Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 3/2017

20 03 2017

Over at the Ithaka Terraces located at 215-221 West Spencer Street, Building “A” is fully framed, sheathed, nearly all Low-E windows have been fitted and the roof has been shingled. Buildings “B” and “C” are still in the process of framing and sheathing. Building “D” might be excavated at this point, but all the snow made it impossible to tell.

Note that the condos use double-stud walls, meaning their are two sets of wood stud walls used in the exterior frame, parallel to each other but spaced apart by about 5 inches. That space is then filled with R39 densely-packed cellulose insulation. The result has its pros and cons. The cons are that it’s more expensive to build, and it reduces the interior space a little bit. The pro is that it’s very energy efficient, which comes in handy for a project trying to achieve net-zero energy use. Along with the low energy consumption and green features, the project will be powered by a solar array owned by the developer out in Caroline.

Since these buildings will have a stucco finish, and stucco tends to absorb moisture but ZIP sheathing does not, most building codes require a water-resistant barrier between the ZIP sheathing and the exterior stucco. This allows the wall to repel and drain off moisture without risking the integrity of the facade. In the photos below, the WRB is the would be the thin white coating going over the sheathing.

Formal marketing for the 12 units is expected to launch in a couple of months. 10 2-bedrooms and 2 3-bedroom units will be available, with prices ranging from $265,000-$390,000.





Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 1/2017

14 01 2017

The first building of the Ithaka Terraces, Building “A”, is fully framed and in the process of being roofed. The project uses double stud exterior walls in tandem with Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), which is thermally insulated plastic filled with concrete. The zip sheathing goes on over the surface. The purpose of the thick, more premium approach is for more efficient insulation, since the condo units are designed to be net-zero compatible (the high energy efficiency reduces the need for off-site renewable energy sources, and net-zero becomes more feasible as a result).

Further up the sloping site, smaller Building “B” has completed the ICF erection ground floor and is starting work on the upper floors. Note the reinforced concrete wall facing South Cayuga (east). That will eventually be back-filled and hidden from view. As seen in some of the early concept designs below, only the top floor of the three floors of Building “B” and “D” will have windows facing outward; the South Cayuga side of the property is where the parking lot will be laid.

The other large building in the four-building cluster, Building “C”, a mirrored floorplan of “A”, is just getting started; the site was being prepped and graded when these photos were taken last week. Building “D”, a mirrored floorplan of “B”, will start construction at a later date, as the other three get further along. In the last photo, one can see the winding temporary staircase workers use to get to the building themselves. AquaZephyr, an Ithaca firm specializing in eco-friendly construction, is the general contractor in charge of the buildout.

The 12-unit condo project will begin formal marketing later this Spring. There will be 10 two-bedroom units and 2 three-bedroom units, in the $265k-$390k range. A late 2017 opening is planned. Interested readers can submit queries here.

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Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 11/2016

26 11 2016

Ed Cope’s Ithaka Terraces have made modest but noticeable progress in the past couple of months. Building A is up to the third floor, while Building C is undergoing foundation work. The other two buildings, B and D, will come along in later stages.

Since the 12-unit South Hill condo project is going for net-zero capability, its construction is a little different from the norm. Quoting the sales website:

“The building features nominal 12 inch thick double stud exterior walls with a total of R39 continuous dense packed cellulous insulation and 18 inches of R63 loose fill cellulous insulation in the attic. The walls and attic are completely air sealed with Zip sheathing with all seams taped to prevent vapor migration through the walls and ceiling.”

The exterior walls are a combination of thick wood stud walls, thermal plastic filled with concrete and Huber Zip sheathing. In between the cavities of the stud walls, local contractor AquaZephyr will be blowing in dense cellulose insulation (pictures of that process here). This will allow the condos to achieve a very high degree of energy efficiency, and assist in making the project net-zero capable.

More info on the project can be found here.

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Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 9/2016

4 10 2016

I wanted to wait until the Voice condo piece was published before putting these photos up. Work has started on the twelve condominiums planned for 215-221 West Spencer Street. The project, dubbed “Ithaka Terraces”, is the idea of Ed Cope, a retired Cornell biologist who owns the local property management firm PPM (Premium Property Management) Homes.

215-221 West Spencer Street is a steeply sloped 0.47 acre site that was previously home to a multistory apartment building. The building had fallen into disrepair by the early 2000s, and the city bought the property for $530,000 in 2003 with plans to turn it into affordable housing. However, that plan was thrown off track after the building burned down not long afterward. The site was then used as an informal parking lot by nearby residents for a number of years while the city figured out what they wanted to do with it. The city deeded the property to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency in 2013, who attempted to sell it as affordable housing, but found no takers at the $100,000 starting bid. Cope picked up the property when it was offered for sale to general housing, paying $110,000 in March 2015. Sketch plans were presented a few weeks later at the March Planning Board meeting.

The parcel is zoned R-3a, and the property required some variances for having parking within rear yard setback, which the planning board and BZA were comfortable with given the steep topography of the site. The property was approved by municipal boards last fall. Long story short, it’s classically-inspired urban infill.

The plan is to have the buildings ready for occupancy by September 2017. Units range from $265,000-$390,000, depending on size and location. Two of the units are 3-bedrooms, and the other ten are two-bedrooms, ranging from 637-1311 SF. For those interested, more information can be found at the just-activated website for the project here.

Along with Ed Cope (operating as “Net Zero NRG LLC”) on the project team is architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, Taitem Engineering for structural engineering, T.G. Miller P.C. for site surveying and civil engineering, and green building expert AquaZephyr as general contractor. All of those businesses are local. The sawhorses in the photos say McPherson Builders, but they could be a subcontractor, or on loan.

In the now two-week old photos below, Building A is already under construction, while the site for building C has been leveled. More specifically, the foundation has already been dug, formed and poured for Building A, and the first-floor walls have been erected. Like their little pioneer across the street, The buildings are designed to be net-zero energy capable. The slab foundations will be insulated with R15 rigid foam, and the first floor walls use insulated concrete forms (ICFs) similar to the Fox Blocks used for the Thurston Avenue Apartments a couple of years ago. The walls are put together block-by-block, with concrete poured into the inside gaps. This provides insulation on both the interior and exterior of the wall.  The building will use electric air source heat pumps for winter heating and summer cooling, with the electricity provided from a solar array Cope owns in the town of Caroline. The buildings will seek net-zero certification once they are completed.

Here’s the press release from Ed Cope that I received as part of our Q&A:

One of my primary interests in Ithaca housing is to help improve the overall community. My development goals all come from that objective, and so for the past few years I have worked to identify sites that are a very inefficient use of space, and are therefore mostly vacant and difficult to build on which is why they are still in need of development.

This combines with my longtime interest in efficient use of energy which includes building energy-efficient buildings. This interest leads me into risky but rewarding projects and works well with the city’s infill development initiatives. At PPM Homes we have transformed many of the older houses that we have acquired into much more energy-efficient dwellings.

One of our successes was the complete rebuild of a rundown property on a steep and difficult site at 201 S. Aurora. We were able to transform this property into a beautiful and more appropriate “gateway” to South Hill, a sharp contrast to the decrepit and crumbling house it once was.

The Ithaka Terraces project is our second effort at completely new development, the first being across the street at 228 W. Spencer where we took an impossibly small and impossibly steep postage stamp of a site and built a netzero energy 2-bedroom house.

This house, which is now on the market, is currently powered completely by PPM Homes offsite solar array which incredibly also provides all of the electricity for many of the properties that PPM Homes manages.

The condos at Ithaka Terraces will also be powered by an additional solar array that we will be built by Renovus Energy next to our current array which is 15 miles outside of Ithaca.

Both of these properties on West Spencer Street are built on sites that are extremely difficult on which to build. They have been vacant for years and would probably have remained vacant for years to come. Special engineering consideration due to the peculiarities of building on the sites has been handled by Tatiem Engineering.

The Ithaka Terraces project also responds to the recognized need for condominiums downtown. Three blocks from the Commons and consisting of 12 two and three bedroom units, these condominiums will provide upscale quality and energy-efficient living.

In the interest of reflecting Ithaca’s namesake our design will add a pleasing Greek aesthetic to this part of West Spencer Street. The project should be complete by this time next year and be available for reserving units by early summer. Our website for the project is up and running at IthakaTerraces.com .

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News Tidbits 10/10/15: Meeting With the Stakeholders

10 10 2015

1.There is nothing wrong with a little speculation. In a follow-up of sorts to the Voice piece about parking capacity in Downtown Ithaca, the Times’ Josh Brokaw did an interview of his own with city of Ithaca parking director Frank Nagy. Nagy believes that the 248-car estimate used by State Street Triangle is “way high”, but given that one of the refrains is that there’s not enough parking, they’d rather be safe than sorry.

More importantly, Nagy believes that the Seneca Garage only has about 10 years of life before a new garage will need to be built (the Seneca garage was built in 1972). The structural situation at Green Street is severe enough that the city may have to remove the end pieces and build up the middle section, which was renovated several years ago. The property is being reviewed, and with Tompkins Trust vacating office space on its ground floor as part of the move to its new HQ, the assessment is well-timed.

If the Green Street garage decides to go up rather than out, that leaves two very valuable properties that the city could sell to its benefit (financial, affordable housing, or otherwise). Both ends of the Green Street garage are zoned CBD-140, which offhand is the densest zoning in the entire city, 140 feet maximum height with no parking requirement. A zealous councilperson might try and change that post-SST, but as is, a rebuild of Green Street a few years from now could yield a lot of possibilities for downtown development. Put that in the notebooks for 2020 or so.

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2. Speaking of future plans, we have the bike debate currently raging in the streets. Now, this is only tangential to my usual work, and I am not versed in the topic, so it’s nice to go in without preconceptions.

The city just finished work on Board of Public Works (BPW)-approved bike lanes on North Cayuga Street, specifically an unprotected bike lane on the east side (protected lanes were considered, but not approved). Although meetings gave due public notice, there were no letters sent to Cayuga Street residents informing them of the change, and a number of folks were caught off guard, including members of the city’s Common Council.

In the one corner, you have folks angry about the loss of parking, the inconvenience, and the danger it poses to the elderly. Unfortunately, you also have a council member describing biking-proponents in the same tone one would describe Albany lobbyists. The mayor has come out in favor of the N. Cayuga Street bike lane, although according to the Times, he’s not a fan of “resident-driven infrastructure”. It’s really a fascinating read from a planning perspective. – Times coverage here, Journal here.

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For what it’s worth, bike lanes are a major part of walkable communities and reduced ecological impacts (carbon footprints). I feel like I’ve seen this type of argument play out from the perspective of development quite a bit – every new Collegetown or downtown building gets the “Ithaca shouldn’t allow big buildings/they’re ruining Ithaca/where are they going to park” argument, and the “Ithaca is not a small town/it promotes walkable communities/suburban sprawl is destroying Tompkins green space” counter-argument. The key problem with the bike situation seems to be a lack of communication between the BPW and Common Council (and residents by extension). Luckily, the planning board doesn’t quite have this problem – everything they vote on gets publicized, on this blog if not elsewhere.

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3. The last hurdle for John Novarr’s 215 Dryden Road project has been cleared. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved variances from the Collegetown Form Guidelines – the corner isn’t chamfered or set back enough and the building only has one main entrance (the form-based code mandates an entrance every 60 feet of non-residential space). The owner of the house across Linden from the corner was the lone opposition speaker, and the BZA vote was 4-1, with Marilyn Tebor Shaw opposed. No reason for Shaw’s decision was provided in the article.

With all the approvals tucked away, all that’s needed is for the city to sign off on the building permit. Expect this one to be underway within the next month.

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4. Reader submissions are always welcome. The photos for this week’s “House of the Week” featurette come courtesy of Frost Travis. The house receiving the addition is 416 North Plain Street in Ithaca’s Washington Park neighborhood. The current owners brought the property in October 2014. County records give it a 1900 construction date, which is often a default for old and unsure; it appears on an 1889 map of the area, but was not yet built in the 1866 map.

The rear addition looks like it’s been underway for a while – the exterior has been framed and sheathed with plywood Huber ZIP system roof and wall sheathing, which uses seams and tape to save time vs. traditional sheathing such as Tyvek housewrap. There are some windows fitted into the rough openings, but there’s still plenty of work to do with closing up the exterior and interior utilities rough-in. Looking at the original house, the owners appear to be fitting smaller windows in place of the originals – two window cutouts on the north wall have been filled in with sheathing, and a new window has been fitted in a new opening. The front door and adjacent window are gone, one large rough opening in their place. The front roof above the door and window was slanted, but has been dropped to a flat roof as part of the renovation and addition. Presumably, the butter yellow vinyl exterior will be re-finished as construction progresses. With any luck, this one will be finished before winter comes.

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5. What a quick turnaround. The Cornell Daily Sun first made mention of the Ag Quad renovation last week as part of its coverage of the Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting. Now only a week after Cornell shared a glimpse at the cards in its hand, they’re playing them. The $9.6 million project will be broken down into two phases, one that focuses on infrastructure, and one phase on landscape improvements (and being that much of the infrastructure is underground utilities, phase one could be described as churning up the ground, and phase two is making the upturned dirt pretty again). The renovations, which are set to start next summer and run through 2017, will include additional emergency phones, a rain garden, and outdoor gathering spaces in front of Mann Library and Roberts Hall (upper right and lower left in the above render).

Too bad those temp buildings are still there between Kennedy Hall and Plant Science. If the Southern Tier wins that Upstate Redevelopment competition, I have an idea where the new Plant Science Commericialization Building should go.

6. Plans for 416 E. State have evolved since the bar was first proposed. Originally conceived as a general bar/drinking establishment, developer and Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has faced substantial opposition to the project – neighbors are vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department was not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement, which had after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. Although the project doesn’t need planning board approval, it does need BZA approval – area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.

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Representatives for Rosenblum and neighbors have met, and the compromise Rosenblum and his associates have proposed involves a lounge-type of establishment they’re calling “The Printing Press”, after one of the previous uses for the late 1940s warehouse. They’ll be going for an industrial/”speakeasy” aesthetic, and targeting the same older, more affluent clientele that patronizes the Bar Argos next door. Signage would be minimal, and exterior work limited largely to an accessory parking lot/handicap access, landscaping and a new coat of paint. Looking at the original plan vs. the revised plan, the bar no longer is in the rear corner, but moved closer to the building center so as to buffer the noise of patrons from disturbing neighbors. Parking will be shared and organized with the Argos Inn’s lot. For more info, cover letter here, renders here, vision statement here.

The new parking arrangement may assuage the county, and the low-key bar located centrally in the interior may be enough to satisfy some of the neighbors. But we’ll have to see the BZA’s reaction and what remaining opposition there is before anything is set in stone.

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7. The Planning and Development Board has scheduled a Design Review Committee meeting to offer guidance and commentary on the styling of proposed buildings. While State Street Triangle isn’t on the agenda (yet), the Hotel Ithaca addition is. Renders here and here.

I’ve toned down my opinions over the years, but this…well, let’s just so those “sick burns” Nick Reynolds mentioned at the last planning board meeting were pretty well justified. I mean…yikes. The cross-hatched blank walls, the circular glazing, the “tourist trap” aesthetic. There’s an alternative being shown with small windows in place of the circular glazing, and rectangular facade hatching instead of the cross-hatching, but it’s not a great improvement. The board’s going to have a lot to say with this proposal.

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8. I had hopes that for the first time in three years, a major project would go through the boards without complaint or opposition. Hopes dashed. The complainant against the 4-building, 12-unit 215-211 West Spencer Street project cites the loss of the city’s parking lot on the site, the narrow width of S. Cayuga Street (the “rear” road), traffic, and no neighborly interactions because it’s a rental that faces Spencer Street.

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The kicker is, the letter-writer lives in an upscale Lansing subdivision. He rents out his 3-unit Cayuga Street property. The “house” that the letter claims used to be on the site is also misleading. It was a run-down multi-story apartment building (shown above in the photo from county records), demolished 12 years ago by the city, and turned into an informal parking lot that was never meant to be a long-term use. The land was sold by the city to Ed Cope for $110,000 last March.

I’m willing to entertain legitimate arguments and complaints to projects. But this isn’t one of them.





News Tidbits 9/19/15: It’s A Numbers Game

19 09 2015

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1. Readers might have noticed that there was no Monday night (Tuesday) piece this week. The piece that was originally scheduled evolved into the building permits analysis that was a featured article on the Voice (link here). The initial intent was to run a mirror of the piece on the same day, but things got a little delayed, and eventually I just scrapped running it as the topic-of-the-week.

The reaction was generally favorable (if maybe less traffic than hoped; math-y pieces typically aren’t big traffic generators), but there’s a couple of quick criticisms that came in that I want to address. Namely that I didn’t include proposed projects, and that I left out non-residential construction.

Truthfully, there is no reliable long-term record of non-residential construction. HUD doesn’t break it down in their SOCDS database, and the county doesn’t have complete data on non-residential construction (for their reports, they also rely on the HUD SOCDS database). Related to that, HUD data for 2015 is very preliminary, relying on imputed values. Finalized and corrected 2015 data won’t be available for use until March 2016.

That being said, residential permits are an effective gauge for a few reasons – one, residential is the largest individual construction sector nationwide; two most recent local construction is residential or institutional, and three, many of the projects built in Ithaca are “mixed-use” meaning they have commercial and residential components. although the commercial components aren’t kept in track, the residential construction permits are available, and are showing up in the city’s SOCDS data.

For proposed projects, it’s not prudent to “count your chickens before they’ve hatched”. This passage was originally in the piece, but was pulled before the final version was published:

“As mentioned earlier, news sources like us here the Voice are guilty are promoting the misconceptions. We try and keep tabs on all the big projects – when they get proposed, approved and underway. The thing is, not all projects go from proposed to built. Some never receive approvals. Some get approved, but wait years to get construction financing, if ever. So it seems like there’s more than there is.”

Without having hard evidence in front of me, I’d argue that if one were to somehow include office and retail, the area still isn’t booming if we’re looking in a historical timeframe – you’d have large spikes in retail during the mid 1970s when the mall was built, and from about 1997-2004 in Southwest Ithaca and Lansing for big box retail. For office space, there would be a peak in the late 1980s/early 1990s for the Cornell business park by the airport; there’s circumstantial evidence that the office market today is pretty weak, TFC’s HQ being the odd project out. Industrial space would have peaked with Borgwarner’s construction in the early 1980s, but in recent years it’s been minimal or even negative growth (due to the Emerson shutdown). Hotels might be the only category that shows a “boom” at present.

The point of the article remains that

1. If we look at available building permit data, Tompkins has seen an uptick in construction, but not a construction “boom”, and
2. It feels like a boom because the region’s coming off of a very low period of activity, and there’s more construction in the highly visible urban areas of Ithaca city, vs. the suburban and rural development that has been more prevalent in previous years.

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2. It’s time for a semi-regular house-of-the-week feature. I’ve been meaning to update on this for a while, but I keep missing the turn off Route 79. Local developer Chris Petrillose of Petrillose Properties (possibly related to Bob Petrillose, the founder of the Hot Truck) recently finished his second and third duplex  off of Wiedmeier Court in the town of Ithaca. Like the first duplex that was finished last year, each building consists of a 4-bedroom unit and 2-bedroom unit.

According to county records, the Wiedmeiers began to develop the land in the mid-2000s, building 2 duplexes of their own before deciding to sell the other lots (Petrillose bought the lots for the duplexes in 2012). The rest of the land, 12.34 acres, is currently for sale, so perhaps this won’t be the last visit.

3. Previously reported here and on the Voice, the city is studying whether or not to sell fire station No. 9, located in the heart of Collegetown at 309 College Avenue, to an interested private developer. We now know the consultant the city hired to perform the study.

Kingsbury Architecture, a small local firm, is investigating whether it would be worth the city’s investment to build a new station elsewhere on East Hill and sell the aging station, or invest in repairs and long-term maintenance for the current 1968 structure. Kingsbury has little presence online, but in an example of how small of a world this is, they were the initial firm used to plan St. Catherine of Siena’s new parish center, the project discussed in last week’s news update. However, according to church newsletter, the congregation amicably ended the partnership because of cost issues. The church staff went architect shopping, and that’s how Richard McElhiney Architects came into the project. Some of Kingsbury’s work can be found on the church’s webpage here. Kingsbury also appears to have done some interior renovation work at Cornell, and roof replacement at the Cascadilla Boathouse.

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4. New documents from Campus Advantage give insights on the tenant mix and parking situation in downtown Ithaca.

First, my personal disclaimer – Even though part of their market research cites work I’ve written for the Voice about the housing crisis, my work was done impartially.

The new information comes as part of Campus Advantage’s official response to the city planning board’s request for more specific values on resident population, parking utilization and bus capacity, among other details. The documents are provided as part of the planning board’s materials here.

Updated figures indicate the proposed building has gone on a diet – the number of bedrooms has dropped from 620 to 582, the number of units from 240 to 232, and the square footage from 288,845 SF to 216,434 SF, a 25% reduction in mass. The maximum height remains the same at 11 stories at 116 feet. The slimming down comes in response to unfavorable review of the previous design as “too massive”, especially on the side facing East State Street.

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According to an internal study by Campus Advantage, the Texas developer forecasts that, of the 582 tenants when at full capacity, 77.8% (431) will be students, and 22.2% (123) non-students. Of those students, 78.4% (338) will be undergraduates. Cornell students would comprise 64% (276) of the student population, Ithaca College 32% (138), and TC3 4% (17). A quick glance at the details behind these projections shows that CA assumes 95% occupancy, studios and other smaller units will be half or majority non-student, and that undergrads will be more inclined towards shared 4-bedrooms and 5-bedroom units. CA conducted online surveys with student groups to gather information for their study.

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The parking demand from residents is predicted to be 191-219 spaces, taken from a study conducted by third-party traffic engineering firm SRF Associates. A further 64 parking spaces will be required for commercial retail tenants on the first floor (57 customer spaces, 7 employee spaces), for a grand total of 283 parking spaces. The 2012 Randall/West Collegetown parking study used as reference looked at student and non-student vehicle ownership in the Collegetown neighborhood, and the higher end (or “more conservative”, as SRF calls it) 219-space figure comes from a calculation the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit urban planning think-tank. Given that Randall/west focused on Collegetown, the more conservative figure is the safer bet.

It’s not clear whether the parking garage study above is CA’s or the city’s, but the application itself states that the city’s Parking Director, Frank Nagy, has confirmed that enough parking is available, and a letter from TCAT’s Doug Swarts states that TCAT has the capacity for State Street Triangle’s potential tenants. Looking at the above study, though, it appears that if built, and if all the other approved and likely projects (i.e. don’t include 130 East Clinton) are built, the parking garages will be nearly full.

Since the new drawings were presented at the public open house on September 10th, there do not appear to have been revisions – what was shown then will be shown at the planning board meeting next Tuesday (links to those drawings here). However, the planning board will be looking to schedule a design review committee meeting, where board members provide suggestions and guidance on design features for the new building. In other words, this probably isn’t the building’s final design.

Also included in the attachment are two opposition letters – one from Historic Ithaca saying the building’s still too tall and massive, the other from former planning board and councilwoman Jane Marcham, who takes the unusual if debatable tact by saying that students living downtown deprives the colleges of campus life. Students comprise 40% of the market-rate downtown rental market, so there’s a few to interview for opinions should anyone be interested.

As always, the project is likely to inspire some debate at the planning board meeting. We’ll see if the changes are to the board’s liking.

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5. Wrapping up this short but informative week, here’s a look at the Planning Board agenda for next week:

A. State Street Triangle – Public Hearing, City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) discussion, and scheduling a Design Review Committee meeting. CEQR is they city’s more in-depth take on SEQR, where a project’s environmental impacts are considered, and a negative declaration (acceptance) is given only when adverse factors have been mitigated in a way the board sees fit. Design Review Committee pretty much is as it sounds – the board makes suggestions on the building design as a quality control / quality assurance measure.

B. 215-221 Spencer Street, Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – the board has decided to recommend approval of the parking variance (parking within the rear yard setback), given the site’s steep topography.

C. Site improvements, 416-418 East State Street416-418 East State Street is currently home to an underused 7,600 SF office and a connected manufacturing/storage building. The house dates from the 19th century, with various additions as recent as the 1970s. According to plans filed with the city, an LLC linked to Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has plans to convert the old manufacturing space into a bar and storage space, with renovated offices and a 2 bedroom apartment in the original house. The project will include an accessory parking lot, revised landscaping and handicap access. Area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance, but a parking variance won’t be required because the bar will have after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.

There have been substantial concerns expressed about this project – neighbors are vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department is not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement. The city will need to examine this project carefully.

Scott Whitham is serving as a consultant, and local architect Jason Demarest is designing the renovation.

D. Hotel Ithaca – Amended declaration of environmental significance. Backstory and plans here.

E. “Sketch Plan – 815 South Aurora Street, 87 unit housing project” – See conceptual design above, full backstory here. To recapitulate the salient details, local developer Todd Fox of Modern Living Rentals would like to build apartments on vacant land at 815 South Aurora Street, but can’t because the vast majority of the property is within the “fall zone” of a cell tower, which the city defines as twice the height of the tower. The 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel virtually undevelopable. Fox had two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting) analyze the case, and they determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox tried to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development. But when Fox and project architect Noah Demarest approached the BZA, they said they wouldn’t consider the 815 South Aurora Street application unless the law was amended, or Fox and Demarest go through the sketch plan and review process, and submit a formal application for a zoning variance.  So now we’re at the point of having a sketch plan to present. Regardless of design, the project will need an area variance issued by the BZA for the cell phone tower issue. At 87 units, this will be a pretty sizable project, and given Fox’s previous work (he’s been rather busy lately), it will likely be rentals, perhaps with Ithaca College students as the target market.

3 of the 5 projects above (SST, 215-221 West Spencer, and 815 South Aurora) have Noah Demarest/STREAM Collaborative as a lead or consulting architect. None of them have the same developer. Talk about having your fingers in many pots.





News Tidbits 6/27/15: A Bad week for YIMBYs

27 06 2015

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1. Starting this off with least controversial news-maker this week – John Novarr’s 209-215 Dryden Road project, which I wrote about for the Voice here and with site plan details and SPR/render links here. The first article’s a little helter-skelter as a write-up because there was a lot of frantic 11:30 PM fact-checking going on in an effort to get the news out.

The $12 million, 12,000 sq ft proposal is smaller than Collegetown Dryden, but more importantly, the project isn’t residential; it’s classroom and office space for Cornell’s MBA program, three floors for each of those uses. That definitely brings something different to Collegetown and its mostly residential focus. With assurances given that the property will be kept on the tax rolls, the initial opposition appears to mostly be related to the design, which to be honest, is rather avant-garde and an acquired taste (not one I’ve acquired, to be honest). However, bringing 200 staff and a few hundred professional students into Collegetown would be a real asset for businesses struggling to stay open amid the neighborhood’s 32/36-week profit window.

209-215 Dryden Road is within the MU-2 zoning from the looks of it, so a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seems unlikely at the moment. We’ll see what happens moving forward, this one could be a fairly smooth approvals process.

2. For a smaller developer, Ithaca-based Modern Living Rentals has been pretty busy this year. Along with 707 East Seneca Street and 902 Dryden, they have a modular duplex (3 bedrooms each, 6 total) currently under construction at 605 South Aurora Street in Ithaca city. A construction permit was issued back in 2014, according to the city planning report. The orientation is a little odd in that the new duplex is being built in front of the old home on the property, since the house is longitudinally centered but set back on its lot. Taking a guess, the intended market is likely IC students. The new units look like they’ll be ready for occupancy in time for the fall semester.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the Tompkins County Government Operations Committee – plans to sell a vacant lot to non-profit housing developer INHS. In its May minutes, the committee announced intent to sell a vacant, foreclosed parcel in Freeville for affordable housing. The property is described as a 1.72 acre parcel on Cook Street in the village, which through a little deductive searching, turns up the lot in the map above, just north of the Lehigh Crossing Senior Apartments. The minutes state that INHS is in the process of drafting up an acquisition offer for the county attorney.

Freeville is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This might be the first new rural project post-merger. The Lehigh Crossing Apartments have 24 units on 2.3 acres, so if INHS were to build at the same density, this site would be looking at something around 18 units. Not big, but not inconsequential, especially for a 520-person village.

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4. A decision to decrease sewer hookup costs in Lansing village also shares some details about a senior housing project in the works. The news comes from the Lansing Star, where the village voted to decrease its sewer hookup fee from $2,350 per unit to $1,000 for the first unit and $500 for each additional unit. Apparently the high fee was the result of the lack of a permitting process in the 1990s.

The article notes that the developer of a mixed-use request had requested a fee waiver because it would have cost $138,650 for their “59 units of senior housing”. Now it will be $30,000. Not as good as a waiver, but still pretty good. Lansing village only has one project that meets the description provided, the 87,500 sq ft Cinema Drive project covered here previously. The semi-educated guess back in May was 51 units, so the ballpark estimate wasn’t too shabby.

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5. It’s official, 327 Eddy is under construction. Asbestos removal has been completed and the Club Sudz building is coming down. The Fontanas hope to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by next August. In replacement of Club Sudz’ and Pixel’s 7 units and 2,500 sq ft of commercial space, the new 5-story building will bring 1,800 of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall the building was originally going to be six floors, but a floor was lopped off since it was approved.

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6. Updated renders for 215-221 West Spencer Street, coming right up. A little more detail on the facades, some window updates from the last version, and…well, honest personal opinion…it’s a very attractive design. Materials could underwhelm it, but as presented, it appears to be a lovely addition to South Hill. Good work STREAM Collaborative.

The 12-unit, 26-bed project plans to start construction next year. The project replaces an informal (dirt) parking lot.

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7. Touching on the Old Library decision briefly, a public meeting on the two proposals will be held Monday June 29th at 6:308:30pm at Greenstar’s “The Space” (700 West Buffalo Street). Douglas Sutherland will represent Franklin Properties (first image) and Frost Travis will be presenting for Travis Hyde. Should the County Legislature decide to take another vote to see if the stalemate will be broken, the next chance will be at their July 7th meeting.

EDIT: The public meeting scheduled for the 29th has been cancelled .

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8. Onto the thornier topics – Not sure what was worse this week, the reaction to the State Street Triangle project, or the INHS Hancock Street opposition. The objective, non-partisan write-up about the State Street project is on the Voice here. This and news piece #9 are opinion pieces, feel free to ignore them.

At least the State Street objections (latest renders here), I can understand the initial shock and recoil; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jive with that. Regardless, by Ithaca standards it is massive, 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms; if this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).

But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site. Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit”.

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, than a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely. Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:
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to this:

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Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

9. Now for 210 Hancock. Here is a project that’s been transparent, incredibly transparent, throughout their whole planning process. At first, there was little opposition. Now, it threatens the proposal, apartments, townhomes and all.

A wise man once told me in when I was preparing a piece, “There’s no point in talking about this with you, the public’s going to have issues with it either way”. At this point, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve read the petition, and I’ve read the facebook comments. It’s regrettable, to say the least.

A lot of the comments just seem to be misinformed. People saw the petition, thought that INHS was only building the apartments, and signed it. The petition was worded with charged and selective language. I’d like to take a few minutes out to refute and argue some of the commentary.

“there must be a safe place for children to play…”

“People need access to green space, yards and the ability to get outside directly from their living space.”

“I want my 3 year old to grow up in a neighborhood where he can safely ride a bike, play sports and walk his dog.”

You’re right. That’s why the project, as proposed by INHS and tweaked by the city Planning Board, builds a playground that blends into Conley Park without the threat of vehicular traffic (shown in the plan below). Adams Street and Lake Avenue would be removed, allowing kids living in the apartments and townhomes to go the playground without crossing any street.

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“I’m a lifelong resident, and I’m frankly getting tired of seeing all these areas getting bulldozed and developed…especially when we have dozens of empty/condemned houses and buildings just sitting around!”

The rental vacancy rate is 0.5%. A healthy market is 3-5%. Further to that, if there are dozens of homes, even if they were for sale, it’s still not enough to handle the demand, which is in the few thousands.

“inadequate parking planned.”

“The parking issue is already a problem. This will only make it worse.”

“I am a Fall Creek resident and do not want this area in our neighborhood to resemble Collegetown in density or difficulty in parking.”

84 parking spaces are required by zoning, 64 are proposed. However, only 22 spaces are expected to be used by the 53 apartments. In the parking study of INHS tenants, 41% of apartment tenants have 1 car, 12% of those have two. One of the reasons why INHS’s parking utilization is so low is that many of its apartments are rented by seniors – for example, Breckenridge Place is 60% seniors on fixed incomes. With limited mobility and/or income, many don’t maintain personal cars.

In a sense, although the Cornerstone project for affordable senior housing wasn’t selected by the Old Library site, the INHS project on Hancock Street may serve in some ways as a reasonable alternative.

“We don’t owe any developer a profit on their development.”

INHS is a non-profit community developer. The townhouses sold at Holly Creek over the past year were in the $105-$120k range. For comparison’s sake, the townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages sold for double that, and those aren’t even considered high-end (high-end would be the $410,000 townhomes in Lansing’s Woodland Park).

The reason why construction won’t start until Fall 2016/Fall 2017, with the apartments finishing up in Fall 2017/Fall 2018, is that they are completely reliant on government grants and donations from community supporters. The townhouses won’t start for a couple of years (their time frame is 2018-2020) because funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. Just like with the condominium debate, the government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. As for the rent-to-own option suggested by the petition writer, it’s speculative, complicated, and NYS/federal HUD will not provide grants for that type of property acquisition. INHS couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

“[need]assurance mixed income will be there”

It will. As I wrote in March:

“210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.”

“A 54 apartment high-rise is not the appropriate place for children to grow up, low income or not.”

“It is too dense and not suited to Fall Creek or Northside.”

“I moved to Ithaca and settled in Fall Creek to live in a small town.”

For starters, it’s harder to make housing affordable if there are fewer units on the a plot of land. Secondly, because the INHS project takes lead on the city’s right-of-way (ROW) on Lake Avenue and Adams Street, the calculated density per acre is 23.6 units per acre. Cascadilla Green, one block to the north, is 20 units per acre. Also note that units are 1 and 2 bedrooms per unit; most of the houses on blocks in Northside and Fall Creek are 3 bedrooms per unit.

What probably bothers me the most are some of the comments in the online petition for INHS.

“Shame on you “Ithaca Neighborhood Housing” for even thinking of creating something that will breed trouble…”

“This is an uncivilized proposal…”

“if all on welfare, this will invite crime…”

One of the reasons I harp on affordable housing is that I grew up in affordable housing. This 147-unit mixed-income complex in suburban Syracuse. Apartment 28E. I shared a bed with one of my brothers until I was 10, and even after my mother was finally able to buy a small ranch house, we shared a bedroom until he graduated and went to college two years before I did (by that point, we had moved on up to bunk beds). My mother did what she could. We were never more than working class, but she worked hard (still does) and made sure her kids worked hard.

At least some of the comments are kind enough to be “I want affordable housing but”. Others really make it sound like that those in need of affordable housing are a contamination of the community. Those statements aren’t worth debating. They’re just hurtful.

Anyway, this might be the longest news update I’ve done, so I’m going to wrap this up and detach from the computer for a while. There may or may not be a photo update Monday night, we’ll see.