News Tidbits 3/31/18: A Bit of a Lull

31 03 2018

1. In Lansing, a local developer seems to have gotten the message when it comes to a small senior housing project. As reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, the latest version of Eric Goetzmann’s Lansing Meadows calls for 20 2-bedroom units ~1500 SF (square feet) each in ten buildings along a loop road, “Lansing Meadows Drive”. The project uses the entire parcel, with the eastern end set aside for a small (less than 2500 SF) neighborhood retail component.

Goetzmann is less than happy with the latest version, saying that financially it doesn’t work, but he needs to get something built to fulfill the requirements of the BJ’s tax abatement in 2011 – the senior housing component of the project has been delayed so long, the county has prepared legal action to recuperate abated taxes if Goetzmann doesn’t get the senior housing started ASAP. The answer at the last pair of meetings went from “I just want to get this done” to “We’re looking to build 12 units and if we’re successful we’re looking to build some more, which¬†really didn’t bode well for negotiation – at this point, a low or breakeven ROI is a price Goetzmann is willing to pay over paying the county and village millions. The Planning Board is satisfied with the newest design, and a vote to approve a special permit to start construction could be as soon as April 9th. The actual construction docs would take ten weeks and the project has to go out to bid contractors, but Goetzmann is optimistic the units will be built this year.

It’s a quiet month otherwise for the village, with a cell tower and a parking lot expansion the only other things on the latest agenda.

2. Let’s take a quick look at some noteworthy sales from the past month:

The Belleayre Apartments at 702 Stewart Avenue sold for $5,434,500 on the 22nd. The seller was Sebastian Mascaro, who some readers might remember because he previously owned the Chapter House before it burnt down. The buyer was Kimball Real Estate. The 44-unit building, which retains classic Collegiate Gothic details popular when it opened in 1933, is assessed at $3.85 million. Mascaro had paid $4.25 million for the building in November 2011. Don’t expect any big changes here, but it’s evidence of the strength of the local multi-family market.

9 Dart Drive, a 4.56-acre vacant parcel in the village of Lansing, sold for $52,500 to VPA Development on March 22nd. Yes, there is something planned here – the village Board of Trustees is aware. VPA Development’s mailing address is the same as local businessman Nick Bellisario, who is building warehouses on Hall Road in Dryden, and is a partner in the Varna Tiny Timbers (The Cottages at Fall Creek) project. Zoning here is the village’s Medium Density Residentialsingle-family and two-family homes, schools and religious facilities. Zoning is one unit per 20,000 SF for a single-family home, 25,000 SF for a duplex. So in theory, perhaps 8 or 9 home lots if single-family.

3. One of the questions that makes a fairly regular appearance in the inbox – will Maplewood finish on time in July 2018? It’s a good question, one that Cornell and EdR are damn determined to give a yes answer for. To make up for weather delays and other issues, the Maplewood construction team is requesting to do interior work to as late as 10:30 PM Monday-Friday. Keep in mind, this is on top of the Saturday hours and previous workday extension (four hours, two on both sides, to 7 AM – 7 PM). The town of Ithaca, which has to approve these changes, seems amenable to it so long as no generators are operating, doors and windows are closed, and supervisory staff is present – basically, don’t disturb the neighbors.

At last check, unseasonably cold and wet weather over the past several months had led the project to fall behind, and subcontractors to move to steadier jobs elsewhere. The project has fallen as much as 25 days behind schedule. The extensions, if approved, would create an 85.5 hour construction week, manned by different crews.

Side note, the town of Ithaca hasn’t had much else to review lately – the planning board has only had two meetings out of the scheduled six so far this year. The other projects were a single-family home lot subdivision on Trumansburg Road, and renewing the approvals for New Earth Living’s 31-unit Amabel single-family ecohousing development on Five Mile Drive. I have not seen anything underway when I’ve driven by, and the website has not been updated in a while, so it’s nice to know that something is still in the works.

4. For good housekeeping – things are slow in Dryden, so slow they cancelled their monthly planning board meeting. Things are also fairly slow in the town of Lansing, where the big controversy is a plan to relocate the shooting range for Lansing Rod & Gun. The issue is that environmentalists have criticized the gun shot’s proposal for lead shot remediation, as well as saying the range is too close to Salmon Creek. The town is still reviewing documents and has yet to make a decision.

5. Recently, the Collegetown Neighborhood Council floated a Business Improvement District (BID) similar to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. The reception was lukewarm, according to the Times’ Matt Butler. It’s not that the concept is disliked, although some smaller property owners are a bit nervous about being outvoiced by bigger players. It’s more a concern that a BID would likely be financed by a property tax surcharge, something that the county’s (and arguably, one of upstate’s) most expensive neighborhoods would rather not have to deal with. A DIA-type group may engage in security, local beautification, event planning, or other needs as the business owners as we see fit; as of now, it’s still just a hazy idea, but we’ll see what happens with it.

6. The relative quiet in the project pipeline extends to Ithaca City. At the February planning board meeting, U-Haul corporate had submitted plans for a 5-story building that, in the words of Matt Butler, “they kicked that idea to the curb….just bludgeoned the dude.” Apparently it was too much – too big, too tall, no attractive. Also, the project for 207-209 First Street is not as bad as initially feared. Both existing two-families will be renovated, but not torn down, and a new duplex would be built at the rear of the property lots. The board says it could be similar to the Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood, and was supportive of the plan overall.

This month was one of the quietest meeting agendas I’ve seen in years – the only project up for formal review and approval was the Stewart Park Inclusive Playground, as well as updates on the Chain Works District zoning, and the City Harbor plans. City Harbor was a late addition. There is plenty in the pipeline, some of which will come forward in the next few months; just seems there’s a bit of a lull at the moment.

7. Just a reminder – meetings for the East Hill Village neighborhood-scale proposal will be held at the The Space @ Greenstar on Monday 4/9 (an update of the past several months, 4/11 (workshops for concept designs), and 4/12 (presentation of preferred concept designs and alternatives). All meetings will be 6-8 PM, and the public is encouraged to attend.

Here’s a copy of the presentation from last May’s meeting – not anything groundbreaking, but it makes it clear that Cornell’s land holding are much more patchwork than folks might realize. I suppose the owner of the East Hill Car Wash stands to make a pretty penny at some point.





News Tidbits 6/3/17: The Return, Part I

3 06 2017

My apologies for the lack of a weekly round-up. My day job has been busier than usual, and the list of topics just kept growing, making it an even more daunting task. Gonna try and work through a few at a time until everything’s caught up.

1. Cornell and EHVP’s East Hill Village webpage has started to flesh out their Q&A regarding the mixed-use megaproject slated to replace East Hill Plaza. Here are a few details:

– Cornell wants to make it clear that all images to date, include the conceptual from the master plan above, are strictly conceptual and have little bearing on the final product. The more realistic and nuanced take is that Cornell has an idea of what they want and the program format they want it in, for broad concepts like housing capacity, commercial/research space and general urban planning. In terms of an actual layout or tenant specifics, they probably don’t have much.

– Perhaps in response to a Voice commenter and former Ithaca town planning board member who accused the university of segmentation (meaning, during environmental review they illegally broke up a project into phases to avoid a greater analyses and to downplay impact), the FAQ notes that they didn’t really have this fleshed out and it’s separate from Maplewood. Given the size, scale, that it’s a physically separated set of properties, and vague goals they’re walking into this with, that’s a fair statement. If this were, say, a replacement for Ithaca East, which borders Maplewood, it’d be a different story.

– The current thinking is to keep the main retail strip, which was requested at the first community meeting. However, they may take down a portion of it to create a through-street, and reconfigure/relocate the parking.

– They haven’t written off pursuing a PILOT or tax abatement. They are exploring an affordable housing component. Eco-features like solar arrays, heat pumps and net-zero structures are being considered.

– Meetings will continue through the summer, with concept plans prepared for the town by the fall. Construction on the first phase would begin in 2019. It will be multi-phase.

No second meeting has been posted yet, but keep an eye out for updates.

2. Making its round around local governments and news outlets is a recently-published study by local structural engineering firm Taitem that tells of good news for heat pumps, and maybe serve to county one of the town of Lansing’s arguments regarding the West Dryden natural gas pipeline. Although the firm is a promoter of green initiatives, their study indicated that financially, the technological advancement in heat pumps over the past several years has made them competitive with natural gas, although each has pros and cons. For smaller units, a 1,500 SF townhouse in the study, it was found that an air-source heat pump was slightly less in annual cost than a natural gas furnace – for a modeled 4,000 SF detached custom home, it was a few percent more. Ground-source pumps were more expensive (but slightly “greener” than air pumps), and propane was the most costly, as well as the biggest carbon emitter. Although contractors are still adapting to heat pumps, the cost is decreasing somewhat as their use spreads and familiarity grows.

However, not everything is roses, at least not yet. For large-scale commercial and industrial operations whose heating needs are substantially greater, it appears that heat pumps have yet to be competitive, and even Taitem’s Ian Shapiro acknowledges that’s likely the case at present. But while the pipeline will continue to be an issue for larger commercial enterprises, homebuilders and residential developers should be able to adapt without too much additional financial burden or risk.

For the sake of example, the Village Solars charged a modest premium on rents when they went with pumps a few years ago (due to installation costs rather than operating costs), but having a strong product makes up for the extra short-term investment, the costs will potentially balance out over a few decades, and frankly, it makes for good marketing in eco-conscious Tompkins County.

I’ll admit to being skeptical over the past few years, and I still have concerns for economic impacts like the MACOM decision, but at least from a residential construction standpoint, the Village Solars and this study are making a strong statement.

3. Move this one into the “construction” column – Cayuga View Senior Living has secured a construction loan. The mixed-use, 60-unit senior housing project at 25 Cinema Drive in Lansing village has been in stall mode for a year as financing remained elusive. However, according to a construction loan filed on May 25th, Five Star Bank is loaning the Thaler family and their associates $10.88 million to make their project become reality. Along with the loan, the Thalers and their business partners will be putting up $1,796,450 in equity to move the project forward, bring total costs to $12,676,450.

Here’s a cost breakdown – individual figures are blocked out to avoid potential legal issues. But for the sake of illustration, here is the breakdown of the finances. Source of funds to the left, breakdown of hard and soft costs to the right. Breaking down the terms, we’ll start with the hard costs: easements are the legal right to use someone else’s land for your own use – often seen with utilities, they can also be used for private improvements like sewer, solar, paths or driveways/parking. Site improvements include landscaping, driveways, and drainage. Building Cons. costs are actual materials/labor expenses, and tenant improvements are the costs of fitting out retail space as part of a lease agreement. Lastly, general conditions are a catch-all for non-construction labor costs, including site management like porto-potty rental and temp utilities, material transport costs and project management – for this project, site management falls under the general contractor, Taylor the Builders of Rochester.

Soft costs include contigency (cover your rear allowance),¬† overhead developer profit (the amount needed to compensate the development team, which isn’t necessarily the exact same group as those putting up equity, for taking on this project), construction interest and LOC [Line of Credit] fees to the lender, and other line items that are either self-explanatory or too vague to ascribe. At $145/SF, the cost is a fair 10% less than a similar project in Ithaca city (offhand, 210 Hancock’s apartments are ~$160/SF), which can be explained in part by lower land costs and a less complicated site to work within, and to get in and out of.

Five Star Bank is a regional bank based out of Wyoming County in the western part of the state. They hold a few local mortgages, but this appears to be their first construction loan recorded in Tompkins County.

4. I’ll wrap up “Part 1” with a piece of interesting news – Cornell found a buyer for their printing facility and warehouse on Ithaca’s West End. According to a county filing on June 2nd, Guthrie Clinic is paying $2.85 million for the properties at 750 and 770 Cascadilla Street, which is over the asking price of $2.7 million. For that they get 3.12 acres, a 37,422 SF warehouse built in 1980, and a 30,000 SF storage facility built in 1988 and currently leased out.

Guthrie is a regional healthcare provider based out of Sayre, Pennsylvania – their premier facility is the 254-bed Robert Packer Memorial Hospital, which Ithacans might know as one of two locations someone is likely to be transported to in the event of a severe injury (the other being University Hospital up in Syracuse). For the record, Cayuga Medical Center has 204 beds.

Guthrie’s presence in Tompkins County includes some specialty offices and an existing 25,000 SF clinic at 1780 Hanshaw Road in Dryden. That building first opened in 1995, with an addition in 2000. Guthrie has been a building spree as of late, with a 25-bed hospital in Troy, PA that opened in 2013, and a 65-bed hospital in Corning that opened in 2014.

As for what they want to do on Ithaca’s West End, well, I’m working on figuring that one out. I’m hoping the Times writers who follow the blog will cut me some slack and let me try to unravel this one.