Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 5/2017

21 05 2017

Collegetown Terrace phase 3 is actually opening this month. Speaking to John Novarr a few weeks ago, he mentioned that the first units would actually be welcoming tenants this month, to take advantage of the modest June-June 12-month market that comes before the typical August-June 10-month period that dominates the students calendar. From yesterday, it looks like the first tenants have indeed moved into the Building 7’s 247 units and 344 bedrooms. Units range from 218 SF studio suites with shared baths, kitchen and laundry (5-10 studios per suite), to 1266 3-bedroom units. For the record, the official address will be “120 Valentine Place”. The listed amenities include:

  • Heat included in rent
  • Upper floor large windows for expansive view
  • High speed data access throughout included in rent
  • Kitchen appliances: dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, stove and refrigerator
  • Custom-made cabinets
  • Granite counter surfaces in kitchen and bathroom
  • Limestone floors in kitchen, bathroom, and entries
  • Air conditioning in all apartments
  • Elevators
  • Monitored heat detectors, smoke detectors, CO detectors, and sprinklers
  • Fully furnished with blinds, leather sofa, and full/queen beds. Some with work stations and walk in closets
  • Prox/reader security system
  • Washers and dryers in all apartments.
  • Covered parking available for a fee
  • Free shuttle to Cornell. The free shuttle runs to and from campus weekdays throughout the academic year.

Rents clock in at a premium of around $1,000+/bedroom, but the studio suites will come in around $700/bedroom. It does seem like there are some mixed opinions on living there, if the Yelp reviews are any indication.

One slight modification that was sought recently was an approval considerations variance to allow tenants from other Novarr-Mackesey properties to park their cars in the Terrace’s garage. This has been something of a long-running issue with Terrace, which built more parking than it needed in the earlier phases, and as a result requested and received a variance to convert a floor intended for parking into dorm-style living quarter for students on more modest budgets. Even with the original variance, it seems that there are still an excessive number of unused parking spaces, ones that Novarr-Mackesey sees as potential rentable tenant spaces for residents in some of their nearby structures, including two housing projects due to get underway in the next year, 119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) and 238 Linden Avenue.

As part of the final stages of project completion (and stipulations of its original approval back in August 2011), some interpretive signage and features will be included in the landscaping, recognizing a few of the homes and the nurses’ dormitory that once stood on the site (recall that Casa Roma was once the city hospital). Thankfully the google street view archives are but a click away, so that the curious can go back and look at what was there prior. Some of the homes were architecturally interesting, if not necessarily historic.

Note the stair railing art in photo ten. It’s as if someone looked at modern buildings, said they weren’t colorful enough, and designed that art feature to have ALL THE COLORS. Holy rainbow explosion. More seriously, it’s quite unusual, and kinda neat, since it’s not often you see a visual feature of interest so tucked away from public viewsheds.

So that pretty much wraps this up. In terms of private non-institutional projects, I dunno if there’s been a project that’s had an impact like this. It’s been a long time since the first presentation back in April 2009. In terms of numbers, it’s enormous – $190 million investment, 1,250+ beds (net gain of over 600), 16 acres. Certainly the latest few hundred beds will help to make a dent in the rental market, it’s by far the biggest project opening for occupancy this year. The trade-off will be a possible softening in some rental segments (e.g. small landlords in fringe student markets), but given the city’s push towards turning rentals back into owner-occupied units, and getting rent appreciation under control, it’s not something that will elicit much concern, especially as Cornell’s student population continues to grow.

In some ways, this project is many good things; growing the tax base, and addressing the need for housing in a somewhat inconspicuous manner, the buildings stepping downward into the hillside. With 344 new residents in the core of Ithaca, it may also give a healthy boost to nearby businesses in Collegetown and Downtown. But CTT has its detractors and criticism – the size still makes unnerves some permanent residents nearby, and the architectural design is a bit polarizing. There’s a tendency to look at building projects in black and white, but it’s never a cut-and-dry process. In reality, it’s a delicate balance of costs, capabilities, the market and the community’s wants and concerns.

Novarr deserve credit in that, unlike many projects, this project has stayed largely true to approved form over the years with the exception of the parking variances. There’s an uncomfortable trend with last-second revisions in more recent plans, but Collegetown Terrace has stuck fairly closely to the original plan as explicated in its Environmental Impact Statement years ago. City staff and elected officials also deserve credit for seeing the potential here for something that could contribute to Ithaca, rather than just saying “this is too much” and turning their backs on it. Credit is also due to ikon.5 and Welliver for their work in designing this massive project, and building it out (which included many local unions and their tradespeople).





News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fmedia%2Fset%2F%3Fset%3Da.1518721884836040.1073741852.772959889412247%26type%3D3&width=500

4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

harolds_square_v4_new_comparo

7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





News Tidbits 4/29/17: Happy Birthday Mom

29 04 2017

1. The Times’ Matt Butler has written a great summary of almost everything you wanted to know about the Ithaca development approvals process (formally called entitlements). Basically, Ithaca’s high standards and arduous review process come with pros and cons. On a positive note, the city is more likely to get a nice product, the drawback is that it scares developers off. For those who do give the city a spin, the city is a desirable investment for a number of reasons (affluent residents, steadily growing economy), but the lengthy process generates uncertainties (bad for financing) and requires more money (bad for affordability).

There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but it really helps if the city gives developers a set of guidelines for what they’re looking for in a design, rather than forcing them to rely on antiquated zoning. Design guidelines were recently approved for Downtown and Collegetown, which should help, although an overhaul of the zoning would be much welcomed. However, in a city famous for its activism, even the most well-orchestrated plans can be broadsided by NIMBY grassroots, so even with these heavily-structured guidelines, building in Ithaca is likely to have uncertainties and challenges into the foreseeable future.

2. A couple of grants worth noting – Tompkins Community Action was awarded $3.7 million by the state to go towards construction of their Amici House project at 661-701 Spencer Road in Ithaca. The funds will cover about 45% of the $8.25 million construction cost. Work is supposed to begin this summer on the mixed-use project, which includes 23 studio units for vulnerable or previously homeless youth, and a 7,010 SF daycare/early education facility.

In other news,the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County was awarded $500,000 by the Care Compass Network Innovation Fund to use towards the establishment and operation of a 20-24 bed detox facility, much needed resource as the heroin epidemic continues to grip the nation. CCN is a non-profit consortium funded by Southern Tier health centers like Guthrie, Cayuga Med and Binghamton General. ADC-TC is a non-profit that focuses on substance abuse education, prevention and outpatient treatment. No facility was named in the announcement.

On a third note, the sale of 626 West Buffalo Street was completed. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) intends to renovate the house into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The house was purchased for $95,000, and an additional $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The county voted to provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

3. Tiny Timbers seems to be to a good start. The fledging modular timber-frame company run by the Dolph Family has added several members to its construction crew, and they will build the frame components out their newly-adapted warehouse-mill on Hall Road in Dryden. The house in Hector is nearly complete, two more are being prepared (both big cubes), and the gravel road is being constructed for their just-approved five-lot subdivision at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road. Going off the wording of their last blog post, it looks like three of those lots are already reserved or purchased (one lot is a conservation area).

4. Let’s not beat around the bush – you’re coming here for a bit of inside information, not just a news round-up. One of the reasons Dryden and Tompkins County have each committed $1,750 to an infrastructure study of the Route 13 corridor is that there is a concept proposal on the table from INHS for a mixed-use development with retail and 250 affordable housing units, on approximately 50 acres of a 100 acre parcel – half of it is north of the rail trail and would be conserved, possibly through Finger Lakes Land Trust. At 5 units/acre, it’s below Varna’s highest densities, but it’s about the rural threshold of about 2 units/acre.

As it so happens, a quick check of the county’s property tax map shows a 100.44 acre parcel of vacant farmland across the street from 1477 Dryden Road, outlined in blue above. The back half is Fall Creek, so given buffers and general environment concerns, it’s good sense to leave it alone. The land has been owned by the Leonardo Family (the ones who ran The Palms) since 1942.

I asked Dryden Town Planning Director Ray Burger about it, and he knew only what the county said. But it’s something to keep an eye on as the town figures out whether or not to extend sewer to that parcel.

5. It seems like there’s quite the tempest going on in Lansing. Let’s review. All this comes courtesy of the Lansing Star (not for lack of trying on my part. Almost all Lansing staff and officials ignore my phone calls and emails, except zoning officer Marty Moseley. Thanks Marty.).

I. Over in the village, the “Preservation Party” lost the village election by a large margin to the incumbent Community Party by a roughly 75/25 split (240 votes vs 80 votes). This result should settle the Bomax Drive rezoning from commercial tech space to residential once and for all.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

II. Lansing town has inked an MOU with Cayuga Heights and Lansing village to install a sewer line up Triphammer Road to create a small sewer district. However, it’s impacts would be substantial – it would have three primary users – the 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, the 117-unit English Village project, and the RINK, which is expanding its facility. The developers want the sewer so much, they’re paying for it in what town supervisor Ed LaVigne is calling a “public/private partnership”. Properties that do not hook up would not be hit with an increased assessment, according to LaVigne and county assessor Jay Franklin.

A back of the envelope estimate suggests $50-$60 million in increased land assessment, and $1.5 million+ in property taxes. Perfect for offsetting a rapidly devaluing power plant that was once your town’s biggest taxpayer. The village boards still need to sign off on the MOU, but Lansing town is desperate to make a deal.

III. The Lansing Meadows senior housing seems to be worked out, and it includes the  small community-focused food retail component desired by developer Eric Goetzmann. The public hearing is on the 1st; if approved next month, the construction bids will be posted shortly thereafter with an intended summer start on the 20-unit mixed-use project.

IV. Just…wow. On the one hand, LaVigne et al. have a right to be upset. Their town’s biggest taxpayer is faltering, they’re trying encourage as much development as they can to offset the plunge in property taxes, and with debates like the West Dryden pipeline, they have a right to be frustrated. But to say the county’s sabotaging your town is a whole different ball game. To say “[r]ight now The County is on the sh** list as far as I’m concerned,” well…

He deserves sympathy. There’s a lot of BS mixed in with the good of Tompkins County, and his town and its schools are in a real bind. Poo pooing them isn’t helping anybody. But…he can’t magically change how people in Dryden or Ithaca think. Ask solar companies if they’d be interested in town properties, find a way to make residential heat pumps and renewables work. Hell, work with TCAD, talk with Heather McDaniel and the green groups and come up with ideas. I had a professor in grad school tell me that “you lure more flies with honey than vinegar”. LaVigne has a right to be upset, but this isn’t a good look.

6. Now that a few people at INHS and County Planning have been annoyed (sorry guys), back to the news. The Journal is reporting that the town of Ulysses has acquired three Jacksonville properties from Exxon Mobil, in what they hope is the next step in closing a disastrous chapter in the town’s history. Back in the 1970s, the former Mobil gas station at the corner of Jacksonville Road and Route 96 leaked enormous amounts of gasoline and poisoned the hamlet’s groundwater – one report says a person passed out from noxious fumes when they turned on their shower.

The state DEC became involved and ordered Exxon Mobil to clean up the mess, which was carried out from 1984 to 1988, and the multinational gas company purchased most of the affected properties and demolished them – an 1827 church was left intact. The DEC’s case file was finally closed in 2005 after the test levels had receded to more acceptable readings, but Exxon Mobil has continued to own the property, letting the church fall into disrepair.

The town is buying the church at 5020 Jacksonville Road, a 0.275 acre vacant lot at 5036 Jacksonville Road, and a 0.656 acre vacant lot at 1853 Trumansburg Road for $5,001 (the trio’s total assessed value is $84,700). The plan is to install a septic for the church at 5036, renovate the church just enough to keep it from rotting out, and once the building is stable, the plan is to resell to someone looking for a unique fixer-upper. If no buyer is found, the town plans to eventually restore the church on their own. The larger lot on Trumansburg Road is being considered for resale towards private development, or use as a TCAT park-and-ride.

7. Is the Canopy Hilton underway or isn’t it underway? Still kinda hard to tell.

8. On the other hand, it looks like the new medical office building planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, is starting demo work. The stone is being stripped from the existing buildings, to be reused on other structures. The Cayuga Medical Associates plan calls for a $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road, 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space.

9. Nothing too exciting from the planning board agendas around the county – Lansing has nothing up, Cayuga Heights has nothing of note. Over in the town of Ithaca, Cornell plans to try again with its Peterson Parking Lot replacement (after the disastrous first try last April), the 15-lot Monkemeyer subdivision on East King Road continues review, and a 2-lot modification is up for consideration. In Dryden, the advisory planning board will continue review for the Tiny Timbers Ellis Hollow subdivision mentioned earlier, and a 7-lot subdivision of the former Dryden Lake golf course; there will also be some solar panel discussion, and possibly some info on the ~20 unit Pineridge Cottages project planned for Mineah Road.

 





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 4/2017

19 04 2017

Dropping by Visum Development Group‘s 201 College Avenue project, I was a little surprised that one half of the building is so much further along than the other half.

201 College is a “H” or dumbbell-shaped structure – the bridge between the two halves hosts the elevator shaft and part of the circulation (hallway). The west wing has completed structural framing, the exterior stud walls are being installed, and even some of the sheathing (fire-rated GP DensGlass fiberglass mat gypsum) is up on the ground level. Peering inside, it looks like some of the interior stud walls have already been set.

In contrast, the east wing isn’t that much further along than it was two months ago – the ground level masonry has been built-out, but the structural steel has not advanced since the February update. It’s not a sign of any difficulties, and other structures have taken or are taking similar approaches – Tompkins Trust’s new HQ has topped out, for example, but the north and east wings have yet to be built out beyond the elevator core. Still, it will take several weeks for the east wing to catch up when William H. Lane Inc. moves ahead with that side of the structure.

According to the construction loan docs filed with the county, the 33,398 SF project is being funded with a $7,870,673 loan from Pennsylvania-based S&T Bank, separate from the $2,640,000 from Visum and its backers that went towards purchase of the property. Hard costs, which are the construction materials and labor, comprise $6,841,038 of the loan, while soft costs comprise $506,984 (permits, legal, marketing, architect and engineering fee, liability insurance, financing costs such as loan fees/taxes/recording costs). An additional $300,000 serves as contingency (your “cover your butt” cash in case of unexpected expenses or poor occupancy rates), and $226,158 is set aside as interest reserve (a special savings account that pays the lender interest on the construction loan while the building is under construction – the objective is to get the building done and occupied before the reserve runs out).

The timeframe is quite tight on 201 College, with a planned August 2017 opening. The rest of the building should move along quickly over the next few months.





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 4/2017

17 04 2017

Work on the new Breazzano Center continues in Collegetown, with the exterior plastic sheets slowly being replaced by the metal and glass facade. On this particular windy day, the tarp was flapping enough to reveal a bit of the exterior metal stud walls underneath. On the rear of the building, the salmon-orange and dark grey panels now cover most of the exterior wall. The recently proposed 238 Linden townhouses will come up to about the top of the third floor, where the salmon panels change over to grey. 238 Linden will be roughly the same color as the lower-level panels, probably with the same metal finish. Note the clips on the exterior wall, which are for aluminum sunshades.

I’ve had contractors tell me that one of the ways you can tell the quality of the curtain wall glass is by how much distortion one sees in the reflection (optical distortion). Based off that criterion, the glass used on the entry level appears to be a fairly high grade. The opaque glass panels are called spandrel glass, and are used to conceal the floor slabs.  It looks like the thin vertical steel panels will be installed over the curtain wall, though not in all places – The northeast corner and ground floor will not have the steel panels, nor will the atrium at the front of the building.

One can barely see the interior work in these photos, but the interior stud walls were up and drywall has been hung on the lower floors, which means that most of the utilities rough-ins have been completed.

The last photo, which comes courtesy of Tom Schryver, gives an idea of the scale of the building in context – at six floors and 80 feet, it is the tallest that the Collegetown form zoning allows without a variance. At 76,200 SF, it’s the fifth-largest by square footage, after Cascadilla Hall (77,913 SF), The Schwartz Center (80,989 SF), Eddygate (95,000 SF) and 312 College Avenue (112,392 SF).





News Tidbits 4/1/17: High Energy Debates

1 04 2017

1. There might be yet another potential hang-up with the Lansing Meadows project. Previously, developer Eric Goetzmann presented planned to the Lansing village Board of Trustees to densify the initial 12-unit plan and add a small retail component, such as a coffee shop, diner or similar gathering venue. The idea was well received, and so Goetzmann approached the planning board with 20 senior housing units and a small commercial lot TBD, where it was A) news to them, and B) not-so-well received.

According to the Lansing Star, the objection is not to the housing; in fact, the planning board said they’d prefer another four housing units rather than commercial. But they’re not comfortable with the sudden change, and Goetzmann’s looking at the additional costs of revised plans because the Board of Trustees and the Planning Board were not on the same page. It is kind of a weird situation, although not unprecedented (it bears some similarity to the 201 College debate in Ithaca city last year, where the Planning Department and Planning Board were not on the same page). The boards are supposed to meet in early April to retify their differences so Goetzmann knows what he can move forward with, hopefully by this summer.

Looking at the screenshot above, Salem R. LaHood of suburban Syracuse is the architect; apart from being a design partner for some high-end outlet malls, I can’t find much else on his resume.

2. The solar arrays planned in Dryden are getting are less-than-welcome reception, per Cassandra Negley at the Ithaca Times. The argument is pretty similar to the one often used on affordable housing – “we know it’s needed and we like it in concept, but we don’t want it anywhere near us”. But then far from one person is close to another; and it results in lackluster solutions, like affordable housing so far out that it’s isolated from needed goods and services.

One of the biggest sources of opposition is from family and friends of those interred at the Willow Glen Cemetery, which is the landscaped area south of the panels in the image above. Although many of the opposed do not even live in New York, let alone Dryden, it’s argued that the project is “sneaky back-room industrial solar” and will “destroy the atmosphere” (coincidentally, the land across the road from Willow Glen is zoned for and being marketed to roadside commercial tenants). It’s fine to be concerned, but looking at this particular site, the anger is a little overblown – there is sufficient room for a green screen of hedges and trees between the panels and the cemetery, which could easily be included as a stipulation as part of the approvals. Sustainable Tompkins is attempting to push back against some of the criticism, but on the balance, the public comment on the Dryden solar arrays is negative.

Let me approach this with an overarching view. Dryden is strongly opposed to an increase in natural gas (much to Lansing’s chagrin). Wind energy has been vociferously opposed just over the valley in Enfield, and Newfield essentially outlawed wind turbines. Solar panels are also being fought in Ulysses and Newfield. In Ithaca, there have been onerous battles over allowing panels on rooftops in historic districts. The energy to power homes and businesses has to come from somewhere; the preference seems to be for a sustainable option, rather than oil or gas piped in from Pennsylvania or beyond. Every choice is going to have its pros and cons – gas is cheap but environmentally unsound; wind turbines are tall and highly visible; solar panels need space for their cells. Frankly, a lightly-populated area on untaxed land owned by Cornell, which would then pay a PILOT fee for the solar panels, seems like a reasonable option. Someone has to step up and lead by example. Why not the town that fought fracking and won?

Anyway, the town pushed their meeting on the project back by one week to digest the onslaught of criticism. The meeting will be held at the town hall on Thursday April 6th at 7 PM.

UPDATE: The April 6th meeting has been cancelled and cannot be rescheduled until additional paperwork about the project has been received.

3. On the topic of energy, it looks like Cornell wants to move ahead with a trial run of its experimental geothermal project. Per the Times, the initial test phases of the “Earth Source Heating” project could take up to six years and $12-$15 million, which is a lot of money given that no one is certain if it will ultimately be a viable source of renewable energy. Some concern is being expressed that the project is too similar to fracking, but unlike the fracking process, where water is used to shatter shale beneath the surface to extract natural gas, the water used here is much lower pressure and kept in a closed loop, in comparison to fracking’s constant expansion of extraction sites. For the time being, the naysayers are assuaged, so now comes years of designing the project and permitting; an extensive Envrionmental Impact Statement (EIS) seems almost certain. ESH would be groundbreaking in more ways than one, if successful.

4. It looks like the major hurdles to the Travis Hyde Properties Old Library redevelopment have been cleared. With the historic district Certificiate of Appropriateness granted from the city’s ILPC, it’s now a matter of going through site plan review – the developer is hoping for an expedited process that’s settled by May, which given the joint meetings between the Planning Board and ILPC, may be possible. The design review is already complete as is most of the documentation, so at this point, it’s just a matter of making sure there are adequate environmental mitigations in place. After that, it’s time for the county to draft up their docs for the $925,000 sale of the property, and hopefully THP can get the mixed-use project underway later this year. The 73,600 SF project will host 58 market-rate units for the 55+ crowd, community space administered by senior services nonprofit Lifelong, and 1,250 SF of street-front commercial.

5. The Tompkins County IDA held its public hearing for the City Centre tax abatements. As expected, the reactions were mixed. A couple of developers not associated with the project (Frost Travis and Todd Fox) came out and spoke in support, which is really great. For one, these guys are invested in the city and knowledgeable about the market, so they should have an idea on whether City Centre would be a welcome economic addition or detraction. For two, it’s nice to see members of the same real estate community standing up for each other. There are cases now and in the not-so-distant past where developers went out of their way to fight other projects, with the parochial scope that as few units as possible would mean as high rents (revenue) as possible. I’m not necessarily saying every project is great and they need to stick up for it, but it’s heartening to see some are taking a broader scope and speaking on behalf of the ones they recognize as beneficial to the community.

The detractors seem less upset about the project itself than the abatements, and there is the fundamental misunderstanding that taxpayers are “paying” for this project. There is no paying; it just phases in the new property taxes on top of the existing value and taxes for the parcel, rather than one big lump increase from the moment of completion. For the sake of example, if they’re paying $100,000 in taxes now, and a given project will bring it up to $1,000,000 in taxes, an abatement means they’ll still pay $100,000 until the site’s developed, then $200,000 right after completion, then $300,000 the following year, and so on until $1,000,000 (plus inflation) is attained. I’ve tried to explain this in the Voice, the Times has tried to explain this, but it’s still a problem.

6. Two Collegetown projects were brought to light at last week’s planning board meeting. 232-236 Dryden, a Visum Development project, would replace a large surface parking lot and rundown 30-unit apartment building with a 191-bed, 2-building complex. 238 Linden, a Novarr-Mackesey infill project, replaces a 10-bed, non-historic apartment house with 24 studio units in a townhouse-format structure designed by his favorite firm, ikon.5 Architects of Princeton. The target market is Johnson students, particularly Executive MBAs who may want to be closer to the university. One of the neat features is that the rear will have a treated “chameleon-like” surface that will change color depending on viewing angle, not unlike the pearl metallics used on some custom cars.

The plan is to have both 232-236 Dryden and 238 Linden underway late this year. Both are likely to have August 2018 openings, although 232-236 Dryden might be a two-phase project, with the second structure coming online in August 2019.

Keen readers will note that the Times has the sole coverage of 238 Linden right now, and this was not in the Voice; Nick Reynolds was at the meeting, I was not, and while I’ve been trying to get renders, I have yet to come through with one. I’d rather play catch-up than sacrifice integrity. I’ll follow up in the Voice eventually, but in the meanwhile, the blog is fair game because I make no money from it.

7. The town of Ithaca planning board looks to have a fairly quiet agenda for next week. Renewing some temporary modular structures at Cornell, construction signage for Maplewood, and An 11-lot subdivision on South Hill, “Ithaca Estates III” featuring Lilium Lane, Monarda Way and Rock Cress Road.

Unfortunately, it’s the Monkemeyer property, where the town has been entertaining ideas of a new urban neighborhood since its new Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2014. Evan Monkemeyer chose to revive a plan from 2010 for two cul-de-sacs off of a new arterial road that would cut through the property; and given the long-term build-out schematic shown above, there would be more cul-de-sacs to come, for a fairly conventional 1990s era suburban layout. Even though he’s apparently mowed the future roads in place on satellite, this doesn’t match up with the town’s Form Ithaca-inspired visions at all. The issue isn’t the housing, it’s the layout. The town’s planning push has been moving away from cul-de-sacs and towards connected streets.

Monkemeyer’s gone down this road before. It didn’t work out very well. Reviving a seven year-old plan that doesn’t fit with the town’s more recent Comprehensive Plan is not, and shouldn’t be, something that is going to sail through the planning board. Token future park space isn’t going to change that. Of course, then he’ll just whine to Rep. Tom Reed again. To Monkemeyer’s credit, the town has been taken uncomfortably long with formulating their new zoning code, it looks like some of the multi-year delay was the town’s fault over who was responsible for a water easement – but given the 6+ years since the issue was raised, it doesn’t appear he was pushing the matter much.





News Tidbits 3/25/17: Out in the Wild

25 03 2017

1. Let’s start by touching real quick on this past week’s Ithaca town meeting. The Bundy subdivision and the renovation of the former Wings Over Ithaca space at East Hill Plaza were approved, per Matt Butler at the Times. The Greentree project was reviewed and the board granted itself lead agency to conduct environmental review. Greentree owner John Gaunt is still unsure whether he’ll keep the Elmira Road building, which is where Ithaca Beer got its start in the late 1990s. Although primarily a warehouse/ag industry project, there will be some potentially public-friendly features, namely a garden park and picnic area. The board expressed a desire to see Greentree work with neighbor Ithaca Beer for landscaping between the two buildings.

2. I followed up with Lansing town planning consultant Michael Long regarding English Village. As readers might remember from last week, that’s the 58 single-family home lots and 59 townhouses proposed somewhere in Lansing – didn’t know where because that was the first anything has been published about it. Here’s Long’s response:

“The English Village is a concept developed by Jack Young to build a network of single family homes and apts. /condos that surround the existing soccer fields along Water Wagon [sic] Road. It is still very early in the conceptual phase so there has not been an formal application made as yet, but a project that has been talked about for many, many years. We don’t have anything specific yet but is a project “In-progress”.”

Jack Young is a Cayuga Heights businessman (and chair of their zoning board of appeals), who owns a sizable amount of undeveloped land in Lansing; most of it is used for farming. The soccer fields on Waterwagon Road are just east of The Rink, which is putting in a new climbing tower. There’s been plenty of conventional suburban development up this way since the 2000s, although in recent years the new starts have slowed as conventional suburban layout have lost some of their allure to walkable urban or truly rural properties. We’ll have to keep an eye out and see what happens.

3. Now turning attention over to Dryden. Apparently the town of Dryden thinks I’m with the Ithaca Times. Anyway, two new projects have popped up on the radar this week.
The first is a 6,016 SF, 8-unit apartment on the 500 Block of Etna Road just east of the airport. All units will be 1-bedrooms. The developer is Ithacan Salim Kasimov; with partner Yelena Kurbanova, they’ve picked up some properties in and around the area for home construction over the past few years, although this might be their first multi-family building. Simple, maybe a little bland – a floor-separating exterior lap band and two different colors of siding would do wonders.

The project exceeds zoning, where 2 units/acre is allowed, and this is pursuing 8 units on 1.78 subdivided acres (the other lot holds a two-family home). SEAF here, floor plans hereThe argument was that these are all one-bedroom units, and a typical house is 3+ bedrooms, so it’s not a substantial variance. The project was in planning before the rural zoning code was updated, which complicates matters.

According to Dryden town planning director Ray Burger, the ZBA asked for more information, but the application has been withdrawn. This project is in limbo for the time being.

The second is called the “Pineridge Cottages”, and went to the Dryden Planning Board for a sketch plan review this week. This one came up on this blog a long time ago – it’s a proposal for about 20 single-family rental homes on about nine acres on the corner of Dryden Road/Route 13 and Mineah Road. At the time, the logic was that the density requirements would let it slip under the radar, since the project is under 4 units/acre and could have avoided triggering most site plan review regulations. But maybe with the revised zoning laws, that’s no longer the case.

4. It’s a Tiny Timber out in the wild! Not something that was expected while covering the Maple Festival, but there it was on the property. This would be the very first one, according to the Tiny Timbers blog. The TT blog says it’s in Hector (which is correct, it’s 500 feet from the Tompkins/Schuyler County line), but the Wellspring Farm advertises itself with a Trumansburg address, so this was really just fortuitous circumstance. The model is a Model L Lofted with optional green corrugated metal roofing.

It’s looks like sales are off to a good start – the 14 Farm Pond Circle lot is pending, as is the Ellis Hollow Road lot. A Tiny Timber Big Cube is also expected to replace a dilapidated home at 104 Grandview Place on Ithaca’s South Hill. Prospects are so good, Buzz Dolph plans to rent a warehouse on Dryden’s Hall Road to serve as an assembly facility for the modular components, and is looking for construction partners in neighboring markets. Modest, affordable owner-occupied housing is an under-served but big potential market, and to its profit, Tiny Timbers looks to be part of the solution.

5. According to documents filed with the county this week, the construction loan for 607 South Aurora is $1,920,000. Tioga State Bank is the lender on record, with Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals as developer. The documents give a March-August build-out for the 4-building project; each building will host 2 three-bedroom units, and utilize modular components. These will look pretty similar to the pair that just opened on Old Elmira Road.

The two-family directly on South Aurora is designed with a full-length porch and sculpted brackets, with Hardie Plank fiber cement boards to look more aesthetically pleasing. The trio tucked away from road will use vinyl siding. Advertisements targeting Ithaca College students are already posted on MLR’s website, saying that the 3-bedroom units will rent for $2,250/month, or $750/bedroom.

6. One of those rare interesting things from the slimmed down Ithaca Journal – it appears CFCU has been doing pretty well this decade. Not only were they recently approved for an expansion into Cayuga County and Seneca County (that’s where Geneva is, guys), the Lansing-based credit union and financial services firm has added 40% to its financial holdings and 42 jobs since the start of the decade. Not too shabby at all, keep up the good work.

7. Interesting planning board meeting shaping up. Here’s the March agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:
Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place Tax Parcel 9.-3-11

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:
Apartments (11 Units) 6:20
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

B. Project:
Schwartz Performing Arts Center Plaza Improvements 6:40
Location: 430 College Ave
Applicant: Ram Venkat for Cornell University
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency .Public Hearing . Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

C. Project:
Apartments ( 5 Units) 7:00
Location: 118 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

D. Project:
Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartments 7:20
Location: 214 Elmira Road
Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

E. Townhomes- 238 Linden Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This proposal was removed right before the February meeting. Same details as before: 238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

F. Apartments 232- 236 Dryden Road – Sketch Plan 7:50

Another CR-4 proposal is slated for what is currently a parking lot at 232-236 Dryden Road. Given that the parking lot address is 232-238 Dryden, it seems plausible a small, remnant component is being kept. The owner is James Rider, the 57-year owner of the Hillside Inn budget hotel in Collegetown. Going out on a limb, it’s likely he is not the developer, but someone else who happens to have a purchasing option. Four floors, no parking required, on a parking lot – seems like a good opportunity for an infill project without much risk to the city’s historic fabric.

5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3059, Appeal of Determination, 742 Cascadilla At (Carpenter Bus. Park) – Yes, Maguire has filed the lawsuit and this is related. Carpenter is the Plan B at this point, but they want to make sure that Plan B is legal if that’s what it boils down to.
#3060, Area Variance, 322 Park Place – small addition to an existing house.
#3062, Area Variance, 104 Grandview Place – the Tiny Timber mentioned above.
#3063, Sign Variance, 505 3rd Street (Aldi) – Aldi is renovating and expanding stores across the country, a massive 1,300+ store project that’s liable to cost more than $1.5 billion over the next few years (prototype shown above). Ithaca will be one of the first to get the new layout, adding 2,700 SF to its Aldi outpost. The move is to allow expanded fresh food offerings (meat, dairy and produce), and install new energy-efficient refrigeration units. Note that the expansion is to allow a slightly larger combined store signage area than what’s legally allowed (total 272.9 SF vs 250 SF). Victor-based APD Engineering and Architecture is in charge.

6. Old/New Business 8:30

7. Reports