News Tidbits 4/29/17: Happy Birthday Mom

29 04 2017

1. The Times’ Matt Butler has written a great summary of almost everything you wanted to know about the Ithaca development approvals process (formally called entitlements). Basically, Ithaca’s high standards and arduous review process come with pros and cons. On a positive note, the city is more likely to get a nice product, the drawback is that it scares developers off. For those who do give the city a spin, the city is a desirable investment for a number of reasons (affluent residents, steadily growing economy), but the lengthy process generates uncertainties (bad for financing) and requires more money (bad for affordability).

There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but it really helps if the city gives developers a set of guidelines for what they’re looking for in a design, rather than forcing them to rely on antiquated zoning. Design guidelines were recently approved for Downtown and Collegetown, which should help, although an overhaul of the zoning would be much welcomed. However, in a city famous for its activism, even the most well-orchestrated plans can be broadsided by NIMBY grassroots, so even with these heavily-structured guidelines, building in Ithaca is likely to have uncertainties and challenges into the foreseeable future.

2. A couple of grants worth noting – Tompkins Community Action was awarded $3.7 million by the state to go towards construction of their Amici House project at 661-701 Spencer Road in Ithaca. The funds will cover about 45% of the $8.25 million construction cost. Work is supposed to begin this summer on the mixed-use project, which includes 23 studio units for vulnerable or previously homeless youth, and a 7,010 SF daycare/early education facility.

In other news,the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County was awarded $500,000 by the Care Compass Network Innovation Fund to use towards the establishment and operation of a 20-24 bed detox facility, much needed resource as the heroin epidemic continues to grip the nation. CCN is a non-profit consortium funded by Southern Tier health centers like Guthrie, Cayuga Med and Binghamton General. ADC-TC is a non-profit that focuses on substance abuse education, prevention and outpatient treatment. No facility was named in the announcement.

On a third note, the sale of 626 West Buffalo Street was completed. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) intends to renovate the house into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The house was purchased for $95,000, and an additional $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The county voted to provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

3. Tiny Timbers seems to be to a good start. The fledging modular timber-frame company run by the Dolph Family has added several members to its construction crew, and they will build the frame components out their newly-adapted warehouse-mill on Hall Road in Dryden. The house in Hector is nearly complete, two more are being prepared (both big cubes), and the gravel road is being constructed for their just-approved five-lot subdivision at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road. Going off the wording of their last blog post, it looks like three of those lots are already reserved or purchased (one lot is a conservation area).

4. Let’s not beat around the bush – you’re coming here for a bit of inside information, not just a news round-up. One of the reasons Dryden and Tompkins County have each committed $1,750 to an infrastructure study of the Route 13 corridor is that there is a concept proposal on the table from INHS for a mixed-use development with retail and 250 affordable housing units, on approximately 50 acres of a 100 acre parcel – half of it is north of the rail trail and would be conserved, possibly through Finger Lakes Land Trust. At 5 units/acre, it’s below Varna’s highest densities, but it’s about the rural threshold of about 2 units/acre.

As it so happens, a quick check of the county’s property tax map shows a 100.44 acre parcel of vacant farmland across the street from 1477 Dryden Road, outlined in blue above. The back half is Fall Creek, so given buffers and general environment concerns, it’s good sense to leave it alone. The land has been owned by the Leonardo Family (the ones who ran The Palms) since 1942.

I asked Dryden Town Planning Director Ray Burger about it, and he knew only what the county said. But it’s something to keep an eye on as the town figures out whether or not to extend sewer to that parcel.

5. It seems like there’s quite the tempest going on in Lansing. Let’s review. All this comes courtesy of the Lansing Star (not for lack of trying on my part. Almost all Lansing staff and officials ignore my phone calls and emails, except zoning officer Marty Moseley. Thanks Marty.).

I. Over in the village, the “Preservation Party” lost the village election by a large margin to the incumbent Community Party by a roughly 75/25 split (240 votes vs 80 votes). This result should settle the Bomax Drive rezoning from commercial tech space to residential once and for all.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

II. Lansing town has inked an MOU with Cayuga Heights and Lansing village to install a sewer line up Triphammer Road to create a small sewer district. However, it’s impacts would be substantial – it would have three primary users – the 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, the 117-unit English Village project, and the RINK, which is expanding its facility. The developers want the sewer so much, they’re paying for it in what town supervisor Ed LaVigne is calling a “public/private partnership”. Properties that do not hook up would not be hit with an increased assessment, according to LaVigne and county assessor Jay Franklin.

A back of the envelope estimate suggests $50-$60 million in increased land assessment, and $1.5 million+ in property taxes. Perfect for offsetting a rapidly devaluing power plant that was once your town’s biggest taxpayer. The village boards still need to sign off on the MOU, but Lansing town is desperate to make a deal.

III. The Lansing Meadows senior housing seems to be worked out, and it includes the  small community-focused food retail component desired by developer Eric Goetzmann. The public hearing is on the 1st; if approved next month, the construction bids will be posted shortly thereafter with an intended summer start on the 20-unit mixed-use project.

IV. Just…wow. On the one hand, LaVigne et al. have a right to be upset. Their town’s biggest taxpayer is faltering, they’re trying encourage as much development as they can to offset the plunge in property taxes, and with debates like the West Dryden pipeline, they have a right to be frustrated. But to say the county’s sabotaging your town is a whole different ball game. To say “[r]ight now The County is on the sh** list as far as I’m concerned,” well…

He deserves sympathy. There’s a lot of BS mixed in with the good of Tompkins County, and his town and its schools are in a real bind. Poo pooing them isn’t helping anybody. But…he can’t magically change how people in Dryden or Ithaca think. Ask solar companies if they’d be interested in town properties, find a way to make residential heat pumps and renewables work. Hell, work with TCAD, talk with Heather McDaniel and the green groups and come up with ideas. I had a professor in grad school tell me that “you lure more flies with honey than vinegar”. LaVigne has a right to be upset, but this isn’t a good look.

6. Now that a few people at INHS and County Planning have been annoyed (sorry guys), back to the news. The Journal is reporting that the town of Ulysses has acquired three Jacksonville properties from Exxon Mobil, in what they hope is the next step in closing a disastrous chapter in the town’s history. Back in the 1970s, the former Mobil gas station at the corner of Jacksonville Road and Route 96 leaked enormous amounts of gasoline and poisoned the hamlet’s groundwater – one report says a person passed out from noxious fumes when they turned on their shower.

The state DEC became involved and ordered Exxon Mobil to clean up the mess, which was carried out from 1984 to 1988, and the multinational gas company purchased most of the affected properties and demolished them – an 1827 church was left intact. The DEC’s case file was finally closed in 2005 after the test levels had receded to more acceptable readings, but Exxon Mobil has continued to own the property, letting the church fall into disrepair.

The town is buying the church at 5020 Jacksonville Road, a 0.275 acre vacant lot at 5036 Jacksonville Road, and a 0.656 acre vacant lot at 1853 Trumansburg Road for $5,001 (the trio’s total assessed value is $84,700). The plan is to install a septic for the church at 5036, renovate the church just enough to keep it from rotting out, and once the building is stable, the plan is to resell to someone looking for a unique fixer-upper. If no buyer is found, the town plans to eventually restore the church on their own. The larger lot on Trumansburg Road is being considered for resale towards private development, or use as a TCAT park-and-ride.

7. Is the Canopy Hilton underway or isn’t it underway? Still kinda hard to tell.

8. On the other hand, it looks like the new medical office building planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, is starting demo work. The stone is being stripped from the existing buildings, to be reused on other structures. The Cayuga Medical Associates plan calls for a $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road, 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space.

9. Nothing too exciting from the planning board agendas around the county – Lansing has nothing up, Cayuga Heights has nothing of note. Over in the town of Ithaca, Cornell plans to try again with its Peterson Parking Lot replacement (after the disastrous first try last April), the 15-lot Monkemeyer subdivision on East King Road continues review, and a 2-lot modification is up for consideration. In Dryden, the advisory planning board will continue review for the Tiny Timbers Ellis Hollow subdivision mentioned earlier, and a 7-lot subdivision of the former Dryden Lake golf course; there will also be some solar panel discussion, and possibly some info on the ~20 unit Pineridge Cottages project planned for Mineah Road.

 





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.





News Tidbits 3/25/17: Out in the Wild

25 03 2017

1. Let’s start by touching real quick on this past week’s Ithaca town meeting. The Bundy subdivision and the renovation of the former Wings Over Ithaca space at East Hill Plaza were approved, per Matt Butler at the Times. The Greentree project was reviewed and the board granted itself lead agency to conduct environmental review. Greentree owner John Gaunt is still unsure whether he’ll keep the Elmira Road building, which is where Ithaca Beer got its start in the late 1990s. Although primarily a warehouse/ag industry project, there will be some potentially public-friendly features, namely a garden park and picnic area. The board expressed a desire to see Greentree work with neighbor Ithaca Beer for landscaping between the two buildings.

2. I followed up with Lansing town planning consultant Michael Long regarding English Village. As readers might remember from last week, that’s the 58 single-family home lots and 59 townhouses proposed somewhere in Lansing – didn’t know where because that was the first anything has been published about it. Here’s Long’s response:

“The English Village is a concept developed by Jack Young to build a network of single family homes and apts. /condos that surround the existing soccer fields along Water Wagon [sic] Road. It is still very early in the conceptual phase so there has not been an formal application made as yet, but a project that has been talked about for many, many years. We don’t have anything specific yet but is a project “In-progress”.”

Jack Young is a Cayuga Heights businessman (and chair of their zoning board of appeals), who owns a sizable amount of undeveloped land in Lansing; most of it is used for farming. The soccer fields on Waterwagon Road are just east of The Rink, which is putting in a new climbing tower. There’s been plenty of conventional suburban development up this way since the 2000s, although in recent years the new starts have slowed as conventional suburban layout have lost some of their allure to walkable urban or truly rural properties. We’ll have to keep an eye out and see what happens.

3. Now turning attention over to Dryden. Apparently the town of Dryden thinks I’m with the Ithaca Times. Anyway, two new projects have popped up on the radar this week.
The first is a 6,016 SF, 8-unit apartment on the 500 Block of Etna Road just east of the airport. All units will be 1-bedrooms. The developer is Ithacan Salim Kasimov; with partner Yelena Kurbanova, they’ve picked up some properties in and around the area for home construction over the past few years, although this might be their first multi-family building. Simple, maybe a little bland – a floor-separating exterior lap band and two different colors of siding would do wonders.

The project exceeds zoning, where 2 units/acre is allowed, and this is pursuing 8 units on 1.78 subdivided acres (the other lot holds a two-family home). SEAF here, floor plans hereThe argument was that these are all one-bedroom units, and a typical house is 3+ bedrooms, so it’s not a substantial variance. The project was in planning before the rural zoning code was updated, which complicates matters.

According to Dryden town planning director Ray Burger, the ZBA asked for more information, but the application has been withdrawn. This project is in limbo for the time being.

The second is called the “Pineridge Cottages”, and went to the Dryden Planning Board for a sketch plan review this week. This one came up on this blog a long time ago – it’s a proposal for about 20 single-family rental homes on about nine acres on the corner of Dryden Road/Route 13 and Mineah Road. At the time, the logic was that the density requirements would let it slip under the radar, since the project is under 4 units/acre and could have avoided triggering most site plan review regulations. But maybe with the revised zoning laws, that’s no longer the case.

4. It’s a Tiny Timber out in the wild! Not something that was expected while covering the Maple Festival, but there it was on the property. This would be the very first one, according to the Tiny Timbers blog. The TT blog says it’s in Hector (which is correct, it’s 500 feet from the Tompkins/Schuyler County line), but the Wellspring Farm advertises itself with a Trumansburg address, so this was really just fortuitous circumstance. The model is a Model L Lofted with optional green corrugated metal roofing.

It’s looks like sales are off to a good start – the 14 Farm Pond Circle lot is pending, as is the Ellis Hollow Road lot. A Tiny Timber Big Cube is also expected to replace a dilapidated home at 104 Grandview Place on Ithaca’s South Hill. Prospects are so good, Buzz Dolph plans to rent a warehouse on Dryden’s Hall Road to serve as an assembly facility for the modular components, and is looking for construction partners in neighboring markets. Modest, affordable owner-occupied housing is an under-served but big potential market, and to its profit, Tiny Timbers looks to be part of the solution.

5. According to documents filed with the county this week, the construction loan for 607 South Aurora is $1,920,000. Tioga State Bank is the lender on record, with Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals as developer. The documents give a March-August build-out for the 4-building project; each building will host 2 three-bedroom units, and utilize modular components. These will look pretty similar to the pair that just opened on Old Elmira Road.

The two-family directly on South Aurora is designed with a full-length porch and sculpted brackets, with Hardie Plank fiber cement boards to look more aesthetically pleasing. The trio tucked away from road will use vinyl siding. Advertisements targeting Ithaca College students are already posted on MLR’s website, saying that the 3-bedroom units will rent for $2,250/month, or $750/bedroom.

6. One of those rare interesting things from the slimmed down Ithaca Journal – it appears CFCU has been doing pretty well this decade. Not only were they recently approved for an expansion into Cayuga County and Seneca County (that’s where Geneva is, guys), the Lansing-based credit union and financial services firm has added 40% to its financial holdings and 42 jobs since the start of the decade. Not too shabby at all, keep up the good work.

7. Interesting planning board meeting shaping up. Here’s the March agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:
Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place Tax Parcel 9.-3-11

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:
Apartments (11 Units) 6:20
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

B. Project:
Schwartz Performing Arts Center Plaza Improvements 6:40
Location: 430 College Ave
Applicant: Ram Venkat for Cornell University
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency .Public Hearing . Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

C. Project:
Apartments ( 5 Units) 7:00
Location: 118 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

D. Project:
Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartments 7:20
Location: 214 Elmira Road
Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency

E. Townhomes- 238 Linden Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This proposal was removed right before the February meeting. Same details as before: 238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

F. Apartments 232- 236 Dryden Road – Sketch Plan 7:50

Another CR-4 proposal is slated for what is currently a parking lot at 232-236 Dryden Road. Given that the parking lot address is 232-238 Dryden, it seems plausible a small, remnant component is being kept. The owner is James Rider, the 57-year owner of the Hillside Inn budget hotel in Collegetown. Going out on a limb, it’s likely he is not the developer, but someone else who happens to have a purchasing option. Four floors, no parking required, on a parking lot – seems like a good opportunity for an infill project without much risk to the city’s historic fabric.

5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3059, Appeal of Determination, 742 Cascadilla At (Carpenter Bus. Park) – Yes, Maguire has filed the lawsuit and this is related. Carpenter is the Plan B at this point, but they want to make sure that Plan B is legal if that’s what it boils down to.
#3060, Area Variance, 322 Park Place – small addition to an existing house.
#3062, Area Variance, 104 Grandview Place – the Tiny Timber mentioned above.
#3063, Sign Variance, 505 3rd Street (Aldi) – Aldi is renovating and expanding stores across the country, a massive 1,300+ store project that’s liable to cost more than $1.5 billion over the next few years (prototype shown above). Ithaca will be one of the first to get the new layout, adding 2,700 SF to its Aldi outpost. The move is to allow expanded fresh food offerings (meat, dairy and produce), and install new energy-efficient refrigeration units. Note that the expansion is to allow a slightly larger combined store signage area than what’s legally allowed (total 272.9 SF vs 250 SF). Victor-based APD Engineering and Architecture is in charge.

6. Old/New Business 8:30

7. Reports





Poet’s Landing Phase II Construction Update, 2/2017

23 02 2017

Poet’s Landing is moving along. Framing for the first eight-unit building is underway; the slab foundation has been poured for two more. The other four buildings in the 48-unit project will come along as the weather warms up – it’s possible that LeChase may have the sites cleared forms ready for the rest of the foundation pours, but they may be buried under the snow (this was the first place I visited last Saturday morning, so the unseasonable heat had yet to do its melting magic).

According to an article published just yesterday, Boston Capital has bought the Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) awarded to Conifer Realty to help finance the project. The Boston-based real estate investment firm paid $7.6 million. Boston Capital can apply those credits to the taxes on its holdings, and Conifer gets the money it needs to pay for hard and soft development costs (which total $10.8 million, the rest coming from federal/state grants and equity). Boston Capital is a frequent partner of Conifer, having bought their LIHTCs many times in the past, including those awarded to the 72-unit first phase of Poet’s Landing that opened a few years ago.

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Quoting Housingfinance.com, which also had the first actual render of the project shown above:

“Located on 10 acres, Poets Landing II will feature 16 one-bedroom, 24 two-bedroom, and eight three-bedroom units in six two-story buildings. Units will include central heating and air conditioning, dishwashers, patios/balconies, and storage. Residents at Poets Landing II will have access to the community amenities at Poets Landing I, which feature a leasing office, a great room, a computer workstation, a laundry center, and a playground. The apartments will be available to families earning 60% or less of the area median income.”

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902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 2/2017

22 02 2017

Visum Development’s townhouse project at 902 Dryden Road in Varna is coming along. The 8 new townhouses are divided up into three building sections – 3-unit section “A”, closest to Fall Creek; 3-unit section “B”, closer to Dryden Road, and 2-unit section “C”, which has a shared wall with the existing two-unit house.

“B” appears to be the furthest along – fully framed (wood frame), roofed, sheathed with ZIP panels, and windows have been fitted. “A” is undergoing framing of its second floor, and “C” is waiting for its foundation to be poured, with forms in place and underground utilities routed and capped.

Visum’s Facebook page says 32 new beds, which is half-right; the eight new townhouse units will have 26 bedrooms. The other six bedrooms come from the existing two-family, which will be renovated. So it depends on one’s definition of “new”. The final product has eight 3-bedroom, 2 bath units and two 4-bedroom, 2 bath units.

While Visum and Modern Living Rentals are different entities with partial ownership lap, MLR handles all of the renting and property management for Visum. The four-bedrooms are renting for $2400/month, and the 3-bedrooms for $1,500-$1,950/month. Quoting the ad:

“Brand new construction in late 2016, has all the amenities needed! Brand new EVERYTHING, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, kitchen complete with a dishwasher! Great sized rooms with ample closet space, all custom tiles bathroom as well! Washer and dryer IN unit!”

Varna has lower premiums on land, taxes and somewhat lower development costs, and those are all savings to the developer. But because it’s not a captive market like Collegetown, or as desirable as Fall Creek, the rents are lower. In short, Varna has lower development costs and also lower revenue. In this case the project team feels those two overarching factors balance out, and the townhouses are able to provide a comfortable return on investment.

All units have August 1st as the move-in date. STREAM Collaborative is the architect, Bella Faccia Construction is the general contractor, and Emery Construction of McGraw is doing the framing. More information on the project can be found here.
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News Tidbits 2/11/17: Cooperation Required

11 02 2017

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1. It looks like the plans for 107 South Albany Street are getting a major revision. Readers might recall that previously approved plans called for a rear addition onto an existing house to create a 9-unit, 11-bedroom apartment building. The latest plans are a little more substantial.

For one thing, the existing house would be no more under the new plan. In its place looks to be a 3.5 story, 8,427 SF, 11-unit apartment building, all one-bedroom apartments. Developer Stavros Stavropoulos has once again turned to local architect Daniel Hirtler for design work; for each of them, this is the largest project they’ve worked on to date. Hirtler came up with a design that offer contextual features like a cornice and an orthodox window arrangement, but adds a modern vertical stair element in the middle of the structure to keep the design from being an imitation. Zoning is CBD-60, so no parking is required, 100% lot coverage is allowed, and the 40.5′ proposal is comfortably within the 60-foot height limit.  According to the SPR filing, the construction cost will be about $900k and the construction period will be from September 2017 to June 2018.

As much as I dislike seeing attractive old houses come down, the new design fits well into an older urban context. Plus, if the medical practice on State ever gets redeveloped, 3.5 floors offers a nice transition to the lower-density structures further south. I’m not a super big fan of the blank wall next to the recessed entry, although the intent is to make it interesting with light fixtures, a brick pattern and an iron trellis that will be grown over with vines. Fiber cement will be used on the upper floors, with brick veneer and granite accents at street level.

On another note, it looks like the city will be looking at a one-lot subdivision next month at 109 Dearborn Place in the Cornell Heights Historic District – the owners, a married couple who are renovating the old PRI into a historically appropriate two-family residence, are looking to sell some of the land as part of the “partnership dissolution”. The PRI renovation is expected to continue. The application says a house was previously located on the undeveloped portion of the property (a glance at old maps indicate a schoolhouse was located on-site in the 1920s). It’s worth noting that the wife is also the owner of Bridges Cornell Heights, a high-end senior living facility on the next block. Bridges previously subdivided a Cornell Heights lot in 2005 to build a second residence to serve its deep-pocketed clients. Any new house would need to go through ILPC review.

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2. Meanwhile, the Ithaca Common Council had their monthly Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting. It looks like the revised 323 Taughannock project has been caught up in the TM-PUD, so it will have to get Common Council approval. Apart from a certain councilor’s general objections to housing near or on the waterfront, this one isn’t likely to stir up much controversy. The construction timeline for Steve Flash’s 8-unit , 16,959 SF owner-occupied townhouse project is June 2017 – January 2018, with an estimated value of $2-$3 million. Potentially, there could be 16 units, since each townhouse comes with a live/work space that could be converted to a separate studio apartment unit.

Also included at the meeting was a session on electric car infrastructure, votes to send laws allowing dogs in Stewart Park and a temporary altar to the Common Council, votes to circulate a zoning amendment to allow brewpubs in business zones, and a discussion of tree plantings. The Maguires also discussed possibly shifting their project to Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart, which is covered on the Voice here.

3. The city of Ithaca has been awarded funding to build a replacement bridge for North Aurora Street over Cascadilla Creek. Continuing the city’s heavy infrastructure investments of the past few years (for instance, the bridges as Lake Street, East Clinton Street, and the work planned for Brindley Street/Taughannock Boulevard), the state is giving $1.178 million towards the replacement span. Engineering work and public meetings will take place in 2017 and early 2018, with construction and completion by 2019.

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4. Over in the town of Ithaca, final approval has been granted to Cornell and EdR’s Maplewood project, meaning that everything is good to go and barring any unforseen circumstances, the 441-unit, 872-bed complex should be open for graduate and professional students by the end of July 2018. The difference between preliminary and final approval is that in preliminary, the concept is greenlighted but there needs to be additional filings completed – tree planting schedules, revised labels on diagrams, construction staging plans, and proof of final approval from the city for their portion. For those who are wondering, the 150-200 workers on-site will be parking at a temporary lot behind the Kinney Drugs at East Hill Plaza, and will be walking the five minutes down Mitchell Street to get to the job site. The first building should start to rise in late Spring of this year, with new structures rising in stages as we go through the rest of 2017.

rodeway_revision_1

The town planning board also reviewed revised plans for the Rodeway Inn at 654 Elmira Road, where the old wings will now be torn down and rebuilt on the same footprint and an enclosed corridor will be built into the new wings. The final result will have a net increase of four motel rooms, to 44 (the previous plan added only two motel rooms). The plan for renovating the single-family home on the property into a community center is unaffected by these changes and moving forward as originally planned.

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5. It’s been behind schedule a few months, but DiBella’s Subs is expected to open at 222 Elmira Road on February 16th.

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6. It seemed a little odd when The Computing Center stated in their IDA application that their plans had already been approved, and there was nothing on file. Turns out they’re hoping to get approval for their 4,600 SF HQ from the town of Lansing next week.

The full suite of documents can be found on the town of Lansing’s website here. It looks like the farmhouse next door to 987 Warren Drive will be spared from the wrecking ball; although The Computing Center bought the property, it’s being subdivided and the barn-turned-garage is the only building that will be torn down. Lansing has one of the more lenient planning boards, so although this probably won’t be fully approved next week, there’s a good chance this project will receive final approval by the end of March.

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7. Over on West Hill, a large vacant parcel on Bundy Road just exchanged hands. The 66.98 acre parcel has been marketed for the past few years as a development opportunity – it has municipal water and sewer, and it’s a stone’s throw from Cayuga Medical Center, Overlook and the Conifer/Cornell developments off of Route 96/Trumansburg Road. Its previous ownership, a family that has owned it in some form since 1964 (moving between members in 1984 and 1991), had it on the market for $359,900.

The buyers, a husband-and-wife pair of medical doctors who live nearby, paid $305,000 for the deed, according to a filing on the 9th. An online search for future hints doesn’t really give much guidance – the doctors have donated modest amounts to Finger Lakes Land Trust and have signed some anti-fracking petitions, and while they own undeveloped properties around them, this parcel isn’t adjacent to their house. It doesn’t really fit the Land Trust’s ideal land donations either, since it’s been substantially subdivided with medium-density residential, and borders a growing corridor. So, it’s hard to gauge just what exactly is planned here. For the record, the land is currently zoned medium density residential (max 3 floors, up to 2.9 lots/acre), but the town’s new comprehensive plan sees the property as new urbanist medium density (5-8 units/acre small-scale mixed-use), with undeveloped open space towards the southwest corner of the parcel.

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8. Let’s finish this week off with a talk about energy. Good news first – there might be a solution to the West Dryden pipeline issue. Background here, but the nutshell is, Lansing has tapped out their natural gas capacity, and in order to accommodate new development that would need natural gas, NYSEG needs to build a higher capacity pipeline from their current facilities in the town of Dryden. This new pipeline would go along West Dryden Road, but has run into fierce opposition, mostly because Dryden residents are famous for being anti-natural gas – this was the town that took on the fracking companies and won. Keep in mind, these folks aren’t just disdainful of natural gas, they are adamantly opposed. So using their property to accommodate something they don’t like is a bit like asking to build an abortion clinic next to an evangelical church because that just happens to be where the land is cheapest, but they would have to share a driveway.

Unsurprisingly, the town of Dryden enacted a moratorium on large-scale pipeline installation. The town of Lansing is not happy because it stymies their development, and they’re extra-concerned that their biggest property taxpayer, the Cayuga Power Plant, is about to go belly up and leave the town with $100 million less on its tax rolls. The county wants to move away from fossil fuels, but it also wants to encourage development and not leave Lansing in the lurch.

This week, a plan was put forth that might accommodate both needs. A small compressor station would be built to keep pipe pressure from falling too low during times of peak demand, so that guarantees service for existing customers. The second prong is to wean existing development off natural gas and encourage new development to use other means – electric heat pumps, like those to be used in Maplewood and City Centre. This encouragement would be given through subsidies or tax breaks. The compressor station and the incentives would be in effect by late 2018.

It looks promising, but the feasibility studies are still ongoing, and Lansing is not totally on board. Both Lansing Village and Lansing Town feel they were not represented during these discussions with NYSEG, and that heat pumps are a major financial burden to saddle homebuilders with. They also wonder if the electrical grid would be capable of supporting so many heat pumps.

Speaking strictly from my experience, I’ve visited construction projects with heat pumps, and while they are a cost increase, it’s a couple percent more than the same structure with conventional heating – there’s a recently-built single-family house I can think of offhand where the cost of heat pumps was about $5,000 more on the $200,000 construction cost. If it’s incentivized, one could make it financially sensible, at least for residential options if not all. Also, I’m wary of Lansing’s reasoning because they piddled away the three town center projects five years ago – if they had stayed on top of it, they’d have $50 million more in property value and this wouldn’t be such a pressing issue now.

That being said, there are problems with this area’s approach to alternative energy. Newfield is the big culprit here – they’re about to put in a moratorium on commercial solar panel installations, which is worrying since this is the same town that redesigned their wind turbine law to ban them in essence. If municipalities are limiting residents’ abilities to turn to alternative energy sources (many urban areas have to turn to commercial arrays or turbines because there’s not enough room/too much demand on-site), then the community will be unsuccessful in weaning the population off of fossil fuels. But Dryden, which is in the process of changing their laws to accommodate large-scale solar arrays, is at the forefront of this issue – those panels could provide the electricity for the heat pumps and help turn the tide on energy sources. It only works if everyone cooperates.