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

19 12 2015


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Belle Sherman Cottage Construction Update, 10/2015

15 10 2015

There’s not a whole lot left to say from a construction standpoint for the Belle Sherman Cottages project, located off of the 800 block of Mitchell Street. The townhouses are essentially complete, all that’s left is some landscaping and interior finishing-out. The Simplex modular pieces for the second set of five townhouses arrived on-site in mid-August, two for each townhouse unit. The pieces are then leveled and fitted together with steel plates, and then customized interior work begins for things like fixtures and flooring. On the outside, the foundation is backfilled, siding is attached, decks are built if the buyer chose to have one, and the landscaping is planted. The straw helps to keep the grass seed warm and moist so it can germinate, and it reduces the chance that wind will blow it away.

One difference from the computer rendering is that the render has all five townhouses at the same elevation. However, they’re actually staggered slightly, with the elevation dropping a few inches per unit as one moves from east to west. The same staggering effect was used on the first set of townhouses as well, with each unit dropping a few inches in elevation from north to south.

So, from start to finish, this was about…3.5 years? That’s not counting Lot 9, which doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. Most of the new home construction was concentrated in just the past year and half – sales were slow at first, but they took off in early 2014.

The Belle Sherman Cottages project was developed by Agora Development of Skaneateles, and built by Carina Construction of Ithaca. Overall site design was penned by Ithaca-based STREAM Collaborative. The Simplex units were sourced from the company’s facility in Scranton, PA. A video of the construction process can be found on Carina’s Youtube account here.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 8/2015

12 08 2015

Normally, construction workers pay me no notice. This trip was a little unusual.

“Oh my God, is he taking photos of us!?”

“This is not my good side!”

“Worst glamor shots ever!”

Well noted gentlemen.

Workers from Ithaca firm Carina Construction continue on the last stage of the 29-unit Belle Sherman Cottages project just over the city’s eastern boundary line, in the town of Ithaca off the 800 block of Mitchell Street. On the first set of townhouses (lots 25-29), one gentlemen was busy cutting trim boards as exterior finish work was being wrapped up in time for the fall semester. Asked if he knew when the next modular units would arrive, he said “oh, just a couple weeks from now”. Since these photos are almost a couple weeks old now, one could say any day now, if they haven’t arrived already.

Unlike the five units already built, these will have Pacific Blue Certainteed clapboard siding instead of Autumn Red, and the garages will be in the back instead of the front. The Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) block foundation walls are being assembled in preparation for the arrival of the Simplex modular units (covered in great detail by Ithaca Builds), which will be brought in and fitted before the leaves turn. Interior finishing and exterior work such roofing, siding. and porches will be completed over the next couple months and into the fall. The stand-alone homes, apart from whatever’s going on with lot 9, have been sold and assembled.

A quick glance at the sales records filed with the county shows a nice mix of buyers; retirees moving in from around town and from outside the Ithaca area, and a number of professionals who are making the jump from renters to owners. Prices for the homes started at around $330k, and in the mid $200s for the townhouses.

For those looking to buy in, you might have missed your chance; all the units are sold or reserved, and developer Toby Millman of Agora Homes and Development LLC says there are no current plans at the moment for another BSC-style development in Ithaca.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 6/2015

16 06 2015

At the Belle Sherman Cottages project site, the first five townhouses (lots 25-29) have had their modular units delivered and craned into place. Waterproofing sheathing can be seen on some of the dormers where the “Autumn Red” and “Savannah Wicker” Certainteed clapboard siding has yet to be installed. and some of the front-facing garages still have unsheathed plywood showing, with rough garage openings. taking a guess, it looks like the work crews are working from north to south (29 to 25) on the two-bedroom townhomes.

The units have a slightly staggered elevation, with the units decreasing a few inches as the row progresses southward. The change in profile makes each unit a little more visually distinct.

A couple walking by as I was taking photos pointed out how curious it was that only the center unit, lot 27, has a rear deck. But, optional features are optional features; que sera sera.

Next to lots 25-29 are the lots for the second set of townhouses, 20-24. The foundation for those homes has been excavated, and at some point soon, the water will be pumped out, footers poured, and the CMU block foundations will be laid for the new units.

On the other side of the property, the last of the marketed homes is under construction. Lot 11 is a “Classic Farmhouse” with Autumn yellow siding and the usual white trim. The four Simplex modular units have been delivered and hoisted onto the foundation (Jason at Ithaca Builds offers a great rundown of the modular units here). Over the next few weeks, the house will be sided, the interiors will be finished out, and the porch and remaining trim will be attached.

The first set of townhomes should be ready for occupancy this summer, and the second set might be ready by August but that seems like a stretch; I’d wager that early fall is more likely. One more single-family house, lot 9, is due to be marketed and built at some point in the near future; the project will then be fully built out, about 3.5 years after the model house was built.

The Belle Sherman Cottages project on East Hill consists of 19 single-family detached homes and 10 townhouses, developed by Skaneateles-based Agora Development and built by local company Carina Construction.

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News Tidbits 5/16: Smart Developments, or Sprawl?

16 05 2015

Looks like this is going to be one of those longer roundups. I’m excited and intimidated at the same time.

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1. First off, I’m going to lead off with renders of the new Tompkins Financial Corporation. Write-up on the Voice here, more drawings here, traffic study here, cover letter here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here.

Rather than describe it in neutral generalities as I did with the Voice article, I’m going to afford the right to be a little subjective. The design is respectful of its neighbors through the use of brick and stone veneer. There’s no real surprises in the design, and corporate buildings tend to be pretty conservative anyway. At 104 feet (100 to the rooftop, and then 4 feet for the roof parapet), this will make a dent in the Ithaca skyline, but once again, it respects and balances out it neighbors by being a little taller than the DeWitt Mall, and a little shorter than 121′ Seneca Place. On a spectrum, the street front is on the nice side though not fantastic; a bank branch and some offices will engage with the street only modestly, but it’s much, much better than the drive-thru there now. The new building is built to the sidewalk, has an urban form, it’s a multi-million dollar private investment and a lot of other things that most upstate mayors would sell their mothers to get. The project is still shooting for a summer approval and construction starting not long thereafter.

One concern I have is that this will offload tens of thousands of square feet of office space onto the Ithaca market. Office space is one of the weaker sectors of the local market, and this may exacerbate the situation. It could cause some problems come 2017, and maybe with projects still in the pipeline such as Harold’s Square, which is shooting for a fall start after two years of trying to secure financing. I think that in the longer term, a few of the spaces such as the Seneca Building (121 East Seneca) might be ripe for a residential conversion.

With that concern noted, I think the parking situation will be okay. Since most of the jobs are shuffling around downtown, there’s not going to be a huge influx of workers. Offhand, I think the numbers are low double-digits (20 or 30) for transfers from Lansing into the city, and then the 77 brand new jobs created over the next several years.


2. And then there were none. With the sale of the last of their townhomes (lots 20-24), the Belle Sherman Cottages have technically sold out. I say technically because Lot 9, the new cottage design on the southwest corner of the parcel, has yet to be marketed let alone sold. I followed up with an email to developer Toby Millman of Agora Home LLC, and he replied that “[w]e are still working on the plans for that home and expect to release if for sale in the next month or so.” So keep an eye out for that.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency – the city recently showed off the 6-acre parcel it owns on Cherry Street to an employer looking to relocate 250 employees to the property, buying the lot and building a one-story “campus setting” over the whole six acres. This may or may not be the same one previous mentioned in the March minutes, regarding an inquiry from a business located outside the city. Since the parcel may have been shown in January or February, it seems that the two are likely the same entity.

This isn’t the first piece of news regarding some potentially major work in this isolated section of Ithaca’s West End – scrap steel mogul Ben Weitsman has also been rumored to have plans, and improved access from the Brindley Street Bridge would aid in redevelopment of this part of the city.


4. The planning board is cautiously enthusiastic about the State Street Triangle development. Per the minutes from the April meeting, they want the building to be as iconic as possible; board member John Schroeder went as fall as to suggest inspiration from the Carson Pirie Scott Building in Chicago:

Another member suggested a decorative crown. If my notes are right, a crown could exceed zoning as long as it’s not habitable space. Some other suggestions include a setback on the upper floors, and looking into incorporating other forms of housing.

5. A quick follow-up on the proposed removal of some lot setbacks at the Nate’s Floral Estates trailer park – according to a tweet from Ithaca Times writer Josh Brokaw, the removal would allow an extra 18 lots for manufactured housing. The trailer park currently has 112 lots, and it’s been noted to have a substantial waiting list. Nate’s Floral Estates serves as senior housing, so this is one way to make a dent in the affordable housing problem.


6. It’s not too often you see someone request a zoning interpretation. At 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill, that’s exactly what local architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is doing on behalf of developer Todd Fox. Fox would like to develop the land with apartments (and he’s no stranger to South Hill, having built a couple duplexes on Hudson Street a couple years ago), but can’t. The city won’t allow construction in the “fall zone” of cell towers, which they define as twice the height of the tower. At 815 South Aurora, a 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel undevelopable. The developer got a hold of two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting), both of whom determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development. It’s an interesting case, and the result could be a sizable apartment complex down the pipeline. Stay tuned for the BZA review in June.


A couple other minor projects are up for zoning variances on parking – a small 2-bedroom house planned for 228 West Spencer is seeking a variance because the builder (Ed Cope of PPM Homes) says there’s no room on the hilly lot, and Todd Fox is requesting a parking variance for a 2-bedroom basement apartment to be built at 108 Ferris Place, saying that its central location and easy bus access should make having a car unnecessary. Coincidentally, architect Noah Demarest is handling both appeal applications.


7. To wrap things up, here’s the latest agenda from Ithaca town. There doesn’t appear to be anything too exciting going on next Tuesday. Cornell is renovating its softball field on East Hill with improved site access, a new restroom and ticket office, and replacing the existing bleaches, dugouts and press box. The 32-unit Clare Bridge assisted senior living project that was discussed last week will be reviewed. There are also sketch plans to be presented for a propane refueling station and sales office to be built on a vacant lot on Elmira Road/Rte. 13.

The planning board will also be reviewing plans to subdivide the Troy Road parcel that was once slated for a major residential project. The seller (Paul Rubin of Florida) apparently has a buyer for the triangular chunk of land south of the power lines (which can be seen in the old render above). With no explicit plans for either plot of land, there’s little reason to deny the subdivision at this time.

Personal opinion, I don’t like the direction this is going. It’s a real shame that the revised 130-road Troy Road project didn’t continue pursuit of approvals, it had really started to coalesce into a decent proposal. But now there’s a possibility where the land gets divvied into multiple chunks with homes scattered on it like bird crumbs. Single-family and duplex homes don’t have to go through board review, so there’s a lot less oversight when the land gets divided among multiple owners and built out in a piecemeal fashion. The last thing the town needs is expensive, sprawling, ecologically insensitive development.





Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 4/2015

12 04 2015

Over at the Belle Sherman Cottages off of Mitchell Street, work is underway on the first set of five townhomes, lots 25-29. The CMU block wall foundations have been assembled and look ready for the Simplex modular pieces to be brought onto the site and fitted. The houses are built using four modules, but the size of the townhouse lots suggests these might have only two modules per unit. The townhouse units sold out fairly quickly, just a few weeks. Sales are underway for the second set of townhomes (lots 20-24), which are expected to be built this year as well.

Elsewhere on the site, the “Classic Bungalow” on lot 12 has been assembled and is undergoing lap siding installation (“Mountain Cedar” color, with a lighter “Savannah Wicker” tan color planned for the dormer). The porch is being assembled and exterior trim is being installed. If you’re interested in learning more about the construction process, there’s a little more info in my previous post here, and on Ithaca Builds here and here. Once completed, there will only be two unbuilt home lots, the already-sold “Autumn Yellowfarmhouse planned for lot 11, and the unsold and un-marketed lot 9.


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News Tidbits 2/28/15: The Big Chill

28 02 2015

1. We’ll start this off with a little investigative work. A large medical office building at 821 Cliff street sold for $945,000 on February 23rd. The sale also came with two other adjacent parcels of undeveloped land, totaling just under 5 acres. Primary Developers Inc. (local developer Mauro Marinelli) sold the building and lots to an LLC with the oh-so-patriotic name “American Blue Sky Holdings LLC”. A little digging reveals the LLC is registered to a Lansing address that is also used by a renting company called Red Door Rentals. This company has never been in the news previously, and its website is nothing but a title page and an email address. A little more digging shows that it’s a recently-launched local business managed by Greg Mezey, a Cornell employee (and alumnus, as his name is familiar to me from when we overlapped as students several years ago). Red Door Rentals has 3 properties and 19 bedrooms, so this purchase is surprisingly large for a small rental company. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on this, watching to see if there’s any intent to redevelop the parcels, or if the LLC is just going to stay the course. Although the healthcare industry is a growing sector with stable tenants, a possible site redevelopment isn’t out of the question – previous owner Marinelli had plans approved in 2007 for a 44-unit apartment complex on a vacant parcel just north of the sold properties, but the project, called Bella Vista, was never built.


2. Well that was fast. It’s hardly been a week and 2 of the 5 units (the middle one and the second from right, lots 21 and 22) in the second phase of the Belle Sherman Cottages townhouses have already been reserved as of the 25th. These are not cheap, they’re going for near $300k. Taking guesses – wealthy parents of Cornellians, or permanent residents?

It may seem like these are a frequent topic of this blog, but that’s because unlike many local projects, they have a strong and regularly updated online presence, which makes my work much easier.


3. There hasn’t been much news about the Old Library site as of late, because the four entities invited to submit detailed proposals have until March 20th to get all their paperwork in. But one thing worth noting is that the Cornerstone project, the only one which has an affordable housing component, is asking for a non-binding letter of interest from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. If selected, the IURA could offer Rochester-based Cornerstone and its partner the Ithaca Housing Authority up to $200,000 towards the development of approximately 70 affordable housing units.

In terms of community support, the Cornerstone project has garnered little interest, with the eco-friendly Franklin/O’Shae proposal and the DPI condo proposal receiving the most support. While this is the only project that offers affordable housing units, they’re apartments rather than purchasable units, and every proposal submitted in the RFEI misses the county’s (overly high) expectations in some form.


4. It’s not uncommon to find apartments through Craigslist, but at least one stalled local project is trying to find retail tenants through the online classifieds website. The project in question is the “College Crossings” development, which comes up in news updates once in a great while – since approval in 2012, the site has been cleared, but not a whole lot else has happened. The second floor was revised from office space to 2 apartments with 9 beds total, which is arguably a better fit and easier to finance in the Ithaca real estate market, and the developer (Evan Monkemeyer of Ithaca Estates Realty) claims to have two of its six retail spaces leased (for a Subway and a Dunkin’ Donuts), with a potential lease on a third space pending – as the site has claimed for months, if not years.

Apparently, the developer is now turning to Craigslist to lease the remaining spaces. Will it be effective? Maybe. It seems the project’s not totally dead, but there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of this mixed-use shopping center ever coming to fruition.


5. Looks like we’re about to shatter the old record for the coldest month ever recorded in Ithaca. Thanks to that -22 F Tuesday morning (the last time Ithaca was that cold was January 22, 2005; in fact, I can only find 10 days that were colder in the entire 122-year record), the monthly average stands at 10.6 F, 0.7 F less than 1979. Saturday will not be enough to warm up the average, so February 2015 will go down as the coldest month in Ithaca’s recorded history. Yay?