News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Number two on the follow-up of Collegetown mid-rises, the 22-unit, 53-bedroom Dryden Eddy Apartments should be open to tenants by this Friday. According to developer Steve Fontana, the issue was that the elevator had yet to be fully integrated with the fire alarm system, so the city couldn’t issue a certificate of occupancy until that was taken care of.

Also worth noting, Fontana has secured two tenants for the first-floor commercial space (originally it was supposed to be a gym, but those plans faded out at some point). The Papachryssanthos family, one of Collegetowns old greek families and the proprietors of the Souvlaki House two buildings down, will be splitting the 1800 SF into a liquor store (aptly named “Ithaca Wine and Spirits”) and a café called “Chatty Cathy”. The owners of the East Asian grocer Tung Fong retired, and the Pixel bar and Club Sudz laundromat have passed into memory.

While not as ground-breaking as 307 College, 327 Eddy still serves as a useful addition to Collegetown, offering density in an appropriate location and maintaining a wall-to-wall streetscape with its neighbors. The density will be an asset by providing additional foot traffic to neighborhood businesses, and (back-of-the-envelope estimate) there will be an additional $160,000/year in property tax revenues for the city, county and school district. The final product fits in with a nice design, though I personally prefer the originally-approved plan, with one more floor and a crown set back from the face in the shape of a triangular prism. The rectangular crown makes it look too similar to its neighbor down the road at 309 Eddy. Something I had not realized until now was that the rear (east) face was totally reworked as well, with bay window projections instead of the smaller “punch-out” windows, which comparing the two, seems to be an improvement. But I digress, taste is subjective.

The construction cost was at least $4.824 million, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust Company. G.M. Crisalli and Associates of Syracuse served as general contractor for the project.

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After:

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 6/2016

19 06 2016

Steve Fontana’s mixed-use project at 327 Eddy Street has topped out since the April update. The exterior stud walls are up on the front facade, as is a little gypsum sheathing. The CMU Block rear portion is also topped out, although it appears that the design of the rear was also changed/value engineered such that it no longer have the larger band of windows on the top floor. The large window at top center is split between two units,  and using the wood stud walls as a guideline, one can kinda get the impression of soaring ceilings and a big, glassy open space. More interior wall faming can be seen from the rear of the building. Units range from studios to 5-bedroom apartments, with prices starting at $950/person and topping out at $1250/person for choice units.

While the apartments are able to command to premium price, Fontana has had issues finding a commercial tenant for the 1,800 SF first floor, and expressed his concerns at a city PEDC meeting where the active-use code for Collegetown was modified to match the slightly more flexible code used with the Commons.

Things should be moving right along for an August opening.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 4/2016

25 04 2016

Here are the latest photos for Steve Fontana’s mixed-use project at 327 Eddy Street. Work is up to the fourth floor in the front, and it looks like interior wall framing is underway on the lower floors, along with utilities rough-ins on the lowest levels. The rear section is further behind, steel is rising but workers have yet to move beyond the first floor. Progress should be happening fairly quickly from here on out, as the building needs to be ready for occupancy by the start of the fall semester. According to Fontana’s website (conveniently linked with the shoe store), unit prices range from $930 to $1250 per bedroom. The website doesn’t give any indication on how many units have been reserved.

There seems to be a slight discrepancy as to whether the project has 53 or 56 bedrooms in its 22 units. Counting on the webpage didn’t help, and the floor plans on the city’s website date from the 6-story, 64-bedroom version. A quick check shows my source was a Cornell Sun article from February 2015, no longer online. If anyone knows which number is accurate, please chime in.

A little more info can be found in last week’s Voice round-up here.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 2/2016

29 02 2016

It was a little difficult to get good vantage points at the 327 Eddy Street construction site. Several cement trucks were coming and going during the photo op, and the crew from G. M. Crisalli and Associates were less than inclined to let anyone get close to do some photo taking.

Of the trio of Collegetown midrises currently underway, it would appear from what is visible that 327 Eddy is the one that is least furthest along. This might be because of the complicated topography of the site, since the building steps back into the hill. On the upper section, cinder block walls have been assembled; on the lower section, there are additional cinder block walls with vertical rebar poking out. I’m not 100% sure what’s being poured, as I thought the lower-level foundation was complete. According to someone familiar with the project, the flowable fill used in the foundation for this project was poured three feet deep. Flowable fill can’t handle as much weight as concrete, so I wonder if that factored into the decision to lop the sixth floor off the apartment building.

Plans still call for the 22-unit, 53-bedroom apartment building to open by August 2016. 1,800 SF of retail space will be located on the first floor of the lower level. Steve Fontana is the developer and Jagat Sharma (who actually updated his website for the first time in four years) is the project architect. According to the Fontana’s website (conveniently linked with the shoe store), unit prices range from $930 to $1250 per bedroom.

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327 Eddy Street Construction Update, 12/2015

8 12 2015

327 Eddy is almost ready to rise from the ground. The mat slab foundation for the upper tier has been poured onto the rebar mesh, with more rebar sticking out of the concrete, ready to tie-in the walls as they’re built up. On the lower tier, it looks like some forms are still in-place for further concrete pours (which sounds right, based off the elevation drawing below). No doubt the work crews have appreciated winter’s delayed arrival this year.

Plans call for a new 5-story building split into “steps” on the steeply-sloped site. The mixed-use building will bring 1,800 SF of retail space and 22 new apartment units with 53 bedrooms to the market in August 2016. Longtime Collegetown landlord Steve Fontana of the Fontana’s Shoes family is the developer, Jagat Sharma is the architect, and GM Crisalli & Associates of Syracuse will be overseeing construction. A construction loan of $4,824,000 is being provided by Tompkins Trust Company. A 2-story mixed-use building and the one-story Pixel Lounge building  were demolished to make way for the project.

Note in the elevation drawing below, the building is six stories. It was reduced to five, and the decorative crown was reworked after approval was granted. It also looks like the latest render was stretched to compensate the loss in height.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 10/2015

16 10 2015

Of the three major Collegetown apartment projects currently underway, 327 Eddy is probably the least “impressive” to look at because it has yet to begin putting up structural steel. But this isn’t to say there isn’t work underway.

The site has been excavated and the base of the building has been established. A steel rebar grid mesh can be seen at the base of the upper tier, with utility lines feeding through. The rebar mesh is a reinforcement for the concrete when it gets poured, helping to prevent cracks that may from in the concrete from spreading throughout the foundation and causing major damage. The lower building tier have yet to receive the rebar mesh, but given the elevation render, it might be filled out first with the “flowable fill” referenced in the last update. Rimming the base are steel sheet piles, which lock together to form a wall designed to keep spoil and water from neighboring properties from spilling onto the construction site.

Plans call for a new 5-story building split into “steps” on the steeply-sloped site. The mixed-use building will bring 1,800 SF of retail space and 22 new apartment units with 53 bedrooms to the market in August 2016. Longtime Collegetown landlord Steve Fontana (of the Fontana’s Shoes family) is the developer, Jagat Sharma is the architect, and GM Crisalli & Associates of Syracuse will be overseeing construction. A construction loan of $4,824,000 is being provided by Tompkins Trust Company.

Note in the elevation drawing below, the building is six stories. It was reduced to five, and the decorative crown was reworked after approval was granted.

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