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.

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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)





Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 11/2017

26 11 2017

For this blog’s practical purposes, Poet’s Landing Phase II is complete. At least one of the six eight-unit buildings is occupied, but perhaps only one – a woman arrived while the photos were being taken and was moving chairs out of her car. To ward off the emails pointing out its an Audi – its a 15-year old Audi, and as my buy-American family of mechanics happily relay, older Audis depreciate like stones in a pond thanks to shoddy electrical systems and high repair costs.

Even the youngest buildings in the second phase have been completed from the outside, and appear to be undergoing finish work in the interior. The last of the sidewalks are being poured and much of the lawn has grown in. With the fire-damaged building in phase one, the rebuilt units are missing some of their trim boards and architectural details (railings/column covers), but are likely to be finished before the end of the year. The inquiry page for rentals is here.

The affordable housing is much welcomed given the county’s housing woes, although a location closer to the urban core would be preferable given proximity to jobs and services. At least the site is walkable to the village. Kudos to Conifer Realty and LeChase Construction. The ceremonial opening is November 29th.





210 Hancock Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

One last walk around the block. It looks like only minor exterior finishes and landscaping/playground and basketball hoop installations left. TCAction’s daycare center has been dedicated the “Sally G. Dullea Childcare Center”, in honor of Sally Dullea, a longtime Ithacan and retired M&T Vice President who led TCAction’s Board of Trustees. Next door, The balance of the first-floor commercial space for a “Free Science Workshop”, which is a part of the Ithaca Branch of the Physics Factory, non-profit exhibition program that engages children with science. The “Physics Bus” in the parking lot is the mobile exhibit.

It also appears that either the multi-use path or the project itself has been dedicated to outgoing INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella. Not a bad way to say thanks after 27 years of service. As for his replacement, Johanna Anderson, best of luck, and I look forward to being a constructive nuisance.

It’s never been a secret that I was an advocate for this project, given the clear need for affordable housing, and the transparency and responsiveness of the project team during early planning. I continue to hold the project in high regard. It is a real improvement over the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store that was once here. It helps to fill a crucial deficit in a well-thought out, contextual, urban-friendly package. While walking around, I saw a young woman moving furniture into an apartment, a man and his son heading into one of the homes, and an older gentleman walking a dog. I think that, as the dust settles, it’ll blend seamlessly into Northside’s urban fabric, and be a worthy asset of the Ithaca community.

Before (image courtesy of Jason Henderson of Ithaca Builds):

After:






Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 9/2017

1 10 2017

It looks like the first units are coming onto the market. Conifer Realty has the application up for the first apartments, as do third-party websites like apartments.com. Oddly enough, the apartment.com listing says 16 3-bedroom, 16 2-bedroom and 16 1-bedroom units. This is incorrect. There are 8 3-bedroom, 16 2-bedroom, and 24 1-bedroom units. One can tell from sight alone because Conifer uses the same three building plans in all of its suburban apartment clusters. One design consists of eight 3-bedroom units, the second design is eight two-bedroom units, and the last design is eight one-bedroom units. For units on each floor, mirroring each other in layout. Keeps things simple and materials costs down.

Keeping with the blog-only nomenclature, buildings “A” and “B”, the two that are basically complete from the outside, are the one bedroom-units. “C”, “D” and “E”, which are receiving exterior lighting rigs, trim and architectural features like balconies and patios, are the 2-bedroom clusters. Building “F”, which is still at the housewrap stage and the building that is least furthest along, is the three-bedroom cluster. For proof, consider the building that was badly damaged in this summer’s fire – it was reported that 31 people were left homeless. That would most likely imply it was the three-bedroom design, which would have 24 bedrooms.

The general rule of thumb is one person for bedroom for basic planning purposes. Affordable housing family units, for whom these three-bedroom apartments are intended, may average more than that because of income guidelines, and that two adults or multiple children may share a bedroom. Likewise, on the other end of the scale, properties with empty nesters or more affluent owners/renters may have numbers average less than one person per bedroom due to guest bedrooms, or conversion of bedrooms to home offices or hobby rooms. Owner-occupied single family homes often fall in this category, where the typical home is three bedrooms, but the average owner-occupied household size is 2.5. There are a number of companies dedicated to studying the number of people likely to live in a unit based off its location, size and intended market, and applying those figures to calculations like the number of students expected to be added to a district, or the number of car trips generated.

Curbing has been laid, the parking lot is paved and striped, streetlamps are in place and the concrete sidewalk is being poured. The process to build sidewalks is pretty similar to the work for foundations – excavate the path, build the formwork to keep the concrete in place as it cures, lay down some steel rebar to provide additional strength to the concrete, pour, level and smooth, and run a finishing trowel to create an edge so that the concrete has an expansion joint to help expand and contract without cracking the sidewalk. The steel plugs are to keep the forms in place.

The building that was damaged by fire is under reconstruction. The east wing was destroyed by the flames and was torn down. The only thing being reused for those four units is the slab foundation. The four west wing units were salvageable, but they did need an extensive renovation. Damaged trim and siding sections will be replaced, and on the inside, drywall damaged by water has been removed and new sheets are being hung. It looks like some of the appliances were saved; peering through the windows, a refrigerator was sitting in the middle of the floor in an upstairs unit. Closer to the fire, it’s more of a gur renovation, with only portions of the exterior salvaged, while the inside is replaced from the stud walls out. Taking a guess for the typical construction length of units so far, the renovated and rebuilt units probably won’t be ready for tenants for another five to six months.

According to the advertisement on Conifer’s website, amenities and feature include

Dishwasher
Garbage disposal
Wall to wall carpeting
Patio or balcony available
Walk-in closets
Discounted cable package
Central air conditioning
Smart card laundry center
Fully equipped Fitness room
Computer lab
Clubhouse with great room
Controlled building access
Key fob hardware
Professional on-site management
24 hour maintenance
Ample parking
Beautifully landscaped grounds
Accessible for people with disabilities
Close to shopping, schools & medical facilities

1-bedroom units are 716 SF, 2-bedroom units are 950 SF, and 3-bedroom units are 1,150 SF. Lease are 12 months with a month’s rent as security deposit. Three units will be adapted for mobility-impaired residents, and a fourth unit will be adapted to individuals who are hearing or vision-impaired.

According to a filing with the state as part of the grant application, the gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $724 to $1,070 a month, to be occupied by households with incomes 50% to 60% of area median income.

2017 AMI in Tompkins County is $53,000 for a single person, and $60,500 for a two-person household, and $68,100 for a three-person household. Therefore, the income limits are $26,500-$31,800 for a single person, $30,250-$36,300 for a two-person household, and $34,050-$40,860 for a three-person household.

Conifer and contractor partner LeChase Construction will be delivering the $10.8 million project over the next few months, and that should wrap up Conifer’s Ithaca work for the time being. The programmatically similar Milton Meadows project in Lansing is being developed by a competitor, Cornerstone Group. The two firms’ Rochester headquarters are about six miles apart; their apartment projects are about twelve miles apart.





News Tidbits 9/23/17: It’s All In The Hips

23 09 2017

1. Points for being open and blunt, one supposes. The chairman of the town of Lansing Planning Board, typically one of the easiest boards to get approval from in the whole county, voted against the customary declaration of lead agency on the Lansing Trails affordable apartment complex planned for the town center. The reasoning was a fear that its lower-income occupants would create more crime. Rather surprising that it wasn’t veiled behind the usual guise of “concerns about neighborhood character”.

Other PB members did raise more appropriate concerns that the 581-a tax abatement to be pursued by the project may end up offsetting the property tax increase enough to cost the town, mostly through the enrollment of new students in the Lansing school district. A third-party study explained that there would likely be 43 students in the roughly 200-bedroom complex, of whom 14 would be relocations from other parts of town, and 29 who would be new to the district. Reflecting national demographic trends, local school enrollments have been in decline as Millennials are replaced with their less numerous Gen Z peers, so it’s not really a question of capacity since the schools were designed for larger class sizes, but a concern about the tax obligations and avoiding the burdening of other taxpayers. Town supervisor Ed LaVigne has spoken in favor of the project as workforce housing by a responsible developer and property manager.

The Star’s Dan Veaner takes the middle road in his editorial, noting the project fills a need, but worried about the tax impact. I’d argue that’s while it’s a fair question, it’s probably a bit premature. There have been discussions for the other parcels in the town center that just have yet to come forward. Tiny Timbers is potentially 60 units of mid-priced owner-occupied housing (at $200k per home, that would be $12 million without counting site-wide improvements like sidewalks and community greenspace), and there are possibilities for the other parcels that are being drafted up and fleshed out before being made public. We the public don’t know what those are – there could be market-rate senior housing, patio homes and mixed-uses like the projects submitted in 2014. If three or four are affordable housing, sure, be concerned. But the town knows all the proposals, and hopefully its committee selected its choices for each lot with sound logic in mind.

2. Speaking of Lansing Trails, according to the new planning board comments, its name has been changed to “Milton Meadows”. Milton was actually the original name for Lansing, indirectly – Milton was changed to Genoa in 1808, and Lansing was split off from Genoa in 1817, the same year Tompkins County was established. It’s worth noting that “Lansing Meadows” is already taken. This would be name number three, since they had previously changed Lansing Commons to Lansing Trails.

The updated documents note that the second phase and its 56 units aren’t likely to start construction for 3-5 years, depending on external factors such as the availability of affordable housing grants, and how well the local market absorbs phase one.

3. Staying on the topic of affordable housing and taxes, the town of Ithaca will be reviewing a PILOT proposal from NRP Group to offset some of the property taxes with the Ithaca Townhouses project approved for West Hill near the hospital. Readers may recall the Ithaca Townhouses are a 106-unit, two-phase project that will be rented to households making 50-130% of area median income, with an option for renters to purchase units after a 15-year period.NRP Group is asking for the PILOT to offset the higher initial cost of using electric heat pumps in place of conventional gas heating, the difference of which they estimate to be about $300,000 upfront.

The town utilizes a few PILOT agreements, either with some of its 55+ affordable housing (Ellis Hollow Apartments, Conifer Village), the College Circle Apartments that Ithaca College purchased a few years ago, and Ithaca Beer. The combination of a lower assessed value and a PILOT generally seems to take about 25-30% off the total property tax bill.

4. Here’s a little more info on the the proposed Brown Road Pocket Neighborhood in Danby. The above image appears to be the preferred cluster housing that the development team (led by Newfield businessman Mike McLaughlin), but conventional zoning only allows for the layout shown here. Small-scale cluster zoning has found a market in the Ithaca area over the past few years with projects like New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood and the long-planned Amabel project, and Danby’s take on the concept would benefit from lower land costs, which would help keep the overall costs down and make the for-sale homes available to a wider swath of the county’s potential homeowners. The homes, which are modest 1,000 SF one and two-story plans that share a communal parking lot, are designed for residents who wish to age in place.

5. Some revisions have been made to the design of Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit townhouse project at 802 Dryden. To create a little more visual interest, the townhouse strings have been diversified a bit – the rooflines were modified on two of the six strings to create a hipped roof, while the other four remain gable roofs. The fenestration was also updated, and sections of the building faces were bumped-out modestly, distinguishing individual units within the strings. The overall effect gives them a distinct appearance from their counterparts up the road at 902 Dryden, and allows the team at John Snyder Architects to give the recycled design their personal touch. Other documents, like the cover letter, utilities plan, and landscaping plan can be found here.

The public hearing is scheduled for next week, but to be honest, these haven’t generated much attention, let alone controversy. The biggest issue right now is water supply, which relies on the Bolton Point system shared by both Ithaca and parts of Dryden. 802 Dryden can get its water issue remedied by tapping a segment in the town of Ithaca’s jurisdiction, and Ithaca is interested in transfer control and maintenance of the control valve that allows that to Dryden. Given Charlie O’Connor’s South Hill debate currently underway, the relative shrug this project has received from the public might be a welcome relief.

6. Nothing new on the Ithaca City Planning Board agenda next week. That’s not to say there aren’t several projects in the works, they just aren’t ready to submit formal proposals at this time. Lakeview’s special needs and affordable housing is up for approval, as is Charlie O’Connor’s duplex at 217 Columbia (even if the South Hill overlay goes into effect, this project would be grandfathered in because it started review under existing zoning). It looks like Lakeview will use the same kind of vibratory pile-driving used at INHS’s 210 Hancock, subcontracted to Ferraro Pile and Shoring by general contractor Hayner Hoyt.

Speaking of INHS, they will be taking part in the public hearing for their 13-unit Elm Street reconstruction on West Hill, and public hearings are planned for the Nines replacement at 311 College, and Elizabaeth Classen’s ILPC-approved 16-bedroom senior mansion in Cornell Heights. The Nines inspired several letters of protest, and first ward aldermen George McGonigal chimed in his hopes that the affordable housing would be reduced for Lakeview and INHS (the planning board disagrees).

Here’s what the board has to look forward to on Tuesday:

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

  1. Agenda Review 6:00
  2. Special Order of Business- Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown and Downtown– Megan Wilson 6:01
  3. Privilege of the Floor 6:30
  4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:40

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will contain sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ-1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1) (k) and (n), and the State
Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Elm St Apartments 7:10

Location: 203-211 Elm St

Applicant:Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:
The proposed project consists of the demolition of a two single family homes and one duplex and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: Duplex 7:30

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to install a duplex with one 3- bedroom apartment on each floor. The
new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Apartments 7:50

Location: 311 College Ave (The Nines)

Applicant: Jagat P Sharma for Todd Fox

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a six story, 80’ high building plus basement. The first floor will have an approximately 825 SF commercial space and five studio apartments, upper floors will have a combination of 21 studio and 24 loft apartments for a total of 45 dwelling units. The applicant’s intended market is students. Project development will require the removal/ demolition of the existing structure and all associated site features. The existing building incorporates the original Number Nine Fire Station and was identified as a structure worthy of further research in a 2009 study titled Collegetown Historic Resources Worthy or Detailed Research; Icons of Collegetown, Individual Buildings, Architectural Ensembles and Landscape Features. The project is in the MU-2 Collegetown Area Form District (CAFD) and requires Design Review. 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) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Bridges Cornell Heights Residence (Senior Housing) 8:10

Location: 105 Dearborn Place

Applicant: Elizabeth Classen Ambrose

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a two story single family residence with 12 bedrooms
to house up to 16 people on the .446 acre lot. The building will have a footprint of approximately 4,150 SF, including porches. Site improvements include a porte couchere, a driveway and parking area for nine cars, three patios, walkways and landscaping plantings. The site is currently vacant. Site development will require the removal of approximately 25 trees of various sizes. The applicant is proposing to use the Landscape Compliance method, which requires Planning Board approval for placement of the parking area. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District and the Cornell Heights Local Historic District and has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC). This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)(4) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

4. Zoning Appeals 8:30

5. Old/New Business 8:40
A. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 411-415
College Avenue- The Chacona Block
B. Upcoming Planning Board Recommendation to Approve Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown &
Downtown – discussion