News Tidbits 3/30/19

31 03 2019

original renders

revised renders

1. Let’s start off with an update from the city of Ithaca Planning Board. As reported by the Times’ Edwin Viera, The board was not happy about the proposed changes to the GreenStar project, which were summarized in a previous blog post here. The revised site layout and materials were approved, but the board was unhappy about the loss of windows on the northeast faced and asked for an alternative if windows were no longer feasible, either graphic art or a GreenStar insignia to provide visual interest. The project will be back before the board next month.

Apparently, it was the month to express discontent, as issues were also raised with the City Centre signage and design components of the Vecino Arthaus project, which did away with the grime graphics and went with a marginally better blocky red facade, but I will henceforth call “architectural chicken pox”. Some concerns were also raised with ADA compliance, and the board asked for windows in the stairwells to encourage their use. The environmental review was okayed, and the project will be heading for preliminary approval next month.

The planning board granted preliminary approval to Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion, but the project also needs approvals from the town of Ithaca (to be discussed next Tuesday) and the village of Cayuga Heights. The goal is to start construction on the 2,000+ bed project by this summer. The Chainworks District’s final generic environmental impact statement (FGEIS) was also accepted on a unanimous vote – it’s not approval of the 1.71 million SF mixed-use project, but it’s a big step in that direction. The summarized 127-page report is here, and the city report establishing its findings and review of proposed mitigations is here.

This didn’t come up much before, and that’s probably a good thing because it was rather drab, but 402 South Cayuga Street was revised with a larger window on the three bedroom unit (at far left) and some more vibrant colors. However, to stay within budget (something that defeated INHS once before and Habitat for Humanity as well), the project asked to stick with vinyl, to which the board okayed. Expect this 4-unit for-sale low-to-moderate income townhouse project to begin construction later this year, with completion before the year is out.

2. It was a bit surprising to see how far ahead Cardamone Homes has their Woodland Park project planned out. Quick refresher, this is a 65ish unit residential development off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing; the original plan from the early part of the decade was for about 80 units, but it was reduced after initial approvals. The “-ish” part comes from the 25 single-family home lots, since at least one buyer chose to merge with its neighbor. The other part of the development consists of 40 townhomes, and as ecerything Cardamone does, these are high-end “McMansion” style products. A 2,800-4,000 SF Frank Betz-styled home typically goes in the $550k-750k range with a few customized models even higher than that. The 2,500 SF townhouses are priced in the low to mid 400s. This is arguably the only gated community in Tompkins County.

The project began construction around 2014, and it looks like they’re expecting construction to continue through 2026. It looks like 2019 will see four new townhomes (including the two above, 6 and 8 Woodland Way in a photo from last month), and two or three single-family homes along Oakwood Drive. IT’s a bit of a guessing game on the homes because they use “to be developed” (most), “to be built” (2) and “to be constructed” (1). The site also shows three for sale, but it’s dated, as one of those was sold in January. McMansions may not be fashionable as they were fifteen years ago, Woodland Park still sells at a steady enough clip to keep the project moving along. The long story short for Woodland Park is that construction will be continuing at its slow but steady pace for quite some time yet.

3. Just a little something here from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board – the town of Ithaca is looking to build a modest expansion to its Public Works facility. The Public Works department at 106 Seven Mile Drive handles snow removal, paving, yard waste collection, vegetation control, storm water management, and parks/trails/water/sanitary sewer/road maintenance services. The department has been growing in recent years and needs additional space. A feasibility study was commissioned last June, and a plan is now moving forward.

Overall, it’s not a large addition to the 19,400 SF building; 1,425 SF of office space, six parking spaces and minor landscaping and grading. The project is a small institutional addition, and per state guidelines, it will likely not be going through an in-depth environmental review. The addition is a bit unusual in that it’s essentially a bumpout of the existing space, one that creates a completely new face for the public entrance and offices. Expect an unassuming one-story addition with aluminum windows and metal exterior panels. The addition will be designed by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates). It’s the same group of firms that did the study last year.

4. Quick note to point out that 327 West Seneca Street is nor long for this world, if the plastic and plywood are any indication. They’re indicative of asbestos removal prior to demolition – seal a build up, take the asbestos out, take the building down. Visum Development Group is planning a 12-unit “workforce housing” moderate-income apartment building on the site.

Speaking of Visum, Ithaca’s prolific developer has been scouting new markets for a while, and landed in Boise, Idaho for their next project, “The Vanguard”, an eight-story, 75-unit apartment building in Boise’s downtown. According to local reports, most development projects finish municipal review in two months, something that is flat out impossible for a project of substantial size in Tompkins County. Interestingly, it comes with no parking, and instead hosts bike racks for 75 bikes. Don’t take this to mean that Visum’s no longer interested in Ithaca, however; there have at several projects in the works, including condominiums in Ithaca town, 201-207 North Aurora, 815 South Aurora, 413-15 West Seneca and the State/Corn Street trio.

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

5. Dunno if Instagram embeds are going to work here, but click STREAM Collaborative’s post just above if it doesn’t show up. The modular pieces for 323 Taughannock have begun arriving on site and are being assembled. The units were built by Benson Wood Products and are being put together but a local firm, D Squared (the Dakes) of Lansing.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 2/2019

25 02 2019

The timber piles are in and the 6″ concrete slab has been formed and poured, thus completing the lion’s share of foundation work for the 323 Taughannock residential project. The orange tarp is to allow curing without snow or rain penetrating and potentially upsetting the curing process and damaging the concrete, and ituility connections poke out through the slab. As previously mentioned, this a modular wood frame, and the pieces will be framed and sheathed off-site by Benson Wood Products, and then assembled on-site by local firm D Squared.

An interesting little note from Matt Butler’s piece at the Times, Flash initially intended for a five-story design, but found it cost-prohibitive. According to co-developer Steve Flash, “(w)hen we did soil samples and had a system for a five-story building, the costs of the foundation were too much for the number of units we could create. That might be different in a larger project where you could spread the costs out a little bit […] None of it was a surprise, we knew it going in […] We knew what we were getting into. It’s a challenge.”

To be a little more explicit, the larger the building, the heavier it would be. Given the waterlogged soils, the heavier the building would be, the deeper the piles would need to be, and likely, the structure would be too heavy for the budget-friendly wood timber pile system. They would have had to use much more expensive steel piles. In general, building denser is going to be more cost-efficient, but if it creates a sudden jump in hard costs, then it’s not in that “sweet spot” for construction costs vs. revenue, and out of the realm of economic feasibility.

Anyway, look for the pieces for the eight townhouse-like units (a studio and 2-BR in each), to start showing up over the next several weeks. Completion is expected this summer.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 12/2018

3 12 2018

Some projects have clear, concise histories. This is not one of them.

323 Taughannock started off in the summer of 2014 as a $3.5 million, 23,000 SF mixed-use building with ground-level office, 18 covered parking spaces, and 20 apartment units on the three stories above (total of four stories, 50′ height). The firm proposing the building was Rampart Real LLC, managed by local lawyer Steve Flash, who partnered with businesswoman Anne Chernish to develop the plan.

Flash had long had an interest in Inlet Island. He was an original co-owner of the Boatyard Grill restaurant on the island, and is an owner and co-manager of the nearby Finger Lakes Boating Center. In 2007, he sought to build a five-story condo/hotel on Inlet Island, and was shot down. If you think Ithacans are opposed to development now, take a look at the previous link. Current affairs don’t hold a candle to how anti-development the community and many local elected officials were for much of the 2000s. But Flash continue to scout out opportunities where he might be able to do something in time. He picked up the vacant, rundown former bar at 323 Taughannock Boulevard for $280,000 in July 2011.

The apartment plans, which were designed by STREAM Collaborative, were reviewed, revised, and approved by the city. Although the original plan was to build the apartments out from January – August 2015, the project had been unable to move off of the drawing board and into reality due to cost concerns related to “parking, soft soil, and relatively tight space,” according to Flash. Being on the waterfront means that the soils have a high water table and are easily compressed, making multi-story construction difficult. The challenges faced with the apartment building were complicated by the proposed first-floor parking, which posed constraints on the building’s structuring, and raised construction costs beyond feasibility. Long story short, although the approvals were in place, the cost projections became too steep for the developers to follow through, and the site sat quiet.

With the original plan no longer feasible, a replacement development plan was submitted in December 2016. This was a proposal for eight for-sale townhouses. Totaling 20,174 SF it’s effectively 16 units in eight townhomes – the first floor will consist of 8 studio type apartments that could also be used as commercial space. The second and third floors, which have separate entrances, will be occupied by 8 townhome style 2-story units. The original idea was that they could be live/work spaces, or that renters would live in the studio units and their rents would help cover the mortgages of the townhouse owners. Offhand, I remember they were to be in the upper 300s to low 400s price range.

The general aesthetics of the design remained the same – as with the apartments, the for-sale townhouses are being designed by local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative. The facade “features historic and contemporary elements of rustic bricks, steel, traditional clapboard siding, and window casings”, per STREAM’s website. Five of the townhomes are larger – 645 SF studios with 2 bed/2 bath 1,608 SF units above, for a total of 2,253 SF in the “Unit A” townhouses. “Unit B”, with three examples, is a little smaller, with 514 SF studios and 2 bed/2 bath 1,384 SF upper-level units, for a total of 1,898 SF (the IDA application shows slightly different square footages for each unit, probably due to design revisions). Four units will have private elevators. The property will be landscaped and include eight on-site parking spaces with access to nine more next door. The public will have access to the waterfront on a paved promenade.

During this second round of review, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five had their balconies moved from the second floor to the third floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design was still roughly the same, the changes were only in the details.

The second set of reviews did get drawn out a bit because the project was caught up in the city’s TM-PUD affair, their fight to keep the Maguires from moving forward with their dealership at Carpenter Business Park. But the design fit zoning and was in line with the city’s desire for a more active, denser waterfront. The project was approved in May 2017.

Six months later in November, Flash and Chernish sold a $203,000 stake in 323 Taughannock plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira, who own the Arnot Mall and some commercial and multi-family properties in the Elmira/Horseheads area. As 323T LLC, the new joint venture gave Arnot a 75% stake to Flash and Chernish’s 25%, meaning Arnot is now the primary developer. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the burgeoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city.

One of the decisions made in this change of ownership was that the units went back to being rentals – very expensive rentals, to the tune of $3,400-3,500/month for the upper-level units. By HUD guidelines, that’s affordable to someone making $140,000/year. The studios will go for $1,400-$1,500/month. Seeking a ten-year tax abatement, sales tax exemptions and mortgage tax exemptions proved to be the most controversial part of this project, and to be fair, it’s a tough sell from a public relations perspective to say your ultra-luxury units deserve a $605,855 tax abatement. But the IDA decided that the long-term property tax increase would be worth it, and the project could potential spur development elsewhere on the island and the West End, and granted the exemptions in January 2018. One of the people who raked the developers and the IDA over the coals was Amanda Kirchgessner, back when she was a well-meaning citizen and before she became a highly controversial state senatorial candidate.

Tompkins Trust Company has lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. 323 T LLC partner equity was expected to be $1.153 million at the time of the IDA application, but that may have changed, since the bank loan was only expected to be $3.461 million at the time – total project cost was $4.615 million.

Ithaca’s Taitem Engineering is in charge of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural design services. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company, working with applicant contractor D Squared Inc. (Doug Boles and Doug Dake) of Lansing. Benson’s primary work is as a modular and timber-frame builder for properties in and around southern New Hampshire where they’re based. With 323, the wood-frame wall system will actually be framed and sheathed off site by Benson, and transported over to be assembled by D Squared like pieces of a puzzle. The modular approach potentially saves on materials and labor costs makes the construction itself more energy efficient, and may make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage. The plan is to have the project be “nearly net-zero”, meaning it’s efficient in its energy use, and close to having all of its energy needs met by renewable sources (the project will be powered by an off-site solar array). For the record, yes it will use heat pumps.

Taitem also designed the rather unusual timber-based pile system deployed at the project site. The project itself is relatively light as building go, but because of the waterlogged soils, a deep foundation is still required for structural stability. Instead of heavy-duty steel, treated timber can do the job for a fairly modestly sized project like this, an affordable, lighter-load alternative. As long as the timber isn’t exposed to high levels of oxygen (open air, there isn’t enough dissolved in groundwater), they can last for hundreds of years. You can see the piles in the photos below, and watch the pile driving process in the embedded Twitter video courtesy of Ithaca second ward councilman Ducson Nguyen. All the piles are in place, and a 6″ concrete slab will be formed and poured over the top.

Construction is expected to take about eight months, roughly placing a timeline for completion at summer 2019.

Before:

 

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 





News Tidbits 11/17/2018

18 11 2018

X. Let’s start this off with a look at a couple of new projects that will be coming forward to the city of Ithaca Planning Board later this month. The first is 815-17 North Aurora Street. Back in June, when the existing property went on the market, I noted that zoning could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes. Lo and behold, that is exactly the plan.

Although the listing has been pulled, no sale has been completed, so it’s not clear what kind of premium they are willing to pay for a double-lot development opportunity in trendy Fall Creek. But thanks to the Site Plan Review (SPR) documents, we at least know who the pending owner/developer is – the Stavropoulos family of West Hill, who own the State Street Diner and a growing portfolio of rental units under the name “Renting Ithaca”. The Stavropoli have redeveloped several properties in the past few years, including 1001 North Aurora Street (4 units), 107 South Albany Street (11 units), a two-family home at 514 Linn Street and a two-family unit planned for 209 Hudson Street (they originally applied to build two two-family buildings, but reduced it to one after neighborhood pushback). Their M.O. is basically small-scale rental infill, nothing especially large or ostentatious, and with that they go under the radar for the most part. In short, this R2b-zoned site is a perfect fit for them.

The plan is to tear down the vacant property, and replace it with two two-family structures, four units total. Each will be three bedrooms and 1,290 SF. Their usual architect of choice, Daniel Hirtler, has designed the structures to fit in with the Fall Creek vernacular, with recessed entries and aesthetic details (such as a transition between fiber cement shakes and clapboard siding) for visual interest. The buildings are positioned so that one is in the front of the lot, one at the rear, and only the front structure is visible from most public viewsheds. The site will include four parking spaces with new landscaping and utilities. Heating will come from electric heat pumps, and while the roofs will be capable of hosting solar panels, those aren’t expected to be included as part of the initial build. LED lighting, energy efficient appliances and water heaters, and high-efficiency spray foam insulation are included. This project would very likely meet the new Green Building Policy Requirements if in place. Given recent news in Fall Creek, it should be noted that the old building does contain asbestos (as do most in Fall Creek), but a demolition/deconstruction plan has yet to be filed.

The $627,000 project would be built from January to August 2019, which is a clear nod to having the units ready in time for the next academic year. Fall Creek tends to be less desirable to undergrads at Cornell because of the distance (<1% of total population), but graduate and professional students often rent in the neighborhood (~9% of graduate/professional students at Cornell live in Fall Creek). The planning board is expected to declare itself Lead Agency for project review this month, with approval in December of January, assuming demolition plans, excavation plans and other needed information has been received and approved.

The other new plan to be reviewed this month is for a renovation and expansion of the Maguire Ford Lincoln property at 504 South Meadow Street, just south of Wegmans and the Econo Lodge. Now, for the news savvy, you might be asking, “isn’t Maguire supposed to be moving to Southwest Park?” The answer is two-fold; for one, Ford-Lincoln was not a part of that plan. For two, there hasn’t been much in the way of formal movement on that plan, and the city is hesitant to move forward with a deal because part of the site will serve as a spoils drying area for the inlet dredging, and because of the homeless encampment, which the city would rather not disturb at this time. The evictions didn’t work out so well last time, and members of the Human Services Coalition’s Homeless Task Force are advocating for the city to create a permanent housing solution on-site.

What this all means is that Maguire has to focus on its existing properties to keep them modern and fresh for the time being, both by their own requirements and by Ford’s  – new car dealers must renovate frequently, since carmakers force them to update or risk losing their exclusive rights to sell new vehicles.

Local firm John Snyder Architects is in charge of design for the $1.5 million project, and while some eco-advocates will kvetch that a car dealer can never be green or sustainable, the building itself is designed to fit Ithaca’s yet-to-be enacted Green Building Policy. The second floor will be expanded with new offices, new customer bathrooms will be installed and the parts and customer waiting areas will be renovated and expanded. The showroom will also be expanded, and it will be slightly closer to Meadow Street than permitted in bib box land, so a zoning variance for front yard setback will be required. As a quick aside, JSA doing a car dealership is an interesting change – usually, car dealership design work has gone to Schickel Architecture.

The additions, which will result in a net increase of 5,610 SF, will be steel-framed, with concrete slab foundations, and faced with a couple variations of aluminum metal panels for a contemporary exterior finish. Apparently, that curved thing at the entrance is called a “foil”. Ithaca’s Elwyn & Palmer is assisting with the structural engineering. While there will be landscaping and circulation improvements, and the amount of green space will be increased from the existing site layout, the project will not meet impervious surface zoning restrictions, and will need a second variance to allow the proposed plan.

It’s not 100% clear what the proposed design is, since the elevation drawings don’t match the renders. Note the second-floor windows near the service area and the differences in the panel colors and elements (vertical ribs vs. rectangular panels) in the render.

The plan is to have approvals by January for a March to September 2019 build-out. Because of a tight corporate deadline from Ford, and since the Board of Zoning Appeals is not having a December meeting, and possibly not a January meeting either (expected lack of quorum?), the project team wants to discuss some sort of bundling of review and zoning variances in the review.

3. Ithaca-based architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is cooking up their latest project design, and posted hints of this “Net Zero” energy building on Twitter. There’s a very high chance this small multi-family Net Zero project is local, given STREAM’s nearly-singular focus on the Tompkins County market. Also, given that it’s a three-story building with what appears to be 4-6 units, I’d take a guess at a more settled, primarily residential urban area. Not Downtown Ithaca, but maybe one of the village centers or one of Ithaca’s more residential inner neighborhoods. If it’s an Ithaca-area rental, given the August-August academic calendar that the local apartment market revolves around, I suspect we’ll see more about this project in the next few months if the developer is aiming for fall 2019 occupancy.

4. Something to keep an eye on for the future. 602 Elmira Road sold for $690,000 on October 24th. Not only was the buyer was a New York-based hotelier, but the price paid is far above assessment – the three-acre parcel was only valued at $150,000, and had sold for $140,000 back in September 2014, from the realtor who subdivided it, to another hotel developer, Guru Hotels LLC. So it’s distinctly possible that Guru Hotels developed a plan, designs and all, but decided to not move forward with it and found another interested hotel developer to take over on the development, which would explain much of the premium on the sales price. Of course, those plans have never been brought forward to the town of Ithaca planning board, so buyer beware.

The location has some desirable factors – along Route 13 just beyond city limits, near Ithaca Beer, and within the town of Ithaca’s proposed Inlet Valley agri-business and tourism Corridor. The town as been a bit scattered on how it sees this swath of land next to 13A – the Comprehensive Plan saw it as natural space, current zoning is light industrial, and the Inlet Valley zoning and design guideline study is okay with either of those, an agriculture-related business or something tourism-focused, which a hotel would fit under. Stylistically though, a typical chain hotel will not e approved here – like with the nearby Sleep Inn project, it will have to embrace the ‘rustic look’ the town wants here.

5. 323 Taughannock has its construction loan. Tompkins Trust Company lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company. The firm normally does business as a modular and timber-frame builder based out of New Hampshire. I suspect given the choice of firms that the townhouse units will actually be framed and sheathed off site, and transported over to be assembled like pieces of a puzzle. It’s an unusual project for a firm that mostly does higher-end vacation homes and cabins, but 323 is a wood-frame structure, and the project has already had issues with the poor on-site soils and spiraling costs – a modular approach would potentially save on costs and make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage.

6. Cayuga Ridge has also received a construction loan, a set of them to finance its renovation plans. Three loans, for $12,558,750, $2,216,250 and $1,500,000, were received from CIBC Bank USA (the U.S. division of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, based out or Toronto with the main U.S. office in Chicago). The fourth loan, for $3 million, came from Metropolitan Commercial Bank out of New York. The owners of Cayuga Ridge are based out of the New York area, so perhaps that would explain the choice of lenders. The loans cover $19.275 million of the $21 million renovation, which will thoroughly update the interior layout with updated utilities and enhanced patient services. The renovation is expected to result in 49 new jobs at the nursing and rehabilitation center, mostly new nurses and nurses’ aides.

7. It’s a few weeks old now, but the infill housing behind 310 West State Street is coming along. These are the modular pieces of the new six-bedroom rental being craned into place. Also, the renovation of 310 West State is coming along, soon to be a “co-op” for young professionals. The renovation to the existing home is being paid for through a combination of private funds and a RESTORE NY state grant, while the rear infill is all private equity.

 





News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmedia%2Fset%2F%3Fset%3Da.1518721884836040.1073741852.772959889412247%26type%3D3&width=500

4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

harolds_square_v4_new_comparo

7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





News Tidbits 4/8/17: Please Don’t Document-Dump on Fridays

8 04 2017

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. The town of Dryden planning board did not take too kindly to the Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden Road outside Varna. The board denied recommendation for approval unless some stipulations are met first; some might be easier, like a vegetative buffer with the neighbors and a shared driveway. Others will be trickier – the board recommended removing all the solar panels and replacing them with electric heat pumps, and board members strongly encouraged reducing the number of units.

Not to downplay the value of heat pumps since they’ve become the preferred sustainable feature for projects going before local boards these days, but there is a substantial initial cost involved for their installation, and it takes a few decades for the energy savings to pay off. Some of the cost for the pumps can be balanced out through density of units, because some flat development costs (for example, the cost of land acquisition) can be distributed out; but fewer units with a more expensive feature is the classic “do more with less money” conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Disclaimer, these are ballpark figures and every project has its nuances or other factors to consider, like tax rates, contractor bids and logistical costs.

The Village Solars heat pumps are a $50,000-$60,000 cost, $4,000-$5,000 per unit. Phase 1 didn’t have the heat pumps, but the later phases do, and those later phases are about $2 million-$3 million per 15,000-20,000 square-foot building, with 12-22 units depending on configuration. In the case of 1061 Dryden, each 6-unit string is about 10,800 SF (1800 SF per unit, no common areas), and given the $4.5 million total cost, we’re talking a ballpark estimate of around $750,000 per townhome string. If one assumes proportional costs for the heat pumps based off square footage, that’s $30,000-$40,000 per 6-unit string. So it is a higher incremental cost per string, and more of a burden per tenant. The Village Solars rent for $1600-$1650 for a three-bedroom, and the going rate for new units in Varna is about $1950 for a 3-bedroom, if the new townhomes at 902 Dryden is any indicator. The rent increase for the Village Solars was about $50/unit, but those units are smaller, so you’re probably looking at a larger amount, conservatively $75/unit, for the Evergreen units.

Going off those numbers, it looks like heat pumps are possible, although the units will likely be somewhat less affordable as a result. It isn’t clear if that disables the proposal, because it depends on imputed vacancy rates at different income levels, and whatever the required income is to make the necessary Return on Investment. However, the project would become less feasible if there are substantially fewer units and the construction cost per unit shoots up – because of the combination of flat vs. incremental expenses, taking away six units won’t drop the cost $750,000, it’ll be less. The cost of the solar panels is also an unknown, as are the costs of doing these revisions to please the board. The development team was not at the meeting, which is unfortunate; we’ll have to wait and see how this moves forward.

2. Speaking of the Village Solars, according to the latest minutes from the Lansing Town Board, Lifestyle Properties is exploring taking down some of the old Village Circle Apartments, and replacing them with new buildings. These older, 8,000-12,000 SF structures date from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and have 8-10 units per building. Since the newer buildings are about 15,000-20,000 SF and tend to have 18-22 units, that could explain where the 423 units statistic came from last month – some of it comes from buildings on new sites, some are replacement buildings for existing structures.

3. The city Common Council held their monthly meeting, and signed off on the IURA sale of 402 South Cayuga to Habitat for Humanity with little debate, and while the TM-PUD for 323 Taughannock was a bit problematic due to some confusion with the minutes from the public hearing, the approval was carried unanimously. The project is now free to go before the Planning Board for State/City Envrionmental Quality Review, and the Design Review is considered complete.

Side note, the city’s four fire stations were renumbered. The old numbers hailed from the days before the stations consolidated in the 1960s and 1980s, and were confusing for many. Fire Station No. 9 (309 College Avenue in Collegetown) is now No. 2, insert joke here. Central Station (310 West Green Street) becomes Station 1- Central, Station 5 (965 Danby Road) becomes Station 3- South Hill, and Station 6 (1240 Trumansburg Road) becomes Station 4- West Hill.

4. Bucket list objective achieved – an interview with Jagat Sharma. Some will be in the Voice, maybe Friday afternoon of Monday morning; but rather than leave the excess on the proverbial cutting room floor, here were some portions left out of the piece for the sake of brevity, or because they’re too technical for the general audience:

Q: So, what’s your thought process when designing a building? Apart from necessities like zoning and client requirements, do you take cue from surrounding buildings, the environment…what are you thinking about as you sketch the first concepts of a new building?

JS: For infill projects, the sites are very narrow. My project at 409 Eddy, if I recall correctly, is a very narrow site. My clients had never hired an architect before, and it was a challenge to convince them. Most of them, they think how many rooms they can rent, so you give them a number, and you work it out, and you figure out the design from the surrounding context, how the buildings line up, how the window patterns line up, symmetry, scale. You lay out a plan for how the windows would fall, how would it match with the existing window lines on surrounding buildings. Frankly, back then (409 Eddy was built in the mid-1980s) there was not much context, many buildings were in poor condition, you had some brick buildings, but otherwise not much. You try to relate it to what you’ve done before, the streetscape, you try to change up things with color, bay windows, you play with that, organize everything in a symmetrical way. Later on, my later buildings in the past 10-12 years, I’ve begun to take more liberty, play with them [the designs] more, 3-D effects, projections, penthouses, balconies, corner windows and more glass. And at the street level, they’re more urban, they have colonnades, like 309 Eddy, it looks very nice. But all of them…if you’re the only actor on the stage, you’re playing your own thing. If you look at Collegetown, Eddy Street and up, 309, 303, 301, some are angled, they’re different materials – if you’re in the middle of those, you feel like you’re in a hill town, it’s a good feeling.

Q: And how would you describe your experience with working with the city and its various interests?

JS: You earn respect from them by being honest and sincere. I deliver what I say I do, we don’t change things at the last minute. The city is happy with that. I have a good relationship with the Planning Board, what they are looking for, they want good materials, detailing. The building department wants to make sure you meet the codes; we sit down and meet if we have different interpretations on how the code reads – but you have to work on it from day one. It takes time, building inspectors, commissioners come and go and you have to earn their respect each time by doing the right thing, don’t hide anything.

5. According to Matt Butler over at the Times, Lakeview Ithaca might be a little larger than initially anticipated. In a report on homelessness, he mentions a meeting attended by Lakeview’s CEO, who said the new building would have 56 affordable units (vs. the 50 previously reported in the IURA application), with 28 reserved for those with mental disability. A time frame of fall 2018 – fall 2019 is given for construction, somewhat slower than the April 2018 start reported in the IURA application.

6. A couple of interesting things to note from the ILPC Agenda for next Tuesday, apart from the usual stairs, porches and windows. One, 123 Eddy got a revamp in accordance with the commission’s design guidance – gone is the porch, and more detail was strongly encouraged. I still prefer the previously-approved design, but this is an improvement from the Craigslist ad.

Meanwhile, downstate businessman Fei Qi is finally heading back to the board with a plan for the historically significant but structurally deficient 310 West State/MLK Street. Previously, he wanted to do 3,800 SF of office space in a renovation partially financed by state tax credits, but it wasn’t funded and the office market is a bit lackluster in Ithaca anyway. At the time, residential was ruled out due to fire safety issues.

However, this new plan is a residential project. It’s a proposed 12-bedroom “co-op” living arrangement (Co-op? SRO [Single Room Occupancy]? Neither one is a terrible idea, although SROs have negative connotations). JSC Architects of suburban NYC (Fresh Meadows) would remove a rear chimney, put in new shingles, add a wheelchair ramp and skylights, along with the to-the-studs internal renovation. It’s an interesting plan, though the ILPC might be iffy on some of the details. We’ll see how it goes over.

7. If you all could pardon me on this, the city document-dumped Friday morning, and I don’t have the time at the moment for a full write-up. But the projects memo is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here’s the brief summary:

A. McDonald’s would replace their existing 4,800 SF restaurant at 372 Elmira Road with a new 4,400 SF building.

B. Benderson Development wishes to renew approvals for a 14,744 SF addition to their shopping plaza at 744 South Meadow Street (this would be on the south end next to Hobby Lobby, where KMart’s garden center was years ago), and build a new 7,313 SF addition at the north end of the strip. Apparently, Ithaca’s a safe harbor in the ongoing “retail apocalypse”.

C. 323 Taughannock as noted above

D. DeWitt House is moving forward. With ILPC Design Approval (Certificate of Appropriateness) in hand, envrionmental review still needs to be conducted. Site plan review docs note it’s a $17 million project with a December 2017 – March 2019 construction timeframe.

E. Novarr/Proujansky’s 24-unit 238 Linden apartment project

F. 118 College Avenue, carried over from the previous month, and

G. Finger Lakes Re-Use, carried over from the previous month.