News Tidbits 1/21/18: Twice in One Weekend

21 01 2018

1. It appears that 107 South Albany Street has had its exterior design heavily altered, even as the building is just starting framing. The old design’s flat roof and unusual stair column feature have been toned down to a pitched (gable) roof of about the same height and dimensions. According to ads on Zillow, the 1-bedroom units, which will be ready for occupancy by August 1st, will go for about $1,395/month. For the price comes a fully furnished unit with indoor bike storage, high-end appliances, tiled bath, custom cabinets and high-speed internet. Water and snow removal are included in rent, electric is not. Fairly certain Daniel Hirtler is still the architect for Stavros Stavropoulo’s latest residential project.

To be frank, I don’t know how much an exterior design can change without having to go back to the planning board – offhand, I think they can do pretty much whatever changes they like, so long as they don’t violate zoning laws or change the habitable square footage.

2. Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects totally revamped their website. Among the snazzy new updates was a video.

Now, there are an embarrassing number of HOLT projects I can think off the top of my head, but while watching the 1’22” film, there was one project I did not recognize at all. Above, we see two 4 or 5 story residential buildings along a waterfront – the perspective renders behind the gentlemen’s shoulder are likely all part of the same design set, and the white vehicles in the concept site plan are parked boats. It also appears TWMLA is involved as the landscape architect.

Blowing up the image gives the name “Lembeck Landing”. At first, I thought it said Lambrou Landing, and had reached out to see if it was part of City Harbor; the response was that this appears to be another project. I tried to analyze the streets, it doesn’t look like an Ithaca map, and one street may be named “Porter”. Probably not Ithaca, but someone’s getting some nice waterfront housing. Watch the video for brief shots showing the inside of CFCU’s new HQ and some selected material finishes.

Update: It’s Watkins Glen. An undeveloped parcel near its Porter Street. Thanks to Keith Eisenman for solving the mystery.

3. Let’s just touch on the waterfront real quick. City Harbor is going to be a very substantial project. The first sketch plan involved two large apartment buildings and medical space for Guthrie Clinic; Guthrie would lease its recently purchased warehouse at 770 Cascadilla Street to Greenstar for a bigger, grander co-op; and a third location that will be presented at this month’s planning board meeting. The apartment buildings will be 4 or 5 floors and had ground-level parking with large amounts of surface parking for Guthrie, something that planning board was not a fan of. The other Cascadilla industrial building, 750 Cascadilla, may come down for more parking.

On the one hand, underground parking is out of the question due to the high water table, and above ground parking structures have to contend with soil issues as well, likely leading to deep foundations and increased costs. But an asphalt sea on the city’s shores is not something that will get the board’s approval.

Still, we are potentially talking hundreds of units, as well as a substantial amount of commercial space (and perhaps jobs) with the Guthrie component and the Greenstar expansion. It may very well be that this and the Green Street Garage plan will be the big development stories for the year.

4. Cornell will not the idea of that glass “hat” die; they’re calling it a “suggestion of a future roof pavilion”. The city’s ILPC probably isn’t comfortable with that suggestion being so close to the historically-designated Arts Quad. Anyway, renovations are underway on Rand Hall into the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. The $21.6 million project, about half of which is funded by donations, will be ready for students and staff in August 2019.

5. It sounds like the city has had just about enough with the state’s aerial apparatus fire code changes that halted much of Collegetown’s approved development projects. They’re prepared to take steps to eliminate parking on Linden because the new state law says Linden is too narrow as-is to have construction taller than 30 feet. This seems to be in addition to the power line issue. For 210 Linden, whose developer (Visum Dev. Group) specifically applied for some kind of relief, it would just be in front of the building; Todd Fox had already started work when the building codes department were notified and started enforcing the new code, which is not a good scenario.

Ithaca would prefer the state grant a broad variance (the new code has apparently been an issue across the state), and normally removing parking wouldn’t “fix” the underlying problem, but since New York State did not notify municipalities they were changing the law, they’re attempting to compromise on something that they normally would not. It might also explain why activity in Collegetown has been quiet these past few months outside of the inner core, where the streets are wider and the power lines are underground. The city is looking into how to make development work with the fire code if the state refuses to budge on code modifications. To be fair, there is tens of millions in development and its associated tax revenue that the city was expecting and that the state, in the midst of a budget crisis, is (literally?) hosing them on.

Whatever the city decided at its BPW meeting last week, it seems to have made Visum happy. They’ve started marketing 210 Linden’s units again. It’s saying there are 10 4-bedroom units, and 1 1-bedroom unit, while my notes say 9 4-bedroom units. Maybe the basement was reconfigured? Not sure.

Update: According to a Visum Rep, 210 Linden is 9 4-bedroom units and has added a basement 1-bedroom unit. So now it’s 10 units, 37 bedrooms.

 

6. Around the county, not a whole lot else on municipal agendas at the moment; one of the reasons for no update last week. Dryden town’s planning board will be looking at plans for a new warehouse next to 51 Hall Road, as well as a 5-lot subdivision at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road for Tiny Timbers, the Dryden-based modular home builder. Tiny Timbers uses the warehouse at 51 Hall Road, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the new one is purpose-built for Tiny Timber’s growing business. The town of Ithaca planning board cancelled their last meeting.

The city is fairly quiet. The planning board agenda for next week is short and mostly contains smaller submissions – the pair of infill duplexes proposed at 209 Hudson are on the agenda, with some slight design tweaks (the eyebrow windows are an interesting touch on the rear building). To the developer’s (Stavros Stavropoulo’s) credit, the units are design to accommodate families rather than students – the giveaway are the separate dining room areas, vs the eat-in kitchens one typically sees with student rentals. Senior planner Lisa Nicholas also gave written kudos for the quality exterior material choices (Hardie Board fiber cement panels, aesthetic wood timbering, stone retaining walls).

A fly in the ointment, per reader email: none of the bedrooms are legal for 2-person occupancy. They are 115 SF each; the state fire code says double occupancy must be at least 120 SF. So that would be an issue if one considers couples’ bedrooms.

The board is expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms needed before a negative declaration for adverse impacts can be declared. The 4-bedroom addition for Sophia House (111 the Knoll, Cornell Heights) is up for final approval. The proposed playground at Stewart Park is also up for discussion, with the board once again expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms.BPW is not comfortable accepted the $1.7 million playgrounds, gardens and splash pad unless Friends of Stewart Park creates a $75,000 annual maintenance fund. Lastly, City Harbor will be up for a second round sketch plan, informal discussion to obtain feedback for any future formal submission to consider.

The Nines project (311 College Avenue) is not on the board’s agenda this month. Things are up in the air, as the ILPC has chosen to pursue historic designation, even as there is an active project submission. A little awkward, certainly.

On the 30th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to finalize the form-based code for the Planned Unit Development to be deployed for the Chain Works District.

According to notes from the city Planning Dept, the city approved $130 million in development in 2017. There were 29 projects with 568 housing units, 107 of which are designated affordable for lower & middle income (LMI) households. Also approved was 28,600 SF of new retail & office space. These were from a summary sheet from the planning department, and the detailed write-up will come next month.

7. On a closing note, preliminary estimates suggests that Tompkins County added an average of 1300 jobs over the 2017 calendar year, bringing the average annual job count to 65,300. The gain is just over 2.0%, comfortably above the national average of about 1.5%, but nothing that screams ‘boomtown’. Since 2007, the annual average has increased by 7,700 jobs, +13.8%. The numbers suggest that the gains are slightly better in the fall and spring (7500 – 7700 jobs) than for the summer and winter (7000 jobs), indicating that academic year seasonal jobs are growing slightly faster than the overall market.





News Tidbits 11/18/2017: Fears and Hopes for the Future

18 11 2017

1. Here’s an interesting sale – a 62.1 acre parcel on Troy Road sold for $380,000 on the 13th, less than half the original asking price. The buyer, “Troy Heights LLC”, is registered to the same address as Giora and Limor Fix, a semi-retired husband and wife couple who have acquired a number of rental properties around the area over the past decade, with 43 or so units worth something in the ballpark of several million dollars (units are marketed by the Fixes under the name “Homes-for-you Rental Properties”).

The Troy Road property is intriguing because there was a development proposal floated there a few years ago. Rural Housing Preservation Associates LLC had proposed a 130-unit combination of middle-market single family homes, townhouses and small apartment buildings for the site back in 2014; it started as 206 units, the town and neighbors complained it was too big, the project was whittled down to 130, and then the proposal was cancelled by September 2015. Using cluster zoning, the project could have built out 145 units in the low-density residential (LDR) zone, since the town’s cluster zoning allows 2.3 units/acre. STREAM was in charge of the project design, and some of the renders of the never-built apartments can be found here on their website.

So here is a log lot, bought by folks involved in local real estate and with significant assets, under the name “Troy Heights”, which sounds like a project title if anything. I reached out to Giora Fix, and he was kind enough to respond:

“[C]urrently we do not have any concrete plans to develop Troy Road. Once we have them I will be happy to share with you.”

So something to keep an eye on, though it might be a while.

2. Here’s a piece of news from the Times’ Nick Reynolds. With regards to the police consolidation debate, the city wants to have the headquarters downtown on Green Street (likely in that proposed centralized government facility floated for the Central Fire Station site), while the towns would prefer something near the current BPW on the north end of the Northside neighborhood, which offers easy access to Route 13. Consolidation is still a rather unlikely prospect at this time, and there’s little enthusiasm from the more rural parts of the county. But it sounds like the sheriff is keen on killing the city’s ideas before they take off.

3. Bad jobs month for the state, good for Ithaca. The Ithaca metro (Tompkins County) added 1,800 jobs (all private sector) from October 2016 to October 2017, bringing the total to 67,800. The 3.2% increase was the largest gain by percentage in the state over the time period. Unfortunately, the state as a whole lost 11,900 jobs last month, which falls even more to 14,600 jobs when taking away those added by the public sector (government jobs). A study from the Federal Reserve Bank last month notes that upstate economic growth in general has been losing steam over the past year, with exceptions for Ithaca and Albany. New York City is performing reasonably well.

While it’s well and good that Ithaca is doing well, I have concerns about the recent tax reform bill going through Congress. With the potential hit to SALT deductions and the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers, I could see significant negative impacts on the local economy. Given that most communities have property taxes in the range of $2500-$4000/$100,000, a cap of $10,000 as proposed by the House would hit many middle-class and upscale neighborhoods hard. A typical home in Ithaca city is worth about $230,000-$270,000 range at this point, and with about $3779 per $100,000 in property taxes, that means that homeowners with properties valued over $265,000 will take a financial hit, close to half of the homes sold. The Senate’s version removes the SALT deduction completely, affecting all local home buyers. Either case would be a severe blow to the home buying market.

Another concern is the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers as proposed by the House plan. Speaking from experience, I had a waiver that saved me about $14,000/year at the public university where I did my master’s. In my case, seeing that taxes would have cost an extra couple thousand in theory, though the doubling of the standard deduction might have limited its impact on me. A Cornell graduate student is looking at $20,800-$29,500, and could see a tax bill larger than any savings from the standard deduction increase. The Senate version does not tax tuition waivers. Another, lesser factor to consider is that the student loan interest deduction for borrowers on-time with their payments would be eliminated.

On a final note, Cornell’s endowment would be taxed an extra 1.4% under the House bill, as would any college whose endowment is worth more than $250,000 per full-time student. Cornell’s endowment is $6.8 billion, and the school has 23,016 students across all campuses as of Fall 2017. That is over the allowed cap of $5.75 billion as calculated by the bill’s guidelines.

The long story short is that Cornell recruitment takes a hit, as does its endowment, and that could impact current employment as well as future hiring. Politics aside, these “reform” bills are definitely a cause for concern from Ithaca and Tompkins’ economic standpoint.

4. A separate note not so much economic, but something many Ithacans care about – the House bill takes away the historic building rehabilitation tax credit. The renovation of 310 West State Street that I reported in the Voice earlier this week would be off the table without them, and the building will likely be demolished if the credits are eliminated. So the impacts aren’t just economic, but perhaps aesthetic as well.

5. This is looking to be a very quiet late November. For the first time in over a year, the town of Ithaca has cancelled two planning board meetings in a row. Meanwhile, in the city, the only “old business” reviews are final site plan approval for the 601 South Aurora duplex, and final approval for the Brindley Street Bridge replacement.

6. So technically, the Request for Proposals went out for the Green Street Garage site. A site tour for interested applicants is scheduled for December 4th, applications are due by January 23, 2018, and no timetable is given for the selection of the preferred developer. The applications are to include a cover letter, application form, description of project team members with relevant experience, proof of ability operate in NYS, good reputation, financial status, marketing plan, tenant management plan, conceptual designs, financing plan and demonstrated capacity to obtain financing, purchase price, project schedule, community impact benefits statement, schedule, and specific concerns (acknowledgement of site issues and plan to resolve them). A $500 application fee is also required.

Obviously, Ithaca Associates LLC has a huge leg up on the competition, since they not only have a plan fleshed out, they own the ground lease under the eastern end of the garage that everyone else would have to negotiate to obtain. About the only legitimate opening to another developer would be for the western and central portions of the garage, though the city’s requests make it such that anyone else interested had better be thinking big with housing, parking, and other site uses. Saying you’d leave things as-is would be an immediate disqualifier. Unless Fox or Lubin are dreaming up multi-story apartment buildings, it isn’t likely many developers will entertain this RFP. This really feels like it’s just the city stalling for time so they can fully absorb the immensity of the 365-unit, $118 million “Village on the Green” proposal.





News Tidbits 3/12/17: Affordable Housing Week 2017

13 03 2017

It’s been a busy week. Let’s start by reviewing some of the entrants for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 16th and 23rd as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants, same number as last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.982 million requested, and $1.149 million available; that’s up from $1.85 million requested in 2016, with $1.54 million available (about $273,900 of that came from the returned funding for INHS’s cancelled project at 402 South Cayuga Street). In fact, the amount of money available is the lowest it’s been in a few years – in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. With the increasing requests, the chances for funding have gone down this year.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. The big new proposal coming out this year appears to be Lakeview Health Service’s plan for the corner of North Meadow and West Court Streets on the city’s West End. I expanded on the basics in a Voice article here, but for the blog’s sake, we’ll take a look at the finances.

In terms of leverage, it’s a pretty big project – a request of $250,000 towards a $20,081,186 project. However, keep in mind this project is only eligible for HOME funds and not CDBG (Federal Community Development Block Grants), and the city only has $295,245 in HOME funds to work with after overhead is taken into account – this is a pretty substantial request for something still in the conceptual stages.

The project fills a substantial by providing 50 units of affordable rental housing, all 1-bedroom units, in a 5-story building. Not only that, but half of those units would be set aside for those living with psychiatric disabilities. Ten of the general housing units would be available to those making 50-60% of area median income (AMI, about $27-$32k), with the other 40 going for less than or equal to 50% AMI. Those units will be interspersed with the general affordable housing. The special needs residents will be considered case-by-case; it’s for those who are generally independent, but may need assistance in stressful or difficult times. Lakeview will maintain an office on the first floor that will be staffed 24/7.

Some retail space will also be available on the first floor, which helps to cover the operational expenses, and meets the city’s goal of a more dense and vibrant West End. 17 parking spaces will be provided, so it’s expected the residents will utilize bikes and mass transit. The design will be slab-on-grade, with a deep foundation – soil in this part of the city is poor due to the high water table, so projects either have to be one or two floors with slab foundations, or they have to build enough floors to accommodate the costs of driving piles into the ground, in this case 80 feet down. This is something to keep in mind with the waterfront rezoning, as the soils are pretty similar.

The pro-forma assumes $730,300 in income in the first year after vacancies are noted, and about $313,500 in expenses, leaving a little over $416,800 for debt service. Everything goes up a little bit each subsequent year for inflation. The debt service is scheduled to last for 50 years.

Rochester’s PLAN Architectural Studios is the architect, so expect a modern design not unlike the cancelled concept plan for the Elmira Savings Bank site on West State and Meadow. The preliminary floor plan suggests the retail will face West Court Street rather than the Meadow/13 corridor.

As with many affordable projects, this one has a rather extended schedule due to the need to compete for public grants in tandem with private loans – funding applications are being submitted this year with loan awards during 2018, including the IURA’s. Construction would be from October 2018 to April 2020, with rent-up shortly thereafter. It’s odd to think this likely won’t even show up in the 2020 census, but we’re starting to get that far into the decade.

2. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity is continuing to move forward with their 4-unit townhouse plan at 402 South Cayuga. The non-profit has agreed to purchase the land from the city for $32,000, a below-market price that the city is fine with accepting, given Habitat’s plans for 4 owner-occupied affordable townhomes for those making 30-60% area median income (AMI). They are requesting $80,000 towards the $270,000 cost. It appears that Habitat’s splitting it into two phases, two units in each – given the small size of their organization, it’s a sensible approach. $540,000 for ~5200 SF of units is also quite a deal, at about $104/SF, about half the cost of an INHS project. Habitat does have volunteer labor that it can utilize.

Habitat is hoping to parlay the Morris Avenue two-family they’re doing later this year into sustained interest and funding for Cayuga Street – attracting donors with one city project, who might be interested in donating time and dollars to the next one. Like with Lakeview, construction is likely on a 2018-2020 timeframe. They’re also only eligible for HOME funds, so either Lakeview or Habitat will not be getting their full request, possibly both.

3. On the economic development side, TCAction is requesting $84,200 towards their $8.25 million childcare center at 661-665 Spencer Road. The project is part of the Amici House plan and was approved by the city concurrently, but technically separate from the 23 units of vulnerable youth housing being provided next door.

Named for a late, long-time TCAction employee Harriet Giannelis, the project helps fund the site acquisition – one of the land parcels is owned by the county, and TCAction has a $184,000 purchase lease-back agreement (the county bought the land from a private owner, and they’re currently leasing it to TCAction), which will be paid off partly with the IURA funds. The new 7,010 SF childcare center will provide daycare and early-education programs (Head Start) to 40 low-income children. Although promising three new jobs in the application, TCAction expects 21 Full-time equivalent positions to be created. It’s easier to provide an employee’s lifetime income documentation for 3 staff vs. 21. Welliver will be the project contractor, so expect local union labor.

Most of the other funds come from county, state and federal grants – another $500,000 comes from a loan with M&T Bank.

4. Also on the economic side is Finger Lakes Re-Use’s expansion plan at 214 Old Elmira Road. the non-profit has refined their plans for a new mixed-use expansion, and plans to start the city’s formal project review process later this month. Some of the numbers have been tweaked a little bit, but the basic components are the same – Finger Lakes ReUse would work with Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) to bring a new 4-story, 26,100 square-foot (SF) building to FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The first floor would expand FLR’s retail operation, while the upper floors would provide office space for FLR, and 22 units of transitional housing for formerly homeless individuals. Plans also call for an 8,100 SF warehouse for salvaged lumber/wood, and a 600 SF pavilion. 79 parking spaces are included in the project.

As with TCAction’s Giannelis Center, 9 FTE jobs are expected to be created by the $10 million project, but FLR promises to provide previous income documentation for 3. The monetary request from the CDBG funds is $100,000, and they will also be using Welliver. Welliver seems to be the safe choice when a developer wants subcontracted or direct local union labor.

The application states the $100k is going towards site acquisition, which I’m not fully following since they own the property and it doesn’t appear any new property is to be acquired. Perhaps the site has legal stipulations that have to be bought away? It’s not totally clear.

If I can be an architecture critic for a moment, I like the warm colors, but that largely blank east stairwell is kinda bleak. Maybe use those orange panels on that as well? Or another warm color?

Anyway, we’ll find what the IURA thinks; funding will be determined by the end of April, and formally awarded in June after the city’s Planning Committee signs off on the disbursement.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 1/20/17: A Week Late and A Day Early

20 01 2017

1. In the town of Ulysses, work continues on a rezoning and reimagining of the hamlet of Jacksonville. The town held a meeting for public feedback this past Thursday. For those who are unfamiliar, Jacksonville is a cluster of a few dozen houses and a few small businesses about two-thirds of the way up Route 96 from Ithaca to Trumansburg. The town is working with local urban planning firm Randall + West to redevelop the hamlet, which has been plagued in recent decades with not just the standard rural upstate flight, but total disinvestment in some parts as a result of a massive gas spill in the late 1970s that poisoned the wells of neighboring properties, which Exxon bought and left in a state of low, sporadic maintenance.

However, some areas are served by municipal water systems, and the town is looking at expanding the hamlet zone, and creating a hamlet center zone in the hopes that they can give the hamlet “quality growth” and a Trumansburg-like flavor – small shops and density at the core, and somewhat walkable for basic errands, with sidewalks and interconnected streets. It’s a bit reminiscent the old “nodes” concept pushed by the county about a decade ago, but with more emphasis on walkability. The zoning brief shows participants have expressed a preference towards small-lot houses and 2-4 floor mixed use. With the latest public meeting completed, the plan is to have a zoning draft ready by March.

For the record, Ulysses permited 11 new homes in 2016, so even if the revised Jacksonville hamlet zoning becomes more accommodating, don’t expect a boomtown.

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2. From the IURA Neighborhood Investment Committee agenda, a few more details about Habitat for Humanity’s plans for 402 South Cayuga Street. Four units, $720,000 construction cost, about $799,500 with soft costs. Savings from volunteer labor reduce the cost to $709,500. Funding comes from $100k in cash equity attained by the sale of the Morris Avenue townhouses, $300k in grants and $120k in HUD funding. Private donors and grants are expected to contribute about $189k. The initial design and land purchases expenses are being covered with funds from the $50,000 sale of a 32-acre parcel in Trumansburg for public green space. With multiple transactions required before anything can move forward, the plan is to break ground in June 2018 with construction lasting from 18-24 months.

The units will be sold to families making 30-60% of local AMI (i.e. $16-$32k/year) who put in the requisite sweat labor and take approved home-ownership and finance courses. The units will be solar-capable, though they’re still debating if the panels will be installed by Habitat or the responsibility of owners. By the way, the bright colors of the units are intentional.

The committee has said this project pretty much checks off every box on their want list, and Habitat for Humanity has been named preferred developer; contingent on approvals, the IURA will sell the property to the non-profit for $32,000.

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3. For those that might have missed it, the Times’ new journo, Matt Butler, did a nice piece on TCAction’s Amici House development. The 23-unit project will be up for prelim approval at this month’s Planning Board meeting. In the piece, TCAction Director Lee Dillon notes that it’s not strictly for drug rehab, it’s for homeless youth regardless of the presence of addiction. The project also provides a low-cost childcare center with five HeadStart classrooms able to support 40-45 kids. Apart from a couple of concerns and complaint, reactions have been generally receptive to the plan, which will be located at 701 Spencer Road on the southern edge of the city.

As a former Head Start student, I never knew it was geared towards low-income families until I was in high school. There’s a lot of real, tangible value to Head Start as an early education program, especially in a community like Ithaca where the school district the kids enter into is capable and well-regarded. I applaud the Amici House project and look forward to its construction.

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4. Tiny Timbers is getting quite creative. In addition to the five existing designs, Buzz Dolph’s team, working with architect Noah Demarest, have rolled out two new designs. The first is a one-story, two-bedroom house which looks to be in the 630 SF range, with the option of deleting the second bedroom available. The second design is called “big cube”, with a 21′ x 21′ footprint (two stories, 882 SF), slightly larger than the 18′ x 18′ regular cube. The website seems to be down for an update at the moment, but the 3D panorama still works.

The town of Dryden has granted approval to the Varna site, so at this point marketing and sales of the home sites should be getting underway soon. If successful, Tiny Timbers could be a solution to meeting an underserved and difficult-to-serve segment of the Ithaca market – new, modestly-priced homes.

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5. Here’s the funding application for the first stages of the Tompkins County Heritage Center. The request is for $35,500 from the legislature. That would cover community presentations, legal fees for partnership agreements, a retail space plan, branding language and design, concept overview, website, floor plans, exhibit design and the launch of a capital campaign later this year (May for the silent campaign, October for the public campaign). Along with the capital campaign, primary funding may come in part from the $500 million URI fund that the state awarded to the Southern Tier back in 2015. The History Center and its partners are exploring some of the way they can reuse the 18,000 SF space currently occupied by Tompkins Trust; for example, multimedia presentations in the former bank vaults. STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the new floor plans, STREAM will work with St. John Design Group to do the branding, and Todd Zwigard Architects will handle exhibit design. The Solstice Group will be providing guidance in assembling and running the capital campaign.

To be frank, I’m still not sold on the idea of the Heritage Center being a driver of tourism itself, but I could see it being an enhancement to downtown Ithaca’s other offerings, as well as a gateway for visitors staying at the new hotels near or soon to be open within a couple blocks of the site: “Come for the colleges, wineries and gorges, but check this out while you’re here, you just might find other things you want to do and see”.

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6. The initial December 2016 jobs reading of 73,800 rounds out the 2016 jobs reports. Tallying up the average, the initial estimate for the Ithaca metro for 2016 is 71,600, an increase of 1.7% from last year’s average of 70,400. As always, take the initial estimates with a grain of salt, since they’re liable to be adjusted a fair amount in the big March revision. However, should they hold up, it gives Ithaca the highest percent growth of any New York State metro in the past year (although for the record, NYC added 1.1%, or 109,000 jobs in the past 12 months, basically an Ithaca and a half). For reference, the 2011 jobs average was 66,200, and the 2006 estimate was 62,600.

With the exception of those neighborhoods closest to the universities, the biggest driver of the housing affordability crisis is not student population growth, which was about 196 over the past year (+285 Cornell, -89 IC). It’s the people relocating to/near Ithaca for work. That doesn’t capture the imagination and emotion as much as saying the city’s being overrun by obnoxious 20-year olds.

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7. Not everything recorded in an interview makes it into Voice articles due to space constraints. Here are some transcribed notes from the “State of the State Theatre” piece that didn’t make the final cut:

Q: Where do you see things going in the next 15 years? What will the State Theatre of 2030 be like?

Doug Levine: We’d be fresh off celebrating our hundred year anniversary! They don’t build theaters like this anymore, we’ve made a lot of improvements to the building, we’ve completely renovated the restrooms. Technologically, we’ll be a lot more advanced, paperless ticketing will be a seamless transaction. We want to maintain the building charm, it’s just a grand palace, but behind the scenes, we’re getting more efficient and innovative, we’ve upgraded to LEDs, and the stage sound and lights will be a lot more cutting-edge, and we’d like to be more energy efficient. I would like to see more flexible seating in 15 years. We’d stay with DSP [Dan Smalls Presents] long-term, that’s worked out really well for us. We’re going in a good direction and I want to keep building on that success.

Q: Dovetailing off that, Ithaca is one of the few growing areas of upstate, and it’s increasingly seen as a tourism and leisure destination. Do you see ways for the State to tap into that? What other opportunities do you see (I noticed something called Ticketfly)?

DL: Conferences are a growing opportunity, the growing economy has led to a spike in conferences from all over the state wanting to come here, and those thinking creatively reach out to us, we had 2-3 last year and [we have] more planned, they’ll use us and Cinemapolis, it’s never going to be a big component but it’s nice to have those groups coming in. We average over 50,000 a year through our doors, 40% from beyond Tompkins County – New York, Philadelphia, Canada.

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8. It looks like the town of Ithaca wants to extend their two-family home moratorium beyond the initial 9 months. 9 months was explicitly chosen after considerable concern from developers and homebuilders last Spring stemming from the initially-proposed 12 months, which would have impacted two construction seasons. The town doesn’t even provide a new timeline, it leaves a blank next to 2017. Really burning through the goodwill here.

 

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8. Looks like a rather luckluster agenda for the planning board next Tuesday. A bunch of projects up for preliminary and/or final approval. These meetings could start becoming very light on substance if there isn’t more in the pipeline. Here’s the schedule:

1. Agenda Review              6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor    6:01

3. Site Plan Review
A. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center                               6:10
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (TC Action)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
B. Project: City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)       6:30
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Consideration of Preliminary Approval

C. Project: College Townhouse Project 7:00
Location: 119, 121, & 125 College Ave.
Applicant: Kathryn Wolf, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, LLP
Actions: Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

D. Project: Apartments (5 Units) 7:30
Location: 126 College Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

E. Project: Apartments (9 Units) 7:50
Location:210 Linden Ave
Applicant: Visum Development Group
Actions: Public Hearing, Approval of Trans. Demand Management Plan, Consideration of Preliminary
& Final Approval

F. 107 S Albany St – Sketch Plan 8:10

Presumably, the Stavropouloses are heading back for some type of major revision to their 6-unit, 9-bedroom proposal. The previous plan was an addition onto the back of the existing century-old property. We’ll see what is changed, and by how much. Zoning is CBD-60 – five floors, no parking.
G. 821 Cliff Street – Parking for Business in a Residential Zone 8:30

Parking for the medical office building at 821 Cliff Street; perhaps an expansion to help market it, as I see postings for its space scattered throughout commercial listings. Nearby properties are vacant land.

4. Zoning Appeal: 8:50
#3056, Area Variance, 301 E State St.

5.Old/New Business:
A. Sidewalk on Worth Street -Planning Board Resolution to Board of Public Works
B. 2017 Planning Division Work Plan – Planning Board Comments
C. Update — Joint Planning Board/ILPC Meeting (DeWitt House)

Regarding 5B., Apparently the city is still having discussions with Fane regarding a development of 330 College Avenue, the former Green Cafe on the SW corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road in inner Collegetown. I write “a” redevelopment because the previous 12-story proposal didn’t look like it was going to make friends and influence people. Also on the long-term agenda are the Maguire plans for the Carpenter Business Park, Ithaca Gun, and Chain Works, which is still undergoing environmental review. Those are going to be long slogs, so don’t worry about missing anything.





News Tidbits 12/31/16: For Ithaca, This Wasn’t A Half-Bad Year

31 12 2016

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1. Another fairly quiet week for that Christmas-New Year’s lull. There wasn’t anything too noteworthy in real estate transactions, but thanks to a construction loan filing, we have a figure for the construction cost of Modern Living Rentals’ 902 Dryden Road project – $1,192,550. The 8-unit, 26-bedroom townhouse project is being financed by Elmira’s Chemung Canal Trust Company, a regional bank which has been looking to expand its presence in the growing Ithaca market. Most mid-sized building loans like this are financed by Tompkins Trust, and this appears to be the largest project CCTC has financed locally; checking the records for the past 12 months, they’ve previously financed a few single-family homes and that’s it. A larger loan like this might be a sign that they’re building confidence in the project and the market.

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2. Sticking with MLR, a glance at their webpage gives an interesting detail – the 87-unit, 87-bedroom 815 South Aurora project is now described as having 125 bedrooms. The multi-story apartment project sought and persuaded the city to reduce cellphone tower no-build radii last spring so that it could be built near the South Hill telecommunications mast, but because the city only reduced to 120% of height instead of tower height plus 10 feet (meaning 206 feet instead of 180 feet in this case), the project has to be tweaked. No revised designs have been released, but should something come along, you’ll see it here.

Side note, the website has an easter egg – clicking on MLR’s Commons placeholder gives you the 2015 downtown market summary from the DIA.

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3. For those interested in learning more about Cornell’s north campus plans, video from one of their meetings can be found online here. The key takeaways – the first building, when it is built, has to be larger enough to function as swing space for Balch Hall, which appears to be first in line for renovations. Balch has 437 bedrooms, to give an idea of the potential capacity of the first new dorms. Dickson is larger (527 beds), but its renovation will be split up over two summers, allowing for partial occupancy while renovations are underway. Lot CC could potentially be replaced with 1,000 beds in multiple buildings, as well as a dining facility (a new dining facility is seen as less urgent and would be further down the line). Those new dorms would eventually be geared towards sophomores, multi-story but “contextual” in height. It sounds like the first concrete plans are expected to be ready by the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

4. The Common Council will be voting on some bond issues next week that will fund several municipal projects. $500k for street reconstruction, $367k for municipal building renovations, $653k for street lights, $600k for a replacement water tank on Coddington Road, $101k for bridge inspections, $181k for the Stewart Park pavilion, $51k for site improvements to the Hangar Theatre property, $134k for design and scoping costs for the Brindley Street bridge replacement, $340k for the Cascadilla Creekway project and a replacement ped bridge at Sears Street, water mains, traffic lights, traffic calming, new police cars, all totaling $6,464,450. A separate measure calls for an additional $950k in bonds to cover the costs of the Stewart Avenue bridge repainting and reconstruction.

Some of the money covers design studies for intersections – of particular note is a study considering a roundabout at the “five corners” intersection at Oak Ave/Dryden Rd/Maple Ave, which could be a welcome change from that awkward traffic light currently there.

The city issues bonds twice a year, in January and July, to cover its various construction projects. Some of it gets reimbursed with state and federal dollars.

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5. I cheaped out on my Voice summary of the top development stories of 2016 – there are only 5, but only because there was no way I had time to do ten this week. Here are five that missed the cut – the cancellation of State Street Triangle and the rise of its replacement, City Centre; the Tompkins County Housing Summit and the Danter Study, which are important but not really attention-grabbing; some progress in affordable housing, with Cayuga Meadows, 210 Hancock, Amici House and Poet’s Landing; the continued growth of Collegetown, with the opening of Dryden South, Dryden Eddy and Collegetown Crossing, and the entrance of the College Townhouses, 210 Linden and 126 College; and the growth of the local economy, which if the numbers hold up to revisions, 2015-2016 will have the second highest year-over-year gain in jobs since 2000 (#1 is 2011-2012).

When thinking about what’s in store next year, it’s a little sketchy because of impacts from the incoming Trump administration, and how that could impact the national economy – but if things stay consistent on a large-scale, than Ithaca can expect continued modest but steady growth, mostly in meds and eds, with a bit in tech and hospitality. We’ll probably see a couple new projects proposed in downtown and Collegetown, and maybe some smaller residential and commercial projects in other neighborhoods, like the Elmira Road strip and State Street Corridor. The town of Ithaca, it’ll depend on if they get their new zoning sorted out; if they do, there might be a burst of new proposals in some areas. The other towns, it’ll be hit or miss, maybe a larger proposal in Lansing or Dryden but otherwise scattered-site single-family, par for the course. Also, keep an eye out for more housing proposals from Cornell.

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6. It’s quiet week, so let’s finish this up with a little water cooler gossip. From the rumor mill, some of the potential tenants being discussed for the Masonic Temple include a microbrewer (good thing the city just updated their zoning to allow microbreweries), professional event space, and a church. That last one seems a little unusual, but to each their own. The renovation plans call for three rental spaces, one of which is geared towards restaurant tenants.





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

17 10 2016

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

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

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

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News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

wyllie

3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.