News Tidbits 8/18/18

18 08 2018

1. Here’s the latest update to “The Village at Varna” the Trinitas proposal for the hamlet of Varna. The project had originally started with 224 units and 663 beds, and this latest iteration is down to 219 units and 602 beds. The most notable changes in this new layout are the incorporation of a three-story parking garage to conserve green space, and a larger retail area fronting Dryden Road – there’s nothing in the filing, but at a glance it’s about double the previous size, so from 800 to something around 1600 SF.

With the inclusion of a garage, that frees up more green space – at 55% of the site, it’s now only 4% lower than the requirement (59%, the site is a mix of Varna Hamlet zone types). 541 parking spaces are provided, vs. the 549 required by zoning, and there are some setback variances requested for setbacks from the property line buffers (the buffers themselves are the required 20′ width).

One thing that stands out to me as a potential issue isn’t shape or scale, but unit mix. Of those 219 units, 110 are four-bedroom units. Beyond the argument that four-bedroom units are clearly student oriented (the demand simply isn’t there within the general market), I’m doubtful the demand for 110 four-bedroom units exists outside of Collegetown. Most grad students who take a shine to Varna also opt for smaller spaces, and the undergraduates who fill 4 bedroom+ units generally aren’t interested in living this far out. What modest demand there is for four-bedroom units, is identified and met – projects like 802 Dryden have already incorporated a number of four-bedroom units in their plans. I understand that from a cost per square foot perspective, it’s more efficient to do four-bedroom units (one four-bedroom doesn’t need two kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms like two two-bedroom units would). But it would likely be tougher sell than Trinitas realizes, especially with Cornell planning to expand their campus offerings in the next few years.

To be frank, I’m firmly in the camp that Trinitas could do something good here, but I’m not sure this is it.

2. Let’s just throw another piece of bad news out there – even with the project redesign, PPM Homes cannot make the Ithaca Glass redevelopment work financially. That’s unfortunate not just because of the ten units of infill housing that may not be built, but it and the Wyllie Dry Cleaner redevelopment had received a $500,000 RESTORE NY grant. While that money is untouched, it doesn’t look good to the state that a project that the city vetted and advocated over competing projects has stalled out. To be fair, apparently not even Ed Cope knew of the structural issues at the time of application. The later revision for the Ithaca Glass site removed Wyllie’s from the grant award, and the status of that project isn’t clear. The IURA notes that Cope has talked with INHS about possibly selling them the site so they could go through with the original smaller and modern-looking overbuild, but the issue was that the overbuild wasn’t structurally feasible without a huge investment, and INHS has a lot of coals in the fire at the moment (offhand there’s the Salvation Army site, 209-213 Elm Street, 402 South Cayuga, the Green Street Garage, and Hamilton Square). It’s not looking good at the moment.

3. Speaking of which, quick update on the Salvation Army rebuild and expansion – it’s still in the works between them and INHS, but going slower than first anticipated. The project probably won’t be applying for construction funding this fall, but instead it’s expected to be reviewed by the city, approved and seeking affordable housing funds sometime next year.

 

4. At least the airport expansion project seems to be moving along. According to airport staff, the state has a heavy hand in it, and there have been weekly meetings to source fund to fill the $8 million gap needed to bring the $22 million project forward. Bids have already opened on phase one, the construction of the new main terminal, and the bidding period will close by the end of the month. Phase two, the geothermal power and new concourse, will be bid in early 2019, as will the third phase, the new solar array and U.S. customs facility.

5. Some good news on the affordable housing front, the county is set to disburse joint Cornell-Ithaca-Tompkins Community Housing Development funds funds to help Cornerstone Group’s Milton Meadows proposal move forward in Lansing, eventually totaling $256,875 towards the 72-unit apartment project. Milton Meadows would serve 14 households at up to 50% AMI (area median income, 100% = $59,000/year for a single person), 42 at 60% AMI, and 16 at 80% AMI.

In the next round of funding to be awarded this fall, it looks like the county will award two grants – one to INHS, $140,000 from the CHDF to help pay for two of the four for-sale townhouses at 402 South Cayuga Street (the 80% AMI ones, as the two 100% AMI middle-income units aren’t eligible), and $300,000 to Visum for the twelve units of affordable housing planned at 327 West Seneca Street. The Visum project is conditional since the administrative committee for the funds is awaiting additional details, and the project needs to be approved by the city. Perhaps PPM Homes should reach out for a discussion about whether an application could make its West Seneca project (item #2) work.

6. Developer Scott Morgan’s 16-unit Cayuga Vista Townhomes aren’t in formal review yet, but the land has exchanged hands – $139,500 on the 15th, every penny the sellers wanted. This makes it considerably more likely that the rental project (2 one-bedroom, 12 two-bedroom, 2 three-bedroom) will be coming forward to the town of Lansing planning board over the next few months.

7. For those who dream of owning a B&B, the William Henry Miller Inn is for sale. The building dates from 1878 and served as the private residence of the Osborn family from 1914 to 1996. In 1998, innkeeper Lynette Scofield purchased the property and renovated it into the Inn, which opened the following year. The Inn has enjoyed rave reviews on travel advising websites.

For $1.499 million, you too can be an innkeeper – the sale includes all furnishings, future bookings and  “infinite good will”. It definitely reads as if a very strong preference will be given to those who maintain the inn and its high standards vs. other uses. The inn has nine beds and eleven bathrooms, with an accessory owner’s cottage with one bed and bath. It’s something to fill out your daydreams this weekend.





News Tidbits 8/11/18

11 08 2018

News Tidbits 8/11/18

1. It looks like the Mettler-Toledo facility has a buyer. Ongweoweh Corporation bought the 27,000 SF property at 5 Barr Road in Dryden for $3.24 million on August 3rd. Readers may remember that Mettler-Toledo decided to consolidate the Hi-Speed Dryden plant with a new facility in the Tampa Bay metro, taking 185 jobs with it. Founded in 1978 in Spencer, Ongweoweh Corporation is a Native American-owned pallet management company providing pallet & packaging procurement and design services, recycling services and supply chain optimization programs. The firm had only recently bought its existing 17,577 SF headquarters at 767 Warren Road in Lansing, for $2 million in September 2016 – as Ongweoweh moves to the larger space, it’s putting 767 Warren up for sale for $2.3 million. It’s not clear if this physical expansion will add jobs, and a request for comment was not returned. The company employs a little over 100 people according to a third-party profile, and 58 are based in the Ithaca area.

2. Let’s talk about another business expansion – Emmy’s Organics. The organic cookie producer’s new warehouse and HQ came one step closer to reality this week when the city’s Planning Committee gave its approval to let the full Common Council vote on the sale of 2.601 acres of IURA land to Emmy’s for $242,000. The land is towards the south end of Cherry Street, it’ll be the terminus of the extended Cherry Street, which will be lengthened 400 feet and create two new one-acre lots to sell to business that contribute to the IURA’s goals of job creation for LMI individuals. Examples include drilling tech firm Vector Magnetics, lab electronics manufacturer Precision Filters and the Crossfit Pallas gym. A fourth lot on the west side of the newly extended road would be deeded to the city as a natural buffer between development and the waterfront/Black Diamond Trail.

The initial phase of the $1.25 million development includes 4,000 SF of office/breakroom/entrance area, a 4,500 SF production area, and a 5,500 SF warehouse (14,000 SF total). If growth continues as it has, the plan is to implement a second phase in 2-3 years for a 20,000 SF expansion. The new facility will create at least five new jobs (total staff 24), and the potential expansion would likely add at least another twenty given that phase two called for the parking lot to grow from 22 to 41 spaces.

The rendering of the new HQ above, which is a STREAM Collaborative design, shows both phases. The section in the foreground is phase one, the shed roof structure at back is phase two. The section of parking lot towards the left is a phase two addition as well. No zoning variances are required. Whitham Planning and Design is leading the project through the city review process.

3. Let’s linger on Whitham for a moment. From their website is likely one of the runner-up proposals for the North Campus Residential Expansion over at Cornell. They were partnered with Ann Beha Architects and Baltimore-based Design Collective for a competing design that was ultimately not selected. Cornell interviewed four development teams before going with their final choice, Integreated Acquisition and Development, a firm associated with John Novarr and Phil Proujansky who did the Breazzano in Collegetown. Although owned and operated by Cornell, there is a developer’s fee IAD will earn for developing the NRCE project on behalf of Cornell. That fee varies per project and is usually confidential, but 3-6% is common in commercial builds, and by that yardstick, for a $175 million project IAD stands to make several million dollars.

With nothing more than a site plan, I’d be willing to guess that given the team members, the plan would have been a contemporary design, though perhaps more conservative than ikon.5 – Ann Beha designed the elegant if subdued first phase of the Cornell Law School addition.

4. The Hotel Ithaca is moving forward with the next phase of plans for its South Cayuga Street property. The next project is to tear down the vacated south wing, a 2-story structure built in the 1970s, and replace it with a surface parking lot. At a glance, this is not at all a welcome proposal for a downtown street corner. However, it comes with some promise of a hotel addition down the line. A development pad will be created for a “future market-driven addition”, meaning that if business grows and they decide to expand the hotel, they’ll have a level, stable, shovel-ready site. Until then, it’s seventeen fewer parking spaces the hotel will need in the Cayuga Street parking garage. The $550,000 project would be carried out from August to November, and NH Architecture is handling the landscaping, refinishing of the tower wall and overall application on behalf of owner Hart Hotels.

5. Visum’s not wasting any time on its affordable housing proposal for 327 West Seneca Street. The three-story, 12-unit building is planned for an October start and an April 2019 finish, and will be going before the planning board this month Declaration of Lead Agency and review of Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form.

The project is an interesting little case study of how maximum height isn’t necessarily optimal. The zoning allows four floors; they want to serve 70-80% area median income, which requires 18 bedrooms for economic feasibility at this site. But to have four floors, the materials need to be fire-rated, and the units would need either emergency exit stairs, or an elevator. Since it’s a small building lot, an elevator would eat into the square footage of units, about a bedroom per floor, so there’s no net gain in rentable space with a fourth floor, but there would be an increased project cost. One could save costs by putting in the stairs vs. the elevator, but the fourth floor units would be harder to fill because they would pose greater access difficulties – ask around and see how many people want to walk up four flights everyday. This is actually one of the major reasons why the Village Solars in Lansing are also three floors, the expense of elevators would have driven their budget higher than the mid-market segment Lifestyle Properties wanted to serve.

Net-zero energy use is being explored (electric heat pumps powered by off-site renewables), and yard and setback variances are being sought after the city seemed receptive to a variant sketch plan with a few more square feet in the units for the sake of livability. STREAM penned a traditional design fitting with the block, and the revisions added a few more windows into the sides of the structure.

Also in the projects memo for this month are final approval for Benderson’s 3,200 SF addition at 744 South Meadow Street and the Declaration of Lead Agency for Cornell’s new north campus dorms. The Benderson project’s landscaping plan was modified slightly, and a new rear exit door and front awning are being considered.

6. Out in the towns there’s not much going on next week. A special meeting of the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board will decide whether or not to defer to the city as lead agency in the environmental review of Cornell’s north campus expansion. The town of Lansing will be holding public hearings for a one-lot subdivision and a four-lot subdivision for single-family homes.

7. The Lansing Village Cottages plan has its work cut out for it. The design has been tweaked such that the first two home clusters were combined, and the road connecting to Craft Road was realigned. The Millcroft Way connection will have a vegetative buffer and the road would be for emergency vehicle only. However, Millcroft Way residents are still seething – they have $500,000-$700,000, 2,500 SF+ homes locked under a covenant, while the same person who sold their lots is now selling to a developer planning 800-1200 SF cottages. Concerns include traffic, home values, density, and too many senior housing developments, which is a bit of an odd one. Logan’s Run isn’t just a street in Dryden.

The village is pretty hesitant to support this – the Board of Trustees sent the proposal back over to the Planning Board, hoping that they could make some recommendation as to whether it meets the goals of the village. On the one hand, that would seem an easy yes at a glance, it’s senior housing close to urban areas in an affordable price range. However, after shelling out close to $50,000 for lawyers to fight Lisa Bonniwell over her lawsuit to stop the East Pointe Apartments, money that won’t be paid back (perhaps indirectly in property taxes in a few years), the village is afraid of another Article 78 lawsuit, and the residents of Millcroft are very deep-pocketed and willing to go to court. This is vaguely reminiscent of a study that shows wealthier areas are much more adept at stopping density and new housing in general because they have more leverage – one of those being that a fear of costly litigation is a strong municipal deterrent.

8. We’ll end on a positive note – after eight years of back and forth, it appears site prep has begun on the 20 senior housing units planned as part of the Lansing Meadows project. Since developer Eric Goetzmann had until July 31st or else face significant legal action (Goetzmann applied for and received a tax abatement for the BJ’s that was contingent on the housing, and it was at risk of being clawed back), I had dropped by August 3rd. After looking around, it did not seem to be under construction; a bit of upturned dirt and a bulldozer on site. The village decided it was, if barely, according to the Lansing Star:

Yes, he scratched the earth. Yes, he does have the soil fencing in,” {Village Code Enforcement Officer Adam} Robbs said. “He has hired a dedicated contractor at this time to do the site work. He has a culvert permit and approval to install a temporary culvert for construction use. I do have a preliminary set of plans. I am hesitant to say he has begun a significant amount of work… but he has begun work.”

>We’ll see if it merits an update in October.





News Tidbits 6/23/2018

23 06 2018

1. The Town of Dryden has rejected the Planning Board’s suggestion for a Varna moratorium. The vote was 3-1, with one absent. This means that Trinitas may continue with the project review process – it does not mean Trinitas will automatically be able to build their proposal as currently drawn up, since planning board review, town board approval (Special Use Permit) and zoning board approval are still required.

Unfortunately no members of the press were present at the meeting – I found out through reader email. Most were covering the Democratic Party NY-23 candidate forum, and the first mention of the moratorium vote online was in the uploaded board agenda that went up just a day earlier.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

2. When I first broke the Lansing Senior Cottages story for the Voice, there was something I was concerned would happen, but didn’t include in the write-up, because speculating gets me in trouble. But these are homes looking at middle-class seniors, placed next to $500,000-$700,000 homes. The residents of those luxury homes aren’t happy, as reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star.

They’re angry, which is fair in the perspective that when the property was plated, there was no sewer available here, and the plan was to keep it all high-end 2500+ square-foot homes. But the owner/developer of the land is selling off the future phases without any of the old covenants in place, meaning it’s subject to standard village zoning. 800-1200 SF cottages for seniors, some of which may potentially be for sale, is a welcome proposal to the eyes of the county. It seems unlikely this is going to hurt their home values; this is mid-market senior housing, not college student apartments (the only beer on the front lawn you’re going to see is if developer Beer Properties puts up signage). Plus, if you’re going to poll public opinion on this one, wealthy homeowners vs. middle-class seniors is not going to engender support for the homeowners. They could try a lawsuit against the landowner, but I’m doubtful it’s much of a case unless their covenants explicitly said what the undeveloped land would be used for.

The project is currently 107 units over multiple phases, about twenty more than allowed by zoning as-of-right, so it will need to go through a PDA with the village Board of Trustees’ consent, and Planning Board approval.

3. The Crossroads Life Center planned for the 100 Block of Lansing’s Graham Road is no longer alive. The project, which called for a meeting and retreat space to be owned and maintained by the Cornell International Christian Fellowship, fell through, and the land it was proposed for is once again up for sale. The 9.35 acre property (about 3-4 acres were to have been subdivided for the project) is for sale for $239,000. A couple half-acre home lots could be easily subdivided off along Dart Drive, but further development would have to address an old family cemetery towards the rear of the property. Zoning is medium density residential. Maximum buildout without special planned development area (PDA) rules is about 20 units under the village’s Medium Density Residential zoning.

4. Speaking of land for sale in Lansing, Cornell is actively marketing the remaining vacant parcels in its Business Park. Most of the park was built out in the 1980s and 1990s, with only a few building additions in recent years. A 5-acre parcel is available between 20 and 33 Thornwood (foreground in the aerial) for $63,000, and a 22-acre parcel is available for $276,000 (it may be subdivided further), and a 6.89 acre parcel next to airport is available for $86,500.  Lansing zoning doesn’t allow housing here, and so a commercial or industrial project will need to deal with the gas moratorium. A run-of-the-mill office building might be able to make the finances work, but an industrial or lab building with high energy needs is probably is out of the question until some gas is freed up (i.e. the airport renovation), or energy alternatives become more cost efficient.  The county is working on financing a Business Energy Navigator Program to help interested businesses determine their needs and options. Should something happen up here, look for an update.

5. The town of Ithaca is looking at expanding their Public Works Facility at 106 Seven Mile Drive “to better accommodate [their] growing employee base”, and is doing a feasiblity study to see how much and what costs they can expect. The study would be conducted 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), and is projected to cost about $21k for all parties. The town board will vote to authorize the study next Tuesday.

6. The good news for the county was that the state gave Milton Meadows a big grant to move forward. The bad news is, they were hoping for three grants, the others for NRP’s Ithaca Townhouses and Lakeview’s West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street). The county is trying to find other funding streams with which to get these affordable housing projects to move forward this year.

The Ithaca Townhomes would add 106 units in two phases near Cayuga Medical Center. West End Heights would add 60 units, including units for those with special mental health needs, and units for those currently experiencing homelessness.

7. Not a big city planning board agenda meeting this month, but still some interesting details. Here’s the rundown.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:15
Location: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Potential Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:30
Location: 101 Pier Road
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision is to partition out the square of land Guthrie Clinic would be using for their new medical office building as part of the City Harbor development – they want to own their own building and parcel.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 6:45
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval – Recommendation to BZA

This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

B. Project: GreenStar Cooperative Market 7:15
Location: 750-770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for the Guthrie Clinic (Guthrie owns the land)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

Since the last round, plantings were added, the lighting and front entrance was revised, and the project team is in discussions with the gas station next door to add planting and landscaping there as well.

C. Project: Apartments (60 units) 7:35
Location: 232-236 Dryden Road
Applicant: STREAM Collaborative for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Approval of Revised Transportation Demand Management Plan

“The applicant has revised the site plan such that the previously proposed off-site parking is no longer included in the project and has updated the TDMP narrative to reflect this.”
D. 327 W Seneca St- Housing 7:45
The new shiny. 327 West Seneca is a B-2d-zoned property on the edge of the State Street Corridor – B-2d allows multi-family housing up to 4 floors and 40 feet with 75% lot coverage. It is currently a nondescript 3-unit apartment building, that’s been for-sale for almost a year now (asking price $264,900).
A cursory search of LLC filings finds 327 W. Seneca LLC was recently registered in Tompkins County, and the address it is registered to, is the business office of Todd Fox, CEO of Visum Development Group. This may be the project alluded to in the New York Main Street grant to be written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which talks about a 12-unit project by Visum planned somewhere in the State Street Corridor. No guarantees, but this seems likely to be that project.
5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3099, 314 Taylor St, Special Permit
#3100, 128 Falls St., Area Variance
#3101, 437 N Aurora St, Area Variance