News Tidbits 2/21/15: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

21 02 2015

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1. Looks like marketing has started for the second set of townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages project. Local real estate listings have two of the yet-to-be-built townhouses listed for $275k and $310k. The base-equipped units have 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and 1,325 sq ft of living space. Unlike the first set of townhouse units, these units have the garage in the back. The first five townhouses have sold out and are ready to begin construction when the weather permits. This second set of five, lots 20-24 (aka the 200 Block of Walnut Street), will likely see construction later in the year, depending on how well the sales go. They probably don’t need to worry, the first set sold out in a matter of weeks.

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2. For those that haven’t seen it, the Ithaca Times did an excellent piece this week regarding the murky political issues with Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project. Readers may recall that the project applied for tax abatements, but was rejected by the county IDA. The argument is that there was political interference with the decision, and the interference has been masked by statements incongruous with the CIITAP application process (ex. saying that the project was rejected for not being mixed-use, which is not a stipulation in the CIITAP application). The Times builds a pretty significant case that politics are infiltrating the process, manifesting as last-minute demands, and threaten to cut off development in downtown Ithaca, where land values and more stringent community demands make projects more expensive. Nathan Lyman, Jason Fane’s lawyer in the Clinton matter, has sent a letter to the city with his criticisms of the way program and the way local officials dealt with the project; an online copy can be found here.

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3. Some minor tweaks to the 6-unit, 18-bedroom 707 E. Seneca project: basement windows to try and break up the monotony of its concrete block base. Apart from that, the color descriptions, facade details and finishes look to be unchanged from the earlier plan (first image). The project, planned for a vacant parcel that was one an abandoned school playground, is due to receive final site approval at next week’s planning board meeting. Developer Todd Fox hopes to have the project complete in time for the 2015-2016 academic year.

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4. Taking a gander at the upcoming planning board meeting, here’s what there is to look forward to:

– A. More talk about the Marriott signage – Marriott corporate wrote in to say that they’re not going to change their rooftop corporate signage just because Ithaca wants to be unique, but they are open to shrinking it so that it’s less prominent. The hotelier also said they would be open to some degree of “interpretation” with the street-level signage.

– B. Final Site Approval for the Canopy Hilton – This might be delayed again due to a potentially huge problem on the horizon. The CSMA (Eagles Building) next door sent a letter opposing the use of its rear parking lot for a utility easement by this and the Carey Building, because it could hamper their own theoretical expansion plans. In the letter, they have said they would allow the easement if they get to take the land between them and the Carey Building, which is what the Hilton intends to use as their driveway. It would be a major rearrangement of the Canopy site plan (and potentially prohibited by the city’s transportation engineer since E. Seneca is one way), and these moves by the CSMA could impact work on the Carey Building as well. The city already granted an easement late last month to the Carey Building for the municipal parking lot between CSMA and the Carey Building, and work’s already begun, so it’s unlikely that parking lot’s ever going to be reopened. Everyone loses.

I can’t tell who at the moment, but considering the Carey and Hilton projects have been under review for nearly a year, the timing of this is awful, someone really botched up here. This could be a very nasty fight. Let me grab the popcorn.

– C. Declaration of Lead Agency/Environmental Review of the Lake Street Bridge Replacement and neighboring pocket park

– D. Final Site Plan Approval for the 5-unit, 3 building project at 128 West Falls Street

– E. Final Site Plan Approval of the Upson Hall Renovations on Cornell’s Campus

– F. Final Site Plan Approval for the 6-unit 707 E. Seneca project (item 3 up above)

– G. Sketch Plan presentation of INHS’s 210 Hancock/Neighborhood Pride Redevelopment

– H. Sketch Plan presentation for the Simeon’s/Griffin Building Reconstruction (seen above, courtesy of Jason K. Demarest Architect)

Subdivision review will also take place for the duplex proposed behind 424 Dryden Road, and paperwork has been filed for another subdivision to create a lot for a new single-family home (203 Pearl Street) by slicing off the north portion of 201 Pearl’s lot. The Pearl Street subdivision won’t be reviewed until the March meeting.

5. Another Ithaca Times piece, this one about strong opposition to a proposed expansion to a spiritual wellness/meditation center on Turkey Hill Road. the expansion calls for 10-12 beds for overnight visitors, but neighbors are fiercely against it for noise and traffic concerns.The architect for the expansion is Noah Demarest of local firm STREAM Collaborative, but there’s no renders of the proposed expansion on the website just yet (but their website is updated pretty regularly, so it’s only a matter of time).

Good heavens. This is one of those weeks where it seems everyone in Tompkins County hates everyone else that lives in Tompkins County.

 





Carey Building Construction Update, 2/2015

9 02 2015

I was originally going to schedule this for later in the week, but I figure I’ll run it now, since the recent twitter chatter is observant but mistaken. The Canopy Hotel is not under construction. At least, not yet. The hotel is expected to start in early Spring. But the work on the Carey Building addition is just beginning.

According to Jason Henderson at Ithaca Builds, building contractor LeChase Construction is currently conducting underpinning work on the Carey Building. Underpinning is the name of the process by which a foundation is strengthened – certainly necessary when one is about to add five floors onto a 2-story building. The second to last photo here shows some of the underpinning work on the eastern foundation wall, and the tarp is on the roof indicates prep-work for the upcoming expansion. LeChase will also be handling the construction of the Canopy Hotel next door.

It’s quite unusual in a place like Ithaca to have two separate large projects right next to each other under construction at the same time. This will be logistically complicated. In a letter to the Canopy developers, LeChase’s large trucks will have their brakes inspected before entering State Street, and will be escorted down the hill to a designated area on Seneca Street, and will leave the city via Seneca Street. According to construction phase diagrams, The steel for the Carey Building will be erected first; then, using the same crane, LeChase will begin installing steel for the new hotel. Sharing the crane will result in a cost savings to both owners.

When most of the western side of the hotel has had its steel structure craned into place, LeChase will transition to a smaller crane and switch the material unloading and staging area to East State Street. This is because the hotel occupies most of the site, so the crane is reduced and East State street will be closer to the location of the new crane. Cladding and interior materials will continue to be fed in via E. State Street through the project’s completion in Spring 2016. The Carey Building will have been completed by then, finishing by the end of summer 2015.

The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 sq ft to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it to 8,700 sq ft), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments. Floors 4 and 5 will have 16 studio apartment units that average only 400-500 sq ft, their small size enabling them to be rented at a lower price. The 4 units on floors 6 and 7 will be larger 2-bedroom units. The $4.1 million project is being developed by local firm Travis Hyde Companies.

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News Tidbits 12/13/14: ‘Tis the Season For Development Slowdown

13 12 2014

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1. Leading off, the NYS Regional Economic Development Council Awards. In other words, the annual event where the state takes its economic aid money and an impartial committee is supposed to examine and decide who gets more or less money. It’s supposed to be competitive. I’d rather see the taxes not be collected in the first place.

Tompkins County gets placed in the “Southern Tier” category, which has been in the middle of the pack most years (as has its regional neighbor, “Finger Lakes”). Those two were 3rd and 4th this year out of 10, with a little over $80 million each. Most of it is going towards job training programs and studies/plans, but a few funded items stick out:

-$2.8 million for Cornell to expand its vet school classes by 30 students each (120 total). The goal is to “Expand Rural Veterinarians”.

– $1.9 million for Finger Lakes ReUse to “construct two additional buildings”. I suspect one of those is the renovation of 214 Elmira Road for the new HQ (shown above).

– $250,000 for the Chain Works District to help pay for energy efficiency and feasibility studies for the project.

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2. Am I happy about the decision with 130 E. Clinton? No. This has little to do with mixed-use or steep hillsides. I firmly believe that it became a popularity contest and a referendum of Fane’s character. My concern is that this risks becoming the norm, and has the potential to be a lawyer’s paradise. I also don’t look fondly on frequent and fervent opposition to development when housing costs are spiraling upward.

Opposite side of the coin, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. Other contentious projects – Stone Quarry, the Marriott, Collegetown Terrace, Cayuga Green, just about every other project built in the past 20 years – squeak by at least in part because the developers don’t come across as combative, conniving assholes. Plus, Fane himself is quite wealthy, which doesn’t exactly help an argument for tax breaks.

Well, I’ll move this one into the “mothballed/dead” column. With this and the Maguire proposal hitting a dead end, this has not been a good couple weeks.

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3. On a different note, the Carey Building tax abatement was approved unanimously. At least some developers know how to play nice. Look for the additional REV incubator space and 20 apartment units to start construction shortly and open for renters in August 2015.

4. Down in big box land, the former Kmart space looks to be filling out with new tenants. Discount clothing store chain TJ Maxx has agreed to take 21,770 sq ft of space, and Five Below (a teen retailer specializing in products $5 or less – it sounds like the product of a one-night stand between Dollar Tree and H&M) has agreed to take 8,208 sq ft of space. The old garden center will be replaced with a 16,200 sq ft addition, a revision of the previously-approved 14,700 sq ft. Benderson Development is redoing the front facade for TJ Maxx, and needs a couple of minor area variances. Readers might recall the Ithaca Kmart closed in 2011, and its sister store, Sears, is closing this winter. If this is any indicator, then there’s hope that the Sears space will be re-occupied soon enough.

Not much else of note for zoning trifles from the city’s Planning Board meeting – someone wants to build a new 2-family home at the corner of Oak Avenue and Oneida Place in outer Collegetown, and a house on Heights Court in Cornell Heights is trying to get increased occupancy for unrelated tenants. For the first time in several months, no new sketch plans are due to be presented at a Planning Board meeting; the holiday and earlier-than-usual monthly meeting are probably a big part of that.

5. Not much to report for Ithaca town’s Planning Board meeting either – a proposal for a new duplex at 636 Coddington Road, and an expansion of the East Hill Plaza branch of Collegetown Bagels into adjacent empty retail space. That winter slowdown is in full swing.





News Tidbits 12/10/14: Content Being Contentious

10 12 2014

This one is coming out early this week for the sake of timeliness.

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1. Thursday the 11th, the county IDA votes on whether to approve tax abatements for two downtown projects, Travis Hyde’s Carey Building addition and Ithaca Renting/Fane Org’s 130 East Clinton. The $4.1 million Carey Building addition adds 9,000 sq ft of incubator office space and 20 units, 16 of which are 300-450 sq ft studios. 130 East Clinton would add 36 units in three interconnected buildings on a steeply sloped parcel adjacent to the city police HQ, at a cost of $4.4 million. The multi-year tax abatements are in the range of $850k each.

At the public hearing for the two projects, the Carey Building attracted little attention and dissent (which isn’t to say that there hasn’t been any), but Fane’s project attracted much ire. I’m not going to defend Fane’s character. Heck, the man’s been combative through this whole process. But I will side with the trustworthy opinions of Cornish, DeSarno and others that it contributes something to the very tight housing supply and it is a welcome resource. Denying the project by virtue of it being Fane is legally perilous and sets a bad precedent, and saying it’s a bad spot…well, it’s downtown Ithaca, where high-density lot use is expected. If Fane didn’t think he could get the environmental assessment approved he wouldn’t have proposed it. We’ll see what the board decides.

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2. Up on South Hill, Ithaca College is holding meetings to flesh out its new master plan. Similar to the plan Cornell published in 2008, the purpose of the master plan (website here) is to determine what the space needs are for different assets and programs of the college, and figuring out where to put them. The master plan is being spearheaded by Perkins Eastman out of NYC. The previous plan by Sasaki Associates was published in 2002 with a refresher in 2010, so to get something out in 2015 would be appropriate. I did a writeup on the old IC plan way back in August 2008. Don’t expect any new plan to be followed to a tee- the athletic center ended up on the complete opposite of IC’s campus than originally planned. But it will provide insight as to what IC wants to build through the rest of the decade and beyond. Key things to looks for – dorm sites in case the college decides to expand its student population, and new program space, which tends to get built sooner or later (for instance, the Business School addition, Athletic Center, and Peggy Williams Center from the 2002 plan).

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3. The 15,700 sq ft retail pad proposed by Wegmans is up for final review at the December planning board meeting, accordingly to the city projects memo. Compared to the initial design, the building has been rotated on site so that its long axis is now north-south, and the design itself received a number of tweaks, though the overall design theme is still the same as before. There have been some concerns raised by local wine and liquor store owners that it could be home to liquor/wine store, similar to what Wegmans has done at other sites in Johnson City and Buffalo. However, that is one of only a few ideas being floated, and the planning board doesn’t vote on what type of store can be allowed to open in a building, that’s a debate for the Common Council.

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4. Looks like the Maguire plan has hit a dead end. According to the Times, the Maguires want the site rezoned rather than a specialized PDZ for the property. Looking at the PDZ regulations, the town’s idea would give more freedom in regards to property use, but it also gives the town the right to regulate the form and layout of the structures on site. I guess the Maguires aren’t fond of that. The town just completed its comprehensive plan and is trying to get its new form-based zoning together, so the Maguires are essentially usurping something the town spent years working on. In conclusion: no dice. The Maguires are still interested in doing something, but it may not be in Ithaca town. Though with as packed as the city is and as questionable as Lansing can be, I’m not sure they have many options.

5. Over in Lansing Village, a mothballed project is getting a revival. “CU Suites” (aka Manley and Richard Thaler, who own the Triphammer Marketplace) proposes a 3-story, 43,000 sq ft building on the west side of Cinema Drive, on a site that is currently a vacant lot. Interestingly, this site was previously approved for a mixed-use structure with those parameters in fall 2012, consisting of two commercial spaces and a 39-unit apartment building, but that plan was never carried out. The proposal before the board seeks “alterations and possible clarification” to the project. No updated renders on the village website, but a site plan of the previously approved plan can be found here. Before the previous plan was approved, the site has been marketed for an office building for two years, to no avail (the market for office space in Ithaca is pretty weak). We’ll see what happens, maybe this one will finally get underway.

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6. For what it’s worth, the proposal at 707 East Seneca appears to be student housing. Applicant Todd Fox (a local developer who’s done a few other small projects in Ithaca and Dryden) wants to build six units with sixteen bedrooms, five 3-bedrooms and a basement 1-bedroom, situated next to four parking spaces tucked into the hillside (four more spaces would be out in the open). I’m not sure how so many units are possible, since I thought the maximum allowed on site was four units. I’d love to see how it looks, but there’s nothing on the city website (which, sidenote, has been “updated” and now has information of three separate websites, the new one, E-govlink and “TSSERR”; the notification emails don’t work and it’s driving me nuts). If something comes up, you’ll find it here sooner or later.





News Tidbits 11/15/14: For Better Or Worse

15 11 2014

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1. I see the Journal (and Common Council) has touched on what is probably one of the biggest questions when it comes to housing in Ithaca – the affordability issue. As noted over at Ithaca Builds, it’s a complicated problem, and there is no silver bullet. We have a confluence of problems, many of them fortuitous – a growing economy and a desirable place to live, even if it has a dearth of developable land. On the other hand, wages aren’t going up as fast; so the problem gets worse. From 2000 to 2013, average income increased 61%, but home values over the same time increased about 105%.

I become very negative and cynical when I think about this issue. It gets lip service, but no one really wants to do anything about it. Development costs are expensive in Ithaca, so no developer wants to do it on their own dime. There’s also a mentality among some residents that affordable housing equates to ghettos and crime. West Hill is opposed to more affordable housing on their hill, South Hill would be very difficult due to simmering tension left from the Stone Quarry battle, Downtown’s too expensive without tax breaks, and Cornell students price out East Hill. There’s not much space that’s developable in the inner neighborhoods, only rare opportunities like the Neighborhood Pride site. Anything built outside the city is sprawl. I don’t see a solution to this problem. I only see it getting worse.

As for the hotel, the type of business it brings helps define the services offered by nearby retail. They probably won’t visit second-hand clothing stores, laundromats, or the local bank. But they will restaurants and bookstores and novelty shops. The shops will continue to evolve as they’ve always done – for better or worse, depending on who you ask.

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Switching gears but on the topic of hotels, Tompkins County and the city are making a killing on the high demand for hotel rooms, and 2015 is expected to be a banner year thanks to Cornell’s sesquicentennial and other big events. Literally, the report has “cha-ching!” written in the notes. According to the paperwork presented at the October Planning and Economic Development meeting, the city can comfortably accommodate either the Marriott, Canopy or Holiday Inn Express on 13 without a problem (no mention of the smaller hotel approved for 13, although it would be a blip in the market); the city/county can accommodate two of the three with only a minor hiccup. But if all three are built in the next couple years without a new driving force to bring in visitors, an older hotel further out in the county will likely close. My fingers crossed in the hope the Hotel Ithaca convention center gets the construction loans it needs, for that will be a boon to the hospitality market.

2. Looks like the land sale for the Amabel project is in the works after falling a little behind schedule. 617 Five Mile Drive is tentatively selling for the minimum price (the tax assessed value of $16,875), after New Earth Living’s initial bid for $10,000 was rejected. City gets money, land gets sold off and added to tax rolls, and down the line it gets used for housing. Win-win. I win as well, for a correct if easy prediction.

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3. The county’s IDA is reviewing tax abatements for Jason Fane’s 36-unit 130 East Clinton project, and the 20-unit mixed-use Carey Building addition proposed by Travis Hyde Companies. The document for the Carey Building reveals a construction time from of December 2014 to August 2015 for the $4.1 million project, and the number of REV incubator tenants is now up to 9. The reason for the abatement is to take the reduced costs created by the abatement, and move the new units from the upper-end of the rental market to the middle. The applicant writer does a pretty effective job selling it, saying that it will help ameliorate the dearth of affordable rental housing if approved. No new jobs are anticipated, but then, this doesn’t count any company in the incubator. The requested property tax abatement plan, and with sales/mortgage abatements, is valued at $850k over 10 years.

Looking at Fane’s project, the document notes a start and finish date in “2015, hopefully 2015 but most likely completed 2016“. That does not instill confidence. The construction cost is $4.4 million. The property tax abatement isn’t explicitly stated in the document, referring to a spreadsheet that wasn’t included in the upload. However, it says it’s following a standard 7 or 10-year plan, so it’s in the ballpark of several hundred thousand dollars. The sales and mortgage tax abatement is $200k.

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4. Here’s a site plan render of those “artisanal” car dealerships proposed by the Maguires. Both budget motels come down, but the “mosquito pond” as one commenter described it will still be there. Apparently, campus-like dealerships look a lot like corporate office parks. Saponi Meadows Park lies to the north of the line of trees, on the property adjacent to the Peachtree Lane homes. Saponi Meadows would be connected via the “Coregonel Remembrance Trail” to Tutelo Park in the upper right. The dealerships would be Subaru, Hyundai, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Nissan and the corporate office for the Maguires. The developers predict 40-50 new jobs if built out. Local firm Schickel Architecture is responsible for the site plan.

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5. It’s back. For the town planning board meeting next week, round two for the Troy Road housing development is about to begin. Some readers might recall this past winter, when it began as a 216-unit proposal. By August, it had entered red-tape hell, because neighbors were opposed to the PDZ it needed.  Details on the newest incarnation here. Now down to 130 units, a PDZ is no longer needed. The project will be comprised of 46 2-4 bedroom single-family homes, and 14 sets of 4-unit 1-2 bedroom townhomes (56 units total) and 14 duplexes (2 units each, 28 total). It seems a little odd to include single-family homes again, since those were cut from the last design because the developers weren’t sure there was a large enough market for them. Compared to the previous design,  this one is less sprawling, has an orchard and farm on-site, and looks to be eschewing the “rural agricultural”-style housing for modern units designed to exceed NYS Energy Code. With fewer units and no need for a PDZ, the project has a much better chance of approval.

6. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, regional scrap metal magnate Ben Weitsman just bought a former industrial site in Syracuse and plans a retail and hotel development on the site. What does have to do with Ithaca? Nothing, at a glance. But as I noted last month, Weitsman has plans for his Ithaca property, plans that are waiting on the Brindley Street bridge replacement. What exactly those plans are isn’t known quite yet. But now we know he isn’t just interested in expanding scrap yards.

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7. Another piece from the IJ, this one a meaty write-up on the Ithaca Gun cleanup progress. This (hoepfully) last round of decontamination should be complete by the start of Spring 2015. IFR Development LLC (Ithaca Falls Residences), a byproduct of Travis Hyde Companies, hopes to present sketch plans for 45 units of clustered townhouses in December. Some will be 2 stories, others 4 stories with upper and lower units stacked on each other.

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On a whim, I googled “Ithaca Falls Residences” and this report from September came up, complete with renderings. How close they are to the current product, I don’t know. But I suspect they’re not too far off. Adjusting the timeline numbers, it suggests an early 2017 completion.





News Tidbits 10/25/14: It Seems Expensive Because It Is

25 10 2014

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1. I always appreciate it when people respond to my emails. On a whim, I emailed the realtor in charge of the Belle Sherman Cottages to see which ones were underway with sales, and what the time frame was. She forwarded the request to the developer, Toby Millman of Agora Homes and Development LLC, who wrote back to say that as of the 17th, the front-loading garages on lots 25-29 (render above) were being marketed, and three of the five have been sold. They are planning for an April 2015 completion for those five, with the modules being set into place next year (some site prep work may occur this fall). The five townhomes with the back-loading garages are not being marketed just yet. Who knows, with most of the homes being sold and several under construction, the entire project could be complete by the end of 2015.

2. Oh geez. An Irish-themed Hooters is coming to Ithaca. According to the Post-Standard, Tilted Kilt, a “Celtic-themed sports pub”, is looking at a restaurant for Ithaca. The Syracuse location due to open next month will be 7,000 sq ft, I expect an Ithaca location would be similarly-sized. The chain already has a location in Watertown, and has plans for a Utica restaurant as well. Basically, any city over 30,000 roughly within an hour’s radius of Syracuse. Here’s the chain’s website, featuring a woman preparing to make out with a hamburger. I’m sure the fratty frat boys at Cornell are getting excited. Placing bets on whether they go for Lansing or southwest Ithaca.

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3. Per the IJ, The developers of the Carey Building expansion are asking for a tax abatement from the city via the CIITAP application. A primer on CIITAP applications can be found here at the Ithaca Voice; a number of projects in the city’s “density district” have used them in recent years as a way to offset high development costs in downtown and West End. Recently, Jason Fane made news for pursuing a tax abatement via CIITAP for his project on East Clinton Street. The standard abatement is 7 years, with 90% of the increased value being offset in the first year. In this case,the building was assessed in 2014 at $475,000. The new construction will cost $4.7 million according to the IJ, but it says $1.6 million in the city’s site plan application; that gives us assessed values in year one of $945,000 if the IJ is right, or $635,000 if the SPR is still accurate. The abatement tapers off through the latter six years. As with Fane, I suspect Travis Hyde Companies is pursuing an abatement simply because they can, they meet the qualifications so carpe diem. The wide difference in the IJ and SPR numbers could be an indication of rapidly rising project costs. Regardless of reasoning, this definitely isn’t going to do the developers any favors when it comes to community relations.

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4. Maybe the Novarr interview in the Voice will have run by the time this runs; maybe it won’t. Just in case, straight from the developer himself, Phase III/Building 7, with its 247 units, is planned for a late 2015 construction start, with completion in the summer of 2017. It’s a long construction period; it’s also a very big building.

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5. From the Cornell Daily Sun, it’s expected that rents at Collegetown Crossing will be around $1,000, per month, per tenant. Students in Cornell’s Student Assembly aren’t exactly pleased, since that number far exceeds even what most Cornellians can afford (but don’t worry; with student population growth far outstripping supply, there’s enough demand for student rentals, even in the luxury segment, that this place will fill up to capacity as soon as it opens). Welcome to Ithaca’s severely under-supplied rental market; open your wallets wide, boys and girls.

It just occurred to me that since I wrote the enrollment column last year with 2012 numbers, I glanced at the 2014 numbers on the University Factbook. Now it’s 21,850, an increase of 426 students in 2 years, and in pace with the 2002-2012 period. 234 of that 426, 55%, were grad and professional students.

There are a number of factors for why it’s so expensive – land values in Collegetown are high, construction labor is expensive because Ithaca is off the beaten path, taxes are high, and the new Collegetown zoning doesn’t allow Lower to build out the rear portion as he initially intended, forcing him to keep the building’s rear flank at 4 floors instead of 6 (the zoning is also what allows him to build in the first place, since it removed the parking requirement).

Let me be clear. Unless something is done to reduce demand or increase supply, this will become the norm, and Cornell students of modest means will be placed in an increasingly precarious situation with the cost of housing. Just like the rest of Ithaca.

6. To wrap things up, here’s looking into the agenda of next week’s Planning Board meeting (and what will probably comprise my mid-week posts). Purity, The Canopy by Hilton, Chain Works, 114 Catherine, and the 15,700 sq ft retail building on the Wegmans pad site. Only the Wegmans parcel is up for final approval.

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114 Catherine comes to the board with one major change – the front entrance was moved from the corner to the middle of the front facade. Still 17 bedrooms in 3 units.

As for new projects coming up for sketch plan, we technically have three. As much as I was looking forward to it, Ithaca Gun is not one of them, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next month.

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The first is 402 S. Cayuga Street. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize this as INHS’s 4-unit townhome project.

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The second is Cornell – Upson Hall renovations. Cornell stuff is easy enough to find, they publish veritable novels about projects once they’re cleared by the Board of Trustees. Upson renovations sound like they’re mostly internal work with a facade update. I’m more interested in the proposed biomedical building they have yet to roll out designs for. The Upson renovation is supposed to cost $63 million, so maybe there are additions involved; the new biomedical building, $55 million. The firms involved look to be LTL Architects, Perkins+Will, and Thornton-Tomasetti. In other words, modern glass and steel box, looking for LEED Gold. No renders yet, but I’ll post ’em when I see ’em.

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The last of the trio is yet another Collegetown project – 302-306 College Avenue, an address which consists of the three architectural stunners above. I’ve been patiently waiting for a proposal here (though to be honest, I’m kinda partial to 302, second from the left). John Schroeder from the Planning Board has wanted a proposal here for years. They sit in an MU-2 zone – 6 floors, 80′, no parking required. All three are owned by the Avramis family, Collegetown’s third-largest property owners. More interestingly, rumor has it that the buildings they own contingent to 302 College on Catherine Street, which are CR-4 zoning (no parking, 4 floors), are involved as well. So this could be a fairly substantial project. My money is on Sharma Arch being involved, since they are Avramis Real Estate’s usual architect-of-choice. I figured that the M&T Bank on the 400 block would get torn down first, but this is no big surprise, the Avramises have been fairly active in redeveloping their properties.





News Tidbits 10/4/14: Risky Business

4 10 2014

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1. According to the IJ, Urgo Hotels finally has a construction company lined up for the long-awaited downtown Marriott hotel. The firm, William H. Lane Inc. out of Binghamton, is no stranger to the area, with previous work on Cornell and IC’s campuses. Construction would hopefully start in October and take place over a year or so; late 2015 would be great, but early 2016 seems more plausible. The journal article makes reference to the firm also being involved with a dorm expansion planned at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) starting construction this fall; this is the first time I’ve heard anything about there being more dorms out in Dryden. I checked TC3’s news archives and found nothing, and I contacted their residential life but received no response. The main classroom building is undergoing renovation, so it could just be a typo on the Journal’s part.

With as many delays as the Marriott project has had, I won’t believe the hotel’s under construction until I see foundation work underway.

2. In economic news, a quickly-growing local company is applying for tax abatements to help fund its expansion. BinOptics of Lansing is based out of the Cornell Business Park over near the airport, at 9 Brown and 20 Thornwood Drive. According to their TCIDA tax abatement application, the abatement is to underwrite some of the cost for expanding in those two buildings, and adding a 2,800 sq ft clean room onto 9 Brown (BinOptics works in the manufacture and sale of optical and laser devices). The project is expected to cost $7.7 million, mostly on new equipment. On paper, it sounds promising; the 14 year-old company claims to have grown from about 50 to 143 employees in the past 3 years, 35 in the past year alone. They expect to add 91 more jobs over the next 3 years, of which the vast majority pay living wage. The abatement is for about $200k in mortgage and sales taxes, and a multi-million dollar abatement on property taxes (I’m not sure of the exact figure because it deviates from the TCIDA standard plan, but it is greater than the standard plan).

I’m not about to support or oppose this until I know how much the tax abatement is for, but the glassdoor reviews don’t bode well.

3. And now there are four – Integrated Acquisition and Development has pulled out of the Old Library competition. Its “Library Square” project had the most units, but was generally unloved by constituents. INHS dropped out of the running when it acquired the Neighborhood Pride grocery site a few months ago and decided to focus on thatThat leaves Travis Hyde’s proposal, Cornerstone Group, and the two favorites, DPI’s condo proposal, and Franklin/O’Shae’s reuse proposal. Both have ardent groups of supporters; as an observation, what DPI has in big name supporters, Franklin/O’Shae is counteracting with grassroots outreach. Both have their own merits, one promoting home ownership, the other ecological sensitivity.

Now comes the actual RFP (Request for Proposals). According to the county press release, it will include

“…detailed site plan, building design and floor plans; detailed cost and financial information, including the proposed financing for the project; certification of ability to close on acquisition (or lease) by a given date; verification of any agreement or memorandum of understanding with Lifelong (if a part of the project), and with any other parties committing to lease or own space in the building.  Among other recommended elements are any anticipated request for tax abatements or tax credits; strategies to manage parking demand; specific measures to reduce carbon footprint; and evidence of meeting with the City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and with City staff to assure that the project meets zoning and code requirements.”

The draft RFP is due to be reviewed at the November 7th meeting.

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4. The Ithaca Times is running a piece where shop owners on the 300 Block of East State are fretting about the loss of the municipal parking lot for the Hampton Inn project. Will the loss of adjacent parking be inconvenient? Sure, a little bit. This was also a block that historically (The Strand, 1916-1993) had a large theater occupying much of the site. Some of the shopkeeps and property owners are cautious and neutral about the parking changes and coming hotel, which is fair; one seems to think it will ruin their business. The same one who, although quoted that she’d support downtown residential projects, has also gone on the record for opposing the Carey Building addition, saying the addition was out of character. Hmm. Regardless, it will be logistically complex, but I think the end results will justify the nuisances.

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5. On the other hand, the ever-increasing Commons delays are a serious, serious problem. I can’t claim to know much about the bidding process, but Vacri was the only one who bid for the third phase, came in well over budget. What Ithaca is getting is a watered-down, overpriced, much-delayed project that threatens downtown’s commercial vitality, which is really unfortunate. Michael Kuo, the Commons project manager, probably wants to crawl under a rock. I wouldn’t blame him for that.

6. The Belle Sherman Cottages project on the east side of Ithaca says that sales and prep work are underway for their townhomes. The townhomes will be built in 2 sets of 5 units, one set will have garages facing the front side (thumbs down) and the other will have garage doors in the back (thumbs up). All of the units are 2-bedrooms, 2.5 bath, and start at about $250k. That makes them a bit of a premium price in the Ithaca market, but they are new, and I have no doubt at least a couple of the units will be bought by deep-pocketed Cornellian parents who don’t want to worry about their little ivy leaguer paying rent. I know at least one townhouse unit has already sold.

Spring seems to be intended completion period, whether that’s for one set of 5 or both, I’m not sure. I’m going to guess that it depends on sales this fall.

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7. In other town news, the planning board will be looking at plans to make Ithaca a little boozier. Local brewery Ithaca Beer plans to more than double the size of their current 16,000 sq ft brewery and restaurant with a 23,800 sq ft addition. The addition will house increased production and storage space, something that in the documents filed, the brewery claims in necessary to keep up with its “tremendous growth”. Its unknown how many jobs would be created by the expansion, although the paperwork implies there will be a sizable increase.

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8. Over at the city’s design review board, the owners of the Rothschild’s Building (215 E. State) want to add another multi-pane window to the 1970s structure. I can comfortably say it’s an improvement.

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9. Lastly, from the city’s planning committee comes intended start dates of several local projects. The Hotel Ithaca addition and convention center? Shooting for a November start. Also, Ithaca Gun will be an apartment complex.

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News Tidbits 8/2/14: It’s Gotta Go Somewhere

2 08 2014

Here’s the semi weekly digest for your mid-summer doldrums…

1. Yet another round of Carey Building design tweaks. Updated renders and more here. At least now the renders include the proposed Hampton Inn to its north, which shows just how dense this corner will be (not unlike its historical precedent, when the massive Strand Theatre occupied much of the block). Better yet, that blank wall on the west face has windows and will be home to a “art wall” for a mural. The roof and facade have been tweaked since the last update, and I think it’s fair to say that this is a substantial improvement over the initial proposal.

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2. I had the updated PDF of the 323 Taughannock Boulevard proposal stored away for the next news update, but Jason at IB wrote an in-depth article about the development in the meanwhile, which is much better than a blurb on this blog. Most notably this time around is the inclusion of color renders, which is just as much a hodgepodge of influences as the design itself. The 20-unit, 23,000 sq ft, $3.5 million waterfront development would be under construction in the first half of 2015, if approved. Replacing a run-down waterfront bar, it has the potential to pioneer development of Ithaca’s waterfront, where controversial zoning was passed in 2011 to allow for larger projects such as this.

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3. Now for something different. The project on Troy Road in the town of Ithaca is trapped in the red tape. At last check, the developers, the perhaps disingenuously-named Rural Preservation Housing Associates, were trying to figure out where to go, as they’re having difficulties gathering enough support from the town board for a Planned Development Zone. This PDZ is required because the project proposes 166 units; the max under cluster zoning, which doesn’t require a Town Board-approved PDZ, is either 153 or 154. According to a recent town Planning Committee meeting, the alternative to the 154 or so clustered units is up to 104 units of even more sprawling single-family housing (52 lots with two units each), which is within zoning and could be rented out if they have trouble selling. The developers have been considering community meetings to quell public dissent and to learn what would get the PDZ apartment development passed. For the record, they’ve said they are open to prohibiting undergrads from renting and occupying units, which is possible since students are not a protected class under the law.

TL;DR – it’s a mess. I’ll add that in with the Biggs parcel issue, and the (weakening) opposition to INHS’s Greenways in East Ithaca, that the town has achieved the trifecta of development battles on all of its hills.

There was an interesting housing study that I came across for the Troy Road parcel, created by some Cornell City and Regional Planning (CRP) students for a course. The first phase as designed by the students would have 14 affordable (owners making 80% of county median income) housing units with 11 1180 sq ft. 2-bedroom and 3, 1355 sq ft. 3-bedroom homes, utilizing state tax credits to keep sale costs between $140k and 155k. Their proposal would have require changing the current zone from low density to medium density, which would have made such a project a non-starter.

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4. Meanwhile in Lansing, they’re weighing in on 102 townhomes. If Ithaca were an island, anti-development could be great. But since other towns are building housing and adding residents that will travel through the town to get to the employment centers in the city, then the residents of the town of Ithaca had better figure out a more effective strategy to managing growth other than knee-jerk no’s.

5. Some members of Ithaca’s West Hill community listserve is engaged in a thought exercise – seceding from the town and making their own village to specifically oppose any development proposed in their community. This isn’t without precedent; the village of Lansing was founded in 1974 due to fears stirred up by the construction of Pyramid Mall. West Hill, in turn, fears housing, especially low-income housing, due to the negative influence from low-income, high crime apartment complexes such as West Village. The “Minority Report” that they gave to the town planners was described as “a polemic of the proposed [Comprehensive] Plan as a whole, and offers few comments on any specific goals and recommendations“, and the town spent six pages excoriating the bombastic report. It’s another TL;DR for most, but the gist of the West Hill Minority Report is that the town encourages sprawl and ghettos and should only allow very small areas for development, even deconstructing some currently-built areas due to an increasingly unsustainable environment. I understand their angry reaction due to the high crime in southwest Ithaca, but all this is the administrative equivalent of over-correcting a car in a skid.

6. And then there were 5 – Since INHS is focusing on the Neighborhood Pride site, the non-profit is withdrawing from old library competition. Looks like John Schroeder can add DeWitt House to his entries in his “Unbuilt Ithaca” book draft. But don’t worry, they’ve already starting working towards redevelopment of the old grocery store, by issuing a request for qualifications (RFQ) for those interested and capable of designing their new infill project.

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7. At a glance, this call for bids on this parcel of city land at Five Mile Drive would seem to be wide open…except a local green housing developer has been targeting this plot for quite a while. It’s a bit like advertising a job when you already have someone lined up for the position. Oddly enough, I have yet to hear opposition this one; maybe it’s too far south for West Hill to care.

8. Lansing village is getting a mosque, according to the Star. The project, to be built at 112 Graham Road by the Al-Huda Islamic Center of the Finger Lakes, will result in a 4,828 sq ft mosque, with a small minaret if money provides.

Rendering courtesy of Lansing Star

Rendering courtesy of Lansing Star





News Tidbits 7/17/14: It’s All About the Materials

17 07 2014

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Given the rate of development exposition and modification, this is becoming a sort of weekly digest. I’m perfectly okay with that.

1. First up, the omnipresent Carey Building addition by Travis-Hyde Properties. This one has been tweaked at least twice already (not counting the initial massing model), and here we have another update, though it looks to be mostly in the materials that the addition would be composed with. revised plans here. Depending on your definition of structural height, the addition would bring the Carey Building to 77’10” to the penthouse roof, 82’10” to the parapet, or 87’10” to the mechanical rooftop. To highlight some of the other changes, the roof-lines were tweaked, as were the windows on the east face. The west face is still blank, though the lighter color does make it seem a little less overbearing in the renders.

Also, contrary to the recent Times article, not all five additional floors are residential. The first floor of the addition (third floor from street level) is additional office space for the business incubator.

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2. Next up is 327 Eddy, owned by Stephen Fontana and designed by local firm Sharma Architecture. Cover letter here, application here, and drawings here. I remember thinking the sketch render looked a little weird with the brick above the courtyard, and the design has been tweaked as this proposal materializes out of the aether. We now have some dates and figures. This one would be starting in May 2015 and completed in August 2016. The estimated cost of construction is $5 million (like the other two Sharma applications for 205 Dryden and 307 College…they may just be making up a nice, round, semi-believable number). It will build up 68′ from the sidewalk of Eddy Street, and 60′ from the rear portion (the building steps up as it extends back into its steep lot). Still 28 units and 64 bedrooms, and it has 1,800 sq ft of ground-floor retail space.

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3. Greenways, the INHS affordable townhouse development off of Honness Lane (site shown in the lead photo), has been approved. Good.

4. Cayuga Ridge, the Biggs Property proposal out on West Hill, is not so lucky. This one has been tied up for a while due to neighbors’ opposition to the site’s development – it’s also turned into a veritable sh*tshow, with those against the development using the standard traffic and sprawl arguments (the latter being a little weird since it’s right next to the hospital and across the street from the Overlook complex), while some of those for the project have played the race card. A neighbors group sued to have the county’s land sale stopped for not following SEQR environmental regulations, and the ruling was upheld. While not dead, the sale of the property to developer NRP/Better Housing for Tompkins County is on hold while the town of Ithaca reviews the project and the SEQR is conducted, with the county as an involved party. It’s not the best location, but on the other hand, the affordable housing issue is rearing its ugly head. On a side note, unlike its city counterpart (INHS), Better Housing has some of the worst luck of any non-profit developer in the county. The Lansing Preserve failure from a few years back comes to mind.

4. Residential tax assessments are up 6.17% (about $1.27 million in revenue) in the county year-over-year, about triple the usual 2% rate. The cost of housing is rising much faster than anticipated, which is contributing to the area’s affordability issues. Construction projects such as Collegetown Terrace also help; for instance, that project’s value went up from $19.1 to $26.64 million, which results in an additional $275,000 in tax revenue (the tax revenue at $19.1 million was about $700,000). Don’t expect taxes on existing homes to go down with the increased revenue though, because rising healthcare costs eat away most of the gains.

 





News Tidbits 7/9/14: Look Into the Crystal Ball

9 07 2014

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News to peruse and keep you amused.

First, INHS’s Greenways, a project I spend way too much time writing about. The 46-unit affordable townhouse development went up for review with the town of Ithaca at the start of the month (along with a temporary classroom building, a new single-family building lot in Northeast Ithaca, and a YMCA pavilion). Due to a technicality, it was pushed back to the July 15th meeting. Along the agenda attachments are new renders and a simpler site plan drawing. The project will be built in three phases, and if Holly Creek is any guideline, each phase could take a year; so if I had to take a guess, from 2014- October 2015, we’ll see townhouse sections A-E built, a total of 16 units. The subsequent phases (F-K and L-N) would likely be built and sold over roughly 12-month periods.

One thing to note is that Cornell is selling INHS the land for below market-value, with the stipulation that Cornell employees get first dibs on units as they go up for sale. With 7,000 employees, I don’t imagine weak demand from Cornell staff. Cornell is fulfilling a goal it stated way back in June 2008, and one of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog. The image in that entry is one of the very few stock images I’ve ever used, by the way.

As for the townhouse designs, no complaints here. They’re simple and colorful.

I’m going to expand on my old library site ruminations – I don’t see INHS winning the site because they are going to be stretched pretty thin over the next few years, with this and the expansive Neighborhood Pride site, along with smaller builds. While they have shown themselves capable of large projects in recent years, multiple multifamily projects will be a very large undertaking; it’s hard to imagine the county placing another egg in INHS’s already-full basket.

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Next on the whirlwind tour, revisions of the Travis-Hyde’s Carey Building addition in downtown Ithaca (another topic that’s had a lot of keys typed on its behalf). The details are still the same, 18 apartments, most of them tiny, with office space on floors 2 and 3 and retail on the bottom. Compared to the old design, more windows have been placed in the east facade, the top two floors were reworked, and the glass block details are gone, replaced by regular windows. It’s an improvement, though I don’t like the blank wall on the west face.

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Next item on the list, the NYS Dept. of Transportation parcel on the waterfront. Similar to the old library, this site has an RFP for a study and analysis of the relocation of the DOT facility, and a subsequent redevelopment of the parcel. Proposals were due June 26th. Granted, since this involves the state, this won’t move any faster than NYS wants to (i.e. slow and reluctant – they’ve been planning a move to a site in Dryden since 2006; the DOT blames the torpid pace on hang-ups with funding, which is why the RFP is asking someone else to come up with a plan). The feasibility study will be complete by May 2015, with the site re-development expected to begin in early 2017, assuming moving the DOT site is feasible. It’s a large parcel with strong potential for the mixed-use development that the city wants per the comprehensive plan. Who knows, there might actually be something to write about in five years.

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I’ll wrap this up with another potential future development: 215-221 W. Spencer Street, the parcel shown below. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (a city department) sold the 0.47 acre property for $110,000 in April. The buyer intends multi-family housing. 701 Cliff Street, a small parcel left vacant the demolition of a dilapidated house, received multiple offers and was sold for well above asking price. Its buyer intends one or more housing units.

Using the zoning map as a guide, 215-221 West Spencer is in an R-3a zone that allows for a 40′ structure with 35% lot coverage. That’s a max theoretical buildout of 28,662 sq ft (which if you give 20,000 sq ft for the housing units, and 1,000 sq ft per unit, we get a hypothetical 20 units), but whatever does get proposed will likely be somewhat smaller. The site is something to keep an eye on in the long-term.

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