News Tidbits 4/29/17: Happy Birthday Mom

29 04 2017

1. The Times’ Matt Butler has written a great summary of almost everything you wanted to know about the Ithaca development approvals process (formally called entitlements). Basically, Ithaca’s high standards and arduous review process come with pros and cons. On a positive note, the city is more likely to get a nice product, the drawback is that it scares developers off. For those who do give the city a spin, the city is a desirable investment for a number of reasons (affluent residents, steadily growing economy), but the lengthy process generates uncertainties (bad for financing) and requires more money (bad for affordability).

There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but it really helps if the city gives developers a set of guidelines for what they’re looking for in a design, rather than forcing them to rely on antiquated zoning. Design guidelines were recently approved for Downtown and Collegetown, which should help, although an overhaul of the zoning would be much welcomed. However, in a city famous for its activism, even the most well-orchestrated plans can be broadsided by NIMBY grassroots, so even with these heavily-structured guidelines, building in Ithaca is likely to have uncertainties and challenges into the foreseeable future.

2. A couple of grants worth noting – Tompkins Community Action was awarded $3.7 million by the state to go towards construction of their Amici House project at 661-701 Spencer Road in Ithaca. The funds will cover about 45% of the $8.25 million construction cost. Work is supposed to begin this summer on the mixed-use project, which includes 23 studio units for vulnerable or previously homeless youth, and a 7,010 SF daycare/early education facility.

In other news,the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County was awarded $500,000 by the Care Compass Network Innovation Fund to use towards the establishment and operation of a 20-24 bed detox facility, much needed resource as the heroin epidemic continues to grip the nation. CCN is a non-profit consortium funded by Southern Tier health centers like Guthrie, Cayuga Med and Binghamton General. ADC-TC is a non-profit that focuses on substance abuse education, prevention and outpatient treatment. No facility was named in the announcement.

On a third note, the sale of 626 West Buffalo Street was completed. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) intends to renovate the house into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The house was purchased for $95,000, and an additional $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The county voted to provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

3. Tiny Timbers seems to be to a good start. The fledging modular timber-frame company run by the Dolph Family has added several members to its construction crew, and they will build the frame components out their newly-adapted warehouse-mill on Hall Road in Dryden. The house in Hector is nearly complete, two more are being prepared (both big cubes), and the gravel road is being constructed for their just-approved five-lot subdivision at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road. Going off the wording of their last blog post, it looks like three of those lots are already reserved or purchased (one lot is a conservation area).

4. Let’s not beat around the bush – you’re coming here for a bit of inside information, not just a news round-up. One of the reasons Dryden and Tompkins County have each committed $1,750 to an infrastructure study of the Route 13 corridor is that there is a concept proposal on the table from INHS for a mixed-use development with retail and 250 affordable housing units, on approximately 50 acres of a 100 acre parcel – half of it is north of the rail trail and would be conserved, possibly through Finger Lakes Land Trust. At 5 units/acre, it’s below Varna’s highest densities, but it’s about the rural threshold of about 2 units/acre.

As it so happens, a quick check of the county’s property tax map shows a 100.44 acre parcel of vacant farmland across the street from 1477 Dryden Road, outlined in blue above. The back half is Fall Creek, so given buffers and general environment concerns, it’s good sense to leave it alone. The land has been owned by the Leonardo Family (the ones who ran The Palms) since 1942.

I asked Dryden Town Planning Director Ray Burger about it, and he knew only what the county said. But it’s something to keep an eye on as the town figures out whether or not to extend sewer to that parcel.

5. It seems like there’s quite the tempest going on in Lansing. Let’s review. All this comes courtesy of the Lansing Star (not for lack of trying on my part. Almost all Lansing staff and officials ignore my phone calls and emails, except zoning officer Marty Moseley. Thanks Marty.).

I. Over in the village, the “Preservation Party” lost the village election by a large margin to the incumbent Community Party by a roughly 75/25 split (240 votes vs 80 votes). This result should settle the Bomax Drive rezoning from commercial tech space to residential once and for all.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

II. Lansing town has inked an MOU with Cayuga Heights and Lansing village to install a sewer line up Triphammer Road to create a small sewer district. However, it’s impacts would be substantial – it would have three primary users – the 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, the 117-unit English Village project, and the RINK, which is expanding its facility. The developers want the sewer so much, they’re paying for it in what town supervisor Ed LaVigne is calling a “public/private partnership”. Properties that do not hook up would not be hit with an increased assessment, according to LaVigne and county assessor Jay Franklin.

A back of the envelope estimate suggests $50-$60 million in increased land assessment, and $1.5 million+ in property taxes. Perfect for offsetting a rapidly devaluing power plant that was once your town’s biggest taxpayer. The village boards still need to sign off on the MOU, but Lansing town is desperate to make a deal.

III. The Lansing Meadows senior housing seems to be worked out, and it includes the  small community-focused food retail component desired by developer Eric Goetzmann. The public hearing is on the 1st; if approved next month, the construction bids will be posted shortly thereafter with an intended summer start on the 20-unit mixed-use project.

IV. Just…wow. On the one hand, LaVigne et al. have a right to be upset. Their town’s biggest taxpayer is faltering, they’re trying encourage as much development as they can to offset the plunge in property taxes, and with debates like the West Dryden pipeline, they have a right to be frustrated. But to say the county’s sabotaging your town is a whole different ball game. To say “[r]ight now The County is on the sh** list as far as I’m concerned,” well…

He deserves sympathy. There’s a lot of BS mixed in with the good of Tompkins County, and his town and its schools are in a real bind. Poo pooing them isn’t helping anybody. But…he can’t magically change how people in Dryden or Ithaca think. Ask solar companies if they’d be interested in town properties, find a way to make residential heat pumps and renewables work. Hell, work with TCAD, talk with Heather McDaniel and the green groups and come up with ideas. I had a professor in grad school tell me that “you lure more flies with honey than vinegar”. LaVigne has a right to be upset, but this isn’t a good look.

6. Now that a few people at INHS and County Planning have been annoyed (sorry guys), back to the news. The Journal is reporting that the town of Ulysses has acquired three Jacksonville properties from Exxon Mobil, in what they hope is the next step in closing a disastrous chapter in the town’s history. Back in the 1970s, the former Mobil gas station at the corner of Jacksonville Road and Route 96 leaked enormous amounts of gasoline and poisoned the hamlet’s groundwater – one report says a person passed out from noxious fumes when they turned on their shower.

The state DEC became involved and ordered Exxon Mobil to clean up the mess, which was carried out from 1984 to 1988, and the multinational gas company purchased most of the affected properties and demolished them – an 1827 church was left intact. The DEC’s case file was finally closed in 2005 after the test levels had receded to more acceptable readings, but Exxon Mobil has continued to own the property, letting the church fall into disrepair.

The town is buying the church at 5020 Jacksonville Road, a 0.275 acre vacant lot at 5036 Jacksonville Road, and a 0.656 acre vacant lot at 1853 Trumansburg Road for $5,001 (the trio’s total assessed value is $84,700). The plan is to install a septic for the church at 5036, renovate the church just enough to keep it from rotting out, and once the building is stable, the plan is to resell to someone looking for a unique fixer-upper. If no buyer is found, the town plans to eventually restore the church on their own. The larger lot on Trumansburg Road is being considered for resale towards private development, or use as a TCAT park-and-ride.

7. Is the Canopy Hilton underway or isn’t it underway? Still kinda hard to tell.

8. On the other hand, it looks like the new medical office building planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, is starting demo work. The stone is being stripped from the existing buildings, to be reused on other structures. The Cayuga Medical Associates plan calls for a $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road, 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space.

9. Nothing too exciting from the planning board agendas around the county – Lansing has nothing up, Cayuga Heights has nothing of note. Over in the town of Ithaca, Cornell plans to try again with its Peterson Parking Lot replacement (after the disastrous first try last April), the 15-lot Monkemeyer subdivision on East King Road continues review, and a 2-lot modification is up for consideration. In Dryden, the advisory planning board will continue review for the Tiny Timbers Ellis Hollow subdivision mentioned earlier, and a 7-lot subdivision of the former Dryden Lake golf course; there will also be some solar panel discussion, and possibly some info on the ~20 unit Pineridge Cottages project planned for Mineah Road.

 





News Tidbits 2/18/17: Credits and Loans

18 02 2017

warren_medical_lansing_1

1. Over in Lansing village, it looks like the new Arleo medical office building is starting to moving forward. A sketch plan of the project was presented at the village planning board’s meeting earlier this week. Although Lansing doesn’t upload accessory docs like site plans and elevations, this one has been floating around for the past several months in marketing material as “Cayuga Ridge”. Quoting the May 7th 2016 news roundup:

“The new one-story building, which appears to be designed by Binghamton-based Keystone Associates, would be off of Warren Road, although it looks like the building would be accessed from a driveway coming off of Uptown Road. The 2.71 acre property north of 100 Uptown Road is zoned “Human Health Services District” by the village, and borders undeveloped land owned by Cornell, and several other suburban medical office buildings built over the past few decades. The resolution on the attached site plan is too low to determine the square footage, though it looks to be in the low tens of thousands.”

labourgade-on-seneca-dormer2

2. For those who like their cottages tiny – it looks like Schickel Construction has begun work on the spiritual successor to their 140-unit Boiceville Cottages project in Caroline. The 40-house rental development is called “La Bourgade on Seneca”, and is located in the town of Hector, in Schuyler County just outside of Burdett village. For the record, Bourgade is a French term for an unfortified village or settlement. More details can be found on the website here. There will be two cottage types available -, “The Classic”, a 2-bedroom, 900 SF plan that will rent at $1,495/month, and “The Spacious”, a 2-bedroom with a dormer loft space totaling 1,000 SF and renting at $1,695 month. The house very much like their Boiceville cousins, but with angled eaves (dunno what the correct term is and google’s not helping – if there’s an architect reading, please chime in). All units will have lake views.

Personally, I see this as a stretch for the Ithaca market, since it’s 25 miles west of the city. But it might tap into a more plebeian contingent the wine country crowd, the wealthier of whom have taken to building grand vacation or permanent homes along the Finger Lakes in recent years. The first 9 units, three clusters of three, are currently under construction, as is a community center. Delivery is expected in May 2017.

ic_master_plan_3

3. It looks like Ithaca College is putting some more thought into their housing needs. The college has been meeting with planning firm U3 Advisors to explore the possibility of new off-campus student housing.

U3 Advisors is already familiar with the area, as they are also under contract with Cornell to formulate their off-campus housing plan. Unlike Cornell, however, Ithaca College has no plans to grow enrollment – the master plan expects it to stay steady around 7,000. However, many of the dorms are reaching the end of their useful lives, meaning that the college can either sink a fair sum into renovation and replacement of utility systems, or tear down and build anew. An off-campus option could either be a private entity on private land, or a deal on IC-owned land like what Cornell and EdR are doing with Maplewood. A 200-300 bedroom off-campus option could mesh with the town of Ithaca’s visions for a walkable South Hill neighborhood on the intersection of Route 96 and King Road.

It’s still just studies and meetings at this point, but as the oldest dorms hit 50 years old on South Hill, there might be something fresh in the pipeline. We’ll see what happens.

cma_v2_2

4. Ithaca’s West End will be welcoming a new tenant in the next couple months. Courtesy of Nick Reynolds over at the Times, the USDA is shifting its regional office out of Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, and into Fulton Meadows, a commercial office building at 225 South Fulton Street. the move is being undertaken in anticipation of the construction of Tim Ciaschi’s new Cayuga Medical Associates office building, which is set to get underway at Community Corners later this year.

201_college_v5_1

5. Looks like we have an idea of the price tag for Visum Development’s 201 College Avenue. According to a construction loan filed with the county on the 15th, S&T Bank loaned Todd Fox’s company $7,870,673 to help cover the costs of the project. The breakdown in the filing says $6,841,038 for hard construction costs (materials/equipment/labor), $507,000 in soft costs (permits/legal/marketing/financing fees), $300k in contigency and $226k in interest reserves. Add in the $2.64 million for the land purchase, and the total comes to $10,514,180.

That’s something of a premium because the project is on an accelerated schedule after the big hullabaloo with Neil Golder and the city Planning Board last fall. Note that the loan doesn’t cover all the costs and that there is money from other sources, like cash equity from Visum itself.

S&T Bank is a regional bank based out of Western Pennsylvania, but they’ve been making inroads into Ithaca’s commercial lending market. S&T Bank also financed the construction of the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Route 13, lending $5,973,750 to the hotel developers.

Quick aside, I think this is the first time I’m seeing the square footage calculated out – 201 College will be 33,398 SF.

20170106_160736

6. Hopefully this runs after by INHS refinancing explainer, so it makes more sense. Quick rehash, low income housing tax credits (LIHTCs) are sold to banks and similar financial institutions so that they get the tax credit, and the affordable housing developer gets the money they need to move forward with a project. With that in mind, here’s an interesting though unfortunate tidbit from INHS’s Paul Mazzarella:

“This following may be more than you want to include in this article, but it is relevant.  The pricing of tax credits exists in a marketplace where they rise and fall in value.  In past projects completed by INHS, we’ve received from $0.91 to $1.02 of equity investment for each dollar of tax credit.  The pricing of tax credits has recently plummeted because of the recent election and the uncertainty in DC.  This is mostly due to discussions about changing the corporate tax rate.  A lower corporate tax rate will mean that companies have less profits to shield from taxes and therefore the demand for tax credits will be reduced.  Even though no changes have yet been made to the corporate tax rate, just the discussion about this has reduced the pricing of tax credits to around $0.80.  What does this mean for INHS? It means that the project that we’ve been working on for several years suddenly has a funding gap that didn’t exist a few months ago, due entirely to investor’s fear of risk due to an uncertain future..  This is true for every tax credit project in the country and has all of us struggling to make the pro formas work.”

Sigh. Politics.

habitat_208_third_st

 

7. The Times has the first render for Habitat for Humanity’s two-family townhouse project at 208/210 Third Street on the city’s Northside. It looks to be the same architect as the 4-unit project for 402 South Cayuga – I can’t seem to find the architect offhand as a few designers have donated time and energy, but local planner George Frantz shepherded the project through the approvals process. Each unit is about 1500 SF. The plan for the $305,000 project is to break ground in April and have the move-in ceremony in Spring 2018. As with all local Habitat projects, a portion of the construction will come from volunteer labor, including 500 hours of “sweat equity”, and homeownership classes that the two recipient lower-income families (making 60% AMI or less, $32,000/year) will need to complete as part of the deal.

maplewood-v7_7-planning-board

8. Wrapping this up with the local agendas for next week – the town of Ithaca will be looking at a home B&B permit on Bostwick Road, a retaining wall for Ithaca College’s track, and finishes touches on the Maplewood approvals. The city’s project review meeting indicates the city plans to look at the subdivision at 109 Dearborn Place, Declaration of Lead Agency and Environmental Review for the 11-unit 107 South Albany Street plan,  and “Approval of Conditions” for City Centre, which is just making sure they’ve completed everything asked for in the final approval. In sum, nothing too exciting at the moment, but we’ll see if the city has any new projects coming up when the actual PB agenda comes out next week.

9. Quick note to wrap up – the woman behind the Rogues Harbor Inn in Lansing has purchased a prominent and historic building on Freeville’s main drag. Eileen Stout purchased 2 Main Street, a mixed-use building with restaurant space, a tile shop and three apartments, on Thursday for $132,000. The seller was Tompkins Trust and it’s well below assessment – doesn’t look like a foreclosure though. The bank bought the property for almost double the price in May 2016.





News Tidbits 12/4/2016: Not Forgotten

4 12 2016

old_libe_v7_1

1. It looks like the Old Library proposal will be coming up to bat one last time. Developer Travis Hyde Properties and its project team will present one last major revision at the January Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) meeting. Things are well behind schedule at this point, as the ILPC continues to take issue with the old library proposal – which at last check, has had seven separate designs proposed and shot down for one reason or another. The Times reports that senior services non-profit Lifelong is one again involved in the project, although it had never really left – they will control the community room on the first floor, and will receive the revenues generated from renting it to outside entities. The last iteration may once again include first-floor interior parking, since that was the sticking point at the October ILPC meeting – the plan for design #8 is to increase parking from the proposed 10 spaces, to 25-30 spaces. If the January concept is acceptable, or at least close to ILPC approval, Travis Hyde will pursue the 55-60 unit plan; otherwise, it’s over.

The county had hoped that the sale of the property would generate $925,000 at the outset, as well as future tax revenues; the current building’s mechanical systems are past their useful life and in need of replacement, a cost likely to exceed a million dollars. With no sale, and a perceived “toxic” site for development due to opposition both during the RFP stage and during this review process, the county and city will be in a less than enviable position if things fall through.

At the housing summit, the old library came up as a point of concern and contention; JoAnn Cornish, the city’s planning director, suggested at one that if the county had been willing to part with the property for a token $1, than the need to build up on the site wouldn’t be so great. I happened to be taking notes next to a county legislator and Old Library Committee member who muttered that that was a terrible idea and Cornish had no idea what she was talking about. Anyone looking for common ground is going to have a real hard time finding it.

cma_v2_2

2. It looks like Cayuga Medical Associates’ plan for Community Heights is nearly good to go. Only a couple minor revisions were presented at the Cayuga Heights Planning Board’s meeting on the 28th – a rear (east) driveway, sidewalk work and a detention basin. Cover letter here, updated site plan here, and a letter noting a potential change in hosted medical specialties here. The $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road is 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space. The initial presentation in March called for a 3-story, 39,500 SF structure. Two buildings, a one-story office building and a vacant drive-thru bank branch, would be demolished.

chapter_house_reconst_v5_1
3. Now for something that’s a little less certain – the 400-406 Stewart Avenue reconstruction. One can’t call it the Chapter House reconstruction, because there’s no certainty that that is what will happen. Nick Reynolds has the full story over at the Times. The Chapter House’s intended space on the first floor is being advertised by Pyramid Brokerage for $35/SF, double the bar’s rent from before the fire. The owner of the Chapter House referred to all this pre-development as a “money pit” as the building still has no anchor tenant, but he was still open to being a part of the rebuild. In short, it looks like we’re seeing some bickering between the developer and potential tenant spill out into the public domain, and we’ll see how it plays out.

amici_house_v3_1

4. At the city planning board meeting last week, preliminary approval was granted to Charlie O’Connor’s four two-family homes at 607 South Aurora. City Centre also continued with its review, with comments focusing on sustainability and solar panels. Changes to the project are minor at this point, and we’re probably close to the final product at this stage. Amici House was also debated, with neighbors expressing concerns about the size, and uncertainty on whether TCAction can handle 23 homeless or vulnerable youth.

I’ll register a small complaint – the north stairwell of the residential building. I’d encourage TCAction and Schickel Architecture to explore using smoked or tinted glass to reduce glare, rather than bricking it in. It makes the building look cold and industrial, which seems just as unfriendly to neighbors as glare would be.

The board also went ahead with lead agency on Novarr’s College Townhouses project, and was shown brief presentation on two Visum Development Group projects, 126 College and 210 Linden. More on those here.

20160630_142619

5. The Times included a quick Collegetown construction rundown about a week and a half ago. Two quick addendums –
A. Still no plan for 330 College Avenue, since Fane did the development version of trolling by proposing a 12-story building in a 6-story zone, and was told there was “no way in hell” it would happen;
B. Nothing scheduled for 302-306 College Avenue, aka “Avenue 102”, until at least mid-2018. The rumor mill says the Avramis family, who proposed a two-building, 102-unit sketch plan in October 2014, are concerned about market saturation. Given Cornell’s plans to increase their enrollment by raising their incoming freshman class size from 3250 to 3500, it might be worth another look.

downtown_design_guidelines_1

6. The city has released the preliminary design guidelines from Winter & Company. The Collegetown guidelines are here, Downtown’s here. Although there are suggested rather than mandatory, in theory, a project team could use these guidelines to formulate plans that would be less likely to get hung up in the city’s project review process – one could call it “form-based code lite”. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in here, but the guidelines do promote urban-friendly and contextual designs. These are draft open to public comment – those who would like to can send their thoughts to city planner Megan Wilson at mwilson*at*cityofithaca.org by December 15th. there are some differences between existing zoning and these guidelines (for example, setbacks) that will need to be addressed at some point – the revised drafts will roll out in mid-January.

20161201_121840

7. Now that the county housing summit is behind us, I think that while there wasn’t any sort of huge breakthrough at the event, it was helpful to the community to have the obstacles and suggested goals shared with a large audience. Although, as county legislator Anna Kelles pointed out, it wasn’t necessarily a wide audience – renters, younger residents and lower-income individuals were not well-represented. At least for me, the big, exciting news was Cornell’s plans for new housing, which I will be writing about for the Voice later this week. While not perfect, the event did bring to light certain issues – NIMBYism can be a delicate topic in an audience like this, but one of the points that was stressed at the summit was, if you support a project, then let the governing body in charge know you support it and why. Heck, JoAnn Cornish was saying the city gets opposition emails from residents of California and Oregon. A little support from local residents, even students, reminds city staff and board members that there a variety of opinions.

I can definitely say that not everyone who attended was pro-development – after the woman behind me asked if I was a reporter (I said yes, for the Voice), she kept passing me notes like “since when did development bring property taxes down”, “developers are just in it for the money” and “Ithaca shouldn’t have to change”. I don’t think she liked my replies – the first one I wrote back a response about spreading the tax burden out with new infill development, the second I wrote “strictly speaking perhaps, but they don’t want to turn out a terrible product”, and the last, I perhaps unkindly wrote “[t]ell that to the families being priced out. Something has to change.” She got up and left shortly afterward.





News Tidbits 4/2/16: The Walls Come Tumbling Down

2 04 2016

hotel_ithaca_final_1

1. Demolition and site prep work has begun for the Hotel Ithaca’s new 5-story addition. The work appears to be right on schedule, since a March construction start had been planned. The $9.5 million, 90-room project replaces a two-story wing of rooms built in the early 1970s. Hart Hotels of Buffalo hopes to have the new wing open for guests this fall. NH Architecture of Rochester is the firm designing the project, which received some “sweet burns” when it was first presented with cross-hatched panels and “LEED-certified stucco”. Eventually, the planning board and developer settled on a design after review, and the project was approved late last year.

For those who like to see walls a-tumblin’, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds has a short video of the demolition on his Twitter feed here.

2. Looks like there’s a little more information about the 16-unit “small house” subdivision planned in Varna. A Dryden town board document refers to the document as “Tiny Timbers”. Which is a name that has come up before – in STREAM Collaborative’s twitter feed.

Making an educated guess here, STREAM is working with landowner and businessman Nick Bellisario to develop the parcel. It would also explain the huge mounds of material that had been on the site as of late – compressing the very poor soil so that something could be build onto it, even if they’re merely “tiny timbers”. It doesn’t look like these are more than one or two rooms, with an open floor plan on the first floor and either a room or loft space above.

At first impression, these are a great idea – relatively modest sizes tend to be more environmentally sensitive, and with the subdivision, it’s likely they would be for-sale units with a comparatively modest price tag. On the other hand, tiny houses are something that a lot of local zoning laws don’t accommodate well (minimum lot size, minimum house size, septic), so that would be something to be mindful of as the project is fleshed out more and starts heading through the town’s approval processes.

201_college_1

3. Here’s some good news – the initial reception to Visum’s 201 College Avenue project was favorable. Josh Brokaw at the Times is reporting that apart from debates over a more distinctive roofline and setbacks from the street (which is more ZBA than Planning Board), the board was supportive of the project.

Meanwhile, as for something they were not in support of, the possibility of removing the aesthetic parts of site plan review as a benefit to affordable housing incentive zoning was not something that sat well with them. One thing that does get missed in the article, though, is that that benefit would only be in areas with form zoning guidelines for building appearance and siting (right now, that’s only Collegetown).

cma_2 cma_3

4. Never a fan of being scooped, but the Journal’s Nick Reynolds broke the news of a 3-story, 39,500 SF outpatient medical facility planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights. Owner/developer Tim Ciaschi (who also did the Lehigh Valley Condos on Inlet Island) will build-to-suit for Cayuga Medical Associates, with design work by HOLT Architects.

In most towns, this would be fairly cut and dry. But this is Cayuga Heights, which probably has the most stringent board in the county. The village routinely says no to anything that could draw students in (mostly housing, but historically it also included taverns and restaurants), and people prepare multi-page tirades against two-lot subdivisions, let alone what happens when a sorority tries to move in. In the project’s favor are its distance from homes and its modest densification of Community Corners, which the village has been slowly migrating towards in the past few years. The board’s raised concerns with not enough parking, so a traffic study was included with the March materials. We’ll see how this all plays out, a medical office building might work well with Cayuga Heights’ older population.

5. The city decided to take action on the owner of the Dennis-Newton House by fining him $5,000 for building code violations. Steven Centeno, who picked up the property from the Newtons in 1982, was initially charged with over 11,000 violations, and pleaded guilty to 35 counts. According to the city, Centeno was ordered to make repairs in 2012, and got the building permits, but never commenced with repair work. If he fails to bring the property up to compliance within six months, a further fine of $42,000 will be levied. This is not unlike the case last April where the city fined lawyer Aaron Pichel $5,000 for code violations on 102 East Court Street, the “Judd House”. Work on that property is underway.

maplewood_site_plan_concept

6. Likely to be some bureaucratic progress on the Maplewood Park redevelopment next week. The town of Ithaca will be looking at declaring itself Lead Agency for environmental review of the 500-600 unit project. designs and exact plans are still in the formative phases, so no new news on those quite yet. In order to build the new urbanist, form-based project as intended, Cornell will be seeking a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which will give them flexibility in how they can lay out the site. The portion in the city of Ithaca, the two buildings towards the northwest corner (boundary line goes down Vine Street), will be built as-of-right, and it looks like a sketch plan will be presented for the city’s portion during their April Planning Board meeting.

A FEAF is included in the meeting agenda, but since the project will have to undergo a Environmental Impact Statement (much more detailed than a FEAF), it’s not very descriptive.

341_coddington_1

341_coddington_3

7. Ugh. I give credit to the town of Ithaca’s planning board for trying to accommodate a solution where the 170-year old house could at least be moved to a different site. I’m disappointed in both the town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee (members of the town board) and the Iacovellis, neither of which seem to be devoting much thought to an amenable solution. The town’s planning committee chair is hell-bent on keeping students out, and the Iacovellis are now trying to rush the demo permit since they feel their livelihood is threatened. This is an unnecessary loss due to intransigence.





News Tidbits 12/26/15: Do You Hear What I Hear

26 12 2015

1. Not as visible, but still important – Student Agencies Inc. has secured a $3 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company for a major renovation of its building at 409 College Avenue. Although details about the project itself are a bit scarce in the paperwork filed on the 18th, it is likely the eHub entrepreneurial space being built for Cornell students, faculty and staff. The eHub space will include space for PopShop (a space for student business planning and development), the eLab business incubator, conference space, mentors-in-residence, and basically all the physical space and things a budding businessperson would like to help them succeed.

According to a previous write-up by the Cornell Chronicle, the lab should be open later this Spring, with 10,000 SF on the second and third floors of 409 College Avenue, and 4,000 SF of space in Kennedy Hall on the Ag Quad. STREAM Collaborative of Ithaca will be the interior architect for 409 College, and Ithaca-based Morse Project Management LLC is the general contractor.

Now, this could be a great thing for Ithaca, because it leverages Cornell’s presence to foster business development. Sort of like a Cornell-centric Rev. And Rev, for what it’s worth, has had several successful associated firms in the past couple of years – Ursa Space Systems was named a STARTUP-NY partner and will be hiring 22 people, and Ithaca Hummus is looking at hiring 50 over the next five years. Even the Ithaca Voice grew from what was basically a one-person operation when it launched in June 2014 (hat-tip to Jeff Stein), to having several full-time staff as well as giving Ithaca a higher profile through viral hits like the Key West promotion and the Harry Potter Wizarding Weekend.

Anything that allows Ithaca to grow and diversify its economy is a great thing, and if it can utilize Cornell’s presence to help that cause, all the better.

20151205_124218

2. The Lansing Star is reporting that 2015 was a banner year in Lansing, with 200 single-family homes, apartments and townhouse in the works. Along with the 20 or so plans reviewed, the town is also looking at revising its Comprehensive Plan, and the town may even consider the adoption of form-based codes in certain locations such as the proposed and stalled Lansing Town Center.

One caveat I’d add is that the key word is reviewed, meaning approved. Not underway. The 102-townhome Cayuga Farms project still had major issues to work out with its proposed package sewer system. If one were to look at permits, it’d probably be 36 or so units with the Village Solars, and probably as many with scattered single-family homes and duplexes, which would make for an average-to-above average year – final 2015 values will be available from the HUD in March. The village could see a big boost from its usual single-digit permit total, if the Cayuga View project gets its construction permit this year.

cayuga_view_1

3. Speaking of Cayuga View, the price point came up at a Lansing village meetings, the minutes of which came online this week. Drumroll please—

The targeted price point is $1600/month for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit (of which there will be 12), and $2700/month for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath unit (of which there will be 48).

That’s quite a high figure. Applying the standard 30% affordability threshold, the targeted income bracket for seniors is $64,000-$108,000/year. That’s comparable, or a little more than, the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek. It also draws parallels to inner Collegetown projects like Dryden South, where rents will be $1350/bedroom. But those projects fall in traditionally high land-value areas.

If it’s financed, then a lender must believe there’s a market for it, and given the general difficulty in financing projects in this region, that really is saying something. Increased affluence and number of retirees moving in? Hoping to capture the older, richer Cornell faculty/staff crowd? Bad judgement? Who knows.

tfc_v2_1

4. In the briefest of blurbs, the Times’ Josh Brokaw, who I applaud for attending even the less interesting city Planning Board meetings, reports that the Tompkins Trust HQ has been approved, with a permit likely once they get a minor curb-cut issue worked out. The contentious Printing Press Lounge debate also received the Planning Board’s go-ahead, if not necessarily its blessing. Expect a late winter or early spring construction start with the Tompkins Trust HQ, with completion the following year.

biggs_1

5. A couple of interesting developments for the Biggs Parcel in Ithaca town. According to the Times’ Jaime Cone (new writer, guys?), a member of the ICNA, Roy Luft, is prepared to make an offer for the Biggs Parcel that would preserve the vast majority of the land. Luft owns a 10-acre parcel to the south (street address 1317 Trumansburg Road). He proposes to take a non-wetland portion on the southern end of the Biggs Parcel, combine it with the open field behind his house, and pursue a cluster subdivision of homes intended as owner-occupied senior housing, which on the surface seems like a decent plan and location, given that owner-occupied senior housing is in demand and the land is adjacent to Cayuga Medical.

With this offer aired, the county, in a 4-1 vote, is giving the ICNA until January 15th to make an offer, otherwise they’ll put the land for sale on the general market. There is no assessment figure publicly available (though a new value has been determined); the ICNA says that’s unfair, while the county legislators have countered by saying not having the assessment value doesn’t stop the ICNA from making an offer, and that the neighbor group has already had a year and a half to make an offer.

20151205_134719

6. Once again, a double-feature house of the week. The theme of this week – high-end homes. Here we have home #1, 8 Pleasant Grove Lane in Cayuga Heights. The house has been mostly framed and the sides have been sheathed, but from the looks of the exposed roof trusses, if would seem that when this photo was taken a couple of weeks ago, the dormers still needed to be decked and the interior was still just stud walls and rough openings.

Design-wise, the home seems to fit in pretty well with its neighbors, which were mostly built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The property was purchased in 2012 for $132,500 by an LLC traceable to a coach for a Cornell athletics team. Previously, the lot had been owned by its Pleasant Grove Road neighbors, and was sold in an estate sale.

20151205_131313 20151205_131331

7. House of the week #2. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the one house under construction that seems to have the entire lakefront mansion community so utterly pissed off. For the record, this house on the Captains Walk cul-de-sac has been under construction for years – you can see it in the satellite imagery for Google maps, which dates from 2013. It also appears to be even larger than many of its million-dollar neighbors. Three-car garage? Check. Courtyard-type entry? Check. Windows have been fitted, the roof has been shingled and the exterior has been sheathed with Huber ZIP System panels. A spring finish would be a good guess. Records indicate a couple from Pennsylvania, the founders of a chain of assisted care facilities, bought the undeveloped parcel for $213,800 in 2013.





A Protest in Cayuga Heights

26 08 2014
100_1966

About as close as I have to a picture of the townhouses (left, brown roofs).

I’m going to take a break from my Collegetown writeups to write an apropos history piece. A couple weeks ago, the project for 7 Ridgewood went on indefinite pause. I’m a little disappointed, sure, though not nearly as much as I would be if the city hadn’t lifted the parking requirements on Collegetown. With several of the parcels south of Cornell Campus being primed for redevelopment and at least a few hundred more bedrooms, some of the edge will be taken off the housing cost and supply problems that plague Ithaca and Cornell.

The debate with 7 Ridgewood has a historical predecessor. I’m going to spin the clock back in time, to the era of Ford Pintosbell bottoms and when everybody was kung fu fighting: 1974.

Cornell’s campus proper spans three communities – the city of Ithaca, the town of Ithaca, and the village of Cayuga Heights. The line for Cayuga Heights doesn’t quite line up with campus roads, but it could be treated as the portion of Cornell north of Jessup Road and west of Pleasant Grove Road. Today, that would be Jessup Field, the “A” parking lot, the Daycare Center, and the freshmen townhouses.

Cornell was, not surprisingly, facing another housing crisis in the 1970s. The enrollment was climbing hundreds per year. The lack of dorms, even for freshmen, was acute. Collegetown was still seen as a drug-ridden hellhole. The university was cash-strapped, having difficulties with the build-out of its new north campus community (the low-rise and high-rises; the university would eventually give up on trying to build low-rises 2, 3, and 4 due to tight finances). Even with the difficult finances, Cornell was still trying hard to find a way to accommodate its burgeoning student population.

Enter the Richard Meier proposal. Launched in Fall 1973, the design by the class of 1956 (B.A. Arch 1957) alum called for two four-story buildings, “serpentine” in shape, to be completed by late 1975. They were to be at least 60 percent glass, with a yellow “stucco-like” exterior. The two buildings as designed would accommodate 542, and then 547 students at a cost of $4.4 million (about $21.3 million today). Most of the dorms consisted of 105 units of 4-6 bedroom suite-style (then called  “townhouse” and “duplex-style”) units, each with its own kitchen, living room and bathroom. It was to be built north of Jessup Road, between the athletic fields and “A” lot. I have only found one dark photo of a model of the project, included below.

marcham_1974

Well, the prospect of hundreds of students in Cayuga Heights put many a pair of panties in a bunch in the wealthy suburban enclave. More than 175 turned out at a village meeting to speak out on the proposal, saying that their children often played there, and that the traffic would overwhelm the town. The breakdown of against vs. for the project was about 9 to 1. The Sun quotes one woman as saying that she hears that “students listen to their rock music morning, noon and night” and that it was sometimes impossible to sleep on summer nights due to noise from the North Campus Union (now RPU). In the summer. When students are, and were, away from campus. Another speaker, a Cornell professor, apologized for his neighbors speaking as if the students were inferior beings. But some students weren’t fans of the project either, calling it too cramped, too expensive, and bothered by the lack of dining or dorm-wide commons areas. The Cornell Sun Op-Ed of March 20, 1974 accused both Cornell and the villagers of Cayuga Heights of high-handed arrogance unbecoming of both parties.

Legally, the project had to get a zoning variance – Cayuga Heights only permitted buildings in that area that were less than 30′, 60 feet from Triphammer Road. The project called for 33’9″ (the dorm ceilings were only 7’6″), but the university felt that because it was 230 feet away from Triphammer, it was acceptable. The number of occupants was eventually whittled down to 497 units, with a construction start planned for the summer. But it ended up being delayed. Cayuga Heights demanded detailed plans for all future development projections of Cornell property within its boundaries, but the university wasn’t game. Eventually, faced with ballooning construction costs well north of $5 million, Cornell found itself unable to break even if the proposal went forward and was built. The project was quietly mothballed, swept into the dusty files of campus history.

With the gift of 40 years, it would appear neither side won. Cornell never built its serpentine dorms, but the townhouses, with heights under 30′, would be built on part of the same site in 1988-1989, with occupancy for 310 students. Originally housing grad students, it was opened to undergrads in the mid-1990s, and then became freshman housing after 2000-01. Cayuga Heights still had to deal with hundreds of students and the loss of the coveted green space, and Cornell couldn’t cram as many students on that swath of land as they initially hoped. Do we have any victors? Maybe Richard Meier and serpentine buildings in Ithaca, both of which have left their mark on the city of today.

EDIT 10/2016: images of the Meier proposal:
m1-2-660x516

m2-rmp_cornell-student-housing_model_02-1024x7811





Cayuga Heights Photo Tour, 7/12

12 07 2008

The house of the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon. The house has been occupied by the fraternity  since 1927. TKE was originally Kappa Psi, which became the Sigma Chapter of TKE in 1923. During this same time period, the local fraternity Scorpion was founded. The first TKE disbanded due to the hard times caused by the Great Depression, but Scorpion became the new affiliate of TKE (hence Scorpion chapter, which in my opinion is a really cool chapter name) in 1940. The fraternity Sigma Phi Sigma also merged with TKE in 1941 [1].

Farther up Highland we have the fraternity Tau Epsilon Phi. Um, their house could look better. I felt a little bad taking a photo of it and knowing I’d be putting it up, because it really was in shabby condition. The house was actually once the wing of the old house; they leased the property in 1949, and the wind was built in 1961. However, a fire “of unknown origin” destroyed the original house, so a new house was built connected to the relatively new wing in the mid 1960s. The building was last renovated in 1977 [2].

Speaking of which, this is the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity house. The house was built as an experiment by the architecture school in 1909 to teast the viability for poured cement for all the outside walls. KDR first occupied this property in 1952, and the new wing (the part on the left) was added in 1964 [3]. At least KDR is raising funds to repair the roof, it looks like it might need it.

So this was a treat to find. Today, this is the Westbourne Apartments building. Back in the day, it used to belong to a fraternity called Beta Sigma Rho. Beta Sigma Rho, or Beta Samach as it was originally called, was founded in 1910 by four Cornell students who were excluded from the current system because of their Jewish religion. By 1950, there were thirteen chapters. However, all good things come ot an end. Beta Sigma Rho’s Alpha Chapter, suffering from dwindling interest, merged with Pi Lamda Phi in 1972. The Pi Lams moved in to Beta’s house, and the organization adopted the name Pi Lambda Phi. The original Pi Lambda Phi house was closed (today, it’s the undergraduate admissions office). Then the Beta’s house was closed in 1978, and that ended their run at Cornell. One chapter survives; the Beta chapter at Penn state felt it would be better to go independent in 1975, so they did. Today, they have survived there as Beta Sigma Beta fraternity [4].

The house of Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity. Originally known as Caduceus chapter,  (now Zeta- for those of you wondering, a caduceus is the double helix with the snakes [5]), Alpha Gamma Rho has occupied this property since 1916, with the current house being constructed in 1961 [6]. Alpha Gamma Rho is the other agricultural fraternity (AGR = agriculture…like we couldn’t figure that out.)

 

[1]http://www.scorpiontke.org/content/section/6/30/

[2]http://www.dos.cornell.edu/dos/greek/chapter_details.cfm?id=3271

[3]http://www.dos.cornell.edu/dos/greek/chapter_details.cfm?id=3251

[4]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_Sigma_Beta

[5]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus

[6]http://www.dos.cornell.edu/dos/greek/chapter_details.cfm?id=4669