News Tidbits 5/27/19

28 05 2019

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

1. Agenda Review 6:00

(there is no Item 2. on the agenda)

3. Privilege of the Floor 6:25

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

5. Site Plan Review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Adjournment 9:30





News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, if I make $50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.

 





News Tidbits 3/30/19

31 03 2019

original renders

revised renders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

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





News Tidbits 12/17/18

18 12 2018

Here’s a look at the agenda for the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board meeting this month. It’s a week earlier than usual due to the Christmas holiday. Notes and comments in italics below.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Special Order of Business – Presentation of the Greater Southside Plan 6:05
3. Privilege of the Floor 6:20
4. Approval of Minutes: November 27, 2018 6:35

5 Special Permits 6:40

A. Project: Bed & Breakfast Special Permit
Location: 130 Coddington Road
Applicant: Noah Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval

Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit for use of the property as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast. The property was originally issued a Special Permit in 1998 for operation of the five bedroom home as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast; the Special Permit was not renewed in 2003, as required by §325-9c(4)(g)[3], and has therefore expired. During a recent home inspection, it was discovered the property had continued to operate absent a Special Permit, necessitating a new Special Permit application. No physical alterations to the building or the site are proposed. Issuance of a Special Permit is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act “(“SEQRA”)

This is a simple case of where the previous owner never renewed the five-year permit and didn’t tell the new buyer, who planned to continue using the home as a live-in Bed & Breakfast. No letters of opposition are on file. Approval, with the proper completion of all necessary forms, is likely to be straightforward.

B. Project: Bed & Breakfast Home Special Permit 6:50
Location: 2 Fountain Place
Applicant: Jason K Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval
Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit to operate the existing 4,492 SF nine (9) bedroom residence located at 2 Fountain Place as a Bed and Breakfast Home. The owner is proposing to utilize four (4) of the nine (9) bedrooms as guest bedrooms for a period not to exceed 21 consecutive days, with a fifth bedroom utilized for home-owner occupancy. Guest occupancy will be limited to two persons or one family per guestroom. No exterior modifications are proposed to the existing home to establish the B&B use, and the existing house is compatible with the character of the neighborhood. Existing parking for seven (7) vehicles exists in the turnaround off Willets Place. The applicant does not propose cooking facilities in the guestrooms, and food service is to be limited to guests of the B&B. No other B&B Homes exist within 500 feet of the property. One sign that is five (5) SF maximum in area and not self-illuminated will be installed in compliance with Chapter 272 of the City Code, “Signs.”

Under city zoning code, B&Bs, which are to be owner-occupied, are allowed to four bedrooms to be used for the guests. A zoning code variance to use eight bedrooms as guest occupancy seemed unlikely, but the new owners believe the B&B may still be viable. Local architect Jason K. Demarest (brother of STREAM’s principal architect, Noah Demarest) is known for his historic restorations and historically-inspired design work, so his involvement is auspicious for those who hope that the century-old mansion and former Ithaca College president’s house retains its character.

6 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 7:00
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Review FGEIS & Town Comments – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/119

Hey, they’re starting to include documentation links in the agenda descriptions now! Most of the town’s comments are minor modifications and a possible correction on one of the traffic lane analyses. There’s a boatload of paperwork to dig through, so this meeting is just a chance for the planning board to look at the town’s comments, digest some of the supplemental files, and make sure there are no red flags or major concerns within that subset of information.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

This is likely to be the most contentious part of the meeting. The planning staff have conducted their analysis. Some traffic mitigation measures are sought, including circulation and mass transit / multi-modal transit improvements. The city will make sewer system upgrades a stipulation of project approval, and being next to the Cornell Heights Historic District, the board as Lead Agency wants a more sensitive use of materials and material colors, and extensive vegetative screening to be reviewed further before approval. But the most debated component, the energy use impacts, the city feels is effectively mitigated through the proposed measures by the applicant team.

I’m going to raise one point of correction though – the number of beds is going up to 2,079, but the planning staff should note that a campus-owned fraternity house, the former Sigma Alpha Mu building at 10 Sisson Place (the chapter moved to 122 McGraw Place), is coming down to make way for the project, so the gross number of beds is at least 30 less that that figure.

C. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3 – No Action
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/852

Part III of FEAF is the city planner-written review of impacts, proposed mitigations, and whether the lead agency feels the mitigations are appropriate and effective. Some stormwater, remediation plan and other supplemental materials are still needed before a declaration of significance can be made. 

D. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 8:10
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Public Hearing
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally non-conforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/859

City staff were really unhappy about this plan last month, and it was implied that this was one of the examples of “bad” infill that may lead to the new single primary structure overlay. However, barring extreme circumstances (think Maguire at Carpenter Park), review will continue under the current regulations. No new materials appear to have been submitted since the last meeting. 

E. Project: Maguire Ford Lincoln Additions and Improvements 8:30
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/860

The revised plans include modified architectural features (more windows, a green wall), and a greater amount of vegetated landscaping to comply with zoning. On-site solar panels are being considered per board recommendation, but the old building was not designed to hold the weight of solar panels. The new wings will be designed to host panels. Heat pumps are being evaluated for some functions, but some of the heavy-duty components like the service bay will likely rely on modified conventional fuel systems. The building will meet or exceed NYS Energy Code requirements.

F. West Hill- Tiny Timbers – Sketch Plan 8:50

This one has been a long time coming. Tiny Timbers bought a 5.45 acre parcel on the south end of Campbell Avenue’s 400 block back in September 2016, and has long planned one of its cluster home developments on the vacant lot. As noted at the time on the blog:

“Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.”

G. 112-114 Summit Ave – Sketch Plan 9:10

This one required some fact-checking, because 114 Summit Avenue was the former Cascadilla school dorm that came down last year to make way for the Lux apartment project at 232-236 Dryden Road. A better address for this project might be “238 Dryden”, and the rumor mill says it’s by Visum Development Group, who developed the Lux. Although the exact positioning seems uncertain, the parcel north of the Lux is CR-3 (three floors, 40% lot coverage, parking and houselike features such as gables and porches required), and the remaining adjoining parcels are CR-4 (four floors, 50% lot coverage, no parking required). With student housing experiencing a little more slack in the market lately, it’s not clear if this is student housing, or another use.

7. Old/New Business PRC Meeting Time/ Date 9:30

8. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development 9:40

9. Adjournment 9:50





News Tidbits 11/26/18

27 11 2018

Just to get this out in time, he’s a look at what will be a rather long but very interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting tomorrow evening.

1 Agenda Review 6:00

2 Special Order of Business – Planning Report on ILPC recommendation to designate the former Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad Station at 701 West Seneca Street. 6:05

3 Privilege of the Floor 6:20

4 Approval of Minutes: October 23, 2018 6:35

5 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 6:40
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Distribution of FGEIS & Review of Schedule – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca.

No decisions expected tonight, but the distribution of the FGEIS (Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement) is a major step forward. From here, the Planning Board will review and critique the document, and when satisfied, it will vote for a resolution of completion. A recommendation to adopt the Chainworks PUD zoning and the FGEIS findings will follow, and if successful, the Common Council will also vote to adopt the PUD zoning. That would complete generic review for the site – new builds would still come to the board as necessary, but renovations could potentially begin not long afterward. Timing-wise, the final approvals are still a few months out, but this massive 910+ unit project is slowly closing in on approvals, and potentially, construction.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:55
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). All NCRE materials are available for download at: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

Materials provided indicate that city planning staff are reasonably satisfied that the energy impacts of the massive North Campus housing plan have been mitigated. The only new letter on record this month is a letter of concern from the City Historic Preservation Planner about the project’s visual and aesthetic impacts on the Cornell Heights Historic District to the west.

C. Project: Apartments (12 Units) 7:25
Location: 327 W. Seneca Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for Visum Development
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a three-story apartment building with 12 units. Project development requires the removal of the exiting building and parking area. The project will include exterior bike storage, a trash enclosure, walkways, landscaping, signage, and lighting. The project is in the B2-d Zoning District and has received the required variances for front-, side-, and rear-yard setbacks. A small portion at the rear of the property is in the CDB-60 District. The project has received Design Review. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

Not much to add regarding Visum’s workforce housing (80% area median income) proposal for the State Street Corridor. The project is expected to receive $200,000 from the latest round of the Community Housing Development Fund, the affordable housing fund jointly paid into by the city, county and Cornell. In this case, Cornell will cover $170,000 and the city $30,000. Cornell doesn’t have any hand in this project, but having one entity pay most of the grant for a given project makes it less complex to administer. 

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:35
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11).

Note that IFR is a Travis Hyde Properties business entity. The attempt to gain approval for an environmentally compromised project site is likely going to be more heavily scrutinized given the recent controversy regarding proposed demolition procedures for the Old Library site.

E. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 7:55
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of SEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally nonconforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).

F. Project: Maguire Lincoln 8:15
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. Landscape design will improve vegetative cover; however, it will not meet the City of Ithaca’s impervious/pervious requirements (12%). The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review.

G. Sketch Plan – 312 E Seneca Street, Jagat Sharma 8:35

312 East Seneca is a 4,482 SF three-story mixed-use building on the edge of Downtown Ithaca. The building was long-owned by Ithaca architect Jagat Sharma, who ran his practice from the building (1416 SF), the Alley Cat Cafe (1926 SF), and a four-bedroom apartment (1140 SF) on the upper floors.

A few years ago, the site was floated as part of the potential footprint for Visum Development’s Seneca Flats mixed-use project, though at the time it was made clear that it was not an essential property to the development, and simply a possibility if Sharma chose to sell to Visum. Sharma didn’t – in September, he sold the building to an LLC associated with the Stavropoulos family for $800,000, double the assessed value. That lofty price relative to assessed value was a big clue something was planned here, and it looks like the first glimpse of that will come tomorrow night. The Stavropoli of West Hill have been growing their assets through acquisition or development for the past several years, including the 4-unit North Aurora project in item E. above.

Normally, the Stavropoulos family is low-key about development, preferring lower-profile infill builds in established neighborhoods – the largest project of theirs to date is the 11-unit 107 South Albany project. They often turn to local architect Daniel Hirtler, but this time, Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma will have a hand in redeveloping the building that housed his office for so many years. This would be Sharma’s first building downtown since the Greenstate Building (127 West State Street) in 1991. For the record, this would be their second Sharma commission, with a duplex planned for 209 Hudson Street being the other (granted, that’s also a modular structure).

Zoning-wise, this is CBD-60. Within that zone, Sharma can design a five-story building up to 60 feet tall, no parking required, with any variety of commercial or residential uses. Any design will have to conform with the recently-adopted Downtown Design Guidelines. The Stavropoli are likely to do all-residential or residential with ground-floor retail. The current building is quite narrow, but it also only occupied the east half of the lot – a new structure could practically touch the neighboring building at 308 East Seneca.

H. Sketch Plan – 114 Catherine Street, Jagat Sharma 8:55

Things are about to get a bit confusing. A few years ago, the Lambrou family, mid-sized Collegetown landlords and developers of Collegetown Park, presented and built an infill project at 114 Catherine Street – while all the working docs used 114 Catherine Street, the address of the existing building set back into the lot, the new 3-unit, 17-bedroom building was christened 116 Catherine Street.

This new building is expected to be a replacement for the existing 114 Catherine Street, the Mission Apartments, and is expected to complement 116 Catherine in appearance (Jagat Sharma designed that as well). Zoning here is CR-4, up to four floors, with a maximum of 50% lot coverage (but not parking required). Expect this to be student housing – probably not too big, a few dozen beds at most, but something to take note of nevertheless.

I. Sketch Plan – 130 Cherry Street, Residential, Vecino Group 9:15

130 Cherry Street is a 4,600 SF auto body shop that’s been for sale for quite a while now. The rumor mill says Vecino CEO Rick Manzardo was walking around the area a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like there was a reason for that. The plan being floated is affordable “artist housing”. This wouldn’t be a new concept to Vecino, who renovated a vacant warehouse in Troy into the 80-unit Hudson Arthaus. What makes the Arthaus unique among affordable housing is that it offers on-site amenities geared to artists, as well as income-based rents for those who make only a modest living while engaged in their creative pursuits.  Those amenities include a wood shop, on-site storage units, gallery spaces managed by a local non-profit, and a computer/digital work suite.

Zoning here is “Cherry Street District” Waterfront Zoning. Since it’s north of Cecil Malone Drive, housing is allowed – but not on the first floor. The first floor is for light industrial and many commercial uses, including restaurants, stores and offices. No ground-level storage permitted, however. In this “artist housing” format, the first floor would likely be the exhibition/gallery.workshop space. The building may be up to five floors with 100% lot coverage once setback requirements are met. Bonus for this site, the Cherry Artspace is a few hundred feet away. With about 179,000 SF in building capacity offered by the site and zoning before setbacks are considered, a potential project could be fairly sizable.

6. Old/New Business 9:35

7. Reports 9:40
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

8. Adjournment 10:00





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.