210 Linden Construction Update, 10/2017

21 10 2017

Technically, 210 Linden Avenue has been stopped for the time being, but just for the sake of having it, here’s the project description post for future reference.

One of the intents of the Collegetown Form Districts was to encourage redevelopment in portions of Collegetown that the city saw as less desirable – the really stereotypically poor-quality housing that Cornell just called out in its state of the university address. These properties are generally unsuitable for families since most of them were purpose-built boarding houses, often with haphazard additions and renovations over the years to make the bare minimum of city building and fire code. With a captive market in Cornell students, many landlords didn’t see the need for quality because the prevailing logic was that it decreased profitability. Only during the first luxury developments of the 1980s (Fane’s Collegetown Court in 1985, Mack Travis’s Eddygate in 1986) did that really start to change, and even then, many older landlords clung to the old ideas, hesitant to change from a time-tested if ethically questionable formula.

Since then, it’s been something of a development see-saw; developers see greater profit potential, but typically they need to build big to ensure a good return on investment (balancing soft construction costs, hard construction costs, interest on construction loans and current/future taxes against the revenue from renters). A large project comes along and drives discontent from East Hill and Belle Sherman, who have long clashed with the different lifestyles of students, as well as a longstanding sense of wariness from the old-style landlords who would try to buy homes and turn them into student slums. The city places a moratorium, tweaks the zoning, process starts anew. From a municipal perspective, it’s always been a delicate balance between the substantial taxes generated from Collegetown, and quality of life issues (traffic, rowdiness).

In general, the 2014 form-hybrid zoning, which removed some parking regulations and put the focus on Collegetown’s core, has had favorable outcomes; the only real debate has been 201 College Avenue, which was a rather unique situation. 210 Linden Avenue is a textbook example of a shared goal between city and developer – the 200 block of Linden has many properties in poor condition, and the city would like redevelopment mixed among the better-maintained older houses. With that in mind, zoning is generally CR-4 – 4 floors, and no parking required as long as a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan is received and approved by city staff. New buildings wouldn’t be large or oppressive since most buildings are 2.5-4 floors on this block, and with planning board input, high quality designs would enhance the walkable environment, build the tax base, and add some housing to reduce pressure on adjacent streets. Developers in turn would have more flexibility, and removing the parking rules really opens up the possibility for new builds on Linden’s small lots.

Previously, 210 Linden was a rather ramshackle 12-bedroom apartment house. Visum Development Group (VDG), led by local businessman Todd Fox, saw a potential opportunity for a new build and established a purchase option with the then-owners, a pair of small local landlords. The redevelopment is not an especially large project, medium-sized by Collegetown standards. It is 14,400 SF with 9 units, all of which are 4-bedroom, 2-bath, for a total of 36 bedrooms. Each floor has two units, except for the partially-above grade basement, which has one unit and space for the bike room, trash room and mechanicals. The project will use electric air-source heat pumps, and be net-zero energy capable with the use of an off-site renewable energy source.

210 Linden was first proposed in November 2016. With basically no opposition, and a design that the planning board found perfectly appropriate, it sailed through the review process, and approval was granted in January 2017. In something of a rarity for city projects, no zoning variance was required. 210 Linden fits the maximum length, width and building lot coverage allowed under the Collegetown Area Form District’s CR-4 zoning, and comes in at or just under the 45-foot height maximum – the sites are sloped, and the 45′ height is defined as the average above grade plane. Exterior finishes includes stucco at basement level, a couple shades of grey fiber cement lap siding above, red doors, metal balconies and natural wood trim.

There were virtually no design changes from beginning to end – the only noticeable change was that the doors were moved from the left side of the balcony/terrace to the right. The project was a fraternal twin to another infill development Visum has planned, 126 College Avenue. One has to give credit to the architect, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, for being able to provide cost-efficient and well-received designs.

A frequent partner of VDG, William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton, is the general contractor. Right now, only the demolition and foundation excavation have been completed. Once the power lines have been buried out front by NYSEG, construction of the building can begin. The intent is to have the building completed in time for Cornell’s 2018-19 academic year, which starts in late August. Elmira Savings Bank gave VDG a $3.15 million construction loan in July to complete the project.

As one might expect with new units less than two blocks from Collegetown’s core, the cost per room is not cheap. Advertisements online say $5,000/month, or $1,250 per month per bedroom. Units come with 9′ ceilings, air conditioning, internet/cable, stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, washer/dryer in-unit, balconies, and a security system, among other bullet points and exclamation points. A fitness room and other luxury amenities will be accessible to tenants at another Visum project, 232-236 Dryden Road.





400-404 & 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 10/2017

18 10 2017

Framing is up to the top floor of the former Chapter House property at 400-404 Stewart Avenue. The plywood ZIP Panels appear to switch from the roofing variety to standard walls on the top floor and for the recessed entrance on the ground floor, and this probably has to do with the finishing materials. The ZIP panels have slightly different thicknesses. The thinner ones in green are used with fiber cement, and wood or asphalt shingle finishes. The top floor of the Chapter House is supposed to finished with asphalt shingles, according to planning docs. The lower two floors with the red ZIP panels will be faced with brick (Redland Heritage, the same brick used with 210 Hancock’s commercial building). The north wall has already been coated in waterproof spray foam, which will protect the frame from the porous brick veneer. It looks like some interior framing and roughs-ins are underway on the lower floors. Next door, the slab foundation for the new apartment building at 406 Stewart Avenue has been poured and cured, and framing work appears to be starting on the above-ground levels.

Along with local firms Taitem Engineering (overall civil and structural engineering, with emphasis on energy efficiency) and Elwyn & Palmer (civil and structural engineering with emphasis on geotechnical work and foundations), a New Hampshire company called “Overlook Construction Consultants” identifies itself as a project partner, but their online presence is nearly nothing. Jason K. Demarest is the architect for both buildings.

Project description and background here.





News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





News Tidbits 9/16/17: The Big Surprise

16 09 2017

1. Ostensibly, the biggest newsmaker of the past week was the announcement of the Green Street redevelopment in Ithaca’s downtown core. To be frank, I was freaking out at my desk. Even more astounding was that the city slipped it out so casually, embedding it in a monthly PEDC meeting file that typically focuses on more mundane legal and planning concerns.

All photos that follow are from Jolene – pardon the marginal quality, we were both in note-taking mode, and these presentation papers weren’t given out to the public. North is towards the top of the floor plan images.

While the documents have yet to be uploaded to the city’s website, some basic details were released during the meeting – the number of parking spaces for the whole complex is 525. There would be two towers with residential units, a U-shaped west tower and a boxy east tower with projecting corners. 15 floors apiece. 350 units, “designed to appeal to a broad demographic”. Abatement likely, with the details to be ironed out as the percentage of affordable units is determined. The middle portion will also have residential units on top of the existing garage. 30,000 SF of conference space is planned under the eastern tower, if my notes are right.

The first floor appears to have at least two retail spaces, a lobby area, and an office, probably for management of the complex. The middle section will retain access to Cinemapolis and the garage. On levels two and three would be rebuilt garage sections (note the center section was rebuilt ten years ago and unlike the ends, is in good shape). Another floor of parking will be added.

Cooper Carry is the architect, and the initial design looks fairly safe, attractive if not particularly inspired. After the Marriott, it’s good to be wary of potential value engineering. It appears to use brick veneer, Nichiha-like metal panels and maybe fiber cement. Also, with Harold’s Square and City Centre off to the left, this would arguably create a broad-shouldered if stubby skyline for downtown Ithaca, more impressive than many communities Ithaca’s size.

My notes are that Marriott co-developer Jeff Rimland had non-public information about the Green Street garage because he owns the ground facilities under the garage’s eastern deck, and would be impacted by renovations. He was made aware of city looking at their options and put something together. The city only learned about the plan four weeks ago, and mayor Myrick wanted to make sure it was brought forward for public discussion and to determine if it was a wise choice to move froward. Ostensibly, if this came out as a surprise, a hornet’s nest of opposition would be stinging. Being transparent now helps later.

It seems the intent is an RFP for the garage for the sake of fairness, but I dunno how effective that will be. Rimland has a big advantage as owner of a portion of the parcel, since any other developer would need to arrange legal agreements with him in order to carry out a project. It was suggested by Brock, who has never been a fan of development, and I cynically wonder if this was an attempt to ensnare or at least stall the proposal. An RFP does put the city in a more legally comfortable position, perhaps. On the flip side, I cringe at the thought of another Old Library-like mess.

On a final note, there’s also a name, seen in the lower right of the rendering – “Village on the Green”. Very punny guys.


2. The other big news item of the week was 311 College Avenue, more commonly referred to as “The Nines replacement”. The Nines is a much-loved restaurant and bar that has long been a part of Collegetown’s drinking and musical scene – in the late 2000s, if I had to describe Collegetown bars, where Johnny O’s was the “fratty frat” bar and Chapter House the erudite tweed-clothed crowd, The Nines was the laidback, indie band geek-turned-rocker. Add in its location in a ca. 1908 fire station, and one of the few sizable outdoor patios in Collegetown, and one can understand that a project on this site was never going to be warmly received.

Granted, I’ve been raked over the coals a couple of times for the article, whose first headline said The Nines was being kicked out. It was an honest copy-editing mistake. For breaking news I publish ASAP, like with the Green Street development. However, that’s discouraged because the business pieces are useful for filling slow periods during the day, or to give time for others to prep articles during the early morning. Many of my articles are written in the late evening, submitted to the schedule, and skimmed through before hitting the website. In this case, I submitted Sunday night, my editor Jolene read through it early Monday morning, she thought the opening lines implied an eviction and changed the title (the original was a generic “Apartments Proposed for The Nines”). Sometimes title get changed for clarity or Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but this particular time it created a false statement. I didn’t see it until I was at work on Monday, and uncomfortable conversations ensued. Sorry all. The next article won’t wax poetic.

Anyway, with that error noted, it makes this next opinion segment more uncomfortable. I’m not a developer. But if I were one, and heard the property was being put up for sale, I’d probably have steered clear. With all due respect to Todd Fox, my gut feeling is that the cons outweigh the pros.

Ithaca is not an easy city to do a project in. A developer has to pick and choose their battles. In this case, the battle is taking a building with some degree of historic value, but more importantly a lot of local sentiment attached, and proposing to replace it with, frankly, a mediocre design with high-end student units. I understand the economics of the site, the market, and the unfortunate though economically necessary impacts building flush to lot lines has on the ability to install windows on the sides. My concern is external impacts, by creating an emblem for opposition to organize around, because it wraps several perceptibly negative impacts into one proposal. That may make future projects that much more difficult. I worry that whenever a controversial plan is brought forth in years ahead, it will be pejoratively described by NIMBY types as “just like that Nines replacement”.

It has taken years for Ithacans to become slowly more amenable to density and development. Proposals that inadequately address community concerns threaten that progress. Consider the case of Jason Fane. He toyed with the city plenty of times. Eventually it caught up to him and he got burned. The sad part is, 130 East Clinton was a solid project, and to this day I believe that had it been another developer, those apartments would have been built.

Anyway, the ILPC would like to preserve it as-is, which draws the question why the discussion never moved forward 18 months ago when they had the chance. I don’t think that’s likely at this stage, and an overbuild probably wouldn’t work due to development costs (foundation shoring, elevator if 4+ floors) with respect to developable area – the big front yard setback is an impediment to that. I heard that an offer was floated to Neil Golder to move his house at one point during the 201 debate, so maybe moving all or at least the front (1908 wing) of the old station No. 9 is possible, but the expense would be great. As for the new building’s design, maybe modest fixed windows in the north/south brick faces, or glass block features like on Sharma’s 307 design, or even something as minor as a mural on the CMU blocks would help.

But, all that might be grasping at straws. This was always going to be controversial. I won’t fault someone for seeing an opportunity, even if it’s not a plan I’d advocate. It all depends on one’s appetite for development opportunities, and sensitivity to potential blowback.

3. For sale: 405 Elmira Road. 0.74 acres of parking lot next to Buttermilk Falls Plaza. List price: $465,000, courtesy of Pyrmaid Brokerage. Also noting – the chain hotelier who bought the former Tim Horton’s next door from the same seller for $640k in January 2016. Timmy Ho’s 0.75 acres is a little small for a hotel on its own, but combined with this lot, suddenly plans start to look quite viable for a mid-sized chain in the city’s suburban-friendly SW-2 zoning. Someone else may come along and buy it, but let’s see what happens.

4. It appears the 24-unit Pineridge Cottages project is off the table. The project, planned for the corner of Mineah and Dryden Roads in Dryden town, was greatly scaled back by developer Ryzward Wawak after water tests led to concerns about having enough to supply all the units. At this time, the plan is for four cottages, each a two-bedroom unit.

5. The Times’ Matt Butler has a nice summary and brief interview with Lakeview Health CEO Harry Merriman regarding the 60-unit affordable housing plan for 709-713 West Court Street. Some of the obstacles the project faced wouldn’t be a surprise to readers of this blog – the soils require a more expensive deep (pile) foundation, and land acquisition costs are climbing, which increases the overall costs involved with bringing a proposal into reality, let alone a plan that focuses on affordable housing. The increase in units from 50 to 60 was driven by the need to balance out revenue with expenditures and make the affordable housing economically feasible. Incremental cost increases per unit are significantly less than overall structural costs, so the per-unit expense for 60 units is less than 50, making the project more appealing in competitive grant processes.

Of the 22 units to be set aside for formerly homeless individuals, six will be reserved for HIV-positive clients of STAP, the Southern Tier Aids Programs. Those infected with HIV tends to experience much higher homelessness rates than the general population, with at least 81 homeless HIV-positive individuals in Tompkins County alone. This makes it hard to do things like refrigerate medication. These six units are a small number perhaps, but for those six folks it will make a huge difference.

6. Another feather in the cap of the local STEM sector of the economy. Biotech startup Jan Biotech Inc., based out of the Cornell Business Park by the airport, has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) that will be used in the research and production of an HIV diagnostic for detection and quantification of latent HIV-infected reservoirs in patients –  cells that have the virus but aren’t actively producing HIV, which current anti-retroviral therapies struggle with. Potentially, the diagnostic could help test new medicines for their ability to target those cells, and lead to a true cure for the virus before AIDS can occur.

Along with new equipment and renovated facilities, the grant is expect to result in the hiring of another 5 to 10 scientists and engineers for the four-person firm. Which is great, but truly, it’s their work to try and improve our treatment and medicine of a deadly virus that’s more important. The very best of luck to them.

7.  A bit of news from the Cornell Daily Sun regarding the additional 2,000 beds Cornell would like to build on its North Campus, as part of its freshman expansion and “Sophmore Village” plan. The university would like to begin construction on the first dorms in 2018, and start increasing student enrollment by 2020. For that to happen, the plans pretty much need to come forward for formal planning board review within the next few months. Presumably, they’d like to have the dorms ready by August 2019 – these will be used as flex space initially, so that existing dorms like Balch and Clara Dickson can start renovation. At a bare minimum, it takes three months to go through the city planning board. Given this project’s proximity to Cayuga Heights, the local patricians will want to have their say as well, even if it is just outside village lines. With the size of the project and a minor amount of inter-municipal complexity, four months from sketch plan to approval seems realistic. Considering the need to request and award contract bids, it would seem plausible that Cornell puts the dorms forward this fall for review, with approval expected by late winter. Bids would be requested and awarded during the Spring, and construction would start by June. Whatever the case, the first construction plans are likely not far off.





News Tidbits 8/21/17: Insert Eclipse Pun Here

21 08 2017

1. Quite the sight in the latest Tiny Timbers update. The nascent kit-based homebuilder plans to roll out several new designs, many of which will be incorporated into the 15-unit Varna project on the corner of Dryden and Freese Roads. That brings their total number of home design options up to about 21 or so, in several general styles from four-square to prairie-style to bungalow. It is not clear if the layout will be pre-set at is was with the Belle Sherman Cottages (relatable because STREAM Collaborative designed both), or if it will be left to the buyers.

Tiny Timbers is a bit of a misnomer because the designs are a modest but still sizable 1,000-1,500 square feet, with two or three bedrooms. Prices will be in the mid 100s to low 200s, depending on unit and features. I’d be more inclined to compare them to the starter homes of the 1950s in terms of market appeal and affordability.

Tiny Timbers has yet to get permission to start marketing for the community (the state needs to sign off on all new Home Owner Associations), but marketing has started for some scattered site development on Hector Street in Ithaca’s West Hill, and there is work underway on a few custom builds for landowners in other parts of the county.

2. Last week was not a good showing for the Inn at Taughannock. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals denied the lot variances, the heights variances and even the sign variances. The only one they outright permitted was the height variance to allow a rooftop cupola on the existing inn. The sign variance is kinda weird, because it sounds like they were okay with some individual signs, but not the sum of parts, so they’re doing another meeting.

While this isn’t what owner/developer Carl Mazzocone was hoping for, there were alternative plans drafted that did present an alternative design that, while the same style, fit within the zoning parameters. So this is a setback, but this project isn’t off the table yet.

3. Sure, most readers outside the Cornell bubble avoid Collegetown like the plague, but it’s worth noting when new businesses are coming in. Old Mexico, the restaurant that replaced Manos Diner in Southwest Ithaca, will be opening a modest to-go operation at 119 Dryden Road (Collegetown Plaza) in what used to be a barbershop (at least in my time in the late 2000s). Meanwhile, where the Collegetown tobacco shop used to be at 221 Dryden (Collegetown Center), will now be a “Chinese street food” restaurant called Beijing Jianbing. Best of luck to both. At least restaurants aren’t being driven out of business by the internet anytime soon.

4. In the same vein, it was noted a few weeks ago that a $415,000 construction loan was filed for Hancock Plaza, the strip retail plaza at the corner of Hancock and Third Streets in Ithaca’s Northside. A quick check showed an interior renovation underway with new metal stud walls and sheet-rock going in, and the somewhat uncertain workers said that the storefront next to Istanbul restaurant would be a “medical service facility”.

5. Earlier this month, it was mentioned that a 4.5 acre parcel at 452 Floral Avenue in Ithaca was sold to a local homebuilder for $100,000. Now he’s trying to flip it. The asking price is $239,000. The tax assessment is $68,400.

The real estate ad notes the potential of an R-3a zone, which allows for homes, townhouses, small apartments and small-scale commercial with a special permit. The zoning permits four floors and 35% lot coverage, with a minimum of 5,000 SF per lot for a home, plus incremental increases for additional units.

On a side note, with thanks to the city for uploading about 470 documents from the IURA’s microfilm stash, here’s what the 1992 affordable for-sale proposal looked like for that same property. There appear to be 27 home lots, but a few may have been designed for accessory or two-family units. This gives an idea of what could reasonably be done under the existing zoning, but there are many possibilities.

Side note, I found this by chance. If anyone has time to pick through 470 documents from the 1960s to 2000, more power to you.

6. Also for sale, to the deep-pocketed investor looking for a safe investment – multiple East Hill apartment houses. 5-unit 119 Stewart Avenue for $995,000, a two-family home at 208 Stewart Avenue for $695,000, and $2.25 million for a 23-bed (20 SRO, 1 studio, 1 2-bedroom) property at 717 East Buffalo Street. The Stewart Avenue properties are owned by a Long Island-based LLC representing a higher ed professional now located in Massachusetts, and were purchased just a few years ago – 119 for $625k in 2014, and 208 for $513k in 2012. 717 East Buffalo was purchased by a Brooklyn investment group in 2003, and is taxed at $1.05 million. The positive is that they’re close enough to Cornell to easily take advantage of the student market. The negative is that they are all in the East Hill Historic District, which means redevelopment is off the table, and exterior renovations have to go through the ILPC.

7. Pretty slow month for the Planning Board. Finger Lakes ReUse is seeking preliminary approval for their expansion project and final approval for the warehouse portion. 709 West Court Street, the 60-unit affordable project from Lakeview, will have its DEIS finalized, potentially allowing for city approval in September. There are no new projects though, unless one counts the six-bedroom duplex at 217 Columbia, which is so minor from the state’s perspective that it only qualifies for city review. The Times is reporting that O’Connor is willing to prohibit student tenants, but permanent residents are still opposed to new student housing in their neighborhood.

There could be some interesting discussion at the meeting, not only with South Hill development, but with historic preservation matters. For instance, Student Agencies is upset that they city is likely to landmark its building at 413-415 College Avenue, which it says it had intent on redeveloping. Unfortunately, timing is everything. Likewise, the shoe is on the other foot with the Nines at 307 College Avenue, for which there has been an unpublished sketch plan of a redevelopment project. The ILPC is expressing frustration that it wasn’t landmarked already, but with the development plans already presented, the city would be acting reactively instead of proactively as it’s doing on College Avenue, and that could make the difference if a legal situation were to arise. So while the Chacona Block is likely safe and soon to be under ILPC purview, the Nines will not be protected for as long as the redevelopment plan is active, and the best the ILPC can do is recommendations.

Here’s tomorrow’s agenda:

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 – Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartment 6:10

Location: 214 Elmira Road

Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary Approval Overall & Final Site Plan Approval for Phase 1

Project Description:

The applicant proposes to expand the existing office and retail center with a new +/- 26,100sf
attached 4-story mixed-use building to include retail, office, and 22 units of transitional housing fronting Elmira Road. A 7,435 SF covered outdoor inventory building and a 600 SF pavilion are also proposed. The new parking and loading layout will reduce the number of curb cuts on Elmira road from 5 to 2 and provide 70 parking spaces. An improved sidewalk will be constructed to provide a safer link between the existing pedestrian bridge that connects the Titus Tower property to Elmira Road. The building will have landscaped entrances facing Elmira Road and these will be connected to the new building entrances giving residents and patrons arriving on foot direct access to the street. The project site is in the B-5 Zoning District and has received the required area variance. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (I), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.
Ed. note – the first phase is the warehouse addition for lumber storage. Phase 2 is the supportive apartments.

B. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:30

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:

The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 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 contain 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.

C. Project: Duplex 6:50

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Public Hearing

 

 

Project Description:

The applicant is proposing to install a modular duplex with one 3-bedroom apartment on each floor. The new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5 C.(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (C)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

 

 

  1. Zoning Appeals 7:20
  2. Old/New Business 7:30
    1. A. 412 East State Street – review and sign off on Argos Inn shared parking agreement with 418 East State Street.
    2. B. PB Report on Proposed Local Landmark Designation of 403 College Avenue and 411-415 College Avenue . There will be a short presentation by Scott Whitham regarding 411-413 College Avenue.
    3. C. Development Patterns of South Hill – Discussion
  1. Reports from PB Chair, Director of Planning and Development, and BPW Liaison 8:00
  2. Approval of previous minutes
  3. Adjournment




209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 8/2017

19 08 2017

The Breazzano Center is occupied, so for practical purposes this project is complete. The interior and exterior finish work is wrapping up (interior moldings, some cosmetic exterior panels), and it looks like the new street seating, curbing and bike racks are in – the development team may hold off on plantings until next spring, depending on how well the project team thinks the new landscaping will grow in to its new environment, and by extension, its ability to withstand the winter months.

The interior is relatively dramatic for an office and academic building. There’s lots of natural light thanks to the glass curtain wall, the natural wood paneling gives it a warmer look, and the lighting underneath the staircases in the multistory atrium is a nice touch. If I have any interior critique, it’s that there’s so much transparent glass and bright light, it can feel a little disorienting, creating a feeling of space that makes the 76,000 SF building seem much larger than it is. Some of the breakout rooms and one of the tiered large-group classrooms are also included in the photos below.

The exterior is a big change of pace from the CMU-faced residential buildings (much of it from Jagat Sharma’s hand) that define much of Collegetown. The glass curtain wall is unique, for the time being. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the aluminum panels on the sides and rear, though I recognize the cost utility provided, and necessary protection of certain interior spaces like the broadcast studio on the fourth floor.

Speaking to some construction workers on-site (the same ones who kindly gestured me to go in and take a look), they were uncertain when construction would start on Novarr’s complementary 24-unit apartment building at 238 Linden Avenue next door. But a timeline from April suggests next month, with completion next summer. That sounds reasonable – finish with one building, transition immediately to the next. Work on Novarr’s 119-125 College Avenue townhouse project has yet to start either; it appears to be a makeshift parking lot for construction crews and company trucks.

Overall, it seems the recent work in this part of Collegetown and Ithaca is a net positive. With projects like the Breazzano, 238 Linden and Dryden South, within just a few years, a corner of Ithaca that once housed a few student-oriented businesses and mostly-rundown/vacant apartments will have been replaced with dozens of beds, office space for hundreds of Cornell staff, and classrooms for deep-pocketed students who visit for only a few weeks a year. Plus, it adds up to an additional $15 million or so in taxable property (and that’s accounting for the reduction as a result of the Tompkins County IDA PILOT agreement).  There’s a clear financial benefit to Collegetown business owners and to the city. Add an aesthetic bonus point for removing the power poles and shifting moving the electrical utilities underground.

The $15.9 million project will be 100% occupied by Cornell on a 50-year lease. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse is the general contractor.

Before:

After:

 

The wording on these sheets conjures images of a stuffy, tense maître d’ addressing his staff.





Schwartz Plaza Construction Update, 8/2017

18 08 2017

Cornell’s modest but useful renovation of Schwartz Plaza has made significant progress. Gone are the walls that kept the sunken plaza cloistered from passerby, and in its place are stone seats and durable granite setts, for what ideally serves as a visible, attractive public gathering space in Collegetown’s dense quarters. Ornamental grasses will be planted between the seats, and from the renders, it looks like recessed LED light poles will be added as well.

Wood benches will be installed on a granite base below the steel trusses of the far wall, and some of the stone seatings on the near/eastern side will be overlaid with wood benches as well. Hopefully the marble columns get a thorough cleaning; after a few decades, it could use a good scrub. New ornamental bushes and vines will be planted along the trusses and against the back wall of the sunken “forecourt”.

Originally, this was supposed to be done in time for classes, but that seems unlikely at this point. A September finish is likely a fair estimate.