with a planned August 2017 opening. The rest of the building should move along quickly over the next few months.





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 2/2017

2 03 2017

201 College Avenue is reaching for the sky – when these photos were taken about a week and half ago, the structural steel was as high as the third floor, so there’s still two more floors to be boxed out by the H-beams. Although only five floors, the mezzanine-approach to maximizing square footage means that the units on the third through fifth floors are quite tall, 16 feet from sub-floor to sub-floor, 70 feet for the whole building.

The basement level, which only occupies the west half of the building (the east half is slab-on-grade) has been fleshed out with reinforced concrete walls – the windows on the street corner will look into a gym and game room, while the two pocket windows on the northwest corner will look into the mechanical room. The blue boards on the concrete are rigid styrofoam panels used for insulation and moisture protection.

It looks like some wall framing is underway on the first floor for the three-bedroom units – those CMU walls face the stairwell, and the exterior walls of the building itself. The interior unit walls will likely be a more typical lightweight steel frame.

There’s been some documentation floating around that suggests an early working name for 201 College Avenue was “The Heustis Lofts”, Heustis (sometimes Huestis) Street being the original name of College Avenue. However, it doesn’t seem the moniker was officially adopted.
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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.





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 12/2016

18 12 2016

The Collegetown construction boom continues. In 2017, the city can expect at least five projects to open in the neighborhood, with a net gain of about 118 beds and $16 million in assessed tax value** – a two-family house at 123 Eddy Street; Cornell’s, 6-story, 76,000 SF Breazzano Center for its Executive MBA Program; the 5-unit, 28-bed 126 College Avenue;  the 9-unit, 36-bed 210 Linden Avenue; and lastly, the 5-story, 74 bed 201 College Avenue. Which has also been by far the most contentious one.

The project was first proposed in March – and from beginning to end, the only substantial change was a mild revision to its upper floors to create a setback as a modern deference to the Grandview House further up the block. That resulted in a loss of two bedrooms, dropping the plan from 76 to 74 beds.

For Todd Fox, who proposed the building through his company Visum Development Group, there wasn’t much room for revisions. He was going to, and paid, a premium on the property – $2.65 million, formally deeded in June by its previous owner, a small-scale local landlord who owned it for about seven years prior. The site held an early 1900s apartment house with three large spruce trees at the front, which became another source of contention during the debate.

To make the project financially feasible, he needed to build to the maximum 5 floors and 70 feet allowed by the site’s MU-1 zoning (the project would have been outright impossible before the 2014 CAFD zoning overhaul, due to the parking requirement), and building micro-units with mezzanines would make the project pencil out – the profit value of the vertical space was effectively maximized. Working with architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, he proposed a fairly modern building with fiber-cement panels, woven bamboo boards and cedar accents.

However, one thing that did not factor in to the calculations was the neighbor of 201, 203 College’s Neil Golder. Neil is a 44-year resident of Collegetown, having moved in in 1972, and buying his house in the early 1990s. As the kitchen manager for Loaves and Fishes and a former Common Councilor for the 4th Ward, he’s well known among the Ithaca community and is well connected to its grassroots organizations, as well as the political movers and shakers. By any account, Neil and his late partner Kathy Yoselson are beloved stalwarts of Ithaca’s progressive scene. However, Neil has generally not been a fan of development, particularly Collegetown’s (with one notable exception – 307 College).

What 201’s debate boils down to is a clash of two strong personalities. Todd Fox, who is probably the most gung-ho and financially adept developer one will find in the city of gorges; and Neil Golder, who was determined as hell to stop the project planned for the house next door, which wasn’t just a development, it was a project that he deeply felt would be a major detriment to his quality of life. Hence, Neil launched the group “Save the Soul of Collegetown“, under the auspices of protecting all of Collegetown, but mostly as a personal vehicle to drum up support to battle Fox and his apartment building.

The point of this summary isn’t to summarize every detail. You can read the 580+ page summary from the city, or all the Voice articles here. But there are a few key plot points.

After review and a negative declaration of environmental significance (meaning, effectively mitigated), he project received preliminary approval in June, and the city and the planning board were promptly slapped with a lawsuit by Golder. The stated case was that the environmental assessment was inadequate and that the project needed an EIS. Although it was quite a stretch given past precedent, it did make the planning board quite uncomfortable. John Schroeder, a longtime board member who served with Neil on the council, did a very deep analysis of the 2014 zoning code and determined that the building may be illegal on technicality.

That technicality was about building facade length, and whether Bool Street was a primary facade – if it was, it would legally have been required to be two separate buildings for having too long of a continuous face to the street. The zoning code, however, illustrated that an approach with indents such as 201’s were acceptable, and the city planning department, in their pre-site plan review assessment and meetings with Fox, had signed off on the plan as legal and acceptable. And they maintained that it was acceptable. So there ended up being a battle between the planning board, which is appointed though knowledgeable community members, and the planning department, which consists of vetted city staff. These kinds of battles are extremely rare, and it is likely that 201 was the first in decades.

While this debate raged, the building far exceeded its intended start date of July 2016. As a result, the site went on the market, and the plans were cast into jeopardy.

Although Fox and his team wanted to avoid a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals, it was determined by the board to be the only legitimate course of action. The BZA had to decide whether or not the project was legal. And, in a 3-1 decision in October, they decided it was legal, due to ambiguity in the code, and a lack of timeliness on the part of the planning board, as the legality was not considered until after months of review, after preliminary approval was granted. After the BZA ruling, work on the building began the next day.

No one walked away from this one looking good; One reader emailed in and compared it to a Clinton vs. Trump vote. The debate sent a chill down the development community, and created additional bitterness for some of the old-timers who felt Ithaca was selling out to developers and student interests. The planning department and board were also left with some resentment towards the other; now that the code has been clarified, one can hope further battles like this can be avoided.

Anyway, the building itself. Here are the floorplans. The mechanical room, a trash room, interior bike storage, gym and storage space occupy the basement. Four three-bedroom and four four-bedoom units (28 beds), with about 1,000 SF each, occupy the first and second floors. The third and fourth floors have micro-units, 16 of which will be about 392 SF studios, 8 of which will be 670 SF with two bedrooms, give or take a few feet for each (32 beds). The top floor has nearly the same layout as three and fourth, with eight micro-units of about 392 SF and 2 two-bedrooms of about 670 SF. However, the westernmost two units are studios, which have balconies and are about 400 SF each. So, 14 beds on the top floor, for a total of 74. The smaller units make use of mezzanine spaces and netting to increase usable space.

Fox’s rental company, Modern Living Rentals, is handling the leases. The units are currently listed from $1,670/month to $4,170/month, depending on size and location.

In the photos below, note that the excavated portion is only half of the building footprint – the basement only occupies the western half of the structure. The eastern half is slab-on-grade (Collegetown has more stable soils than most of the valley locations, so multi-story slab foundation buildings are feasible). The elevator core will be in the middle bridge of the “H”-shaped structure. Foundation forms are up and the concrete is being poured – through the fence, you can see one of the concrete footers already in place.

William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton, who just finished up the Marriott downtown, is the general contractor for the approximately $6 million project, which is paying a premium to meet the opening date of August 2017.

**If you add in Phase III of Collegetown Terrace, which is on the fringe of what’s normally considered Collegetown, raise those numbers to 462 beds and $71 million.

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News Tidbits 10/29/16: Envision Small Spaces

29 10 2016

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1. The heated debate over the Park Grove project in the village of Lansing continues. The primary opposition to rezoning continues to be the Jonson family of Ithaca Home (Forest City Realty / IJ Construction), and residents of their Heights of Lansing development at the end of Bomax Drive. Reasons cited include loss in property values, increased traffic, and slowing the completion of their own project.

Pardon the incredulity when hearing about property value concerns in a community with well-documented property appreciation. Furthermore, only two houses have been built in the Heights of Lansing development in the past couple of years. Since the project first launched in 2006, they have sold 17 townhouses and homes, in a development that planned for about 80. They’ve been moving at a snail’s pace for years, and it;s hard nothing to do with the zoning of nearby property. Another angry speaker asked why Lansing has to shoulder the county’s housing burden, but it’s not just Ithaca that has housing issues. In short, while I’m critical of this specific proposal, the zoning change makes sense. The board may consider a zoning change at its November 7th meeting.

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2. Thanks to the county planning department, we have a little more information about NRP Groups’ revival of the Holochuck Homes project on West Hill. It appears Tompkins is intending to award $300,000 in Community Housing Development Funds to the development team. The CHDF funds go towards affordable housing projects intended for households making 80% of Area Median Income or less (AMI is about $54,000/year, so roughly $43,000/year and less). It looks like 89 of the 106 units in this townhouse proposal will qualify for the funds; most likely the other 17 will be priced in the 80-100% AMI range. Like 210 Hancock and other larger projects, units typically aren’t restricted to one specific income bracket, there tends to be a mix of lower and lower-middle incomes. It also appears that Arbor Housing and Development, an affordable housing developer based out of Corning, will be partnering with NRP Group on the project. Ithaca would be new territory for Arbor Housing, whose next closest site is an apartment building in Odessa in Schuyler County.

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3. Looks like Tiny Timbers is one step closer to reality. The property at 5 Freese Road, once known as “Mt. Varna”, was sold on the 25th by Nick Bellisario to “VTT LLC” for $184,122.59. Presumably, VTT is short for Varna Tiny Timbers. Bellisario and co-owner Otis Phillips had purchased the land for $90k in 2006, and considered a couple different development plans for the site, including a 20-unit modular townhouse project for the site several years back. The land was most recently assessed at $100k. Philips is bowing out of ownership, but county documents show Bellisario and Tiny Timbers creator Buzz Dolph are co-partners in the LLC. The 15-unit Tiny Timbers project will be hosting an open house Saturday the 29th, and may be considered for final approval by the town of Dryden in November.

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4. Up on Ezra’s former farm, a hefty donation will finance the renovation of Noyes Lodge into a campus welcome center. The family of trustee Marvin Tang ’70 is donating $3 million to partially finance the creation of what will be the Marvin Y. Tang Welcome Center, pending approval by the Board of Trustees. The gift responds to a challenge grant created by mega-donor Atlantic Philanthropies (funded by Charles Feeney ’56), which offered up to $3 million in matching funds to donations towards the new welcome center – so with $6 million secured, the renovation’s financing is secured and will be able to move forward. Cornell has long considered a reception and exhibition space by the gorges, having mulled over but ultimately backing away from a plan penned by architect Richard Meier in the late 1980s. Tang, now retired, was a venture capitalist based in Hong Kong, and the regional chairman of a recruitment firm for business executives.

The Noyes Lodge, a 9,100 SF building that opened in 1958 as a womens’ dining hall, is currently used for language classes and training. Those functions would be moved into newly renovated space in Stimson Hall. JMZ Architects of Glens Falls, a favorite of the SUNY System, will be the design firm in charge of the renovation and re-purposing. The exhibition space will be the work of Poulin and Morris Inc. of New York City. Cornell plans to open the new welcome center by Summer 2018.

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5. There seem to have been some changes to the Village Solars project up in Lansing. According to the newly-uploaded planning board minutes, the site plan has been revised from 174 units to 206 units, but most of that is tied up in unit reconfiguration. Reaching out for specifics, here’s the response from Rocco Lucente the younger:

We have found that the micro unit floor plans are very, very popular and the three bedroom units have been the only units we’ve had any problems with getting rented in a timely manner (like most companies we like to be rented out by the end of Cornell’s season if possible), so we will be modifying the three bedroom floor plans to become micro units and our new junior one bedrooms, which are slightly larger than the micro unit and includes a separate bedroom and living room/kitchen area. The total number of bedrooms goes up very, very slightly and the square footage should remain relatively unchanged.”

The micro units he’s referring to are the units created during phase two, when two larger units were split into smaller units as a sort of testing of the waters – apparently it worked out quite well. It’s worth noting that three-bedroom units had the highest vacancy rate in the Danter study. We’ll see if this creates significant design changes, but one thing’s for certain, it drives up the unit count per building – for instance, Building M, slated to be built in the next phase, has increased from 17 to 24 units.

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Modern Living Rentals has started advertising units for 201 College Avenue. Business partner Visum is shooting for August 2017, which will be a very quick pace – hopefully William H. Lane Inc., the general contractor, is up to the challenge. With heat included in the rent, a three-bedroom will run anywhere from $3,250-$4,170/month, a two-bedroom for $2,170/month, and a one-bedroom with top-floor patio access will cost $1,670/month,  which puts it pretty close to the high end of the Collegetown market. The “New York City-style loft apartments”, as the ads boast, come with such building amenities as a high-end gym, media lounge, bike room, and high-end security system. Apartment amenities include full furnishings, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, in-unit dishwasher machines, washer and dryers, 16′ ceilings, and cargo nets. Yes, cargo nets – they extend from the bedroom and over the living room, and are billed as “the perfect place to relax and study”, capable of holding up to five people. I asked architect Noah Demarest about them, and he said the idea came from developer Todd Fox, and that examples can be found on Pinterest.

Meanwhile, Charlie O’Connor’s three-bedroom two-family houses underway on Old Elmira Road will be ready by February, and come in at $2,100/month per unit.

 

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X. For those who might be interested, sign up for the Tompkins County Housing Summit can be found here. Attendance is free, and comes with a meet and greet on the night of Wednesday November 30th at the Greenstar workspace (“The Space”), and a day-long summit on Thursday December 1st (attendees can choose whether to attend one or both). It appears that there’s a wait-list already for the Thursday summit, but the Wednesday night reception still has space for new registrants.





News Tidbits 10/22/16: Seal of Approval

22 10 2016

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1. In yet another twist in the 201 College Avenue saga, the project will be moving forward. The Board of Zoning Appeals sided 3-1 with the city Zoning Director and denied the Planning Board’s consideration that the building be considered illegal due to facade length. According to a report from former Times reporter Josh Brokaw (now operating as an indy journalist),  the board was swayed by arguments of time and ambiguity in the code. Brokaw’s reading makes it sound like there’s still some raw feelings between staff and board. The way to solve the most pressing issue would be to clarify the code based on the facade debate, and have the common council ratify those changes over the next few months. All in all, the Form District code works pretty well, and a number of projects have been presented without big discussions over semantics. But in the case of 201, it’s clear that the CAFD wording and imagery could use further refinement, so that everyone is on the same page. With 201 resolved, now is a good time to do that.

Dunno what the completion date will be offhand (August 2017 would be a breakneck pace, but we’ll see). Neighbor Neil Golder has refiled his lawsuit, but the case isn’t especially strong.

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2. Also getting underway this week is the renovation of the former Pancho Villa restaurant at 602 West State Street into the West End branch of Elmira Savings Bank. This is quite a bit earlier than initially planned – Site Plan Review docs suggested a July-December 2017 construction/renovation. Edger Enterprises of Elmira will be the general contractor for the 6,600 SF, $1 million project, which is expected to be completed in March 2017.

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3. The Dryden town board has approved 4-1 the concept of the Evergreen Townhouses plan for 1061 Dryden Road just east of Varna. This means that they accept a PUD can be appropriately applied for the site, but the project will need to submit a formal, more detailed development plan before any final approvals will be considered. One of the major changes that is being requested is a 15-foot setback between the property line and the units at the southeast side of the parcel (25-36), so expect those to get a little trim off of the rear side (the dissenting vote, Councilwoman Linda Lavine, was because she preferred a 25-foot setback). If the setback and the other stipulations are accommodated, its chances of approval are pretty good. Developer and local businessman Gary Sloan has 270 days to submit detailed plans for review.

Meanwhile, Tiny Timbers will be up for Dryden Zoning Board of Appeals review in early November. Since an internal road will be used to access some of the home lots, the town board will be viewing the site as an “Open Development Area” (ODA), which by Dryden’s definition is development with no direct road access. The town board will hold their public meeting on the 20th to approve the ODA, the planning board’s acceptance on the 27th. The ZBA is the last or second-to-last step in the approvals process (not sure offhand if the town will need to vote again to give a final approval).

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4. The senior housing next to the BJ’s in Lansing might finally be moving forward this spring. Dan Veaner has the full story here at the Lansing Star. The issue stems from working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what parts of the land can and cannot be developed – delineating the wetlands, basically. Apparently, the wetlands were created by an overflowing culvert back when the mall was built in the 1970s. But regardless of how they were created, the USACE deems they have to be protected, especially since it developed into a rare wetland environment called an “inland salt marsh”. Since then, it’s been back-and-forth on units – I’ve heard as few as 9 and as many as 18. A portion of the wetlands would still need to be relocated. The PDA boundaries were changed slightly by the board at the request of developer Eric Goetzmann earlier this month to accommodate the USACE determination. The tax break Goetzmann received to build BJ’s is contingent on the senior housing getting built, though at this point, one has to wonder just how much this wetlands tangle has cost him. Hope it was worth it.

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5. From the sound of it, the Maplewood Park DEIS public hearing was fairly positive. Many of the neighbors are pleased with the changes, although some are still opposed to the density or have concerns about traffic. In response, it’s worth pointing out that the commute of Maplewood’s residents will almost entirely be bus, bike and foot during normal business/school hours, and its convenience to bus routes and services will also help minimize overall traffic impacts. As for density, well, if you want Cornell to house its students and reduce the burden on the open market, promoting density on the existing Maplewood site may result in a more sustainable, more cost efficient project if planned properly, with less of a neighborhood impact than building several hundred beds on an undeveloped parcel elsewhere (since the Maplewood site has been inhabited in some form since the 1940s, the growth in density would not be as prominent – about 490 beds, vs. 872 beds).

Should readers feel inclined, comments are still being accepted by town planners up until October 31st. The materials and submission email can be found here.

6. It looks like there were a couple big sales in the local real estate market this week. The first one was the Tops Plaza in big box land, just south of Wegmans. National retail developer DDR Corp. sold the property to another large firm, NYC-based DRA Advisors LLC, for $20 million on the 18th. The sale included three addresses – 710-734 South Meadow, 614 South Meadow, and 702 South Meadow – The Tops Plaza, The smaller strip to its south (called Threshold Plaza), and the pad parcels like Chili’s and Elmira Savings Bank. Perhaps the most notable part of this sale is that it’s slightly below the total assessed value of $20,941,000. However, DRA picked up the property as part of a bundle sale of 15 shopping centers in Western and Central New York, so maybe it was a bulk discount, or compensating for weaker properties.

The other big sale was between a long-time local landlord and a newer, rapidly growing one. The Lucente family (as Lucente Homes) sold 108, 116, 202 and 218 Sapsucker Woods Road to Viridius LLC for $1.276 million on the 18th. According to county records, each is a 4-unit building built in the 1970s and worth about $275k – meaning, Viridius just acquired 16 units for a little above the $1.1 million assessed. Viridius’s M.O. is to buy existing properties, do energy audits to determine what needs to be done where to maximize energy efficiency, disconnect them from fossil fuel heating and energy sources, install pellet stoves, heat pumps and the like, renovate/modernize the properties, and connect the more efficient house to a solar grid or other renewable energy sources. If Sustainable Tompkins were a developer, they’d look like Viridius.


7. This last one isn’t so much a big sale, but worth noting for future reference – 126 College Avenue sold for $510,000 on the 19th. The buyer was an LLC at an address owned by Visum Development’s Todd Fox.

126 College is a 2-story, 6-bedroom house that might have been attractive long ago, but someone’s beaten it with an ugly stick and paved much of the front lawn (growing up near Syracuse, we called paved front lawns “Italian lawns”, with my uncle one of the many offenders). The purchase price is a little below the asking price of $529k, but more than double the assessment. Zoning at the property is CR-4 – up to 50% lot coverage, 25% green space, up to 4 floors and 45 feet in height, a choice of pitched or flat roofs, and required front porches, stoops or recessed entries. This is the lowest-density zone for which no parking is required. The city describes the zoning as “an essential bridge” between higher and lower density, geared towards townhouses, small apartment buildings and apartment houses.

Granted, not everything Visum/MLR does is new, some of their work focuses on renovation. But given the location, and given that frequent design collaborator STREAM had “conceptual” CR-4 designs on display during the design crawl earlier this month, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination.

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8. Interesting agenda for the city planning board next week, if nothing new. Here’s the 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           6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision             6:25
Location: 123 & 125 Eddy St.
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou is planning subdivision of a double lot to build a new 2-unit, 6-bedroom house designed to be compatible with the East Hill Historic District. CEQR has been given neg dec (meaning, all’s mitigated and good to proceed), and zoning variances for deficient off-street parking have been granted.
C. Project:  Minor Subdivision                6:35
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
One of those small infill builds, this proposal in Fall Creek takes down an existing single-family home for two two-family homes on a subdivided lot. The design has been tweaked, with more windows, a belly band, more varied exterior materials, and additional gables to provide visual interest.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)           6:45
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 2

The 8-story mixed-use proposal for the Trebloc site. Comes with one letter of support, and a letter of opposition from Historic Ithaca, who have previously stated they will oppose anything greater than four floors on State Street, and six floors overall.
B. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center            7:15
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: No Action — Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Parts 2 & 3
C. Project:  Four Duplexes                               7:30
Location: 607 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Charles O’Connor
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ PUBLIC HEARING  │ Review of FEAF, Part 2
MLR’s four-building, 8-unit plan for South Hill. Comes with a letter of neighbor support saying the scale is appropriate.
D. 371 Elmira Rd. (Holiday Inn Express) — Approval of Project Changes      7:45
The debate over the Spencer Road staircase and rip-rap continues.
E. 312-314 Spencer Rd. — Satisfaction of Conditions: Building Materials   7:55
F. 119, 121, & 125 College Ave. (College Townhouse Project) — Update        8:05
Novarr’s 67-unit townhouse project geared towards Cornell faculty. No decisions planned, just an update on the project. Keeps your fingers crossed for some renders.
G. Maplewood Redevelopment Project — Planning Board Comments on Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS)     8:20
The city’s deferred judgement to the town, but the board can still have their say. The comments will be recorded and addressed as part of the EIS review process.
5. Zoning Appeals                          8:35
• #3047, Area Variance, 123 Heights Court