News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





News Tidbits 7/30/16: The Unfortunate Surprise

30 07 2016

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1. Pretty much everyone was caught off guard by the planning board’s decision to send 201 College Avenue to the Board of Zoning Appeals on a previously-undiscussed zoning technicality. The issue has to deal with facade height in connection to the length of a continuous wall – the argument being pushed by board member John Schroeder is that, since there are primary walls on College Avenue and Bool Street, the H-shaped proposal isn’t technically valid and the deep indentation actually has to be two separate buildings, one slightly shorter than the other since the site is on a slope. This was the subject of a prolonged and heated debate, since the code’s pretty ambiguous in that regard, and (as shown below) the design elements shown in the form district booklet demonstrate buildings with architectural indents/setbacks.

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If recollection serves correctly, something similar came up in a previous discussion two years ago with 327 Eddy Street. The project fills the entirety of a sloped lot, but there was a hazy interpretation regarding one’s definition of floors and height where one could have called it 8 floors, so it had to be clarified and it became the average proposed height for cases with a sloped parcel. In this instance, there was one primary wall, on Eddy Street, which is why there’s just enough wiggle room left that a clarification request, however targeted it may be, is legally valid. The board agreed 4-3 to let the BZA issue a determination on 201 College, which could come anywhere from August 23rd to September 6th. That means a late September approval is maybe the best bet. That’s probably too late for an August 2017 opening, so whether or not the project would move forward (which could be immediately or in summer 2017 for a 2018 opening) if given approval is another question.

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There is one other thing that is worrying from an impartiality standpoint. John Schroeder and Neil Golder served together as Collegetown’s Common Council reps in the 1990s. Although Schroeder’s not the biggest fan of Collegetown development, he hasn’t raised this much of a concern over other projects, and Neil has been very, very active in his outreach. There could be an argument that he should have recused himself from the decision-making process, or at least have formally acknowledged his longstanding professional relationship with the project’s primary opponent.

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2. Also from the Planning Board meeting, further discussion of the Trebloc project. Those following the IJ’s Nick Reynolds’ Twitter know that there was some talk about big changes with a lot of wonk talk, and this is what it has to do with. My thanks to my colleague Mike Smith for his notes.

Basically, Newman Development is floating a few different approaches to the site layout. One calls for a plaza area on State Street (the “accordion” approach”), one calls for green space (the “courtyard” approach), and the third actually breaks it up into two separate buildings. In these theoretical layouts, the square footage and number of units is kept roughly equal. All three also keep at least some emphasis on the corner facing the Commons, because that’s where the concentration of activity is, and that’s what’s going to appeal the most to first-floor retail/commercial tenants.

Each approach comes with pros and cons. The “accordion” approach opens up the sidewalk, but it opens away from the Commons (i.e. not appealing to pedestrians or retailers) and makes unit design tricky. The “courtyard” approach has public-ish green space, but it would be in unappealing, constant shadow – even if the building were just a few floors, the low angle of the sun in the cooler part of the year would keep light from reaching the courtyard. The two building approach offers an alley that could be interesting, but would likely not see much use since there’s very little activity towards that block of Green Street. Given the flaws in each, the inclination is to stay with the current “fish hook” shape, but the developers wanted to hear the planning board’s thought before committing to a layout.

Planning Board responses ran the gamut. A few members supported the State courtyard option, or stepping back the portion on State Street but building taller portions on Green if there’s a need to compensate (zoning’s 120 feet, so there’s perhaps two floors they could feasibly do that with, like an 11-story/9-story/7-story step down, without having to make a trip to the BZA and throwing additional, funding-jeopardizing uncertainty in there). One board member asked about a courtyard on the roof. The project will be pursuing tax abatements, with the hope that with those, density and smaller units, they can appeal to the middle of the rental market.

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3. Thanks to Dan Veaner over at the Lansing Star, here’s a render and a site plan for the proposed Lansing Apartments / Parkgrove Apartments project for Bomax Drive in the village. The 19.46-acre property is currently owned by Cornell and is zoned to be part of its office/tech park. James Fahy Design Associates of Rochester is doing the design for the proposed 14-building, 140 unit project, and Park Grove LLC of Rochester is the developer, in tandem with retired Cornell Real Estate director and Lansing resident Tom Livigne.

According to the Star, “1,000 square foot one-bedroom apartments are anticipated to rent in the $1,300 to $1,400 range,  1,350 to 1,400 square foot two-bedroom apartments at around $1,600 to $1,700, and three-bedroom apartments up to 1,400 square feet would rent between $1,800 and $1,900.” The village of Lansing has to approve a zoning change from business to high-density residential in order for the project to move forward.

It’s a very auto-centric, premium-middle market project. For an area concerned about affordability and trying to move towards walkability and traditional neighborhoods, this really doesn’t seem like the most appropriate plan. It’s nothing against Livigne and Park Grove LLC, but I’m very critical of these kind of projects for just those reasons.

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4. It’s been a while since it’s last been discussed, but the 31-unit Amabel Project by New Earth Living’s Sue Cosentini has been approved by the state attorney general to start marketing units. According to a December presentation, the net-zero homes will range from 1600-2100 SF and market in the $385,000-$425,000 range. While that is a rather high price range, some of that cost would be paid off via energy savings, which could be up to a few thousand dollars per year compared to comparably-sized and priced older homes on the market, and other possible savings exist with water recycling and low-maintenance exterior materials. So the sales pitch becomes something of acknowledging the high up-front costs, but explaining the long-term savings.


5. The first of two state funding grants to not this week. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has received a $1 million grant for a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus, which if these notes are correct, is actually two facilities, and this new one will be built adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created.

Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

6. Also in state grants, Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport received $619,935 to build a flight academy building for the East Hill Flying Club. The new facility is expected to be built in the next 2 to 3 years. When the EHFC has moved in to their new digs, the existing hangar will be offered up to rent to other tenants. The new building will offer more instructional space, the ability to engage in training for twin-engine aircraft, and what the flying academy née club hopes will include state-of-the-art flying simulators.





News Tidbits 12/19/15: So New Even the Pavement Shines

19 12 2015

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1. We’ll start off this week with some eye candy. Over in Lansing village, the planning board is hammering out details regarding signage and covenants related to the Cinema Drive senior housing project. But it also gives the project a new name – from C.U. Suites to “Cayuga View Senior Living“. Lo and behold, one types that into Google and up comes the following partially-finished website. The name sounded familiar, and as it turns out there’s a good reason for that – Cayuga View is also the name of a portion of the Linderman Creek apartment complex in the town of Ithaca.

According to the website, the 55+ (“55 and BETTER”, as they tout on the page) apartment building at 50 Cinema Drive will contain 48 2-bedroom units and 12 1-bedroom units with four different four plans. The 4-story apartment building will have retail space on the first floor, “and will offer underground parking and storage, wireless internet, cable, business center, fitness center, rooftop garden, and scenic views. A companion dog or cat under 30 pounds will be allowed.”

No word on the project architect, but the project is being developed by the Thaler family, and Taylor the Builders out of suburban Rochester is the general contractor. The site was originally conceived as an office building several years ago, and then around 2012 it was proposed as a 39-unit mixed-use apartment building with an eye towards graduate students.

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2. Sticking with residential development and fancy renders, here’s the latest render for New Earth Living LLC’s Amabel housing development, courtesy of their Facebook page. Final approval was granted just this week by the town of Ithaca. The 31-unit eco-friendly housing development (consisting of one standing farmhouse and 30 new homes facing inward from a loop road) will be located on undeveloped grass/woodland behind 619 Five Mile Drive. In the project literature, the site is said to be designed around a “pocket neighborhood” concept, with the houses facing towards each other for interaction, and away from the street for privacy. The houses may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but are designed for net-zero efficiency. Houses range from 1-3 bedrooms and 1,200-2,100 SF. No specific prices yet, but expect marketing to begin sometime early next year.

3. For the aspiring developer who wants to get a head start on planning – the 11.71 acre Bella Vista site at 901-999 Cliff Street in the city’s West Hill neighborhood is for sale for $395,000. As the advertisement on Homefinder notes, the project has received approvals for a 44-unit apartment or condo building (what it doesn’t say is that those would have to be renewed via a reaffirming vote by the planning board, since the project was approved more than two years ago). The property is currently assessed for $210,000.

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Primary Developers Inc., a company founded by local businessman Mauro Marinelli, purchased the land for $175,000 in 2002 and received approvals for the 44-unit Bella Vista project in 2007, and the units were marketed by local realtors as condominiums. But as the recession set in, sales foundered and the project never moved forward. Primary Developers Inc. sold the medical office building on the adjacent southern parcel and two other neighboring parcels of land to another local real estate company for $945,000 earlier this year.

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4. Some minor tweaks to the Chapter House project since its November sketch plan presentation to the Ithaca city planning board, which looks to mostly be a slightly lighter brick color and a little more detail on the rear wall. From top to bottom, the Chapter House reconstruction proposes Rheinzink zinc shingles, white trim of unknown material, a Redland Brick Heritage SWB bricks, Inspire Roofing Aldeora Slate Coachman (790) simulated slate shingles over the first floor bump-out, SDL (Simulated Divided Lites) transom windows with LePage Morocco textured glass glazing over the picture windows, Sherwin Williams “Tricorn Black” paint on the Chapter House bar exterior trim, and genuine bluestone not unlike the famous Llenroc bluestone used in many of Ithaca’s historic buildings. As far as they look online, they appear to be attractive, premium finishes.

The owner, Sebastian Mascaro of Florida and represented by Jerry Dietz of CSP Management, hopes to start construction in late January or early February for an August 2016 opening.

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5. Note that there was ever much doubt, but it looks like local developers John Novarr and Philip Proujansky have secured the construction loan(s) needed to build 209-215 Dryden Road in Collegetown, a six-story academic and office building in which Cornell has committed to occupy 100% of the space for use in its Executive MBA program. According to loan documents filed with the county, there were two loans, one for $6,482,295.33 and the other for $9,430,528 (for a total of $15,912,823.33). Wells Fargo Northwest was the lender, and it looks like some of the funds are going through a “pass-through” trust.

The 73,000 SF building will host about 420 Cornell MBA students and staff when it opens in late Spring 2017, later increasing to 600 as Cornell fills out the rest of the square footage. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse will be the general contractor. Ikon.5 of Princeton is the project architect.

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6. Going to do a double-feature for house of the week this week, mostly because I have a backlog of images. Here’s number one.

The last house is underway at the Belle Sherman Cottages. After not hearing anything about it, I had presumed they had just decided not to build Lot #9, which is smaller than the other lots and was going to have a unique “cottage” design. Well, color me surprised. The town of Ithaca issued a permit in early November, and by the 5th of this month, the CMU block foundation was excavated and poured. Looking at builder Carina Construction’s facebook page, the modular units have since arrived and have been hoisted onto the foundation, assembled and secured. Custom interior finishes, porch framing, siding, backfilling and landscaping will follow as the house moves towards completion.

No renders for the finished house, unfortunately, although I suppose STREAM Collaborative might have something on file. Agora Home LLC of Skaneateles is the developer of the Belle Sherman Cottages, which includes 18 other single-family homes and 10 townhouses, all of which have been completed and sold.

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7. Now for House of the Week #2. 424 Dryden Road’s subdivision earlier this year turned the rear parking lot into a second lot, and the owners, William and Angie Chen of Lansing, decided to build a duplex on the land, which has been bestowed the address of 319 Oak Avenue.

It seems a little odd that the trim already seems to be applied to the house when the windows haven’t been fitted yet. The standard Huber ZIP System sheathing is being covered with a mahogany-colored vinyl siding. Wooden wall studs can be seen from the rough window openings and there appears to be electrical wiring on the rear of the house, so it’s a fair guess that utilities rough-ins are probably underway.

Local architect Daniel R. Hirtler of Flatfield Designs penned the design, and according to the construction loan agreement on file with the county, Tompkins Trust Company lent the Chens $400,000 to help bring their duplex from the drawing board to reality.

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8. For those hoping for something new and exciting in next week’s Planning Board agenda, it’s going to be a downer month. Here’s what’s planned.

A. Revisions to the internal sidewalk plans at 804 East State Street to allow stripped asphalt vs. concrete.
B. Tweaks to the signage for the downtown Marriott currently under construction.
C. The “Printing Press” bar debate at 416-18 E. State Street, again.
D. Final approval for Tompkins Financial Corporation’s new HQ.

The agenda also includes a couple zoning variance reviews for house additions at 105 First Street in North Side, and 116 West Falls Street in Fall Creek. The board is planning a joint meeting with the ILPC to review and comment on the Travis Hyde plan for the Old Library site, tentatively scheduled for January 12th.





News Tidbits 10/17/15: Pressing the Issue

17 10 2015

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1. It looks like the Amabel housing development has another site plan. New pedestrian paths, a relocated community garden, and some substantial tweaks to the layout of the house, including a small access road for three homes near the southern termination of the loop road with Five Mile Drive (older plans here).

Marketing for the project hasn’t officially started, but New Earth Living LLC’s (Susan Cosentini’s) website does have interior renders for one of the proposed house styles, as well as an informational PDF. Plans call for Net-Zero energy efficiency homes, meaning that the amount of energy generated on site will power all the project’s energy needs. Example homes included in the PDF range from 1,184 SF to 2,083 SF – it looks like there will be four home models with alternate configuration options. Prices have yet to be announced.

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The Amabel project, proposed for 619 Five Mile Drive just southwest of the city of Ithaca’s boundary line, has been in the works for the past couple of years, a sort of grand follow-up to New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood in Fall Creek. The project will have about 30 single-family homes at full build-out.

I know some of the more pessimistic readers here may call this suburban sprawl with a green sheen, but it’s a lot better than a cul-de-sac.

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2. The village of Lansing sent off their updated Comprehensive Plan to the county planning department this week for review and approval. Now, planning should be the village’s forte, since the village of Lansing was founded in the 1970s as a backlash against the construction of commercial and residential properties along Triphammer and Route 13, including what’s now The Shops at Ithaca Mall. The plan was last updated in 2005, and draft of the new plan can be found here.

The village seems to note with some distress that although population growth has slowed, traffic has continued to increase (due in large part to significant growth in Lansing town; many town residents pass through the village to get to employment centers in Ithaca). North Triphammer Road has already been widened, but there are concerns about the ability of infrastructure to handle further traffic increases. The village also notes a strong rise in the 55+ population, as well as the same affordable housing issues that plague Ithaca and much of the county; in Lansing’s case, the median household income can afford a $171,000 home by their estimate (2.5 x $54,721 = $136,800 qualifying mortgage, + 20% down-payment), but the average house in Lansing costs $258,000 (affordable to a household making ~$82,500; note all the numbers are 2010 values). The plan also shows that fair market rent in Lansing increased 64.1% from 2005-2015, meaning that unless a renter had an annual wage increase of 5.8%, they paid more of their income towards housing year after year.  29.4% of homeowners and 39.1% of renters pay above the HUD’s 30% of total income threshold for affordability. The village is concerned it will price aged residents right out of their homes.

In an effort to combat the growing problem, the village wants to focus new housing along main thoroughfares with easy bus access and bike infrastructure, and is aiming for smaller homes and apartments geared towards aging-in-place and senior communities. The village notes that 500 to 600 units of housing could potentially be developed over the next few decades (note Lansing averages ~10 units per year), mostly on the large, low-density home lots near the lake. These would almost certainly be geared towards the highest income brackets, but the benefit of greater supply might relieve pressure on other homes.

On the business end, the village would also like to encourage Cornell to relocate back-office and research operations to village sites. There’s also a push for senior-oriented businesses and a possible rethinking of the malls, not an uncommon thought in this age where malls are struggling and dying off.

There are arguably two senior developments planned that already fit their “want” category – the 12 senior units planned for the Lansing Meadows PDA (the ones planned next to BJ’s on Oakcrest Road), and 62 senior units for the CU Suites site on Cinema Drive (photo from last week above). Other residential growth will be fairly “organic”, with new homes built at the whim of owners and mom-and-pop builders. A new commercial medium-traffic zone along Hickory Hollow Drive might open some more business opportunities; as for Cornell, they seem to be more focused on their East Hill Village plans, but research park tenants are always a possibility.

The village plans to update its comprehensive plan again by 2025.

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3. On the topic of plans, here’s a progress report just released by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency regarding its five-year plan.

If you wanted another reason why housing in Ithaca is so expensive, the plan alludes to it here:

“A spike in local construction costs has delayed the start of construction on a planned four-unit first-time homebuyer project and a public facilities project that will improve a public recreational area. We anticipate these projects moving forward once they have been able to close their funding gaps.”

The four-unit homebuyer project is the townhouse project planned by INHS for 402 South Cayuga Street (shown above). INHS director Paul Mazzarella said the project was due to receive bids last month, and if they were within INHS’s budget, it would start construction. It hasn’t started.

Ithaca’s a small labor pool, so you either truck in labor from elsewhere and incur the wrath of construction unions, or you go local and pay a premium. But even then, with the relative burst in activity as of late, the local pool is getting tapped out and that’s driving prices up. Non-profits like INHS don’t have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets, and city government just won’t build if they can’t get affordable bids for infrastructure work. It also impacts programs that provide low-cost home repairs to those with low and fixed-incomes, because those low-cost repairs are no longer low-cost, and fewer people are able to be served.

One could one look at this as either a reason to limit approvals (which the construction trade unions are opposed to) or introducing more out-of-town labor to the market (which the trade unions are also opposed to). Stuck between two metaphorical rocks.

So long story short, in a region where the cost of housing is climbing dangerously fast, the city has a lot of work left to do meeting its affordability goals, with many actions/programs falling well short of annual numbers needed to meet the 5-year goal statistics. Hopefully some progress will be made in the upcoming year.

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4. The mayor has dealt State Street Triangle a serious blow by announcing his opposition to the State Street Triangle, first reported on his facebook page and picked up by every news outlet in town, Svante Myrick cited the student housing focus and massing concerns for his opposition (he explicitly stated the height, 11 stories and 116 feet, was appropriate for its location, the 300 block of East State Street in the heart of downtown Ithaca). This is a big setback because apart from his social influence, the mayor sits on the county IDA, which is the governing body that votes on tax abatements.

A couple of the outlets have reached out to Campus Advantage, which is busy trying to formulate a response. They’ve hired a PR firm for whenever they’re ready. It could be the end of the project, it could still go on, it could be drastically altered. The chips have been tossed into the air, let them fall where they may.

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5. House of the week. This week, a trip out to Maple Ridge in Dryden. Maple Ridge is a housing development within the village that had the unfortunate luck of launching right before the Great Recession. After struggling, it’s been picking up in the past couple of years with five houses built since 2013. This modular home is the “Cayuga Lake” model offered by American Homes in Dryden. The pieces have been assembled and fastened together on top of the poured foundation, and some finish work has started. The uncapped foundation section is most likely a future garage. Modular homes tend to move through construction pretty quick, and this one will likely be finished in time for the holidays.

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6. The county and city hosted a meeting discussing possible waterfront re-development plans for the NYS DOT site on Thursday night. Three plans were presented, two mixed-use commercial and residential, and a third that the Journal describes as just being “hotel”, but given the 7.66 acres on site, is probably mixed-use with a hotel component.

The third option is a little bit of a throwback because the city long-saw the waterfront as prime for a hotel. But the market has shifted towards downtown and Route 13, and with the market adding new hotels at a pretty good clip over the next few years (Marriott, Canopy, Holiday Inn Express), a hotel in that area is pretty unlikely. Local lawyer/developer Steve Flash proposed a five-story hotel on Inlet Island in 2007, but in the days before the waterfront zoning allowed five floors, the project was opposed and shelved.

An initial cost of the move is being pegged at $14 million, but it isn’t clear if a potential buyer would pay that directly, or the county/city, who then get reimbursed by a buyer. $14 million is quite an amount, but given the site’s potential, it’s feasible (but don’t expect any outside-the-box thinking; a developer will want to minimize risk since they have to make such a huge initial investment).

If anything is clear, it’s that, contrary to the opinion of at least one speaker at the meeting, most folks would like the snow plows and road salt stored somewhere else.

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6. I don’t comment on politics. I don’t comment on candidates. But I will comment on issues. And, probably no surprise to readers here, I find it worrisome when anti-development candidates come forward.

By and large, development in Ithaca isn’t happening “for the sake of development” like in the 1990s, when the local economy was mired in recession. It’s happening because the Ithaca area has added 6,000 jobs in ten years, mostly in healthcare and education. Cayuga Medical Center has added over 500 positions in 10 years, and while Cornell’s direct employment hasn’t changed much, the university has added nearly 2,500 students. That has created demand for thousands of units, but when combined with the slow pace of development within the county over the past decade, the result has been a critical housing deficit.

This is one of the major reasons behind the current affordable housing crisis – high demand, plus insufficient increases in supply, have resulted in very low vacancy rates and have made it a seller’s paradise when it comes to housing.

If you plan on selling your house or rental property and retiring to Florida in the next couple of years, you’re in for serious bank! Everyone else, whether through rents or increased tax assessments, ends up with a much greater burden. Housing costs are a big player in how Ithaca became the 8th most expensive city in the country.

If there are thousands of people coming here for work or retirement, and new housing isn’t there to absorb them, the wealthier folks moving in will simply pay a premium on what exists, and price out the existing working and middle class who can’t afford those premiums. Which some people are okay with.

Ithaca doesn’t need to “slow down” development, because that’s one of reasons why the affordability crisis is as bad as it is. What Ithaca needs is to be proactive about development, and generally it has been under Mayor Myrick. The city has actively worked to reformulate general guidelines like the Comprehensive Plan (first all-new plan since 1971!) and is starting work on part II, working on neighborhood-specific themes. Myrick’s government has also identified and maintained targeted development areas, like Collegetown’s Form Zoning and downtown density. The mayor has even come to bat for the $30k-$50k/year working class folks that “breed trouble” and need affordable housing, like with INHS’ 210 Hancock project.

Affordability is a long-term effort and a multi-pronged approach, by keeping vulnerable families in their homes, and providing new homes to accommodate the growing economy and population.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but hell, it’s a start. Sticking fingers in ones’ ears isn’t going to make the housing crisis go away.





News Tidbits 7/18/15: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

18 07 2015

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1. The Old Library conundrum continues. At last Friday’s meeting, the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. As it also turns out, absent legislators Peter Stein and Kathy Luz Herrera can no longer re-introduce the preferred developer vote because absent legislators can  only re-introduce a resolution for the subsequent county meeting – in other words, they didn’t put it up for a re-vote on the 7th, so that option is no longer available. Stein didn’t make a resolution, and Luz Herrera was once again absent from the meeting.

Now things get a little more haphazard. Individual legislators can introduce resolutions for a preferred developer, which Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne are doing for the Franklin/STREAM proposal (the 22 condos and medical office space, first image), and Mike Lane for Travis Hyde (the 60 apartments with space for Lifelong, second image). Either one would require eight votes in favor. Martha Robertson’s recusal makes the Travis Hyde proposal a little less likely to hit that magic number, but unless anyone’s had a change of heart, if Kathy Luz Herrera and Peter Stein don’t both vote in favor of the Franklin proposal, nothing moves forward. The county gets left with a building they can’t make a decision on and don’t want to keep.

The building needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations at this point, not to mention routine maintenance; the lack of a decision could be a weight on any legislator’s re-election prospects. If there is no decision, what happens next is anyone’s guess; spending money to mothball the building, demolition, or even selling the property on the open market. whatever the case, this is definitely not a comfortable position for the county to be in.

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2. Looks like the Amabel housing development in Ithaca town is undergoing some site plan changes once again. Quoting the web page, “[w]e recently came to the conclusion that it is far better to park the cars at each house then to have car parks within the common space, allowing 2 cars per house if needed. This also allowed for more guest parking spaces.” Rather than having a road go through the middle of the housing development, the development is now encircled by the road coming in and out of Five Mile Drive. I asked developer Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living LLC if those were garages facing the driveways, and the reply was “no, [but] they may be carports though.” As a result of the revised site plan, the project would need to go back in front of the Ithaca planning board for re-approvals.

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3. Recently, Finger Lakes ReUse has been working on plans to open a new “downtown” branch and HQ at the site of the former BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road on the edge of big-box land. The plans for the gut renovation of the ca. 1950 building (Ithaca’s first big-box supermarket) have been in the works for a while, and grants have been awarded to fund the project.

One thing that appears to be a recent addition, though, is a three-story, 20,000 SF office building. The building, described as the “Main Headquarters”, is strictly a conceptual proposal. The grant announced in December funds two new buildings,  the renovation and what could be either be the proposed 5,000 SF warehouse to the west of the existing building, or the “tenant space” occupied by Boris Garage at 210 Elmira.

The office building is an interesting idea, adding density to the often-underutilized Southwest Corridor and showing what future plans might be in store for the non-profit.

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4. It seems like there was an unpleasant surprise at this month’s IDA meeting – the motion from committee member Will Burbank to put a moratorium on all tax abatements until a county CIITAP is in place for local labor/construction unions and prevailing wage policy. For those unfamiliar, a moratorium is in this case a temporary prohibition of all new tax abatements. After considerable debate and a split opinion from committee members, the motion was rescinded until next month.

Speaking as a matter of opinion, it might seem like a good idea on the surface, but an all-out moratorium sounds more like a case of “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” as one of my professors used to say. Generally, the policy for businesses to hire the contractor with the best price and a strong record for quality, on-time work. Sometimes that’s a local business with local labor; sometimes it’s a company in Binghamton, Syracuse or Rochester. Hence the debate.

The problem with a moratorium is that it stops everything applying for a tax abatement, including projects that already have plans to use local labor. And to be frank, local governments have a terrible track record with moratoriums, frequently extending them because of bureaucratic red tape. I think the unions support the CIITAP idea, but a moratorium that could place even larger numbers of their membership out of work for 12 or 18 months is undesirable and politically damaging. Local labor is important, but a moratorium isn’t the best approach.

On another note, the IDA did unanimously approve the tax abatement for the Tompkins Financial Headquarters project.The 7-story, 110,000 SF building proposed for 118 East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca will likely start construction later this year.

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5. In economic news, Ithaca Beer had its informal groundbreaking Thursday the 16th for its expansion. The 23,800 SF addition by HOLT Architects will triple brewing capacity when it is completed in approximately eight months. The expansion at their site in Ithaca town is expected to create 22 new jobs.

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6. Also in Ithaca town, a senior living facility is looking to receive final approval on its expansion. Brookdale Senior Living is looking to obtain final site plan approvals for its 32-unit Clare Bridge Crossings expansion at 101 Bundy Drive on West Hill. Brookdale is planning to start construction of the one-story 23,200 SF addition this October, with the first tenants moving in around October 2016. There’s no mention of job creation in the application, but there is a letter of opposition from a Cornell professor concerned that new construction will be detrimental to current residents.

Noted previously here back in May, the Brookdale site is a PDZ that consists of two facilities at the moment – Sterling House is a 48-unit assisted living facility, while Claire Bridge Cottage is a 32-unit facility specializing in memory care (Alzheimer’s and dementia). The new building, “Clare Bridge Crossings”, is designed to bridge the gap between the two – patients who might be in early stages of illness and experiencing mild symptoms, but otherwise still capable of some degree of personal independence. The whole complex is in the process of being renamed to Brookdale of Ithaca.

The new building will be tucked between the other two structures, so it won’t be visible from the street. Along with the new building, there will be updates to parking, landscaping stormwater facilities, and the addition of a couple of courtyards between the buildings. The architect is PDC Midwest, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in memory care facilities.

7. Let’s end off this week on a high note. Chances of a Chapter House rebuild are looking good. The owner’s looking into reusing the walls that remain standing, and even what’s left of the floorplates. The idea is to have the building look like it did before (though perhaps with a modern fire suppression system, one imagines). Looking forward to sharing renderings as they become available.





News Tidbits 3/14/15: A Spring Thaw and A Warming Housing Market

14 03 2015

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1. This past Friday the 6th, the city IURA (Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency) sold off a vacant city-owned property at 215-221 West Spencer Street to Edward Cope for $110,000. The name might not sound familiar, but a quick address check of the sales documents reveals an association with PPM Homes, a local rental company with a few hundred bedrooms in dozens of properties scattered around the city, most of them subdivided homes. Edward Cope also bought a vacant privately-owned lot at nearby 228 West Spencer Street for $15,000 on February 19th. 228 West Spencer, a small, steep site with tight zoning restrictions, was approved last year for one custom house design with 1536 sq ft. of space (the design plans came with the sale). As for 215-221 West Spencer, it was noted in July of last year that the city was selling the parcel (though I was under the impression it had already sold) and the buyer was intending multi-family housing. The 0.47 acre site has the potential for a medium-sized apartment building (20 units), but that’s a simple calculation using the zoning. With topography and neighbor considerations, the reality will be smaller.

In short, keep an eye on these properties, because PPM has the money to make the house and the apartment building happen.

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2. From the March IURA Agenda, a few good notes from the attached February minutes:

A. The Hotel Ithaca conference center is still actively trying to move forward.

B. The IURA received an inquiry about vacant land in the Cherry Street industrial park, from a business seeking to relocate into the city.

C. The city is making progress on taking over the state-owned parcel at 508 Taughannock Boulevard, previously used by the U.S. Coast Guard.

D. The former Ithaca Gun site is virtually entirely cleaned up, which will allow the apartment project proposed for the site to move forward with the planning and approvals process.

All things to keep an eye on in the upcoming months.

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3. Looking at the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee Agenda, there was quite a pushback from locals and the county for the proposed Titus-Wood historic district. The city fire department objected to landmarking their parking lot, the county wrote a letter opposing landmarking 317 W. State (and 315 W. State, which is not a registered address but could be the parking lot) because it was felt neither was historic enough and that it impeded urban infill, and the owner of 110 S. Albany, Ian Shapiro of Taitem Engineering, protested because his previous experience with the ILPC has been very frustrating, and that the ILPC gives applicants a really hard time over energy conservation efforts such as solar panels.

For the record, he’s not wrong about that. Some ILPC members have not been a fan of solar panels (examples here, here, here and here), and it has been at times a months-long process to get installation approval. It boils down to a dispute of alternative energy use vs. historic preservation, both things that Ithacans love, but can conflict with each other in cases like these.

Regardless of the opposition, the PEDC passed the historic district resolution with a unanimous vote, and the resolution now goes on to the Common Council, who will likely approve the new historic district.

4. Over in Lansing, concerned citizens looks like they can put their fears to rest regarding development of the Kingdom Farm property. The 528.1-acre property sold to a Cayuga County dairy farmer on March 10th for the hefty price of $2.8 million (in other words, $5,302/acre). The farm has been in the possession of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the business branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses) for several decades, and the owners even pitched a 500-unit development for the site in the late 2000s. Back in October when the tax-exempt land went up for sale for $3 million, the Lansing Star reported that some more activist local residents wanted the town to step in and help a farmer buy the land so they could keep the property agricultural. There hasn’t been any news of the town taking that step, and it appears the problem resolved itself without the need of taxpayer dollars. Also, it means the property, assessed at $2.2 million, goes back onto the tax rolls. This might be one of the few cases where everything appears to have been worked out and all can go home happy.

5. 514 Linn Street has come down for a new duplex now under construction. Each apartment unit will have 3 bedrooms and be completed this summer. Although the predecessor building dated from the late 1800s, it was also an early “cookie-cutter” home; 512 Linn was the same design. Fall Creek is mostly developed, but Linn Street is no stranger to new builds – 514 follows a few years after 516 Linn, which was a new home built on a vacant lot.

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6. Lastly, it looks like the town of Ithaca’s planning board finally has a few things to work on, after having no meeting since early January. For their Tuesday meeting, the town will review plans for more luxury tents at La Tourelle, a new municipal water tank near Sapsucker Woods, and revised plans for the Amabel project off of Five Mile Drive. The number of units has been reduced to 28, and since November, two units were added to the far west portion of the parcel bordering Five Mile Drive (and as it turns out, those center units aren’t duplexes). Contrary to the example render, six different home designs will be available. Developer Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living LLC hopes to begin sales this summer.

Get connected:

Have comments or questions about these projects for your local government? Contact info below:

Town of Ithaca Planning Board: Use the form here – http://www.town.ithaca.ny.us/contact-us

Ithaca Common Council: http://www.cityofithaca.org/341/Common-Council – click on your councilperson’s name, their email is on the subsequent page.





News Tidbits 12/20/2014: Many Homes, One Community

20 12 2014

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1. Starting things off, here’s an update on Ithaca College’s Master Plan-in-progress, courtesy of the Ithacan. According to a presentation given by representatives of lead planning firm Perkins Eastman, the master plan will include a climate-controlled walkway connecting several buildings from the Gannett Library through the Center for Health Sciences, the removal of the upper and lower dorm quads and replacing them with academic lab/research space, an amphitheater just below the Dillingham Center fountain and a new entrance on Danby Road closer to Ithaca’s downtown.

Now, before residents in South Hill begin to panic that their neighborhood is about to be invaded by students displaced by IC’s decreased housing, I’d like to point out that master plans are rarely built out as designed, but are great for identifying academic needs. I don’t imagine that IC will start tearing down 11 buildings and 1,235 beds unless they really feel like getting into a fight with the town, or throwing up temp housing, neither of which ranks high on the to-do list. At least I get something to write about for a week or two when the new plan comes out this Spring.

2. What is known about Manos Diner’s future occupant: They’re leasing the space from Bill Manos, not buying. It’s a restaurant with owners who already own several restaurants, all outside NYS. It’s not necessarily a chain. It’s apparently a family operation and the food will be Mexican. And whoever it is must have really, really wanted to pry their way into the Ithaca market. I don’t see why they wouldn’t have chosen any number of other sites they could renovate…it seems really strange that an offer so fortuitous would come up that Manos would close his diner with hardly a notice to his employees (which is completely tasteless, for the record). New restaurants in Ithaca aren’t usually big news-makers by themselves, but the entry of this Manos replacement draws more questions than answers.

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3. Looks like New Earth Living LLC has released some updated site plans and sketches of their approved Amabel project just southwest of the Ithaca city-town line. The houses on the northern two-thirds have been rearranged from the previous site plan, and if it’s still 31 units, then the center buildings must be two-family houses. I’ve been told that there will be six different house designs available, so don’t expect all the houses to look the same as in the concept sketch. One thing that the all designs will share are roof configurations that will allow enough solar panels to result in net zero energy use for each home. The city has approved the sale of its surplus land to the developer, and this project is due to start marketing in summer 2015.

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4. Here’s a map, courtesy of real estate website Zillow, that prices out how much it would take to afford the median rent in a given metropolitan area, if paying no more than 30% of monthly income to rent (the federal affordable housing standard). Ithaca/Tompkins County comes in at $32.74 an hour, assuming a 40-hour week and 50-weeks working in a year. In other words, $65,480 ($1,637/month average rent). The number is skewed high from the number of expensive multi-bedroom units in Collegetown, but it’s still high when compared to Elmira ($28.08) or Syracuse ($27.74). For comparison’s sake to Ithaca-type communities, Boulder ($41.72) and Ann Arbor ($34.28) are higher, Charlottesville ($29.24), Madison ($27.54) and Asheville ($22.98) are lower.

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5. Would you believe this is actually the first render I’ve ever seen for the Village Solars project in Lansing? This comes courtesy of their Craigslist ads. The Village Solars take their name from being designed with passive solar design with large amounts of natural light; I don’t know if they will have solar panels. For being a large project, this one has sailed under just about everyone’s radar, partially because it was approved 18 months before construction started. Since there has been so little news about this project, info comes in the form of government and business memos. Depending on the source, final build-out is between 292 and 320 units, which is enormous for the Ithaca area.

Rent’s not cheap with these new units – the minimum is $1235 for a first-floor 2-bedroom, going up to $1369 for a “penthouse” third floor 2-bedroom unit. The Craigslist ad says the first units (36 of them) will be ready for occupancy by March 1st 2015.

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6. Updated doc and drawings for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga Street have been filed with the city. Application, FEAF and project description here, drawings here. According to the docs, the cost of construction will be $740,000 for the four units, and go from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016 (March 2016 in the FEAF). Some slight metal pollution from Emerson/Morse Chain has been noted in soil tests from below the foundation area, due to the Morse Chain subterranean pollution plume (metals, VOCs) that affects much of South Hill. Although the DEC requires no further action at this time, there will be an active sub-slab depressurization system in place as a safeguard. In other words, a fan blows air into the basement, and it gets vented back out.

The design of the townhomes has been revised by architect Claudia Brenner to include more architectural detail – bay windows on the north and south ends, and larger/full porches vs. the stoops of the previous design. The siding has also been changed to all earth-tones. It’s an improvement, but I’d rather see two separate windows above the porches. This project will be presented at the January Planning Board meeting.

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7. Here are some drawings for 707 E. Seneca. Readers might remember this is the 6-unit building proposed by Todd Fox for a derelict playground recently sold off by the city. The 18-bedroom design by local firm Schickel Architecture has already been critiqued thoroughly by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council, since the site is within a historic district and needs to look the part. I’d say that they’ve done well, it’s a bit bulky but otherwise a tasteful addition. An area variance will be required from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Construction is expected to cost $220,000 and run from April to July 2015. For more info, the application is here, drawings here.

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8. Since we’re talking about East Hill housing, here‘s the project application and here are the drawings for the duplexes proposed for the parking lot at 112 Blair Street. The Blair Street site will be combined with 804 East State Street, and the duplexes will have State Street addresses. The spartan design of these buildings is also by Schickel Architecture, and will add 12 bedrooms in 4 units. Cost is estimated at $213,000 and construction will start in April for a summer completion. The developer is Matthew Nestopoulos.