News Tidbits 9/2/18

2 09 2018

1. For lovers of old houses and those trying to restore them, the 1880 Queen Anne-style house at 310 West State Street, dubbed “The Tibbetts-Rumsey House”, is offering a tour of the renovations later this month. The tour, which starts at the front entrance at 11 AM on September 22nd, is free, but registration is required; if you’re so inclined, and since late September in Ithaca is generally a pretty nice time of the year for weekend outings, you can register here. The plan is to restore the house into a nine-bedroom co-op style living space, with a new six-bedroom co-op unit in the rear of the property.

The 3,800 SF residence was designed by local architect Alvah B. Wood and built by contractor John Snaith (of Snaith House) in 1880. Wood, a Cornell classmate of the more famous architect William Henry Miller, designed a number of prominent local structures, including the old Ithaca town hall at 126 East Seneca Street (built 1881, demo’d 2003, now the site of Tompkins Financial brand new HQ), the Immaculate Conception Church (1896) and the railroad/bus depot at 701 West State Street (1898). Union Army Captain J. Warren Tibbetts and his family were the first residents of the home. It was sold to the Rumsey family in 1885, and they owned it until 1966.

2. The medical office building near the intersection of Warren and Uptown Roads looks like it’s one step closer to happening. An LLC associated with Marchuska Brothers Construction, an Endicott-based firm that has been making inroads into the Ithaca market, bought the 2.71 acre lot and the plans from Arleo Real Estate LLC for $470,000 on the 27th. A sketch plan was presented to the village of Lansing in February 2017 for the one-story medical office building, but no formal review was carried out after the site and plans went up for sale for $500,000. Marchuska is free to change the design as they see fit, so don’t treat the renders as final. The firm recently completed the renovation of a former manufacturing facility on Craft Road into medical office space primarily leased by Cayuga Medical Center, and are the general contractors for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture project.

3. The tiny houses project at 16 Hillcrest Road in the town of Lansing is over for the time being. The town Zoning Board of appeals shot down the variance required for the lot, which is zoned industrial/research due to what is essentially a boundary line quirk. The reason cited isn’t that they don’t like the project, but rather that they don’t think it meets the intent of ZBA variances. The neighbors were opposed to the 421 SF homes, but were okay with a duplex, which could arguably be worse for them because one could build a pair of 2,000 SF, three-bedroom units that could generate more traffic and have a greater environmental impact. Even moreso, if one fully utilized the 1.26 acre lot for an office or industrial structure, that would have much greater environmental impact than either residential option because the lot could be fully utilized within standard setbacks, meaning a larger structure and parking lot, greater stormwater runoff, commuter/work-related traffic, industrial noise and related activities. An argument can also be made that these small homes would have been provided a new affordable option in an area plagued with affordability issues.

The Lansing Star seems cognizant of those arguments, and in the write-up sounded disapproving of the vote. “The denial of the variance does not mean the project has been killed. But in a sense the project is before it’s time, or zoning ordinances are behind the times. With small individual houses growing in popularity, building small scale neighborhoods defies zoning laws that were designed for conventionally sized homes.”

It’ll be a while before any zoning change is approved, and any challenge to the ZBA ruling is unlikely to go anywhere, so this proposal has been deleted from the Ithaca project map until a revival seems plausible.

4. Exxon Mobil is set to auction off a trio of parcels in the hamlet of Jacksonville. Tying into the story of the old Methodist church I wrote for the Voice last March, a major gas spill fifty years ago contaminated the groundwater and made the properties practically unlivable; after years of attempting to bring Exxon Mobil to task, the multinational energy firm purchased the properties, tore down most of the buildings except the church (after the town’s pleading), and basically sat on the lots with minimal upkeep. A municipal water line was later laid through the hamlet to provide clean water, and the gas has disintegrated and diffused with decades of time to safe levels, per the state DEC’s analysis. The town of Ulysses picked up three of the six lots, selling two to architect Cameron Neuhoff to restore the church into a residence and community space, and holding onto the third for the time being as it figures out what to do with it. The other three still owned by Exxon Mobil are the ones going up for auction. There is no reserve and the auction is set for 5 PM on October 17th. More information is available from Philip Heiliger of Williams & Williams Real Estate Auctions here.

5. Cayuga Heights is continuing with its review of the renovation and conversion of 306 Highland Road from a fraternity into a 15-unit apartment building. The plans have been slightly modified so that with the addition, the building grows from 3,400 SF to 4,542 SF (previously it was 4,584 SF).  GA Architects PLLC of Dryden is the architect of record; their online presence appears to be bare bones, and may have previously gone by the name Guisado Architects – it looks like principal Jose Gusiado has done a few homes in the Dryden and Lansing areas. Former Cornell professor and startup CEO John Guo is the developer.

6. Here’s a rough timeline for the Green Street Garage preferred developer decision – the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee is expected to rank the projects in order of preference by September 14th, discuss it at the September public hearing, hold an Executive Session with Common Council in October, and formally designate a preferred developer by October 25th. From 11/1/2018 to 2/1/2019 there will be an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) between the preferred developer and the city, which is a designated time to negotiate details regarding sales and development of the site. This serves as the basis for a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA), which would be reviewed and approved by the IURA EDC by the end of February. From there, the Planning and Economic Development Committee of the Common Council will hold their public hearing and vote in March, and the full Common Council at their April 3, 2019 meeting.

It’s a long and complex process, but the goal is to have the major details sorted out by that preferred developer designation on October 25th – given the garage’s degraded state and limited life span remaining (two, three years at most) and the time needed to stabilize the structure and determine continent measures for any rebuild, having either side pull at late in the negotiation would be very problematic (suing the city during any stage in this process is never a good idea). Hopefully everything works out between the city and its choice of developer.

6. Not a whole lot of new and interesting coming public at the moment. A new “Dutch Harvest Farms” wedding barn at 1487 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing looks interesting. Tapping into the trend of using barns for wedding receptions, the 50.44 acre property would host a 7,304 SF pole barn, pond and associated parking and landscaping improvements. The facility would be capable of hosting up to 160 people on-site. The plans are being drawn up by local architecture firm SPEC Consulting, and the intent would be to build out the $750,000 project in the spring and summer of 2019.

7. Bad news for the Ithaca Gun site; a remedial investigation by the state DEC indicated that there is still enough lead present on the property that it poses a significant threat to public health. This doesn’t necessarily derail plans for the redevelopment by Travis Hyde Properties, but the DEC will need to conduct a review, make recommendations for cleaning, and sign off on any cleanup effort THP proposes.

8. A follow-up on the Ongweoweh Corporation news note from a couple weeks back – although they didn’t respond to my inquiry, they did respond to the Journal. And the move to the larger digs in Dryden comes with 25 to 50 new jobs in Dryden over the next few years, so while it may not have been my article, I’ll gladly share positive news.





News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





News Tidbits 8/5/17: Having the Right Look

5 08 2017

1. Thanks to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, we have the first rough site plan for the proposed Cornerstone and Tiny Timbers projects at the Lansing Town Center site at the intersection of Route 34B and Triphammer Roads. Readers may recall that Tiny Timbers has proposed a development of 60 for-sale single-family homes (ten in the first phase) called “Lansing Community Cottages”, and Cornerstone is proposing up to 144 affordable apartments in two phases for the town center site.

Specifically, Tiny Timbers is looking to sell homes averaging about 1,000-1,200 SF in the $175,000-$225,000 range, which is a critical but tough-to-hit segment in the local housing market. With consultation from planner David West, the homes are designed in a traditional urban layout, with congregated parking spaces instead of garages, and community green spaces. None of the homes are more than 150 feet from the roads and parking areas, a safety requirement to ensure access for emergency vehicles. Ten units would be built in phase one, twenty in phase two, and thirty in phase three. About the only concern town officials have expressed at this point is a second means of ingress/egress to keep the traffic down on Conlon Road.

In contrast to Tiny Timbers’ site plan, the Cornerstone plan is a more conventional suburban layout with parking adjacent to each 8-unit structure. In fact, based on the above design, and the need for affordable developers to save on costs and therefore many reuse designs when they can, it’s likely that some of the Cornerstone apartments look something like the above image, which comes from a recent Cornerstone project near Brockport. The detailing and the colors may differ, but it’s a pretty good bet that’s how some of the finished units will look. Like Conifer, Cornerstone appear to be using a mix of their standard designs, and there are two distinct designs on the site plan, as well as a community center.

2. A redevelopment opportunity in downtown Ithaca has sold, but it looks like there are no plans. 110-112 West Seneca Street is a 538 SF salon with a large rental parking lot, and zoning is B-1a, meaning 4 floors 50% lot coverage, parking requirements in effect of about one space per unit or one space per 250 SF of commercial use. Tompkins Trust (Tompkins Financial Corp.) picked up the property on Friday the 28th for $600,000, below the $800k asking price but still quite substantial for what’s mostly land.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen here. Tompkins Trust had previously rented the 23 parking spaces on site for use by its own employees – whether they’re hedging bets or don’t trust the parking garage situation, they appear to be buying the property to use as parking. Boo. With any luck, after their new HQ opens up next spring and their parking situation settles down, they’ll find better uses or potential partners for the lot. With no historic attributes but proximity to major services and amenities, a parking lot on this property is a waste of potential.

3. The Harold’s Square project team has given their website a overhaul, and with that comes the official timeline. According to the web page, asbestos abatement is now underway, demolition will start in September, construction will last through January 2019, and marketing/lease-up for the commercial spaces and 108 residential units should will start in January 2019.

The project description web page mentions 100 construction jobs, 50 retail jobs and 200 office jobs, which seems accurate for the square footage of each use (12k retail, 25k office). The estimate of 250 residents is way too generous though – the back-of-the-envelope is one person per bedroom, and there are about 144 bedrooms/studio units.

Side note, I reserve the right to grouse that the media links both go to the Times.

4. Dunno what’s going to happen with the Lansing Meadows senior housing up by the mall. Background story on the Voice here. On the one hand, the wetlands were an arduous and expensive undertaking, and Goetzmann did those to Army Corps of Engineers standards. It does make it tougher for the project to be financially viable. On the other hand, the village has a right to be frustrated, and it’s not unreasonable that they’re feeling that they’re being taken for a ride. Goetzmann received an IDA tax deal for what was largely a retail project, largely a no-no because most jobs in retail are low wage. He also received a variance for a community retail component, and multiple extensions from the IDA on fulfilling the housing component.

An increase in density spreads the fixed costs out among a greater number of units, and it’s encouraged by the village and county, so that’s not the issue. The design is what bothers them – while shared walls and utilities is a cost-saving measure, the village has expected smaller, house-like units since the project was first proposed in the late 2000s. Maybe the happy medium between this and the ten duplexes is a site plan with 3-4 unit structures with 20-24 units, with the buildings designed with pitched roofs, dormers, small porches and other home-like features. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months.

5. Plans for co-op housing on West State Street have been waylaid, perhaps permanently. New York City businessman Fei Qi had previously proposed to renovate the historic 3,800 SF property at 310 West State Street into office space, and more recently a 12-14 person co-op. However, there have been a couple of issues with both plans – the ca. 1880 building is in need of significant structural renovation. Years of deferred maintenance prior to Qi (who bought it from the Salvation Army for $195k last year) has left the building in rough shape, and asbestos and lead need to be removed. For the housing proposal to be permitted, fire suppression systems would also need to be installed. Some city officials have expressed concern that like the carriage house that once existed at the rear of the property, if the building gets mothballed again, its structural integrity may be at risk. Any external changes would need to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. It appears that Qi recently applied to the commission stating economic hardship, saying he was unaware the building was a historic property and was not communicated to him by the seller or real estate agent, and cannot afford to renovate it to ILPC standards. The designation went into effect in April 2015, a year before sale.

Concurrently, Qi has put the property up for sale. For an asking price of $278,000, one gets the building and the architect’s plans. I’ve seen ball-park estimates of $500k for the renovation into office space, but I never saw an estimate for the co-op. As a result of the structural issues, the building’s assessed value plunged from $250,000 in 2016 to $100,000 last year, most of that being the land. Fingers crossed, someone steps up to the plate to save this building before it’s too late.

6. Last month, I speculated that there was a plan for redeveloping 217 Columbia Street on Ithaca’s South Hill. Turns out there is, and it’s really upsetting the neighbors. The plan by Modern Living Rentals is to preserve the existing building, but build an additional two-family home on the property as well. For the neighbors, this is apparently one student-oriented rental too far. Some are calling for a moratorium, and others a zoning change to prevent rentals without an owner living in the property. Most of South Hill’s zoning is R-2 residential, which is one-and-two family homes, and most of the construction in South Hill these past few years has been one and two-family homes. The issue is that they’re upset they’re rentals, many of which appeal to Ithaca College students further up the hill in the town. In theory, you could make it an approval requirement that the renters be non-students, although I’m not sure that would placate the situation. We’ll see how it goes.