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.





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 3/2019

27 03 2019

Not a whole lot to say at the moment – everything above surface level on the site has been cleared as of the end of February, and grading/leveling is taking place. Part of the existing 1960s foundation will be reused for underground parking, and part of it will be taken out. According to the project team, an examination of the existing foundation column footers vs. the blueprints found that eight of the column footers were not where indicated on the as-built drawings. That created a conflict with portions of the new structure, ans so these column footers are being removed (probably by the demolition subcontractor, Gorick Construction of Binghamton; LeChase is the general contractor overseeing the whole project).

It might seem weird, but this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Half the footers were missing outright at Ed Cope’s Ithaca Glass site, which led to a total overhaul of the project plans (now held by Visum, although I haven’t heard anything about the plan since the transfer was announced in November).

It’s a bit unusual since the project is already underway (or at least, the site prep is), but Library Place has yet to receive approval for a tax abatement. The Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) will be receiving the tax abatement application in early April and the board will get their first glance at it on April 10th. A public hearing on the abatement will be held sometime before the May 8th IDA meeting. Assuming the application is approved at the May 8th meeting, pile driving would start within a few days of approval.





Library Place (Old Library Redevelopment) Construction Update, 2/2019

17 02 2019

I’ll admit I’ve actively avoided writing this one up because it has more twists and turns than a soap opera, and it ends up being extremely hard to follow as a result. There are over forty articles from local outlets regarding the site, and Travis Hyde Properties compiled about two dozen of the pieces it liked onto their website. The Voice has eighteen Old Library articles on file, but because of a tag mix-ups, it’s more like thirty. Here’s an attempt to distill everything into one post.

The Old Library site refers to the former Tompkins County Library, located at 310-14 North Cayuga Street. From 1967 to 2000, the library was housed there. However, once the library moved downtown in 2000, the building was used for day reporting for low-level criminal offenders, and for records storage. These were eventually relocated to other properties, and the 38,630 SF would be vacant by early 2015. However, the county didn’t like the idea of hanging onto it. Its unusual interior design (a large atrium) was difficult to adapt to other uses, inefficient from an energy standpoint, and the building’s utilities systems were running short on useful life, and would be expensive to replace. As a result, the building was declared surplus.

The idea of a Request for Expressions for Interest (RFEI), was hatched in late 2013. An RFEI is basically a prerequisite to a Request for Proposals (RFP), feeling out interest by asking for less paperwork – an RFP to RFPs in a sense. While the building was no longer useful for the county’s needs, it sits on a site close to downtown Ithaca, next to historic DeWitt Park (and in the DeWitt Park Historic District). It’s walkable, and the city’s 2013 rezoning allows up to four floors and 50 feet. The RFEI stressed mixed uses with an emphasis on senior housing, and compatibility, energy efficiency, and growth of the tax base. The hope was that someone would use the site to help the county meet its goals, though the county was unsure how it would go – an earlier RFP in 2000 garnered no interest in the property.

As luck would have it, there were six responses to the RFEI, which can be found here. Two, INHS and IAD, dropped out before an RFP went out – INHS had acquired the 210 Hancock site and decided to focus on that. The DPI condo proposal declined to respond to the county’s RFP, citing frustrations with the county’s frequent delays, and that had one of the favored proposals in the feedback I received. The other two “reader’s choices” were Cornerstone’s affordable housing plan, and Franklin Properties collaboration with STREAM Collaborative, which called for reusing the structure of the building.

By the time the RFP has been issued and responded to in April 2015, three projects were up for review – Cornerstone’s 73,600 SF 54-unit affordable housing plan (<80% AMI), Travis Hyde’s 72,500 SF, 60-unit market-rate senior apartments plan, and Franklin/STREAM’s 58,000 SF building, with 22 higher-end condominiums and medical office space. All would pay the county $925,000 for the site.

The next few months were not enjoyable. The Cornerstone project asked for a PILOT tax agreement and lost county support. That left Franklin and Travis Hyde and Franklin Properties. The Franklin project had strong public support. But in June 2015, the county Old Library Committee of legislators recommended the Travis Hyde project 3-2. Two legislators genuinely favored Travis Hyde, one voted in favor just to move it out of committee, one liked the Franklin proposal though expressed some unhappiness with all of them, and one thought all three proposals were outright terrible.

A week later came the full county legislature’s vote – 6-6, a hung vote with two absent. Neither proposal had the eight votes of support needed to move forward. That’s when things started to get ugly. The city’s Common Council and Planning Board submitted letters recommending the Franklin proposal, which ruffled some feathers in the legislature. One legislator was accused of an ethics violation because the Travis family donated to her congressional campaign two years earlier, and recused herself from future votes. The Old Library plan was sent back to committee, where the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. There was a very good chance neither plan would get the required eight votes, and the county would be unable to make a decision on how to sell off a property they didn’t want. More failed votes ensued.

Finally, in early August, the Travis Hyde proposal got the nod in an 8-5 vote. There was definitely some bitterness afterwards, and an air of unscrupulous behavior. A legislator who switched his support to Travis Hyde would lose re-election to a strong advocate for the Franklin project later that year. He moved districts and into Fall Creek just as the other deciding vote retired from the Fall Creek district; there have been accusations it was orchestrated, but nothing was ever proven, and believe me, my then-editor, Jeff Stein who’s now at the Washington Post, had worked hard to find something.

For the record, this is why I have a strong aversion to RFPs. It works well when there’s one clear choice. But here, the disconnect between suburban and rural legislators, and passionate city residents, as well as all of the fighting and accusations that went with it, really created an unpleasant and rancorous experience. I dread the RFP for the NYS DOT site, which will come up in a year or two.

The project wouldn’t begin to move through municipal review until early 2016. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC), who had stated a strong preference for the Franklin proposal, was first up – there was no point in going to the planning board if the ILPC isn’t on board (and the Planning Board is generally the more accommodating of the two). The project they were first presented had 51 units, 6,500 SF of space for senior services Lifelong, community space (2,000 SF), and a modest amount of street-level commercial space (4,000 SF).

There were eight different designs that the development team submitted in an effort to satisfy the ILPC. Here’s the major ones – One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight, the final design. If you want to be picky, there are some minor revisions too, for things like facade materials tweaks. As review continued, it was decided that it would be more efficient to hold the ILPC and Planning Board meetings on the project at the same time in one group, so that one panel wouldn’t contradict the other.

After several months and several major redesigns, it wasn’t looking good. The ILPC felt that every design was simply too big and one called it “an impossible building”. County staff and officials were getting angry because they felt that the city was trying to spite them, and one planning board member’s comment was effectively “you should do what we tell you to do,” so once again, the project site was in an uncertain and acrimonious situation.

By October 2016, the plans had been modified to be 17 percent smaller, 73,400 SF with 57 units. This included a 950 SF ground-floor commercial space and a 1,900 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, which had made the decision to stay in its building next door and not move into the new building. Some of the indoor parking was moved to an outdoor rear lot to shrink the structure further, and the fourth floor was set back from the rest of the building. This too was turned down, but there was just enough of a window for possible approval that Travis Hyde decided to give it one more shot.

Frankly, this project was hanging by a thread. Travis had informed the county that he was “bruised and battered”, but would make one last attempt. The last shot was February 2017’s meeting. The foundation of the old library would be reused in the latest design, and the third floor was pulled back from the street. It passed, 4-3. One vote essentially made all the difference. That allowed the project to move forward with environmental review SEQR) from the planning board.

This reviewed version called for 54 senior apartment units, 32 parking spaces, a 2,000 SF community room, 1,160 SF of retail, and 86,700 SF of total space, as the interior parking was now underground as part of the reused old foundation. The sale of the site was approved by the county after the project was greenlighted, in September 2017. The 3 no’s in the 11-3 vote were two Franklin proposal advocates and the legislator who said all the projects were terrible two years earlier, so points for consistency.

The actual interior layout at this point, is something of a question mark. In May 2018, it was announced that the project would be partnering with luxury senior services provider Bridges Cornell Heights on the project. As part of that, the design was updated to 67 units, though there was no change in total square footage. According to the press release, “(o)n site, there will be a restaurant, a la carte home health services from an on-site agency, a community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, pool and parking. The partners will also work with Lifelong to provide on-site activities and programs.” Units will be a mix of 1-3 bedrooms, market rate and available to renters 55 and older. The name of the project also changed, from “DeWitt House” to “Library Place”.

Continuing the theme of controversy with the project, by the time financing was secured for the now $17 million plan (up from $14 million in 2014), the building’s roof had become structurally unstable. The fear was that construction workers could be inside if it suddenly collapsed. An engineering report filed by Ryan Biggs/Clark Davis Engineering and Surveying in August led the city’s director of code enforcement to condemn the building. The initial demolition plan was to seal the building up and cart out the asbestos in sealed containers, a “contained” demolition. The new plan was to demolish on site with spraying to prevent airborne contaminants, a “controlled” demolition. This led to community protests, and the mayor threatened to torpedo the project unless a second engineering report was carried out by a third party engineer of the city’s choosing, with no affiliation to Travis Hyde. The second report, from Dende Engineering, confirmed the first report’s findings, so the city okayed, if somewhat begrudgingly, the new demolition plan. In response to the demolition, a neighboring couple wrapped their nearby home and rental buildings in plastic as a dramatic show of concern, which caught the attention of broadcast media.

The project is seeking a tax abatement, but the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) has yet to schedule a meeting to review the application and take a vote.

Demolition and site prep is expected to last through the winter, and construction will begin during the spring. A fall 2020 opening is anticipated. Alongside Travis Hyde Properties and Bridges Cornell Heights, the project team includes HOLT Architects for the building design (all eight of them), TWMLA for the landscape architecture, LeChase Construction as general contractor, and Hayes Strategy for marketing. Gorick Construction of Binghamton is handling the demolition, with Delta Engineers, Architects and Surveyors doing the air quality monitoring. The project website is here, as are the air quality reports.

December 9th:

January 19th:





News Tidbits 8/24/17: Early Start

24 08 2017

1. The Old Library redevelopment is creeping forward. The Old Library Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature voted to recommend the sale of the property for the previously stated amount of $925,000 to Travis-Hyde. With that vote, it goes forward to the full legislature for a vote on September 5th, where there are no major challenges expected. The Library Committee vote was 4-1, with legislator Dooley Kiefer (D-Cayuga Heights) opposed. Kiefer has always been opposed to any sale, and has long advocated for a lease of the land – and the only way the lease made any practical sense was by being 50 years in length, so that any investment could have the possibility of being recuperated. Given that she’ll probably vote no again for consistency’s sake, and perhaps a rejection from legislator Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) because she was a long-time proponent of the condo plan, there aren’t likely to be any other opposition votes from the 15-member legislature. Once the sale is okayed, site prep for the 58-unit mixed-use senior facility at 310-314 North Cayuga Street can begin by the end of the year, with a spring 2019 opening expected.

2. So when is an expansion truly an expansion? That’s the question raised by the Times’ recent coverage of a proposed renovation of the county jail, which faces issues with overcrowding, but whose expansion of holding cells is strongly opposed by a number of advocacy groups. The jail is shared with the Sheriff’s Department offices at the moment, and the combined facility at 779 Warren Road is collectively referred to as the Public Safety Building.

The ideal concept as pitched by the Sheriff’s Office would create an additional 13,000 square-foot administrative facility adjacent to the jail that would provide office space, conference space and locker rooms for officers. This would free up programmatic space in the PSB to be used for support functions like classrooms and counseling/meeting rooms, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, and thus take up space in the jail). So,it’s  not a jail expansion per se, but a support services expansion, which would probably drive debate among advocacy groups. The proposal is strictly conceptual, but the county is prepared to move forward with a formal study from LaBella Associates if requested.

3. At the latest Planning Board meeting, Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive and affordable housing plan was granted the green light to go forward to the next step, though not without reservation and concern from some local business owners and elected officials. Per the Times’ Matt Butler, 1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal spoke in opposition to the current plan, feeling it was too large and unattractive, while nearby business owners were uncomfortable with the population who would live there. 30 units would be set aside for those who are mostly independent but may need some degree of mental health support, 22 units are general affordable housing, and eight are for formerly homeless individuals. All units are one bedrooms. Lakeview will provide office and support space for services on the first floor of the 62,700 SF building.

In other news, the debate over South Hill continued with the airing of grievances against student housing, Finger Lakes ReUse earned approval for its Elmira Road project, and someone must have left early, because the planning board failed to reach quorum (minimum attendance) to vote on recommendation of historic designation for the Chacona Block at 411-415 College Avenue.

4. Here’s an interesting little proposal out of Danby – a 10-unit pocket neighborhood. The project would be located on 2.2 acres at the rural intersection of Brown Road and Short Road, northeast of the hamlet of West Danby. The houses would be modular and modestly-sized with two basic styles, a 1.5-story cape and 1-story ranch. Additionally, they would be designed for aging-in-place, Net Zero Energy (zero net energy consumption), and have a shared common space (courtyard, lawn or similar), parking lot and septic system. The project, which has access to municipal water service, would require a zoning variance. The project is similar to the Amabel and Aurora Street pocket neighborhoods in Ithaca, though it’s a different developer – here, it’s Mike McLaughlin, a business owner from Newfield, and Danby residents Esther and Brooke Greenhouse. Esther was a team member in the condo proposal for the Old Library site.

Although not explicit, these are likely for-sale units, possibly with a push towards seniors. With shared spaces, modular components and modest sizes, the cost for these is likely to be modest as well – they would likely be similar to the Lansing Community Cottages price range of $175k-$225k.

5. After much debate, the Sun8 Dryden solar projects have been approved by the town planning board. The sites include a nearly 11 MW facility at 2150 Dryden Road, and an 18 MW facility along Turkey Hill and Dodge Roads. The projects will produce approximately 28 MW of electricity, which is enough to power the approximately 7,500 households. The project will utilize a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) of $8,000/MW, or about $224,000 in year one of operation, and with built-in inflation, about $8 million over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the town has begun review on a much smaller solar project at 2243 Dryden Road. Delaware River Solar is seeking approval to construct a 2.4 MW array on the interior portion of a farm property just west of the village near Ferguson Road. About 35 acres of the 115 acre parcel would be impacted during construction, with five acres used for the panels themselves.

6. In real estate listings, here’s something unusual for those who dare to be different – a Groton church, already renovated with living space and studio space. Aptly-located 113 Church Street is listed at $174,900 and 9,490 square feet on Zillow, but a check of county records says 9,166 SF – a 1,000 SF apartment, a 1,344 SF office, 4,078 SF “non-contributing space”, and 2,744 SF “cold storage”. The property was built in either 1881 or 1883 (county record) for a Congregational denomination, and after some mergers in the 1960s it became the Groton Community Church. From records and county file photos, it looks like the church building was re-purposed in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Previous tenants include a head start program, massage therapy, and art gallery. The tax assessment is for $100k, which seems to account for the old and somewhat mothballed condition of the property, such as the boarded up windows on the steeple tower. Should one be interested, contact info can be found in the first link.

7. This week’s news round-up is running a little early because I wanted to get the latest Trumansburg Hamilton Square materials out before the planning board meeting Thursday evening. Over the past few weeks, there haven’t too many changes to the project site plan, but the daycare center was moved from inside the loop road to outside, exchanging locations with a string of for-sale market-rate townhomes. The resulting move also seems to have decreased the number of market-rate units (some townhome, some detached single-family) down by one, to 14. 11 affordable for-sale townhomes and 47 affordable rental units are still in the mix.

//simplebooklet.com/embed.php?wpKey=W7HALtX9d87mG9WFMNbp9N&source=embed

//simplebooklet.com/embed.php?wpKey=RK3Z4a5lU7XdYcy2vpC4Gc&source=embed

A copy of the traffic study from SRF Associates has also been made available on the project website. The traffic study aims to be thorough, and will likely be expanded in response to neighbor concerns about slower traffic like garbage trucks and school busses, snow impacts, and a possible sampling and estimation of school-focused but non-peak hours and a couple other intersections further from the project site (Rabbit Run Road, and Whig/South Streets). The meeting tomorrow will be at 7 PM at the Trumansburg Fire Hall. The actual submission of the project for formal board review is not expected until late next month, after incorporating feedback from the upcoming meeting.

 





News Tidbits 6/10/17: In High Demand

10 06 2017

1. Start off this week with some eye candy. Here are the latest renders for Visum Development’s 191-bed, 60-unit project at 232-236 Dryden Road. The biggest change here is the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration, and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity – when the Cascadilla school still had a dorm in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it included a 4-story shingle-style dormitory complete with dining room and gym. The balconies are throwbacks to the dormitory’s balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (*real* stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

2. Business is good for STREAM Collaborative. So good that they’re expanding both in staff and space. The young, prolific architecture firm led by Noah Demarest will be moving out from its location in the City Hall Annex at 123 Sough Cayuga Street, and into a larger downtown space in the ca. 1872 Gregg Block at 108-112 West State Street, across from the State Theatre. The new digs are being renovated now, and are expected to be ready for occupancy by July 1st.

On another note, the owner of the city hall annex has taken to advertising the office space on Cragislist, which seems like the wrong choice to me. An apartment, sure. A house for sale or offices to rent? My impression is that folks prefer a more professional medium than what Craigslist offers. Kinda the same with jobs – servers or dog-sitters, sure. Accountants or architects? Ehh.

Maybe I’m just behind the times. Here’s the posting for the former Hal’s Deli on the 100 Block North Aurora Street. $5500/month.

3. WHCU is reporting that INHS has had no shortage of applicants for the 210 Hancock rentals. After receiving over 200 applications, they set up a lottery in which 122 “made it through” , and then selected the top 60 (there are 59 rental units though…might be a just in case there’s a drop-out, or it could just be conversational rounding). If it’s anything like New York City’s lottery, what happens is that each application is validated, sorted for requested unit type, and is assigned a randomized log number – those who get 1-48 for the one-bedroom subset, and 1-11 for the two-bedrooms subset, are awarded dibs on a unit, so long as they pass the income check and background check. Unit occupancy is expected late this summer, and marketing for the seven for-sale units will start…

4. …pretty much now. The three units in the first image are 204, 206 and 208 Hancock Street, the four for-sales in image two are from L to R, 406, 408, 410 and 412 Lake Street. 206 Hancock, 408 Lake and 410 Lake will be 910 SF 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath units that will sell for $112,000 to qualified buyers. 406 Lake and 412 are 1088 SF, 2 bed 1.5 bath units priced at $129,000. The largest units, 204 Hancock and 208 Hancock, are 1300 SF, 3 bed 1.5 bath units that will sell for $145,000. The plan is to have buyers lined up for all seven units by the end of the year.

5. The county legislature has approved the Heritage Center acquisition. The county will pay $2 million for the 18,500 SF property, about $400,000 below assessment. Tompkins Financial Corporation is parting with its former offices next spring as it moves into a new HQ a block away. The plan is to have the heritage center, which will host tourism and history-focused non-profits, open for occupancy by the end of 2018, just as The History Center’s lease at 406 E. State runs out.

6. Seems like Lakeview is serious about their West End mixed-use project. The mental health services organization just purchased three properties on Thursday the 8th – 326 North Meadow for $150,000, 711-13 West Court Street for $525,000, and 329 North Meadow and 709 West Court (same owner) for $550,000.

Lakeview is planning a mixed-use 5-story building with a small amount of first-floor retail and 50 apartment units, all of which would be affordable, and half of which would be set aside for those with mental health ailments who are generally independent, but will have Lakeview staff to turn to in times of need. The project team requested $250,000 from the city IURA to help finance the $20.1 million project, but were only awarded $50,000 since it’s still at a relatively stage without detailed plans. The project team expects to submit their project for review later this year, with a 2018 construction start.

7. Tiny Timbers is doing well. In an update to their website, they note the completion of their first house, a “lofted L” model just over the county line in Hector, and a new house planned in Enfield (given that Enfield permitted just one new house last year, there’s probably a joke in there somewhere). There is another home just getting underway in Lansing’s Farm Pond Circle development, and a fourth will start soon on Grandview Drive in the city of Ithaca’s portion of South Hill. All the new units will be “big cubes” like the render shown above.

8. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s planning department memo this month, there’s nothing new to note for June. Smaller projects tend to show up in the memo, since the sketch plan for feedback isn’t as big of a deal for a small proposal, like a new store or a modest apartment building. Finger Lakes ReUse’s 22 studio units for vulnerable/formerly homeless populations will have its public hearing and Determination of Environmental Significant (step before prelim approval), the McDonald’s rebuild will have Declaration of Lead Agency, public hearing, BZA recs and DoES, 232-236 Dryden will have its DoES vote, and the Old Library redevelopment and 238 Linden will be up for approval.

9. Finishing off this week with a word of approval – the Dryden town board gave approval to Gary Sloan’s 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses at 1061 Dryden Road, per Cassie Negley at the Ithaca Times. At the boards’ (both planning and town) encouragement, the solar panels were replaced with electric heat pumps, which could utilize off-site solar and open up the possibility of a more environmentally sustainable project overall, given the proliferation of solar arrays underway in Tompkins and the region (my off the cuff estimate has at least enough solar arrays planned in Tompkins in the next 18 months to power over 10,000 homes). A play structure and 11 more parking spaces were also added.





News Tidbits 4/8/17: Please Don’t Document-Dump on Fridays

8 04 2017

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. The town of Dryden planning board did not take too kindly to the Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden Road outside Varna. The board denied recommendation for approval unless some stipulations are met first; some might be easier, like a vegetative buffer with the neighbors and a shared driveway. Others will be trickier – the board recommended removing all the solar panels and replacing them with electric heat pumps, and board members strongly encouraged reducing the number of units.

Not to downplay the value of heat pumps since they’ve become the preferred sustainable feature for projects going before local boards these days, but there is a substantial initial cost involved for their installation, and it takes a few decades for the energy savings to pay off. Some of the cost for the pumps can be balanced out through density of units, because some flat development costs (for example, the cost of land acquisition) can be distributed out; but fewer units with a more expensive feature is the classic “do more with less money” conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Disclaimer, these are ballpark figures and every project has its nuances or other factors to consider, like tax rates, contractor bids and logistical costs.

The Village Solars heat pumps are a $50,000-$60,000 cost, $4,000-$5,000 per unit. Phase 1 didn’t have the heat pumps, but the later phases do, and those later phases are about $2 million-$3 million per 15,000-20,000 square-foot building, with 12-22 units depending on configuration. In the case of 1061 Dryden, each 6-unit string is about 10,800 SF (1800 SF per unit, no common areas), and given the $4.5 million total cost, we’re talking a ballpark estimate of around $750,000 per townhome string. If one assumes proportional costs for the heat pumps based off square footage, that’s $30,000-$40,000 per 6-unit string. So it is a higher incremental cost per string, and more of a burden per tenant. The Village Solars rent for $1600-$1650 for a three-bedroom, and the going rate for new units in Varna is about $1950 for a 3-bedroom, if the new townhomes at 902 Dryden is any indicator. The rent increase for the Village Solars was about $50/unit, but those units are smaller, so you’re probably looking at a larger amount, conservatively $75/unit, for the Evergreen units.

Going off those numbers, it looks like heat pumps are possible, although the units will likely be somewhat less affordable as a result. It isn’t clear if that disables the proposal, because it depends on imputed vacancy rates at different income levels, and whatever the required income is to make the necessary Return on Investment. However, the project would become less feasible if there are substantially fewer units and the construction cost per unit shoots up – because of the combination of flat vs. incremental expenses, taking away six units won’t drop the cost $750,000, it’ll be less. The cost of the solar panels is also an unknown, as are the costs of doing these revisions to please the board. The development team was not at the meeting, which is unfortunate; we’ll have to wait and see how this moves forward.

2. Speaking of the Village Solars, according to the latest minutes from the Lansing Town Board, Lifestyle Properties is exploring taking down some of the old Village Circle Apartments, and replacing them with new buildings. These older, 8,000-12,000 SF structures date from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and have 8-10 units per building. Since the newer buildings are about 15,000-20,000 SF and tend to have 18-22 units, that could explain where the 423 units statistic came from last month – some of it comes from buildings on new sites, some are replacement buildings for existing structures.

3. The city Common Council held their monthly meeting, and signed off on the IURA sale of 402 South Cayuga to Habitat for Humanity with little debate, and while the TM-PUD for 323 Taughannock was a bit problematic due to some confusion with the minutes from the public hearing, the approval was carried unanimously. The project is now free to go before the Planning Board for State/City Envrionmental Quality Review, and the Design Review is considered complete.

Side note, the city’s four fire stations were renumbered. The old numbers hailed from the days before the stations consolidated in the 1960s and 1980s, and were confusing for many. Fire Station No. 9 (309 College Avenue in Collegetown) is now No. 2, insert joke here. Central Station (310 West Green Street) becomes Station 1- Central, Station 5 (965 Danby Road) becomes Station 3- South Hill, and Station 6 (1240 Trumansburg Road) becomes Station 4- West Hill.

4. Bucket list objective achieved – an interview with Jagat Sharma. Some will be in the Voice, maybe Friday afternoon of Monday morning; but rather than leave the excess on the proverbial cutting room floor, here were some portions left out of the piece for the sake of brevity, or because they’re too technical for the general audience:

Q: So, what’s your thought process when designing a building? Apart from necessities like zoning and client requirements, do you take cue from surrounding buildings, the environment…what are you thinking about as you sketch the first concepts of a new building?

JS: For infill projects, the sites are very narrow. My project at 409 Eddy, if I recall correctly, is a very narrow site. My clients had never hired an architect before, and it was a challenge to convince them. Most of them, they think how many rooms they can rent, so you give them a number, and you work it out, and you figure out the design from the surrounding context, how the buildings line up, how the window patterns line up, symmetry, scale. You lay out a plan for how the windows would fall, how would it match with the existing window lines on surrounding buildings. Frankly, back then (409 Eddy was built in the mid-1980s) there was not much context, many buildings were in poor condition, you had some brick buildings, but otherwise not much. You try to relate it to what you’ve done before, the streetscape, you try to change up things with color, bay windows, you play with that, organize everything in a symmetrical way. Later on, my later buildings in the past 10-12 years, I’ve begun to take more liberty, play with them [the designs] more, 3-D effects, projections, penthouses, balconies, corner windows and more glass. And at the street level, they’re more urban, they have colonnades, like 309 Eddy, it looks very nice. But all of them…if you’re the only actor on the stage, you’re playing your own thing. If you look at Collegetown, Eddy Street and up, 309, 303, 301, some are angled, they’re different materials – if you’re in the middle of those, you feel like you’re in a hill town, it’s a good feeling.

Q: And how would you describe your experience with working with the city and its various interests?

JS: You earn respect from them by being honest and sincere. I deliver what I say I do, we don’t change things at the last minute. The city is happy with that. I have a good relationship with the Planning Board, what they are looking for, they want good materials, detailing. The building department wants to make sure you meet the codes; we sit down and meet if we have different interpretations on how the code reads – but you have to work on it from day one. It takes time, building inspectors, commissioners come and go and you have to earn their respect each time by doing the right thing, don’t hide anything.

5. According to Matt Butler over at the Times, Lakeview Ithaca might be a little larger than initially anticipated. In a report on homelessness, he mentions a meeting attended by Lakeview’s CEO, who said the new building would have 56 affordable units (vs. the 50 previously reported in the IURA application), with 28 reserved for those with mental disability. A time frame of fall 2018 – fall 2019 is given for construction, somewhat slower than the April 2018 start reported in the IURA application.

6. A couple of interesting things to note from the ILPC Agenda for next Tuesday, apart from the usual stairs, porches and windows. One, 123 Eddy got a revamp in accordance with the commission’s design guidance – gone is the porch, and more detail was strongly encouraged. I still prefer the previously-approved design, but this is an improvement from the Craigslist ad.

Meanwhile, downstate businessman Fei Qi is finally heading back to the board with a plan for the historically significant but structurally deficient 310 West State/MLK Street. Previously, he wanted to do 3,800 SF of office space in a renovation partially financed by state tax credits, but it wasn’t funded and the office market is a bit lackluster in Ithaca anyway. At the time, residential was ruled out due to fire safety issues.

However, this new plan is a residential project. It’s a proposed 12-bedroom “co-op” living arrangement (Co-op? SRO [Single Room Occupancy]? Neither one is a terrible idea, although SROs have negative connotations). JSC Architects of suburban NYC (Fresh Meadows) would remove a rear chimney, put in new shingles, add a wheelchair ramp and skylights, along with the to-the-studs internal renovation. It’s an interesting plan, though the ILPC might be iffy on some of the details. We’ll see how it goes over.

7. If you all could pardon me on this, the city document-dumped Friday morning, and I don’t have the time at the moment for a full write-up. But the projects memo is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here’s the brief summary:

A. McDonald’s would replace their existing 4,800 SF restaurant at 372 Elmira Road with a new 4,400 SF building.

B. Benderson Development wishes to renew approvals for a 14,744 SF addition to their shopping plaza at 744 South Meadow Street (this would be on the south end next to Hobby Lobby, where KMart’s garden center was years ago), and build a new 7,313 SF addition at the north end of the strip. Apparently, Ithaca’s a safe harbor in the ongoing “retail apocalypse”.

C. 323 Taughannock as noted above

D. DeWitt House is moving forward. With ILPC Design Approval (Certificate of Appropriateness) in hand, envrionmental review still needs to be conducted. Site plan review docs note it’s a $17 million project with a December 2017 – March 2019 construction timeframe.

E. Novarr/Proujansky’s 24-unit 238 Linden apartment project

F. 118 College Avenue, carried over from the previous month, and

G. Finger Lakes Re-Use, carried over from the previous month.

 

 





News Tidbits 4/1/17: High Energy Debates

1 04 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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