Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 7/2017

21 07 2017

Some more progress on the Ithaka Terraces condo project at 215-221 West Spencer Street. Buildings “A” and “B” have had their porches built out and sheathed, with some of the decorative columns are in place (the architecture, penned by STREAM Collaborative, is supposed to take design curs from traditional Greek/Mediterranean hillside structures). The white coating visible from the uphill photos is the water-resistive barrier over which the stucco will be laid. Building “C” is framed and sheathed, but the roof isn’t fully shingled and many of the windows and doors have yet to be fitted. Long-awaited Building “D” has finally started construction, with excavation underway and some foundation forms in place. The grand central stairway is beginning to take shape. From what I was told by developer Ed Cope (PPM Homes), the model unit should be unveiled in the next few weeks.

The website has been updated to take inquiries, with unit sizes ranging from a 1,005 SF 2-bed, 2-bath, unit, to a 3-bedroom, 3-bath 1520 SF unit (3 bathrooms? For the family that hates sharing sinks and showers?). Nothing on the website states pricing, which was previously estimated in the $265k-$390k range.

Side note, I dropped by 413 West Seneca Street and 109 North Corn Street, a pair of projects Ed Cope is doing in Ithaca’s State Street corridor. Nothing to report yet.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 5/2017

1 06 2017

Taking a look at the Ithaka Terraces site at 215-221 West Spencer Street, one question immediately comes to mind – is Building “D” still happening? The other three are far along, and yet there appears to be no sign of Building “D”, a mirror of Building “C”, starting construction. It could be cost concerns or pre-sales worries, or simply a matter of timing. The website doesn’t look like it’s been updated recently, and marketing for the condo units doesn’t seem to have started yet.

Apart from the completion of the roofing, not much additional work has occurred on the exterior of Building “A”. Its twin, Building “B”, has finished framing, sheathing, windows are being fitted and the roofing is well underway, sheathed and covered in Certainteed DiamondDeck and WinterGuard underlayments, but not yet shingled. Building “C” has had its multi-story porch erected and it looks like the R39 cellulose insulation is underway. New to this update are the Bituthene sheets on the concrete foundation walls of “C” – Grace Bituthene Membrane is a two-component system, the first is a sticky, liquid rubberized asphalt compound, the second a laminated HDPE film, and together they’re used for weather and moisture protection, handy when your walls will be exposed to moist soil uphill and several feet deep. The white walls facing the future grand staircase are water-resistive barriers to protect the plywood ZIP panels from the mositure-absorbing stucco finish.

Local eco-builder AquaZephyr LLC (run by Kendall and Mike Carpenter) is the general contractor, Taitem’s doing the structural engineering, T.G. Miller is in charge of civil engineering, STREAM’s the architect, and Ed Cope (PPM Homes) is the developer. Side note, I dropped by the Wyllie site and didn’t see work on the renovation underway, although it’s not clear if the state grant funding has been disbursed yet. It and the PPM’s Ithaca Glass Apartments are expected to get underway this spring.

Also, let’s not forget the ’80s hair metal blasting over the stereo on-site. I guess nothing gets the work done like Whitesnake and Twisted Sister.

UPDATE: From the architect, Noah Demarest, on the status of Building “D”: “It’s a logistic issue. Couldn’t get all the foundations in at the same time. Should be starting soon.”





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.