Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 4/2018

30 04 2018

It’s hard to believe it’s been over three years now since the fire that decimated the Chapter House and the neighboring apartment house at 406 Stewart Avenue. According to a recent write-up by Mark Anbinder at 14850.com, the new build at 400-404 Stewart Avenue will host one eight units –  studio apartment, three 1-bedroom apartments, one 2-bedroom apartment, and three 3-bedroom apartments. The units are aiming for a summer occupancy, and CSP Management (Jerry Dietz and his team) are in charge of the rentals on behalf of developer/owner Jim Goldman.

From the outside, the building is practically complete, except for landscaping/paving, trim pieces, and facade installation of the ground-level bluestone veneer. The 4-unit, 11-bedroom apartment building next door is not as far along, with roof trusses only just being installed, and sheathing (ZIP panels) and window fittings underway on the lower floors. It’s a reasonable bet to say these will be available for their first tenants in time for the start of the new academic year in late August.

As fair as anyone’s aware, the ground-floor space restaurant/bar is still available for lease, at $35/SF (at 3,000 AF, that means $105,000 annually). Chapter House owner John Hoey has said in the comments here that the price is too high for his business. The possibility of a “Chapter II”, as some have dubbed it, seems increasingly remote. Any other potential lessees can contact David Huckle or August Monkemeyer at the Ithaca branch of Pyramid Brokerage.





400-404 & 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 12/2017

17 12 2017

400-404 Stewart Avenue, a.k.a. the former Chapter House site, is fully framed and the brickwork is in progress. The brick veneer is Redland Brick Inc.’s Heritage SWB, and is similar in appearance to the original brick of the Chapter House, which was damaged beyond repair in an April 2015 fire. So the way this has gone is that yellow closed-cell spray foam was applied over the sheathing, probably by a subcontractor such as Goodale Spray Foam out of King Ferry. Closed-cell spray foam, made with polyurethane and applied a few inches thick, provides insulation under the brick. Brick is a tricky material in some ways – the plywood ZIP Panels are great for sealing a structure to make it air-tight, but brick absorbs moisture, so the spray foam not only serves as an insulator, it also provides a protective moisture barrier between the plywood and the brick. It’s typical to have a drainage gap underneath the brick so that they can dry out, otherwise the uninsulated brick is at risk of long-term moisture damage.

The roof looks to be covered in tar paper or similar material; this will eventually be layered over with chamfered asphalt shingles. The roof ZIP panels that make up the “awning” being built over the first floor will be covered in shingles as well, but those will be more expensive simulated slate. The trim pieces like the cornice may be cast stone or fiberglass over wood, and it looks like the window sills and heads might be cast stone. It looks like they’re using Marvin Windows for the windows themselves.

406 Stewart Avenue is still being framed with ZIP panels, now up to the third floor with just the roof trusses left. The drawings I have on file suggest the fenestration has been changed – the position and size of the second floor windows are different from the renderings, in particular the window on the far left of the front face, and one of the windows on the north side was moved further back from the street. It suggests some modest interior alterations, but the ILPC will be watching this like a hawk since these builds are under their jurisdiction (the East Hill Historic District).





400-404 & 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 10/2017

18 10 2017

Framing is up to the top floor of the former Chapter House property at 400-404 Stewart Avenue. The plywood ZIP Panels appear to switch from the roofing variety to standard walls on the top floor and for the recessed entrance on the ground floor, and this probably has to do with the finishing materials. The ZIP panels have slightly different thicknesses. The thinner ones in green are used with fiber cement, and wood or asphalt shingle finishes. The top floor of the Chapter House is supposed to finished with asphalt shingles, according to planning docs. The lower two floors with the red ZIP panels will be faced with brick (Redland Heritage, the same brick used with 210 Hancock’s commercial building). The north wall has already been coated in waterproof spray foam, which will protect the frame from the porous brick veneer. It looks like some interior framing and roughs-ins are underway on the lower floors. Next door, the slab foundation for the new apartment building at 406 Stewart Avenue has been poured and cured, and framing work appears to be starting on the above-ground levels.

Along with local firms Taitem Engineering (overall civil and structural engineering, with emphasis on energy efficiency) and Elwyn & Palmer (civil and structural engineering with emphasis on geotechnical work and foundations), a New Hampshire company called “Overlook Construction Consultants” identifies itself as a project partner, but their online presence is nearly nothing. Jason K. Demarest is the architect for both buildings.

Project description and background here.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 8/2017

17 08 2017

Some good news and some bad news. The good news is, the replacement building for 400-404 Stewart Avenue is well underway. No false starts, no rumor milling. The new structure is quite substantial for a modest three-story building – structural steel frame (currently up to the second floor), steel floor panels, finished basement, – all heavy duty, commercial grade construction, befitting for a mixed-use structure with possible food retail or general retail tenants on the 3,000 SF ground floor. Note the structural cross-beams; those well segments will not have windows. The exposed portion of the concrete foundation wall will be faced with bluestone later in the build-out. The fifth photo shows no concrete between the floor panels and foundation, presumably because the corner entrance will have an interior stairway that steps up to the ground level.

Now for the bad news. I chatted with a worker on the site, and when I said “the Chapter House site”, he chuckled, shook his head, and recommended I don’t use that phrase. “The Chapter House ain’t coming back,” he said before picking up a shovel. “People will forget all about it in four years anyway.” It hasn’t been a secret that the Chapter House likely isn’t making a return, but for many students and non-students, it’s still a disappointment to hear that.

The construction timeline for 400-404 Stewart called for a completion this year, which seems generous. The apartment building at 406 Stewart Avenue has been graded, but construction will not start until later this fall. Hayner Hoyt is the general contractor, with Taitem in charge of the structural engineering.

UPDATE: In the comments, John Hoey, the proprietor of the Chapter House, has written in the comments that he intends to reopen the bar, if not here then elsewhere in Collegetown.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 6/2017

16 06 2017

The funny thing about this project is, I already did the synopsis back in February 2016, the first time that it seemed to be under construction.

At the time, the construction seemed ready to move forward, but then, well…it didn’t. Former 400-404 Stewart Avenue owner Sebastian Mascaro sold the property and plans over to neighbor Jim Goldman, who intended to carry them forward. However, citing unfavorable cost estimates, Goldman decided to wait, and only recently has the project obtained favorable terms that would allow it to proceed.

The plans are still the same, although the project manager has changed. CSP Management (Jerry Dietz) will still manage the apartment rentals, but the commercial component is under the control of Pyramid Brokerage, Syracuse-based Hayner Hoyt will be the general contractor, and the construction manager representing Goldman is not with Hayner Hoyt and does not appear to be from the Ithaca area.

As a frank aside, it has been a rare degree of frustration to dig up information about this project. Goldman, for whatever reason, is incredibly publicity-averse, and everyone involved with the Chapter House has been asked or told to not talk about it. The little bit of information the Voice and 14850 have been able to get has come from CSP Management, which in itself comes with lots of cautions and uncertain language. The one occasion I spoke with Goldman, he told me he knew nothing and no longer owned the site, which if true, isn’t in the county’s records.

Here’s what is known. 406 Stewart Avenue will be 4 units, 7 bedrooms, replacing a similar-looking 1898 structure destroyed by fire in April 2015. 400-404 Stewart Avenue is about 9,000 SF with first floor retail with two floors of apartments – the number of bedrooms and units is not clear, as the number has been in flux. Note that calling it “the Chapter House project” is inaccurate – John Hoey, who owns the right to the Chapter House name, has not committed to reopening on the site, and the first-floor is being offered at a rather hefty $35/SF. For comparison’s sake, most downtown rates I’ve seen come in at about half that, although Pyramid is playing up its proximity to Cornell and the inner Collegetown market. A potential interior layout for a bar is included in the marketing material.

The current plan is to have 400-404 Stewart open by the end of the year, and 406 Stewart by Summer 2018. Jason K. Demarest is the architect for both buildings.

The first photo below is from my colleague Mike Blaney on May 23rd, as environmental remediation company ERSI was finishing clean-up of the fire-damaged site. In the following photos from this past weekend, the property has been leveled and graded, and a foundation is being excavated. The steel H-beams will be used as support for a retaining wall to shore up the soil, protecting the foundation and providing stability as the concrete is poured and cured.





News Tidbits 12/4/2016: Not Forgotten

4 12 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 11/5/16: Condemnation and Praise

5 11 2016

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1. The Maguire waterfront plan has been rejected. By an 8-2 vote, the Ithaca city Common Council voted to discontinue consideration of the state-of-the-art Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, with most citing concerns about the project’s marginal or poor fit with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for an urban mixed-use form of development in the Carpenter Circle area where this dealership is proposed. The votes in favor of the proposal, from the third ward’s Donna Fleming and first ward’s George McGonigal, cited ways it could be conceived as fitting with the plan (greener alternative, local business expansion), and challenges the site offers to the city’s urban plan (poor soils, trains, chemical storage, power lines).

Although this shuts down the current proposal, this may not be the last we hear from the Maguires or the Carpenter Business Park site. At the meeting, company President Phil Maguire offered a teaser, saying they may partially liquidate their land holdings to bring in mixed-use development that would share the CBP space with the dealership. Given the heavy alterations that would need to occur, the council decided to vote down the existing proposal and send a message that it doesn’t fit the city’s goals. However, the council said they and the planning department would expedite review of an amended proposal, should it come forth.

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2. If you’ve ever wanted some explicit discussion of the challenges of doing affordable housing in Tompkins County, here’s a great summary courtesy of the the town of Ithaca. Back in August, the town’s Planning Committee (of town board members, similar to the city’s PEDC Committee) met with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Director Paul Mazzarella for a Q&A. The town is considering regulations for inclusionary housing, and after INHS’s Greenways project fell through, they would like guidance and input on to make an effective code that promotes affordable housing without killing all residential development. Here are some of the highlights:

– Ithaca is a market of smaller builders. Local developers aren’t able or interested in doing huge projects, and most outsiders don’t see Tompkins County as a big enough or profitable enough market to tap into. So that leaves it to smaller builders who don’t have scale efficiencies, and are inclined to build luxury housing because the return on investment is more likely (i.e. less risky). The strong local economy also means that the local construction labor pool is largely tapped out, and additional crews have to be imported.

– Mandated affordable housing tends to work best in expensive, hot markets where the Return on Investment (ROI) for the market-rate units is more likely – your Seattles, San Franciscos and New Yorks. Even there, it is often paired with incentives such as height or square footage. Mazzarella noted he doesn’t think the city’s voluntary program will work very well. One thing to note with mixed-income projects is that the market-rate units will often be higher priced to cover the cost of lower-priced units. Simplified example – say you’re building ten houses for a sale price of $250,000. To meet an affordable mandate you sell two at $200,000, but to still obtain adequate ROI, that $100,000 is going to spread among the other eight – so you have two for sale at at $200,000, and eight at $262,500.

– We talk about modular homes as lower-cost alternatives, and for rural locations they often are, due to materials and labor costs. However, INHS found that in their experience for sites in the city and town, the cost is comparable to stick-built, although at larger scales, cost efficiencies may be achieved (ex. the Belle Sherman Cottages).

Another interesting read is the committee’s September meeting with city historic preservation planner Bryan McCracken and Historic Ithaca’s Christine O’Malley about protecting historical resources. As it turns out, the city cannot designate an individual landmark without the owner’s permission, and historic districts require the approval of 60% of affected property owners.

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3. Seems like Tiny Timbers had a well-attended open house. On their blog, the Dolphs have shared a cross-sectional diagram of an exterior wall – beneath the hemlock siding and copper trim will be ZIP sheathing and polyiso (thermoset plastic foam) insulation. ZIP is everywhere in residential construction, polyiso less common – locally, it was used extensively with the Boiceville Cottages in Caroline. On the inside, one has sheetrock and bamboo flooring. Exposed hemlock posts and ceilings will complement the sheetrock.

Also being rolled out is a fifth home design, a larger two-bedroom, two-bath home with a hipped roof. Variety is the space of life, as the saying goes.

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4. It was exciting to finally see the release of renderings for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue. Links to the Site Plan Review document, historical documentation and drawings can be found in the Voice write-up here. There have yet to be images released for the garden apartment building to be built at the rear of the property, but look for the same general design features as the rowhouses. As expected from ikon.5 Architects, the design is modern and glassy, and given the Facebook comments and a couple of emails that came in, some neighbors are less than happy about that. However, this isn’t a historic district, so long as it meets zoning regulations, Novarr is free to hire whoever he darn well pleases. As mentioned in previous write-ups, he had ikon.5 design his guest house, so this isn’t strictly a cost thing, he genuinely likes their work. It was a bit surprising but interesting to see the well-researched history of the three 19th century boarding houses currently on the property, and it makes me wonder if that was a requirement. Novarr’s proven to be accommodating in the past, perhaps he’ll deconstruct rather than demolish, and the salvageable parts can be reused.

The project team will meet with members of the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon for Design Review – about the only thing that stands out at initial glance is the lack of windows or visual interest with the north face, barely noticeable in the rendering. That probably won’t fly with the board, but we’ll see if it gets changed up as it goes through review. City Centre, the 8-story Trebloc site redevelopment, will also undergo further design review at the meeting.

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5. The Chapter House is going to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) yet again. The changes are subtle and few, but the rules are the rules. A service door will be added to the west (rear) wall, the inset vestibule is being reconfigured a bit, and the third-floor dormer windows are being changed from double-hung to casement – meaning that instead of sliding up and down, they’ll open with a crank. The ILPC will vote on the changes in November, which will probably sail through without much debate, and hopefully, just maybe, quite possibly, the Chapter House project can get underway.

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6. A couple quick updates from the town of Ithaca Planning Board minutes – after some discussion and a bit of praise for the redesign effort, the board opted for timber-trimmed Design “A” for the Sleep Inn proposal on Elmira Road. The minutes from Maplewood’s EIS meeting were also uploaded, and it is rare to see this much positivity in discussion of a project – not to say there weren’t dissenters, but the alternative energy source and efficiency initiative, use of local labor, and softening of the design on Mitchell Street won most of the speaking audience over. Public comment closed on Halloween, and now the project team must respond to all the reasonable comments received as part of the review process.