News Tidbits 5/11/19

12 05 2019

1. The proposed revision (downzoning) along West State / MLK Jr. Street is moving forward with circulation (review by city departments and associated stakeholders), with a couple of major revisions. The zoning would not be CBD-60. It would be CBD-52 for structures with less than 20% affordable housing, and CBD-62 for structures with 20% or more affordable housing. The quirk in the height is due to mandatory floor heights, which will be 12 feet for the first floor, and 10 feet for each floor above – in other words, five floors for projects with a lack of affordable units (=< 80% area median income), six otherwise.

For 510 West State Street, in which all 76 or 77 units are affordable (my unit count is 76, but they typed 77 in a couple sport of the Site Plan Review), the project would remain largely intact. The new setback requirement would push the fifth and maybe a very small portion of the sixth floor back from West State/MLK Jr. Street for the mandatory fifteen feet, so a little square footage would be lost there. The city had initially sought thirty foot setbacks, but the Ithaca Fire Department said that it would not be reachable by their trucks if the fifth floor was that far away from the street face.

Now, some more astute readers might be wondering is this affects Visum’s other West End project at 109 North Corn Street. The answer is no. The setback rule only affects buildings fronting West State / MLK Jr. Street. The downzoning is intended to protect an aesthetically pleasing segment of West State more than anything else. The setback does technically apply to West Seneca Street, but the building height there is 40 feet anyway, which is the same as the setback.

The affected blocks now also include the 300 and 400 Blocks of West State Street. The only publicly known project that would be impacted is INHS’s Salvation Army redevelopment, which was only aiming for five floors on the West State Street side anyway, but could potentially be impacted by the setback rule – the project design is still in the concept stages with no public images.

A speaker during public comment asked to extend the zoning further to Downtown, and some councilors have discussed further downzoning because “the developers can just pursue a PUD”. That thought process ignores the drawbacks. The more areas impacted and the more stringent zoning becomes, the more labor and time intensive it becomes for city staff because it would likely trigger more PUDs, even while resulting in less development in general because a PUD adds months to a project timeline, uncertainty that lenders don’t like, and forces the Common Council to take on the role of a second Planning Board (which some councilors might be fine with, but some definitely would not and raised this as a complaint during the vote on whether to create the PUD overlay to begin with). Also, if the downzoning were to be applied to a property against the owner’s wishes, say the County Annex property for example, it would likely trigger a costly lawsuit. TL;DR, it looks tempting for additional “community benefits”, but could have significant negative impacts and should be used sparingly.

2. Staying in the realm of laws for a moment, there’s an ordinance that should be made aware to residents of Northside and Fall Creek. A proposal from 1st Ward councilor Cynthia Brock would require every rental agreement and every home sales transaction within 1200 feet of the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility’s boundaries to provide documentation of the potential issues and hazards of living near the plant – “you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences and discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of living and operating in proximity to a waste water treatment facility,” as the document states.

The document isn’t ill-intentioned, but this does impact over a hundred existing Northside and Fall Creek homes and apartments, and quite reasonably would have a negative financial impact on them, whether they plan to sell or if they rent out space. There is nothing on record that these residents have been notified of this proposal. City staff don’t even seem comfortable with the proposal as-is, they don’t think Fall Creek residents are substantially impacted and suggested a cutoff at Route 13, but the 1200 square foot radius seems to be the version being considered right now, paying a trip to city attorneys to see if it’s legal to apply it to all rentals, a detail added at the meeting. Honestly, this doesn’t seem well thought out at this time, and poses a burden to existing homeowners who have not been made aware because of the lack of sufficient outreach.

3. Arthaus and Library Place have had their tax abatement requests approved, on 7-0 and 6-1 votes. The former will bring 124 affordable housing units including special needs housing and artist-centric amenities to the city of Ithaca at 130 Cherry Street. The latter will provide 66 senior housing units on the former Library property on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street. Arthaus is expected to start construction at the end of the year, while Library Place will resume this month, with completions in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

County legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voted against the Library Place proposal, citing some of the concerns raise over the lack of affordable housing (three units will now be 80% area median income) and general discontent with the site. In my intro post to the project, I mentioned if vaguely that there was a legislator who thought the affordable housing, condominiums, and Travis Hyde projects were all terrible – that was McBean-Clairborne, who has generally favored county offices on the site instead of housing. The county did a study to consider renovating the old library for offices back in 2011, a couple years before the RFP, but the study found it was financially prohibitive because of the building’s unusual interior layout (that soaring 1960s atrium wasn’t a good use of space, and wouldn’t have been cheap to replace).

4. Carpenter Park is also moving forward, in this case with the pursuit of its special PUD zoning. The project is seeking the PUD because of some quirks in yard setbacks, and soil tests showing that they couldn’t place some of the parking underground as initially planned (so now it’s in an above ground garage between the ground-floor retail and the apartments in Buildings B and C). The project would bring about 411,600 SF of new space, including 208 apartments (42 affordable) and an expansion of Cayuga Medical Center’s medical offices, resulting in the creation of 150 jobs. The vote was 4-1, with councilor Brock opposed. The full council will vote on the PUD next month, and then the project can go to the planning board for design review. Keep in mind that the above designs might change somewhat, though the general scale and program mix should stay the same.

5. The Tompkins County Airport has received a $9,999,990 grant, as announced by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer at a press conference earlier this week. The county was strongly hoping these funds would come through. With the state grant, it means the county is only paying about $260,000 of the $24.5 million bill. Click the link here to learn more about the airport expansion project.

6. The Gun Hill Residences appear to be in the process of selling. A real estate trade magazine notes Southeastern U.S. regional bank SunTrust is giving the buyer a $13.3 million acquisition loan for DMG Investments LLC. DMG Investments is an American subsidiary of a Chinese development firm, DoThink Group of Hangzhou. The company has been active in upstate recently. DMG co-owns a new 322-bed student housing apartment in Albany and has projects scattered across the country. The full sales price has not been discolosed, as the deed has yet to be filed. It was noted that the ca. 1989, 94-unit, 273-bed Gun Hill Residences on Lake Street was nearly completely full at the time of closing (late spring, which is reasonable given a couple of kids might have washed out of Cornell or otherwise moved out). The property was previously owned by Rochester’s Morgan Communities, which was raided by the FBI last year. Morgan purchased the property in February 2011 for $6.15 million, and the current county assessment for Gun Hill is $12.65 million.

OLD render

NEW render

7. Some modest revisions to the Immaculate Conception School plans. Old render first, new render second. The design of the renovated school building has changed substantially, though the overall size has remained consistent. The changes could be due to any number of reasons, from cost concerns to utilities placements necessitating design changes. The single-family homes have been replaced with a four-string of townhomes, and the yellow string has been earmarked for for-sale units.

If I may – make one of the olive green townhome strings red or orange like the houses that have been removed. Keeps it from being so “matchy-matchy”, to borrow a JoAnn Cornish term. More renders can be found on INHS’s sparkling new website here.

On that note, on Monday May 13th the City of Ithaca will hold a Public Information Session for the proposed PUD (Planned Unit Development) for the Immaculate Conception School redevelopment. The Public Information Session will begin at 4:00 PM, in the Common Council Chambers in City Hall. In accordance with the requirements of the PUD, the developer and project team will present information about the project and answer questions from the public.

8. Looking at agendas:

The city Project Review Meeting (the run up to Planning Board meetings) will look at signage changes for the new Hilton Canopy on Seneca Way, a Presentation and potential Declaration of Lead Agency for 510 West State Street (now 50-70% area median income, initially it was 80-90% AMI), The 141-bed, 49 unit Overlook student housing at 815 South Aurora (updated, and review of Full Environmental Assessment Forms Part 2 and 3), final site plan approval for Arthaus and consideration of preliminary site plan approval for the Chain Works District (the focus right now is the renovations for phase one, office space, industrial space and 60 apartments). Apparently, the “Ezra” restaurant at the Hilton is now being called “The Strand Cafe”, after the theater that once stood on the site. More information can be found in the May project memo here.

The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Chain Works as well. Their portion of phase one involves the renovation of two manufacturing spaces into industrial and warehouse space (i.e. minimal work, just a sprucing up of the digs). Also your casual reminder that, unlike Dryden, Lansing or really any other sizable community in Tompkins County, the town permitted the construction of not a single new housing unit – again – last month. It looks the next stage of Artist Alley ($150,000 buildout) and Cayuga Med’s radiation vault ($2 million cost) were permitted.

It appears that the Beer family is heading back for another visit to the village of Lansing Planning Board regarding their until-now cancelled senior cottages project. The only thing known at the moment about this latest iteration is that it would fit the village’s cluster zoning, which means 97 units or less, but not in the same configuration as before (the pocket neighborhood-style homes were too close for code). We’ll see what happens.

Nothing much to note in Lansing town. Review of the Osmica event venue and B&B will continue, as will consideration of the Lake Forest Circle subdivision renewal and the 12,000 SF commercial building proposed for North Triphammer Road just north of Franklyn Drive.

– Courtesy of the village of Trumansburg, we have a new working title for 46 South Street, formerly Hamilton Square – now it’s “Crescent Way”. PApar krief, including revised EAFs, supplements and BZA findings here. The final version has some site plan changes on the location of some townhouse string types, but the overall unit count remains the same at 73 units (17 market rate for-sale, 10 affordable for-sale, 46 affordable rentals). Approval is on the horizon, a little more than two years to the date of when the project was first introduced. The project will be built in phases, with completion not expected until 2023.

 





News Tidbits 5/4/19

4 05 2019

1. Generally speaking, when the opposition is opposed to the aesthetics rather than the purpose, then a project is in good shape for IDA approval. That looks to be the case with the Vecino Group’s Arthaus project. The 124-unit all-affordable (50-80% area median income) project at 130 Cherry Street will be seeking IDA approval for an abatement at the May meeting, after hosting its public hearing this month (minutes here). As noted by the Ithaca Times, apart from complaints about it being too big or ugly, there wasn’t much in the way of opposition to the premise of the project, which is what the IDA is more interested in. As far as the IDA is concerned, aesthetics are something to be handled by the Ithaca Planning Board; if it’s okay with the PB, then it’s okay with them. Chances are pretty good that the abatement will be granted. The abatement is worth about $3.73 million towards the $28.8 million project.

2. It may have taken two tries to get the zoning variance approved, but Habitat for Humanity is moving forward with its redevelopment and new builds at 1932 Slaterville Road in the town of Dryden. The existing 19th century farmhouse will be renovated into a four-bedroom home, a first for the local chapter. The land will be subdivided into two additional one-acre parcels for a new three-bedroom home on each lot, about 1,100 SF each. Each home will cost about $70-$75,000 to build, and the goal is to have them ready for occupancy by mid-2020.

Habitat homes are typically sold to families making under 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), or about $36,000/year. The homes would have built with a combination of professional contractors and volunteer labor, including 350+ hours of “sweat equity”, where the future homeowners actively work as members of the construction crew. In a market starved for affordable housing, every little bit helps.

3. We don’t tend to see many big commercial or industrial buildings listed for sale (if in part because there aren’t many), but it looks like the TransAct Technologies building at 20 Bomax Drive in Lansing is now for sale. Now, before anyone gets nervous, the business isn’t going anywhere; they’ve always leased the space since the building opened in 1998 and have a triple-net lease.

A triple-net lease means the tenant pays everything – insurance, maintenance and real estate taxes (formally, net insurance, net maintenance and net real estate taxes on the leased asset – the three nets).  As a result, the rent is substantially lower than it otherwise might be. It may not be all that lucrative, but the property ends up being a fairly safe investment (though with a lot of fine print to determine who pays for things like if a tornado hits or the foundation cracks), generating a modest amount of rent and functioning like an inflation-protected bond, but guaranteed by the lessee rather than the government. All the better when the tenant is stable and signed on for the long-term as TransAct has been.

For just under $6 million, the buyer gets a fairly new industrial building on 7.54 acres with 18,066 SF of office space, 55,759 SF of warehouse and manufacturing space, and the security of a long-term tenant. This will not be an exciting sale, but it’ll be interesting to see who the buyer is. Warren Real Estate is the seller’s agent, and the offering description with financial data is here.

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

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

4. A little bit of soapboxing. I’ve been seeing and getting some messages to this effect lately. First, I’ll note that the first comment is a bit disingenuous. That’s the highest-priced three-bedroom unit. To quote the range of prices from the Ithaca Times:

“Affordable in this case will include rents for people making 50-80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which means that rents for studios will be between $737 and $1180 per month, to 1,095 and 1,752 [per month] for a three-bedroom apartment, the highest price.”

Anyway, the comments tend to be to the effect of “this isn’t affordable enough, so I can’t support it”. That’s a textbook case of letting the perfect getting in the way of the good. Here is a project with 124 affordable housing units, with 40 of the units set aside for formerly homeless youth and families with on-site supportive services from TC Action. It would do a lot of good to have this project available to the community.

Honestly, the argument feels like the next evolution of the arguments against affordable housing in general. Now that it’s firmly ingrained that there is a lack of affordable housing in Tompkins County and it does negatively affect the community, the next step is to say, essentially, that nothing is good enough. From a pragmatic stadnpoint, since these projects aren’t something banks and credit unions will fully finance because of the lack of a sizable return on investment, it falls to NYS to award grants. The state will not dispense larger tax credits to make a unit drop from 60% AMI to 30% AMI, that’s up to the developer to make up the bigger financial gap. To do that, either they add in higher-priced units to compensate, or the project doesn’t happen. Which is probably the end goal for many of the complainers anyway. It’s kinda like saying you’re available for a date, but only to those who are millionaire PhDs.

Anyway, weigh each project on its merits. But set reasonable goals.

5. As reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, developer Eric Goetzmann is seeking changes to the senior housing to be included as part of the Lansing Meadows project. The primary changes are making Lansing Meadows Drive into a one-way street (thus allowing it to be slightly narrower while still able to host on-street parking), and making each duplex into a triplex – three senior housing units per string, for a total of thirty. As a result, the units will be slightly smaller, though still two-bedroom apiece. The two end units in each building will be 1252 SF with a 395 SF garage. The center unit will be 1114 SF with a 251 SF garage. The third change is that Goetzmann and his project team want to amend the approvals to allow the sale of units in the future (the initial plan still calls for market-rate rentals).

This comes with a set of issues that need to be sorted out. The project has to be complete by July 2020 as required by the village in their approval resolution. The village planning board now has to consider the proposed amendments and consider whether they constitute a major change from the approved Planned Development Area (PDA, the village’s DIY zoning). Doing so would either cause the plan to be delayed and violate the resolution, or if declined for further consideration, the resolution would likely trigger a lawsuit between the village, Goetzmann, and the county IDA, who granted an abatement to Lansing Meadows. If they say the changes are minor in the context of the PDA, then construction is expected to start as soon as the amended PDA is granted (May 13th at the earliest).

The plan is to build the northern triplexes first, and then the southern units. The planning board’s not a fan from an aesthetics perspective, but the village’s code officer that the northern half is more elevated, so this reduces stormwater risks. With construction underway and loose soil on the site, if built later the exposed northern half could result in runoff and flash flooding downhill, into the southern half and its new homes. The commercial component on the east side of the property cannot legally be built until all residential units are completed.

It’s been nine years since this project was first pitched, and most stakeholders just want to get this project out of their hair. It’s not clear when that will happen.





News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, if I make $50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.

 





News Tidbits 1/21/2019

22 01 2019

1. A quick note regarding the county’s feasibility study of a new county office building on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street on the edge between Downtown and Fall Creek – Ithaca’s HOLT Architects has been tapped to perform the analyses. The idea isn’t totally new to HOLT, who had drawn up rough ideas of a joint city-county office building as part of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s 2020 Strategy way back at the start of the decade. This process will quietly continue until the results are ready for review and discussion sometime in March.

In an off-record conversation with a county official, the topic came up of, “why not just move to one of the office buildings in the Cornell business park”, as the county Department of Health has done. This person pointed out that it would much easier to buy a building, renovate it, move in and start operations. Except for one bring problem – the suburban office park is hardly accessible, and so the choice of county occupants would be fairly limited, given the need for the county’s less well-off to be able to access the site. A location on the fringe of Ithaca’s Downtown is much more walkable and readily approachable from buses, bikes and so forth, while a Cornell business park is really only readily accessible to those coming by car or the occasional bus. So the county is willing to walk on coals and risk the ire of nearby residents in order to maintain a more accessible facility.

2. Before it was officially announced, the rumor that INHS was selected for the Immaculate Conception School had been floating around for a few weeks. Most of the city staff and officials I’ve spoken with were actually breathing something of a relief, because most of them know and trust INHS. Or rather, they trust INHS to be one of the less divisive choices out there. They’re local, they plan to have a mix of affordable housing and office space for family services-related non-profits, and they’ll be going through an open house process that will give residents a chance to help shape the project before anything goes up to the city for review.

Two details worth noting – for one, INHS does have timeline in mind for its redevelopment (new construction and renovations) to the site. It would like to have tenant occupancy by December 2021, so they’ve got three years to go from start to finish. Expect meetings this Spring and Summer, and probably a project submission by late summer for a fall planning board review and approval by the end of the year. That will give them time to start applying for and attaining affordable housing grants, and to break ground on the redevelopment sometime in 2020.

For two, the city of Ithaca intends on buying the school gymnasium on the northeast side of the parcel. The gym would be used for indoor recreation by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), which is just next door. They’re looking to pay $290,000 for the parcel. It is not clear if this was planned in conjunction with INHS, if INHS developed two separate purchase plans to accommodate that possibility, or if it simply throws a wrench into things. Generally speaking, gym access and affordable housing were the two signaled prerequisites for any city consideration of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), the DIY Zoning that would give more flexibility with site redevelopment. Regardless of PUD, I suspect renovation of the school and Catholic Charities buildings are one key redevelopment feature, and on the new construction side, the parking lot on the corner of North Plain and West Court Streets isn’t long for this world.

3. Tenant number two has been confirmed for City Centre – Collegetown Bagels will be moving from its 1,500 SF location at 201 North Aurora Street, to a 2,300 SF ground-level retail space inside the 192-unit apartment building. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, “Gregor Brous, owner and operator of Collegetown Bagels, decided to make the move after finding out the current building CTB is located in is being demolished.”

For the record, that’s a couple of years out. Visum Development does have plans for the site, which involve a mixed-use apartment building with approximately 60 units above ground-level retail. A sketch plan review was conducted back in 2015, but the plan has not undergone any formal review, and it has to undergo some redesigns anyway since they had planned to buy Jagat Sharma’s parcel at 312 East Seneca Street, and consolidate it into their project. Sharma instead sold to developer Stavros Stavropoulos, who has his own plans for a six-story building. The rumor has been that any redevelopment of the site is still a year or two away, but it is a likely prospect in the medium-term.

As for CTB, the larger space will allow them to try out some new concepts, expand their drink menu, and from the sound of it, add some alcoholic beverages to their offerings. This is not the first time they’ve looked at the Trebloc site, as they had tentatively agreed to move into State Street Triangle, had the building been approved and built.

4. Just to mention the Planning Board Agenda, for the sake of brevity, here’s the link, but not much is actually being decided on this month. Wegman’s is seeking yet another two-year extension on the 15,700 SF retail building they had approved in December 2014 (long rumored as a Wegmans-owned liquor store or a homegoods store similar to Williams-Sonoma). Amici House is seeking some signage variance approval and approval of site plan changes already made. This is likely to pass since its material color and detail changes, but because this was already done without consent and they’re going back to request consent after the fact, the board may have some harsh words. Amici House attends for its 23 studios to be available for occupancy by young, formerly homeless or otherwise vulnerable individuals by February 1st. Site plan approval is also on the agenda for the Maguire Ford Lincoln renovation and expansion. New proposals are the 200-unit mixed-use Visum affordable housing duo shared on the Voice today, and the Modern Living Rentals proposal for 815 South Aurora, which as touched on the other day, is likely to be pretty sizable.

The supplemental on the Falls Park senior housing project notes that the project is intended to qualify under Ithaca’s Green Building Policy under the “Easy Path” scoring system, and perhaps a bit disappointingly, the smokestack for Ithaca Gun, once intended for incorporation into the public space, will be coming down so that the ground beneath it can be cleaned during the remediation. However, smokestack bricks will be available as mementos for those who want them.

Heading to the ZBA will be a lot subdivision to split a double lot on Homestead Road back into two lots, the Amici House signage, and Agway’s plan to rebuild a 700 SF storage shed destroyed by fire, with a new one-story 1,400 SF structure. Zoning on its waterfront site requires two floors, but the new shed is only one floor and needs a variance.

 





News Tidbits 1/19/2019

20 01 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now onto building loan agreements:

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

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

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

 

 





News Tidbits 1/18/2019

19 01 2019

It’s been a while. Let’s start with the bad news first; projects that have been cancelled over the past month, or are on the ropes.

1. Heading over to Lansing, the Lansing Senior Cottages is dead. The project, which was developed by Beer Properties in conjunction with Hunt Engineers, had been reduced in size from the initial proposal, from 108 units to 97 units, in 84 buildings (71 single-family, 13 two-family) on about 40 acres. In order to move forward as a pocket-neighborhood housing development (houses closer together than permitted under a medium-density residential zone in the village), it would have needed a Planned Development (PDA) designation from the village of Lansing.

The Planning Board has eight criteria to establish a PDA, and felt that the project didn’t meet four of the criteria (maximum choice in ownership types and occupancy tenure, convenience in location of non-residential facilities, efficient use of land, and desirable change in environment), and was therefore insufficient to merit a PDA. Their vote to deny the PDA also killed the project, since the design isn’t possible in Lansing’s medium-density zone. The density is the legal, albeit at the maximum allowed, which in sewered areas is 20,000 SF (0.46 acres) per single-family, and 25,000 SF (0.57 acres) per two-family. But the law states they have to be on their own, non-clustered lots, with setbacks, minimum road frontage and so forth. In other words, a conventional suburban subdivision.

The site was originally approved for just such a project, the high-end, three-phase, 31-lot Millcroft development, of which only the first phase was ever platted and prepped before the Great Recession kicked in and the market for very large, very expensive homes shrank. The Bush family limited homes to 2,500 SF or greater, and with half-acre lots selling for $80,000, it was clearly geared toward high-end homes, but they lack the combination of acreage or lake views that are the usual prerequisites of Lansing’s $500k+ home sales. Well over a decade later, and the thirteen home lots still have yet to be fully built out, and interest has never been strong. Three of the four recent home sales here sold under assessment, which is a rarity in Tompkins; last year, it was less than ~6% of properties.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Millcroft land went up for sale in 2017. When the Bush family sold a purchase option to the Beers, it was taken about as well as a stick to the eye, and Millcroft Lane residents strongly opposed the 800-1,200 SF senior cottages. In theory, the remaining eighteen lots in the subdivision are still an option, or another layout could be submitted; but a developer is not legally obligated to build houses as big or expensive as the first phase if the Bush family agrees to remove the covenants, which the Beer cottages proposal shows they very are open to.

As for the Beers, it’s a shame the plan won’t move forward, as senior rentals (and senior for-sale, more crucially) are an underserved market in Tompkins County. Potentially, other locations in Lansing or elsewhere might be suitable and more open to cluster-style senior cottages, but after sinking tens of thousands into this proposal, the Beers are unlikely to submit something else in the near future.

2. A little further north in the town of Lansing, a pair of projects are struggling. The 102-unit Cayuga Orchard Apartments project is up for sale from WB Property Group of New York City, as is a 28-lot subdivision, Cayuga Way, which was intended for high-end homes. Cayuga Orchard is asking $3.1 million for the 30.5 acres and plans, though the seller has stated interest in a Joint Venture partnership if a potential buyer is interested and willing to negotiate. The ad briefly states:

“30.5 acres, now approved for 102 units, approved to tap into municipal sewer. Open to JV or to sell outright Located in prestigious town of lansing, best in class schools, 15 min from Cornell University Extremely long approval process for multifamily.”

To be fair, the town of Lansing is one of the easier municipal approval processes in Tompkins County, though an uncertain and red-tape-filled process has been cited as both a barrier to affordable housing and housing development within the county.

The Cayuga Way ad, also from WB Property Group, is for either all 28 lots or by the lot:

“All approved for 28 lot subdivision, roads/improvements are in. Best piece of land remaining in the prestigious Lansing area on “the hill.” All wooded lots. 15 minutes from Cornell University, Downtown Ithaca, and Ithaca and Lansing High Schools.”

Price on request, also called price on application (POA) can be done for several reasons – market fluctuations, a fear of influencing other properties if higher or lower than expected, and more questionably, a chance to size up buyers to see how much they can afford. Presumably, a buyer seeking 1500 SF homes here wouldn’t want to pay as much as someone thinking 3000 SF. Joint ventures are also being considered for this project.

For a town hoping to develop its way out of the continued decrease and likely loss of what was once its largest taxpayer, this isn’t good news. But we’ll see if a partner or buyer comes along.

3. This one was a bit surprising. The Dryden town Zoning Board of Appeals shot down a 3-lot subdivision at 1932 Slaterville Road. The plan was for Habitat for Humanity to buy the property, create two more lots and renovate the existing dilapidated 150 year-old farm house, all three of which would have been sold to qualified low-income families who put in the “sweat equity” to help build and renovate.The variance was needed for a flag lot, because with the land acquisition and renovation costs, the project only penned out financially with two more lots.

On paper, that actually seems like a slam dunk. I thought it would be smooth sailing after Dryden’s Planning Board, which is advisory but tends to be less pro-development than Dryden’s other board, had recommended the variance be approved; in fact, David Weinstein, one of the planning board’s most stringent members, was very supportive, citing the desperate need for affordable housing and feeling its 1-acre per lot density was appropriate for the area. But then the Zoning Board of Appeals runs out with this:

It’s like they’re talking about two totally different proposals. I’d also like to point out that describing affordable owner-occupied housing as “there would be an undesirable change of the neighborhood, which is not in the character of the neighborhood, and could possibly have detriment to the neighborhood” is a really tasteless and poor choice of words.

With the denial of the variance, the project is dead. That’s unfortunate for Habitat, who due to logistical difficulties had to cancel their previous project for four townhomes at 402 South Cayuga Street. As for the $40,000 they were due to receive from the joint Cornell-city-count Community Housing Development Fund, it will go unused.

 

4. Emmy’s Organics is not moving forward with their Cherry Street project. The plan ran into trouble when initial geotechnical studies found that the soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building, and not even stable enough to support a parking lot. The IURA hired a second geotechnical engineering firm (John P. Stopen Engineering) for $5,000, which found that it would be possible to build, but only if the top three feet of soil were removed, which would raise the project cost. The IURA was willing to consider a larger loan, but Emmy’s decided the project, which was on a tight timeline, was simply no longer feasible. The owners are now looking to build elsewhere, so not only is the $1.4 million project and its 5-10 new jobs are lost, it’s not clear where the firm will move and what’s going to happen with their existing 19 mostly living-wage jobs. It also puts the IURA in a spot because the undeveloped remainder of Cherry Street just became a lot less desirable for smaller light industrial projects like this one.

The project was to use $175,000 in NYS-administered Community Block Development Grant Funds (CDGF) for job creation for low and moderate-income households. These funds have to be allocated by the city by March 31st, or they have to be returned to the state. In a rush to use them before they lose them, the IURA is proposed to shift $49,000 towards lighting improvements in Titus Park, and $126,000 towards $290,000 in acquisition costs to buy the 9,100 SF Immaculate Conception gymnasium from the Catholic Diocese, for use in indoor recreation and presumably as part of the sale of the rest of the property to INHS. The IURA is not totally sure if either use qualifies for the funds, but they’re in a rush to find alternatives before the state takes the money back.