News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

1. Matt Butler at the Times is providing an in-depth check-up on the mall this week. This was a story the Voice had laid groundwork for as well, so it’s nice that one of the local news orgs was able to make hay of it. The mall, like many middle-class local malls across the country has been struggling in the age of Amazon and the retail meltdown. The overall economy might be humming along, but retail closures continue to spike nationwide, with over 6,100 closures planned this year alone, more than the 5,900 announced in all of 2018. With planned new store openings numbering 2,100, it’s practically two stores closing for every one that opens. Retail mega-landlord Cushman and Wakefield estimates 9,000 stores will close in 2019, and over 12,000 in 2020. In the Ithaca Mall, Gertrude Hawk is gone, American Eagle closed up last year, Ultimate Athletics shut its doors, the Bon-Ton closed as part of the shutdown of the whole chain, and the Sears Hometown store is kaput. The mall’s manager cited a variety of reasons, including chain downsizing, poor performance, and some just stopped paying rent.

This has major economic impacts; the mall’s property value has declined by over 60% since the start of the decade, and the village, the county and the schools have to make up those hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue somewhere (and the county and schools have). County legislator Deborah Dawson, who represents the mall’s district, suggested doing something similar to the DeWitt Mall downtown, a mix of local businesses, but the mall is a much bigger space to fill (622,500 SF vs. 117,500 SF in the DeWitt Mall), and DeWitt Mall is mixed-use (retail and 45 apartments). Local businesses and experiential outlets can be part of the solution as Running 2 Places is showing with their 18,000 SF theater this spring, but it’s one component of a solution. Residential could be a component, but some legal and logistic issues would need to be sorted out, which owner Namdar Realty has never shown much interest in; the village has also been lukewarm to the idea. About 40 apartment units were floated for a section of the parking lot (west/on the backside of the mall if I remember right), but that idea died during the Great Recession.

There is so silver bullet here. The owner needs to be more proactive then holding a proverbial gun to its’ tenants heads in order to get them to stay. Local governing bodies also have to keep an open mind for redevelopment ideas – if parts of the mall were torn down and replaced with residential, for example. As it is, the only plans on the horizon are an unnamed tenant for the former Bon-Ton space, and the extended stay hotel planned for the parking lot behind (west) of the Ramada Inn. The future of the mall is hazy; like a species faced with a steadily changing habitat, it’s either adapt and evolve, or perish.

2. Courtesy of their Facebook page, here’s a sketch render of what Salt Point Brewing Compant’s new brewery and taproom would look like. It’s a fairly unobtrusive one-story structure with a gable roof and two wings, presumably the taller one for the brewing tanks and the smaller one for service functions. On the outside are wood accents and a two-story deck for outdoor drinking and possibly dining, if the restaurant option is pursued.

The building, as well as associated landscaping and parking improvements, would be located on about three of the five acres sold as Parcel “D” in the Lansing Town Center development. The remaining two acres are wetlands and would be left undisturbed. Salt Point paid $75,000 for the land, and will bring its project forth to the town planning board in the coming months. No word on any job creation figures yet.

3. The NYS DOT county facility plans are moving forward. The state bought its 15 acres from Tompkins County for $840,000 according to a deed filed on April 24th. The building is classified as a sub-residency facility, a step below a primary regional facility (the main office for Region 3 is in Syracuse).

To review, the plans consist of the 30,000 SF sub-residency maintenance building, a 5,000 SF Cold Storage unit, an 8,200 SF salt barn, and a 2,500 square foot hopper building (covered lean-to). The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features include parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. A new access drive will be constructed from Warren Road.

The town has been less than pleased with the project, which is not bound to zoning code because it’s a public resource facility owned and operated by a government entity. Rather than voice approval, the planning board voted to acknowledge that they simply had no authority to control the project. Some modifications were made to the plans at the town’s request, such as the fueling station being moved onto airport property across Warren Road, but neighbors are still unhappy that snowplows and heavy-duty maintenance vehicles are about to be their next door neighbors.

The facility is expected to be open by the end of the end of the year. Once all staff and equipment have been moved in, the county may pursue a request for proposals/request for expression of interest for the current DOT property on the shores of the inlet near the Farmer’s Market. A 2015 feasibility analysis found that the site could conceivably host a $40+ million mixed-use project, and the site has became more amenable towards redevelopment with the enhanced density and use provisions made to the city’s waterfront zoning in 2017.

4. The Ithaca city planning board granted a negative declaration of environmental review to the 124-unit Arthaus affordable housing project at 130 Cherry Street. According to my editor Kelsey O’Connor, the latest revisions propose a five-story building that would include a gallery, office and affordable rental space. It would include parking for about 36 vehicles and 7,600 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. All of the units would be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80% of the area median income, or about $30,000 to $45,000. The north end of the property will also include a publicly accessible path leading to the inlet.

Speaking in favor of the project were neighborhood business owners and non-profits, and in opposition was councilman George McGonigal, who said both in a letter and in person that it was too big for the site and threatened the industrial character of the neighborhood. They have bigger concerns than housing nearby. Cherry Street is difficult to access with large trucks and commercial vehicles, the Brindley Street and Cecil Malone Drive bridges are small and in poor shape. Secondly, Cherry Street doesn’t provide much room for operations to expand, so that hinders their long-term operational planning. It’s not just lot size, but also the soil – the Emmy’s Organics project fell through because of poor soil not amenable for warehouse and other light industrial functions that rely on a concrete slab. Thirdly, the city’s strict environmental laws, fees and higher property taxes make an urban site less appealing. They can get more land with a lighter tax burden in Lansing, Dryden, or any of the other outlying towns. With these issues in mind, many of the industrial businesses down there now aren’t looking to stick around. Several have already sold or made purchase options with developers as they seek areas with lower taxes, easier access to highways and less strict environmental ordinances.

The unanimous approval by the city planning board allows the project to move forward with consideration for preliminary approval. The goal is to gain approval at next month’s meeting, and once affordable housing funds have been secured, to start construction of the project, likely in December of this year.

5. The Chain Works District presented plans for phase one at the Planning Board meeting. There are four buildings in phase one, of which two are in the city. 43,400 SF Building 21 would be renovated into a commercial office building. The work here is limited to replacing walled-up window openings with new windows, exterior cleaning and painting, and new signage and entrance canopies. Building 24 is a combination of renovation and expansion. The partially built-out basement and first floor would be renovated for commercial office space, the second and third story would be residential, and a new fourth floor would be built for residential uses, for a total of 135,450 SF across 4.5 floors. As with Building 21, new windows would be installed, and the exterior cleaned and painted. New landscaping, sidewalk and parking areas are also planned.

At a glance, the residential in the first phase would host 60 market-rate rental units. Each floor will have one studio unit, nine one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units, and one four-bedroom unit. According to the Site Plan Review document, the project would begin renovation in October, and be open by August 2020. The other two building in phase one are renovations of industrial and manufacturing spaces in the town, Buildings 33 and 34. These will retain industrial uses.

This meeting was only for the purpose of sharing and discussing plans, with no voting at this time. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, the board was reluctant to approve any plans without more information about who will be occupying them. That seems a bit odd, because projects are analyzed for their physical impacts, not the tenants, but the Times article says parking and landscaping may change slightly depending on the tenant. According to project representative Jamie Gensel, the USDA is considering renting out some of the office space. The USDA maintains a research facility inside the Holley Center on Cornell’s campus, and there were plans in the late 2000s to build an addition, which were later shelved during the Great Recession. It’s not clear how much space they’re seeking. Not sure what to make of that writeup, honestly, or being told to move the buildings into a different phase (personally, I’d like to be renovations before any new builds happen).

6. 815 South Aurora Street, aka “Overlook”, also continued its review at the planning board meeting. There were some minor design tweaks, seen in the before image (above) and after image (below). Changes in exterior colors, panels, ground-level entrances and fenestration, particularly on the side facing South Aurora Street. The fire trucks are  to indicate that emergency vehicles will be able to safely pull in and out from the road. Overall, project size remains at 49 units and 141 bedrooms.

There’s been some pushback from neighbors regarding size and neighborhood character. There’s an argument that these are dependent on Chain Works, but that argument doesn’t pass the smell test – if Chain Works didn’t happen, fewer units on the South Hill market would make the project even more appealing to Visum Development and Modern Living Rentals. The planning department wants more geotechnical information and bedrock to be removed, details about the new planting and landscaping, and energy systems. Documents submitted indicate the all-residential development will use electric heat pumps. The board has requested a shadow study and flesh out the environmental impacts, which is a common request for larger developments.

7. At least one project is fully approved. Although it seems at least one planning board member asked for affordable housing, the four-unit market-rate Perdita Flats infill at 224 Fair Street was granted preliminary site plan approval. The project is intended to be a sustainable building showcase of eco-friendly features, a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing. The owner/developers, Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt, will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





News Tidbits 1/19/2019

20 01 2019

Now, let’s take a look at some notable property sales over the past few weeks. To make this easy, most sales documented in this post will use a standardized format for each entry.

1. What sold and for how much? 8 and 28 Newfield Depot Road, the parcel IDs for the 188-unit Valley Manor Mobile Home Park in Newfield, for $2,300,000 on 12/19/2018.

Who was the seller? Jim Ray Homes, a local manufactured and mobile home dealer, and mobile home park operator.

Who was the buyer? Cook Properties of Rochester, a mobile home management firm with properties across upstate New York.

Anything else? Not especially. The sale was just short of the tax assessed value ($2.3 million vs. $2.369 million), and while it’s a change of ownershipp, it’s also likely a maintenance of the status quo. Still, it’s a high-dollar sale worth noting. The assessment for mobile homes and manufactured homes is a bit funky, and I think the owners only own the lots, which likely contributes to the low price per unit.

2. What sold and for how much? 232 South Geneva Street for $533,000 on 12/20/2018, and 311-13 Farm Street in Fall Creek for $700,000 on 12/20/2018. 232 South Geneva is a 5-unit apartment building in the Henry St. John neighborhood; it sold for $302k in 2013, and $200k in 2008. 311-13 Farm Street is a 3-unit apartment building that sold for $505k in 2009. It includes 15 rentable bedrooms, and a portion that was set aside as an AirBnB by the previous owners, who had it on the market for $750k (assessment $610k). Both are small multi-family examples of the rapid price appreciation Tompkins County has been seeing in walkable urban areas.

Who was the seller? Jeremy Dietz for 232 South Geneva, and S&Y Investments, a California-based LLC (sales docs indicate the owners are John Scarpulla and Allyson Yarbrough) for 311-13 Farm Street.

Who was the buyer? An LLC associated with local landlord and developer Charlie O’Connor, owner of Modern Living Rentals.

Anything else? Don’t expect teardowns here. Generally speaking, that’s not MLR’s approach to Ithaca’s inner neighborhoods. Do expect them to stay rentals, probably with a renovation in the near future (see: 1002 North Cayuga Street and 202-04 East Marshall Street). O’Connor is flush with cash after his multi-million sale of the under-construction 802 Dryden Road to a Pittsburgh-based real estate investor last fall.

3. What sold and for how much? The Sprucewood Apartments in Northeast Ithaca, for $8,640,000 on 12/21/2018.  Sprucewood is a 108-unit apartment complex completed in 1966. All units are three-bedrooms, in eighteen six-unit buildings.

Who was the seller? The Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties in Ithaca. They own a host of other housing developments, including the Village Solars under construction in the town of Lansing.

Who was the buyer?  Winston Square LLC, an LLC associated with Stratford Management, a multifamily housing management firm with locations in six states.

Anything else? A case of “under new management”. The Lucentes are a whole lot richer, and Stratford, which mostly owns older apartment complexes across upstate, finally gets a toehold in the stable and lucrative Ithaca market. With it comes a new website and a name change, from Sprucewood to Winston Square. The apartments are primarily located on Winston Court, and the name comes from the late Rocco Sr.’s penchant for naming streets after cigarette brands in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the nickname “Cigarette Alley” for Northeast Ithaca. I don’t imagine that will be a part of the advertising pitch.

4. What sold and for how much? 815 South Aurora Street, for $385,000. The property includes a 2,845 SF industrial building and a 2,537 SF warehouse on 1.85 acres on South Hill. A radio and telecommunication tower is on site.

Who was the seller? Harold Fish. The Fish family has owned the property since at least the 1950s.

Who was the buyer? “IC Overlook LLC”, which appears to be associated with Modern Living Rentals and its owner, Charlie O’Connor.

Anything else? With Todd Fox, O’Connor proposed an 87-unit (all studio units) apartment building for the site in 2015, and in order to move forward, the duo had to make a case for the city to change its rules for building near radio and telecommunication towers. Most communities use the height plus 10 feet; at the time, Ithaca used double the height. This is a 170-foot tower, so that meant a 340 foot radius, instead of 180 feet as seen in most communities. The logic is the height plus a bit for bounce; but planning staff mused that Ithaca was a bit paranoid when the legislation was drawn up in the 1990s. The zoning code was revised, but such that it’s height plus 20% – a 204 foot radius, so the project had to be redesigned a bit. The last that was heard, plans were being for a 125-bedroom project in December 2016, but nothing came to light.

Until now. A sketch plan is scheduled for the planning board meeting next week.

5. What sold and for how much? 327 West Seneca Street, for $235,000 on January 11th.

Who was the seller? The estate of Orson Ledger, a man who was known in his decades of Ithaca for providing affordable housing by running his properties into the ground so that assessments would be low. Folks involved with Ithaca’s rental market in decades past tend to have strong opinions about Ledger, who died in a car accident five years ago.

Who was the buyer? An LLC tied to Visum Development Group.

Anything else? It means Visum’s 12-unit workforce housing proposal approved for 327 West Seneca Street is now one step closer to happening.

6. What sold and for how much? 305 West Green Street, for $560,000 on January 17th. 305 West Green Street is the former Ithaca Plastics. The property hosts a 2,400 SF home and a 5,150 SF industrial building.

Who was the seller? Richard and Sharon Buechel of Dryden, who had owned the property since 1989.

Who was the buyer? Cascade Studios LLC, which is registered to the address of Ithaca musician Brian Thrash.

Anything else? Generally not wise to take guesses on these sort of things, but plans for a music/recording studio, perhaps?

7. Something that catches the eye – local landlord Ed Cope has been actively selling off many of his rental properties. 310 Farm Street was sold for $365,000 on 12/28 to Jonah and Alicia Freedman, as was 312 Farm Street, for $395,000 on the same day. 513 South Aurora Street was also sold on December 28th, to Andrew Schreck for $425,000. Cope sold out of his share of 324 West Seneca Street for $180,200 on January 17th, and sold out of his share of 318-20 West Seneca on the same day for $349,800. That’s in addition to the sale of 115 Linn Street for $540,000 last October. That’s six sales in four months.

Vice-versa, Cope bought 107-09 Hudson Street from the estate of Sophia Tselekis for $540,000 on January 10th. Previously, Cope purchased 115 Hudson for $495,000 in October, and 108-110 Hudson Street for $460,000 in September.

All of this is to suggest that Ed Cope has been a very busy man lately. It would look as if he’s selling off properties to finance purchases of other properties clustered on the 100 Block of Hudson Street, just south of downtown and Six Mile Creek. Cope already owns 105 Hudson Street and 201 South Aurora Street on the corner, 114 Hudson, 117 Hudson and 118-120 Hudson. That leaves three properties in that cluster of eleven that he doesn’t own – 101, 111 and 112 Hudson Street. It’s not clear if something is in the works, but it is curious.

Now onto building loan agreements:

8. Where property received the construction loan? 232-236 Dryden Road, also known as “The Lux”, a 206-bedroom pair of student-oriented apartment buildings completed in 2018.  Visum Development Group completed the project, and plans are in the works for an eight-unit, 16-bedroom third building at 238 Dryden Road.

Who gave them the money? MF1 Capital LLC. The LLC is joint venture between real estate megafirm CBRE, Limekiln Real Estate of New York and Berkshire Group of Boston. According to online reports, it’s a mortgage REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) focused on providing cash equity to multifamily (about 75% of its business) and seniors housing (the remaining 25%). A bridge loan is a short-term (2-3 year) financial solution, used as a “bridge” when a developer needs quick cash for a prime opportunity and has yet to obtain conventional construction loans. They’re usually easier to obtain because the analysis that goes into determining whether or not to extend the loan is less extensive, usually based on property value (which means a high-value loan in the case of a large Collegetown property). The trade off on these loans is that they often come with a high interest rate; and with that short term period, the loan will have to be paid back within a few years.

What it suggests here is that Visum has put most of its revenue right back into its latest plans in the form of working capital, and that there’s high confidence both in themselves and from the investor that those plans will be successful. That seems to make the most sense given Visum’s explosive growth. On a related note, $1.5 million would be about right for a new eight-unit apartment building on this site.

 

 





News Tidbits 12/31/16: For Ithaca, This Wasn’t A Half-Bad Year

31 12 2016

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1. Another fairly quiet week for that Christmas-New Year’s lull. There wasn’t anything too noteworthy in real estate transactions, but thanks to a construction loan filing, we have a figure for the construction cost of Modern Living Rentals’ 902 Dryden Road project – $1,192,550. The 8-unit, 26-bedroom townhouse project is being financed by Elmira’s Chemung Canal Trust Company, a regional bank which has been looking to expand its presence in the growing Ithaca market. Most mid-sized building loans like this are financed by Tompkins Trust, and this appears to be the largest project CCTC has financed locally; checking the records for the past 12 months, they’ve previously financed a few single-family homes and that’s it. A larger loan like this might be a sign that they’re building confidence in the project and the market.

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2. Sticking with MLR, a glance at their webpage gives an interesting detail – the 87-unit, 87-bedroom 815 South Aurora project is now described as having 125 bedrooms. The multi-story apartment project sought and persuaded the city to reduce cellphone tower no-build radii last spring so that it could be built near the South Hill telecommunications mast, but because the city only reduced to 120% of height instead of tower height plus 10 feet (meaning 206 feet instead of 180 feet in this case), the project has to be tweaked. No revised designs have been released, but should something come along, you’ll see it here.

Side note, the website has an easter egg – clicking on MLR’s Commons placeholder gives you the 2015 downtown market summary from the DIA.

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3. For those interested in learning more about Cornell’s north campus plans, video from one of their meetings can be found online here. The key takeaways – the first building, when it is built, has to be larger enough to function as swing space for Balch Hall, which appears to be first in line for renovations. Balch has 437 bedrooms, to give an idea of the potential capacity of the first new dorms. Dickson is larger (527 beds), but its renovation will be split up over two summers, allowing for partial occupancy while renovations are underway. Lot CC could potentially be replaced with 1,000 beds in multiple buildings, as well as a dining facility (a new dining facility is seen as less urgent and would be further down the line). Those new dorms would eventually be geared towards sophomores, multi-story but “contextual” in height. It sounds like the first concrete plans are expected to be ready by the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

4. The Common Council will be voting on some bond issues next week that will fund several municipal projects. $500k for street reconstruction, $367k for municipal building renovations, $653k for street lights, $600k for a replacement water tank on Coddington Road, $101k for bridge inspections, $181k for the Stewart Park pavilion, $51k for site improvements to the Hangar Theatre property, $134k for design and scoping costs for the Brindley Street bridge replacement, $340k for the Cascadilla Creekway project and a replacement ped bridge at Sears Street, water mains, traffic lights, traffic calming, new police cars, all totaling $6,464,450. A separate measure calls for an additional $950k in bonds to cover the costs of the Stewart Avenue bridge repainting and reconstruction.

Some of the money covers design studies for intersections – of particular note is a study considering a roundabout at the “five corners” intersection at Oak Ave/Dryden Rd/Maple Ave, which could be a welcome change from that awkward traffic light currently there.

The city issues bonds twice a year, in January and July, to cover its various construction projects. Some of it gets reimbursed with state and federal dollars.

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5. I cheaped out on my Voice summary of the top development stories of 2016 – there are only 5, but only because there was no way I had time to do ten this week. Here are five that missed the cut – the cancellation of State Street Triangle and the rise of its replacement, City Centre; the Tompkins County Housing Summit and the Danter Study, which are important but not really attention-grabbing; some progress in affordable housing, with Cayuga Meadows, 210 Hancock, Amici House and Poet’s Landing; the continued growth of Collegetown, with the opening of Dryden South, Dryden Eddy and Collegetown Crossing, and the entrance of the College Townhouses, 210 Linden and 126 College; and the growth of the local economy, which if the numbers hold up to revisions, 2015-2016 will have the second highest year-over-year gain in jobs since 2000 (#1 is 2011-2012).

When thinking about what’s in store next year, it’s a little sketchy because of impacts from the incoming Trump administration, and how that could impact the national economy – but if things stay consistent on a large-scale, than Ithaca can expect continued modest but steady growth, mostly in meds and eds, with a bit in tech and hospitality. We’ll probably see a couple new projects proposed in downtown and Collegetown, and maybe some smaller residential and commercial projects in other neighborhoods, like the Elmira Road strip and State Street Corridor. The town of Ithaca, it’ll depend on if they get their new zoning sorted out; if they do, there might be a burst of new proposals in some areas. The other towns, it’ll be hit or miss, maybe a larger proposal in Lansing or Dryden but otherwise scattered-site single-family, par for the course. Also, keep an eye out for more housing proposals from Cornell.

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6. It’s quiet week, so let’s finish this up with a little water cooler gossip. From the rumor mill, some of the potential tenants being discussed for the Masonic Temple include a microbrewer (good thing the city just updated their zoning to allow microbreweries), professional event space, and a church. That last one seems a little unusual, but to each their own. The renovation plans call for three rental spaces, one of which is geared towards restaurant tenants.





News Tidbits 5/7/16: Everything’s Political

7 05 2016

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1. Let’s start with government. The city of Ithaca passed revisions to its cell phone tower law reducing the no-build fall radius from 200% of height, to 120% of height. The 120% was decided upon after a check of other municipalities, where it was generally the most common figure.

The change allows development to proceed on the grassy field at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill, although as mentioned last week, the fall zone revision isn’t as much as developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor had hoped for. But it’s still enough to work with; according to Josh Brokaw at the Times, a revised plan that meets the new guidelines could be going to the planning board for sketch plan review in June, possibly with more units than the 87 studio units initially planned. It was also reported that the local neighborhood group (South Hill Civic Association, SHCA) is comfortable with the initial plan, so this might be a relatively smooth process when the project is ready for review.

2. Meanwhile, while one thing moves forward, Dryden’s been hit with a major setback. The Pinckney Road parcel sale in Dryden was foiled when voters, in a 1188-936 vote, rejected the town’s plans to use recreation reserve funds to purchase the 15 acre property. The town would have spent about $56,800 of a fund that has over $300,000, and the county would have contributed $15,000, so that the town could have turned it into park space in the long-term. The town was prepared to buy the property, but residents opposed to the sale managed to get enough signatures on a petition to force to to go up for a vote.

It sounded like a worthy and reasonable plan. But I get the feeling that there were a lot of folks who figured it would pass by a wide margin, so they just didn’t vote. In a marketing course a while back in college, I remember the professor sharing an interesting statistic – versus feeling neutral, the general public is three times more likely to support an initiative when they really like something, and nine times more likely to vote or speak out when they’re really opposed. People are more driven by aversion than reward, and that’s probably what happened here.

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3. Sticking with local governments, the town of Ithaca is set to vote on a moratorium on duplexes, but with some modifications from the initial proposal. For one, given construction seasons revolving around the warm season, and the time it takes to plan and get permits, it was decided to make it only nine months (January 2017) instead of one year, so that they could limit the possibility of dragging it through two construction seasons. And although the town planning committee chair wasn’t on board with it, an exemption is in place if one of the units will be owner-occupied. If their goal is to revise the approach to student housing, then at least these amendments fix or lessen some of the bigger issues a moratorium would produce.

4. Just a wee bit more info on the “Tim Timbers” planned for the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads in Varna. The tiny houses are small though not micro-sized – they’re expected to be about 800 square feet. Local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is working with businessman Nick Bellisario on the 16-lot subdivision and home development.

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5. So the full 206-page, $78,000 NYS DOT waterfront redevelopment study by Fisher Associates is on the city’s website. The initial results were shared here back in October, but the final product has some additional, very interesting details.

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One of those additions is a potential timeline for development. It calls for getting official support and commitments over the next several months, issuing an RFP later this year for the new DOT facility in Dryden, and issue an RFP for the NYSDOT waterfront site later this year, with review in Q1 2017 and developer selection in Q2 2017, assuming this doesn’t end up like the Old Library debate. The DOT would move to Dryden in Q3 2018, and the excess state land would be transferred to the county, sold in Q1 2019, and ready for occupancy by mid-2020.

The other really interesting new section is Appendix 5, stakeholder outreach. This consists of interviews with city officials and nearby property owners – Cornell (who say they have no plans for their waterfront properties), the Farmer’s Market, and some smaller businesses and organizations. The gist of the comments had more to do with Farmer’s Market than the DOT – namely, heavy traffic issues, needs more parking, and needs to physically expand to accommodate a waiting list of vendors and cool-season operations. There are early plans incubating for a nearby indoor market facility, if memory serves right. As for the DOT site, the mixed-use plan was deemed most favorable, and the stakeholders agreed that the site had great potential for redevelopment.

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6. Looks like marketing has started for a proposed new medical office building in the village of Lansing. The new one-story building, which appears to be designed by Binghamton-based Keystone Associates, would be off of Warren Road, although it looks like the building would be accessed from a driveway coming off of Uptown Road. The 2.71 acre property is zoned “Human Health Services District” by the village, and borders undeveloped land owned by Cornell, and several other suburban medical office buildings built over the past few decades. The resolution on the attached site plan is too low to determine the square footage, though it looks to be in the low tens of thousands.

The property was purchased by Arleo Real Estate from Cornell for $378,600 in October 2014. Arleo Eye Associates owns and occupies the neighboring building to the south. Arleo built their 7,119 SF optometry office in 2007.





News tidbits 1/16/2016: The Not-So-Best Laid Plans

16 01 2016

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1. It isn’t exactly a shock that Elmira Savings Bank is pursuing plans for the $1.7 million in properties it just acquired on the west 100 block of Meadow Street between West State and West Seneca Streets. That being said, sending out 30-day eviction notices wasn’t a very good idea from a public relations standpoint.

Technically, it’s all above the law – the three tenants affected were on month-to-month leases, according to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal, and one had an expired lease and was in the process of relocating. The bank wasn’t interested in renting out the properties and decided to clear them out. That is plausible, if a little brusque – even if they had put forth a proposal for something at the next Planning Board meeting, approval would take months, in which case they could eased the tenants out of the current property. But instead, they ended up with a petition that, while mostly reading like a speech from the Politburo, does make the valid point that this was conducted poorly. Then it hit the airwaves, and the bank has gone into major damage control mode, giving the tenants until the end of March and reimbursing them $1,000 for the trouble.

Looking at some of the comments on the Voice, there is a lot of outcry against gentrification, but there’s not a whole lot the city can do to prevent that – even if Elmira Savings Bank didn’t build a thing and sold the buildings to someone else, the rapidly rising property values around the city would push the renters out, albeit more subtly, and the city can’t make a law that says someone can’t move in. Plus, as seen during the 210 Hancock, Stone Quarry and Cayuga Ridge debates, there’s a lot of pushback locally against affordable housing. Arguably the best solution going forward is to work an inclusionary zoning ordinance into law so that when Elmira Savings Bank does decide to build (and it’s more of a when than an if), that a few of the units be made available to those on more modest incomes.

Just to touch on that real quick, according to the Journal, the old Pancho Villa building at 602 West State Street will become a bank branch for ESB in the short-term, and plans are being considered for a mixed-use project at some point down the line (two months, two years, who knows). The zoning is WEDZ-1a, allowing for a five story, 65′ building, but there might be tweaks to that depending on the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

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2. Keeping a focus on the west side of the city, the Planning and Economic Development Committee voted to circulate a proposal for a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Urban Development” (TM-PUD) over the waterfront. The reason for this is one part proactive, and one part reactive.

What the TM-PUD does is, for an 18-month period starting the day of Common Council approval, it gives the Common Council the right to oversee and if necessary vote down projects that it thinks will not be appropriate for the waterfront. The study area is currently a mix of zones: Waterfront (WF-1, WF-2), Southwest Mixed-Use (SW-2), Park (P-1) and Industrial (I-1). When the Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2015, it promoted a more walkable, dense, mixed-use waterfront. Therefore, some of the zones are outdated.

The city’s planning department is still in the process of drawing up specifics for how to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s walkable urban waterfront, but in the meanwhile, some of the zones don’t match up with the direction the city wishes to proceed. Take, for example, the industrial space on Cherry Street and Carpenter Circle. By zoning, residential uses aren’t allowed, although the city would like to see mixed-uses with condos and apartments in their vicinity. The planning department needs time to figure out the what and where on zoning so that those uses can be proposed without a developer spending extra months in front of the Planning Board and BZA, which can drive up costs and make construction financing more uncertain.

So that’s the proactive, benign part – the city needs time to plan out the zoning laws for the dense waterfront they want. Now comes the reactive, cynical part.

It’s a not-so-secret secret at this point that the Maguires are looking hard at Carpenter Circle for their car dealership headquarters and multiple sales outlets. Since Carpenter Business Park is zoned industrial, and Ithaca city zoning allows commercial uses in industrial space so long as they’re two floors, there’s a good chance they could build dealerships without the need of the BZA, and it would be an uncomfortable position for the planning board to have to debate a project that is totally legal but is something the city and much of the community doesn’t really want. So as a way to stall for time, the city’s pursuing this TM-PUD and giving the Common Council the authority to shoot down any unwelcome plans should they arise.

For comparison’s sake, there’s a similar scenario that is playing out in Ithaca town. The College Crossings project on South Hill was welcomed under the zoning and previous iterations had been approved, but after the town passed its 2014 Comprehensive Plan and attended the Form Ithaca charettes last summer, the planning board realized that a shopping center with a couple apartments above and in the middle of a large parking lot wasn’t something they really wanted anymore. While the project has been withdrawn, the process and debate has created a lot of discomfort, confusion and uncertainty, which is rather problematic given the area’s housing shortage. The town hopes to have some form-based zoning code ready this year.

So, looking back to the city, the occupants of 108 E. Green Street want things that are still illegal in much of the study area, but they don’t want a full-on moratorium because some spots like the Waterfront zones actually do accommodate what the city and many of its constituents want. The TM-PUD is an attempt to stave off the legal but undesirable projects until the revised West End zoning can go into effect.

Worth pointing out, at the meeting the boundary was changed to midway through the Meadow Street and Fulton Street blocks, rather than along Fulton Street. It may or may not affect Elmira Savings Bank’s parcels as mentioned above, but those long-term plans are in alignment with the city’s, so probably not.

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3. On a related note, the town is holding workshop sessions for those interested in designing a ped-friendly, mixed-use community for South Hill. The meetings are planned for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 26 to 28 at the Country Inn and Suites hotel at 1100 Danby Road in Ithaca. An open office has also been scheduled for 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 27. Form Ithaca will be in attendance at the sessions to help formulate the form-based character code proposed for the neighborhood.

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4. A revision to the cellphone tower law has taken one step closer to becoming reality. The city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to circulate a revised law that would reduce the size of the tower’s fall zone, where construction of any structures is prohibited. A revision to the current city law, which is twice the height of a tower, could potentially allow the 87-unit 815 South Aurora apartment project to proceed with planning board reviews and other BZA variances if necessary. Developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor of local company Modern Living Rentals have been pushing for a fall zone radius of 180 feet for the 170-foot tall tower, rather than the 340 feet as the current law mandates.

From the discussion, it sounds like the concern has less to do with this parcel, and more to do with the possibility of cell phone companies pursuing towers on open land in the northern part of the city where spotty reception has to be weighed against the aesthetics of the lake shore. Anyway, we’ll be hearing more about possible changes to this law in a month, but for back reading, here’s the Voice article from a few months back.

5. In quick news, CBORD’s move to the South Hill Business Campus looks like a go. A $2.45 million construction loan was extended on the 8th by Tompkins Trust Company. CBORD, a software company founded in Ithaca in 1975, will move 245 employees into 41,000 square feet of freshly renovated SHBC space from the Cornell Business Park later this year. The project, which totals $3.7 million, was granted $296,000 worth of sales tax abatements.
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6. From the city’s Project Review Agenda next Tuesday, plans for a facadectomy of the 1980s Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue. Student Agencies, in collaboration with Cornell, plans on dropping $183k on the facade work, as well as the $2.8 million or so for the interior renovations of the second and third floors for the new eHub business incubator space. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the design work, including the 9,660 SF of interior space. The work would go from January to April (the loan is already approved and most of the work is interior).

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If I may play armchair architecture critic, which I have no credentials to do, I think the patio area is great, but I’m opposed to the brise-soleil, the wing like feature that serves as a sunscreen. I feel like that its location above the third floor throws off the rhythm of the block, by being lower than the cornices on adjacent structures. It might be fine over the glass curtain wall alone, but as is it feels a little out-of-place. Just one blogger’s opinion.

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7. House of the week. 228 West Spencer Street in the city of Ithaca. Zero energy new construction, 2-bedrooms, on a rather difficult site. In the above photos from last weekend, the house has been framed and sheathed with Huber ZIP System plywood panels, the roof has been shingled, and doors and windoes have been fitted. The blue material on the concrete basement wall is Dow Styrofoam Tongue and Groove Insulation which protects against moisture and helps keep the heat loss to a minimum. The house should blend in nicely with its neighbors.

Ed Cope of PPM Homes is the developer, and Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

 





News Tidbits 10/24/15: Breckneck Builds and Market Slowdowns

24 10 2015

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1. College Crossings is dead. But its passing opens up an interesting conversation.

According to Ithaca town planning board minutes uploaded earlier this week, developer Evan Monkemeyer withdrew his proposal after planning board members weren’t comfortable with approving the environmental assessment and mitigation plan for the proposal (technically called a “negative declaration” by the lead agency on the SEQR). While at least one was bothered by the 3-story, 54′ height, many board members had visions of the Form Ithaca charrette for the property, and this didn’t quite jibe with Monkemeyer’s plans for South Hill’s King Road and Route 96B/Danby Road intersection. Minutes for the July and August meetings can be found here.

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Now, I will gladly admit that I was not a fan of this project, and I too wanted something more along the lines of Form Ithaca. I’m surprised, though, that it was enough to derail approvals of the project.

Now, the problem is, the town’s new comprehensive plan embraces form-based codes and “Smart Growth”, but the zoning is auto-centric, outdated, and doesn’t mesh with the plan. If you’re a developer or builder, big or small, and what’s legal and what the town wants are two very separate things…Houston, we have a problem.

At this point, there’s two questions that come to mind – one, given that the town planning board has cancelled most of its meetings lately due to a lack of proposals, is the disconnect between plan and zoning halting projects, and two, when will revised zoning be ready. For guidance and knowledge, I reached out to town of Ithaca assistant planning director Dan Tasman, because he’s pleasant, responsive and a pretty great guy.

As for question one, here’s his quote: “Seriously, I think it’s … complicated.” His thoughts were that there’s no indication whether the recent slowdown were caused by the planning/zoning disconnect, or natural ebb and flow related to lending and planning on the ends of home-builders and developers.

As for question two, the response was summed up as, “a lot of communities face the same issue after they adopt new comp plans. On the positive side, Ithaca’s not growing that fast, and the pace of development is slow. Still, there’s a sense of urgency.”

He’s right about the town not growing that fast. The permit records show that in September, the only new home-building permit was for a duplex at 214 Pennsylvania Avenue on South Hill (the Iacovellis building more student rentals for IC, probably). The previous month online, June, had four single-family homes, filling out lots in previous-approved subdivisions.

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Traditionally, the town of Ithaca has made up a pretty sizable chunk of the new home permits in the county. But if they only issue 30-40 this year (still better than last year’s 14), then it falls on the rest of the communities to try and make up the housing deficit, at least in the short term. Ithaca city’s total, anticipated to be 247 new units to be permitted in 2015, is only about 84 units right now, because John Novarr has yet to start Collegetown Terrace’s Phase III, and Steve Flash’s 323 Taughannock on Inlet Island has yet to start either. To bring down the deficit in a decade, as well as keep up with annual economic growth, the county would need over 600 units per year; it’s not certain if the total will reach even half that in 2015.

On the one hand, the town of Ithaca is trying to be proactive and adopt a new approach to development in quick and good order. On the other hand, it’s not a great situation for trying to make a dent in the housing deficit, with its attendant affordability issues, and there’s the possibility things are going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if there’s a right or a wrong way of going about it, but it’s a stressful setup.

2. On the county level, officials are seeking legislature approval for launching a study into the feasibility of an airport business/industrial park in Lansing. 52 acres of vacant land along Warren and Cherry Roads are being considered for the study, which would include a conceptual site plan of potential buildings and parcels, and an assessment of the needs and characteristics of companies most likely to open in the potential business park. Utilities and green infrastructure will also be looked at in the study. The projected cost is less than $50,000, and being paid for by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA). The feasibility study would be awarded next month, with authorization and approvals on the staff level.

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For what it’s worth, folks living up there are used to business traffic – Borg Warner’s 1,300 person plant is adjacent to the study site. The Warren Road Business Park lies a minute’s drive up the road, and the Cornell Business Park is about a minute’s drive south. The land also has municipal sewer, allowing for large-scale projects. A copy of the RFP states two that the two parcels shown above are the primary analysis area, with secondary areas closer to the airport runway and the resident land to the west separate from the park. They aren’t a part of the proposed business park, but the county asks that they be examined for development potential by the study.

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3. Details, details – the Holiday Inn Express already under construction in big-box land at 371 Elmira Road will be going in front of the city planning board this month for some slight modifications. The developer, Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Cheektowaga, wants to increase the number of rooms from 76 to 79, and add three parking spaces accordingly. Along with that comes the bevy of supporting docs – technical drawings here, landscape plan here, landscape schedule here, and elevation drawings here. Apart from a palette change on the exterior (the red-brown color is “Decorous Amber“, part of the new official Holiday Inn color scheme per the architects’ cover letter), there are no changes to the design, the 3 additional rooms are just an update to the interior configuration of the hotel, one more room on each of floors 2-4. Apart from tastes in color and making sure the three new parking spaces pose no issues, the board won’t have to debate much here, and the hotel is still very likely to open next summer.

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4. In small but notable builds, Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is at it again. The relatively new Ithaca-based rental and development company is planning a triplex (3 units) at 1015 Dryden Road, just east of the hamlet of Varna. According to an email from MLR co-owner Todd Fox, the units, all 2-bedrooms, will start construction in the spring, and it’s a safe wager they’re shooting for an August 2016 completion, just in time for Cornell student renters. Judging from the renders on MLR’s site, each unit will be around 930 SF, so about 2,790 SF total. MLR teamed up once again with local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative for the design.

1015 Dryden is also home to a single-family home built in 1938, and a 4-unit apartment building from about 1980. The apartment building was badly damaged in a fire in 2011, renovated, and the site was sold to MLR for $425,000 in March 2014.

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5. While on the topic of MLR, let’s throw in some eye candy. Along with the plans for 1015 Dryden, additional images for the proposed 87-unit project at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill can be found on their website as well. I’ve included two perspective renderings and an aerial render, but more images can be found here. The 87 units will all be studio apartments. STREAM Collaborative is responsible for this design as well.

A detailed write-up of the project, including the related cell phone tower issue, can be found here.

6. Out in Lansing town, there are two attention-grabbing news pieces from Tuesday’s next planning board meeting. One is a plan for an LP gas / petroleum distribution facility on Town Barn Road (parcel address 3125 N. Triphammer Road). A 30,000 gallon storage tank and gravel drive are planned in the initial phase, with 5 15,000 gallon tanks, a garage/maintenance building, and an office planned in later phases. Now, normally a project like this is not a big deal, but there’s the outside possibility local contingents of the anti-Crestwood, anti-fossil fuel groups will go on the offensive to try and stop it. So the potential for political football is there.

The other detail isn’t up for discussion yet, but the town notes that 15 duplexes (30 units) are being planned by former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney for a site on Peruville Road (the county calls it 428 Scofield Road, but the land has frontage on both roads). The site already houses 4 duplexes built in 2011.

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7. Instead of the the usual “House of the Week”, this week is more of a shout-out/advertisement. For those with cable, The DIY Network will be running a new episode of “Breckneck Builds” tonight at 11 PM (additional showings listed here), highlighting a just-finished home on Dryden’s Hollister Road. Quoting the promo write-up:

“Jordyn is ready to leave her rental behind and buy her first home, but what is most important to Jordyn is that her new home is eco friendly, so she is turning to the modular world to build a big house with a small carbon footprint.”

The modular home assembly was the work of local builder Carina Construction, who also tackled the modular units at the Belle Sherman Cottages site. Local builder, local resident, local project, so set your DVRs or TiVo.

8. Last but not least, here’s your Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. Nothing new at this month’s meeting, but here’s the run-down:

A. Review of changes and revised approval for the Holiday Inn Express (see above)

B. Declaration of environmental significance and BZA reccomendations for 215-221 West Spencer Street– Pocket Neighborhood, 12 units w/ 26 bedrooms, Ed Cope/PPM Homes is the developer, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

C. Environmental Review Discussion for the bar/lounge proposed for the renovation of 416 E. State – cover letter here, description here, letters of opposition in the agenda.

D. Public hearing and re-approval, Hotel Ithaca renovations, 222 S. Cayuga – Site Plan Review drawings here, renders here and here. Not sure there’s enough of a difference from the first time around, but at least the cross-catching on the exterior is gone.

E. Herson/Wagner Funeral Home renovation, 327 Elmira – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing – I wrote about that in the Voice here. Fun fact, the original proposed title was “Funeral home hopes to being new life to Elmira Road property”. It was rejected.





The 160-foot Hurdle at 815 South Aurora Street

23 09 2015

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Developer Todd Fox has big plans brewing for Ithaca’s South Hill, but a cell phone tower stands in the way.

Fox, one of the owners of local rental company Modern Living Rentals (MLR), shared preliminary plans for an 87-unit apartment building at 815 South Aurora Street at the Planning and Development Board meeting Tuesday evening.

Fox’s plans call for a multi-story apartment building built into the hillside, a block from Ithaca College and near Rogan’s Corner. The design, created by Ithaca-based architecture firm STREAM Collaborative, is reminiscent of nearby Emerson Power Transmission, with design cues from the former factory incorporated into the new apartment building. All 87 units would be studio apartments (i.e. no formal bedroom space). 87 parking spaces are also planned.

The building site at 815 South Aurora Street is currently a sloping grass field on the north side of a 2.5 acre lot. Two other buildings on the same property would be unaffected.

Compared to other projects that have come before the board in the past couple of years, 815 South Aurora has a unique obstacle. A cell phone tower, and a city law by extension.

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The current city ordinance states that buildings can’t be built within a radius equal to double the height of a communications tower. In this particular case, the tower stands 170 feet tall, meaning nothing can be built within 340 feet of the tower. Two apartment buildings in the Hudson Heights Studio Apartments complex, and the current buildings on site are grandfathered in; they were built before the law was enacted.

To help make his case, Fox hired two private engineering companies (Ithaca’s TAITEM Engineering and Groton’s Spec Consulting) to analyze the case, and their findings determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180 feet total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be used for the proposed apartment building.

Previously in June, Fox had approached the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) asking for a modification from the law. However, the BZA said it would not consider the application. The city attorney advised the BZA that they can’t override a council-approved law outright. However, the BZA could make a consideration on a case-by-case basis, which meant that Fox and architect Noah Demarest would have to present a firm plan for the site, and then apply for a code variance before any decision could be made. Which leads us to the present; a project on the table, with a 160-foot hurdle.

In an email, Fox wrote “[a] fall zone of twice the height is an arbitrary safety distance. The ordinance was created at a time when Cell towers first began being constructed and there was not much knowledge about them at that time. We also contacted as many municipalities in Central New York that we could and everyone that we talked to had the fall zone being just the height of the cell tower plus several feet, give or take for debris throw off. ”

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When asked how his project would be compatible with the rest of the neighborhood, Fox replied “[w]e feel like our project helps serve as a gateway into Ithaca. One of the things that we found very enticing about this project was the opportunity to pull Ithaca College students out of the South Hill neighborhood.”

“One of the constant complaints and desires of long-term residents is to try and see a shift away from the growing student population in the neighborhood. I don’t see the multifamily properties getting converted back to owner occupied anytime soon. But I do see the ability of single-family homes that are currently rentals, being sold back to families. The only way this is going to happen is if new developments are built that can support this transition. We need space for the students and we need space for families, and we think that our development helps create an opportunity for both of those demographics.”

Demographics or not, the project still doesn’t conform with the law. It will be up to the planning board and the BZA to decide whether or not the project site is safe, and if the proposed apartment building is a good fit with the South Hill community.