119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 10/2019

10 11 2019

Probably the last update for this one. All that’s left is some landscaping, at least until the power lines are buried. Definitely one of the stranger projects I’ve covered. Practically no online presence apart from city documents and what I’ve written for the Voice and here. As far as I’m aware, these are just privately-owned Cornell faculty apartments.

“John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s latest Collegetown development appears to be in the home stretch. The glass and steel facade is basically complete, the concrete entry stairs have been poured and cured, and railings, trim and other exterior finish work is ongoing. Interestingly, these appear to come pre-furnished. Peering inside the windows, unopened mattresses were laid out on new frames and tables and chairs had been stocked in the apartment units.

Part of the reason for that might be the intended market – during the approvals process, the project team stated that the 67 units of rental housing geared towards Cornell visiting faculty and researchers. Reasonably, many of those folks would arrive in Ithaca with little in the way of furniture, and given the relatively short appointments for visiting faculty and staff (a year typically, maybe two), it would make sense to offer units pre-furnished. It would also probably explain why these units aren’t advertised online. Welliver and their partners should have the apartments ready for their first tenants by the end of this year.”

A history of the project can be found here.





119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 8/2019

6 08 2019

Novarr and Proujansky’s 67-unit apartment project is coming along on College Avenue. The four-story buildings are fully framed, sheathed with gypsum panels, and coated in a waterproof barrier. Atop the barrier, the construction team is attaching steel clips and rails that will be used to attach the fiber cement and zinc panels, both of which are a similar hue to those at the 238 Linden project. Red corrugated metal accents along the window frame give the project some visual interest, as do the curvaceous steel-framed window bump-outs.The stainless steel panel at the front will host the building address number and highlight the main entrances. These mimic townhouses from the front and the buildings were more townhouse-like before the changes in the fire code rendered the old design unusable, but they’re essentially traditional apartment buildings with a design twist.

Many but not all of the windows have been fitted, and interior buildout (mechanical/electrical/plumbing rough-ins) is underway. The specialty blue tape around the just-installed windows helps to seal off any potential gaps between the building structure and the aluminum frame. You can catch a glimpse of it in the photos, but the top level of the interior courtyard-facing walls have a glass curtain wall. This project seems to be on track towards its expected late January completion.

More information about the project can be found here.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 5/2019

6 08 2019

It appears John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s housing project on Collegetown’s Linden Avenue is practically complete, and this will be its last post on the blog. The fiber cement and zinc panels are in place, the landscaping is nearly complete, and the inside is furnished – someone’s kitchen gets a lofty direct view of the street below. Oddly enough, this project has virtually no online presence, not even to advertise rentals. Granted, Executive MBA students are a very niche market, but if it weren’t for the approvals process, it would be as if this project didn’t exist. Even then, there have been major design changes since approval.

In a Facebook post, general contractor Hayner Hoyt states the project still contains 24 studio housing units, but geared towards Cornell faculty and staff. I honestly don’t know who the target market is, it may have changed from MBA students to visiting faculty and staff like its counterpart the College Townhouse at 119-125 College Avenue.

The architect is ikon.5 of Princeton, with local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture serving as the project team representatives, and T.G. Miller P.C. providing the civil engineering work. Background information about the project can be found here.





News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 3/2019

22 03 2019

Like 119-125 College Avenue, 238 Linden is being designed by ikon.5 Architects, With similar aesthetics and structural design (and more than a passing similarity to the 2,000 bed Cornell North Campus dormitory expansion, which has the same development team) looking at this project is essentially like looking at the next steps for its larger sibling a couple blocks away. However, while 119-125 College Avenue uses Welliver as its general contractor, Hayner Hoyt is in charge of buildout for the 238 Linden site, with several subcontractors on site (for example, the roofing is being done by Hale Contracting of Horseheads). Like its sister building, this project has no online presence apart from what was documented by the city or reported by the Voice and Times.

Interestingly, the window frames protrude from the wall rather then sitting flush with the set opening. The waterproof barrier is on over the gypsum panels, and the metal rails for the fiber cement and zinc panels are in the process of being installed on the north and west faces.

It was clear at first glance that the footprint of the building is markedly different, and the fenestration is nothing like the approved renders at the bottom of the post – there are fewer windows overall, and honestly I’m not sure if the building footprint was reduced in size. It was supposed to be 24 studio units, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were only eighteen now. There was no public reviews for these changes, and these are by no means minor tweaks. The line between a large new construction project redesign requiring board re-approval, and a redesign only needing staff approval is rather murky.

A history and overall description of the 238 Linden Avenue project can be found here.





119-125 College Avenue (College Townhouses) Construction Update, 3/2019

21 03 2019

No recent online presence for John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s 119-125 College Avenue project, the College Townhouses (which, as covered in the summary page, were townhouse-like until the fire code was changed). The south building is fully framed, a steel frame with gympsum sheathing, a more expensive design but also fireproof. The north building is framed up to the first-floor (the basement is partially above-grade), but the elevator core is topped out, and Welliver’s construction team planted left their mark with an American flag perched at the top. If it’s like it’s neighboring a couple blocks away, the sheathing will get a roll-on waterproof barrier, and perhaps metal rails and clips for installation of fiber cement and zinc panels.

The project, intended for visiting Cornell faculty and staff (so far, there are no online apartment postings to support of refute that plan) will bring 67 units/90 bedrooms to the market, and still looks to be on track for an August 2019 opening.

Quick aside – is everyone clear that it’s Novarr and Proujansky who are planning that Collegetown megaproject? There are so many rumors flying around that even the beat cops are asking my editor at the Voice about it. The project has been delayed twice, but is supposed to make an appearance before the city Planning Committee next month.

There have been some very scary rumors about this project, and one of the big problems right now is that these rumors aren’t being refuted because everything is “a secret”, no one really knows what the truth is. Only JoAnn Cornish, the city Planning Director, has been willing to put anything on the record, and even then it was just a brief description. Since January, this project has managed to be the worst-kept development secret in Tompkins County, which arguably Novarr and Proujansky could try to blame on the mayor for his State of the City address, but really if they had wanted him to not say something, they would have said something to him or said something themselves. I give Newman Development and Scott Whitham a lot of credit for “taking the bull by the horns” and issuing a press release about City Centre before rumors could circulate. I think this project would have benefited from a similar approach.

It’d be one thing if it was a relatively modest proposal. If we were talking about 119-125 College Avenue, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. But with this megaproject being described as a $600 million endeavor, there are multiple real estate and related business decisions around the city and county that are in a holdover pattern because everyone’s heard about “John and Phil’s plans” but no one knows what’s going on, not to mention community groups fearing the worst. We’ll see if the big reveal gets delayed again, but for a lot of reasons, I really hope not.





News Tidbits 3/11/19

12 03 2019

1. The city of Ithaca and The Vecino group have come to a tentative agreement. The two have been negotiating since entering into a 90-day Exclusive Negotiating Agreement at the end of last year. While Vecino is still looking at the financial models for the conference center space, it appears that the city is ready to move forward with a formal agreement to be voted on by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and the Common Council, and then to have the building plans reviewed by the Planning Board, and then the sale of the property to be brokered by the IURA and agreed to by the Common Council. If approval is granted in good order and state funding is obtained (Vecino is pursuing 4% low income housing tax credits, vs. the more competitive 9% variety), then construction could start on the $95 million mixed-use project by late 2020.

2. GreenStar will be asking the IURA for a $400,000 loan to assist in the construction of their new flagship location at 770 Cascadilla Avenue. It does not seem to be related to their construction woes, as the initial paperwork was filed in January, but it makes for rather awkward timing. The loan is likely to be approved without significant reservation thanks to GreenStar’s reputation and the promise of dozens of living wage jobs, though the IURA is unhappy with what is described as “weak collateral”, and it has some concerns with GreenStar’s ability to fundraise.

Important note – the paperwork mentions one of GreenStar’s funding sources will be the buyer of the current Space A Greenstar at 700 West Buffalo Street, who so happens to be “the owner of the Cascadilla Street property”. This buyer will pay $2 million for the building when GreenStar moves out in early 2020.

At first glance, one might think that’s Guthrie. But Guthrie transferred ownership of the parcel to “Organic Nature LLC” last month. Organic Nature LLC is a company owned by the project team building City Harbor. In short, the City Harbor developers are buying the Space @ Greenstar, and likely have plans for the property.

3. If you’re an urban planner – and I hope this blog is interesting to you if you are – the IURA is issuing a request for qualifications for a parking study. The project will include three major tasks: analysis of the current parking system; determination of possible scenarios of programs and actions for the future direction of the parking system that are financially sustainable; and preparation of a strategy and an implementation plan, with estimated costs and a schedule. TLDR; look at existing operations, describe future directions (ten year period), make parking-related recommendations and implementation recommendations. Knowledge of transportation demand management and experience with designing strategic initiatives to handle parking needs will be a big plus. Submission packets due April 12th to Director of Parking Pete Messmer, more info at the end of the agenda packet here.

4. Quick note – the North Campus housing proposed by Cornell was modified slightly at the request of city boards. The new design adds “break points” in the facade to activate the central wings of the buildings and make the building masses seem less imposing. The general massing and material choices remain unchanged.

5. Mid-sized Collegetown landlords Greg and Mataoula Halkiopoulos (of Matoula’s Houses) have decided to renovate a decrepit 19th century carriage house at the rear of their property at 214 Eddy Street, and turn it into a three-bedroom, 839 SF rental. 214 Eddy is in the East Hill Historic District, so the design, by local architect John Barradas, will need to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. It looks like a practical renovation, respectful of the carriage house’s form but also with a modern touch. Early Design Guidance will be offered at the March ILPC meeting, and any decisions on a Certificate of Appropriateness are still a few months out.

6. There have been some major changes to the Perdita Flats plan at 402 Wood Street. Previous version here. For one, it now has frontage on Fair Street and will have a Fair Street address. The building and garden have been re-positioned, the footprint reduced slightly (38’x36′ to 36’x36′), larger porch, modified exterior cladding materials, and the driveway has been removed at the Planning Board’s suggestion. The building remains 4 units and 7 bedrooms, and STREAM Collaborative penned the redesign.

The wood shiplap siding and standing-seam black metal siding are a bit of an acquired taste, especially with the wood oiled or left to grey naturally. But the house is still planning to be a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing, and that’s the real statement to developers (Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt) are trying to make. The owners will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.