Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 6/2018

15 06 2018

There was an interesting story going around that Maplewood was in serious trouble due to water pressure issues, to the point where its ability to legally house its residents was at risk (no water pressure would have made for a hazardous fire risk). That would have been a huge story had it panned out, but a little bit of checking with the town of Ithaca codes department and the development team turned up no dire situations unfolding, all is going as planned (a welcome change given all the weather and contractor issues that have plagued the project’s tight work schedule so far). There was some worry about water pressure back when the project was first proposed, which is why a new 600,000 gallon water tower is going up on Hungerford Hill Road.

It’s a little sad to see the French Lavender florist and gift shop is closing down after eleven years. It’s not clear if it’s related to construction, or if the timing was coincidental. Coal Yard Cafe was doing a brisk mid-day business at the opposite end of the Maplewood site. With 872 new residents expected by the end of the summer, the site will have appeal to retailers and service providers.

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Webcam link 1 here (updated ~15 minutes).

Webcam link 2 here (updated ~15 minutes).





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 4/2018

30 04 2018

Maplewood has not had the best of luck during the construction. A wet fall, and an unusually wet and cold spring have really dampened efforts to move the project along at a clip that the development team would have liked. Supply issues (framing walls) and concerns from subcontractors about steady, non-weather interrupted work have also made things more complicated. The developer (EdR Trust, with local project representative Scott Whitham of Whitham Consulting) approached the town of Ithaca with a request to extend the working hours again from 7 AM to 10:30 PM for interior work, on top of the four-hour extension (from 9 AM – 5 PM to 7 AM – 7 PM) and the Saturday 8 AM – 4 PM hours previously granted.

It did not go over well. After getting a tongue lashing from members of the board about incompetence, the planning board did offer a partial concession to 9 PM on a 4-3 vote. As a result, barring no further major issues, most of the units are expected to be delivered in July, though some of the later-scheduled townhouse strings will likely not be complete before August. Ostensibly, there’s a fear that the units won’t be ready in time for incoming Cornell graduate and professional students, in which case EdR will incur the substantial cost of putting them up in a hotel, as some of the Collegetown developers had to do a couple of years ago (325 Eddy’s opening was especially rough). The current plan is three phases of move in, on July 1st, July 31st and August 20th.

From what I’ve heard, at least half the units are spoken for in the 441-unit, 872-bed development. Advertisements have been showing up pretty regularly on websites like Craigslist, as well as their own website.

Walking around the site, construction is in just about every stage imaginable, from framing to sheathing to fit-outs to exterior siding and even trim work on the units facing Mitchell Avenue. There have been some changes in the plans, and I’d argue for the better – more color variations in the apartment buildings and the townhouse strings. The southwest corner building on Mitchell was initially supposed to be shaded of blue, but is finished with red fiber cement panels, and the panels on one of the gabled “Ht” strings next to the Belle Sherman Cottages. The apartments also show varying brick and panel ensembles, from navy panels and red brick, light grey panels and maroon brick, dark grey panels with tan brick….it makes for a more colorful and arguably more attractive site.

Quick aside, a second project webcame has been installed. This one looks over the three apartment blocks on the northern (Maple Avenue) end of the site. Link below, along with the southward camera.

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Webcam link 1 here (updated ~15 minutes).

Webcam link 2 here (New! updated ~15 minutes).





News Tidbits 4/7/18: A Day Late and A Dollar Short

7 04 2018

1. It appears the Sleep Inn hotel is moving forward. Building permits for the 37,000 SF, 70 room hotel at 635 Elmira Road were issued by the town of Ithaca on March 23rd. According to the town’s documentation, the project cost is $4.1 million, though it’s not 100% clear if that’s hard costs (materials/labor) and soft costs (legal/engineering/design work), or just hard costs alone.

The Sleep Inn project was first introduced in Spring 2016, and underwent substantial aesthetic revisions to a more detail, rustic appearance. Even then, the project was barely approved by the Planning Board, which had concerns about its height, relatively small lot size and proximity to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so although the Sleep Inn brand is new to the area (and uncommon in upstate New York), it’s not as unusual as it seems. Given the size, a 12-month buildout seems reasonable. Look for updates as the project gets underway.

2. In a similar vein, the gut renovation and expansion at 1020 Craft Road now has a building loan on file – $1.88 million as of April 3rd, courtesy of Elmira Savings Bank. The existing 10,500 SF industrial building has been gutted down to the support beams, and will be fully rebuilt with an additional 4,400 SF of space. The project is being developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton. According to the village of Lansing and the developer, the project will be occupied by multiple medical tenants.

3. The problem with tight publishing deadlines is that if a quote doesn’t arrive in time, you can either put it in afterward as an updated statement, or it gets left out. So on the heels of the report that Visum Development Group is upstate New York’s fastest growing company in terms of revenue (Inc.com’s guidelines were three-year period 2014-16 and at least $100,000 in revenue to start), I wanted to share this for those who might have missed the article update. The statement comes courtesy of Todd Fox, who was asked for comment and responded the following day.

“I would love to acknowledge the Visum team because without them I would never be able to accomplish what I am doing. I’m blessed to have the most passionate and talented people I have ever met. Chris Petrillose is my longest running team member and is the backbone of operations. I also want to acknowledge Patrick Braga, Matt Tallarico, Marissa Vivenzio, and Piotr Nowakowski. They are all rock stars and deserve so much of the credit for our success!

We are currently looking to expand into several new markets, which are as far south as Sarasota Florida and as far west as Boise Idaho. For the Ithaca market, we are essentially hitting the breaks on student housing for Cornell, as we beginning to experience some softening in the market. Our new focus is on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals. We actually have multiple properties under contract and plan to bring about 1,000 to 2,000 new beds online over the next several years.”
Note the last parts. The market for student housing if softening. Visum will focus on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals, things Ithaca could use more of, and 1,000 to 2,000 beds would certainly make a dent in the housing deficit. Of course, proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see what happens over the next several years.

4. The town of Ithaca was less than pleased about Maplewood’s request to extend indoor working hours until 10:30 PM. Labor, weather and building supply (wood frame) issues were cited as reasons for the needed extension. The Ithaca Times’ Matt Butler, who was at the meeting, provided this quote:

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Yikes. The “happy medium” the board finally gave in to was construction until 9 PM on buildings interior to the project site, away from the main roads. The tradeoff is that EdR and Cornell now expect to not have some of the later structures ready until August 20th, practically move-in day for all of Cornell’s on-campus undergrads.

5. Readers of the Voice and Times will know that the county is pursuing some of the $3.3 billion in federal dollars earmarked but not yet disbursed for opioid crisis treatment. While a temporary addiction facility is being prepared, there are plans in the works to open a detox and stabilization facility in Tompkins County. Unfortunately, it needs much more funding to move forward. The new facility will cost $11 million to build and make operational, and so far about $1 million has been received so far in grants.

For the purpose of this blog, I asked about the design beside Angela Sullivan and Senator Schumer – it is a conceptual design for demonstrative purposes, and a location for a new facility has not yet been fully determined. However, they intend to send a press release once a site has been selected.

By the way, the green logo at lower right is a giveaway on the architect – that would be Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, who are specialists in healthcare facilities.

6. New to the market this week, “Clockworks Plaza” at 402 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 12,821 SF building was one of the few sizable buildings built in Ithaca in the 1990s (1993, to be exact), and is on the market for $2.6 million. The current owner, masked by an LLC, bought the property for $1.5 million in April 2016, the same value for which it is assessed.

That came up on the blog here. The buyer was Steven Wells of suburban Boston, who purchased the property in a buying spree that also included 508 West State Street (former Felicia’s, empty at the time) and 622 Cascadilla Street. 508 West State is now rented by Franco’s Pizzeria. Zaza’s still occupies 622 Cascadilla.

As I wrote at the time of sale:

“They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.”

The reason why the public relations game was ‘behind the eight ball’? He was the guy who sold 602 West State Street and adjacent low-income housing properties to Elmira Savings Bank. There were accusations that the transaction between Wells and the bank was poorly handled, with claims that the lease terms of existing tenants were changed improperly, and tenants not being told their homes were being sold. It’s not clear it that’s accurate, because no one would share their documents to prove their claims. But what is clear is that this created a nightmare situation.

 

7. It looks likely fewer people will be living in City Centre than first intended. The initial 192-unit mix was 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms and 53 two-bedrooms. The newly-proposed mix is 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. It also appears the retail space has been reconfigured from four spaces to three, though the overall square footage appears to be about the same. There are some minor exterior changes proposed as well; paver colors, lighting, the types of metal panel used (Alucoil to Overly Dimension XP and Larson ACM panels), landscaping, and exterior vents. Assuming the PDF is accurate, the panel change is slight, but gives the building a slightly darker grey facade. Some of these changes are in response to code and safety discussions, others are likely value engineering.

8. From the city’s project memo, we see Greenstar’s new store (which is going into the Voice) and a pair of new if small projects.

The first is that it appears Benderson is expanding South Meadow Square again. Along with the pair of endcap additions underway, the Buffalo-based retail giant is looking to add a 3,200 SF addition to the west endcap of one of its smaller retail strings. The addition is on the Chipotle/CoreLife strip, next to Firehouse Subs. The dumpster enclosure currently on-site will be relocated to the Panera strip across the road to make room for the building, which will be flush to the sidewalk with…a blank wall. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity there. The 35′ x 92′ addition has no announced tenant, though 3,200 SF is reasonable for a smaller restaurant or retail space (Chipotle is 2,400 SF, for instance, and Panera 4,100 SF; the stores in this particular retail strip, which includes a vitamin store, tanning salon and barber shop, are in the range of 1,380-4,089 SF). The total project cost is only $132,000, and no construction period is given in the Site Plan Review document.

The second is a “pocket neighborhood” in Northside. Barken Family Realty of Ithaca is planning to renovate two existing homes at 207 and 209 First Street, and add a new 2,566 SF two-family home behind the properties. They would be set up as a “pocket neighborhood”, consolidated into a single tax parcel with a common area, picnic tables and raised plant beds. The fence would be repaired and the gravel driveways improved. No demolition is planned, but five mature trees would come down to make way for the new home (6-8 new trees will be planted).

Hamel Architects of Aurora designed the new duplex, which is intended to quietly fit into the neighborhood context. Each unit will be two bedrooms. The $265,000 project would be built from October 2018 to March 2019.

9. We’ll finish this week with a potential new build. The above project was first showcased on STREAM Collaborative’s Instagram at an early stage. It is a 3.5 story, 11,526 SF building with 10 units (6 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom), and the two one-bedrooms on the first floor are live-work spaces – the front entrances are workspaces for home businesses. It is proposed along West Seneca Street, and only the south side of West Seneca allowed for mixed-uses like live/work spaces. Materials look to be Hardie Board fiber cement lap siding and trim. The design is influenced by other structures along West Seneca, and a bit from STREAM architect Noah Demarest’s time with Union Studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked before setting up his own practice back in Ithaca – there are similarities between here and Union Studio’s Capitol Square mixed-use design in Providence.

The project actually was sent with its name and title, but fingers crossed, it will be part of a bigger article.

 

 

 





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Looking at the photos closely, there are some differences between what was shown in renders, and what’s being built. “Nt”, the corner building, has different window patterns and sizes, different dormers, and a steeper roof pitch than shown any of the renders. Taking a guess, the project team is value engineering on the fly, going with quicker or easier design options to save on costs and stay closer to the tight timeline. As long as the habitable square footage and distribution of units/bedrooms in unchanged, this is allowed, for both projects that require an EIS, and smaller ones that fall under the usual SEQR negative declaration. It is rather odd to have such a steep roof pitch on “Nt” if there’s no habitable space in the attic, because that’s not really a time saver or money saver compared to the lower roof pitch, and no windows means no legal bedrooms.

The neighboring strings on Mitchell were also modified, though at a glance at “Ot”, it only appears to be the dormers, which were combined and made flush with the exterior wall. There’s a pretty strong likelihood that Pt and It-2, which are still being framed, will show similar modifications.

The modern string that has been framed, fitted and wrapped, “Kt-2”, appears to have the same shape and features as advertised. The modern units are cheaper to build per unit, so they would have been less likely to undergo additional value engineering.

Apartment Buildings “B” and “C” are being framed, with “C” up to its top floor, and “B” still working on the first floor. There are no obvious changes to the design of Building “C” when compared to renders.

Most subterranean utilities have been laid at either end of the site, and several foundations have been completed. Excavation and utilities installation are ongoing closer to Maplewood’s center. With all the disturbed soil piled around, it’s hard to tell just how many structures have commenced with excavation and foundation work, but an offhand estimate for the number of foundations underway or complete is at least one dozen. Some wooden forms for concrete pours of later townhouse strings can be seen around the property, as is steel rebar for strengthening the concrete, and the large cement mixers towards the northern end of the site. CMU stairwells have been or are being built for the northern trio of multi-family apartment buildings, “D”, “E”, and “F”. Note the construction staging basically has the ends of the site being built first, with work moving steadily inward through the fall and winter. The first units will be finishing up around the time the last ones start construction.

 

 





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part III: Site Photos

5 09 2017

The rough construction timeline for the Maplewood structures looks something like this: Apartment buildings B and C started construction first in the spring, and the first townhouses were scheduled to begin in May. All of the major apartment buildings are expected to start construction by the end of August, while the last of the townhouse strings will not begin build-out until January 2018. Roughly speaking, the ends of the project site have earlier starts than structures in the middle of the site, and the more traditional-looking townhouse units start construction before the more modern strings.

The timeline is likely slightly behind schedule. During the mid-August site visit, a worker said that five of the foundations had been completed, but it seems at least six should have been finished by that point. The reason given for the relatively slow progress has been the wet summer, which has interfered with certain parts of the construction. For example, concrete pouring and curing for the foundations becomes a lot more complicated with the presence of frequent downpours. Rainwater can damage the foundation during certain stages of the process by causing the new pour to become soft again, reducing its structural integrity. Depending on timing, extra precautions have to be taken, or even worse, if it’s a real washout of a day the pour simply can’t take place at all. Several construction days have been lost, and to pick up the slack, the project asked for and received approval to increase the workday from 8 AM – 6 PM, to 7 AM – 7 PM, with the town’s stipulation that the extra two hours keep work noise below 85 decibels.

The photos below come from three separate time periods – February, which was mostly just site prep and excavation for underground utilities, the continuation of utilities excavation and installation in April, and the readying of connections to those new utilities in August. The circular concrete structures seen in April and August are for underground electric utility junctions. Similar structures may be used for wastewater pipes and drainage pipes. The teal pipes are PVC sewer pipes, and the rectangular precast concrete sections are protective covers. New curbing is being installed along Mitchell. I don’t know what the ridged crescent-shaped orange structures are, but if a reader knows, feel free to chime in in the comments.

Above-ground, it looks like the masonry stairwells for apartment buildings B and C have been built as of August. The slots in the sides suggests structural steel frames. A trailer on-site belongs to Peppard & Sons Masonry of Lockwood, so they may be the pertinent sub-contractor. Foundation slabs can be seen, and wood forms have been prepared for future pours.

 

Pre-development site photos:

February 2017:

June 2017:

August 2017:





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part II: Site Plan and Layout

3 09 2017

Unlike most projects, Maplewood is basically an entire new neighborhood – there are five large apartment buildings, 21 townhouse strings, and the community center, for a grand total of twenty-seven buildings. The building elevations for each structure can be found in Building Set Plans 1-3, on the town of Ithaca’s website here.

The pretty version of the site plan, from STREAM Collaborative, has most of the buildings pretty clearly labeled, but is a little outdated – the townhouses along Mitchell were added late in the process, and were not labelled here. However, this is the easiest diagram to follow, and highlights some of the landscaping features of the project. The childrens’ play area is located at the intersection of James Lane (the north-south road) and Lena Street (the east-west road). The overlook is a natural area at one of the highest elevations of the property, and the community garden is at the turn of James Lane. The bus stop/food truck area, unlabeled here, is the intersection of Maple Avenue and Veterans’ Way. The knoll between apartment buildings D, E and F is the location of the Mitchell family cemetery plot, last active in the 1850s.

Here is the more accurate but less attractive site plan. The townhouses along Mitchell have been renamed, but otherwise everything else is the same. Notably, there is no apartment building “A”. “A” was the multi-story building along Mitchell Avenue that was removed late in the planning process. In short, five multi-story buildings, B, C, D, E, and F. Then there are the townhouses, to be covered in detail in the next section.

The Townhouses

The townhouses are all 2-4 bedrooms. Counting them all off, there’s At, Bt, Ct, Dt, Et, Ft, Gt-1, Gt-2, Ht-1, Ht-2, It-1 and It-2, Jt-1 and Jt-2, Kt-1 and Kt-2, Lt, Mt, Nt, Ot, and Pt. The color coding is for easy reference.

Each uniquely-lettered string is its own design. The Gt’s, Jt’s, and Kt’s are near-identical twins exception for unit layout and building elevation steps to accommodate slopes. The more traditional-looking Ht-1 and Ht-2, and It-1 and It-2 strings are mirror images of their same-lettered counterpart.

The modern-looking townhouses use a brick veneer, light and dark fiber cement panels and lap siding, cast stone accents and wood canopies, along with concrete foundations and stairs. The more traditional townhouse strings (Ht’s, It’s, Nt, Ot, Pt) are finished with fiber cement siding and trim boards. All townhouses are 2.5-3 stories in height. Modern townhouse strings At, Dt, Et, Gt-1 and Gt-2 take advantage of the site’s slope to employ rear garages tucked into the hillside.

The ones with integrated garages (At, Dt, Et, Gt1/2’s) are all 3-bedroom units. At is 4 units, Dt is 5 units, Et is 6 units, and the Gt’s are 7 units each.

Two of the modern townhouse units have no garages and large full-length setbacks on their third floors. This includes Bt (4 units) and Lt (5 units). They are all three-bedroom units.

Five of the modern strings have no garage and full-length top floors. These are 4-bedroom units, like Ct (4 units), Ft (6 units) and Mt (6 units). Kt-1 and Kt-2 (Kt-1 shown in the render above) have three stacked flat 2-bedrooms on each end of the townhouse string (the first floor is one 2-bedroom unit, and the other two-bedrooms are stacked over it), and 4 four-bedroom units in the middle, for ten units each.

Then there are strings that a mixture of setbacks and no setbacks. Jt-1 and Jt-2 have 11 units apiece – 3 2-bedroom stacked units on each end of the string for a total of 6 2-bedroom units, and 3 three-bedroom and 2 four-bedroom units are wedged in between. The three-bedrooms lack a rear bedroom on the top floor.

Now the traditional units. Ht-1 and Ht-2 appear to be 7 units each – 4 3-bedrooms, 3 2-bedrooms in a stacked flat format. They are separated by the West Sylvan Mews (and the small street next to the Community Center is called East Sylvan Mews). It-1 and It-2 are almost the same as the Ht’s, but the end unit is a bit larger, resulting 4-bedrooms instead of three (for a unit total per building of 3 2-bedrooms stacked, 3 3-bedrooms, 1 4-bedroom). Nt is the same as It, but with one less three-bedroom in the middle, resulting in a total of six units – three stacked flat two-bedroom units, two three-bedrooms, and one four-bedroom unit. Lastly, Ot and Pt are the same basic design, except Pt has one more unit in the middle. Ot is clad in green siding and has 4 three-bedroom units, and Pt is clad in red siding and has 5 three-bedroom units.

The Apartment Buildings

These should be easier to follow along with, as they were labelled from south to north. All multi-story apartments use the modern design motif. The buildings generally have the same floor plan for each full floor, except for utilities/storage rooms, and that the first-floor lobby is the location of the community study room on each floor directly above.

Building B is a 4-story, L-shaped building. The building will contain 4 two-bedrooms, 2 three-bedrooms, 1 one-bedroom and 11 studios per floor. Assuming one bed/resident per studio and one per bedroom otherwise, that means 72 units and 104 beds.

Building C is a 4.5 story, J-shaped building with a partially exposed basement level. The basement has 2 two-bedroom units, one one-bedroom unit and two studio units. Each of the four upper floors has 5 two-bedroom units, 4 one-bedroom units, and 4 studio units. That results in 57 units and 79 beds.

Building D is a 4-story. L-shaped building with 4 three-bedrooms, 2 two-bedrooms, 5 one-bedrooms and 3 studios per floor. At full occupancy, Building D’s 56 units will have 96 beds.

Building E (shown above) is a 4-story, L-shaped building. The corner facing Maple Avenue and Veteran’s Way will have a small retail space; the same space on the second through fourth floors is a two-bedroom unit. Overall, the building will have 16 three-bedroom units, 7 two-bedroom units, 16 one-bedroom units and 28 studios (about 106 beds).

Building F is a 4.5 story, I-shaped building. The habitable basement has 1 two-bedroom unit, 1 one-bedroom, and 3 studios. Each of the upper floors has 3 three-bedroom units, 2 two-bedroom units, 4 one-bedroom units, and 3 studios. The final sum is 53 units and 78 beds. In sum, the apartment buildings will provide 305 units and 463 beds.

The community center is something of a question. It looks like two floors with a 100′ x 65′ footprint, but I haven’t seen an exact square footage beyond early approximations of 5,000 SF.





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part I: History and Planning

28 08 2017

Being as large and complex as it is, it was hard to figure out a way to present the Maplewood project clearly and coherently. After some thinking, it seems the best combination of clarity and detail will be to split it into three sections. This section, Part I, will be an overview of the site history and project planning. Part II will examine and break down the site plan with all of its contributing structures. Part III will be the regular construction update, which will be bi-monthly just like all the others.

Quick primer note – Maplewood Park was the name of the old complex. The new one is just called “Maplewood”. With the shorthand for Maplewood Park being Maplewood, it can get confusing.

Let’s start with the background. Love it or not, Cornell University is one of the major defining organizations of the Ithaca area. It employs nearly 10,000 people and brings billions of dollars in investment into the Southern Tier, Tompkins County and Ithaca. That investment includes the students upon which the university was founded to educate.

Traditionally, neither founder Ezra Cornell nor first university president Andrew Dickson White were fans of institutional housing. Their preference was towards boarding houses in the city, or autonomous student housing (clubs, Greek Letter Orgs, etc), where it was felt students would learn to be more independent. This mentality has often underlain Cornell’s approach to housing – it’s not a part of their primary mission, so they only build campus housing if they feel it helps them meet academic and institutional goals. If many potential students are opting for other schools because of housing concerns, or the university is under financial strain because it has to subsidize high housing costs in their scholarships, then Cornell is motivated to build housing in an effort to improve its situation and/or become more competitive with peer institutions.

With that in mind, being one of the top-ranked schools in the world means that, in the historical context of the university’s goals and plans, new housing is rarely a concern. Cornell will update housing in an effort to be more inclusive and to improve student well-being, but with labs, classrooms and faculty offices taking precedence, building new housing is rarely an objective. Only about 46% of undergrads live on campus, and just 350 of over 7,500 graduate and professional students.

From 2002 to present, Cornell has added 2,744 students, with a net increase in Ithaca of about 1900. The net increase in beds on Cornell’s Ithaca campus during that same time period is zero. While Cornell did build new dorms on its West Campus, they replaced the University “Class of” Halls. 1,800 beds were replaced with 1,800 beds. In fact, the amount of undergraduate and graduate housing on campus had actually decreased as units at Maplewood Park and the law school Hughes Hall dorm were taken offline, either due to maintenance issues, or for conversion to office/academic space. When the announcement for further decreases came in Fall 2015, I wrote a rare Ithaca Voice editorial, and even rarer, it brought Cornell out to the proverbial woodshed for poor planning and irresponsibility.

To be fair, while Cornell was the guilty body, removing housing isn’t a problem on its own. It’s when the local housing market can’t grow fast enough to support that, that it becomes a problem. The Tompkins County market is slow to react, for reasons that can be improved (cumbersome approvals process) and some that can’t (Ithaca’s small size and relative isolation poses investment and logistical hurdles). In the early and mid 2000s housing was added at a decent clip, so the impacts were more limited. But housing starts tumbled during and after the recession, and it was unable to keep up. As Cornell continued to add students in substantial quantities, it became a concern, both for students and permanent residents.

By the mid-2010s, Cornell was faced with financial strains, student unhappiness and worsening town-gown relations, all related to the housing issue. As a result, the past couple years have become one of those rare times where housing makes it close to the top of Cornell’s list of priorities.

In weighing its options, one of the long-term plans was to redevelop the 17-acre Maplewood Park property. The property was originally the holdings of an Ellis Hollow tavern keeper and the Pew family before becoming the farmstead of James and Lena (sometimes Lyna) Clabine Mitchell in the early 1800s. In 1802, James was passing through from New Jersey to Canada with plans to move across the border, but stopped in the area, liked it, and bought land from the Pews, then moving the rest of his family up to Ithaca. Apparently there’s a legend of Lena Mitchell attacking and killing a bear with a pitchfork for eating her piglets. Many of the home lots in Belle Sherman were platted in the 1890s from foreclosed Mitchell property.

Like many of the Mitchell lands, it looks like the property was sold off around 1900 – a Sanborn map from 1910 shows a brick-making plant on the property along the railroad (now the East Ithaca Rec Way) and not much else for what was then the city’s hinterland. It’s not clear when Cornell acquired property, but by 1946, Cornell had cleared the land to make way for one of their “Vetsburgs”, also known as Cornell Quarters. The 52 pre-fabricated two-family homes were for veterans with families, who swelled Cornell’s enrollment after World War II thanks to the GI Bill. Once the GIs had come and gone, Cornell Quarters became unfurnished graduate housing, geared towards students with families, and international students.

The Cornell Quarters were meant to be temporary, and so was their replacement. In 1988-89, the university built the modular Maplewood Park Housing, with 390 units/484 beds for graduate and professional students, and an expected lifespan of 25 years. The intent was to replace them with something nicer after several years, but given Cornell’s priorities, and housing typically not among them, it fell to the back burner. As temporary units with marginal construction quality and upkeep, poor-condition units were closed off in later years, and capacity had fallen to about 356 beds when the complex’s closure was announced in May 2015 for the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

Cornell had long harbored plans to redevelop the Maplewood site – a concept schematic was shown in the 2008 university Master Plan. After weighing a renovation versus a rebuild with a few possible partners, the university entered into an agreement with national student housing developer EdR Trust to submit a redevelopment proposal. The partnership was announced in February 2016, along with the first site plan.

The core components of the project were actually fairly consistent throughout the review process. The project would have 850-975 beds, and it would be a mix of townhouse strings and 3-4 apartment buildings, with a 5,000 SF community center to serve it all. The project adheres to New Urbanist neighborhood planning, which emphasizes walk-ability and bike-ability, with interconnected and narrow streets, and parking behind buildings rather than in front of them. Energy-efficient LEED Certification was in the plans from the start.

 

However, the overall site plan did evolve a fair amount, mostly in response to neighbor concerns raised through the review process. Many residents on or near Mitchell Road were uncomfortable with multi-story buildings near them, so these were pulled further back into the complex, and late in the process the remaining Mitchell Street multi-story buildings were replaced with very-traditional looking townhomes with a smaller scale and footprint. More traditional designs were also rolled out for the pair of townhouse strings closest to Worth Street, since neighbors noted they would be highly visible and wanted them to fit in. The building planned in the city’s side was also pulled inward into the parcel early on due to neighbor concerns – it became an open plaza and bus stop. The university was fairly responsive to most concerns, although the most adamant opposition didn’t want any multi-story units at all, and really preferred as few students and as few families as possible.

For the record, that is every site plan I have on file. Go clockwise from top left for the chronology. So from beginning to end, there were at least five versions made public. The final product settled on 442 units with 872 bedrooms, with units ranging from studios to 4-bedrooms.

It’s also worth pointing out that the town of Ithaca, in which the majority of the property lies (the city deferred the major decision-making to the town), had a lot of leverage in the details. The town’s decades-old zoning code isn’t friendly to New Urbanism, so the property had to be declared a Planned Development Zone, a form of developer DIY zoning that the town would have to review and sign off on. Eventually, the town hopes to catch up and have form-based code that’s more amenable to New Urbanism. The town also asked for an Environmental Impact Statement, a very long but encompassing document that one could describe as a super-SEQR, reviewing all impacts and all mitigation measures in great detail. The several hundred pages of EIS docs are on the town website here, but a more modest summary is here. If you want the hundreds of pages of emailed comments and the responses from the project team, there are links in the article here.

Some details were easier to hammer out than others. The trade unions were insistent on union labor, which Cornell is pretty good about, having a select group of contractors it works with to ensure a union-backed construction workforce. Also, at the insistence of environmental groups, and as heat pumps have become more efficient and cost-effective, the project was switched from natural gas heat to electric heat pumps, with 100% of the electricity to come from renewables (mostly off-site solar arrays).

Taxes were a bit more delicate, but ended up being a boon when it was decided to pay full value on the $80 million project. It was a borderline case of tax-exemption because Cornell would own the land and EdR would own the structures, and lease the land for 50 years; but Maplewood Park was exempt, so it could have been a real debate. Instead, EdR said okay to 100% taxation, which means $2.4 million generated in property taxes on a parcel that previously paid none. Some folks were also concerned if the schools could handle the young child influx, but since Maplewood Park only sent about 4 kids to the elementary school on average, and the new plan would send 10 students when the school has capacity for another 26, so that was deemed adequate.

On the tougher end, traffic is a perennial concern, and Cornell wasn’t about to tell graduate and professional students and their families to go without a car. Streetscape mitigations include raised crosswalks, curbing, and landscaping, EdR is giving the town $30,000 for traffic calming measures (speed humps and signage) to keep the influx of residents orderly and low-speed. A new 600,000 gallon water tank also has to be built (planned for Hungerford Hill Road).

One of the thorniest issues were the accusations of segmentation, meaning that Cornell was falsely breaking their development plans up into smaller chunks and hiding their future plans to make the impacts seem smaller. This has come in the context of the Ithaca East Apartments next door, and the East Hill Village Cornell is considering at East Hill Plaza. However, neither were concrete plans at the time, and still aren’t – to my understanding, Cornell had some informal discussions about Ithaca East but decided against it early on in the process. And they only just selected a development team for EHV.

In the end, many of the concerned neighbors and interest groups were satisfied with the changes, and actually lauded Cornell and EdR for being responsive. The EIS was formally requested in May 2016. The Draft EIS was accepted in August 2016, public meetings on it were held in October, and the Final EIS was submitted at the end of October. After some more back-and-forth on the details (stormwater management plan, or SWPPP), the Final EIS was approved right before Christmas and the project was approved in February 2017, starting work shortly thereafter for an intended August 2018 completion. With the wet summer, the project managers asked for a two-hour daily extension on construction (8 am-6 pm became 7 am -7 pm) to meet the hard deadline, which the town okayed with a noise stipulation of less than 85 decibels.

Rents for the project, which include utilities, wireless and pre-furnished units, are looking to range from $790-$1147 per bed per month, depending on the specific unit. Back of the envelope calculations suggest affordability at 30% rent and 10% utilities, for 40% of income. Cornell stipends currently range from $25,152-$28,998, which translates to $838-$967/month.

On the project team apart from Cornell and Memphis-based EdR are Torti Gallas and Partners of Maryland, New Urbanist specialists who did the overall site plan and architecture. Local firms T.G. Miller P.C. and Whitham Planning and Design are contributing to the project as structural engineer and public relations representative respectively. SRF & Associates did the traffic study. Although not mentioned as often, STREAM Collaborative did the landscape architecture for the project. The general contractor is LeChase Construction of Rochester.

So that’s part one. Part two will look at the structures and site plan itself. And then with part three, we’ll have the site photos.