News Tidbits 7/22/17: Throwing Darts

22 07 2017

1. Let’s start off the week with a little intrigue. A vacant 12.34 acre property on Wiedmeier Court in Ithaca town sold for $65,000 earlier this week – given that it was on the market for five years and marketed for development potential, the sale merited a closer look.

At first glance, it seemed to merit a shrug. The buyer was an LLC that could be traced back to a CPA in the San Francisco area, a woman of retirement age. The profile fits the deep-pocketed subset who might buy a sizable slice of land near Ithaca, and build a home for their retirement enjoyment. Not uncommon in Tompkins County.

Then on Wednesday, the same buyer purchased 114 and 122 Birdseye View Drive from the Cleveland family for $485,000. 122 is a 4-bedroom single-family, and 114 a 3-bedroom single-family. Both are next to IC, nearly new houses in a development otherwise filled with small-scale student housing. So, things just got more interesting. We’ll see if anything comes of the Wiedmeier property.

2. Just briefly touching on Hamilton Square this week – one of the questions I previously held off on addressing was the possibility of the abatement. Although the county has said they’re open to considering affordable housing tax abatements or PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) as part of their housing strategy, housing itself usually isn’t enough to merit a visit to the IDA. But with the addition of the nursery/daycare, it bared similarities to 210 Hancock, which cited its planned daycare center and the new jobs at the center in its PILOT request.

So, I asked what the plan was. Here’s the response from INHS’s Real Estate Development Director, Joe Bowes:

“We are not seeking an abatement from the IDA for the project.  If the day care is a non-profit then it would be tax exempt without the need for an IDA abatement.  The housing does not need the abatement in this case so it will be assessed and will pay property taxes.  210 had other reasons for requesting an abatement.”

Emphasis his. In the documentation on Hancock, the abatement was partially driven by the acquisition cost of the property and the need for a deep pile foundation. The buildings are much smaller at 46 South Street, so a slab/shallow foundation is suitable, and it helps that Trumansburg’s soil is less water-logged and more stable than Northside’s. This results in a lower development cost per square foot, so although they arguably could (and upset the neighbors even more), INHS isn’t pursuing a PILOT or abatement. The only tax savings will be for the eleven affordable owner-occupied units, which will be assessed for what they can sell for within the Community Housing Trust, rather than a market-rate value. This has the county’s support, because taxing a townhouse for double the value of what the lower-middle class homeowner could sell it for undermines its affordability.

3. Here’s an interesting note from Lansing regarding the Cornerstone land purchase. The first phase on 13.5 acres would be 68-72 units. The second phase on the remaining 8.9 acres would potentially host another 72 units. All of these would be affordable. This might cause a backlash as too much, but if one of the phases was general affordable housing, and the other affordable senior housing, then that might negate most of the blowback. Anyway, something to watch for.

On another note, the modified PDA for the Village Solars has a stipulation that the community center/mixed-use building (“F”, green dot) has to be completed by the end of 2020, and only 4 of the 9 other buildings will be approved before the community center is complete. Everything north of Circle North will not be allowed to start construction until the community center is open. This suggests a build-out of #116/#102, 2017-18, #2/#22, 2018-19, Community Center 2019-2020, #117/#36 2020-21, and K, L and M would be built in 2021-22.


4. Laurels and darts. Here’s a dart. The town of Ithaca is seeking to, once again, extend its moratorium on two-family properties. When the law was enacted in early May 2016, it was supposed to be for 270 days, meaning an early February expiration. Then it was extended to the end of July. Now they want to extend it to the end of October, which given the seasonal nature of construction, effectively stops all new two-family properties through the winter of 2017/18.

I’ll be frank. This is not a good look. There were a number of concerns from property owners when the law was proposed for a length of one year, was unfairly long, and the town has not only realized their concerns, it’s exceeded them. The town is establishing a bad faith precedent through what property owners will complain as either being ill will, or incompetence. Part of me is concerned that anyone fighting the town on something, be it zoning, development, conservation or anything, will use this as an example of how the town “can’t be trusted”. I’ve never been a fan of moratoriums, because they end up seeking extensions. Not impressed to have another example to file away.

5. And on that note, the town of Groton just slapped a six-month moratorium on all solar arrays designed to power more than one house or one agricultural farm. No commercial solar, no community solar. Technically, the law also stops wind turbines and gas pipelines, but the Times’ quotes make it clear this was all about solar.

6. The county legislature finally approved a name to the Heritage Center this week. The “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was approved 10-2. The previous vote failed due to a number of absent legislators and pushback for not having enough to consider the name. Legislator Chock D-3rd) initially wanted it named for late legislator Stu Stein, but naming buildings after people has been against county policy since the early 2000s. Legislator McBean-Clairborne (D-1st) voted against it because she felt the word “county” should be in there. This has not been a month where local government engenders confidence.

7. Short but interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting meeting up. The only thing up for final approval is the McDonald’s rebuild at 372 Elmira Road, while INHS’s Elm Street and Lakeview’s West End project are set to begin formal environmental review. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3.Site Plan Review

A. Project: Commercial Rebuild (McDonalds) 6:10
Location: 372 Elmira Road
Applicant:McDonalds USA LLC
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant proposes to replace the existing 4,800 SF restaurant facility with a new 4,400 SF building, construct a side-by-side drive-thru, install new landscaping, a dining patio, lighting, signage and a masonry landscape wall, as well as reconfigure the parking layout. The project is in the SW-2 Zoning District and requires an area variance. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.

B.Project: Elm St Apartments (Rebuild) 6:25

Location: 203-209 Elm Street
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The proposed project consist of the demolition of two single family homes and one
multiple dwelling and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act(“SEQRA”)§ 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: 709 West Court Street (Housing) 6:50
Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709–713 W Court Street
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels LLP for Lakeview Health Services Inc.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprintof 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will containing sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ- 1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(k) and (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

D. 105 Dearborn –Sketch Plan 7:10

This is Bridges Cornell Heights new 16-bedroom independent living building for seniors. If it’s at the Planning Board, that means the ILPC has signed off on the building and site design.

E. 311 College Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This is…curious. 311 College Avenue is The Nines restaurant and bar, and was built in 1905 as fire station No. 9 before the new station opened next door in the late 1960s. The old station was sold off and became the Nines in the early 1970s, and has been under its current ownership since 1980. The top two floors are used for storage, according to county records.

At a glance, it’s a valuable piece of land with a lot of posibilities – MU-2 zoning allows six floors and 100% lot coverage. On the other hand, this is a relative historic property in Collegetown, and development perceived as insensitive will likely see significant opposition. There had been talk by ILPC staff of giving the building historic designation back in February 2016 out of concerns over development pressure, but it seems no formal application was made. So there are options here, but the developer should proceed with caution.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50
#3066, 214 Elmira Road, Area Variance
#3079, 413 Titus Ave, Area Variance

5. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Planning Board Recommendation to Council Regarding Proposed Waterfront Rezoning
B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 403 College
Ave
C. Downtown Wayfinding

6.Reports 8:30
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison





News Tidbits 7/15/17: Ess Ess, Dee Dee

15 07 2017

1. Hamilton Square. There’s a lot to say here.

First, the neutral segment. The website is up, www.southstreetproject.org. Plenty of renders (definitely not cookie-cutter), site plans, housing prices, everything one needs for a fair assessment. The units are no more than 2 floors, mostly townhouse format. 47 affordable rentals units, 11 affordable for-sale units, and 15 market-rate for-sale units for a total of 73 on a 19 acre site. That’s less than 4 units per acre (0.26 acres/unit, comparable to the older 0.25-0.5 acre lots on Pennsylvania and South Streets), and fits zoning. The units are interspersed throughout the property. Parking ratio is 2 spaces per units, units are a mix of 1-3 bedrooms. There will be aging-in-place and energy efficient home options for sale, as well as in the rentals. The project will host a playground and nursery/daycare facility geared towards low and moderate-income households. Much of this comes from the result of constructive community feedback.

But what started off on a polite note is getting really ugly, really quickly. It is not a good sign when my editor calls me and tells me that, as a person of color, she felt uncomfortable at the latest meeting.

Given the transparency of this process, which still hasn’t even been submitted for formal planning board review, I find comments about this being “hidden” or rushed through to be a stretch. The project hasn’t submitted anything for formal review yet. Nothing but a sketch plan has been done, and multiple community meetings, and 30-minute small group listening sessions. It really does not get much more personal than that.

One of the questions that was raised was that people are unable there are many more affordable rentals than for-sale units. There are two reasons why that is. For one, funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. That’s why the buildout for the for-sale units is 2-8 years. For two, for low and moderate-income households often don’t have much money saved for a big expense such as down-payment, and far more are capable of renting versus buying.

There are valid concerns that need to be addressed. For example, traffic. A study is being conducted with a third party. The typical thing I hear, affordable housing, or any project really, is that “they’ll lie, they’re in XYZ’s pocket”. If no one trusts you to do your job properly, no municipal board will sign off on accepting your study, and you’re finished as a firm. Likewise with stormwater analysis and civil engineering. School system capacity is checked with the district, which basically just sends a letter saying “yes, we have room” or “no, we don’t have room”. The study is being conducted and will be made public long before any approvals are granted, people can weigh in after reading it to say whether it’s comprehensive and adequate, and feel free to say something and explain why it may not be. That’s the purpose of SEQR, to determine impacts and mitigate unavoidable impacts.

On a related note, a board’s job is to review the objective components of a project. It is not appropriate, or legal, to decide on a subjective trait like whether the people who will live there fit the “Trumansburg way of life” or that the project is “too Ithacan”. Who decides what those things are? Because too quickly, it degenerates into a look or an image, and a train of thought that should never be a part of any development conversation. Because it’s subjective, those terms meant something quite different in 1997, and something quite different in 1977.

Also, there seems to be this idea that poor people in urban neighborhoods will be forced out here, and they will be a burden on TrumansburgThere are plenty of people who live and work in Trumansburg who need affordable options in a rapidly-appreciating real estate market. The one bedrooms will be rented to individuals making $22k-$48k. That could be a store manager, a barista, a school teacher or a retiree. Tenants are screened, visited at their current home and interviewed before being offered a unit. Qualified affordable home buyers will mostly be in the $42k-$64k range (80-120% AMI). Think nurses, office workers, tradespeople (following INHS’s sales deeds, I actually see a lot of ICSD teachers). The market rate units will offer whatever the market allows price-wise; new townhouse-style housing in Trumansburg would likely fetch $250k+, so think upper-middle income.

It would be nonsensical to make people in Ithaca move into housing in Trumansburg that they don’t want and would drive up their costs; however, those who want to live there, whether because they admire Trumansburg, work there, or both, will seek the opportunities it provides.

For a county that seems keenly aware of its housing issues, there tends to be an uncomfortable amount of pushback against affordable housing, whether it be Fall Creek, South Hill, Lansing or Trumansburg. Does that qualify as being “too Ithacan”?

2. Taking a look at the county’s records this week, it looks like 210 Linden Avenue’s construction loan has been filed. Elmira Savings Bank is lending Visum Development (Todd Fox and associates) $3.15 million, with $2,358,783 towards the hard costs (materials/labor) of replacing the existing 12-bedroom student apartment house with a 9-unit, 36-bedroom apartment building. Elmira Savings Bank is one of the biggest single-family construction loan lenders in Tompkins, but they have only been the lender for a few multi-family projects. The only other multi-million project in the past few years was the 18-unit Rabco Apartments at 312 Thurston Avenue in Cornell Heights – a project that, along with the cancelled 1 Ridgewood, so incensed deep-pocketed permanent residents nearby that they petitioned and succeeded in getting the city to downgrade the zoning.

Also filed this week was a $415,000 construction loan from Tompkins Trust to the owner of Hancock Plaza on the 300 Block of Third Street in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 19,584 SF shopping plaza, built in 1985, is assessed at $1.485 million and has been under its current ownership since 2002. Most might know it for the DMV, but it also hosts Istanbul restaurant, a bookkeeping service, and a gas station and convenience store that opened in renovated space in 2015. There’s no indication in the loan as to what kind of work will be performed, about $363,000 has been set aside for hard costs like materials and labor, and the work is required to be finished by March 2018.

3. Also filed in both sales and construction loans this week was paperwork for 306 North Cayuga Street, right next to DeWitt Park on the edge of Ithaca’s downtown. Also known as the C. R. Williams House, the 8,798 SF, ca. 1898 property was assessed at $900,000 and on the market for $1.4 million last year. The sale price was $1.3 million.

I was privy to an email chain that engaged an out-of-state condo developer to look at the property, but that person was not the buyer.  The LLC traces back to Travis Hyde Properties, just a few blocks away.

According to Frost Travis of THP, the plan is to renovate the live/work space to allow for more space for THP, which is outgrowing its North Tioga Street location, and four apartment units. Exterior changes will only be cosmetic, but any substantial changes will be subject to ILPC approval, as the property sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. Elmira Savings Bank is lending $1.24 million for the renovation, of which $1,204,752 is going towards the actual construction (so apparently, this was a big week for ESB). The project is expected to be complete by next summer, according to the loan filing.

4. For the aspiring homebuilder or developer – new to the market this week, a run-down though salvageable 1830 home at 1975 Dryden Road just east of Dryden village, and 101 acres of developable vacant land currently rented out for agricultural use. The sale price is $795,000. The county GIS lists the property at 112.4 acres, but without a map in the listing, it’s hard to tell if there’s a typo or if there might be a subdivision somewhere. The assessment is for $531,900, $401,300 of which is the land. It appears the property has been in the ownership of the same family since 1968. The property is listed as a rural agricultural district, which is geared towards ag uses, but permits office, one-family and two-family homes as-of-right; multi-family and box retail require special use permits. Zoning is one unit per two acres, but in the case of a conservation subdivision that preserves open/natural space, it’s one unit per acre – either way, only about 50 units allowed here. Technically, a PUD (aka DIY zoning) is also an option, but would need adequate justification. Kinda hoping it doesn’t become conventional suburban sprawl, but will reserve judgement for when this sells.

 

5. Ithaca is once again competing for $10 million in state funds as part of the regional Downtown Redevelopment Initiative. The funds are intended to spark investment in urban cores and improve infrastructure for communities throughout the state, ten cities selected each year, one in each region. Readers may recall Elmira won last year. This year, Ithaca is competing against two of its Southern Tier peers – Watkins Glen, with which it competing with last year as well, and Endicott, a struggling satellite city over by Binghamton, that is entering the competition for the first time. Reports suggest the Ithaca submission is largely the same as last year’s. Winners will be announced in the fall.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 6/25/17: Lazy Sunday

25 06 2017

1. Starting off with the new project of the week: 42-unit, 108-bedroom 802 Dryden Road. As relayed on the Voice, the parcel currently hosts several rental properties in varying condition. The project is Modern Living Rentals’ largest to date, partly because developer Charlie O’Connor tends to focus more on smaller infill in urban areas.

Although no time table has been given for the $7.5 million project, a likely prospect is approval by the end of the year, with a spring 2018 groundbreaking, and a summer 2019 opening. While John Snyder Architects is in charge of design modifications, the townhouse designs are recycled from STREAM Collaborative’s 902 Dryden plan currently finishing up down the road. Marathon Engineering’s Adam Fishel will be shepherding the project through the approvals process, just as he did the Sleep Inn for Elmira Road.

Location-wise, it’s on a bus route but most everything will need some kind of vehicular transport, so it’s fairly auto-centric. There isn’t a lot of lot nearby apart from a few small rentals and single-family homes, and Cornell farm fields. On the other hand, few neighbors means fewer people likely to raise a fuss at planning board and town board meetings. As long as they provide town favorites like heat pumps, don’t expect big hangups as this plan moves through municipal review.

2. So here’s something out of the blue. Recently, the house at 2124 Mecklenburg Road in Enfield was sold to “The Broadway Group LLC d/b/a TBG Alabama LLC”, and a $998,000 construction loan agreement was filed shortly afterwards. One does not normally see million-dollar projects in Enfield, but a look at the filing yielding no information other than to suggest it was a retail building.

A little further digging indicates The Broadway Group, based out of Huntsville, Alabama, specializes in the development and construction of Dollar General stores. The lender, Southern States Bank, headquartered in Anniston, Alabama, is a preferred commercial lender for TBG. So this is a similar case to the Dollar General recently built in Lansing by Primax Properties –  it’s less about a bank being interested in Ithaca, and more about two major companies located near each other and having an established business relationship. A check of Enfield’s Planning Board reveals that the applicant took great pains not to reveal the name of the tenant, saying only a stand-alone variety dry goods store. A confidentiality clause with client limits what they could say, and TBG will technically own the metal building for a year until it transfers over to Dollar General. Expect a Q4 2017 and with it, 10-12 retail jobs.

I’ll be candid on this one – I sent out an email before writing anything up for the Voice asking if there were enough Enfield/West Hill readers who would care enough to justify an article being written. Jolene encouraged it, the piece went up, and the traffic on the article was actually pretty good, somewhat above average in fact.

3. The city has decided which option it wants to pursue for its rework of University Avenue. Basically, say goodbye to the northbound parking aisle and say hello to a new bike lane. The southbound parking aisle will remain, along with a 7-foot wide sidewalk and 10-foot travel lanes.

4. It looks like plans for the next Press Bay Alley are moving forward. 110-112 West Green Street was sold to Urban Core LLC (John Guttridge / David Kuckuk) for $650,000 on the 19th, and a $581,250 construction loan from Tompkins Trust was filed the same day. Technically, some of the construction loan is actually for the purchase; according to the IURA breakdown, the renovation into micro-retail, office and two 500 SF apartments will only cost about $207,500, plus $40,000 for soft costs like architectural plans, engineering and legal expenses. As part of the $200,000 loan extended to Urban Core LLC by the IURA, the project needs to create at least 6 full-time jobs at full occupancy. On the Press Bay Alley Facebook page, the developers have announced plans for a spring opening, and issued a call for active-use tenants looking for anywhere from 300-2,000 SF.

5. Cincinnati-based Bloomfield Schon has arranged to sell the Cayuga Green complex, lofts, apartments and all. The developer would sell the buildings to Laureate House Ithaca Management LLC. Upon the intended purchase date of August 1st, Laureate House would pay the IURA loan balance ($733,130 at the moment with a $4,880 monthly payment) off in full. That would be about 21 years earlier than anticipated. Laureate House appears to be a start-up real estate firm backed by three wealthy Cornell alums; although the literature says they seek to launch 55+ communities for active seniors in college towns, there don’t appear to be changes in use or commercial/residential tenant mix planned with the purchase of Cayuga Green.

6. Been meaning to note this, but it appears 210 Linden Avenue is undergoing asbestos remediation, which means that the building is being prepped for deconstruction. It looks like Visum Development will be moving forward soon with their plans for a 9-unit, 36-bedroom student apartment building on the property. I did not seen any outward indication of similar work being performed on 118 College or 126 College Avenue at last check, though it’s been a couple weeks.

7. Here’s a look at the city of Ithaca’s Planning Board agenda for next week. Harold Square and 323 Taughannock will have their latest revisions checked for satisfaction of final approval (various paperwork submissions, and of samples of exterior materials to make sure they’re acceptable). 238 Linden Avenue, 232-236 Dryden Road and the DeWitt House old library redevelopment are up for final approval, and the McDonald’s and Finger Lakes ReUse’s supportive housing projects will be reviewed for determination of environmental significance, which basically means that potential impacts have been addressed and if necessary, properly mitigated.

There is also one semi-new project, which is 709-713 Court Street  – that would be the street address for Lakeview’s $20 million mixed-use affordable housing plan on Ithaca’s West End. From previous paperwork, it is known that it’s 5 floors with 50 units of affordable housing, 25 of which will be set aside for Lakeview clients with psychiatric disability. There will be 6,171 SF of commercial space on the first floor, and 17 parking spaces. PLAN Architectural Studios of Rochester will be the architect. Apart from a rough outline, there have been no renders shared of the project, so that’s the “semi-new” part.

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

  1. Agenda Review 6:00
  2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01
  3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Mixed Use Apartments – Harold Square 6:10

Location: 123-129 E State/ MLK St (the Commons)

Applicant: L Enterprises LLC

Actions: Satisfaction of Conditions

Project Description: The Board approved project changes with conditions on May 23, 2017. The Applicant was asked submit revised materials to return to satisfy the conditions in June.

B. Project: Apartments (Short-Term Rental) 6:30

Location: 238 Linden Ave

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for DRY-LIN Inc.

Actions: Public Hearing Determination of Environmental Significance, Preliminary & Final Approval, Approval of Transportation Demand Management Plan

C. Project: McDonalds Rebuild 6:50

Location: 372 Elmira Road

Applicant: McDonalds USA LLC

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

D. Project: Residential Mixed Use (DeWitt House) 7:00

Location: 310-314 N Cayuga Street

Applicant: Kimberly Michaels, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Frost Travis, Owner

Actions: Preliminary and Final Approval

E. Project: Apartments 7:20

Location: 323 Taughannock Blvd

Applicant: Noah Demarest for Rampart Real LLC

Actions: Satisfaction of Conditions

Project Description: The Board approved the project with conditions on May 23, 2017. The Applicant was asked to submit revised materials to return to satisfy the conditions in June.

F. Project: Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartments 7:40

Location: 214 Elmira Road

Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse

Actions:  Public Hearing  Determination of Environmental Significance

G. Project: Apartments (60 Units) 8:00

Location: 232-236 Dryden Road

Applicant: Noah Demarest of Stream Collaborative for Visum Development Group

Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance, Preliminary and Final Approval, Approval of

Transportation Demand Management Plan

H. 709-713 Court Street – Housing – Sketch Plan 8:20

  1. Zoning Appeals 8:45
  1. Old/New Business
  2. Planning Board Comments on the Proposal to Rezone Areas of the Waterfront 8:50
  1. Reports
  2. Planning Board Chair (verbal)

9:10

  1. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
  2. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)
  3. Approval of Minutes: May 23, 2017, April 25, 2017, and November 22, 2016 (time permitting) 9:30
  4. Adjournment 9:35




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

16 06 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 6/2017

15 06 2017

One of the biggest complaints about Collegetown is the lack of public gathering spaces – there’s no real park or public plaza that can be utilized for gatherings and events. The gorges aren’t all that accessible and aren’t suitable for large groups, and places like CTB and St. Luke’s provide for small private gatherings and community events, but the lack of a sizable public social space poses a challenge to the neighborhood’s ability to provide for its residents.

As Collegetown’s raison d’etre, Cornell is stepping up to the plate to offer a space with the renovation of Schwartz Plaza. It’s not truly a public space as something owned by the city or county, but Cornell’s large, multi-faceted presence offers a reasonable facsimile.

Part of the purpose for building the Schwartz Performing Arts Center in Collegetown was to draw in people from outside the neighborhood, and mix the non-students with the students. When the building first opened in 1989, the plaza was intended as an outdoor reception area for Schwartz patrons, and the original design by English architect James Stirling, which called for a lively “forecourt”, was never built out. Instead, the plaza was walled off from the street and there was little exposure or interaction with College Avenue. As a result, outside of performances, Schwartz Plaza tends to be barren, its only social function comes from being close to a bus stop.

The stated goals for Schwartz Plaza’s renovation are to improve pedestrian circulation, increase safety by providing for better visibility, and to enhance aesthetics. To do this, Cornell will remove the 4-foot tall concrete wall that separates the plaza from the sidewalk, create a series of short stairs to facilitate “permeability” of pedestrians to and from the plaza, and adding new seating and landscaping to make the plaza more inviting – stone walls and pavers, wood-on-granite benches, recessed LED lighting, new bike racks and planters. It’s not really a new structure or even a change of use, but to make the plaza more effective for its intended use.

To quote the marketing pitch: “This project is expected to yield a lively new gathering space that serves as a catalyst for an enhanced pedestrian boulevard along College Avenue, the primary pedestrian gateway to the university. This project is conceived as a key node within a larger, future Collegetown public realm enhancement area.”

Being a fairly minor project, and having hosted some community meetings last fall to determine the neighborhood’s design preferences, this plan sailed through the city’s planning board review, in and out from February through March. I can’t seem to locate the SPR offhand, but the total cost is about $600,000.

As projects go, this one should be relatively short at about four months, May-August 2017. TWMLA is responsible for the plaza design, T. G. Miller for civil engineering work, and Taitem Engineering for electrical engineering. The contractor isn’t clear and (unusually) Cornell doesn’t have it listed on their webpages, but the invited bidders were all regional road/landscape construction firms.

In the photos, it looks like removal of the old plaza is underway, with the wall soon to follow. The plywood around the Vermont marble columns is for protection (way back, the columns were intended to be limestone and brick stringcourses, but it was value-engineered to marble and off-white Dryvit).

 





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 6/2017

13 06 2017

For news about today’s event, please go to the Voice.

Most of the rear and east facade are complete on the Breazzano Center at 209-215 Dryden Road. The Larson sheeting on the utility/loading dock refers to Larson Alucoil, the brand name of the aluminum metal panels being used to complete the less photogenic vantage points of the new 6-story building. The clips on the rear wall will be used as hinges for architectural sunshades.

Most of the windows and spandrel glass has been installed on the read and east facade. Note that spandrel glass is purely decorative, and there are metal panels between the glass and the lip of the floor plate. The white stripes indicate where the salmon-colored metal panels will be installed over the glass, although I personally would be just as happy to see them go without; the glass curtain wall gives the building an airier, less overbearing appearance. The bottom floor uses clear glass to give the building greater transparency at street level, and is meant to enliven (“activate”) the block. In photo 9, you can see the ceiling of one of the large group instruction classrooms, meaning that the drywall has been hung on at least the lower floors, and utilities rough-ins have been completed.

At the time these photos were taken, workers were easing a new panel section of the front curtain wall into place – it’s a bit of a delicate process to hoist the glazing with the crane and line everything up just right, and then quickly fasten it into place so they can move on with the next section, pulling the tarp back and continuing down the line. One imagines it must get a bit stuffy under the plastic sheeting this time of the year. More complicated exterior sections like the projecting atrium wall have yet to be tackled.

The Breazzano Center should be open in time for the fall 2017 semester. Not long thereafter, the staging area next door at 238 Linden will becoming a project of its own with the erection of a 4-story, 24-studio apartment building. That project is up for final approval later this month.





201 College Avenue Construction Update, 6/2017

12 06 2017

201 College is moving right along. W. H. Lane has been charging ahead at a rapid clip in order to have the 44-unit apartment building ready for occupancy in August. the front (west) half is further in the construction process – fireproof Georgia-Pacific DensGlass fiberglass mat sheathing, coated and sealed a pitch black air/vapor barrier (Carlisle Barriseal?), and layered with Dow Thermax polyiso insulation boards. The Thermax is coated in a reflective outer layer to repel incoming solar radiation and keep the building cool during the summer. Or at least, that’s what one of the construction guys told me. Some windows have been fitted into the structure on the lower floors.

The back half is not as far along. The northeast and east walls remain bare steel studs, while the southeast wall is just getting its DensGlass mats installed. The paired window layout might seem a little unusual, but many of the units will utilize a “mezzanine” intermediary floor to increase the living space in each unit.

One detail that has appeared to have changed from the images on file here are the stairwell windows above the front entrance. The drawings show one square window for each floor, while the finished building will have a pair of smaller square windows.

The front facade might seem a bit bland at the moment, but a plethora of exterior finishes should give the building a more visually interesting appearance – A large Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore (aka fancy off-black) metal canopy above the entrance, and fiber cement panels in shades of Allura Snow White, S-W Gauntlet Grey, and S-W Chinese Red, as well as woven bamboo siding. A stucco aggregate will be applied to exposed foundation sections (when you’re spending $10 million, you can afford the real deal over DryVit), and white cedar panels with a clear protective finish will be used for canopy ceilings and architectural screens. Long story short, variety of colors and materials should help break up the mass and make it look less overbearing.

With August just a scant two months away, we’ll have an idea of how nice the final product looks soon enough.