News Tidbits 10/15/16: Stoops and Stumbles, Growth and Gables

15 10 2016

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1. The Maguire proposal for Carpenter Business Park will be heading to the Common Council next month, but the prognosis isn’t good. The city council’s Planning Committee voted 4-0 to say that the proposal didn’t fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for the near-Waterfront property – the plan calls for walkable, urban mixed-uses, preferably with residential components. The discussion wasn’t unanimous in its logic – 2nd Ward Councilmen Nguyen and Murtagh were stronger adherents to the plan, while the 1st Ward’s Cynthia Brock doesn’t think housing is appropriate – but they all disagreed with the multi-brand car dealership plan as-is. Maguire has asked for a delay in vote so that the plan could be tweaked, but the Committee voted to move forward.

Because of the 18-month TMPUD in place, the Common Council has to vote to approve all projects in the waterfront area, so the resolution to decline further review of the project will be voted on at the next non-budget Council meeting. It will not be unanimous – the 3rd Ward’s Donna Fleming wrote a letter of support for the project, and the 1st Ward’s George McGonigal voiced support for the concept though not this particular plan. But the chances of approval are pretty slim at this point.

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2. Judging from the site photos John Novarr’s project team sent along, it looks like environmental remediation has already commenced at the site of his faculty townhouse project at 119-125 College Avenue in Collegetown. 121 College, in particular, is already in the early stages of remediation. It’s a pretty extensive photo documentation, one that might have to do with historic preservation aspects, like determining what can be salvaged and reused. It’s pretty clear that the properties, which were recently acquired from an Endicott-based landlord who held the properties for decades, are in rough shape. Novarr seems to have a preference for prepping sites before plans are approved (ex. 209-215 Dryden), so it’s uncertain how much time these three boarding houses have left.

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3. Courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Neighborhood Investment Committee, we get to see a pretty thorough breakdown of the expenses and revenues of an owner-occupied affordable housing project.

The details come as part of INHS’s application for $314,125 in Federal HUD HOME funds, to be used for the 7 for-sale townhouse units included with the 210 Hancock project, collectively called 202 Hancock. The funds would be used to cover soft costs, like project management, engineering and architecture fees, legal fees, and site inspections.

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The 202 Hancock project construction cost is estimated at $1,754,860, about $344,000 per unit, or about $198/SF. That’s expensive, but not unusual – 203 Third Street was about $190/SF. The cost is high due to rapidly rising construction costs, and due to federal guidelines and lender specifications, INHS is required to hire contractors with extensive insurance. Add in soft costs and it jumps to $2,408.371.

Now let’s consider the sales. The five two-bedroom units are expected to sell for $130,052 to a household making no more than $38,046. The two three-bedrooms will sell for $164,979, to households making $42,428/year or less. Those incomes don’t meet the rule-of-thumb of 3.4x annual income, but HOME funds cover part of the cost ($24,000 for the 2-bedrooms, $36,000 for the three-bedrooms). INHS gets $960,218 in the project sales – and that’s the same amount Tompkins Trust Company is willing to cover with a construction loan. So the initial gap is $1,448,155. Now we’re starting to see why new housing can be so expensive.

INHS gets $7,000 in revenue from Energy Star rebates on appliances, and has up to $351,153 equity they can put towards the project, most of that being the value the of 202 Hancock’s land. The IURA would issue a low-interest bond for $215,875 to be paid back by INHS, and the non-profit has secured $280,000 in grants directly from the state (NYS AHC), and $280,000 in NYS CDBG funds awarded by local governments (this tactic is known as “subsidy layering“). This complicated puzzle of funding sources is why so many developers are not interested in doing affordable housing.

Side note, one of the pre-development costs is market analysis. Might seem silly, but grant reviewers want proof the housing crisis isn’t just bluster, and that these units won’t sit empty. An analysis by Randall/West determined that at a sale price of $136,000 for a 2-bedroom, and $162,000 for a 3-bedroom, qualified buyers would be found and under contract within 4.6 months. The units should be available for occupancy by June 2017.

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Secondly, thanks to a legal settlement between the state and Morgan Stanley, a $4 million affordable housing grant is available for renovations of existing INHS scattered site rentals (98 units in 44 buildings across the city). Most of these units are rented to individuals making 60% or less of the area’s median income (about or less than $32k/yr). The funds would go towards major, long-term renovations, such as new roofs, windows, siding, and energy efficiency improvements. INHS could also use the funds, disbursed via the city, to refinance its portfolio, acquiring some of the properties and paying off $1.8 million in loans on already-purchased properties.

Here’s the short of it – the goal is to buy/pay off the scattered rental sites they manage, renovate and make them energy efficient and comfortable, lock them into the Community Housing Trust so that they become permanently affordable, transfer the land to a wholly-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation, and then sell some of the buildings to an LLC while INHS continues as property manager. The funds from sales would finance new affordable housing. This is all set up as it is to take advantage of legal and tax benefits of different corporate tax structures, while minimizing the drawbacks. Potentially, the Morgan Stanley settlement money could be used to leverage an additional $15 million in tax credits and affordable housing grants from the state.

Correction, per INHS’s Scott Reynolds in the comments section: rentals aren’t in the Community Housing Trust, but affordability would be required for 50 years.

Rochester-based SWBR would be in charge of renovation design plans, and 2+4 Construction will be general contractor. Tenants may need to be relocated as renovations occur, which will be coordinated by INHS staff. The goal is to have the settlement money accepted by the city by the end of the year, financing by April 2017, and renovations completed by the end of 2018.

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4. It’s another one of those special meetings – the city Planning Board will be sitting down next Tuesday to go over comments and sort another batch of public comments regarding the Chain Works DEIS, this time on public health. Once you get past the few pages of “this will never work and don’t bother trying”, there’s actually some interesting back and forth about remediation and what that entails. Also on the agenda are revisions to the Holiday Inn Express down in Southwest Ithaca – namely, they’re trying to avoid building the stairs to Spencer Road, as well as some other landscaping issues. At the second meeting later this month, the board is expected to Declare Lead Agency, open public hearings and review parts of the FEAF for TCAction’s Amici House, 8-unit 607 South Aurora, and the 8-story City Centre project on the Trebloc site downtown.

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5. The plans for Maplewood have been modified yet again, in a change that the project team hopes will please neighbors and the town of Ithaca planning board. In revised plans submitted this past Wednesday, the 4-story apartment building planned for Mitchell Road has been replaced with a few sets of 2.5 and 3.5-story townhouses and stacked flats, and Building B to its north was extended slightly to compensate for the loss of bedrooms. Even so, the accompanying letter from Scott Whitham states that the unit and bed count have decreased slightly, from 473 units and 887 beds, to 442 units and 872 beds.

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Also modified was their appearance – stoops, porches, dormers and gable roofs were added to give them a more harmonious appearance with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s not clear if the rest of the units were aesthetically modified as well.





News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

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3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.





The Chain Works District DGEIS, Part Two: Form Codes and Phase One

17 05 2016

For part one, click on this link.

One of the challenges facing the Chain Works District is that it’s a little tough to plan out specifics when the construction timeline goes out over a decade. The renders of new buildings conceptualized as part of the redevelopment project may not look exactly as shown – in a lot of ways, they would best be described as placeholders. But, the zoning code proposed within the project’s PUD gives a pretty good idea of what a potential building would look like. The design standards can be found in Appendix C here.

The goal of the design standards is to establish a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood setting that builds on the existing industrial buildings and surrounding neighborhoods – growing without overwhelming. The design standards handle height, width, setbacks, buffer plantings, blank walls, building projections, the amount and spacing of doors and windows, porches and stoops, sidewalk width, the types of light poles allows, the “design speed” of streets – compared to Euclidean/use-based zoning, the emphasis isn’t on what’s taking place inside, but how it looks on the outside. Some might argue that it allows less creativity for architects, but it offers a lot more predictability for a multi-year development like Chain Works.

Even with the design standards, the project won’t be skipping the approvals process. New buildings and renovations that don’t conform to the initial proposed uses still have to go through Site Plan Review/Approval. Interior renovations not visible from public roads do not have to go through SPR, which is consistent with most of the city’s neighborhoods. But one step that may potentially be avoided by the PUD/PDZ are frequent trips to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Chantreuil | Jensen | Stark Architects, STREAM Collaborative and Randall + West all played a role in site planning and developing the zoning.

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There are four “sub areas” as part of the code – CW1 (Natural Sub Area), CW2 (Neighborhood General Sub Area), CW3 (Neighborhood Center Sub Area), and CW4 (Industrial Sub Area).

CW1, as the Natural Sub Area, is where land is planned to be left unaltered, or allowed to revert to “a natural state”. Some of this is due to technical issues like topography, as some of it is due to environmental features such as the presence of old-growth woods. CW1 is the most restrictive zone, allowing only passive recreational use, trails and stormwater management. New structures can only serve those purposes – sheds, park restrooms, pavilions, gazebos, and at most a visitor’s center, the sum of which may not cover more than 2% of the total area, with no single building over 2,000 SF, and nothing more than one floor / 15 feet.

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CW2 is the Neighborhood General Sub area, and one of the two zones slated to host the majority of new development. The intent here is detached single-family homes, row-houses and small apartment buildings. Total area coverage of more than 60% is prohibited, and height is limited to 4 floors, except when built on a hill, in which case there may be another 1-2 floors on the downhill side, as long as it’s consistent with CW3. Street trees have to be provided on at least 60% of the length of new and existing streets in CW2, at intervals no more than 40 feet.

Apart from general housing, the CW2 code would allow for senior housing, daycares, home-office, small-scale retail (less than 2,500 SF), nursery schools/day-cares and B&Bs.

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CW3 is higher-density mixed-use – larger-scale office space, larger-scale retail and the same residential uses allowed in CW2. Most commercial and assembly/factory uses are allowed (but no adult uses – in any zone, in fact). Plazas are allowed along with green space, and the maximum height allowed is 6 floors, with 1 more on the downhill if on a slope, and only 4 floors permitted with 2 floors on the downslope if within 100 feet of Route 96B. Total area coverage is permitted up to 80%, and a vegetation buffer of 30 feet is required if adjacent to residential properties bordering the CWD. The street trees rule in CW2 also applies here.

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CW4 consists of industrial uses and utilities/storage space, 2-4 floors. 90% area coverage is allowed, and there has to be one shade tree planted and kept healthy for every 10 parking spaces. There is no minimum parking requirement for CW4, or any of the zones.

One issue brought up in review is that the code specifies that any one floor can’t be more than a certain height, but it would be better if they specified a maximum height for the first floor, and then a max height for each subsequent floor. For instance, instead of a max of 18 feet, which could create a 72-foot, 4-story building in CW2, the draft could be improved by saying 18 feet on the first floor, 12 feet on each upper floor.

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Several types of “thoroughfare assemblies” are displayed in the document, specifying what’s permitted in each area. This is where the design speed, sidewalk and pavement widths, and parking and street-scaping details come into play. These include streets, alleys, industrial access roads and even a woonerf.

So that briefly sums up about 33 pages of code details. Most of those won’t come into play until new structures are proposed – the streetscape will be developed as phase one is under construction, and more when further build-out occurs. Speaking of phase one, let’s take a look at that.

Phase one consists only of renovations to existing buildings, four of them. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for new industrial uses per the CW4 code, and Buildings 21 and 24 would be renovated into an office building, and a mixed-use office and apartment building per the CW3 code.

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Building 21 becomes a 43,340 SF office building – new glass and a paint job are the biggest exterior changes. Parking would be on adjacent surface lots (page 2-27, DGEIS).

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Building 24 is the only building that gets an addition in phase one – 18,520 SF of new space on the top floor, a “penthouse addition” to the existing 111,050 SF space. The addition and the existing second to fourth floors would house 70 to 80 residential units in approximately 96,300 SF, in a potential mix of configurations ranging from studio to 4-bedroom units, but mostly it’s intended to be 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units (page 2-25, DGEIS). The remaining 33,270 SF would be commercial office space. Parking would be on adjacent surface lots.

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The industrial space envisioned for Buildings 33 and 34 requires minimal renovation, according to the DGEIS (page 2-33). Combined, they offer about 170,600 SF of industrial space, for manufacturing, warehousing, or related uses. Most parking (110 spaces) will be on adjacent surface lots, with a little more (15 spaces) created by the removal of Building 6A, and another 95 overflow spaces shared with CW3 structures. Part of the logic is that since workers and residents use parking spaces at different times (working the 9 to 5, vs. those who do their 9 to 5 in other parts of the city), they can share parking spaces somewhat.

Part 3 will take a look at some of the project impacts.





The Chain Works District DGEIS, Part One: Introduction

20 04 2016

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Chain Works is, without a doubt, the single largest project currently being considered in the Ithaca area. It’s a very large project in terms of square footage, in terms of cost, in terms of length of build-out. Being such a large and important, it needs to be examined carefully – it could help propel Ithaca’s economy and ambitions to a higher quality of life, or it could serve as 95 acres of dead weight.

Between March 29th and May 10th, the city is receiving public comments on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the DGEIS. The city’s website appears to be outdated, but the Chain Works District website is up to date – any comments readers might have, any questions or concerns, are submitted to the City of Ithaca Planning Board as lead agency for environmental review. UnChained Properties LLC, the developer, offers a blank form here, or if one prefers, comments can be sent directly to Ithaca senior planner Lisa Nicholas at lnicholas@cityofithaca.org.

What a DGEIS does is evaluate the potential impacts of growth on local resources and facilities, such as traffic, water supply systems, utilities infrastructure, social and aesthetic impacts. The DGEIS, which will need to be finalized, is part of New York State’s Enviromental Quality Review (SEQR, pronounced “seeker”) and a necessary precursor to any planned/contemplated construction and development of the site.

So, the DGEIS main body is 422 pages, with about 3 GB’s worth of appendices. Although 45 days is allotted for public comment, not a whole lot of people want to read through 422 pages, but the table of contents allows people to jump around if there’s one or two thing they’re more keen to read about. A link to the DGEIS is offered by project partner Fagan Engineers here, but you might need to submit an email and name before being able to see it.

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So, basic details, per the “Description of Action”:

Chain Works District Project is a proposed mixed-use development consisting of residential, office, commercial, retail, restaurant/café, warehousing/distribution, manufacturing, and open space within the existing 95-acre Site which traverses the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary . Completion of the Project is estimated to be over a seven-to-ten year period. The first phase, referred to henceforth as Phase I, will consist of redeveloping four buildings generally located at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the complex of existing buildings. These first four buildings are approximately 331,450 square-feet (SF), and will house office, a mix of office and residential, and industrial uses. Subsequent phases of development will be determined as the Project proceeds and will include new structures to complete a full build-out of 1,706,150 SF.

So, just based off that, anything that gets developed, is as the market and NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) allows. If the market isn’t amenable or the cleanup plan isn’t approved, don’t expect the plans to move forward all that fast, if at all. If the market is good and the DEC signs off on plans, expect the build-out to be on the shorter end of the 7-to-10 year time-scale.

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Related infrastructure work for the Project will include: (1) removing select buildings to create courtyards and a network of open spaces and roads; (2) creating pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular connections through the Site from South Hill to Downtown Ithaca; (3) improving the existing roads within the Site while creating new access points into the Site; (4) mitigating existing environmental impacts from historic uses; (5) fostering the development of a link, the Gateway Trail, to the Black Diamond Trail network; and (6) installing stormwater management facilities, lighting, utilities, and plantings.

No big surprises – some buildings in the interconnected complex will come down, shared road concepts will dominate the internal transportation system of the neighborhood, the site will be more fully integrated into South Hill and trails, and usual site details like stormwater plans and landscaping are going to be incorporated into the project.

Given its complexity, the project team is pretty broad – eleven organizations, from the Ithaca, Elmira, Corning and Rochester areas. Local firms include STREAM Collaborative, which helped draw up the design standards and rezoning, Randall + West for more rezoning work, and Brous Consulting, which is handling public outreach. UnChained Properties is headed by David Lubin of Horseheads (suburban Elmira). From what I’ve been told, project development to-date has cost somewhere around $2 million dollars.

Likewise on the approvals – the project will need something like fifteen approvals from a dozen different government groups and agencies.

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Let me share an introduction and summary comparable but maybe more approachable than theirs – a background primer on why this is happening can be found on the Voice in my introduction article here, and Mike Smith’s summary article here.

Much of Chain Works reuses what was once the Morse Chain / Emerson Power Transmission (EPT) factory, which employed thousands from the 1900s, up until the last workers were let go and the facility shut its doors in 2011. During the mid 20th century, industrial processes used chemicals and compounds that are known to be toxic – Trichloroethylene (TCE) being the best known, but also heavy metals and oils. These not only affect the site and its building, they’re also in the soil and groundwater of South Hill.

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The site is classified as Class 2 Superfund site, which the DEC describes as “a significant threat to public health and/or the environment and requiring action”. While EPT is responsible for clean-up, they’re only responsible for the bare minimum (the industrial standard, what can be safely exposed to for 8 hours) unless otherwise specified by a proposed reuse, in which case they have to clean to a higher standard like residential use.

So that leaves us at present – a vacant 95.93 acre, 800,000 SF industrial site split between municipalities and with varied terrain and conditions. One of the most basic goals of CWD is to get the city and town to rezone the land to allow a mix of uses – PUD/PDZ, which give flexibility in site development based off of standards the developer, the city/town, and in this case NYSDEC mutually agree to.

 

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So, in the PUD/PDZ, one of the broad takeaways is that each of the four form code has its own design standards – height, width, window-spacing, setbacks and most physical details, even signage. Unlike typical zoning, it’s the appearance that is more thoroughly managed, not the use. Those can be found in detail here. The design standards utilize what’s called LEED ND (Neighborhood Development), design standards created for large-scale green, well-integrated and sustainable development. A gated community it ain’t.

The goal of these design standards is to mitigate some of the adverse impact the new and renovated buildings will have on the community – promoting alternate transit reduces traffic, limiting floors and floor heights reduces visual impacts, and so on.

Build-out falls under four general form zones: (1) CW1- Natural Sub-Area, 23.9 acres of old woodland to be limited to passive recreation. (2) CW2- Neighborhood General Sub-Area, 21.2 acres of townhouses, stacked flats and similar moderately-dense development, mostly in Ithaca town; (3) CW3- Neighborhood Center Sub-Area, 39.7 acres of mixed-use, in a combination of renovated and new buildings towards the northern end of the property in the city, and (4) CW4, Industrial Sub-Area, a 10.3 acre zone for industrial uses in existing buildings at the Emerson site. The site borders Route 96B, single-family and multi-family homes, natural areas and steep terrain.

About 0.91 acres will be subdivided off and maintained by Emerson for active groundwater treatment. The other 95.02 acres would be sold to UnChained Properties.

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The re-development is fairly multifaceted. Some buildings will be renovated, a few will come down, a couple will receive additions, an quite a few others, like those in the all-residential CW2 zone, will be brand-new. Specifically in Phase One, four buildings – 21, 24, 33 and 34, will be renovated.

In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at the neighborhood design standards and detailed plans for Phase One.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 3/5/16: Here Comes the Papierkrieg

5 03 2016

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1. Let’s start off with something that led to a couple of worked up messages and emails to the Voice inbox – a potentially controversial revision to the Chapter House proposal that would replace the north eave of the building with a wall (bottom image). In the documentation, there’s no written explanation as to why the change is being requested from the approved plan (top image); but I wonder if it has to do with fire safety regulations or zoning issues between the Chapter House and the rebuild being prepared for 406 Stewart next door. Architect Jason Demarest is working on both projects for their respective owners (400-404 Stewart’s Sebastian Mascaro and 406 Stewart’s Jim Goldman), so he’ll be representing both projects at the Landmarks meeting next Tuesday the 8th at 5:30 PM. Also on the agenda are a couple of minor renovations, discussion about potential work to The Nines at 311 College Avenue, and discussion of an expansion to the East Hill Historic District.  This might just be for the Orchard Place properties that are locally historic but not nationally recognized, but we’ll find out for certain next week.

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2. Some of your might be wondering what happened with the 902 Dryden vote. Well, the vote still has yet to be taken. Moldern Living Rentals was still work on the last details of the Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan for runoff (SWPPP), so the town of Dryden won’t be taking a vote until their March meeting, which has yet to be posted to their website (most likely it’s Thursday the 10th, or Thursday the 17th). The next-door neighbors still took time out to call the 40% downsized project a travesty and that it wasn’t shown in the 2012 Comprehensive Plan. Veering into editorial territory, my original comment from last month still stands:

“[A] master plan is not an exact thing; if it shows for three sets of five townhouses on a parcel, that’s not what may necessarily may happen. It just indicates the kind of density and scale of development the plan deems appropriate. 902 Dryden isn’t drawn on the master plan, but the plan welcomes the idea of townhouses on Forest Home Drive, which 902 abuts. So a vote in favor of the 8 new townhouses is, indirectly, a vote of support in the Varna Master Plan.”

I would give more weight to Todd Bittner’s objective concerns about stormwater than subjective comments of character, especially when they’re from someone who said they were disgusted by the thought of rentals. When Bittner checks out the revised SWPPP, if it looks acceptable, I think the project should be approved.

On another note, 1401 Dryden, the Storage Squad project (pictured above), seems to have lost a lot of its charm after getting caught in red tape last fall. The owners had to squeeze into a smaller area to satisfy the revised, expensive SWPPP. They’re hoping to hide most of it with landscaping.

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3. Just a quick update on the Travis Hyde Properties Old Library proposal. The ILPC and Planning Board had their joint meeting, project team partners HOLT Architects and TWMLA landscape architects have incorporated their comments, and here is the current product. Sorry, no renderings, just site plans. Previous plan here. Overall, the site layout hasn’t changed too much, a courtyard and green space will be next to the DeWitt Park Inn, and the building is set back to maintain rhythm with its neighbors. The exterior is supposed to have more projections and recesses, the top floor set back 6 feet, and incorporation of balconies on the upper floors (not sure how this will affect the plan for the inverted roof). Unit count is 21 1-bedroom, 24 2-bedroom, and 9 3-bedroom, 54 instead of the original 60 (39 1-bedroom, 21 2-bedroom). The addition of 3-bedrooms is surprising for senior apartments; from what I’ve been told, typically the large majority of demand is with 1 and 2-bedroom units. The Planning Board and ILPC have another shared meeting at City Hall on the 8th.

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4. The Chain Works review process is chugging along. At its meeting on the 8th, the Planning Board’s special meeting will decide whether the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement is ready for public review (not expected to be controversial). Then on the 9th, Cornish et al. will be giving a report to the Common Council’s Planning Committee about the timeline and current status. Another staff progress report will be presented at the Planning Board meeting on the 22nd, and the next day on the 23rd, the city CC and town board Planning Committees will meet review proposed draft PUD zoning for the massive mixed-use project. With adequacy being agreed upon, the project can begin project review 15 or so days later; first public meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 29th.

The city just uploaded the comments of reviewers on the DGEIS – most are relevant, some are pretty good suggestions and critiques. Then there’s “Reviewer 3”, most of whom’s comments were put aside as they’re not relevant to adequacy. Those are but a preview of the potential flare-ups to expect at the public meeting.

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5. Stumbled on this by chance, but it seems to verify initial suspicions from a few months back; a project proposal goes with the sale of multiple parcels of land totaling 9.2 acres off Park Lane and Slaterville Road in the town of Ithaca. The property, for sale at $995,000, is being marketed by Carol Bushberg Real Estate, which doesn’t have the render on their listing page or their Youtube video, but they do on facebook. The conveyed plans call for a 26-lot subdivision, and given the proposed lot lines, it doesn’t look like it would be affected by the town’s moratorium on 2-unit structures, because each unit has its own lot even though some of them share a wall. It also meshes with the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which calls for 2-4 units per acre in this area (in the site plan, it’s just under 3 per acre). So to all you would-be home developers, here’s an opportunity.

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6. Speaking of the 2-unit moratorium in the town of Ithaca, it looks like that’s going forward to the Town Board to schedule a public hearing. The Planning Committee decided it was a good idea. The documentation says it would last at least a year, by which time the town hopes to have its new form-based, anti-student special zoning in place. Editorializing again, I still oppose this proposed law not because of the issue with low-end student housing, but because it’s too broad, affecting the whole town. The last 2-unit approved in Ithaca town wasn’t a student special – it was a 3-bedroom house with an accessory 1-bedroom apartment off Calkins Road. The husband and wife building the house will be living in the larger unit. I don’t think the whole town should be subject to a law that’s only been written to address a South Hill issue (the law’s language claims it’s a concern in East Ithaca as well, but I haven’t seen or heard of a new student-oriented rental in East Ithaca in at least the past few years). Anyway, whether for or against it, comments can be sent to Town Clerk at townclerk@town.ithaca.ny.us. The town meeting will be at the town hall on Monday the 7th at 5:30.

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7. Here’s a preview of next week’s mid-week post: A look at some of the affordable housing proposals and plans that applied to the city for grant funding this year. INHS applied for their owner-occupied townhouses, the Boggs/ Fernández proposal for 402 South Cayuga is there, Habitat’s duplex, 304 Hector, and a new plan by a private citizen for an owner-occupied affordable duplex behind the house at 622 Center Street in the South Side neighborhood. Keep an eye out for that Monday night or Tuesday morning.

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8. From the other news outlets now; the Times is reporting that the sketch plan for the Maguire auto dealership proposal for the Carpenter Business Park actually had a warm reception from the Planning Board. In particular, board stalwart John Schroeder was impressed with the sidewalk along 13 (which would help transition the Waterfront and nearby environs to mixed-use) and public amenities. The board is cognizant of the site’s issues and the city’s hopes for the area, so those do play into the thought process – perhaps part of it is that Maguire’s jobs and features could work as a draw for mixed-use development of nearby parcels that don’t have so many issues. The board’s role stops at this point, with the just passed TM-PUD now front and center – unless Common Council okays the project, it won’t be back again. But Maguire did ask for a letter of support if the board was willing; we’ll see.

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9. Meanwhile, the Journal is reporting that Texas Roadhouse will be opening May 23rd. No doubt the relatively dry and mild winter helped keep this project moving along (February construction update here). The 7,163 SF restaurant expects to hire 170 to 200 employees, of which 80 will be full time. That number astounds me just a bit because I worked at a steakhouse in high school, and although we were maybe half the square footage, we only had a staff of about 40. Even in Ithaca’s crowded restaurant scene, there aren’t many options for the red meat lovers that don’t cost an arm and a leg, and chances are good this will appeal to a different crowd than most, and be something of a draw from the nearby rural areas. Best of luck to them and their staff.

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10. Let’s wrap this up with House of the Week. Quick update on Zac Boggs and Isabel Fernández’s 201 West Clinton Street carriage house. Fully shetathed (Huber ZIP system panels), fully roofed and shingled, and fully fitted with windows, the exterior work left will focus on exterior siding attachment and refinishing the original 1960s garage to match the historically-inspired vertical addition. The exterior calls for sawn board-and-batten wood fitting, though it’s unclear if it will be unpainted wood, or painted yellow. The 1 bedroom, 520 SF space looks like it could be ready for occupancy by late spring.





News Tidbits 2/27/16: A Leap Year, But Not A Leap Forward

27 02 2016

1. Let’s start this week off with some maps. The two below come courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) agenda, submitted by INHS Director of Real Estate Development Scott Reynolds.

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Each marker is the approximate location of current of an individual on Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ (INHS’s) apartment wait-list. Dozens and dozens. As breakdowns go, 48% of waitlisted applicants live in the city of Ithaca, 38% outside of Ithaca but somewhere within Tompkins County, 8% live in other counties of New York State, and 6% come from outside the state. Counting the markers, my back-of-the-envelope calculation comes out to about 160 households.

The map implicitly describes the wealth of Ithaca’s neighborhoods – an increased number of applicants for affordable apartments come from South Side, the West Village area, and Northside, and further out, Dryden village and the apartment complexes in Lansing village. Wealthier areas like Fall Creek, East Hill, South Hill and Belle Sherman have very few or no individuals on the wait list.

The next time someone says affordability isn’t an issue, think of each dot on this map, and remember that’s someone, maybe even a while family, struggling but hoping to find decent, affordable housing.

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2. The Farm Pond Circle development in Lansing has finally sold on the 23rd for $164,840, well above both asking prices from last year. The purchaser was Dryden-based Schickel Construction, the same company responsible for the Boiceville Cottages. The restrictions on the ten for-sale lots carry over with the deeds. All things considered, Bruno Schickel knows this area well and his company could be one of the very few in the region interested but also capable in fulfilling Jack Jensen’s vision.

The development first went up for sale for $155,000 last March after the owner/developer, Jack Jensen, passed away suddenly in October 2014. In October, the price was knocked down to $125,000. Along with the lots Schickel picked up in the primary sale, a second purchase of $39,160 gave him three more undeveloped lots owned by other members of the Jensen family.

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3. On the other end of the sale scale, Ithaca real estate developer Modern Living Rentals has put their multi-family property at 1015 Dryden Road up for sale.  The asking price for the 5-unit property is $650,000. 1015 Dryden is home to a single-family home built in 1938, and a 4-unit apartment building from about 1980. The apartment building was badly damaged in a fire in 2011, renovated, and the site was sold to MLR for $425,000 in March 2014. The tax assessment is also $425,000.

Plans on MLR’s website shared a to-be-built 2,790 SF triplex designed by STREAM Collaborative, but the real estate listing notes plans filed for two side-by-side duplexes (4 units). All units when built would equal 24 bedrooms, but the bungalow house is just one bedroom, and although I can’t find total number of beds for the 4-unit, at 4,032 SF it’s probably 2 beds per unit, so…that’s 9 exisiting, plus six from the triplex, plus 9 bedrooms from the two side-by-sides? Not 100% sure. Potential landlords can contact the listing agent here.

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4. As noted by the Ithaca Journal this week, Elmira Savings Bank now has regulatory approval to move its bank branch from 301 East State Street to the old Pancho Villa Building at 602 West State Street. The project would still need site plan review for the renovation of 602 alone, even if the rest of the site isn’t altered. However, if less than 10,000 SF, a non-residential structure may only need limited SPR, staff-level like a single-family house (I was a bit uncertain, but I have confirmed with a member of the planning board). So although the move is okayed, the bank may still have to go through the board before renovations can begin. In theory, they could move into the un-renovated building without board approval, since it would only be when substantial exterior alterations are planned that it would then fall under the board’s purview.

The bank still has no plans for the other properties acquired in their December purchase.

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5. Now for some weekly eye candy. Additional images from Monday’s Ithaca Voice on the Chain Works District redevelopment, PDF here. These were left out because although these images are strictly conceptual and years away from reality, they show many new buildings, up to 5 floors in places, which could have had people freaking out that Chain Works was a Manhattan-izing of Ithaca and that a derelict brownfield was a suitable alternative. What gets written is tailored for its audience, and I didn’t think the Voice’s more general and broader reader base would handle these images well. Case in point, the ICSD shutting off drinking water in all of the schools as a precaution sent people into the Voice’s comment section panicking that every household on the municipal water system was contaminated with toxic levels of lead a la Flint. So, here are some visual extras to the much more rational readers of this blog.

The conceptual renderings are by Rochester-based Chaintreuil Jensen Stark Architects, the same group behind the design of Harold’s Square.

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6. House of the week. Or rather, duplex of the week. From the outside, William and Angie Chen’s 2-unit, 6-bedroom duplex at 424 Dryden Road is nearly complete. Trim details like the porches have yet to be attached, and the foundation still needs to be backfilled, but most of the exterior looks good to go.

However, the parking lot has been a source of some BZA debate. The lot would require five off-street parking spaces, which the Chens can do with the construction of a three-car garage that tears down mature trees, but they would prefer to create uncovered five spaces that include two in the rear yard. CR-2 Zoning doesn’t allow for rear yard parking, so an area variance is required. The application also comes with a letter of opposition from a neighbor who seems to have mixed up the choices, asking for the variance to be denied for tearing down trees, when it’s the non-variance option that tears down trees.

Local architect Daniel Hirtler of Flatfield Designs is handling the duplex and the zoning variance.

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7. Status: It’s complicated. In Ithaca town, the Iacovelli family, longtime local landlords/builders, want to tear down a ca. 1845 house at 341 Coddington Road to put up two duplexes, which from the schematic appear to be the Iacovelli student special. To do so, they need to subdivide the property, one for each duplex.

On the one hand, the Iacovellis, who have been on South Hill since the 1920s (they’re the namesakes of Iacovelli Park at the end of Juniper Drive) and bought the property last year, have a right within existing law to do what they want with the property, which is next door to Orlando Iacovelli’s house. They want to subdivide the land into two parcels, and the only way to create two legal lots is to go right through the existing house.

On the other hand, it would be a shame to lose a 170-year house that’s in fair shape and has many of its original features intact, just so two fairly spartan duplexes can be built.

The town’s planning board seems to be cognizant of both sides in this dilemma. They asked at the last meeting to examine an alternative to allow subdivision and keep the 1845 house intact. The engineer for the project, Larry Fabbroni, did so, but the applicant is uncomfortable with trying to get zoning variances for the non-conforming setup, area, setback and a third claim about use for unrelated occupants (which the town planning department disputes).

This all comes at a time where the town is weighing a moratorium on 2-unit properties, and if this house comes down, there’s a good chance the town will vote the moratorium. Then Iacovelli won’t be able to build any duplexes, and no one else in the town of Ithaca would be able to either. But even if Mr. Iacovelli couldn’t build, he could still demolish the house and wait, should disagreements came to a boil.

Ideally, there would be a compromise where the 1845 house is preserved (by planning board/BZA stipulation or otherwise), and Iacovelli gets to subdivide so he can build a duplex on the other parcel. That way, he gets some economic return, and the town gets to keep an undesignated but arguably historic house. Few town board members want to come off as being anti-business to local families, and few developers want to come off as greedy or exploitative. A concession on both sides and some good will could go a long way in a time where tensions about student-focused housing are rising.

Comments can be sent to the board via the town clerk (Paulette Terwilliger) at townclerk@town.ithaca.ny.us . The board is expected to take a vote on the subdivision on Tuesday the 1st at 7 PM in the town hall.