News Tidbits 3/4/17: Oh Hey, Tax Season

4 03 2017

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1. It’s that time of the year where the Tompkins County Department of Assessment goes through its assessment process in preparation for adjustments to property values for 2017, known as “Annual Equity Maintenance”, or AEM for short. Since there are 35,249 tax parcels in Tompkins County with a total value of $11.9 billion, not all are reassessed every year – most places are reassessed every three years, except for areas of rapid change (for instance, Fall Creek is every two years at present), or individual properties that are being undergoing change, whether it be a new construction, sudden property damage, or a sales transaction. The state has their own system, called Cyclical Reassessment Program (CRP, but the county docs refer to it as CRAP), but the county opts out to do their own valuations.

Some properties are easier than others – for example, a purchaser of a big-box property isn’t buying just the building, but a long-term lease from a tenant like BJ’s in Lansing. Student houses in parts of Collegetown are worth less than the property they sit on, which the tax system cannot accommodate. They provide one example of a $500,000 house sitting on $3 million of land – that’s not something the tax system is designed to handle, so the house is overvalued, but the property as a whole is very undervalued.

The department notes that sales were strong this year. According to their records, average sales are up 4.5% from $228,442 to $238,796, and the median sale is up 2.5%, from $200,000 to $205,000. The document also only notes 677 sales, which would be the lowest since before 1990, and is lower than the 681 sales noted by the Ithaca Board of Realtors (and IBR represents most but not all agencies). Someone is mistaken, it’s just hard to tell who. Assessments are on average about 8% lower (9% median) than home sale prices.

Some of the other takeaways are a modest softening in the student housing market in 2016 (Cornell enrollment in Ithaca did drop slightly from 2015-16, before renewing its upward trajectory in 2017), the city and Dryden’s Ellis Hollow continue to be strong markets but the other suburban neighborhoods are regaining interest, and Groton’s a mixed bag due to the poor state of some village properties. New assessments for 2017 (including parts of Ithaca town, Caroline, Freeville, Enfield, lakeside properties, restaurant properties, and manufacturing facilities) will be publicly available on July 1st.

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2. The redesign of Schwartz Plaza has started the formal review process. Cornell submitted the sketch plan at the February meeting, and hopes to have approvals for the renovation by next month. The properties would lose the walls and open up to the surrounding Collegetown, in what Cornell and Ithaca hope will give the densely-populated neighborhood a needed public gathering space. As reported by the Cornell Daily Sun’s Nick Bogel-Burroughs, project manager David Cutter hopes that the project leads to further public space enhancements near the stone arch bridge and down by Eddygate – this includes additional pedestrian and bike facilities, electronic boards with bus information, and a possible realignment of the Oak/College intersection into a T-configuration.

But for now the focus is on Schwartz Plaza. Cornell intends to have approvals within 1-2 months, start construction in June, and have the new plaza ready by August 2017. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects is the design firm of record.

Postscript, Novarr’s townhouses at 238 Linden were pulled from the meeting before the sketch plan was due to be presented at the city planning board meeting last Tuesday. As for 301 Eddy, still trying to dig up information.

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3. Nick Reynolds has a very interesting profile and interview of Jason Fane over at the Times. Definitely worth a read about one of Ithaca’s most prominent landlords.

Speaking personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, if only because it takes a blog quote I made about 330 College Avenue in 2014, and in the article’s context, I sound like an arthouse snob. Fane has always been serious about building on the property, and that’s great, but I stand by my quote on 330 – after the years of negotiations on the new form district code, there is no way a 12-story building was going to be built on the corner of College and Dryden, even if Jagat Sharma, Fane’s favored architect, brought his A-game. It’s not a matter of economics or taste, it’s a matter of very real opposition from the Belle Sherman and East Hill neighborhoods. Any politician who considers signing off would be voted out of office ASAP. Any city staffer who consents will be shown the door. Look at what happened with State Street Triangle. In a city where people have many gripes about development, this is one project that is truly stopped in its tracks. I think Fane could negotiate 7 or even 8 stories if he gives the city a donation towards affordable housing, or some other community benefit. but not 11 or 12.

I like grand buildings and imposing structures, but I’m also a realist. End rant.

4. Todd Fox’s Visum Development has a couple construction updates on their Facebook page. Exterior stud walls are being installed on the lower floors of 201 College, and two of the three townhouse strings at 902 Dryden Road have been fully framed and sheathed, with siding installation underway. At a glance, it looks like the exterior will look more like the elevations on Modern Living Rentals’ listings page rather than the STREAM Collaborative renders – the renders had horizontal lap siding, the elevations show vertical lap siding as seen above.

If more developer could post updates as Visum and Carina Construction do, that would be swell.

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5. Wrapping up a quiet news week, here’s the agenda for the town of Ithaca planning board next week. A lot subdivision for a new house, a pair of communication towers, and the final approvals for the Sleep Inn proposed by hotelier Pratik Ahir at 635 Elmira Road. True to the sketches presented last fall, the design has that rustic look on all sides of the structure, and all the town’s requests have been met, which should allow for a smooth final approval meeting on Tuesday. The design will be unique among the 320 locations of the Sleep Inn chain. It should be noted that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals was very split on the height and size variances, approving them with just a 3-2 margin.

In the other towns, the only one with anything new to report is Danby, whose planning board is looking at a special use permit for a property management company’s offices at 1429 Danby Road, and a 3,535 SF expansion to the Ithaca Waldorf School at 20 Nelson Road.





902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 2/2017

22 02 2017

Visum Development’s townhouse project at 902 Dryden Road in Varna is coming along. The 8 new townhouses are divided up into three building sections – 3-unit section “A”, closest to Fall Creek; 3-unit section “B”, closer to Dryden Road, and 2-unit section “C”, which has a shared wall with the existing two-unit house.

“B” appears to be the furthest along – fully framed (wood frame), roofed, sheathed with ZIP panels, and windows have been fitted. “A” is undergoing framing of its second floor, and “C” is waiting for its foundation to be poured, with forms in place and underground utilities routed and capped.

Visum’s Facebook page says 32 new beds, which is half-right; the eight new townhouse units will have 26 bedrooms. The other six bedrooms come from the existing two-family, which will be renovated. So it depends on one’s definition of “new”. The final product has eight 3-bedroom, 2 bath units and two 4-bedroom, 2 bath units.

While Visum and Modern Living Rentals are different entities with partial ownership lap, MLR handles all of the renting and property management for Visum. The four-bedrooms are renting for $2400/month, and the 3-bedrooms for $1,500-$1,950/month. Quoting the ad:

“Brand new construction in late 2016, has all the amenities needed! Brand new EVERYTHING, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, kitchen complete with a dishwasher! Great sized rooms with ample closet space, all custom tiles bathroom as well! Washer and dryer IN unit!”

Varna has lower premiums on land, taxes and somewhat lower development costs, and those are all savings to the developer. But because it’s not a captive market like Collegetown, or as desirable as Fall Creek, the rents are lower. In short, Varna has lower development costs and also lower revenue. In this case the project team feels those two overarching factors balance out, and the townhouses are able to provide a comfortable return on investment.

All units have August 1st as the move-in date. STREAM Collaborative is the architect, Bella Faccia Construction is the general contractor, and Emery Construction of McGraw is doing the framing. More information on the project can be found here.
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News Tidbits 1/28/17: Helping You Avoid Politics For Five Minutes

28 01 2017

1. Looking at sales, it looks like there were a couple of big ones this week in the Ithaca area. The first was on Friday the 20th, where 402-04 Eddy Street was sold for $913,000. The buyer was an LLC tied to Charles and Heather Tallman, who own several properties in Collegetown. The $913k price is above the 2015 assessment of $880k, but below the 2016 $1 million assessment. The Tallman historically have not been the kind to redevelop property, and the three-story mixed-use building is part of the East Hill Historic District, so don’t expect any big changes.

The next two were on Wednesday the 25th – Parkside Gardens on the Southside at 202 Fair Street, and Lakeside (Grandview Court) on South Hill, were sold for a whopping $10,450,000 from a Long Island landlord (Arbor Hill Homes) to an LLC based out of Delaware. Parkside has 51 units and was built in the 1950s, and is assessed at $2 million. It sold for $4.2 million, about double what the $2.145 million the owner paid in 2007. Lakeside has 58 units and was built in the 1970s. It is assessed at $2.8 million, the previous owner paid $2.58 million in 2007, and just sold it for $6.25 million.

Up until 2014, they accepted housing vouchers, but according to an email from the IURA’s Nels Bohn, The Learning Web handled the vouchers and the IURA has nothing about the complexes on file after 2014. It might be a case similar to Ithaca East, where the affordable housing lease period ran out and the owner converted to market rate. The Voice tried to do a story on it in Fall 2015, but it went nowhere, and then again in January 2016, and it went nowhere. I did research but Jeff and Mike were going to be the respective writers. Here are my notes from September 21, 2015:

The two complexes were recently offered for sale, but the listing was deactivated. According to 2011 IURA minutes, the owner is kind of a sleazeball, uses them as an investment property but doesn’t do maintenance. Another company (Rochester-based Pathstone, they’ve done work with INHS) considered buying Parkside in 2011/12, but backed out when problems arose.

One could argue that the two complexes had a shady owner who just cashed out big. The buyer can be traced through its unique name to a Baltimore company called Hopkins Holding, and a LinkedIn profile of a partner in the company saying their specialty is student housing. At the high price paid for Lakeside, I could easily see a redevelopment happening, though I’m not as certain about Parkside’s future.

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2. There were also a couple of construction loans filed this week. Tompkins Trust lent Collegetown Crossing $500,000 according to a filing on the 23rd, but the type of work is unspecified in the county docs. Tompkins Trust also lent INHS $1,581,796 in a separate filing on the 23rd, to finance the seven for-sale townhouses underway at 202 Hancock Street in Northside, part of the 210 Hancock affordable housing project.

3. A few weeks ago, the pending sale of the former Phoenix Books barn at 1610 Dryden Road came up. Now we what the plans are. It appears a local businessman wants to renovate the barn and use it for automotive trailer sales. The plan requires a special use permit from the town because it’s a residential zone, and the project is seeking a landscaping outdoor area to showcase trailers for sale. It doesn’t read as if the barn itself will be greatly altered in appearance, although its structural stability is in question, so it will need its north wall shored up, and roof repaired so that rainwater stops pouring into the basement. The town will be going through the project over the next couple of months, but there don’t appear to be any big obstacles that will prevent a permit from being issued.

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4. For the sake of acknowledgement, the ILPC approved of Jason Fane’s renovation plans for the Masonic Temple. There was a little back-and-forth about window replacements, and they made sure to note that the “for rent” signage was not grandfathered and would have to come down once the three commercial spaces are rented out, and the signage would not be allowed to go back up even if the spaces were vacated at a later date. The ILPC also seems inclined towards a historic district on the north edge of Collegetown along Oak Avenue and Cascadilla Place, but that still has yet to take form.

5. Out in the towns and villages, there isn’t anything too exciting on the agenda. Cayuga Heights had a one-lot subdivision for a new home site at 1010 Triphammer for their latest meeting. The town of Dryden had a 5-lot subdivision off of 1624 Ellis Hollow Road, and a 7-lot subdivision at the former Dryden Lake Golf Course.Dryden also received the sketch plan for the 12 Megawatt solar array planned by Distributed Solar at 2150 Dryden Road (12 MW is enough for ~2400 homes). Ulysses had to review a special permit for turning a nursery business into a bakery/residence, and a 2 Megawatt array at the rear of 1574 Trumansburg Road. The town of Lansing had a meeting scheduled, but nothing was ever put online, nor was there a cancellation notice.

6. The townhouses at 902 Dryden are starting to rise up. Visum Development’s facebook page notes that the foundations for all structures are complete, and framing is underway; you can see roof trusses on the right of the photo. Looks like a typical wood frame with Huber ZIP sheathing, which has become the popular (and arguably more effective) alternative to traditional plywood and housewrap. According to the hashtag overkill, the 8-unit, 26-bed housing plan is still on track for an August 2017 occupancy.

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7. Quick wrap up, we now have addresses for the two-family homes going up on Old Elmira Road. They will be 125 Elmira Road and 129 Elmira Road. This means the end of the awkward Spencer Road/Old Elmira Road disclaimer in the next (and probably last) update in March, although for the sake of continuity the title of the post won’t change – continuity was the same reason 210 Hancock was co-tagged with neighborhood pride site for about a year. Just trying to make it easier to follow along.





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.





902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 12/2016

19 12 2016

Varna has long been touted as one of those places where development is likely to happen. The hamlet, which has under 1,000 people, sits close to Cornell in the town of Dryden – land is cheaper than most parts of the city, but the area is served by the bus line, which opens it up to Cornell’s deep-pocketed student market. However, Varna can be a tough nut to crack – this far out, the demand is mostly driven by more cost-conscious grad students rather than free-spending undergrads, and the going price for a rental is lower. With a less captive market and less lucrative rents, Varna becomes a trickier prospect.

Plus, although the town itself is fairly accommodating, some members of the local neighborhood group, the Varna Community Association, have a disposition against rentals, preferring that any development that comes along be owner-occupied. Owner-occupied is possible as Tiny Timbers hopes to demonstrate, but it is more difficult to finance since a developer can’t guarantee income the same way they could with rentals.

Since the 1980s, one can find at least six projects proposed in Varna that never came to fruition – the latest and grandest being a massive 260-unit proposal by the Lucente family, which the town turned away from further consideration after concerns about quality of life, and significant pushback from members of the VCA. Concurrently, the town was looking at updating the hamlet’s zoning, and the issues with the Lucente plan helped formulate the new Varna comprehensive plan adopted in 2012, and revised zoning not long thereafter. The zoning identified areas for density and dvelopment (ideally, a walkable core), and preserving more rural lands beyond the main drag.

902 Dryden Road, first proposed in June 2015, was the first project to come along after those planning and zoning updates. It was somewhat unexpected by some residents, because a redevelopment of this property was not envisioned in the town’s 2012 plan (which shows that plans are guidelines, not prescriptions). Initially, it was a 15-unit, 42-bed proposal, rentals aimed towards grad students and Cornell staff. Two of the units, totaling six bedrooms, already exist. Modern Living Rentals, a partnership of local developers Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox, purchased the property in June 2014 for $215,000. At the time, the units were going to be entirely solar-powered, aiming for net-zero energy (what is produced on-site is equal to or greater than what it consumed).

At this point in time, Fox and O’Connor had done some duplexes and the 6-unit apartment building at 707 East Seneca in the city, but 902 was going to their first “large” project. But, they hadn’t counted on strong opposition, not just from neighbors but from Cornell Plantations (now Cornell Botanical Gardens), who had concerns about the floodplain at the rear of the parcel, where it borders Fall Creek. The town was hesitant to move forward with approval unless there were revisions.

As time wore on and meetings were held with the town and VCA, the project was reduced in scale; the lot size used to determine maximum unit density was calculated incorrectly the first time and two units were removed, and then the project was scaled back further to reduce impacts on the floodplain, moving the gravel parking lot so that it wouldn’t infringe on the plain – the final count came out to 10 units and 32 bedrooms, or 8 units and 26 bedrooms if counting just the new structures. The solar panels had been on the flood plain as well, but were eliminated because they were no longer financially doable at 8 units; it was stated that the infrastructure would be built to support net-zero energy down the line, if power was purchased from off-site. The reduced-size project was acceptable to the town and to Cornell, and 902 Dryden was approved in March 2016.

Along with the existing duplex, two new units will be built opposite a shared wall. Two three-unit clusters will also be built on the east side of the parcel. The middle units of the three-unit clusters will have four bedrooms with 1606 SF of living space; all the rest will be three-bedroom units, and about 1500 SF each. STREAM Collaborative is the project architect.

There are two separate groups of drawings floating around for the buildings, and I am not sure which is correct. The render below, from shortly after approval, shows warm colors. Renders on MLR’s website show what looks like blue, brown and white fiber cement panels. The unit rents range from $1500-$2000/month for the three-bedrooms, and $2600/month for the four-bedrooms. The project cost was estimated at about $1.5 million in early Site Plan Review docs.

It’s a bit of tricky site for photos- the site borders the intersection of 366 and Forest Home Drive, leaving a pull-off in front of the mobile home park, or at the spit of land where the roads split. But it looks like site clearing and foundation excavation are ongoing. If anyone knows who the contractor is, drop me a line in the comments.


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News Tidbits 4/9/16: A Slippery Situation

9 04 2016

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1. The town of Ithaca had their first substantive meeting about Cornell’s Maplewood Park Redevelopment, and later this month, the city of Ithaca will have their take on the 4.5% that sits within their boundaries (picture a line up Vine Street – that’s the city line). According to documents filed with the city, approvals from them will only be needed for one building. Application/SPR here, cover memo from Whitham Planning and Design here, Part I of the Full Environmental Assessment Form here, and narrative/drawings here.

From the SPR, the schedule as already been shifted slightly to an August 2018 completion rather than July – they also threw out a $3.67 million construction cost that doesn’t make much sense offhand. Edit: It looks like it’s just a basic estimate of 4.5% of the total project cost of $80 million.

The biggest change so far is a revision of the site plan. In response to community meetings, Cornell shifted smaller 2-3 story stacked flats and townhouses closer to the Belle Sherman Cottages, pulled back a couple of the larger apartment buildings, and added a new large apartment building to the southeast flank. Cornell has its goal of housing at least 850 in the redevelopment, so all design decisions revolve around accommodating those students with their families, while coming up with a design the community can live with.

The city will vote at its April meeting to defer Lead Agency to the Town of Ithaca, which will leave them with the ability to provide input, but the town board will be the ones voting on it.

2. It’s not often that a project gets undone by a single public commenter at a meeting. But the Journal’s Nick Reynolds got to experience such a momentous occasion at the town of Ithaca’s planning board meeting. He documents it on his Twitter account.

Someone that I didn’t cover because it wasn’t especially news-worthy is Cornell’s plan to replace the Peterson Parking Lot at the intersection of Tower and Judd Falls Roads with a cutting-edge 100% porous paved lot and a Cornell-created soil designed to promote rapid growth of trees in high traffic areas (a new island would be built in the middle of the lot). Basically, an eco-friendly, less-invasive parking lot, if there ever could be a thing.

Then Bruce Brittain, the Forest Home community historian, completely undid the plan with a contour map. Generations ago, the property was filled with debris and garbage, even old construction trucks. And while there may be a parking lot on it now, a porous lot, which would be heavier when watered, is liable to collapse right onto the Plantations below. Meaning, no porous lot, no green showcase. Back to the drawing board Cornell.

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3. Here’s a little more information on the 5-story, 44-unit/76-bedroom apartment proposal for 201 College Avenue. SPR Application here, FEAF here, project narrative here, BZA worksheet here, drawings here , letter of discontent from Neil Golder here. Looking at the drawings, there have been some slight revisions, mostly with the College Avenue entrance and the materials and fenestration at street level. The SPR gives us a $6 million construction cost, and a proposed construction time frame of July 2016 – August 2017. Units will be a mix of 1 to 4 bedrooms (24 1-BD, 12 2-BD, 4 3-BD, 4 4-BD). While the project falls into the Collegetown Form District, an area variance will be required for a front yard setback from College Avenue, which the board feels will help the street be more like a boulevard.

The city planning board is expected to Declare itself Lead Agency for environmental review at the April meeting. Developer Todd Fox hopes to have approval by the end of the June meeting. STREAM Collaborative is the project architect.

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4. This week’s eye candy comes courtesy of Noah Demarest and Todd Fox (yes, they seem to be getting a lot of mentions this week). It had occurred to me that while an image of the revised 902 Dryden townhouses had been presented at the meeting where it was approved, the town never uploaded the copy. Noah and Todd were kind enough to send me a copy of the image presented at the meeting, and gave their permission to share it here. 8 new units, 26 new bedrooms. The duplex building in the middle already exists, but two new units will be built opposite a shared wall. Two three-unit clusters will be built on the east side of the parcel.

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5. It’s official as of March 28th. Construction permits have been issued for Conifer LLC’s 68-unit Cayuga Meadows project on West Hill in the town of Ithaca. Expect the first construction update, and a synopsis, when the first construction update comes around, which won’t be until mid-to-late May since West Hill projects get visits during odd-numbered months.

6. Just a couple minor city subdivisions to pass along. One, an application in outer Collegetown at 513-15 Dryden Road to separate the land into two parcels (513 and 515). The lot owner will then build himself a new house on the vacant lot. CR-1 Collegetown Form District, and it looks like no variances will be needed.

The other subdivision is on the city’s portion of West Hill. The property is a vacant lot that borders Westwood Knoll, Taylor Place and Campbell Avenue. The property owners, who live next door on Westwood, want to divide the vacant lot into two vacant lots to sell for single-family home construction. Once again, it looks like no zoning variances will be needed, just regulatory PB approval.

With the consolidation and realignment of 312-314 Spencer Road mentioned last week, this makes three subdivisions scheduled this month. That’s pretty unusual, as the city typically sees only one every 2 or 3 months on average.

7. Looks like someone made a tidy profit. Local landlord Ed Cope picked up 310 and 312 E. Buffalo Street for $885,000 on the 6th. 310 E. Buffalo is a 6-unit apartment building, 312 is a parking lot. The previous owner, a Philadelphia-based company, picked up the properties for $800,000 back in October 2014. So, $85,000 (+10.6%) for 18 months of ownership. The properties are part of the East Hill Historic District, where the Philly-based firm recently had a hell of an experience because the owners before them replaced the windows without notifying the city, and that was a big no-no as far as historic districts and the ILPC are concerned. They mandated the windows all be replaced with more historically-appropriate fittings. Hopefully that came up during the sales negotiations.

For what it’s worth, the parking lot is zoned R-3a – a 4 story building with 35% lot coverage. Since it’s in a historic district, a hypothetical proposal would likely look a lot like its neighbors.

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8. And another big sale this week, on Friday – the house at 210 Thurston sold for $2.5 million to the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. The house had been on the market since last November for $2.75 million. This actually sold relatively quick, given its large size and fairly unique nature. The seller purchased the property for $677,500 in December 2011, and renovated the property for use by the Cornell wrestling team.

Alpha Chi Omega has occupied the house at 509 Wyckoff Road for a number of years, but did not own the property – the owner, who picked up the property in 1971, is a business partner of Kimball Real Estate.

 





News Tidbits 3/19/16: A Taxing Problem

19 03 2016

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1. Apart from controversial presidential endorsement, Congressman Tom Reed paid a visit to the development community last week at the Boiceville Cottages project out in Caroline. According to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, the meeting was touted as an opportunity for developers, builders and contractors to express their concerns with onerous government procedures, specifically the local level.

Bruno Schickel, speaking at the event, noted that Boiceville could only have been done in Caroline because the 3,000 person town has no zoning (but they do have some type of commission that acts as a planning board). The lack of layers and conflicting comments from different interests allowed Schickel to get the latest 75-unit expansion approved in just two meetings back in 2012, something that he notes would have likely taken two years in other municipalities.

Then there’s this quote from another developer.

“After the site tour Reed spent time chatting with builders about regulations, mandates and costs that prevent some projects from ever being built.  One developer told Reed about an incident that killed a project before it even got started.

‘I tried to build a mixed use residential retail commercial building and I needed more residential units to make the economics work for lending,’ he said.  ‘I wanted six more apartments and the Town of Ithaca wanted an environmental impact statement.  the deal with these impact statements is that you pay an expert $20,000 so he can produce a 50 page report.  They look at it and read it and if they don’t like it they want to hire their own expert and they make the developer pay for it.  I backed out right away.  I pulled the plug and walked out of the meeting.'”

In case anyone was wondering, that was Evan Monkemeyer and his never built College Crossings project on the corner of 96 and East King Road. Which, to be honest, didn’t get re-approved because the window of opportunity closed as soon as the town updated its Comprehensive Plan and decided it wanted dense mixed-use. It’s an uncomfortable situation for all parties.

Obviously, there are two sides. Schickel is a very thoughtful and responsible builder/developer, but others may not be, which is why guidelines need to be in place. But, having watched the battles over affordable housing, and seeing the battles over wind and solar power now erupting in the western half of the county, it does give pause. I never thought I’d hear Black Oak investors such as County Legislator Dooley Kiefer and Caroline town board member Irene Weiser described like greedy Wall Street corporate villains, but that’s the current state of affairs. Using the same point from last week, the county can’t afford to be self-defeating, and having too many rules and regulations can keep a lot of good things, like green energy and affordable housing, from happening. The big, hotly-debated question is, where is the balance?

On a final note, the Star confirms that Schickel will finish build-out of the late Jack Jensen’s Farm Pond Circle project in Lansing, as soon as the Boiceville Cottages are finished later this year.

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2. It’s that time of the year for property re-assessment. The county gives a rundown of their process and goals for this year here. Most places handle assessment on the city/town/village level, so being that Tompkins County is solely responsible here makes it unique in the state.

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The report notes that high demand and low supply has kept sales prices on an uptick, and as those get factored into assessments, the values of property are due to go up as well. There aren’t as many sales as in the mid 2000s, but county home values are appreciating at an uncomfortably fast clip – median price went up 4.2% in just the past year, much greater than wage growth. The Voice has gotten some emails from people extremely upset that the county is doubling their land value, and there have been similar emails getting shared on neighborhood e-mail listserves, so there will probably be a story coming out on that soon.

Certain areas are facing certain challenges. For example, Collegetown’s land value is so high that it’s often worth more than the building that sits upon it, making much of the neighborhood a redevelopment target. Fall Creek is seeing home value appreciation much faster than the rest of the county, making it ground-zero for rapid gentrification. The county’s not pulling these values out of the ether; assessments are based in part on what people will pay for similar neighborhood properties. Fall Creek is walkable, centralized and a strong fit to the rustic, crunchy vibe buyers are often looking for in Ithaca. There are signs that the North Side and South Side neighborhoods are seeing similar impacts, but they’re not as noticeable because those neighborhoods were traditionally less well-off, so the gross home values aren’t as high, even if they’re appreciating at similar rates.

Out in the towns, the county feels Caroline is being under-assessed, which they hope to change in 2017, and there have been wildly high-priced sales in Ulysses that the county attributes to “excited” lakefront buyers. About the only area where the county is concerned about falling land values is Groton, where poorly-maintained properties are taking their toll on the tax base.

On the commercial end, Commons businesses and county hotels can expect a 5% assessment increase.

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3. Looks like the town of Ithaca released their annual planning board summary. Only 15 new of modified proposals were reviewed in 2015, down from 27 in 2014, and 32 and 41 in 2012 and 2011 (2013 is excluded for some reason). Nevertheless, the town’s planning department has been busy trying to translate the 2014 Comprehensive Plan into form-based zoning code, at least some of which they hope to roll out this year. A couple sources seem to have taken to referring to it as the “Ithacode”.

Also in the pipeline – reviewing Maplewood (with the city as secondary), reviewing Chain Works (with the city as primary), and possibly, Cornell rolling out plans for East Hill Village (early design concept shown above), the first phases of which are expected to be unveiled within the next year.

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4. The townhouses at 902 Dryden Road in Varna have been approved. The Dryden town board voted 4-0 to approve the project at their meeting on the 17th. The 8 new units and 26 new bedrooms should begin construction this July and be completed by June 2017. Local company Modern Living Rentals will be developing the site, and the townhouses (no updated render, sorry) are being designed by STREAM Collaborative.

Also relevant to the Varna discussion, the planning department memo notes a pre-application meeting was held for a proposal to subdivide and build 16 “small homes” at the corner of Freese Road and Dryden Road currently owned by Dryden businessman Nick Bellisario. No other information is currently available about the project.

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5. Let’s wrap this up with a look at the city of Ithaca Planning Board agenda next week. Quick reminder, the general order is: sketch plan, Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance, BZA if necessary, prelim approval, final approval. Here’s the formal rundown:

Site Plan Review
A. 210 Hancock – project update, no decisions
B. 424 Dryden, rear parking lot for 5 cars – prelim and final approval
C. Hughes Hall Renovations, Cornell University – Determination of Environmental Significance, prelim and final approval
D. Ag Quad Renovations, Cornell University – Determination of Environmental Significance, prelim and final approval
E. The Cherry Artspace, 102 Cherry St. – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing

F. Sketch Plan – 301 E. State Street, the Trebloc Building.

Don’t know if this is a continuation of State Street Triangle or something else (it would be a surprise if someone could create a new plan in such a short time), but we’ll find out on Tuesday. Zoning is CBD-120, meaning commercial or mixed-use, no parking required, up to 120 feet in height.

G. Sketch Plan – 201 College Avenue

201 College Avenue sits on the corner of College Avenue and Bool Street in inner Collegetown, and is presently occupied by a well-maintained though unremarkable 12-bedroom student apartment house owned by an LLC associated with the director of a local non-profit recreational center. The property is currently assessed at $545k. Zoning for the property is Collegetown MU-1, allowing for a 5-story, 70′ tall building with no on-site parking required. A quick check of neighboring properties indicates that the owner only owns this property, so whatever is planned will likely be limited to just this house.