News Tidbits 6/23/19

23 06 2019

1. The good news in Lansing is that there’s a future for the power plant, though not as a power plant. The former coal plant would be reconfigured into a data center powered by renewable energy. Data centers use a lot of energy and have heavy energy loads, so old power plants are surprisingly suitable choices. The center’s computing power would demand about 100 megawatts at full capacity, according to reports, roughly equivalent to the power demand of 75,000 homes. They also produce large amounts of heat, so having a cold water intake from the lake comes in handy for supplying cooling systems. 15 megawatts would be produced on site, and the rest from off-site solar arrays. According to the Cayuga Operating Company’s memo, the conversion would provide $100 million in capital investments, 30 to 40 full-time jobs in the $40-60,000 range, as well as about 100 construction jobs.

In an interesting twist, the other plant slated to become a data center, in the town of Somerset in Niagara County, was the “Plan B” plant built after years or local protests and stonewalling shelved plans for a nuclear power plant in the town of Lansing near the Cayuga plant. The discovery of an ancient fault line near the Somerset site led to the operating company switching out its nuclear plans for coal. Suffice it to say, this data center plans also nullifies the plan to convert the power plant to a natural gas-fired facility.

While it’s a lower number of permanent jobs than the power plant (which was around 70 staff in 2016), it does provide a viable future for the town of Lansing’s biggest taxpayer, and comes as something of a relief in that regard. The county supports the proposal but the town is tabling support at the moment at the insistence of its Democratic bloc, which wants to ask questions at an informational meeting Wednesday before offering a voice of support. The state is not likely to support the plan unless the town has voiced support, so the vote is a rather urgent matter. It’s a bit tricky due to public notice guidelines, but the town board will hold a special meeting right after the presentation to vote on whether or not to support the plan.

For the record, the informational meeting is open to the general public – Lansing Town Hall at 29 Auburn Road, 6 PM Wednesday 6/26.

2. The bad news in Lansing is that the Lansing Meadows senior housing is in limbo. Unsurprisingly, the requested change from 20 to 30 units was considered a major change to the Planned Development Area. Developer Eric Goetzmann’s argument is that the 20-unit proposal proved too costly to build, and is seeking 30 units on roughly similar footprints. No dice, the IDA and village planning board would have to reopen their process to approve the changes, and the project is legally bound to be completed by the end of next July; another few months of review would cause it to miss that deadline.

Then came the latest proposal. Twelve units (four triplexes), just as originally intended when first proposed nine years ago. But the plan is clearly designed to be filled out with more units, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits that required years to obtain have been left to expire. This too, would be a major change to the PDA, which is 20 units in 10 duplexes. A minor change would be shifting garages or marginal adjustments to building footprints. This is not minor.

This project has been before the planning board 57 times over the years and nine iterations. The village and the IDA have been very accommodating, from the unusual retail-building abatement for BJ’s, to the commercial space on the eastern end of the parcel, and all the residential changes over the years. I will be the first to acknowledge that some of the communities, Lansing village included, can be bureaucratically burdensome. But it’s time to point out that this developer is acting in bad faith. The village and the IDA have tried to make this work, bending over backwards to accommodate Goetzmann. He did not hesitate to get BJ’s built, which he sold in 2015 for a healthy $16.8 million. But the housing and the wetlands protection have always been afterthoughts, boxes checked in an effort to get that BJ’s abatement. It’s time that the village and IDA put their feet down and demand he either start building, or start making plans to pay back his tax abatement. The years of dickering have gone on long enough.

The concern is that by pursuing a clawback, the housing may never happen. But honestly, nine years on, is there an expectation that it will ever get done?

 

3. Sticking with bad faith for the moment – the IAWWTF proposal creates some uncomfortable questions. The first proposal was everything within a 1200 foot radius of the plant. The new one is everything west of Route 13 within that 1200 foot radius.

That doesn’t logically make sense. the prevailing wind direction for the offensive odors that the disclosure ordinance seeks to inform buyers and renters about? It’s NW-SE, due to a combination of storm tracks and the local topography, the hills create a channeling effect. Most of the areas covered under the new bounds aren’t in the downstream path of the winds, and odors carried by those winds.

Why were the established neighborhoods to the southeast of the plant left out, even if they are in one of the more prone locations? Officially, “because they’re already aware of the risks”, according to the explanation provided by the councilor spearheading the ordinance proposal, West Hill’s Cynthia Brock. That explanation neglects the fact that over time, tenants move and homeowners sell. As proposed, the cutoff is an excuse because existing homeowners in Fall Creek and Northside would have likely seen their home values and rental prices take a hit from her mandatory disclosure document, which another councilor described as “terrifying”. It would quickly lead to a lawsuit and the perception that Common Council is actively undermining the home equity and financial well-being of working class Northsiders and politically active Creekers. No other councilor on the committee would likely support the proposal in those circumstances.

So what does the IAWWTF disclosure ordinance impact as currently proposed? The revised version targets the Carpenter Park property, City Harbor, the NYS DOT site the county wants to have developed, the Farmer’s Market and a few other waterfront and near-waterfront properties. In general, mixed-use developments or potential developments that councilor Brock has regularly spoken out against.

This is being carried out on the auspices of health and welfare concerns, but as designed, the IAWWTF disclosure ordinance doesn’t adequately protect health and welfare, and appears to explicitly target waterfront projects councilor Brock dislikes. How would this withstand  the inevitable lawsuit filed by either the City Harbor developers, the Carpenter Park development group, or the county?

Literally and figuratively, this doesn’t pass the smell test.

4. Here’s a look at the Planning and Development Board agenda for next Tuesday. Apart from a one-lot subdivision for a new home at 243 Cliff Street, everything else is a familiar item:

AGENDA ITEM
1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:05
3. Approval of Minutes: May 28, 2019 6:20
4. Subdivision Review


Project: Minor Subdivision and Construction of a Single Family Home 6:25

Location: 243 Cliff Street
Applicant: Laurel Hart & Dave Nutter
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to subdivide the .36 acre site into two parcels and build one single family home. The subdivision will result in Parcel A measuring .152 acres (6,638 SF) with 66 feet of frontage on Cliff Street and containing an existing single family home and garage, and Parcel B measuring .218 acres (9,484 SF) with 97 feet of frontage on Park Road. The property is in the R-3a Zoning District, which has the following minimum requirements: 5,000 SF lot size and 40 feet of street frontage for single-family homes, 10-foot front yard, and 10- and five foot side yards and a rear yard of 20% or 50 feet, but not less than 20 feet. Access to the proposed home on Parcel B will be via a new access drive connecting to Park Road. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website:
https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1028 (Site Plan Review)
https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1030 (Subdivision)

The property owners want to build a new home that will allow them to age in place; their current century-old home isn’t adaptable for the wheelchair accessibility they seek, but they want to stay in their neighborhood, so the plan is to work with local homebuilder Carina Construction to build a new modular unit (2 floors + partially built-out basement, 26’x28′ footprint) on a subdivided piece of their land. It’s a multistory home, but the upstairs can be converted into a unit for a live-in caretaker, and all their living needs can be handled on one floor. The home will be solar-powered. The new home, downslope from the existing house, will be accessed from Park Road.

5. Site Plan Review

A. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:45
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Consideration of Final Site Plan Approval

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 1,200-seat, 66,300 SF dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii) for which the Lead Agency issued a Negative Declaration on December 18, 2018 and granted Preliminary Site Plan Approval to the project on March 26, 2019.

Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

Cornell’s 2,079-bed North Campus Residential Expansion looks ready for final approval. Apart from some details regarding the planting plan and rooftop fans, there are no changes to report. Cornell would start construction shortly after approval is granted, with the first phase (sophomore housing, west/left) ready by August 2020, and the second phase (freshman housing, east/right) complete by August 2021.

B. Project: Arthaus on Cherry Street 7:05
Location: 130 Cherry Street
Applicant: Whitham Planning & Design

Actions: Consideration of Amended Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

Project Description: The applicant proposes an as-of-right five-story building approximately 63 feet of height with gallery, office and affordable residential space at 130 Cherry Street, on the east side of the Cayuga Inlet. The site is currently the location of AJ Foreign Auto. The program includes ground floor covered parking for approximately 52 vehicles, plus 7,000 SF of potential retail/office and amenity space geared towards artists’ needs. Building levels two through five will house approximately 120 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom residential units. The total building square footage is 97,500 SF. All residential rental units will be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. The north edge of the property will include a publicly-accessible path leading to an inlet overlook. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance § 176-4B(1)(k), (h)[2], (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/946

Project approval was delayed by a month because the city wanted to make sure that the Weitsman scrap metal facility wouldn’t pose any air quality risks. In a letter to the city, the firm doing the environmental work says the did some outreach to Ben Weitsman, and the Ithaca facility doesn’t do many of the processing, it just collects, sorts and transports the scrap metal out to other sites. Also, Weitsman states the facility will be be closing soon – it’s been rumored for a while that another mixed-use project in the works for the Weitsman site.

C. Project: Student Housing 7:25
Location: 815 S. Aurora Street
Applicant: Stream Collaborative, Noah Demarest for Project Sponsors Todd Fox & Charlie O’Connor
Actions: Project Updates, Review of FEAF Part 3

Project Description: The project applicant proposes a new 49-unit student housing complex (16,700 SF footprint) comprised of three buildings constructed on a hillside on the east side of Route 96B, overlooking the proposed Chain Works District. The proposed buildings will contain (2) efficiency units, (3) one-bedroom units, (10) two-bedroom units, (20) three-bedroom units and (14) four-bedroom units. Amenities will include a gym and media room, with access to an outdoor amenity space on the first floor of Building B, and a roof terrace and lounge on the fourth floor of Building B. The project site shares the 2.85 acre site with an existing cell tower facility, garages, an office and a one-bedroom apartment. Site improvements will include walkways and curb cuts to be tied into a public sidewalk proposed by the Town of Ithaca. Fire truck access is proposed at the existing site entry at the south end of the property, with a new fire lane to be constructed in front of the ends of buildings A & B at the northern end of the site. The project will include 68 parking spaces, as required by zoning. The property located in the R-3b zoning district. A variance will likely be required for a rear yard setback deficiency. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(1)(k), (n), (B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/982

At the last meeting, the board and the city planning director had issues with the facade materials and that given the small size of the units, the project was “too focused on profit” (generally it’s not a good idea to make these comments because of their subjective nature, but here they were qualified with the concerns over facade material and unit size). In the updated submission document, the design stays the same, and it’s not clear if the materials were updated. It does not appear the unit sizes were changed.

D. Project: Commercial Building – 3,450 SF 7:45
Location: 410 Elmira Road
Applicant: PW Campbell for Visions Credit Union
Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a 3,450 SF commercial building with a drive-through, parking area for 20 cars, a 940 SF amphitheater, and associated site improvements on the 1.56 acre project site. The site is currently vacant. The project site is in the SW-3 Zoning district and will likely require an area variance. The project is subject to the Southwest Area Design Guidelines. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1019

This is the Visions Federal Credit Union branch proposal. Generally, the public reaction has been favorable to the plan, which includes an amphitheater for outdoor shows and events. The Voice article about the project is here.

E. Project: Immaculate Conception Redevelopment Project (Mixed Use Housing) 8:00
Location: 320 W Buffalo Street
Applicant: Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency

Project Description: The project involves the renovation/conversion of the existing two-story former school building into a mixed-use building with a two-story addition along North Plain Street, a new four-story apartment building, (2) three-unit townhome buildings, (1) four-unit townhome building, the renovation/conversion of a single family home into a two-family home, and the renovation of the “Catholic Charities” Building. The overall project will contain 78 dwelling units with 127 bedrooms. Total increase in square footage on the site will be 49,389 SF, from 62,358 to 111,747 SF. 9,274 SF of new and existing space in the former school will be commercial use. Site development will require demolition of one wing of the existing school building and one single-family home. The project also includes greenspace areas, 45 surface parking spaces, and other site amenities. The property is located in the R-2b zoning district; however the applicant has applied to Common Council for a Planned Unit Development (PUD). This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(1)(k), (n), (B)(6), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1016

INHS’s $25.3 million redevelopment of the Immaculate Conception School has had some design tweaks, but the general site program remains the same. The Planning Board will be seeking answers regarding energy use/sources, pile driving, and aesthetic impacts on the neighborhood/consistency with neighborhood architectural character.

 

F. Project: Carpenter Circle Project 8:20
Location: Carpenter Park Road
Applicant: Andrew Bodewes for Park Grove Realty LLC
Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency

Project Description: The project seeks to develop the existing 8.7-acre vacant parcel located adjacent to Route 13 and off of Third Street. The proposal includes a 64,000 SF medical office; two mixed-use buildings, which will include ground-level retail/restaurant/commercial uses of 23,810 SF, interior parking, 166 market-rate apartment units, and 4,652 SF of amenity space; and a residential building offering +/-42 residential units for residents earning 50-60% AMI. Site amenities will include public spaces for residents and visitors, bike parking, transit access for TCAT, open green space, a playground, and access to the Ithaca Community Gardens. The project includes 400 surface parking spaces and an internal road network with sidewalks and street trees. The project sponsor is seeking a Break in Access from NYS DOT to install an access road off of Rte 13. The property is located in the Market District; however, the applicant has applied to Common Council for a Planned Unit Development (PUD). The project will require subdivision to separate each program element. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §1764(B)(1)(d), (i), (k), and (B)(6) and (8)(a) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1014

Interesting note from Part 1 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) – the phased buildout. Phase one is Cayuga Medical Center’s new office building. It would start construction in the fall and be completed in Spring 2021. The mixed-use building would begin construction the winter of 2019-20 and take about 20 months complete (so, a summer/fall 2021 timeframe). The affordable housing is phase three, and contigent on an affordable housing grant from the state. Once awarded, it would take about a year to build out.

The updated site plan indicates more tree plantings throughout the site, and the addition of a playground and plaza next to the affordable housing structure on the northern end of the site.

5. Old/New Business: July PRC, PRC Meeting start time 9:00
6. Reports 9:10
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

7 Adjournment 9:30





News Tidbits 5/27/19

28 05 2019

Just a quick pose here to share and take a look at the city Planning Board Agenda tomorrow evening:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

(there is no Item 2. on the agenda)

3. Privilege of the Floor 6:25

4 Approval of Minutes: April 23, 2019 6:35

5. Site Plan Review


A Project: Greenstar Project Changes 6:40
Location: 770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest, Stream Collaborative (for owner)
Actions: Approval of Project Changes

Project Description: This project was approved by the Planning Board on June 26, 2018, with subsequent changes approved by the Board on March 26, 2019. The applicant is now returning to with requested items and to request additional changes. Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/774

The GreenStar project was halted by the board due to aesthetic concerns related to the value engineering. In response to the concerns about the blank wall that would face Route 13, the mural above has been proposed. The development team is also proposing new signage and replacing the wood bollards in the parking lot with lighted steel bollards.

Few further issues are expected to come up, and approval of these changes would allow the project to continue with construction. GreenStar is certain enough of the Board’s approval that its existing 10,000 SF space at 701 West Buffalo Street has been put up for lease.

B Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan 6:50
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Presentation of Revised Phase 1, Public Hearing, Potential Preliminary Approval of Conceptual Site Plan

Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District is located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. It is a proposed mixed-use development consisting of residential, office, commercial, retail, restaurant/café, warehousing/distribution, manufacturing, and open space. Completion of the Project is estimated to be over a seven-to-ten year period and will involve renovation of existing structures as well as new structures to complete a full buildout of 1,706,150 SF. The applicant applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, and site plan review for Phase 1 of the development in 2014. The project also involves a Planned Development Zone (PDZ) in the Town and subdivision. This project is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Code, Environmental Quality Review Ordinance, §174- 6 (B)(1)(i),(j),(k),(n), (2), (6), (7),(8)(a)and (b) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act §617.4 (b)(2),(3), (5)(iii), (6)(i), and (iv), for which the Lead Agency issued a Positive Declaration of Environmental Significance on October 28, 2014. The Lead Agency held subsequently Public Scoping on November 18, 2014. The Lead Agency deemed the Draft GEIS adequate for public review on March 8, 2016, held the public hearing on March 29, 2016 and accepted comments until May 10, 2016. The Lead Agency filed a Notice of Completion for the FGEIS on March 5, 2019. The FGEIS includes the original DGEIS, all comments and responses on the DGEIS, revised information resulting from those comments, and updated information since the publication of the DEIS. The Board adopted findings on March 26, 2019. The applicant is now proposing Phase 1 of the project which entails the rehabilitation of buildings 21 and 24. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/119

Doing a cross-check, I don’t quite see what changes have been made with Phase I, though early plans called for more office space (now mixed-use, with office space and 60 apartments). Approval of the concept plan (in relation to the FGEIS) is not the same as approval of the individual renovation plans, which have been submitted but will take a couple more months of the standard retinue of environmental assessment forms and declaration of findings. The approved EIS looks at the concept as a whole, while materials, construction impacts and other details associated with individual building plans still require going through the planning board.

C. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:10
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Continuation of Site Plan Review (Jessup Road Elevations & Conditions of Approval)

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 1,200-seat, 66,300 SF dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii) for which the Lead Agency issued a Negative Declaration on December 18, 2018 and granted Preliminary Site Plan Approval to the project on March 26, 2019. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

This one’s starting to get a bit long in the tooth – Cornell was hoping to start construction by the beginning of summer, so that the first phase of dorms (Buildings 1 and 2 above) would be ready for occupancy in August 2021. According to Kim Michaels of landscape architect (and project team rep) TWMLA, they’re aiming for preliminary approval at the June 25th meeting, which would allow them to obtain construction permits to start work. The village of Cayuga Heights’ planning board gave their okay last month, and the town has granted preliminary site plan approval as well.

Changes include replacing the concrete retaining wall for Awke:won’s driveway with natural stone, minor grading adjustments, replacing plaza asphalt with concrete and porous pavers, revised plantings (partly at the town’s suggestion, partly because the demolition plans requires the removal of six more mature trees than first anticipated, and the project team is aiming to plant new trees to make up for it), revised sidewalks, bus stops and ADA ramps.

D. Project: Arthaus on Cherry Street 7:30
Location: 130 Cherry Street
Applicant: Whitham Planning & Design (on behalf of Vecino Group)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

Project Description: The applicant proposes an as-of-right five-story building approximately 63 feet of height with gallery, office and affordable residential space at 130 Cherry Street, on the east side of the Cayuga Inlet. The site is currently the location of AJ Foreign Auto. The program includes ground floor covered parking for approximately 52 vehicles, plus 7,000 SF of potential retail/office and amenity space geared towards artists’ needs. Building levels two through five will house approximately 120 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom residential units. The total building square footage is 97,500 SF. All residential rental units will be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. The north edge of the property will include a publicly-accessible path leading to an inlet overlook. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance § 176-4B(1)(k), (h)[2], (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4(b)(11). Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/946

The IDA has given its approval on the tax abatement, so all that’s left on the approvals side of things is preliminary and final site plan approval – with those, Vecino can begin work on affordable housing grants to help fund the project. Vecino will be pursuing a less-competitive 4% low-income housing tax credit (the typical, highly-competitive LIHTCs are 9%; quick refresher, these credits are sold to outside investors and the money is then used to fund the project), and the project team seems comfortable stating that construction will start by the end of the year for a 2021 completion.

E. Project: Student Housing 7:50
Location: 815 S. Aurora Street
Applicant: Stream Collaborative, Noah Demarest for Project Sponsors Todd Fox & Charlie O’Connor
Actions: Project Presentation, Potential Consideration for Preliminary Site Plan Approval

Project Description: The project applicant proposes a new 49-unit student housing complex (16,700 SF footprint) comprised of three buildings constructed on a hillside on the east side of Route 96B, overlooking the proposed Chain Works District. The proposed buildings will contain (2) efficiency units, (3) one-bedroom units, (10) two-bedroom units, (20) three-bedroom units and (14) four-bedroom units. Amenities will include a gym and media room, with access to an outdoor amenity space on the first floor of Building B, and a roof terrace and lounge on the fourth floor of Building B. The project site shares the 2.85 acre site with an existing cell tower facility, garages, an office and a one-bedroom apartment. Site improvements will include walkways and curb cuts to be tied into a public sidewalk proposed by the Town of Ithaca. Fire truck access is proposed at the existing site entry at the south end of the property, with a new fire lane to be constructed in front of the ends of buildings A & B at the northern end of the site. The project will include 68 parking spaces, as required by zoning. The property located in the R-3b zoning district. A variance will likely be required for a rear yard setback deficiency. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(1)(k), (n), (B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11). Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/982

The project description is not accurate. According to the memo from STREAM, the project is 65 units, but still 141 beds, with 2 one-bedroom, 40 two-bedroom, and 23 three-bedroom units. This has created some minor exterior changes, mostly in the window arrangements. A report from TAITEM chimed in to say that the project does meet the city’s Green Building Policy (which is approved in concept but has slowly been trudging through the legal details). Neighbors have expressed concerns with the project

F. Project: Mixed Use Apartments (77 Units) 8:10
Location: 510 W MLK/ State Street
Applicant: Stream Collaborative, Noah Demarest for Project Sponsors Todd Fox & Charlie O’Connor
Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency, Review – Draft FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a 4- to 6-story building with a footprint of 13,730 SF and a GSA of approximately 74,700 SF. The project will have 2,100 SF of retail space on the first floor facing W State/ MLK Street and 77 housing units, permanently affordable to households making 50-70% Area Median Income (AMI). Building amenities include a community room, bike and general storage, a laundry room and a fifth floor lounge with access to a rooftop terrace. The project site has frontage on three streets (W State/MLK, Corn and W Seneca) and is in two zoning districts: CBD 60 in which the maximum height is 60’ and B-2d in which the maximum height is 40’. Neither zone has a prescribed number of stories. The project is subject to the Downtown Design Guidelines and will likely require an area variance for rear yard setback. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4 B(1)(h)[4], (k) & (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Looks like the number of units has settled on 77. The question here remains what to do with the State Street elevation, given the likely zoning change will force a 15′ setback from the 5th floor instead of the sixth as proposed.

G. 312 E Seneca Street – Sketch Plan 8:30

The original design above received the planning board equivalent of a roundhouse kick to the jaw, so we’ll see what happens with round two, for which it is hoped the Stavropoulos family and their architect (presumably Jagat Sharma as before) have read the Downtown Design Guidelines. Given its location on the edge of Downtown Ithaca, this is a CBD-60 site, six floors, 100% lot converge, no parking covering.

A potential wild card here is the recent rumor that the owners of the properties next door on North Aurora have put the assemblage up for sale. A redesign may or may not include those properties.

6. Old/New Business 9:00
-Special Meeting Agenda for 4-30-19
-Board Retreat Topics
-Sexual Harassment Training

7. Reports 9:10
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

8. Adjournment 9:30





News Tidbits 5/11/19

12 05 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLD render

NEW render

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

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

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

8. Looking at agendas:

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

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

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

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

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

 





News Tidbits 5/4/19

4 05 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





News Tidbits 3/30/19

31 03 2019

original renders

revised renders

1. Let’s start off with an update from the city of Ithaca Planning Board. As reported by the Times’ Edwin Viera, The board was not happy about the proposed changes to the GreenStar project, which were summarized in a previous blog post here. The revised site layout and materials were approved, but the board was unhappy about the loss of windows on the northeast faced and asked for an alternative if windows were no longer feasible, either graphic art or a GreenStar insignia to provide visual interest. The project will be back before the board next month.

Apparently, it was the month to express discontent, as issues were also raised with the City Centre signage and design components of the Vecino Arthaus project, which did away with the grime graphics and went with a marginally better blocky red facade, but I will henceforth call “architectural chicken pox”. Some concerns were also raised with ADA compliance, and the board asked for windows in the stairwells to encourage their use. The environmental review was okayed, and the project will be heading for preliminary approval next month.

The planning board granted preliminary approval to Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion, but the project also needs approvals from the town of Ithaca (to be discussed next Tuesday) and the village of Cayuga Heights. The goal is to start construction on the 2,000+ bed project by this summer. The Chainworks District’s final generic environmental impact statement (FGEIS) was also accepted on a unanimous vote – it’s not approval of the 1.71 million SF mixed-use project, but it’s a big step in that direction. The summarized 127-page report is here, and the city report establishing its findings and review of proposed mitigations is here.

This didn’t come up much before, and that’s probably a good thing because it was rather drab, but 402 South Cayuga Street was revised with a larger window on the three bedroom unit (at far left) and some more vibrant colors. However, to stay within budget (something that defeated INHS once before and Habitat for Humanity as well), the project asked to stick with vinyl, to which the board okayed. Expect this 4-unit for-sale low-to-moderate income townhouse project to begin construction later this year, with completion before the year is out.

2. It was a bit surprising to see how far ahead Cardamone Homes has their Woodland Park project planned out. Quick refresher, this is a 65ish unit residential development off of Warren Road in the town of Lansing; the original plan from the early part of the decade was for about 80 units, but it was reduced after initial approvals. The “-ish” part comes from the 25 single-family home lots, since at least one buyer chose to merge with its neighbor. The other part of the development consists of 40 townhomes, and as ecerything Cardamone does, these are high-end “McMansion” style products. A 2,800-4,000 SF Frank Betz-styled home typically goes in the $550k-750k range with a few customized models even higher than that. The 2,500 SF townhouses are priced in the low to mid 400s. This is arguably the only gated community in Tompkins County.

The project began construction around 2014, and it looks like they’re expecting construction to continue through 2026. It looks like 2019 will see four new townhomes (including the two above, 6 and 8 Woodland Way in a photo from last month), and two or three single-family homes along Oakwood Drive. IT’s a bit of a guessing game on the homes because they use “to be developed” (most), “to be built” (2) and “to be constructed” (1). The site also shows three for sale, but it’s dated, as one of those was sold in January. McMansions may not be fashionable as they were fifteen years ago, Woodland Park still sells at a steady enough clip to keep the project moving along. The long story short for Woodland Park is that construction will be continuing at its slow but steady pace for quite some time yet.

3. Just a little something here from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board – the town of Ithaca is looking to build a modest expansion to its Public Works facility. The Public Works department at 106 Seven Mile Drive handles snow removal, paving, yard waste collection, vegetation control, storm water management, and parks/trails/water/sanitary sewer/road maintenance services. The department has been growing in recent years and needs additional space. A feasibility study was commissioned last June, and a plan is now moving forward.

Overall, it’s not a large addition to the 19,400 SF building; 1,425 SF of office space, six parking spaces and minor landscaping and grading. The project is a small institutional addition, and per state guidelines, it will likely not be going through an in-depth environmental review. The addition is a bit unusual in that it’s essentially a bumpout of the existing space, one that creates a completely new face for the public entrance and offices. Expect an unassuming one-story addition with aluminum windows and metal exterior panels. The addition will be designed by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates). It’s the same group of firms that did the study last year.

4. Quick note to point out that 327 West Seneca Street is nor long for this world, if the plastic and plywood are any indication. They’re indicative of asbestos removal prior to demolition – seal a build up, take the asbestos out, take the building down. Visum Development Group is planning a 12-unit “workforce housing” moderate-income apartment building on the site.

Speaking of Visum, Ithaca’s prolific developer has been scouting new markets for a while, and landed in Boise, Idaho for their next project, “The Vanguard”, an eight-story, 75-unit apartment building in Boise’s downtown. According to local reports, most development projects finish municipal review in two months, something that is flat out impossible for a project of substantial size in Tompkins County. Interestingly, it comes with no parking, and instead hosts bike racks for 75 bikes. Don’t take this to mean that Visum’s no longer interested in Ithaca, however; there have at several projects in the works, including condominiums in Ithaca town, 201-207 North Aurora, 815 South Aurora, 413-15 West Seneca and the State/Corn Street trio.

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5. Dunno if Instagram embeds are going to work here, but click STREAM Collaborative’s post just above if it doesn’t show up. The modular pieces for 323 Taughannock have begun arriving on site and are being assembled. The units were built by Benson Wood Products and are being put together but a local firm, D Squared (the Dakes) of Lansing.