118 College Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

16 07 2018

The last of Visum’s trio of Collegetown projects underway is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom building at 118 College Avenue. Officially, one other Visum project has city approvals and is permitted to start construction, a close fraternal twin to 118 College just a few houses up at 126 College Avenue. However, the existing house is rented out for the academic year, so any build-out there (and Visum seems to have deep enough pockets to eventually do it, all things considered) will not begin until June 2019 at the earliest.

As with 210 Linden, Romig General Contractors is in charge of the buildout, and Taitem Engineering is doing the structural engineering – as with Visum’s other projects designed by STREAM Collaborative, the building is built to be net-zero energy capable. Using electric heating and appliances, energy efficient fixtures, low-E windows, double-stud exterior walls and high grade insulation creates a very high degree of energy efficiency that they hope to tie into an off-site solar array, offsetting the carbon footprint of the building and its use.

118 College still has another floor to go before it’s topped out, and the mechanicals will be hidden inside the historically-inspired “Italianate cupola” penthouse. Water and sewer service was installed this past week. I’m uncertain this one will be ready in time for returning Cornell students late next month, though it’s not impossible given that it’s a relatively small wood-frame structure. So far, with the rough window openings I’m seeing one substantial difference from the renders – the windows on the wings of the front facade are smaller than originally planned.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

15 07 2018

With 400-404 Stewart Avenue complete, developer Jim Goldman is focusing on the completion of the other half of his reconstruction, 406 Stewart Avenue. This is the property that Goldman originally owned and was destroyed in the spread of the fire that erupted at the Chapter House building. Architect Jason K. Demarest’s 3.5 story design is completely framed and sheathed in ZIP Panels; the panels are then covered in HydroGap, a premium grade housewrap to remove excess moisture while keeping new moisture from penetrating into the plywood sheathing. This is then layered over with (what I suspect are fiber cement) shakes, in contrast to the first floor’s lap siding.

My first inclination was that they needed to be painted, but looking at the design render, it appears as if the project team decided to reverse the brown and red siding bands, so now the first floor is red like the original building, but the upper floors are brown. This is not the first major change to the design, which was approved by the ILPC, but any revisions may have been done out of committee view at the staff level. The fenestration on the third floor is different, and the dormer on the gable roof was deleted. Note the partially glazed-in access stair for the third floor apartments, and the quarried bluestone stair columns and base.

There’s still a fair amount of work to do on the exterior with facade installation, trim and finish pieces and the installation of a steel grate to access the enclosed stair column. The one inside shot shows drywall hung with doors and some trim in place, but some pieces are still missing, the wall needs to be painted and the floors have to be finished. However, it’s not an especially large building (four units and eleven bedrooms as-approved), so chances are pretty good this will be ready to go by mid-August.

As for the Chapter House, a few shots through the window glass show the carpeted staircase leading up to the eight apartment units, and an unfinished 3,000 SF commercial space still looking for a tenant.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update 7/2018

13 07 2018

Time to take a look at Visum’s smaller Collegetown projects. 210 Linden is the largest and furthest along; the city allowed them to hook up to water and sewer service this week.

Note there are some clear differences between what was originally approved, and what’s being built. The fenestration is a different layout – the top floor windows originally did not line up with the window arrangement of the other floors. Secondly, the floor-to-ceiling multi-pane treatment on the top floor’s front (east) facade has been eliminated, given a similar if slightly glassier treatment as the other three floors, which had a balcony window reduced in size. The most likely guess is value engineering – save cost, save time, especially the latter since the building needs to be open by mid-August.

The overall shape remains the same, but with these changes it’s a bit of a question mark as to the appearance of the final materials – it’s probably the same as approved, since the vertical wood rails over the sheathing indicate the LP SmartSide fiber cement lap siding is coming at some point. The sheathing is a mix of Huber plywood zip panels with its specialized tape system, and TYPAR housewrap over plywood panels courtesy of North Main Lumber, a regional lumber sales chain. Romig General Contractor is doing the build-out, and their work with Visum is arguably the first multi-family project they’ve tackled in the Ithaca area.

Although 210 Linden is too small to host much in the way of amenities (it has a garbage collection room and bike room in the basement), its 37 residents will have full access to the amenities offered in The Lux just up the street. Connecting the dots, those were probably quartz countertops in the Lux update; seems plausible the same high-end fixtures, cabinetry and appliances would be used in both.

The background info/intro to 210 Linden can be found here.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 7/2018

12 07 2018

This one is in its home stretch. It’s rather striking how much the front balconies stand out, probably the result of the contrast in materials. The upper levels will use LP SmartSide white and marigold yellow fiber cement lap siding, and the lower levels are a black brick veneer (Endicott Thin Brick colored “Maganese Ironspot” with charcoal-colored mortar). The balconies use white Smart Trim and “Redwood” Allura fiber cement straight edge shingles. The architect, STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest, designed the balconies to be a nod to the original appearance of the previous building on the site, the private Cascadilla School dormitory.

The second and third photos are practically a progression pic, showing that the balconies are framed in wood, walled with sheets of ZIP plywood sheathing, and then faced with the exterior materials. Some exterior finished still need to be attached, the concrete pours are ongoing for the Dryden Road entrance, and it appears the roof membrane has yet to be laid.

As far as the interior goes, the construction crews were using a front loader to lift countertops to units, so it seems likely drywall hanging and painting have been finished, and the floors may be installed but not yet finished out. Fixtures, appliances, doors and trim pieces probably have not been installed yet, though perhaps the lower-level units are further along. It’s a pretty tight deadline to get the buildings complete, with move-in day expected to be August 17th.

Outside of Maplewood, at 207 beds (I’ve presumed net gain at 140-150) this will be the largest non-Cornell project coming onto the Collegetown market this year. Given market concerns about the absorption of Maplewood units as well as the size and the timeline of Cornell’s future North Campus dorms (2000 beds, with two phases opening in 2020 and 2021) it might be the last large Collegetown project for a while. A few midsize 50-100 bed projects will likely come along in the interim, perhaps the Nines replacement, and the rumored replacement for the Chacona Block (411 College Avenue, home of Student Agencies), which is expected to head before the planning some time within the next twelve months. Novarr’s faculty/staff focused apartment buildings at 119-125 College Avenue have yet to begin construction and seem to be a big question mark. It’d be a shame if it still failed to move forward even after the resdesign to accommodate fire code changes.

According to the FAQ on The Lux’s website, units will be furnished and pets are allowed for a $150 fee. The eight parking spaces are available for rent to tenants on a first-come, first-serve basis at $200/month.  Units are $1,200-$1,300/month per bedroom, and includes access to an on-site fitness facility, rooftop terrace and hot tub, security system, sauna, game room and study room (most of those in 232 Dryden, “Lux South”). There’s no beating around the bush, this is high-end student housing, “creme of the creme” as one of my grad school professors would say.

On a final note, quick shoutout and well wishes to Visum Development VP Patrick Braga, who will be leaving his position to do a Master’s in Urban Planning at Harvard. In a world where developers and city planners often run in their own circles, it’ll be good to have someone with strong experience in both.





News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

Finally, clearing out the last of that late April photo stash. Not many here, but a new, small Collegetown project is underway at 118 College Avenue.

This is a Visum project, and probably their lowest profile plan. In fact, this one never even went through the sketch plan part of the city review process, the project team went straight to asking for the city planning to declare itself lead agency for environmental review in March 2017. Approval was a short time later as Ithaca goes, in May 2017. Building permits were issued this past winter.

It wasn’t a rash decision by any means – the project is largely similar to a previously-approved plan a few houses up at 126 College Avenue, and there is very little difference between the two properties in terms of context. They are both CR-4 zones allowing 4 floors and 45′ heights. The original 118 College Avenue was a two-story, early 20th century rental house with six bedrooms and marginal historic value, though I imagine the house was rather pretty before some unfortunate additions threw off its symmetry. The property was purchased by Red Door Rentals (Greg Mezey and Ryan Mitchell) in April 2014, transferred to another Mezey/Mitchell company, “MPB Capital LLC” in October 2017, and then to an LLC associated with Visum on the same day as the MPB Capital transfer. It seems plausible Ryan and Mitchell are project investors, with Visum as developer.

Plans call for a new 4-story, 45′ building on the sloped lot. With that slope, the basement is exposed on the west face, so it has the appearance of five floors from the rear and sides. A back of the envelope calculation says this building is about 9,000 SF. The roof hosts a 6′ architecturally-integrated mechanical screen; hides the mechanicals, but gives the apartment building an Italianate aesthetic. The building uses electric heat pumps and is designed to be net-zero energy compatible. The hard construction cost rings in $1.415 million, according to the SPR filing – it would be assessed at a substantially higher amount. Unabated taxes her, so while people may dislike Collegetown, projects like this help fill the city coffers.

There will be 5 apartment units with 28 bedrooms – 4 six-bedroom units, 1 four-bedroom unit on the basement level. The project comes with five new trees, lush landscaping for its small lot, an outdoor bike rack, screened trash area, and bike storage and mechanical rooms in the basement. Tenants with valid licenses will be given membership in Ithaca Carshare, to try and dissuade them from bringing personal vehicles. Not a surprise here, but college students are the intended market.

Only a couple minor changes occurred from start to finish – the window on the northeast face was replaced with a patterned trimboard to keep visual interest. The rooflines ware adjusted in the render below, but not the building plan, so we’ll see which is correct.

For materials, the basement-level will use stucco mixed with Sherwin-Williams “Sawdust” paint, the first level is a combination of Belden face brick (Belcrest) and S-W “Truepenny” fiber cement clapboards, more fiber cement clapboard on the mid-section in S-W “Overjoy“, trimboards, balcony trim and window casing colored S-W “Svelte Sage”, black window frames, stucco (in S-W “Favorite Tan”) with more fiber cement trim and frieze boards on the top level, and the pyramidal roof caps will be standing seam metal, Pac-Clad “Aged Copper”. Mix of materials, mix of colors – should stand out nicely.

Expect buildout to look similar to 210 Linden and The Lux – Amvic insulated concrete forms at the basement level, double-stud Huber ZIP panel plywood sheathing, scratch coats on the portion to be covered in stucco, perhaps wood furring to raise the exterior clapboard and prevent dampness, and probably Anderson windows. The project is expected to be complete by August – units are going for $950/bedroom, plus utilities. Pricey, but at least they allow large dogs.

Along with Visum and Red Door Rentals for this ride through the development process is STREAM Collaborative as the building and landscape architect. Since they’re GC at 210 Linden Avenue, Romig General Contractors may be the manager of the construction crew here as well.

 

 





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 4/2018

3 05 2018

At the site of The Lux at 232-236 Dryden Road, framing continues on the new apartment buildings. I’m under the impression that, like the Ithaka Terraces project also designed by STREAM, these are thick double-stud exterior walls. Double-stud walls are built using two sets of wood stud walls used in the exterior frame, parallel to each other but spaced apart by about 5 inches. That space is then filled (if like STREAM’s other projects) with R39 densely-packed cellulose insulation. The result has its pros and cons. The cons are that it’s more expensive to build, and it reduces the interior space a little bit. The pro is that it’s very energy efficient, which comes in handy for a project trying to achieve net-zero energy use.

On top of that appears to be wood furring strips for the cladding. I think the white panels on the north side might be boards with some kind of waterproofing? The roof on 232 Dryden appears to have had underlayment applied, but no EPDM (synthetic rubber) or similar finish yet.

The Amvic ICF will be faced with grey stucco and a black brick veneer, while the upper levels will use LP SmartSide white and marigold yellow fiber cement lap siding. The reflective material is likely insulation that’s also intended to keep out the moisture from the exterior brick.

The top floor will be finished with fiber cement panels with LP SmartTrim laid out patterned to give some visual interest to the top of the structures. The windows are Anderson 100 series units with black frames, and what will be white casings. Still rough openings in some of the walls, and the balconies are just starting to get built on the west face. 236 Dryden has yet to be fully framed, but the roof trusses are underway.

In its March email blast, the developer, local firm Visum Development group, announced that the contest to design lounge, gym and study rooms was won by two graduate architecture students from Cornell – for that, they win $2500 and will have a lounge named after them. The winning designs are here. As of February, about half of the 207 bedrooms were leased.

The project did pay a quick visit to the planning board recently to ask if they would could have permission to not screen some of the rooftop utilities – though less attractive and meant as a cost efficiency, these are less visible parts of the roof per the diagrams provided to the city. I didn’t hear any issues with it, so I assume it was deemed acceptable by the board.