409 College Avenue (Student Agencies eHub) Construction Update, 10/2016

17 10 2016

With all these Collegetown projects wrapping up over the past few months, I may need to re-balance my update schedule. The Student Agencies renovation is complete and eHub has opened. I intended to take a few interior photos, but the staff on the first floor were tied up with several other visitors, so I moved on to the next site.

I think the real benefit to this project isn’t so much the renovation as those who are occupying it. eHub is meant to encourage student entrepreneurs. They may migrate to Rev, they may be successful and grow their business locally, adding local jobs and helping to diversify the local economy beyond meds and eds.

For example, the tech startup Rosie was launched in 2012 by Cornell students, and was housed in eHub’s eLab space. After they graduated, the founders migrated to Rev, and have since migrated to office space on the Commons. Today, the company employs 21 people locally (26 total), with more hires planned. Another eHub “grad”, FiberSpark, has stayed local and provides the fastest internet service in Ithaca. Not all the companies are successful, and not all the successful companies stay in Ithaca. But if even a portion of them survive and thrive here, than that’s a real asset for the community. I look forward to seeing what an expanded program will cultivate.

20161007_155339 20161007_155357 20161007_155416

205 Dryden (Dryden South) Construction Update, 10/2016

16 10 2016

205 Dryden is practically finished from the outside. There may still be some work on interior finishes for spaces like the basement gym. It appears that the decorative pre-cast concrete crown has been modified, so that of a slightly projecting cornice, the crown is flat. That might be the result of value engineering, the rush to have the building finished, or both. The exterior wall facing the College/Dryden intersection might seem a bit stark, but chances are, that corner will be the site of its own construction project at some point in the near future. Photos of the furnished rooms can be found on the project’s website here.

20161007_155245 20161007_155313 20161007_160313


News Tidbits 10/15/16: Stoops and Stumbles, Growth and Gables

15 10 2016


1. The Maguire proposal for Carpenter Business Park will be heading to the Common Council next month, but the prognosis isn’t good. The city council’s Planning Committee voted 4-0 to say that the proposal didn’t fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for the near-Waterfront property – the plan calls for walkable, urban mixed-uses, preferably with residential components. The discussion wasn’t unanimous in its logic – 2nd Ward Councilmen Nguyen and Murtagh were stronger adherents to the plan, while the 1st Ward’s Cynthia Brock doesn’t think housing is appropriate – but they all disagreed with the multi-brand car dealership plan as-is. Maguire has asked for a delay in vote so that the plan could be tweaked, but the Committee voted to move forward.

Because of the 18-month TMPUD in place, the Common Council has to vote to approve all projects in the waterfront area, so the resolution to decline further review of the project will be voted on at the next non-budget Council meeting. It will not be unanimous – the 3rd Ward’s Donna Fleming wrote a letter of support for the project, and the 1st Ward’s George McGonigal voiced support for the concept though not this particular plan. But the chances of approval are pretty slim at this point.


2. Judging from the site photos John Novarr’s project team sent along, it looks like environmental remediation has already commenced at the site of his faculty townhouse project at 119-125 College Avenue in Collegetown. 121 College, in particular, is already in the early stages of remediation. It’s a pretty extensive photo documentation, one that might have to do with historic preservation aspects, like determining what can be salvaged and reused. It’s pretty clear that the properties, which were recently acquired from an Endicott-based landlord who held the properties for decades, are in rough shape. Novarr seems to have a preference for prepping sites before plans are approved (ex. 209-215 Dryden), so it’s uncertain how much time these three boarding houses have left.


3. Courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Neighborhood Investment Committee, we get to see a pretty thorough breakdown of the expenses and revenues of an owner-occupied affordable housing project.

The details come as part of INHS’s application for $314,125 in Federal HUD HOME funds, to be used for the 7 for-sale townhouse units included with the 210 Hancock project, collectively called 202 Hancock. The funds would be used to cover soft costs, like project management, engineering and architecture fees, legal fees, and site inspections.


The 202 Hancock project construction cost is estimated at $1,754,860, about $344,000 per unit, or about $198/SF. That’s expensive, but not unusual – 203 Third Street was about $190/SF. The cost is high due to rapidly rising construction costs, and due to federal guidelines and lender specifications, INHS is required to hire contractors with extensive insurance. Add in soft costs and it jumps to $2,408.371.

Now let’s consider the sales. The five two-bedroom units are expected to sell for $130,052 to a household making no more than $38,046. The two three-bedrooms will sell for $164,979, to households making $42,428/year or less. Those incomes don’t meet the rule-of-thumb of 3.4x annual income, but HOME funds cover part of the cost ($24,000 for the 2-bedrooms, $36,000 for the three-bedrooms). INHS gets $960,218 in the project sales – and that’s the same amount Tompkins Trust Company is willing to cover with a construction loan. So the initial gap is $1,448,155. Now we’re starting to see why new housing can be so expensive.

INHS gets $7,000 in revenue from Energy Star rebates on appliances, and has up to $351,153 equity they can put towards the project, most of that being the value the of 202 Hancock’s land. The IURA would issue a low-interest bond for $215,875 to be paid back by INHS, and the non-profit has secured $280,000 in grants directly from the state (NYS AHC), and $280,000 in NYS CDBG funds awarded by local governments (this tactic is known as “subsidy layering“). This complicated puzzle of funding sources is why so many developers are not interested in doing affordable housing.

Side note, one of the pre-development costs is market analysis. Might seem silly, but grant reviewers want proof the housing crisis isn’t just bluster, and that these units won’t sit empty. An analysis by Randall/West determined that at a sale price of $136,000 for a 2-bedroom, and $162,000 for a 3-bedroom, qualified buyers would be found and under contract within 4.6 months. The units should be available for occupancy by June 2017.


Secondly, thanks to a legal settlement between the state and Morgan Stanley, a $4 million affordable housing grant is available for renovations of existing INHS scattered site rentals (98 units in 44 buildings across the city). Most of these units are rented to individuals making 60% or less of the area’s median income (about or less than $32k/yr). The funds would go towards major, long-term renovations, such as new roofs, windows, siding, and energy efficiency improvements. INHS could also use the funds, disbursed via the city, to refinance its portfolio, acquiring some of the properties and paying off $1.8 million in loans on already-purchased properties.

Here’s the short of it – the goal is to buy/pay off the scattered rental sites they manage, renovate and make them energy efficient and comfortable, lock them into the Community Housing Trust so that they become permanently affordable, transfer the land to a wholly-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation, and then sell some of the buildings to an LLC while INHS continues as property manager. The funds from sales would finance new affordable housing. This is all set up as it is to take advantage of legal and tax benefits of different corporate tax structures, while minimizing the drawbacks. Potentially, the Morgan Stanley settlement money could be used to leverage an additional $15 million in tax credits and affordable housing grants from the state.

Correction, per INHS’s Scott Reynolds in the comments section: rentals aren’t in the Community Housing Trust, but affordability would be required for 50 years.

Rochester-based SWBR would be in charge of renovation design plans, and 2+4 Construction will be general contractor. Tenants may need to be relocated as renovations occur, which will be coordinated by INHS staff. The goal is to have the settlement money accepted by the city by the end of the year, financing by April 2017, and renovations completed by the end of 2018.


4. It’s another one of those special meetings – the city Planning Board will be sitting down next Tuesday to go over comments and sort another batch of public comments regarding the Chain Works DEIS, this time on public health. Once you get past the few pages of “this will never work and don’t bother trying”, there’s actually some interesting back and forth about remediation and what that entails. Also on the agenda are revisions to the Holiday Inn Express down in Southwest Ithaca – namely, they’re trying to avoid building the stairs to Spencer Road, as well as some other landscaping issues. At the second meeting later this month, the board is expected to Declare Lead Agency, open public hearings and review parts of the FEAF for TCAction’s Amici House, 8-unit 607 South Aurora, and the 8-story City Centre project on the Trebloc site downtown.


5. The plans for Maplewood have been modified yet again, in a change that the project team hopes will please neighbors and the town of Ithaca planning board. In revised plans submitted this past Wednesday, the 4-story apartment building planned for Mitchell Road has been replaced with a few sets of 2.5 and 3.5-story townhouses and stacked flats, and Building B to its north was extended slightly to compensate for the loss of bedrooms. Even so, the accompanying letter from Scott Whitham states that the unit and bed count have decreased slightly, from 473 units and 887 beds, to 442 units and 872 beds.

maplewood_v7_2 maplewood_v7_3

Also modified was their appearance – stoops, porches, dormers and gable roofs were added to give them a more harmonious appearance with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s not clear if the rest of the units were aesthetically modified as well.

209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 10/2016

14 10 2016

With the rise of the structural steel, 209-215 Dryden Road (aka the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education) is starting to make a significant dent in the Collegetown skyline.

The floorplates are up to the fourth level, and the vertical steel columns indicate just how tall the building will be when the steel skeleton is built out. The concrete floor has been poured on the ground level, and corrugated steel decking has been laid on the upper floors – note that only the first and second floors have reached their full dimensions, the upper floors are waiting for the delivery of additional steel columns and cross beams for the crane to hoist into place. The sheets of wire grid seen outside the fence are for future concrete floor pours, providing strength and rigidity for the concrete, just as rebar does for foundations.

The large gap in the front of the building is the multi-story atrium space – the lower three floors are academic class space, while the upper three floors are academic office functions for the Cornell Executive MBA program. The smaller gap towards the north (right) side is for a stairwell.

Nice touch with the subtle commemoration of 9-11 emergency responders. It’s not uncommon to see these tributes when steel work is underway during the fall.

20161007_154941 20161007_155001 20161007_155014 20161007_155017 20161007_155050 20161007_155054 20161007_155100 20161007_155116 20161007_155139 20161007_155206 20161007_155234 20161007_155255

209-215_2 209-215_basement

News Tidbits 10/8/16: No Rain, But the Money’s Flowing

8 10 2016

1. The Sleep Inn project at 635 Elmira Road went back to the town of Ithaca planning board last Tuesday. The initial write-up looked good – town planners were very pleased with the proposed changes, and the developer, local hotelier Pratik Ahir, proposed two different concepts to the board to see which one they were more comfortable with. The one that the board likes would be finalized in the plans and submitted for final approval later this year. No media were at the meeting, so I do not know which concept they preferred.

Both concepts by HEX 9 Architects attempt to maintain the rustic character that the town seeks to maintain for its part of the Inlet Valley Corridor. Concept one at top uses stone veneer (Elderado Stone), timber trusses, Hardie plank lap siding, and asphalt shingles. This design features balconies on both the front and rear of the building. Concept 2 incorporates a more varied roofline and building face, metal roof panels, stone veneer and a couple different types of Hardie Board. Concept 2 has less timber and no balconies. The town planning department felt that both concepts were unique enough and rustic enough to get its benediction in the SEQR analysis they sent over to the board. The concepts are a big improvement over the rendition we saw in August.

2. Looks like the Canopy Hilton is a go. The project secured a $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union on Friday September 30th. ESL is a new face to the local market – “Eastman Savings and Loan” was founded in Rochester in 1920 to serve employees of former photography giant Eastman Kodak. The 7-story, 131-room hotel is expected to open in Spring 2018.

3. Also funded this week – the second phase of Poet’s Landing out in the village of Dryden. Citibank is lending $7,702,326 to Rochester-based Confier LLC to build the 48 affordable apartment units across the street from Dryden High School, just west of 72-unit phase one. The documents were filed on Tuesday the 4th. The design of the second phase’s will be the same as phase one’s, an eight unit per building design by NH Architecture that is one of Conifer’s standard designs. The total project cost is $10.8 million, with the balance come from state affordable housing grants and tax credits. The build-out is expected to take about a year.


4. So a few news bits about 201 College. The partially-deconstructed house at 201 College is now getting torn down, which had nothing to do with approval, and everything to do with break-ins and safety issues – there was evidence of squatters taking up residence, and the expense of a tear-down is worth avoiding a lawsuit or tragedy. Speaking of which, although a ruling on 201 College has yet to be issued and won’t be for a few weeks, Neil Golder’s lawsuit has already been re-filed. The court hearing is scheduled for December. According to an exchange with my colleague Mike Smith, Fox is planning rowhouses along Bool Street, within a 45-foot height limit but spanning the block, as it seems he has a purchase option on neighboring 202 Linden.


5. According to Nick Reynolds at the Times (yes, he jumped papers), the buildings to be deconstructed for the Harold’s Square project are to be vacated by the end of October. Developer David Lubin plans to start the deconstruction process, which is a little more intensive and lengthier than a typical demolition, in November. Things have been complicated by the city’s decision to forego the project in the Restore NY grant application, where the $500,000 was allocated to pay for demolition, and must now be sourced from elsewhere. Once secured, the plan is to file for the permit, and by law they have up to 30 days to start deconstruction from the day the permit is issued. Construction should go for about 18 months, once the site is cleared.

607_s_aurora_2 607_s_aurora_1

6. The 8-unit 607 South Aurora project will be seeking “Declaration of Lead Agency” at the Planning Board meeting, and materials have been filed with the city. Project narrative here, SPR application here, drawings here. The big changes since sketch plan were sidewalk and parking lot revisions, and rotating Building D to establish harmony with Hillview Place. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million and aims for a construction timeline of March to September 2017. This is the next incremental step up for Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals, whose M.O. is to quietly pursue modestly-sized infill projects in less dense parts of the city (ex. the two duplexes planned for 312-314 Old Elmira). In a change of pace, the staff of Sharma Architecture are the designers this time around.


7. From the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, the new two-family house at 123 Eddy Street has been granted zoning variances. Expect the Sharma-designed two-unit, six-bedroom rental property to start construction next year in time for the 2017-18 academic year.

20160918_155855 20160918_155910

6. House of the week. Instead of one underway, this week will show two recent completion. Leading off is this house on West Hill’s Campbell Avenue, built by Carina Construction. This project came up in a weekly roundup back in late May – it’s a $320,000 project per the permit filing with the city, with $280,000 lent by Tompkins Trust. The contrast between the wood trim and the (fiber cement?) siding is a nice touch, as is the two-story porch. Definitely a unique house, and a showcase of just what kind of variety one can do with modular pieces if they’re willing to get creative.

20160918_162315 20160918_162648

Now for house number two. This isn’t a new build, but a very thorough renovation. Every time I take photos, I run into the owners, and normally I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But, given that I’ve run into him twice, he’s familiar enough with me that we’ve had a conversation about his work.


This is in Fall Creek on North Aurora. The couple who own this place moved in from Pennsylvania, they were just starting retirement when the wife’s father was no longer able to take care of it. It had been a duplex, but the other unit was more workshop space. The building was in good shape, but these folks wanted to modernize and refresh it, so they decided to do a to-the-studs renovation, basically turning it into a new home within an existing shell. Fiber cement, wood shingles, a few modern touches (the south bumpout, the unusual gable/shed hybrid dormers), a carriage house, a lot of work went into it over the past year and a half and it shows.

Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 9/2016

29 09 2016

Novarr-Mackesey‘s curvilinear Collegetown Terrace is one of those projects that’s so big, we can see multiple steps of the construction process at once. In general, the further west one goes, the further along the building is. On the east end, the stairwell and elevator shaft stand high above the framing underway. Steel exterior stud walls are being sheathed with plywood with rough openings for windows. Some of the interior steel stud wall framing can be seen as well. In the next section further west, the framing and sheathing are further along, but still a few floors short of the stairwell/shaft. Some structural steel, which separates groups of units, is present as well. The westernmost third is fully framed and mostly sheathed, enough that the maroon-colored waterproof barrier has been applied to the plywood in most places, and windows have been fitted into many of the rough openings.

Continuing west, we come across the “fish scales” – yes, for better or worse, they’re going on Building 7, likely topped by the aluminum metal walls previously seen in Phase II. The side facing thr gorge has the same linear earth-tone facade that is present on Building 5. The westernmost end of the building is not a little further behind, possibly for ease of materials transport, or because of different architectural details that they have yet to bring to the site (based on the rough openings and the sheathed steel, both are plausible). It looks like the southwest corner will host a glass curtain wall section setback from the primary walls, based off of the steel framing.  An early render suggests the common spaces will be clustered along the west end of Building 7. Note that parking will be on the lowermost two floors, with dorm style units on the third floor, and regular apartment units on the upper three floors. The wood forms next to the western stairwell/shaft look to be for a new concrete staircase that will run alongside the west wall.

Montour Falls-based Welliver is in charge of the build-out, and CTT7 should be complete and ready for occupancy by August 2017. Princeton’s ikon.5 Architects are the building designers, and Baltimore’s Floura Teeter the landscape architect. Big league commercial real estate financial lender Walter & Dunlop Inc. provided the $70 million bridge loan.

A quick google search turns up a surprising number of AirBnB hits.

20160918_141746 20160918_141751 20160918_141758 20160918_142023 20160918_142027 20160918_142040 20160918_142046 20160918_142129 20160918_142148 20160918_142409 20160918_142442 20160918_142518 20160918_142738 20160918_142928 20160918_142944 20160918_142952

News Tidbits 9/24/16: The Implicit and the Explicit

24 09 2016


1. Over in the town of Dryden, it looks like Buzz Dolph and STREAM Collaborative’s Tiny Timbers project is up for preliminary approval. The site plan hasn’t changed much, just slight modifications for a dumpster/recycling enclosure and a bus pull-off. However, the home options have been expanded a bit. There will be five options, ranging from a 1-story 525 SF home starting at $99,500, to a 1,050 SF model priced at $184,500. Design specs (flooring, finishes, HVAC) can be found here.

Along with Tiny Timbers, Dolph is planning a similar, smaller project near his house on Quarry Road in Dryden town. That $800,000 project, called “Quarry Ridge Cooperative“, consists of two duplexes (four units), all owner-occupied. The homes will be connected to a shared driveway and carport through breezeways. Back of the envelope calculations suggest these units will be around 1,000 SF each. The 2.26 acres will be collectively owned by the four homeowners.

2. On a related note, another sister project to Tiny Timbers is being prepped for a site on the city’s portion of West Hill. Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.


3. I dunno if I’ve ever seen such strenuous contention between the planning board and the city’s planning department. The planning board’s objected to Zoning Director Phyllis Radke’s determination that the project is legal per the Form District MU-1 Zoning.

The document put forth by John Schroeder and approved by the board rests on the following interpretations:
-in cases where the zoning isn’t explicitly stated in denser zones, it should rely on what is stated in less dense codes, and interpretations of the introductory “purpose and intent” section of the code, which qualifies similarities of form and scale if the numbers and dimensions for facade length aren’t explicitly stated.

-The argument also draws debate towards the unstated but implied interpretation of street facade, which refers to the building’s primary face, vs. building facades facing both streets. The board’s filing argues that the Bool Street facade was intended as a primary facade early on.


-Unlabeled parts of the diagram, such as MU-1’s, have no meaning. Even if they could give the impression of longer facades, it’s not the intent of the code.

The document goes on to say that Radke “invented claims unsupported by the text”, uses “tortured logic” and “silly conclusions”. Ouch.  Since interpretation is not a cut-and-dry matter of clear definitions, so we end up with an argument from both sides that relies on an interpretation of ambiguities, something more akin to a court room. A curious result of this discussion is that the Planning Board had to send out a letter to neighbors saying they would be arguing zoning determinations, which are going to be far out of most readers’ expertise, as the precise details and intent of the 2014 zoning will be the primary driver of this debate.


4. The Ithacan is reporting a mid-to-late October opening for the Marriott, the Journal is reporting November. Presumably, one of them is correct. The delay from the original August opening is attributed to a labor shortage. Hiring is currently underway for the 159-room hotel and its restaurant, which according to the IJ, are expected to employ 50 to 60 in total. About 75% will be full-time, and wages are expected to run from $10/hr + tips for wait staff, to $18-$19/hour, with the hope that a premium paycheck compared to similar positions at other local hotels will translate to a premium experience for guests.


5. It looks like TC3’s Childcare facility is well on its way to reality. At least $4.5 million has been secured for the $5.5 million project and its scholarship endowment for students with children. $2.5 million for that was recently received in a set of state grant and funds, according to WHCU. Another $2 million comes from benefactor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the new facility will be named.

20160918_141051 20160918_141131

6. It’s been a while since I’ve done house of the week. So, here’s a new house underway on the 200 Block of Pearl Street in the city’s Bryant Park neighborhood. Ithaca’s Carina Construction is doing their modular magic here, the pieces have been assembled and most of the siding and roof trim has been attached. Not 100% sure if there will be a porch, the lack of siding above the door suggests it’s a possibility.

To be honest, when I was going through my list of single-families underway, I was mostly finding that Carina dominated the list. Since Avalon Homes went under, and most stick-builds are beaucoup bucks due to higher labor and materials costs, Carina’s offerings have broad appeal in Ithaca’s isolated, tight home market.

The lot was created four years ago by a subdivision of 222 Miller across the street. Since then, it exchanged hands a few times before a local realtor sold the property for $130,000 in July to a family who relocated to the area from Texas.


7. The Planning Board Agenda is up, and it’s the shortest in ages, thanks to that special meeting last week. Here’s the rundown:

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

 3.  Subdivision Review

A. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                      6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency  – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Recommendation to BZA

A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                          6:30
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance
Touched on this one last week. Deconstruction of an existing single-family home for two two-family homes, each on its lot.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  Two Duplexes                                              6:45
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Applicant: Dan Hirtler for Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

B. SKETCH PLAN:  Townhomes & Apartments at 119-121 & 125 College Ave.        7:00

I’ve spilled some electronic ink on this project before – Novarr’s $10 million project for faculty townhomes and apartments. Rumor mill says “modern-looking” and “glassy”, which given Novarr’s fondness for ikon.5 architects (his guest house is on the main page of their portfolio), that isn’t a surprise. The three parcels are CR-4 zoning, so 4 stories and 50% lot coverage allowed. Previous estimates were for 50-60 units. I’d say the biggest uncertainty in approvals comes from the existing apartment houses, which haven’t been declared historic, but former councilwoman Mary Tomlan and the Planning Board’s John Schroeder recommended for consideration in 2009 (only 15 of the 31 suggestions were considered, and only 2 received historic designation, Snaith House and Grandview House). Novarr’s been amenable to compromises before (see Collegetown Terrace), so we’ll see what happens here.

5. Zoning Appeals
• #3044, Area Variance, 170 Pearsall Pl.
• #3046, Area Variance, 404 Wood St.
• #3048, Appeal of Zoning Determination, 201 College Ave.                                 7:30