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.

 





News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 2/2019

17 02 2019

I’ll admit I’ve actively avoided writing this one up because it has more twists and turns than a soap opera, and it ends up being extremely hard to follow as a result. There are over forty articles from local outlets regarding the site, and Travis Hyde Properties compiled about two dozen of the pieces it liked onto their website. The Voice has eighteen Old Library articles on file, but because of a tag mix-ups, it’s more like thirty. Here’s an attempt to distill everything into one post.

The Old Library site refers to the former Tompkins County Library, located at 310-14 North Cayuga Street. From 1967 to 2000, the library was housed there. However, once the library moved downtown in 2000, the building was used for day reporting for low-level criminal offenders, and for records storage. These were eventually relocated to other properties, and the 38,630 SF would be vacant by early 2015. However, the county didn’t like the idea of hanging onto it. Its unusual interior design (a large atrium) was difficult to adapt to other uses, inefficient from an energy standpoint, and the building’s utilities systems were running short on useful life, and would be expensive to replace. As a result, the building was declared surplus.

The idea of a Request for Expressions for Interest (RFEI), was hatched in late 2013. An RFEI is basically a prerequisite to a Request for Proposals (RFP), feeling out interest by asking for less paperwork – an RFP to RFPs in a sense. While the building was no longer useful for the county’s needs, it sits on a site close to downtown Ithaca, next to historic DeWitt Park (and in the DeWitt Park Historic District). It’s walkable, and the city’s 2013 rezoning allows up to four floors and 50 feet. The RFEI stressed mixed uses with an emphasis on senior housing, and compatibility, energy efficiency, and growth of the tax base. The hope was that someone would use the site to help the county meet its goals, though the county was unsure how it would go – an earlier RFP in 2000 garnered no interest in the property.

As luck would have it, there were six responses to the RFEI, which can be found here. Two, INHS and IAD, dropped out before an RFP went out – INHS had acquired the 210 Hancock site and decided to focus on that. The DPI condo proposal declined to respond to the county’s RFP, citing frustrations with the county’s frequent delays, and that had one of the favored proposals in the feedback I received. The other two “reader’s choices” were Cornerstone’s affordable housing plan, and Franklin Properties collaboration with STREAM Collaborative, which called for reusing the structure of the building.

By the time the RFP has been issued and responded to in April 2015, three projects were up for review – Cornerstone’s 73,600 SF 54-unit affordable housing plan (<80% AMI), Travis Hyde’s 72,500 SF, 60-unit market-rate senior apartments plan, and Franklin/STREAM’s 58,000 SF building, with 22 higher-end condominiums and medical office space. All would pay the county $925,000 for the site.

The next few months were not enjoyable. The Cornerstone project asked for a PILOT tax agreement and lost county support. That left Franklin and Travis Hyde and Franklin Properties. The Franklin project had strong public support. But in June 2015, the county Old Library Committee of legislators recommended the Travis Hyde project 3-2. Two legislators genuinely favored Travis Hyde, one voted in favor just to move it out of committee, one liked the Franklin proposal though expressed some unhappiness with all of them, and one thought all three proposals were outright terrible.

A week later came the full county legislature’s vote – 6-6, a hung vote with two absent. Neither proposal had the eight votes of support needed to move forward. That’s when things started to get ugly. The city’s Common Council and Planning Board submitted letters recommending the Franklin proposal, which ruffled some feathers in the legislature. One legislator was accused of an ethics violation because the Travis family donated to her congressional campaign two years earlier, and recused herself from future votes. The Old Library plan was sent back to committee, where the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. There was a very good chance neither plan would get the required eight votes, and the county would be unable to make a decision on how to sell off a property they didn’t want. More failed votes ensued.

Finally, in early August, the Travis Hyde proposal got the nod in an 8-5 vote. There was definitely some bitterness afterwards, and an air of unscrupulous behavior. A legislator who switched his support to Travis Hyde would lose re-election to a strong advocate for the Franklin project later that year. He moved districts and into Fall Creek just as the other deciding vote retired from the Fall Creek district; there have been accusations it was orchestrated, but nothing was ever proven, and believe me, my then-editor, Jeff Stein who’s now at the Washington Post, had worked hard to find something.

For the record, this is why I have a strong aversion to RFPs. It works well when there’s one clear choice. But here, the disconnect between suburban and rural legislators, and passionate city residents, as well as all of the fighting and accusations that went with it, really created an unpleasant and rancorous experience. I dread the RFP for the NYS DOT site, which will come up in a year or two.

The project wouldn’t begin to move through municipal review until early 2016. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC), who had stated a strong preference for the Franklin proposal, was first up – there was no point in going to the planning board if the ILPC isn’t on board (and the Planning Board is generally the more accommodating of the two). The project they were first presented had 51 units, 6,500 SF of space for senior services Lifelong, community space (2,000 SF), and a modest amount of street-level commercial space (4,000 SF).

There were eight different designs that the development team submitted in an effort to satisfy the ILPC. Here’s the major ones – One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight, the final design. If you want to be picky, there are some minor revisions too, for things like facade materials tweaks. As review continued, it was decided that it would be more efficient to hold the ILPC and Planning Board meetings on the project at the same time in one group, so that one panel wouldn’t contradict the other.

After several months and several major redesigns, it wasn’t looking good. The ILPC felt that every design was simply too big and one called it “an impossible building”. County staff and officials were getting angry because they felt that the city was trying to spite them, and one planning board member’s comment was effectively “you should do what we tell you to do,” so once again, the project site was in an uncertain and acrimonious situation.

By October 2016, the plans had been modified to be 17 percent smaller, 73,400 SF with 57 units. This included a 950 SF ground-floor commercial space and a 1,900 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, which had made the decision to stay in its building next door and not move into the new building. Some of the indoor parking was moved to an outdoor rear lot to shrink the structure further, and the fourth floor was set back from the rest of the building. This too was turned down, but there was just enough of a window for possible approval that Travis Hyde decided to give it one more shot.

Frankly, this project was hanging by a thread. Travis had informed the county that he was “bruised and battered”, but would make one last attempt. The last shot was February 2017’s meeting. The foundation of the old library would be reused in the latest design, and the third floor was pulled back from the street. It passed, 4-3. One vote essentially made all the difference. That allowed the project to move forward with environmental review SEQR) from the planning board.

This reviewed version called for 54 senior apartment units, 32 parking spaces, a 2,000 SF community room, 1,160 SF of retail, and 86,700 SF of total space, as the interior parking was now underground as part of the reused old foundation. The sale of the site was approved by the county after the project was greenlighted, in September 2017. The 3 no’s in the 11-3 vote were two Franklin proposal advocates and the legislator who said all the projects were terrible two years earlier, so points for consistency.

The actual interior layout at this point, is something of a question mark. In May 2018, it was announced that the project would be partnering with luxury senior services provider Bridges Cornell Heights on the project. As part of that, the design was updated to 67 units, though there was no change in total square footage. According to the press release, “(o)n site, there will be a restaurant, a la carte home health services from an on-site agency, a community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, pool and parking. The partners will also work with Lifelong to provide on-site activities and programs.” Units will be a mix of 1-3 bedrooms, market rate and available to renters 55 and older. The name of the project also changed, from “DeWitt House” to “Library Place”.

Continuing the theme of controversy with the project, by the time financing was secured for the now $17 million plan (up from $14 million in 2014), the building’s roof had become structurally unstable. The fear was that construction workers could be inside if it suddenly collapsed. An engineering report filed by Ryan Biggs/Clark Davis Engineering and Surveying in August led the city’s director of code enforcement to condemn the building. The initial demolition plan was to seal the building up and cart out the asbestos in sealed containers, a “contained” demolition. The new plan was to demolish on site with spraying to prevent airborne contaminants, a “controlled” demolition. This led to community protests, and the mayor threatened to torpedo the project unless a second engineering report was carried out by a third party engineer of the city’s choosing, with no affiliation to Travis Hyde. The second report, from Dende Engineering, confirmed the first report’s findings, so the city okayed, if somewhat begrudgingly, the new demolition plan. In response to the demolition, a neighboring couple wrapped their nearby home and rental buildings in plastic as a dramatic show of concern, which caught the attention of broadcast media.

The project is seeking a tax abatement, but the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) has yet to schedule a meeting to review the application and take a vote.

Demolition and site prep is expected to last through the winter, and construction will begin during the spring. A fall 2020 opening is anticipated. Alongside Travis Hyde Properties and Bridges Cornell Heights, the project team includes HOLT Architects for the building design (all eight of them), TWMLA for the landscape architecture, LeChase Construction as general contractor, and Hayes Strategy for marketing. Gorick Construction of Binghamton is handling the demolition, with Delta Engineers, Architects and Surveyors doing the air quality monitoring. The project website is here, as are the air quality reports.

December 9th:

January 19th:





News Tidbits 1/19/2019

20 01 2019

Now, let’s take a look at some notable property sales over the past few weeks. To make this easy, most sales documented in this post will use a standardized format for each entry.

1. What sold and for how much? 8 and 28 Newfield Depot Road, the parcel IDs for the 188-unit Valley Manor Mobile Home Park in Newfield, for $2,300,000 on 12/19/2018.

Who was the seller? Jim Ray Homes, a local manufactured and mobile home dealer, and mobile home park operator.

Who was the buyer? Cook Properties of Rochester, a mobile home management firm with properties across upstate New York.

Anything else? Not especially. The sale was just short of the tax assessed value ($2.3 million vs. $2.369 million), and while it’s a change of ownershipp, it’s also likely a maintenance of the status quo. Still, it’s a high-dollar sale worth noting. The assessment for mobile homes and manufactured homes is a bit funky, and I think the owners only own the lots, which likely contributes to the low price per unit.

2. What sold and for how much? 232 South Geneva Street for $533,000 on 12/20/2018, and 311-13 Farm Street in Fall Creek for $700,000 on 12/20/2018. 232 South Geneva is a 5-unit apartment building in the Henry St. John neighborhood; it sold for $302k in 2013, and $200k in 2008. 311-13 Farm Street is a 3-unit apartment building that sold for $505k in 2009. It includes 15 rentable bedrooms, and a portion that was set aside as an AirBnB by the previous owners, who had it on the market for $750k (assessment $610k). Both are small multi-family examples of the rapid price appreciation Tompkins County has been seeing in walkable urban areas.

Who was the seller? Jeremy Dietz for 232 South Geneva, and S&Y Investments, a California-based LLC (sales docs indicate the owners are John Scarpulla and Allyson Yarbrough) for 311-13 Farm Street.

Who was the buyer? An LLC associated with local landlord and developer Charlie O’Connor, owner of Modern Living Rentals.

Anything else? Don’t expect teardowns here. Generally speaking, that’s not MLR’s approach to Ithaca’s inner neighborhoods. Do expect them to stay rentals, probably with a renovation in the near future (see: 1002 North Cayuga Street and 202-04 East Marshall Street). O’Connor is flush with cash after his multi-million sale of the under-construction 802 Dryden Road to a Pittsburgh-based real estate investor last fall.

3. What sold and for how much? The Sprucewood Apartments in Northeast Ithaca, for $8,640,000 on 12/21/2018.  Sprucewood is a 108-unit apartment complex completed in 1966. All units are three-bedrooms, in eighteen six-unit buildings.

Who was the seller? The Lucente family, who run Lifestyle Properties in Ithaca. They own a host of other housing developments, including the Village Solars under construction in the town of Lansing.

Who was the buyer?  Winston Square LLC, an LLC associated with Stratford Management, a multifamily housing management firm with locations in six states.

Anything else? A case of “under new management”. The Lucentes are a whole lot richer, and Stratford, which mostly owns older apartment complexes across upstate, finally gets a toehold in the stable and lucrative Ithaca market. With it comes a new website and a name change, from Sprucewood to Winston Square. The apartments are primarily located on Winston Court, and the name comes from the late Rocco Sr.’s penchant for naming streets after cigarette brands in the 1950s and 1960s, hence the nickname “Cigarette Alley” for Northeast Ithaca. I don’t imagine that will be a part of the advertising pitch.

4. What sold and for how much? 815 South Aurora Street, for $385,000. The property includes a 2,845 SF industrial building and a 2,537 SF warehouse on 1.85 acres on South Hill. A radio and telecommunication tower is on site.

Who was the seller? Harold Fish. The Fish family has owned the property since at least the 1950s.

Who was the buyer? “IC Overlook LLC”, which appears to be associated with Modern Living Rentals and its owner, Charlie O’Connor.

Anything else? With Todd Fox, O’Connor proposed an 87-unit (all studio units) apartment building for the site in 2015, and in order to move forward, the duo had to make a case for the city to change its rules for building near radio and telecommunication towers. Most communities use the height plus 10 feet; at the time, Ithaca used double the height. This is a 170-foot tower, so that meant a 340 foot radius, instead of 180 feet as seen in most communities. The logic is the height plus a bit for bounce; but planning staff mused that Ithaca was a bit paranoid when the legislation was drawn up in the 1990s. The zoning code was revised, but such that it’s height plus 20% – a 204 foot radius, so the project had to be redesigned a bit. The last that was heard, plans were being for a 125-bedroom project in December 2016, but nothing came to light.

Until now. A sketch plan is scheduled for the planning board meeting next week.

5. What sold and for how much? 327 West Seneca Street, for $235,000 on January 11th.

Who was the seller? The estate of Orson Ledger, a man who was known in his decades of Ithaca for providing affordable housing by running his properties into the ground so that assessments would be low. Folks involved with Ithaca’s rental market in decades past tend to have strong opinions about Ledger, who died in a car accident five years ago.

Who was the buyer? An LLC tied to Visum Development Group.

Anything else? It means Visum’s 12-unit workforce housing proposal approved for 327 West Seneca Street is now one step closer to happening.

6. What sold and for how much? 305 West Green Street, for $560,000 on January 17th. 305 West Green Street is the former Ithaca Plastics. The property hosts a 2,400 SF home and a 5,150 SF industrial building.

Who was the seller? Richard and Sharon Buechel of Dryden, who had owned the property since 1989.

Who was the buyer? Cascade Studios LLC, which is registered to the address of Ithaca musician Brian Thrash.

Anything else? Generally not wise to take guesses on these sort of things, but plans for a music/recording studio, perhaps?

7. Something that catches the eye – local landlord Ed Cope has been actively selling off many of his rental properties. 310 Farm Street was sold for $365,000 on 12/28 to Jonah and Alicia Freedman, as was 312 Farm Street, for $395,000 on the same day. 513 South Aurora Street was also sold on December 28th, to Andrew Schreck for $425,000. Cope sold out of his share of 324 West Seneca Street for $180,200 on January 17th, and sold out of his share of 318-20 West Seneca on the same day for $349,800. That’s in addition to the sale of 115 Linn Street for $540,000 last October. That’s six sales in four months.

Vice-versa, Cope bought 107-09 Hudson Street from the estate of Sophia Tselekis for $540,000 on January 10th. Previously, Cope purchased 115 Hudson for $495,000 in October, and 108-110 Hudson Street for $460,000 in September.

All of this is to suggest that Ed Cope has been a very busy man lately. It would look as if he’s selling off properties to finance purchases of other properties clustered on the 100 Block of Hudson Street, just south of downtown and Six Mile Creek. Cope already owns 105 Hudson Street and 201 South Aurora Street on the corner, 114 Hudson, 117 Hudson and 118-120 Hudson. That leaves three properties in that cluster of eleven that he doesn’t own – 101, 111 and 112 Hudson Street. It’s not clear if something is in the works, but it is curious.

Now onto building loan agreements:

8. Where property received the construction loan? 232-236 Dryden Road, also known as “The Lux”, a 206-bedroom pair of student-oriented apartment buildings completed in 2018.  Visum Development Group completed the project, and plans are in the works for an eight-unit, 16-bedroom third building at 238 Dryden Road.

Who gave them the money? MF1 Capital LLC. The LLC is joint venture between real estate megafirm CBRE, Limekiln Real Estate of New York and Berkshire Group of Boston. According to online reports, it’s a mortgage REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) focused on providing cash equity to multifamily (about 75% of its business) and seniors housing (the remaining 25%). A bridge loan is a short-term (2-3 year) financial solution, used as a “bridge” when a developer needs quick cash for a prime opportunity and has yet to obtain conventional construction loans. They’re usually easier to obtain because the analysis that goes into determining whether or not to extend the loan is less extensive, usually based on property value (which means a high-value loan in the case of a large Collegetown property). The trade off on these loans is that they often come with a high interest rate; and with that short term period, the loan will have to be paid back within a few years.

What it suggests here is that Visum has put most of its revenue right back into its latest plans in the form of working capital, and that there’s high confidence both in themselves and from the investor that those plans will be successful. That seems to make the most sense given Visum’s explosive growth. On a related note, $1.5 million would be about right for a new eight-unit apartment building on this site.

 

 





Stewart Park Inclusive Playground Construction Update, 12/2018

15 12 2018

Here’s a look at the Stewart Park Inclusive Playground project. Overseen by the non-profit Friends of Stewart Park (FSP), the two-phase plan was approved by the city earlier this year, and started construction in September for a May 2019 completion. Plans for the project date back to at least 2015, with formal planning board review moving forward in late 2017. Among the features planned are (from the website):

  • A new, accessible splash pad that will conserve water.
  • Specially designed school-age and pre-school play structures.
  • An accessible berm  that provides children a starting point for exciting play experiences for all children.
  • The use of native plants and sustainable building materials and site design strategies to make the playground a model for green playground design.
  • Educational opportunities to interpret the natural environment of the park – the vegetation, birds, fish and wildlife that make this site so special.
  • Natural play areas including a music garden and sand play area.
  • Numerous swings and climbing structures, shaded seating areas and many benches for relaxing.
  • New accessible bathrooms and changing stalls adjacent to the playground and carousel.
  • A restored and accessible Carousel (completed).
  • Accessible walkways and paths linking to the Cayuga Waterfront Trail and other areas of the park and Ithaca’s waterfront.

When FSP refers to an inclusive playground, it means that it offers something for kids of all abilities – it offers a full sensory experience with lots to touch, to see and to hear. Disabled children will be able to access and enjoy much of the equipment, as well as the gardens and play areas.

Complementary additions will include a parking lot addition, benches, and bathrooms. The cost of the new and improved facilities is $1.7 million ($1,517,500 in hard construction costs like materials and labor, $182,100 for soft costs like design fees, legal and permitting, and a $50,000 annual maintenance fund). The project will take about nine months to construct, and be built through a combination of traditional paid construction crews, and volunteer community builds.

As previously reported, the location of the new structures is between the splash pad on the west end of the park and the carousel to the east, south of the transmission lines, with a total area of about 1.65 acres. The area north of the power lines is envisioned as an open play and picnicking area. With the exception of the large swings, the existing equipment will eventually be removed to near the DPW maintenance building and the ‘Whirly Bug’. The older play structure near the carousel will be moved, to another park if possible.

Three playground design and landscaping firms are involved with FSP’s plans – Parkitects, Play by Design and EarthPlay are coordinated designs and features to maximize the play value and amenities, while giving a nod to local features like rock formations and the steamboats that used to come down the lake. T.G. Miller is handling the more technical details like grading and stormwater management, and STREAM Collaborative designed the 900 square-foot storage and bathroom building.

The first phase, which includes the pre-school play area, is open, much of it thanks to the work of over a thousand of volunteers back in September, and participating organizations who sponsored volunteers and support services during the intense six-day build. Phase II will start next year, once the worst of winter has passed.

On the funding side, $1 million was received in a state grant spearheaded by Ithaca’s state Assemblywoman, Barbara Lifton (D-125th). The remaining $700,000 is being raised through a capital campaign. At last update, $658,082 had been committed by private sources. The big donors are listed here, and if you want to help close the gap in the home stretch, the donation link is here. A specialized fundraiser for the new accessible surfacing materials (a safe, durable material on which wheelchairs can move) for the playground is here.