News Tidbits 9/18/18

19 09 2018

1. Unofficially, here are the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee ratings for the four Green Street Garage proposals, with a screenshot courtesy of Councilor Steve Smith (D-4th Ward). I’m not quite sure how the total score was calculated, but overall, the Vecino Group’s proposal was the most highly rated, followed by the Visum/Newman Group submission. The general consensus was that the Harold’s Holdings plan was aesthetically pleasing but didn’t include enough of the benefits that the city was seeking, and the Ithaca-Peak proposal was underwhelming in terms of affordability and community benefits.

2. So here’s an interesting little item that came out of last week’s PEDC Meeting. A developer had apparently approached Committee Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) with the idea of redeveloping the Family Medicine site for an eight-story building. Murtagh did not state the intended mix of uses if any was stated (probably ground-level commercial with residential above), but he did express strong reservations for their plan, which would have required a PUD, the D-I-Y zoning the city uses to allow more flexible project design in exchange for community benefits signed off by the Common Council as well as the Planning Board.

Few would argue with the statement that the Family Medicine site, located on the 200 Block of West State Street just west of Downtown Ithaca, is underutilized. It’s a one-story ca. 1980 structure with surface parking. The Cornell Baker Program has used the site among others for student projects to come up with cost-efficient proposals in various parts of the city (officially for academic purposes, but no doubt the local development scene pays at least some attention to the final presentations). I remember one project that showed a seven-story building would be just enough of a return on investment to possibly entice redevelopment with Family Medicine remaining in the ground-level of the new structure. This theoretical proposal did make use of a tax abatement. By this argument, an eight-story proposal could be a better sell, or it could be the result of an attempt to work in an affordable housing component while still making enough money per square foot to appeal to lenders. Regardless of what the circumstances were to push eight floors, this idea likely won’t be coming to the planning board anytime soon.

3. It looks like the Ivy Ridge apartment project in Dryden has been sold to a new developer. An LLC associated with local real estate firm Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor) sold 802-812 Dryden Road for $2,075,000 on September 12th. Filed on the same day was a construction loan from M&T Bank to pay for construction of the project – a rather substantial $8.6 million for the 42-unit townhouse complex.

The buyer’s LLC could be traced back to a suburban Pittsburgh address for Matthew Durbin, and a little online searching indicates Durbin is a Cornell Johnson School (MBA) Alumnus, a former investment banker turned business executive. In short, he has a demonstrated familiarity with the Ithaca area, business acumen and the money to make things happen. Site prep is underway and no changes to the project design or timeline are indicated. As for O’Connor, he’s now a much wealthier man, and we’ll see if any of those recent gains are turned into equity for future MLR projects.

If anyone else is still looking for shovel-ready multi-family projects, 1061 Dryden is still for sale.

4. On a somewhat related note, 312 East Seneca Street was sold by Jagat Sharma (better known for his architecture firm, but 312 East Seneca house his office) for $800,000 on September 14th. The buyer was an LLC that traces back to the Stavropoulos Family on West Hill, who have undertaken a number of small to medium-sized development projects in the Ithaca area over the past several years.

This purchase would impact MLR and Visum Development’s plan for Seneca Flats, a 42,000 SF multi-story mixed-use structure at the corner of East Seneca and North Aurora. The two firms based their initial drawings on the presumed purchase of this building. However, they had also drawn up floor plans for options that did not include 312 East Seneca – offhand, the plan with the site had 85 units, the plan without had 60 units. Basically, lop off the rightmost (northern) quarter of the above drawing. As for the Stavropouloses Stavropoli, they paid more than double the assessed value ($390,000), so there’s a good chance they have their own plans.

5. This blog gravitates towards hard/quantitative data, so here are a few facts about the airport expansion from the SEQRA environmental forms:

– The Passenger Terminal Expansion. will consist of three additions totaling 15,600 SF. 8.500 SF is an addition to the passenger holding area (which makes flying sound about as comfortable as it feels), 5,400 SF for additional bagging screening space and office space for the TSA and for airlines, and 1,700 SF by the main entrance for expanded passenger circulation and ticket counter space.

– Apron reconstruction, 40,000 SF. The apron is the area where planes park, refuel, and where some passenger loading/unloading takes place.

– Utilities replacement, interior “building enhancements”, one new passenger boarding bridge, and refurbishment of the existing boarding bridge.

– Installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system using 40 underground wells, 350-400 feet deep, and a closed-loop piping system. The operation is similar to a heat pump system, using the earth’s latent heat as a reservoir. The ground disturbance area to install the wells will be about 15,000 SF (~0.35 acres).

– Installation of overhead canopies with solar panels in the airport parking lot.

-Construction of a new 5,000 SF customs facility. The facility will be a one-story masonry structure with steel framing. The facility will accommodate no more than twenty passengers, and is exclusively tailored towards international business visitors – it’s been previously stated that business executives and Asian visitors, who often come in via Canada, have expressed a strong interest in private jet accommodations.

– Approximately ten new employees as a result of the terminal expansion, and six more from the construction of the new customs facility, for a total of sixteen new full-time jobs.

6. Thanks to reader Alec for this tip – a collection of contiguous Avramis Real Estate-owned Collegetown rental properties at 120 Catherine, 122 Catherine, 124 Catherine, 128 Catherine, 302 College, 304 College, and 306 College were not made available for rent for the 2019-2010 academic year. A check with sources indicates that according to the rumor mill, a buyer has them under contract, but the sale has yet to be finalized.

This is worth noting because we’re talking about a multi-million set of properties with 68 existing beds, but more importantly they have significant redevelopment potential – the lots can be consolidated into a large MU-2 zoned parcel (six floors, 100% lot coverage no parking) and a large CR-4 zoned parcel (four floors, 50% coverage, no parking)In fact, back in 2014, the Avramises proposed a two-building development that would have resulted in about 102 units and 202 beds. The Jagat Sharma-designed proposal never began formal review. The off-record commentary was that the Avramises got cold feet during the heat of the Collegetown building boom, though given their central location, these properties would be better insulated from a downturn in the student rental market than Outer Collegetown or fringe neighborhoods. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

7. We’ll wrap this up with a pair of Dryden projects. The first, 1610 Dryden Road. Most folks better remember this barn as the former Phoenix Old Used and Rare Books, which closed in 2015 after a 30-year run. In early 2017, a proposal came along to use the barn as a trailer sales dealership, but it did not come to be. Now, for the second time in as many months, the proposal is a veterinary clinic, “Elemental Pet Vets”. Local veterinarian Curtis Dewey and his wife Janette are proposed to renovate the 6000 SF barn with accessory parking and landscaping. The property is zoned rural residential, so any commercial plan needs a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the town of Dryden. The town planning department is generally amenable to the reuse even if out of sync with zoning, so long as the parking and accessory structures are approved by the town, the curb cut meets NYS DOT regulations, and a landscaping buffer is in place. Ithacor of Cortland will be the general contractor.

The rendering is a bit…strange, so strange that I’m still not sure if they plan on taking down the pitched roof for a flat one, or if they decided thirty minutes in their late 1990s rendering software would convey enough to get approval. Seriously, this might be one of the worst renders I’ve seen for a project, and that’s saying a lot given the number of low budget drawings that go through the boards for small projects.

Meanwhile, as previous covered by the Journal, the Laser Brewer fashion boutique at 1384 Dryden Road has closed with the retirement of Peggy Laser after forty years of business, and her son Riley is expanding his Brew 22 coffee bar, kitchen and beer taproom to fill out the 3248 SF space. This project also requires an SUP because the younger Laser is adding a drive-through window (for the coffee and baked goods, brew-thrus are illegal in New York but okay in plenty of other states). Other than that and an exterior paint job, no further structural changes are planned.

 





News Tidbits 9/2/18

2 09 2018

1. For lovers of old houses and those trying to restore them, the 1880 Queen Anne-style house at 310 West State Street, dubbed “The Tibbetts-Rumsey House”, is offering a tour of the renovations later this month. The tour, which starts at the front entrance at 11 AM on September 22nd, is free, but registration is required; if you’re so inclined, and since late September in Ithaca is generally a pretty nice time of the year for weekend outings, you can register here. The plan is to restore the house into a nine-bedroom co-op style living space, with a new six-bedroom co-op unit in the rear of the property.

The 3,800 SF residence was designed by local architect Alvah B. Wood and built by contractor John Snaith (of Snaith House) in 1880. Wood, a Cornell classmate of the more famous architect William Henry Miller, designed a number of prominent local structures, including the old Ithaca town hall at 126 East Seneca Street (built 1881, demo’d 2003, now the site of Tompkins Financial brand new HQ), the Immaculate Conception Church (1896) and the railroad/bus depot at 701 West State Street (1898). Union Army Captain J. Warren Tibbetts and his family were the first residents of the home. It was sold to the Rumsey family in 1885, and they owned it until 1966.

2. The medical office building near the intersection of Warren and Uptown Roads looks like it’s one step closer to happening. An LLC associated with Marchuska Brothers Construction, an Endicott-based firm that has been making inroads into the Ithaca market, bought the 2.71 acre lot and the plans from Arleo Real Estate LLC for $470,000 on the 27th. A sketch plan was presented to the village of Lansing in February 2017 for the one-story medical office building, but no formal review was carried out after the site and plans went up for sale for $500,000. Marchuska is free to change the design as they see fit, so don’t treat the renders as final. The firm recently completed the renovation of a former manufacturing facility on Craft Road into medical office space primarily leased by Cayuga Medical Center, and are the general contractors for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture project.

3. The tiny houses project at 16 Hillcrest Road in the town of Lansing is over for the time being. The town Zoning Board of appeals shot down the variance required for the lot, which is zoned industrial/research due to what is essentially a boundary line quirk. The reason cited isn’t that they don’t like the project, but rather that they don’t think it meets the intent of ZBA variances. The neighbors were opposed to the 421 SF homes, but were okay with a duplex, which could arguably be worse for them because one could build a pair of 2,000 SF, three-bedroom units that could generate more traffic and have a greater environmental impact. Even moreso, if one fully utilized the 1.26 acre lot for an office or industrial structure, that would have much greater environmental impact than either residential option because the lot could be fully utilized within standard setbacks, meaning a larger structure and parking lot, greater stormwater runoff, commuter/work-related traffic, industrial noise and related activities. An argument can also be made that these small homes would have been provided a new affordable option in an area plagued with affordability issues.

The Lansing Star seems cognizant of those arguments, and in the write-up sounded disapproving of the vote. “The denial of the variance does not mean the project has been killed. But in a sense the project is before it’s time, or zoning ordinances are behind the times. With small individual houses growing in popularity, building small scale neighborhoods defies zoning laws that were designed for conventionally sized homes.”

It’ll be a while before any zoning change is approved, and any challenge to the ZBA ruling is unlikely to go anywhere, so this proposal has been deleted from the Ithaca project map until a revival seems plausible.

4. Exxon Mobil is set to auction off a trio of parcels in the hamlet of Jacksonville. Tying into the story of the old Methodist church I wrote for the Voice last March, a major gas spill fifty years ago contaminated the groundwater and made the properties practically unlivable; after years of attempting to bring Exxon Mobil to task, the multinational energy firm purchased the properties, tore down most of the buildings except the church (after the town’s pleading), and basically sat on the lots with minimal upkeep. A municipal water line was later laid through the hamlet to provide clean water, and the gas has disintegrated and diffused with decades of time to safe levels, per the state DEC’s analysis. The town of Ulysses picked up three of the six lots, selling two to architect Cameron Neuhoff to restore the church into a residence and community space, and holding onto the third for the time being as it figures out what to do with it. The other three still owned by Exxon Mobil are the ones going up for auction. There is no reserve and the auction is set for 5 PM on October 17th. More information is available from Philip Heiliger of Williams & Williams Real Estate Auctions here.

5. Cayuga Heights is continuing with its review of the renovation and conversion of 306 Highland Road from a fraternity into a 15-unit apartment building. The plans have been slightly modified so that with the addition, the building grows from 3,400 SF to 4,542 SF (previously it was 4,584 SF).  GA Architects PLLC of Dryden is the architect of record; their online presence appears to be bare bones, and may have previously gone by the name Guisado Architects – it looks like principal Jose Gusiado has done a few homes in the Dryden and Lansing areas. Former Cornell professor and startup CEO John Guo is the developer.

6. Here’s a rough timeline for the Green Street Garage preferred developer decision – the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee is expected to rank the projects in order of preference by September 14th, discuss it at the September public hearing, hold an Executive Session with Common Council in October, and formally designate a preferred developer by October 25th. From 11/1/2018 to 2/1/2019 there will be an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) between the preferred developer and the city, which is a designated time to negotiate details regarding sales and development of the site. This serves as the basis for a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA), which would be reviewed and approved by the IURA EDC by the end of February. From there, the Planning and Economic Development Committee of the Common Council will hold their public hearing and vote in March, and the full Common Council at their April 3, 2019 meeting.

It’s a long and complex process, but the goal is to have the major details sorted out by that preferred developer designation on October 25th – given the garage’s degraded state and limited life span remaining (two, three years at most) and the time needed to stabilize the structure and determine continent measures for any rebuild, having either side pull at late in the negotiation would be very problematic (suing the city during any stage in this process is never a good idea). Hopefully everything works out between the city and its choice of developer.

6. Not a whole lot of new and interesting coming public at the moment. A new “Dutch Harvest Farms” wedding barn at 1487 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing looks interesting. Tapping into the trend of using barns for wedding receptions, the 50.44 acre property would host a 7,304 SF pole barn, pond and associated parking and landscaping improvements. The facility would be capable of hosting up to 160 people on-site. The plans are being drawn up by local architecture firm SPEC Consulting, and the intent would be to build out the $750,000 project in the spring and summer of 2019.

7. Bad news for the Ithaca Gun site; a remedial investigation by the state DEC indicated that there is still enough lead present on the property that it poses a significant threat to public health. This doesn’t necessarily derail plans for the redevelopment by Travis Hyde Properties, but the DEC will need to conduct a review, make recommendations for cleaning, and sign off on any cleanup effort THP proposes.

8. A follow-up on the Ongweoweh Corporation news note from a couple weeks back – although they didn’t respond to my inquiry, they did respond to the Journal. And the move to the larger digs in Dryden comes with 25 to 50 new jobs in Dryden over the next few years, so while it may not have been my article, I’ll gladly share positive news.





802 Dryden Road Construction Update, 8/2018

5 08 2018

Not a high-profile project here, but sizable. 802 Dryden Road, also called “Ivy Ridge”, is the latest project to come out of Modern Living Rentals (MLR). MLR is led by local developer Charlie O’Connor, and as I noted previously, “[h]e is arguably one of the most reticent developers in Ithaca, preferring unobtrusive projects that he hopes will create as little debate as possible. It’s kinda funny in a way, because although he’s a business partner with Todd Fox (Visum’s property management is handled by MLR), the two of them are near-opposites in that regard.”

True to form, while 802 Dryden is a sizable 50,000 SF, $7.5 million project, it was the subject of relatively little public debate during its approvals process. It’s located next to arboretum, replaces four rental houses and a motorcycle repair shop, and the number of residences within 500 feet could be counted on two hands. The project consists of 42 two-story townhouse rental units on three acres, six strings of seven units in a right trapezoid layout. Each string contains four two-bedroom units, two three-bedroom units and a four-bedroom unit (108 beds total). It’s a two-minute drive from the east end of Cornell’s campus (B Lot), and an easy sell to students and staff looking to live in a quieter location near campus.

Zoning on the site is fairly dense, all things considered. Although rather far from Varna’s core, the project does fall under Varna Hamlet Mixed Use District zoning, which allows ten units per acre. A redevelopment bonus of dilapidated properties gave another two units per acre, and a green bonus of two units an acre was also permitted. The green features part required some debate and confirmation. The project seeks LEED Certification and will apply LEED standards for neighborhood design.

The project was first proposed in June 2017. At the time, its design was a virtual clone of another MLR project, 902 Dryden Road, albeit with different colors. The designs were revised at least three times. The design work was passed from STREAM Collaborative to John Snyder Architects, who did substantial alterations, and then again, and then STREAM once again did some work on it. The final set of renders are here, with the site plan docs here. Originally there were three townhouse string designs, but it looks like it was reduced to two in the final round. The six buildings are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim pieces are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel. Original approvals may have been issued in November 2017, but the last revisions were approved this past May.

Exterior features include 70 parking spaces, bike racks, trash/recycling enclosure, stormwater ponds, bioretention areas, signage, a childrens’ playground, pavilion and a dog park split up for large and small breeds. Planned interior features include granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, a washer and dryer in each unit, contemporary lighting, and marble tile. Expect these to be in the same price range as the other recent MLR units, which have been in the $650-$750/bedroom range. The units are expected to be ready for occupancy by June 2019.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that had to take place before construction, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main had to be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. At this time, the existing buildings have been removed, but the land has yet to be cleared; we’re really just at the initial phases of the project.

Along with MLR, STREAM and John Snyder Architects, GMB Consulting Services did the LEED score analysis, T.G. Miller P.C. handled land surveying and Marathon Engineering tackled the civil engineering work – Marathon’s Adam Fishel shepherded the project through the town boards. I don’t have a contractor listed, but will share it when I do.

Pre-construction (Google Maps, Nov. 2015)

Renders:

August 3rd:





News Tidbits 6/23/2018

23 06 2018

1. The Town of Dryden has rejected the Planning Board’s suggestion for a Varna moratorium. The vote was 3-1, with one absent. This means that Trinitas may continue with the project review process – it does not mean Trinitas will automatically be able to build their proposal as currently drawn up, since planning board review, town board approval (Special Use Permit) and zoning board approval are still required.

Unfortunately no members of the press were present at the meeting – I found out through reader email. Most were covering the Democratic Party NY-23 candidate forum, and the first mention of the moratorium vote online was in the uploaded board agenda that went up just a day earlier.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

2. When I first broke the Lansing Senior Cottages story for the Voice, there was something I was concerned would happen, but didn’t include in the write-up, because speculating gets me in trouble. But these are homes looking at middle-class seniors, placed next to $500,000-$700,000 homes. The residents of those luxury homes aren’t happy, as reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star.

They’re angry, which is fair in the perspective that when the property was plated, there was no sewer available here, and the plan was to keep it all high-end 2500+ square-foot homes. But the owner/developer of the land is selling off the future phases without any of the old covenants in place, meaning it’s subject to standard village zoning. 800-1200 SF cottages for seniors, some of which may potentially be for sale, is a welcome proposal to the eyes of the county. It seems unlikely this is going to hurt their home values; this is mid-market senior housing, not college student apartments (the only beer on the front lawn you’re going to see is if developer Beer Properties puts up signage). Plus, if you’re going to poll public opinion on this one, wealthy homeowners vs. middle-class seniors is not going to engender support for the homeowners. They could try a lawsuit against the landowner, but I’m doubtful it’s much of a case unless their covenants explicitly said what the undeveloped land would be used for.

The project is currently 107 units over multiple phases, about twenty more than allowed by zoning as-of-right, so it will need to go through a PDA with the village Board of Trustees’ consent, and Planning Board approval.

3. The Crossroads Life Center planned for the 100 Block of Lansing’s Graham Road is no longer alive. The project, which called for a meeting and retreat space to be owned and maintained by the Cornell International Christian Fellowship, fell through, and the land it was proposed for is once again up for sale. The 9.35 acre property (about 3-4 acres were to have been subdivided for the project) is for sale for $239,000. A couple half-acre home lots could be easily subdivided off along Dart Drive, but further development would have to address an old family cemetery towards the rear of the property. Zoning is medium density residential. Maximum buildout without special planned development area (PDA) rules is about 20 units under the village’s Medium Density Residential zoning.

4. Speaking of land for sale in Lansing, Cornell is actively marketing the remaining vacant parcels in its Business Park. Most of the park was built out in the 1980s and 1990s, with only a few building additions in recent years. A 5-acre parcel is available between 20 and 33 Thornwood (foreground in the aerial) for $63,000, and a 22-acre parcel is available for $276,000 (it may be subdivided further), and a 6.89 acre parcel next to airport is available for $86,500.  Lansing zoning doesn’t allow housing here, and so a commercial or industrial project will need to deal with the gas moratorium. A run-of-the-mill office building might be able to make the finances work, but an industrial or lab building with high energy needs is probably is out of the question until some gas is freed up (i.e. the airport renovation), or energy alternatives become more cost efficient.  The county is working on financing a Business Energy Navigator Program to help interested businesses determine their needs and options. Should something happen up here, look for an update.

5. The town of Ithaca is looking at expanding their Public Works Facility at 106 Seven Mile Drive “to better accommodate [their] growing employee base”, and is doing a feasiblity study to see how much and what costs they can expect. The study would be conducted by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates), and is projected to cost about $21k for all parties. The town board will vote to authorize the study next Tuesday.

6. The good news for the county was that the state gave Milton Meadows a big grant to move forward. The bad news is, they were hoping for three grants, the others for NRP’s Ithaca Townhouses and Lakeview’s West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street). The county is trying to find other funding streams with which to get these affordable housing projects to move forward this year.

The Ithaca Townhomes would add 106 units in two phases near Cayuga Medical Center. West End Heights would add 60 units, including units for those with special mental health needs, and units for those currently experiencing homelessness.

7. Not a big city planning board agenda meeting this month, but still some interesting details. 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: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Potential Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:30
Location: 101 Pier Road
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision is to partition out the square of land Guthrie Clinic would be using for their new medical office building as part of the City Harbor development – they want to own their own building and parcel.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 6:45
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval – Recommendation to BZA

This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

B. Project: GreenStar Cooperative Market 7:15
Location: 750-770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for the Guthrie Clinic (Guthrie owns the land)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

Since the last round, plantings were added, the lighting and front entrance was revised, and the project team is in discussions with the gas station next door to add planting and landscaping there as well.

C. Project: Apartments (60 units) 7:35
Location: 232-236 Dryden Road
Applicant: STREAM Collaborative for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Approval of Revised Transportation Demand Management Plan

“The applicant has revised the site plan such that the previously proposed off-site parking is no longer included in the project and has updated the TDMP narrative to reflect this.”
D. 327 W Seneca St- Housing 7:45
The new shiny. 327 West Seneca is a B-2d-zoned property on the edge of the State Street Corridor – B-2d allows multi-family housing up to 4 floors and 40 feet with 75% lot coverage. It is currently a nondescript 3-unit apartment building, that’s been for-sale for almost a year now (asking price $264,900).
A cursory search of LLC filings finds 327 W. Seneca LLC was recently registered in Tompkins County, and the address it is registered to, is the business office of Todd Fox, CEO of Visum Development Group. This may be the project alluded to in the New York Main Street grant to be written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which talks about a 12-unit project by Visum planned somewhere in the State Street Corridor. No guarantees, but this seems likely to be that project.
5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3099, 314 Taylor St, Special Permit
#3100, 128 Falls St., Area Variance
#3101, 437 N Aurora St, Area Variance




News Tidbits 6/10/2018

11 06 2018

1. For those of you looking out for something interesting next week, here’s your notice. In the village of Lansing Monday night, a sketch plan is set to be shown involving a cluster home development on the remaining phases of the Millcroft property, about 40 acres off of Millcroft Lane and Craft Road. According to the agenda, the proposal comes from Ithaca-based landlord/developer Beer Properties in partnership with Hunt Engineers.

The back story here is that the Millcroft subdivision was approved in the mid 2000s as a three-phase, 31-lot development for high-end ($500k+ homes). As it turns out, the market for that, absent lake views and on relatively small lots, isn’t so great. The Great Recession didn’t help either. The first phase of 14 lots is mostly built out, and the second phase was approved and shows up on town maps, but no construction has taken place. The village has been aware of a project in the works since at least February.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the property listing for the land, which was on Zillow for quite a while – I recall a figure around $850-$950k. The property falls in the village’s medium density residential zone, Cluster zoning means the lots themselves are smaller to preserve natural space. However, the maximum number of units is the same as maximum allowed by regular zoning – 40 acres in sewered Lansing village MDR means up to 87 units, if I’m doing the math right. Not sure if single-family, townhome or otherwise, so keep an eye out for a follow-up.

2. For sale, 15.31 acres off of Wellsley Drive in the village of Dryden. Sewered, watered, and originally planned for 36 homes but never approved. Price of the land $149,900.

Here’s maybe the more interesting part – this borders Maple Ridge. Maple Ridge’s first phase is built out, and the developer, Paul Simonet, would like to build the roads and lay out phase two (and eventually phase three). However, the village’s issue is that there’s only one entry and exit into the development – something they’ve been hesitant to sign off on because of possible safety/access issues.

Now, this may have already been resolved – the village of Dryden has only updated their website twice since February, with legal paperwork for keeping fowl – but if not, there’s the option of buying the Wellsley Drive property and routing a road through there. Maybe $150k plus the extra road work isn’t in Simonet’s price range, but it’s at least an option.

3. The village of Trumansburg commissioned an independent study from Camoin Associates (the same folks who did the Airport Business Park study) looking at the financial impacts of 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) on the village. I’ve been told this wasn’t public yet, but it’s on the village’s planning board webpage, so I dunno about that.

Quick refresher: 73 units. 56 affordable, 17 market-rate. 6 affordable rental townhomes, 40 apartments, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, and 17 market-rate units, single-family and townhome style. 140 residents at full buildout in 2023, assuming one per bedroom.

Here’s the TL;DR on the finances. The net income to the village itself is -$23,757/year when fully built out. The unfortunate truth of residential development is that, frankly, people have needs. They use roads, they call police and fire, they use municipal power lines and water pipes and sewer mains. It is not offset by the village’s share of property taxes, here in this mixed-income example, or in the vast majority of cases. This is a reason to advocate housing density, because the impacts on, say, building new roads or infrastructure is often less per unit.

On the flip side, the school district, which makes up a greater share of the property taxes, sees a net increase of $97,669/year when fully built. Tax revenue more than offsets the expenditure of approximately 33 new students. Not everyone living in has a child, but everyone pays school taxes. This money not only helps the district, the incoming students help ameliorate concerns that declining enrollment may soon lead to consolidation with a neighboring district.

Economic impacts can be broken down into three components – the construction jobs, long-term operation/maintenance, and growth induced by the new residents, who will not just live locally, they will also shop, dine and spend money in the village. There will be an estimated $18.17 million spent on construction, $1.45 million will be spent within the County, creating 20 construction job-years in total (note there are multiple guys on site once, the project is expected to be fully complete within five years), and nearly $695,000 in total earnings. Operation/maintenance in perpetuity creates the equivalent of two jobs, creating $60,732 in earnings and $229,782 in sales. The households will spend nearly $1.7 million yearly within the County, which will support 20 total jobs with over $676,500 in earnings per year. In other words, $2 million spent in the county, 22 jobs and $737,500 in net new earnings from having those 140 more residents in the village.

By the way, if one was inclined to read 289 pages of public comments about 46 South, that can be found here. The project will be discussed at the village board’s meeting Monday evening.

4. Let me note this before I forget again – Park Grove’s Bomax Drive Apartments have started construction. The first two strings of 10-unit, three-bedroom townhomes are expected to be completed by Spring 2019. I’ll make a site visit soon for a longer write-up.

5. Meanwhile, the Triphammer Row townhomes are on pause until the road situation gets worked out. The village won’t sign off on using M&T Bank’s parking lot as an entry route, and the Sevanna Park condos don’t want to allow access to the 15 units through their private road. As a result, the village is seeking to have the road turned over to them, in part to encourage this for-sale plan, and in part because will ownership of the entry road to Sevanna Park will allow them to install better curb cuts and traffic control.

6. Here’s a for-sale property with some small-scale redevelopment potential, this one in the city of Ithaca. A dilapidated house is for sale at 815-17 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. thanks to unsympathetic additions, the historic value is marginal. A buyer could restore it, or if interested, since it’s a double-lot, they could split the lot in two and do a two-family home on each property. Given other recent projects in the area such as 202 and 204 Queen Street and 128 West Falls Street, it appears to be an opportunity to do some modest densification keeping with Fall Creek’s fabric without upsetting the community too much in the process. The property is for sale for $269,000.

7 Let’s tie this up with something intriguing. Next week, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee is being asked to support a grant application by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to the New York Main Street (NYMS) grant program. They are seeking $322,500 from the state to leverage work on four downtown projects – a commercial project in the Clinton House, a commercial project in the Boardman House, a “commercial and housing project” at 108 West State Street (the Ithaca Agency Building), and a 12-unit development by Visum Development in the West State Street Corridor. Any rehabbed housing units will be required to be 90% area median income for at least five years, but I dunno if either housing plan has existing units, I think the Ithaca Agency Building was all office space. STREAM Collaborative just moved into the second floor, so they would know best.

Quick postscript here – there’s nothing but an outline according to the DIA’s Gary Ferguson, so no Voice writeups for a while yet.





News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.