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.

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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.

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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 3/25/17: Out in the Wild

25 03 2017

1. Let’s start by touching real quick on this past week’s Ithaca town meeting. The Bundy subdivision and the renovation of the former Wings Over Ithaca space at East Hill Plaza were approved, per Matt Butler at the Times. The Greentree project was reviewed and the board granted itself lead agency to conduct environmental review. Greentree owner John Gaunt is still unsure whether he’ll keep the Elmira Road building, which is where Ithaca Beer got its start in the late 1990s. Although primarily a warehouse/ag industry project, there will be some potentially public-friendly features, namely a garden park and picnic area. The board expressed a desire to see Greentree work with neighbor Ithaca Beer for landscaping between the two buildings.

2. I followed up with Lansing town planning consultant Michael Long regarding English Village. As readers might remember from last week, that’s the 58 single-family home lots and 59 townhouses proposed somewhere in Lansing – didn’t know where because that was the first anything has been published about it. Here’s Long’s response:

“The English Village is a concept developed by Jack Young to build a network of single family homes and apts. /condos that surround the existing soccer fields along Water Wagon [sic] Road. It is still very early in the conceptual phase so there has not been an formal application made as yet, but a project that has been talked about for many, many years. We don’t have anything specific yet but is a project “In-progress”.”

Jack Young is a Cayuga Heights businessman (and chair of their zoning board of appeals), who owns a sizable amount of undeveloped land in Lansing; most of it is used for farming. The soccer fields on Waterwagon Road are just east of The Rink, which is putting in a new climbing tower. There’s been plenty of conventional suburban development up this way since the 2000s, although in recent years the new starts have slowed as conventional suburban layout have lost some of their allure to walkable urban or truly rural properties. We’ll have to keep an eye out and see what happens.

3. Now turning attention over to Dryden. Apparently the town of Dryden thinks I’m with the Ithaca Times. Anyway, two new projects have popped up on the radar this week.
The first is a 6,016 SF, 8-unit apartment on the 500 Block of Etna Road just east of the airport. All units will be 1-bedrooms. The developer is Ithacan Salim Kasimov; with partner Yelena Kurbanova, they’ve picked up some properties in and around the area for home construction over the past few years, although this might be their first multi-family building. Simple, maybe a little bland – a floor-separating exterior lap band and two different colors of siding would do wonders.

The project exceeds zoning, where 2 units/acre is allowed, and this is pursuing 8 units on 1.78 subdivided acres (the other lot holds a two-family home). SEAF here, floor plans hereThe argument was that these are all one-bedroom units, and a typical house is 3+ bedrooms, so it’s not a substantial variance. The project was in planning before the rural zoning code was updated, which complicates matters.

According to Dryden town planning director Ray Burger, the ZBA asked for more information, but the application has been withdrawn. This project is in limbo for the time being.

The second is called the “Pineridge Cottages”, and went to the Dryden Planning Board for a sketch plan review this week. This one came up on this blog a long time ago – it’s a proposal for about 20 single-family rental homes on about nine acres on the corner of Dryden Road/Route 13 and Mineah Road. At the time, the logic was that the density requirements would let it slip under the radar, since the project is under 4 units/acre and could have avoided triggering most site plan review regulations. But maybe with the revised zoning laws, that’s no longer the case.

4. It’s a Tiny Timber out in the wild! Not something that was expected while covering the Maple Festival, but there it was on the property. This would be the very first one, according to the Tiny Timbers blog. The TT blog says it’s in Hector (which is correct, it’s 500 feet from the Tompkins/Schuyler County line), but the Wellspring Farm advertises itself with a Trumansburg address, so this was really just fortuitous circumstance. The model is a Model L Lofted with optional green corrugated metal roofing.

It’s looks like sales are off to a good start – the 14 Farm Pond Circle lot is pending, as is the Ellis Hollow Road lot. A Tiny Timber Big Cube is also expected to replace a dilapidated home at 104 Grandview Place on Ithaca’s South Hill. Prospects are so good, Buzz Dolph plans to rent a warehouse on Dryden’s Hall Road to serve as an assembly facility for the modular components, and is looking for construction partners in neighboring markets. Modest, affordable owner-occupied housing is an under-served but big potential market, and to its profit, Tiny Timbers looks to be part of the solution.

5. According to documents filed with the county this week, the construction loan for 607 South Aurora is $1,920,000. Tioga State Bank is the lender on record, with Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals as developer. The documents give a March-August build-out for the 4-building project; each building will host 2 three-bedroom units, and utilize modular components. These will look pretty similar to the pair that just opened on Old Elmira Road.

The two-family directly on South Aurora is designed with a full-length porch and sculpted brackets, with Hardie Plank fiber cement boards to look more aesthetically pleasing. The trio tucked away from road will use vinyl siding. Advertisements targeting Ithaca College students are already posted on MLR’s website, saying that the 3-bedroom units will rent for $2,250/month, or $750/bedroom.

6. One of those rare interesting things from the slimmed down Ithaca Journal – it appears CFCU has been doing pretty well this decade. Not only were they recently approved for an expansion into Cayuga County and Seneca County (that’s where Geneva is, guys), the Lansing-based credit union and financial services firm has added 40% to its financial holdings and 42 jobs since the start of the decade. Not too shabby at all, keep up the good work.

7. Interesting planning board meeting shaping up. Here’s the March agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:
Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place Tax Parcel 9.-3-11

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:
Apartments (11 Units) 6:20
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

B. Project:
Schwartz Performing Arts Center Plaza Improvements 6:40
Location: 430 College Ave
Applicant: Ram Venkat for Cornell University
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency .Public Hearing . Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

C. Project:
Apartments ( 5 Units) 7:00
Location: 118 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

D. Project:
Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartments 7:20
Location: 214 Elmira Road
Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

E. Townhomes- 238 Linden Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This proposal was removed right before the February meeting. Same details as before: 238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

F. Apartments 232- 236 Dryden Road – Sketch Plan 7:50

Another CR-4 proposal is slated for what is currently a parking lot at 232-236 Dryden Road. Given that the parking lot address is 232-238 Dryden, it seems plausible a small, remnant component is being kept. The owner is James Rider, the 57-year owner of the Hillside Inn budget hotel in Collegetown. Going out on a limb, it’s likely he is not the developer, but someone else who happens to have a purchasing option. Four floors, no parking required, on a parking lot – seems like a good opportunity for an infill project without much risk to the city’s historic fabric.

5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3059, Appeal of Determination, 742 Cascadilla At (Carpenter Bus. Park) – Yes, Maguire has filed the lawsuit and this is related. Carpenter is the Plan B at this point, but they want to make sure that Plan B is legal if that’s what it boils down to.
#3060, Area Variance, 322 Park Place – small addition to an existing house.
#3062, Area Variance, 104 Grandview Place – the Tiny Timber mentioned above.
#3063, Sign Variance, 505 3rd Street (Aldi) – Aldi is renovating and expanding stores across the country, a massive 1,300+ store project that’s liable to cost more than $1.5 billion over the next few years (prototype shown above). Ithaca will be one of the first to get the new layout, adding 2,700 SF to its Aldi outpost. The move is to allow expanded fresh food offerings (meat, dairy and produce), and install new energy-efficient refrigeration units. Note that the expansion is to allow a slightly larger combined store signage area than what’s legally allowed (total 272.9 SF vs 250 SF). Victor-based APD Engineering and Architecture is in charge.

6. Old/New Business 8:30

7. Reports





News Tidbits 11/19/16: Winter Is Coming

19 11 2016

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1. We’ll start off in the Big Apple this week. Cornell and its development team have released plans for the fourth and last building in the first phase of the Cornell Tech buildout. The Verizon Executive Education Center and Hotel consist of two buildings connected by a shared hall, and will include four 50-75 seat classrooms, small breakout rooms, and a 195-key hotel for visitors to the school. The plans also call for a restaurant, rooftop lounge and cafe – none of which sound very academic, but the building is meant to be an event center and gateway to the nascent school.

The exterior will be encased in aluminum and wood planks. There will be no parking, but there will be pedestrian courtyards, bike lanes and green space. The facilities are part of the campus’s first phase, which also includes a 26-story student and staff residential building; the Bridge, an incubator for researchers and small businesses; and the Bloomberg Center academic building. Those buildings will open in summer 2017, while the Verizon Center will probably be a 2018 opening, assuming the final designs are approved by the city of New York.

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2. Now to turn to something much closer to Ithaca. Dryden’s Hopshire Brewery is in the midst of a two-phase expansion, reports the Times. The first phase, shown above, consists of a 1,200 SF addition to the west side of the structure, and the new addition is already framed and closed up, with the expectation of being completed by the start of 2017. The space will be used to host events for as many as 100 attendees. the second phase, a 1,300 SF addition to the brewery and storage area, will start next year. The work is partially funded with an Empire State Development grant.

Speaking of drinks, the Watershed, a new bar and coffee lounge, will open by Thanksgiving. It replaces Rumble Seat Music at the former telephone exchange building at 121 West State Street in Downtown Ithaca. The Watershed owners expect to create eight living-wage jobs.

3. From county records, we can see just how much the Rodeway Inn renovation is going to cost local businessman Pratik Ahir – $2,095,000, but the hard costs are only $926,000. The difference is due to the existing mortgage on the property. The lender is Generations Bank, a small bank based out of the Seneca Falls. Anecdotally, we seem to be seeing an uptick in small upstate lenders looking to stake claims on the growing Ithaca market, which could be a real asset for the region – with a limited number of local lenders, financing is often a big hurdle with Ithaca-area projects.

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4. As noted earlier this week in the Voice, lots of new Maplewood renders to take a gander at. Going through all the emails from the public comment period, I’d say that overall most are positive and positive-constructive – there are a few sour grapes, but they’re in the minority. For this area, that’s actually a pretty big accomplishment, and it means Cornell and EdR have successfully addressed most of the concerns raised by neighbors and community members. The big changes in respone to public comment have been a a commitment to 50% off-site solar energy, $20,000 to the town for traffic calming measures on Mitchell Street (raised crosswalks, speed bumps), and the two townhouse strings facing Walnut Street and the Belle Sherman Cottages have been redesigned to look more traditional and fit in better with their non-student neighbors. We’re probably very close to the final design at this point, if not already there.

Once preliminary approval has been granted, demolition will start on the south side of the Maplewood property and make its way northward in four phases. The first townhouse strings and apartment buildings will begin construction on the south side of the property in the March-April timeframe, depending on overall progress and external factors. The first completed buildings will be ready by October/November 2017, but it looks like occupancy will happen all at once in August 2018.

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5. The City Planning Board Agenda is pretty busy next week – Todd Fox will be presenting two new mid-sized Collegetown projects, Wegman’s is seeking a renewal on the approvals for their pad parcel building, and several other projects had major or minor redesigns. Here’s the rundown on the Voice, and the schedule here:

AGENDA ITEM                 APPROX. START-TIME

1. Agenda Review              6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor   6:01

3. Site Plan Review
A. Project:  Maplewood Redevelopment Project                               6:10
Location: Veteran’s Ave. (between Maple Ave. & Mitchell St.)
Applicant: Scott Whitham, Whitham Planning & Design, LLC, for Cornell University
Actions: Update & Schedule
B. Project:  City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)     6:25
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING    Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 3

C. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center                                6:50
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, PUBLIC HEARING, Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

D. Project:  Four Duplexes                                                         7:20
Location: 607 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Charles O’Connor
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary Approval
E. Project:  College Townhouse Project                                      7:45
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 2
F. 126 College Ave. — Sketch Plan            8:00
G. 210 Linden Ave. — Sketch Plan              8:20
H. Wegmans Retail Building – Extension of Site Plan Approval     8:40
4. Zoning Appeals                                                                     8:50
• 3049, Special Permit, 908 N. Cayuga St.
• 3050, Area Variance, 528 W. Green St.
• 3051, Area Variance, 661-665 Spencer Rd.
• 3052, Area Variance & Special Permit, 701 Spencer Rd.
• 3054, Sign Permit, 222 Elmira Rd.
5. Old/New Business                                                                 9:00
A.  Special Planning Board Meeting: 11/29/16
B.  Update — City/Town Joint Planning Board Meeting
C.  Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House)
D.  Changes/Corrections to Collegetown Area Form Districts (CAFD)
E.  Building Materials — Discussion on Potential Restriction on Vinyl Siding
6. Reports                                                                                 9:20
A.  Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B.  Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C.  Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)

7. Approval of Minutes: May 24, 2016, June 28, 2016, July 26, 2016, and/or October 25, 2016 (time permitting)      9:30

8. Adjournment      9:31

 





News Tidbits 10/8/16: No Rain, But the Money’s Flowing

8 10 2016

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1. The Sleep Inn project at 635 Elmira Road went back to the town of Ithaca planning board last Tuesday. The initial write-up looked good – town planners were very pleased with the proposed changes, and the developer, local hotelier Pratik Ahir, proposed two different concepts to the board to see which one they were more comfortable with. The one that the board likes would be finalized in the plans and submitted for final approval later this year. No media were at the meeting, so I do not know which concept they preferred.

Both concepts by HEX 9 Architects attempt to maintain the rustic character that the town seeks to maintain for its part of the Inlet Valley Corridor. Concept one at top uses stone veneer (Elderado Stone), timber trusses, Hardie plank lap siding, and asphalt shingles. This design features balconies on both the front and rear of the building. Concept 2 incorporates a more varied roofline and building face, metal roof panels, stone veneer and a couple different types of Hardie Board. Concept 2 has less timber and no balconies. The town planning department felt that both concepts were unique enough and rustic enough to get its benediction in the SEQR analysis they sent over to the board. The concepts are a big improvement over the rendition we saw in August.

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2. Looks like the Canopy Hilton is a go. The project secured a $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union on Friday September 30th. ESL is a new face to the local market – “Eastman Savings and Loan” was founded in Rochester in 1920 to serve employees of former photography giant Eastman Kodak. The 7-story, 131-room hotel is expected to open in Spring 2018.

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3. Also funded this week – the second phase of Poet’s Landing out in the village of Dryden. Citibank is lending $7,702,326 to Rochester-based Confier LLC to build the 48 affordable apartment units across the street from Dryden High School, just west of 72-unit phase one. The documents were filed on Tuesday the 4th. The design of the second phase’s will be the same as phase one’s, an eight unit per building design by NH Architecture that is one of Conifer’s standard designs. The total project cost is $10.8 million, with the balance come from state affordable housing grants and tax credits. The build-out is expected to take about a year.

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4. So a few news bits about 201 College. The partially-deconstructed house at 201 College is now getting torn down, which had nothing to do with approval, and everything to do with break-ins and safety issues – there was evidence of squatters taking up residence, and the expense of a tear-down is worth avoiding a lawsuit or tragedy. Speaking of which, although a ruling on 201 College has yet to be issued and won’t be for a few weeks, Neil Golder’s lawsuit has already been re-filed. The court hearing is scheduled for December. According to an exchange with my colleague Mike Smith, Fox is planning rowhouses along Bool Street, within a 45-foot height limit but spanning the block, as it seems he has a purchase option on neighboring 202 Linden.

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5. According to Nick Reynolds at the Times (yes, he jumped papers), the buildings to be deconstructed for the Harold’s Square project are to be vacated by the end of October. Developer David Lubin plans to start the deconstruction process, which is a little more intensive and lengthier than a typical demolition, in November. Things have been complicated by the city’s decision to forego the project in the Restore NY grant application, where the $500,000 was allocated to pay for demolition, and must now be sourced from elsewhere. Once secured, the plan is to file for the permit, and by law they have up to 30 days to start deconstruction from the day the permit is issued. Construction should go for about 18 months, once the site is cleared.

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6. The 8-unit 607 South Aurora project will be seeking “Declaration of Lead Agency” at the Planning Board meeting, and materials have been filed with the city. Project narrative here, SPR application here, drawings here. The big changes since sketch plan were sidewalk and parking lot revisions, and rotating Building D to establish harmony with Hillview Place. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million and aims for a construction timeline of March to September 2017. This is the next incremental step up for Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals, whose M.O. is to quietly pursue modestly-sized infill projects in less dense parts of the city (ex. the two duplexes planned for 312-314 Old Elmira). In a change of pace, the staff of Sharma Architecture are the designers this time around.

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7. From the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, the new two-family house at 123 Eddy Street has been granted zoning variances. Expect the Sharma-designed two-unit, six-bedroom rental property to start construction next year in time for the 2017-18 academic year.

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6. House of the week. Instead of one underway, this week will show two recent completions. Leading off is this house on West Hill’s Campbell Avenue, built by Carina Construction. This project came up in a weekly roundup back in late May – it’s a $320,000 project per the permit filing with the city, with $280,000 lent by Tompkins Trust. The contrast between the wood siding and the (fiber cement?) vinyl siding is a nice touch, as is the two-story porch. Definitely a unique house, and a showcase of just what kind of variety one can do with modular pieces if they’re willing to get creative.

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Now for house number two. This isn’t a new build, but a very thorough renovation. Every time I take photos, I run into the owners, and normally I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But, given that I’ve run into him twice, he’s familiar enough with me that we’ve had a conversation about his work.

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This is in Fall Creek on North Aurora. The couple who own this place moved in from Pennsylvania, they were just starting retirement when the wife’s father was no longer able to take care of it. It had been a duplex, but the other unit was more workshop space. The building was in good shape, but these folks wanted to modernize and refresh it, so they decided to do a to-the-studs renovation, basically turning it into a new home within an existing shell. Fiber cement, wood shingles, a few modern touches (the south bumpout, the unusual gable/shed hybrid dormers), a carriage house, a lot of work went into it over the past year and a half and it shows.





News Tidbits 10/1/16: Sketchy Details

1 10 2016

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1. Over in Lansing, it looks like Park Grove Realty is having a rough time getting their plans rolling. Legions of angry homeowners turned out at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a requested zoning change for a 20-acre Bomax Drive property that Park Grove seeks to build 140 apartments upon. The meeting wasn’t about the project, which will follow the zoning change once approved. For the record, the meeting was only about the zoning change, which is currently zoned for office park business/technology and has been owned by Cornell since 2008.

The unusual thing is that the primary opponent seems to be the Jonson family, of development company IthacaHome, formerly known as Forest City Realty. They built some of Lansing’s 1990s subdivisions and the Heights of Lansing project at the end of Bomax Drive, which is stalled out due to a lack of interest and Ivar Jonson’s passing. The claim from Janet Jonson is that if left commercial office/tech, then maybe an office building would be built and executives would build homes on some of their vacant lots. Even Larry Fabbroni was there to say an office building would generate less traffic than housing would. The meeting was very heated, according to the Lansing Star’s Dan Veaner.

The village planning board was there to listen, but not especially sympathetic. For one, there’s plenty of undeveloped commercially-zoned land; but there is a housing shortage. For two, although some complained “transients” would lower their housing values, these units will be going for $1,400-$1,900/month. The board’s not focused on the project just yet, that will come in due course. Meanwhile, the trustees moved to schedule public review for the zoning change, with that meeting planned for October 17th.

A couple miles away, Park Grove has also been getting flack for taking down willow trees as part of a plan to reduce root damage and mold issues, and to expand parking and add a 425 SF rental office on the Triphammer Apartments (former Chateau Claire) property. The heavy-handed approach was not well received. In short, Park Grove’s principals are the village pariahs at the moment, though they have brought some of it on themselves.

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2. Just a brief check-up on the Maplewood Park redevelopment. The project team has been busy over the past month making revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of its determination of adequacy, and the DEIS was just accepted for public review as of the town of Ithaca planning board meeting on the 20th.

A digital copy of the revised DEIS can be found on the town’s website here. A public hearing will also take place on October 18th. The SEQR review period is 45 days from acceptance, so public comment will be accepted on the document up to 4 PM on Halloween.

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3. As part of their campus housing study, Cornell launched an extensive survey of their students. A summary and a link to the full results can be found on their webpage here. The university also held public forums this past week on campus to hear opinions from the community and explain what happens next (what needs work, how much campus housing is needed, where on campus, what student segments, strategies for the next 25 years, and so on).

Among the grad and professional (MBA/JD/MPH/etc) students, more anticipated living on campus when they arrived, than actually did – 32% vs. 18% of respondents. On average, G/P students felt they should pay about 7% less than they do. They want Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, on-site laundry and package/mail delivery. Outside, they want wider sidewalks and more frequent bus stops/service, and parking fees should be bundled in rent if parking is offered.

Those off campus preferred Downtown (26%) and Collegetown (24%). Grads and domestic students preferred Downtown, professional and international students preferred Collegetown. Grad students tended to be more satisfied with their housing than undergrads.

Similarly, more undergrad respondents want(ed) to live on campus – 56% do or have, 78% want/wanted to. That stat’s a little weird, since freshmen are required to live on campus. Only about 45% describe an apartment as ideal housing, vs 88% for grad/prof students. They also want Wi-Fi and laundry, as well as study areas and dining nearby. 49% selected Collegetown as their preferred housing choice, with another 36% preferring an on-campus location if available.

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At the public forums, the university presented a few potential building sites for new campus housing. The goal was to have sites away from full-time residential areas (less hassle), easy to prepare (less physical hassle), accommodate 300-500 students (scale efficiencies) and be near existing facilities (quality of life and infrastructure). Three north campus locations were presented – CC parking lot, the side lot at RPCC, and the fields next to Appel Commons. The RPCC and CC locations show up on the 2008 Master Plan as well, 3-6 floors and up to 200,000 SF of space. So it seems those two locations have a more sustained interest. The city of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights have a boundary line that straddles those sites, a latitudinal line just south of Jessup Road. If something were proposed, most of the land is in the city, but the village would have to vote to defer decision-making to the city. That is a potential complication that Cornell has to keep in mind.

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4. The Evergreen Townhouses project in Dryden will be the subject of a special meeting of the town planning board on Wednesday October 5th at 7 PM at the Varna Community Center. The full suite of documents, including county review, planning board notes for the town board (recall that in Dryden, the town board votes to approve projects instead of the planning board), sewer capacity report and concept plan description can be found here. SEQR has been reviewed and a traffic study has been completed. The project will need a PUD approval, since 36 units exceeds what the zoning allows (28). If the PUD is approved, land will be deeded to the town for its recreational rail trail. Like the Park Grove project in Lansing, this rental proposal has seen a fair amount of opposition, due to traffic and concerns about renters, and the possibility of encouraging suburban sprawl east of Varna. Oddly enough, for being this far along in the process, there still haven’t been any detailed renders of the townhouses released to the public.

5. Here are a few details about the 607 South Aurora project. Readers might recall the sketch plan was presented at the August Planning Board meeting.

As I discovered this week, sketch plans are actually off the record. Meaning that a developer doesn’t have to give it to the city for publication if they don’t want to. Apparently, John Novarr is going this route – although images for his townhouse project on the 100 Block of College Avenue were presented last week, the city has no official record of them, and he said he has no intent to share plans until he’s ready for the city to declare itself lead agency. For what it’s worth, the project, geared towards Cornell faculty and staff, was well received by the Planning Board.

On the one hand, not sharing the sketch plan limits public exposure and the risk brought by exposure, and it allows the board to eliminate the most controversial aspects before the public can see them. On the other hand, it’s less transparent, and makes me an unhappy camper.

Back to the topic at hand, 607 South Aurora as initially conceived calls for 4, 2-family, 2-story houses on the property, while retaining the existing house. That’s a total of 8 units, and 24 bedrooms total. Parking would be in two sections tucked back from the street. The project is not unlike the one approved for 312-314 Old Elmira Road in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. Although STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest presented the project at the August meeting, STREAM is not in charge of this proposal. The project is being designed by Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma for local developer Charlie O’Connor.

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Charlie O’Connor is a part of Modern Living Rentals, and regardless of how one might actually feel about their work, it is probably the most transparent development/rental company in the local market. True to form, a quick check of their website turned up images of 607 S. Aurora. It looks like the same general design will be used for each building, and each unit will be 3 bedrooms and about 1,122 feet. I hope they change up the exterior colors for variety’s sake. The board and planning department was fine with the buildings, but suggested revisions to the site plan, so the next iteration will likely have a different site layout.

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6. Sorry, didn’t realize the lens was smudged. This very subtle duplex is underway in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, behind an existing duplex at 512-14 West Green Street. Because it fits in all the setbacks (it’s a very large, deep lot for an inner city parcel) and the rear of the property falls into the State Street Corridor’s CBD-60 zoning (i.e. no parking required), this project never needed more than staff-level approval from the city. Honestly, were it not for a small disturbed area at the curb-cut from construction vehicles moving in and out, one would never know this duplex was under construction.

The property is owned by the Ciaschi family, and appears to have been passed between family members since at least the 1960s. A building loan filed on June 17th indicates that Tompkins Trust lent $330,000 towards the project. As with many smaller builds, this a modular by Ithaca’s Carina Construction. Carina is supplied by Simplex Homes, and it looks like this 3-bedroom/2-unit is based off Simplex’s “Elkton IV” plan (but that could be wrong). Give how far along the outside is, it would not be a surprise if renters move in by the start of October.

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7. The near-death Black Oak Wind Farm could actually happen, if they pay Enfield the money they want for FOIL costs. Using the original EIS, they’ve reverted to the initial plan, including use of the landowners’ properties who tried to pull out in the face of the project’s rancorous opposition. The BOWF project team had been attempting to move two of the turbines to accommodate property owners who changed their mind about being associated with the project, but the Supplemental EIS had been caught in legal red tape with the town of Enfield and the town of Newfield to its south, where one of the alternative sites was planned. So the new plan is to just go forward with the original signed contracts and build what was proposed before the 2015 SEIS. The project team has requested final approval, but the town has said they want to be paid $19,000 for the cost of handling all the FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) requests, of which they’re not sure who’s actually required to cover the cost.

This project and its manager, Marguerite Wells, have probably been put through a greater Hell than any other proposal in this county, which is really, really saying something. Let’s recall, apart from the opposition that has demonized the project manager and the investors (successfully, one could unfortunately argue), that when they considered the alternative site, Newfield’s town board rewrote their wind farm law to implicitly but effectively ban wind turbines from the town. The BOWF project has been incubating for nine or ten years.

According to Marguerite Wells, if they can’t get approval at the Enfield town board’s October 12th meeting, the wind farm proposal dies. And with it, pretty much any commercial wind turbine plans for Tompkins County (looking at Newfield, maybe single-family turbine plans as well – the way the 2016 revision is written, a homeowner can’t even hook up a little one to their roof, as it’s too close to an occupied structure).

8. Here’s a little kick in the pants to end the week. It was reported in Bloomberg of the five Ivies that have released results so far, Cornell’s endowment did the worst in the past year, with a -3.3% loss (which comes out to a drop of about $200 million). The university is taking reactive measures, including moving its investment offices to New York City. “The investment committee believes over the long term the relocation to New York City gives us even better access to potential staff who might not be willing to move to Ithaca,” said Cornell CFO Joanne DeStefano. That’s a bit deflating.