Amici House Construction Update, 3/2018

24 03 2018

Ithaca’s housing woes are fairly well-documented at this point. As in any broad situation, some have fared worse than others. If you’re fairly well off, the rapidly increasing housing prices are a nuisance, a vague political “issue” or perhaps even an opportunity if one thinks they know the market. For those will meager or no means, it’s more dire than that.

Take for instance those who are housing insecure or homeless. With a scarcity of options in Ithaca, many of Ithaca’s most vulnerable are at risk of living on the streets, with many ending up in “the Jungle” encampment behind Wal-Mart. Local shelters and supportive housing facilities are at full capacity, with dozens more turned away. This can perpetuate unemployment by reducing life stability, and it contributes to substance abuse and mental health issues. The high cost of housing has contributed to a much higher homeless rate in Tompkins County – up to five times the rate of Onondaga County (Syracuse), according to a 2016 Ithaca Voice study.

Tompkins Community Action, T.C.Action/TCAction for short, is well-aware of the issues faced by the less well-off in the Ithaca community. The non-profit started as the local unit of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” programs in the 1960s. It administers early childhood education programs (Head Start), GED assistance, energy service programs (home weatherization), food pantries, family reunification services, housing vouchers, a fiscal literacy program, employment help – basically, social support services for thousands of low-income individuals in Tompkins County and adjacent communities, helping them succeed in their educational, professional and family endeavors.

In the past few years, Tompkins Community Action has made significant efforts to try and create more housing for those vulnerable, so that they’re less likely to end up in the Jungle or a back alley. In safe, secure housing, they are more likely to get clean, they are more likely to earn and keep steady employment, and they are more likely to take advantage of TCAction’s other supportive services, hopefully continuing on to better, more productive lives.

One of these efforts is a partnership with Finger Lakes ReUse – the pair, with consultation from affordable housing provider INHS, are entering the grant-writing phase for 22 studio units for those transitioning out of jail as well as the formerly homeless at FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The other major project is Amici House.

Going through my archived notes, the first reference to what would become Amici House shows up all the way back in September 2014 as a 14 or 15-unit townhouse proposal, but it wasn’t until June 2016 that the first plans were presented, after a feasibility study was completed. Site plan review began in October 2016, and the project was approved in January 2017.

The plans, drawn up by Schickel Architecture of Ithaca, call for a narrow five-story, 20,785 SF (later 20,712 SF) building for housing, and an adjacent one-story, 7,010 SF building that will host classrooms and daycare facilities. The facilities would be a part of TCAction’s campus at 661-701 Spencer Road on the south end of the city. Two small houses would be deconstructed to make room for the classroom building, while the residential building, planned to house homeless or vulnerable youth aged 18-25, would be an addition onto the non-profit group’s existing office building.

On the first floor of the new residential building would be a children’s playroom (for homeless youth with children), case conferencing rooms, training rooms and kitchen space. 23 efficiency (studio) apartments would be built on the second through fifth floors.

The childcare building, later called the Harriet Giannelis Childcare Center in honor of a late staff member of TCAction, will provide five classrooms for Head Start and Early Head Start programs, as well as support space and staff training space. The building will host a playground, which is the blue space in the site plan above. The facility would have space for 42 children, and create about 21 living-wage jobs. The numbers were more recently revised to 48 children and 24 jobs. TCAction, which employs 104 people, is a certified living-wage employer.

During the review process, not much changed. On the residential building, the planning board thought a glass-encased stairwell was thought to produce too much light, so the next iteration had it completely bricked in, which the Planning Board also disliked, as was a plan with small windows. Eventually, a “happy” medium was reached for medium-sized windows in the stairwell.

The project required a couple of zoning variances. The first one was for parking spaces (72 required, 65 planned). TCAction suggested that from a practical standpoint, they wouldn’t need a parking space for every housing unit, but the classrooms and office space will meet their parking requirements. Another variance was for operation of a child care facility is a residential zone, and there were three area variances related to building size and the driveway/drop-off area.

The initial estimated construction costs are $8.25 million. Per city building permit docs, The Harriet Giannellis Childcare Center’s hard costs are estimated at $1,267,479, while the 23-unit residential portion’s hard costs are estimated at $3,627,333. However, city IURA statements sat the HGCC will cost $1,774,470 to build, with $153,450 in soft costs, and a total of about $2,103,000. The residential portion comprises $6,115,000 in hard/soft costs and land acquisition (total for both $8,218,000). Welliver of Montour Falls is the general contractor.

As one might tell from above, financially it’s a bit confusing. This isn’t a traditionally-financed project with concerns about a lender’s Return On Investment. To make it become a reality, it uses a fair amount of subsidy layering – different funding grants from the city, county, NYS and the Federal HUD.

One grant, awarded in June 2016, was for $118,000 from the county that would purchase the small house next door to their headquarters – 661 Spencer, built in 1950 by the Amici family – thus allowing them to procure the land needed for developmentA later “grant” forgave the remaining $75,000 loan balance on their headquarters, and $225,000 was awarded to the project by the Tompkins-Ithaca-Cornell Community Housing Development Fund (CHDF).  TCAction first acquired their HQ with the help of the county back in 2001, and the cost of the purchase was being paid back to the county in the form of a 20-year lease. $84,200 was awarded to the Childcare Center by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency in 2017.

New York State awarded the project $3.732 million in April 2017, and the state’s HUD equivalent, NYS HCR, supplied another $3.26 million in two other grants, the Community Investment Fund (CIF) for the childcare center, and the Housing Trust Fund (HTF) for the housing. M&T Bank is providing a $501,883 construction loan, and another $300,000 came from a Federal Home Loan Bank.

More recently, the numbers were revised to $603,000 for M&T Bank and the NYS HCR CIF was reduced from $1.499 to $1.325 million – probably a case where the state decided not to award the full request, and TCAction had to make it up elsewhere. Funding for the Head Start operation comes from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services, and other funding comes from state and local allocations. The facilities are tax-exempt. A look at the finances, which practically break even (slight profit actually) can be found here.

Initially, construction was supposed to be from August 2017 to October 2018, but the time frames were shifted back a few months due to financial and bureaucratic snags. TCAction also discovered they couldn’t stay in their headquarters as construction went on, so they needed an emergency $90,690 loan from the IURA to rent temporary offices at 609 West Clinton Street.

Along with Schickel Architecture and Welliver, the project team includes Taitem Engineering for structural engineering work, Foor & Associates of Elmira assisting in the design work, T. G. Miller P.C. for civil engineering and surveying, Saratoga Associates Landscape Architects, Seeler Engineering of suburban Rochester, and INHS as a consultant.

In the photos below, construction has been well underway, and has been since at least the tail end of January. The childcare center’s slab foundation and footers have been excavated, poured and insulated with rigid foam boards (the soil will be backfilled later to cover the base). The wood-frame is well underway, and it appears most if not all of the roof trusses are in place, as are many of the walls – I suppose these guys are going with housewrap instead of ZIP sheets. Although the size seems correct, the design does not look like what I have on file from , much to my chagrin. Foundation work seems to be underway for the residential portion.

 

 





News Tidbits 3/10/18: Affordable Housing Week 2018

11 03 2018

For today, let’s take a look at the entrants competing for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on Thursday 3/22 and Thursday 3/29 s part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 28 applications, three more than last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing.

In aggregate, there is $2,042 million requested, and about $1.239 million available. For the sake of comparison, that’s a 60.6% funding vs. request ratio, slightly more than last year’s 58%, but less than the 83.2% ratio of 2016, and the 67% ratio in 2015. 2016’s ratio was high because of $273k in unspent money originally earmarked for the earlier INHS plan for 402 South Cayuga Street.

Roughly speaking:

Year    Request    Amount Available

2015 / $1.78m / $1.215m

2016 / $1.85m / $1.54m

2017 / $1.982m / $1.149m

2018 / $2.042m / $1.239m

Unfortunately, HUD funding is not going up – of that $1.239m, about $184k is carried over from 2017 – Finger Lakes ReUse decided to decline last year’s $50k award, as did 402 South Cayuga Street ($80k, Habitat for Humanity’s cancelled project) and Housing for School Success (~$34k). The other roughly $20k was unallocated funds. In truth, the award for 2018 is $1.055 million, while requested amounts continue to rise, and the head of HUD gets embroiled in scandal for, among several reasons, ethics issues involving HUD business dealings with his family, and trying to spend $31k on a dining set for his office.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. A full rundown is provided by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor here. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. First, 402 South Cayuga Street. This site has had a rough history, unfortunately. It’s a small vacant lot just south of Downtown Ithaca that has had little good luck in the past several years. Five years ago, INHS originally attempted to build four units of for-sale housing on the property, but could not make it financially viable, as construction costs rose beyond what they could do within budget. Another developer proposed a market-rate plan, but the city, which owns the lot, has a strong preference for affordable for-sale housing. Habitat for Humanity also made an effort to build for-sale housing on the site, but it too saw construction costs rise beyond their capacity.

The grant application, $150,000 towards that $1.057 million project, would revive the INHS plan the planning board approved a few years ago. Two of the townhomes would sell to households making at or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI, at or below $42,400/year for a single person), while the other two would sell to those making at or below 100% AMI (at or below $53,000/year), sometimes called “missing middle” housing. The funds would be used for construction and soft costs (legal paperwork, permit fees) on the two lower-priced units.

The reason why this is feasible now is that for one, the planning and design costs from 2013 have been paid off and the design is nearly the same, and two, the project will be modular instead of stick-built. INHS would partner with Cayuga Country Homes to build the four units. The units would be locked into the Community Housing Trust, and include features not in the previous plans, such as air-source heat pumps. However, the bay windows on the north and south walls have been removed from the new plans.

Breaking it down a little more, the construction cost would ring in at around $177/SF, about 10-15% less than stick-built. The three 2-bedroom units are 1190 SF and will cost about $210k to build, while the three-bedroom will be 1352 SF and cost about $239k to build (total about $870k, of which $830k is consumed by hard costs, materials and labor).

INHS will sell the 80% AMI two-bedroom at $121k, and the 80% AMI three-bedroom at $139k. The two 100% AMI units will sell at $159k. INHS will need to cover the remaining $291,000 with grants and subsidies just to break even. It is possible to build marginally cheaper, but insurers require INHS has to use contractors with at least $1 million in workplace liability coverage.

If funding were awarded later this spring, the units could be ready by April 2019. Although the construction method is different, the exterior changes are generally cosmetic – slightly different window arrangements, deleted bay windows, and porch details. It’s still at its essence four 2.5 story townhomes with ground-level rear garages and cantilevered rear decks. It is possible they could be signed off on at the staff level, but it’s more likely they would need to pay a quick visit to the planning board. The exterior changes could be reviewed and approved in one meeting.

2. The other INHS submission is titled “Scattered Site Phase 2: New Construction”. The request is for $100,000 to help cover soft costs (architectural and engineering fees) associated with the projects in the application. Calling them “scattered” is a little bit of a stretch – it’s two sites. One is 203-209 Elm Street on West Hill. That will have thirteen units, replacing twelve existing units, a count that includes 4-unit 203 Elm Street, currently vacant due to structural concerns. Six of the thirteen will be targeted to households at 50% AMI ($26,500/year for a single person), and the other seven at 60% AMI ($31,800/year). Ten of the units are one-bedrooms, and the remaining three are two-bedrooms.

The big question is the $16 million project planned for Downtown Ithaca. Although INHS cannot name the applicant, there were enough hints to figure it out with a fairly high degree of certainty. I can’t run conjecture on the Voice, but here, well, take the disclaimer that I could always be wrong. But consider the following:

From the notes in the application, we know it is:

  • In census tract one – mostly Downtown and the State Street Corridor.
  • The current site is a small commercial building.
  • It is in the CBD – Central Business District.
  • The site would host 20,000 square-feet of commercial space, and 40 housing units. The 30 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units would be set aside for those making 30-60% AMI ($15,900-$31,800/year).
  • An unknown number of units would be set aside for formerly homeless individuals or those in need of supportive housing. The current owner would provide supportive services in the first-floor of the commercial space.
  • The partner in the project has provided services for over 150 years.
  • INHS would buy the land for $750,000.

The only site that checks off all the boxes is the Salvation Army property at 150 North Albany Street. It is currently valued at $800,000, following a $100,000 bump upward last year. A back of the envelope suggests a gross square footage of 55,000 SF, plus or minus a few percent. That would put the new build at roughly the same size as Breckenridge Place (55,300 SF).

Zoning at the site is a little odd – it’s a split, CBD-60 on the southern two-thirds, and more restrictive B-2d on the northern third. CBD allows up to 60 feet in height, 100% lot coverage no parking requirement. B-2d allows four floors, 40 feet in height, and has no parking requirement if a building is more than 60% residential use – which there’s a fairly high chance this project would exceed. I’m picturing something five or more likely six stories on State, and stepping down to four on West Seneca Street. But, there’s still a chance I could be wrong, and this may isn’t the right site.

An approximate construction time frame for the mystery project appears to be October 2019 through January 2021. A sketch plan revealing the mystery partner and site is expected to be shown to the city planning board in June. SWBR Architects of Rochester is in charge of design.

3. The last one I’ll cover is the Finger Lakes ReUse expansion. Let’s preface this by saying they don’t own the site – the former grocery store turned BOCES turned eco-services non-profit entered into a purchase agreement with John Novarr in February 2014 to purchase the building for $1.25 million (below the assessment of $1.35 million), which they will do exactly five years after the agreement was signed, in February 2019. The $100,000 requested would be assistance towards the purchase of the property, freeing up their money to work on their upcoming construction projects.

As is, the site is a 17,000 SF retail building, and a 1,330 SF former garage/repair shop. Plans have been proposed for major additions – 6,500 SF of retail, 65,000 SF of office space, and 12,000 SF of supportive housing, which consists of 22 studios for low-income individuals, with emphasis on formerly homeless and/or incarcerated individuals. Welliver, INHS and TCAction have provided guidance and assistance; Welliver may be the general contractor as construction proceeds, and TCAction may manage the housing units. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Point of confusion – the approved plans call for a 26,100 SF, 4-story building with mixed-use retail, office and living space components, and an 8,100 SF open-air metal warehouse for reclaimed wood processing and storage. That all totals 34,200 SF, not 83,500 SF. There’s 49,300 SF that is not clearly spoken for.

The warehouse is phase one, will cost about $500,000, and be ready by Q3 2018. It will generate at least three living-wage jobs (an estimate Finger Lakes ReUse says is conservative). Phase two is funding dependent on the affordable housing component, and will provide at least six new living-wage jobs. Although NYS HCR affordable housing grants don’t typically cover commercial space, they can be applied to mixed-use structures.

The total project cost is $10.521 million. $1.89 million of the costs are covered with a NYSERDA grants, and Empire State Development has also offered a $500,000 economic development grant. Add in other grants and awards received or being pursued, and it appears that only about $3 million will be covered through loans. IURA funding an extra $100k makes the project more competitive for other grants, since FLR will have demonstrated they have more secured funds, and a higher chance of moving forward. The idealized time frame calls for a late summer 2019 construction on Phase II with completion a year later, but sit back and see what happens with applications and awards first.

 





304 Hector Street Courtesy Post

7 03 2018

The following is a courtesy post sent in by Lynn Truame, Senior Real Estate Developer for INHS. 304 Hector Street, on Ithaca’s West Hill, was built in 2017 with the help of IURA-awarded HOME federal grant dollars. The 1,223 SF home is for sale for $149,000 to households making at or below 80% AMI ($42,400 for a single person, $60,500 for a family of four).

***

304 Hector Street:  Green Affordable Homeownership in the City of Ithaca

The single family home at 304 Hector Street looks like dozens of homes all over Ithaca:  an American Foursquare design with a broad front porch, located on a small landscaped lot.  But beneath that modest exterior lies something special:  a brand new LEED Gold Certified home that is affordable to the “Missing Middle”:  households earning around 80% of the Area Median Income, or less then $60,500 for a family of four.

304 Hector is the latest addition to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s Community Housing Trust (CHT).  The CHT program ensures long-term affordability for purchasers by allowing the homebuyer to only purchase the house. The land is leased from INHS under a very affordable 99-year lease, reducing the initial purchase price by excluding the cost of the land. Subsidies bring the cost to the buyer down even further, allowing CHT homes to be sold at prices that are up to 50% below market value. As the land owner, INHS retains stewardship over the project, ensuring the home remains affordable for future purchasers.

Like all of INHS’ CHT properties, 304 Hector is a “green” building. LEED for Homes, Indoor AirPlus, and Energy Star certified, this house well exceeds the minimum requirements of the building code, with special attention being paid to indoor environmental quality and resource efficiency. This green home surpasses conventional homes in four major areas:  greater energy efficiency, improved indoor air quality, better use of natural resources, and lower impact development. Building to these standards results in a home that is less expensive to heat and cool, more environmentally friendly, more durable, less polluting, and less wasteful to build.

Some of the most notable “green” characteristics of 304 Hector include:

  • Densepack cellulose insulation, made from recycled newspapers
  • EnergyStar appliances
  • Advanced air sealing and mechanical ventilation
  • High efficiency sealed-combustion boiler providing both heat and hot water
  • Low VOC paints
  • Green Label certified carpet
  • High efficiency, low-flow faucets and fixtures
  • Reduced construction waste
  • No tropical hardwoods
  • Triple pane EnergyStar windows

Completed in December 2017, 304 Hector was designed by architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, and built by a local contractor, D-Squared Construction.  EnergyStar and LEED Rating services were provided by Steven Winter Associates, Inc.





News Tidbits 1/27/18: The Shutterbug

28 01 2018

1. Let’s do some houses of the week. Above, the four new homes Tiny Timber has constructed at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road in Dryden. Each home lot is a little over an acre. The subdivision was approved last spring for the wooded parcel a couple miles east of Ithaca, and since then, Tiny Timbers has been busy selling units and lots to buyers. Two were sold in August, one in September, and the last in December. Therefore, this is 100% built out, since the last lot is a conservation lot at the rear (north) end of the property, designed to protect Cascadilla Creek. The units utilize a shared driveway, with spurs for each home. If you want to look at the homes more closely, click to enlarge the photos.

A similar plan is underway just up the road at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road, where Tiny Timbers will take a long, narrow undeveloped property and subdivide the land into five home lots and a rear (north) lot protected by a conservation easement. These homes will also be served by a common driveway. This proposal is still going through the review process, and when approved, the time frame for build-out will probably be similar. The home designs are the work of local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative.

2. Over in the village of Lansing, work has started on the next six-unit (hexplex?) at the Heights of Lansing property off of Bomax Drive. It appears that the foundation slab and footers have been formed, poured and insulated with foam boards. This is the first new townhouse string to be built in the development in six years.

Several reasons have been given for the long pause. The developers have said that the natural gas moratorium disrupted and delayed build-out plans. Secondly, the patriarch of Forest City Realty/IJ Construction, Ivar Jonson, passed away in 2014. More recently, the Jonson family (his wife Janet and daughter Lisa Bonniwell) were embroiled in a lawsuit to prevent a zoning change that would allow a market-rate apartment complex to be built down the road. Bonniwell was incensed enough to run for mayor in 2017 in an effort to stop the proposal, but did not win the election. The zoning change has been approved and the apartments were approved in October, but the Park Grove project has yet to move forward.

The townhouses were approved along with the last single-family home permit; there were some rather testy exchanges regarding sewer line easements and the installation of street lighting in conjunction with those permits. The lighting has to be in by March 2019.

Assuming these are like the other townhouses, expect them to be 3-bedroom units, low 2000s SF with garages, and to go for $350-$450k when they’re finished several months from now.

3. Dryden’s new Rite Aid is coming along. Fully framed, and the plastic in the window openings is likely intended to allow construction crews to work indoors without exposure to the fierce winter elements. The curbing and paving is complete in the parking lot, and it looks like they install metal bollards all around the lot’s perimeter to keep the less-than-attentive from driving into the wall (something that happened to the Nice N’ Easy in my hometown no less than three times before they finally put some in). It is still planned to open in March.

4. Over in Fall Creek, it appears a small apartment building is in line for some major renovations. 1002 North Aurora, a four-unit building built in 1898, had been on the market for $395,000. The seller had owned the property for 24 years, and the price was only slightly above the assessed value of $375,000.

On Friday, the property sold for $400,000 to an LLC associated with local developer Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor et al.). The same day, a building loan agreement was filed from Tioga State Bank to the LLC for $712,000. A lot of that was going towards the land acquisition, and once soft costs are deducted as well, the loan is $287,000.

MLR tends to be very transparent about their plans, and a glance at their recently updated website shows the purchase and a ‘information on this project coming soon’. However, they already uploaded the interior renovation plans from STREAM Collaborative. It’s a very thorough interior renovation, and it appears to complete change interior floor plans, with new bedrooms (net gain of one?) as well as new kitchens, bathrooms, and fire rated ceilings. Exterior changes appear to include a renovated fire escape staircase, a couple new windows on the third (top) floor), and a new skylight. While old, this apartment building is a hodge-podge of additions from decades past, so let’s see what a renovation can do to clean things up. It’s plausible the renovations would be complete by August, so they can appeal to students as well as the general market.

Quick aside, MLR has a few other “future developments” posted, though none that readers here aren’t already aware of – the 42 townhouse units at 802 Dryden, the proposed 201 North Aurora / Seneca Flats that isn’t moving forward for a while yet, and 217 Columbia, the duplex that unintentionally set South Hill into an uproar. 217 Columbia should be completed this year, and 802 Dryden in summer 2019.

5. It looks like Amici House is finally moving forward. The project, located at 661-701 Spencer Road, received a $3,732,469 loan from the New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation. The money was announced back in April, and appears to be getting disbursed now.

The five-story, 20,710 SF (square-foot) project, approved by the city of Ithaca last January, calls for 23 studio housing units for homeless or vulnerable young individuals in the 18-25 age range. Along with the units and office/function space for local social services non-profit TCAction, the plan also calls for a 7,010 SF early heard start facility, called the “Harriet Gianellis Childcare Center”, that will house five classrooms, kitchen and restrooms, and an outdoor play area. The childcare facility will serve 48 low-to-moderate income families and create up to 21 jobs.

Recently, the HGCC applied for a low-interest loan from the IURA, $90,690 to help cover unanticipated moving expenses associated with the project. TCAction thought they could stay on-site during construction, but the contractor said otherwise, so they’ll be 609 W. Clinton while the new Amici House is built. The loan says it will generate three jobs, but that’s more a technical stipulation than an actual figure associated with the project. The funding for the childcare appears to be separate, $1,325,000 already approved by the state, $603,000 from M&T Bank, and $84,200 from a standing IURA loan. It is fully funded, although it is not completely clear if it will be built concurrently with the housing (the likely answer is yes).





News Tidbits 1/20/18: Here We Go Again

20 01 2018

1. It looks like Cayuga Orchard will be moving forward this spring. At the moment, the 102-unit apartment project is going up for a few tweaks to the town of Lansing planning board, mainly just to get approvals for a pair of monument signs. Whitham Planning and Design is handling those last details. The project already went out for construction bids, and with a cost estimated at $25 million, which will surely help Lansing’s bottom line. With no tax abatements, and about $26.50/$1,000 assessed, the back-of-the-envelope suggests about $660,000 in taxes (however, using the hard costs alone is likely low-balling the tax assessment). The project is able to move forward thanks to a plan to pay for a sewer line extension to meet the needs of residents; the plans had long been held up by issues and red tape regarding a modular on-site sewer treatment system.

On the site plan, from left to right, are three roads – to be named “Harvest Drive”, “Blossom Road” and “Liberty Lane”. Positive connotations as most are, except one case I know – here’s a story of a downstate project where the Staten Island borough president used his right to rename roads to give a project names meaning deceit and greed. Liberty Lane is designed to be extended for whenever local developer Jack Young decides to go ahead with his 117-unit “English Village” single-family home and townhouse project on the 100-acre property to the west of Cayuga Orchards. Right now, Young’s focus is on a few home lots he’s subdividing on East Shore Circle.

The housing is intended to be rentals in the upper-middle (premium) market, and the 26 1-bedroom and 76 2-bedroom units are welcome in a community with a tight housing supply. As for the design…meh. It’s not terrible, but the dispersed home strings and front-facing garages over-emphasize suburban aesthetics (nothing against Stampfl Associates, they actually have some neat projects). Look for the first units to come onto the market in Spring 2019.

2. For sale, another chunk of Ithaca’s near-waterfront. 798 Cascadilla is a 18,271 SF one-story flexible office space building that was renovated in the 2000s, and is home to Palisade Corporation, a software firm specializing in decision making/risk analysis tools. Palisade is doing just fine, but this is a case where they might be sniffing out an opportunity.

Consider the location. It’s next to Carpenter Business Park, which was just picked up by a team of businesses led by Cayuga Medical Center and Park Grove Realty, ultimately expected to be a large mixed-use development. That purchase was $10 million on a property that had sold for just $2.7 million less than two years earlier; a bidding war drove the purchase sky high. Next door, Guthrie Clinic picked up Palisade’s neighbors, a storage facility and a former printing press/warehouse of Cornell University, for $2.85 million, $150,000 over asking price. Paying at full or above asking price is pretty rare for commercial real estate in Ithaca. Guthrie has recently been in talks with Greenstar Co-Op to convert the storage facility into a new grocery store and cafe. In the City Harbor plans, where Guthrie and Greenstar are involved, there have been some site plan concerns note around issues like parking, that a purchase here could help solve.

Zoning on the site is newly-minted “Market District”. Hotels, restaurants, retail, housing, healthcare facilities, food production facilities, and housing. Up to five floors/63 feet, 100% lot coverage. But honestly, given the recent PUD-OD proposal, zoning regulations are not the end-all, be-all; if someone wants to try for an additional floor by throwing in a few affordable housing units, they could. Not saying that’s a great idea, but they could.

If I had to take a guess, Palisade is feeling out the market and seeing what kind of deal they can get for their building. It was an unusual choice of locations when they bought it in 2004, but they might make a tidy sum for being in the right place at the right time. Maybe.

The asking price for 798 Cascadilla is $2.7 million. The tax assessment is for $2 million. Pyramid’s David Huckle is the sales agent in charge.

3. A long time ago, back in 2009, a West Hill property was talked of as a potential development site. Now that property has exchanged hands. For the moment, its future is still fairly murky.

Kaderli Trade, a Panamanian business with Swiss ownership has owned a 68.5 parcel of land just west of Warren Place since 1977. The property is vacant, and assessed at $320,000. It just sold on Thursday to the Rancich Family for $360,000, a modest gain, and a pretty good price for vacant land.

The Ranciches are probably best known for being the original planners of the Enfield Wind Farm, and for Carrowmoor, a mixed-use project that would have had retail space, office space and up to 400 units in clustered housing on a 158-acre parcel just northwest of Kaderli’s parcel. The motif was a traditional English village. Buildings would have aesthetic half-timbers and gable roofs. It would have used alternative energy (heat pumps were practically unheard of at the time) and been priced mid-market for for-sale units. However, this was 2008-09, the recession was biting hard, and Carrowmoor never moved beyond the drawing board. Most of the renders have disappeared, but I still have one from 2009, before I knew how to crop screenshots. Less known but still important, the Ranciches also played a role in the development of the Conifer Linderman Creek affordable housing.

If someone were to ask what the development likelihood were based on the above information, it would get a shrug from me. The Ranciches haven’t had much success, but this purchase suggests they have some sort of interest, and the location is one the town has noted for potential development – existing zoning is Medium Density Residential, and the 2014 Comprehensive Plan plans traditional/new urban design medium density. That’s T3-T5 for the New Urban transect buffs, averaging 5-8 units/acre by the town’s count. It’s close enough to the municipal water that new pump stations and tanks wouldn’t necessarily be needed. In sum, the town would be open to something substantial. But who knows.

4. 46 South Street, this Claudia Brenner/INHS mixed-income mixed-use project in Trumansburg (Hamilton Square is no longer the official name) continues to go through the boards. My Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor covered the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, where about ten people spoke for an against the proposal. It’s probably better that she cover 46 South, because I would find it hard to maintain impartiality.

On the one hand, there is the opposition. The “Trumansburg Neighbors Alliance (TBNA)” turned in a Change.org petition with 492 signatures, along with paper petitions they say brings the number up to 669. They say 432 are in Trumansburg, Ulysses, or the Trumansburg school district, which includes large sections of Schuyler County and Seneca County. From their Facebook page, they don’t have accurate numbers.

At this time, there are actively trying to re-impose a village-wide moratorium after the previous decade-long moratorium expired. The zoning was revised in 2012 and re-analyzed in 2016. The South Street housing fits its zoning.

There are plenty of others who have already spoken in favor of this proposal – the Lansing Star has had a harsh word for the opposition, and some residents in Trumansburg are speaking out in favor of the South Street housing.

Let’s go through some of the fallacies with the opposition’s issues:

Too many rental units, not home ownership, out of balance and character with the neighborhood .

46 of the 73 units are affordable (LMI) rentals – most (40 of 46) are in the two story building in the middle of the property. Here’s the thing with lower-moderate income families; a lot of folks are getting by paycheck-to-paycheck. They don’t have the money for a 15% or 20% down payment on a house, for which the median sales price in Trumansburg in 2017 was $255,000, up 38% from the $184,500 in 2012. Thankfully, groups like INHS will work to cover the down payment and sell homes to LMI buyers well below market-rate, like the townhouses on Hancock going in the $110-$145k range, about half of the market rate for a new townhouse in Ithaca.

However, funding for purchasable units is much more difficult to get. A bank isn’t going to fund a plan that doesn’t generate a good profit, so they have to turn to state and federal funds. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. In short, this argument boils down to ‘these people are too poor to live in our village’.

Does not fit ‘village character’ and 2008 Village Comprehensive Plan priorities

Character is always a bad argument to give a planning board; it overly relies on demographic perceptions, which include details like age, income and race. The 2008 Comp Plan notes historic buildings, non cookie-cutter design, and tree-lined streets. Homes are 1-3 floors. Well-designed multi-family buildings that fit the village fabric, especially those with design features friendly to seniors, were encouraged. Affordable housing is strongly encouraged.

Below are some of the building elevations, pulled from the submission here. Let’s gauge based off the Comp Plan statements – there are no historic buildings on site, it’s vacant land surrounded by housing of varying ages. Designs incorporate porches, gables, bracketed eaves, dormers and other features of Trumansburg’s older housing stock. They are generally two floors. There will be several townhouse and single-family home designs interspersed throughout the site.

At 40 units, the apartment building is not unlike the existing Juniper Manor; as with other INHS projects like Breckenridge Place and 210 Hancock, many of these units are expected to rent to seniors – about 60% of Breckenridge is seniors, and although I don’t have stats for 210, I’d say it’s a generous percentage. The project is 72 units, 140 residents, over a 19.12 acre parcel. That is 3.77 units/acre, 7.3 residents/acre. That is less dense than the older part of the village.  Even the Tamarack/Larchmont housing, which is one of the areas of strongest opposition, has about 2.5 units and 7-9 residents per acre.

So density’s in line, it has affordability within a mixed-income layout, the apartments are senior-friendly and designed to blend in; it meets the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

The developers did not ask residents how best to fulfill Village needs…they just decided!

No, they didn’t. Remember the community meetings to get ideas and feedback last July? The August listening sessions? The major plan revisions in response to community concerns? They’ve been listening.

Now that we have that covered, let’s take a look at some of the comments from the folks who are opposed:

From the petition:

“…we do not have the police to keep track of this ridiculous project.”

Ithaca problems must remain in Ithaca and not be spread to us

“These kind of “developments” only bring low income, low quality people.”

From the TBNA facebook page:

there is enough drug dealing on the other end of town probably not a good idea to add to it”.

“Turning trumansburg in to [sic] ithaca have fun with that will have a lot of crime”

I’ve not hidden the fact that I grew up in affordable housing. So these comments that say its occupants are drug addicts, criminals, problems and burdens is very hurtful. I can appreciate TBNA’s attempts on their page to celebrate when housing is announced in Ithaca, but honestly in this context it just reads as a selfish desire that those less well-off will go elsewhere and stay out of the village. For a community that prides itself on its social progressiveness, it’s very disappointing.





News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





News Tidbits 11/25/17: Not Going to Plan

27 11 2017

1. It looks like the Lambrous have started work on the new duplex they’ve long planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown. Foundation work is underway for the two-unit, six-bedroom home, which utilized Superior Foundation Walls and modular units. The building sits on the edge of the East Hill Historic District, so to make the building compliant with the ILPC’s wishes, it features Hardie Board siding, simulated shakes, scuplted brackets and an attic vent, and detailed railings and porches. The design went through a couple iterations, with the first being historically appropriate but expensive stick-built design, and the second a modular scheme that was non-compliant with the ILPC. The Lambrous plan to have the new three-bedroom units available for rent by August.

2. Lansing’s Milton Meadows affordable housing project is up for final approval next Monday, and it looks like the first 72-unit phase will be the only phase. According to documentation filed with the town, the presence of poorer soils and more wetlands than anticipated means that Cornerstone will not be undertaking a second phase. It does raise further questions regarding adjacent parcels and the amount of money the town of Lansing can reasonable gain since this sounds like a recent discovery. The final site plans here show no indication of Cornerstone Development Group buying the remaining 8.9 acres that were intended for phase two.

There are no huge obstacles to prevent approval, although some town officials are unhappy that they didn’t apply a stronger hand to the town center development plan (i.e. laying the roads and infrastructure as they wanted, and charging a higher price for the parcels). While most of the darts have been levied towards Cornerstone (some perhaps unfairly due to it being affordable housing), the town planning chair has also targeted Tiny Timbers for using Conlon Road as its primary ingress/egress in their sketch plan. But with sales already negotiated and approved, the town’s legal options are limited, and since they already dropped the ball on the town center once, the optics aren’t pretty. Any work Cornerstone does is dependent on state and federal grants that are highly competitive and awarded only a few times per year, so don’t expect much for at least a year or two after approval.

3. It looks like the land for the proposed extension of South Meadow Square has been fenced off. A query to the folks in PetSmart next door didn’t turn up much, although they said there had been some water and sewer work to prep for the new 7,315 SF addition approved earlier this year. I did not see what the current conditions are for the approved 14,744 SF addition on the south end.

4. The county and the city have competing views of the NYS DOT’s future in Tompkins County. The county has reiterated its hope that the DOT relocates to a location next to the county airport. The city would prefer a location in Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart and the proposed Maguire dealership campus. The request for state grant dollars depends on the airport proposal, and the DOT has stated preference for a site near the airport.

However, if grants are not awarded, the airport is still considering a plan to build a $1-2 million customs facility that would allow to become an international airport, servicing passenger jets from Canadian hubs (Toronto, Montreal). In the short-term, work is underway to add service to Chicago, which has an on-time percentage comparable to Detroit (80%), and better than Newark (60%) and Philadelphia (70%). Cornell is actively assisting, trying to persuade airlines as part of its “Global Cornell” initiative.

5. So here’s the city of Ithaca’s parks master plan. There’s a few interesting things of note in terms of acquisitions and de-classifications (sale).

First, a quick note – the city is legally required to replace any park land it sells off with newly acquired park land. So with that in mind, the city looked at its parks and found five that are “vastly underutilized” – Columbia Street Park (0.25 acres), Dryden Road Park (0.08 acres), Hillview Park (0.74 acres), Maple Grove Park (0.47 acres), and Strawberry Fields (9.16 acres).

The city would like to sell off the first four on that list, and replace them with a new acquisition somewhere in the city that has at least 1.54 acres, but the city is looking for up to 12 acres. Proximity to population centers, arterial roads, pedestrian access and minimal site prep are some of the big deciding factors in that acquisition process. Meanwhile, Strawberry Fields would be held for either designation as a “school park” to be managed in conjunction with the ICSD, or as a “teaching preserve” for practice field research and instruction.

If the city did opt to sell those four parks, well, there’s some development potential, though they wouldn’t be prime. Maple Grove is a Belle Sherman cul-de-sac surrounded by single-family homes. Dryden Road Park is a small triangle next to the parking garage, and while technically an MU-2 zone for six floors, it’s just as likely Cornell would pick it up amd add it to its tax-exempt rolls since it’s next to Cascadilla Hall. Hillview and Columbia Street on South Hill (R-2a zone) could potentially become a few home lots or a small apartment complex, but the land’s sale would be a political challenge.The city procedure would be an advertised sale offering through the IURA, followed by a grading system of applicants that meet the city’s specified price, as they did with foreclosed lots that became the Ithaka Terraces and 203 Third Street.

Not too keen to get in the weeds on this, since this would be controversial with neighborhood groups, but it’s really just a thought exercise at this point – any potential land sale would be on a long-term, 5 year+ time scale, and the city would need to have new land ready to be acquired for recreational uses. Even thatcould cause problems when neighbors complain that an untouched property becomes a public park that attracts people (this has been an issue with proposed extensions of the South Hill Rec Trail). There is plenty of time to debate the merits and drawbacks of long-term property assets. Right now, the focus is repair and renovating existing facilities in city parks.

6. Looking at the city’s planning board agenda for next week, it’s a short one. The duplex at 601 South Aurora and the Brindley Street Bridge are up for final approval, and a pair of new sketch plans will be reviewed – one is likely to be small, and the other a revision, potentially a downsizing. I’ve heard through the grapevine that several rental developers are holding off or even cancelling plans because they’re concerned about the impacts of Cornell’s 2,000 new beds for their North Campus – although right now there’s nothing formal apart from a statement of intent. Ideally, Cornell puts some concept forth soon, with plans not long thereafter; otherwise, there’s the risk that the local housing situation gets worse. Perhaps the reasonable worst case scenario is that, with recent federal attacks on higher education, Cornell is forced to trim its budget and cancels the housing plans, while still adding students to compensate for financial losses – basically, a sudden large growth in demand without growth in supply.

First, 209 Hudson. This was previously mentioned in a Voice article, it’s potentially a small-scale infill project by frequent infill developer Stavros Stavropoulos. The early plan for two of three rental buildings was shelved due to the South Hill overlay, and its possible that, given the relatively large lot, Stavropoulos may be planning a subdivision to build an additional two-family rental unit. Dunno if he can legally pull off more than that, however. R-2a with overlay allows a 1-2 family structure as a primary, with an accessory apartment in a secondary structure.

The second is 119-123 College Avenue. This is unusual in that this was the site for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project, a 67-unit, multi-building plan for rentals geared towards visiting Cornell faculty and staff. However, the recent NYSEG power line issue has proven problematic, and the last I checked, the project team was supposed to go before a state building codes board in Syracuse this month to get a variance to allow construction, on the basis that the power lines will soon be buried. The minutes are not online, so it’s not clear what the ruling was. While CR-4 zoning allows 45 feet as the plan is currently designed, a variance denial by the state would limit structural height to 30 feet, and would substantially impact the project’s feasibility in pricey Collegetown, as well as alter the design. For the record, 119-123 does not imply a smaller project; 123 College Avenue never existed, the three homes removed for this project were 119, 121 and 125. We’ll see what the revised plans look like next week.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the floor (3-minute maximum per person) 6:05
3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Duplex 6:15
Location: 601 S Aurora Street
Applicant: David Putnam
Actions: Public Hearing, Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a duplex on the .186 acre (8,114 SF) vacant lot. Site development includes parking for two cars, walkways, landscaping, a continuous sidewalk along the property frontage, drainage improvements and a trash enclosure. The applicant has designed curbing and on-street parking on Hillview Place in cooperation with the City Engineering Division. The project is in the R-2a Zoning district. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5. (C.)(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (c)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Brindley Street Bridge Rebuild and Relocation 6:35
Location: Intersection of W State Street and Taughannock Blvd
Applicant: Addisu Gebre for the City of Ithaca
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
Project Description:
The project will relocate current Brindley Street Bridge to align with W. State St./Taughannock
Blvd. intersection through the construction of a new single span extending Taughannock Blvd. over
the Cayuga Inlet to Taber Street. The project will retain existing Brindley Street Bridge and south approach road for pedestrian and bike use. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) for which the Board of Public Works, acting as Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance in 2016.

C. 209 Hudson Street – Subdivision & Site Plan Review – Sketch Plan 7:05

D. 119-123 College Avenue – Sketch Plan 7:35

4. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Collegetown Design Guidelines – Megan Wilson
B. Parks Master Plan – Megan Wilson

5. Reports 8:40
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)