Visions Federal Credit Union Construction Update, 1/2020

21 01 2020

For regional businesses, Ithaca and Tompkins County are attractive markets to try and break into. Compared to its Southern Tier and Finger Lakes peers (Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn), it’s a sizable market that’s more affluent and more economically prosperous, two things that bode well for business growth if a company thinks they can make the initial investment costs will pay off.

Visions Federal Credit Union appears to making the leap. Founded in 1966, Visions FCU is headquartered in the Binghamton suburb of Endwell (where it recently doubled the size of its headquarters) and currently hosts 52 branch offices across three states. The not-for-profit financial institution boasts over 200,000 members, $4.1 billion in assets and 650 employees. Currently, the closest location to Tompkins County is the branch office in the Tioga County town of Spencer.

Site plans first submitted to the city in May 2019 indicated that the new credit union branch would be built at 410 Elmira Road, on a vacant lot fronting the Elmira Road Shopping Plaza, which houses Home Depot, Kohl’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Widewaters Group, the Syracuse-based firm who owns the plaza, had quietly marketed the outparcel space on since at least early 2018, envisioning a restaurant or similar small-scale establishment would one day occupy the site, along with a sizable amount of parking.

Here, Visions Federal Credit Union is proposing to build a 3,320 SF branch office with a parking lot containing 20 spaces and drive-up ATMs. The building will be finished out in a fairly standard mix of painted aluminum metal panel system and fiber cement, with a CMU base and aluminum window system. More interestingly, the majority of the lot would be fenced in from the adjacent roadways and turned into an outdoor amphitheater. A 940 SF stage structure would be built at the southern end of the property, and the lawn would be maintained for use as an outdoor event and entertainment venue – rough estimates put the seating capacity at about 500, with the shopping center parking lot to double as a parking area for concert series attendees (the initial plan is five concerts from May-September, with smaller events in between). The remainder of the property would be fitted out with stormwater retention areas, landscaping improvements, a small amount of sidewalk, electric vehicle charging stations, a pet-friendly outdoor waiting area next to the building and bike racks.

According to the Site Plan Review (SPR) document, the $1.25 million project will take about eight months to build out – the original construction period was to be October 2019 – May 2020, but as these projects often go, the actual groundbreaking was delayed until just a couple of weeks ago (or rather, at least the site prep is underway; I did not see a building permit filed with the city when I visited the permits office last week, but then again, that’s an 800-page stack of paper including everything from bathroom remodels to new multistory buildings). The number of jobs that would be created is not stated in the filing, but a bank/credit union branch office of this size typically employs eight to 10 people. Design/build firm PWCampbell of Pittsburgh is listed as the project designer, with Rochester-based Costich Engineering serving as the engineering consultant.

Some details were tweaked during review – the amphitheater was adjusted away from the road because of safety concerns. There will be a heavy-duty three-rail wood fence and some trees between the road and seating area. The building itself was largely unaltered, which is rather unusual, but this is a less fussed-over part of the city and the project fully complies with the SW-2 zoning. The supplemental docs say they were looking into heat pumps and a solar canopy for their electric charging stations, but it’s not clear if those will be installed. Approval was granted in August 2019.

According to the Visions FCU press release, “Visions brings a new banking option to the Ithaca community that includes lower interest rates on loans, competitive earnings on savings, a shared network of fee-free ATMs, and more. As a member-owned not-for-profit, Visions is committed to both member and community service.” The credit union is looking to make a positive first impression through some monetary charitable donations to local non-profits, and plans to sponsor and participate in community service events to ingratiate itself with the greater community.

The site is being cleared and graded for construction at the moment. The elevated pad in the first photo is where the new branch office will be built. The third photo shows the graded site pad for the amphitheater.





Perdita Flats Construction Update, 1/2020

19 01 2020

Let’s start this off by taking the broader view. Climate change is real, and is increasingly harming our natural and built environments. In order to mitigate the worst of its effects and help ward off a potential global crisis, it is necessary to limit our environmental impacts. Building construction and urban planning is a major part of that, by using sustainable materials, construction practices, and following planning initiatives to limit the carbon footprint and wasted resources of older conventional approaches.

Ithaca and Tompkins County have approached this enthusiastically, though with mixed success. There is a robust environmental movement in the community, and many of them choose to practice what they preach, at least in their homes if perhaps not so much their site plans (case in point: Ecovillage, while well-designed structurally, is located so far from most goods and services and relies on vehicular travel and creates elevated infrastructure costs for installation and maintenance – in effect, “green sprawl”). Cornell Cooperative Extension maintains a database of local examples of sustainable housing.

One of the areas that has been severely lacking in truly sustainable housing, however, is the multi-family housing segment. The vast majority of eco-conscious housing built in Tompkins County is one-family or two-family. However, these are often on larger lots on the fringe of the urban boundaries of the Ithaca area. This has its limitations, not just the “green sprawl” issue, but affordability concerns related to land costs and single-family home construction costs. Given that it’s more environmentally efficient to invest in communities where infrastructure is in place and where goods and services allow for multiple transit options other than a car, it’s really crucial to demonstrate workable multi-family options, maximizing sustainability and demonstrating that it can be cost-efficient for a builder/developer to be green. But apart from a few examples like EcoVillage’s TREE apartment building, there are few local structures that really showcase what can be done these days with respect to sustainable building multi-family design and construction, especially in an urban setting.

Perdita Flats is an attempt to show that it can be done. In scale, it’s nothing particularly impressive. The site is an undeveloped lot at 402 Wood / 224 Fair Street, previously a double-lot with the neighboring house at 404 Wood (in fact, I noted its development potential when the lot was subdivided). The building itself will be 3,524 SF, three stories with a total of four market-rate units on a 36′ x 36′ footprint with a wrap-around porch. There will be one three-bedroom unit, one two-bedroom unit and two one-bedroom units – in other words, “missing middle” infill, smaller multi-family of similar unit density to many inner ring urban neighborhoods. (Apparently, the three bedroom is being reduced to a two-bedroom, but this was a very recent change.)

The building, a work of local firm STREAM Collaborative, is designed to fit in with the older homes in the neighborhood by using visual elements like the porch and the gable roof. The exterior will be finished out in natural shiplap wood siding and black standing-seam metal siding.

Where the building really shines is with its sustainability features – this is a net-zero project, meaning that all the energy it uses is provided by renewable sources. Energy-efficient features include a rooftop solar array with on-site battery energy storage, simple square shape, super-insulated building envelope (double stud wood framing and triple-pane low-e fiberglass framed windows), maximized natural daylighting through window placement and light-reflective paint, high-efficiency appliances, plumbing and fixtures, air-source heat pumps, low-emissions and non-toxic natural materials and finishes, and rainwater harvesting. To put it in perspective, the Ithaca’s Green Building Policy in the works requires a score of six points for approval, and this project would earn 17 points. The landscaping will include a shared garden plot, new sidewalk, and native greenery.

The project is the work of Umit Sirt and Courtney Royal. The husband and wife pair are staff of Taitem Engineering, a local engineering consulting firm that specializes in energy efficiency and the use of alternative (renewable) energy sources in building projects. Putting that knowledge to use, the couple recently built a net-zero energy home for their family in Ulysses — net-zero meaning that all energy produced comes from on-site or nearby renewable resources.

To give a rough timeline, Royal and Sirt bought the land for $70,000 in June 2018. The Perdita Flats project was first proposed in February 2019 and approved in April. The project sought and received a zoning variance on parking, two spaces instead of the four required, to allow for the garden space, and a reduction in the rear year setback from 20 feet to 10 feet, to better accommodate the garden and solar panels. To those fretting about the parking deficiency, on-site bicycle storage is provided as part of the project, and the Fair Street location has easy access to both stores on Meadow Street, and to Downtown Ithaca. Apart from the occasional Carshare use, life without a car here would be plausible.

The site plan review document estimated the development costs at $520,000. NYSERDA, the state’s energy sustainability agency, awarded the project $70,560 as part of its Buildings of Excellence program. Instead of the traditional hazardous refrigerants used for the internal circulation within electric heat pumps, Perdita Flats will use a more advanced carbon dioxide-based system (yes, CO2 isn’t good in large quantities, but it’s much less harmful ounce-for-ounce than refrigerant). To quote the application, “(i)n virtually every way, this building will be an example of what is possible for new construction in terms of reduced energy use and a complete lack of reliance on fossil fuels.”

Royal and Sirt’s colleagues at Taitem Engineering helped with the mechanical and plumbing design. The construction manager will be Mike Carpenter, along with the developers themselves. In case you’re wondering, Perdita is “a mythological child who brought a love of the natural world to humans”, according to the project’s website. (At this time, the website is mostly bare except for the landing page.)

At the site, not much has happened yet, though it looks like some trees were cleared. A project of this modest scale should take a half year or less once ground is broken.

 





Arthaus Ithaca Construction Update, 12/2019

23 12 2019

For Vecino Group of Springfield, Missouri, Ithaca is a match made in heaven. It’s a nationally-known firm with two specialties – affordable housing and student housing, two things that a college town struggling with affordability issues would seem to be a perfect fit for.

Vecino has made a concerted effort to break into the Northeastern United States in the past few years. Among the developments it has pursued are Asteri Utica, Mosaic Village in the Capital Region city of Cohoes (“Kuh-hos”, as living in the Albany area has taught me), Intrada Saratoga, Libertad in Elmira and the 444 River Lofts and Hudson Arthaus in Troy. Perhaps the most well known proposal to Ithacans would be the 218-unit Asteri Ithaca planned for East Green Street Downtown.

There is a logic to the naming. Vecino projects identify segments of their target market through the project names. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. Muse is the student housing, Talia provides housing and services for those recovering from domestic violence, and Libertads offer housing to formerly homeless veterans. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing. The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. The housing will be available to anyone who meets the income requirements. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. 130 Cherry Street, where the project is located, was developed for commercial use in the late 1970s, according to documents filed with the planning board, and operated as an automotive repair facility for the last 20 years, AJ Foreign Auto.

The city planning board were on board with it from the start. Plans call for a five-story, 97,500 square-foot building. Among the features are support service office space, a community room, a gallery/studio (in partnership with the Cherry Arts, according to state docs from October) and a fitness room. It’s about 123 units (48 studio, 55 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing, 50-80% of area median income, plus a one-bedroom unit for the property manager for 124 total. A breakdown of units and rents is at the end of this post and on the NYS HCR website here. Forty units (the ESSHI grant units in the rental breakdown table) will be set aside for young adults aged 19-26 for formerly foster care and homeless youth, and administered by Tompkins Community Action.

Along with the housing, the building would include parking for about 36 vehicles within and outside the building ,and 7,748 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. Also included is space for 52 bikes and 4 motorcycles, and access to Ithaca CarShare. The exterior will be finished out in light grey, medium grey and red fiber cement panels, with the internal courtyard areas having white stucco finishes. The ground level will have dark grey fiber cement panels and dark grey masonry.

A public promenade will run along the west side of the property next to the waterfront, pending approval from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The project was designed by Vecino’s in-house team, BW Architects and Engineers (remember, they’re a big firm that can afford to have their own architecture team). The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design, to give it a unique local flair. The project will be built to state (NYSERDA) “Performance Path for Energy Star” standards for sustainable housing (Tier II, >25% energy savings above code). The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

The project pursued and has been awarded a PILOT agreement from the Tompkins County IDA. The PILOT request included a one-time sales tax exemption request on building materials, a one-time mortgage tax exemption on the mortgage recording fee, and a non-standard property tax abatement request. In lieu of the typical seven-year or enhanced ten-year abatement, Vecino asked for and received a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement that would save them about $3.54 million off the lifetime of the tax deal. With the sales and mortgage tax exemptions, the total tax savings comes to $4.54 million, with Arthaus still generating an additional $3.73 million in new tax revenue over the life of the PILOT (note that the $3.73 million figure does not include existing tax payments, and is calculated using the current property taxes as a baseline; the PILOT would not eliminate existing property tax revenue, it reduces the rate of new tax revenue growth). The total project cost is $31,948,378. The PILOT approach has been used previously, with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

Neighbors to the site were generally supportive of the plan, while the council members who represent the site (George McGonigal and Cynthia Brock of the First Ward) were not, deeming it too big and too much of a concentration of affordable housing. The Arthaus project was approved by the city in April 2019.

NYS Homes and Community Renewal docs say $14,078,249 is being provided in a HCR Supportive Housing Opportunity Program (SHOP) subsidy loan, and $10,871,535 from Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Vecino is only pursuing 4% credits vs. the more lucrative and harder to get 9% credits, which made obtaining financing easier – it pays to be big and be able to leverage cost efficiencies elsewhere. The tax credit and loan package was approved by the state in October.

Alongside Vecino on the project team are Fagan Engineers of Elmira doing the civil engineering work, local firm Taitem Engineering as energy consultants, and Ithaca’s Whitham Planning and Design for landscape architecture and community outreach. CRM Property Management of Rome (Oneida County) will manage the property on Vecino’s behalf.

With the fence and dust guard up, it seems plausible that this project’s in site prep, taking apart the old body shop and readying the site for excavation and foundation work. December was the approximate date given for a construction start back when it was approved, and the plan is to open for occupancy in late summer or early fall of 2021. 150 construction jobs and four permanent jobs will be created by the Arthaus project.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 9/2019

21 09 2019

Clearing out the photo stash from the article for the Voice earlier this week.

I didn’t press into in the article, but I don’t understand the relationship between Arnot Realty and local investors Steve Flash and Anne Chernish, who came up with the project. I was on the understanding going in that Arnot bought a 75% stake, but when I asked, the question was immediately shot down and warned that it could not be discussed – I didn’t even get that much pushback from the IDA tax abatement question.

The IDA question was actually my one stipulation when they reached out to suggest a walkthrough – I wouldn’t consider an article unless that topic was addressed. I’ve had people complain articles like this and East Pointe can come off as “fluff pieces”, but there is a real effort to ask and get answers to questions and issues related to those projects.

A close-up of one of the “lifts”. As mentioned in the article, because they aren’t commercial grade, they can’t formally be called elevators.

Note the electric heat pump.

It was clear to me when asking about occupancy that there was some shyness with the response, trying to explain away something, which generally means it’s not good. Here, they said they were happy with the studios, a wide degree of interest, but that people were hesitant to commit to the two-bedroom units without them being more substantially complete. Here’s the transcript:

Brian: [00:06:17] I know we touched on this earlier but just so I have the recorded version of it here, how has the market interest been for the units? Are the studios more popular, or the two bedrooms? [00:06:24][7.7]

Taryn: [00:06:26] Right now, like I said the studios are more popular to hold. [00:06:32][5.5]

Taryn: [00:06:33] But people are looking at the two-bedroom units, we have a lot of people waiting for pretty much this week and next week to see what they would look like with final touches. [00:06:40][6.7]

Ian: [00:06:46] I would say that from an interest perspective it’s been very balanced, right. [00:06:49][2.6]

Ian: [00:06:52] But perhaps that consumers who are interested in the townhomes are a little bit less, in perhaps less of a time crunch as they put it right? If you’re student or a young professional, you have a very definite timeline for moving and occupancy, whereas perhaps if you’re selling a home you’re in a more flexible situation. [00:07:07][15.1]

The units will be ready for occupancy by the end of the month.

The views are great.

High ceilings. They’re still debating whether the small attic spaces will be legally permitted for use as storage space.

The two-bedrooms have plank flooring, while the studios have concrete floors.

Brian: [00:10:23] What surprised you in a good way as this was all coming along, and what surprised you in a bad way? [00:10:28][5.1]

Ian: [00:10:28] This is all coming from, I mean, I was I was going to say like with any construction project there are things you find out in the process of building that that are perhaps surprises, I wouldn’t say that there have been any particularly nasty things that we’ve come across. Or course any time that you’re working on a deep pile foundation, You’re kind of trusting that you know underground is going to be smooth sailing, and for the most part it was and we were really fortunate. [00:11:06][38.1]

Brian: [00:11:07] This uses a unique timber pile deep foundation, right? Because typically a deep pile of steel. [00:11:13][5.5]

Ian: [00:11:13] Yes. [00:11:13][0.0]

Brian: [00:11:14] But this uses like a treated timber that as long as it’s not exposed to air, it could last hundreds of years. [00:11:18][4.0]

Ian: [00:11:20] Right. So yeah. So this is on over one hundred and thirty timber piles, and they’re all driven to a depth of about 30 feet. [00:11:30][9.9]

Brian: [00:11:32] And was it Benson, Bensonwood did the modular components and they got trucked in. [00:11:37][4.6]

Ian: [00:11:37] Right. So it was a panelized construction in terms of the actual structure of the building. So D squared, local contractors out of Lansing. [00:11:46][8.8]

Brian: [00:11:48] Doug Dake? [00:11:48][0.1]

Ian: [00:11:48] And Doug Boles, hence D Squared. Yeah. The did that foundation and they poured the slab and then Bensonwood brought in their panels from New Hampshire and actually raised the building. Over what was probably only about a month and a half to get the whole thing raised, and then finishing is D Squared comes back in. OK so in terms of the labor used on the project, we’re well over 80 percent of what TCAD considers local labor. That has been another focus of ours. [00:12:25][37.3]

Brian: [00:14:40] And this is going to sound terrible. Is it Ar-NOT or AR-noh or something else? [00:14:45][4.8]

Taryn: [00:14:45] Almost like Ar-NIT and like Garnet but yeah. Well there is a gentleman named John Arnot who was a big I think he’s a doctor correct? About a hundred years, maybe not a hundred years ago but a while ago and then so we have the hospital we have, you know, so there’s a lot of places of that (name). [00:15:10][25.1]

Ian: [00:15:12] I guess to clarify by we, the Arnot name, as far as we the Arnot Realty company, we’re not involved with the hospital. [00:15:22][9.4]

Taryn: [00:15:22] Oh sorry. Yes. No we are not at all. [00:15:24][1.8]

Taryn: [00:15:25] There is just um there’s just a lot of aspects of the area that use that name but it’s not. It would have that name but it’s not, they’re not associated. [00:15:32][7.8]

Taryn: [00:15:33] Okay I should. Sorry. That’s sounded. [00:15:35][2.0]

Ian: [00:15:36] That’s fine. We just don’t want to see a video statement from the hospital. [00:15:39][2.6]

Taryn: [00:15:39] Yeah we do not. [00:15:43][4.2]

I have nothing but kind things to say about D Squared Inc. They were courteous and professional the entire time I was on site.

In case anyone still intends to use a studio as a workspace, these are intended to be filled in with business placards, and will be finished out with a decorative veneer when not in use.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 5/2019

2 06 2019

If you think these went up fast, it’s because they did. The modular pieces from Bensonwood were installed in just a couple of weeks; the group of three one week, and the group of five the next (note that the two substrings are slightly offset from each other). The units came with windows fitted and ZIP panel plywood sheathing already in place. The wood rails for the lap siding came after installation onto the foundation. The first floor will be faced with brick, the top two floors with fiber cement lap siding.

The 323 Taughannock project has a name “Boathouse Landing on Cayuga Inlet“. It’s a mouthful. The website is full of the typical heavy, pretentious marketing that defines high-end residential real estate – the reference to “private lifts”, for instance, because calling it an elevator is too plebeian. There’s a substantial possibility that STREAM Collaborative designed the website and branding as they’ve done with some of their projects like the Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing, especially since the layouts are similar, but I doubt any of their staff would employ such overly florid language. It might have been someone at the developer (Arnot Realty) office or a marketing team they contracted out to.

Features and amenities include private patios and balconies, cable and high-speed internet, stainless steel Energy Star appliances, off-site solar power, in-unit laundry, LED lighting, plank flooring on the upper levels, radiant floor heating in the bathrooms, A/C and heat that can be controlled for each room in the unit, private elevators and smart video doorbell systems on certain units, and fully accessible units for those who may have mobility or physical impairment issues. Pets are permitted, and there appears to be an on-site fitness center in the works.

The floor plans can be seen here. The eight two-bedroom units come in three flavors, dubbed “Catalina”, “Hinckley” and “Garwood”. Catalinas have the elevators, and are the largest at 1,750 SF.  Hinckleys are slightly smaller at 1700 SF and lack the elevators, while Garwoods are the smallest at 1,360 SF. All are 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath units. The eight studios come in three flavors as well – “Crosby” (670 SF), “Hobie” (630 SF), and “Laser” (600 SF). It is not clear how those names were selected.

According to online listings, the top-of-the-line Catalinas are listed at $3600-$3700/month, while the other two-bedroom units are $3,400-$3,500/month. Studios go for $1,500-$1,850/month. The project team is aiming to be ready for occupancy by July 29th.

More about the project history and features can be found here.

 

Absolutely not.

The Catalina two-bedroom floorplan.

The Laser studio floor plan.





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 4/9/19

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.