News Tidbits 12/9/18

9 12 2018

1. Let’s start out in Lansing. Milton Meadows if officially underway. The 72-unit apartment complex, the first development to get off the ground at the Lansing Town Center site off Route 34B, will be targeted at the 50% – 80% area median income range (~31k-~48k for a single person household) and give priority to income-qualified veterans.

The plan is to roll out the $17.1 million project in stages as the buildings are completed next year. Nine of the structures will be apartment buildings ranging from 6,600-10,200 square feet (SF), with 8 apartment units apiece. The buildings are designed so that all the units in a structure are the same size range, so all one-bedroom buildings (4), all two-bedroom buildings (3), and all three-bedroom buildings (2). The last building would be a 3,100 SF community center. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. The project will be built to LEED Silver energy standards.

Funding comes from a variety of state and local sources, the largest single grant being $5.1 million courtesy of New York State. The first units should be ready by late spring, and the last units will come online next fall.

2. In the next round of county/city/Cornell affordable Housing Development Fund recommendations, breakdown above. Habitat gets some funds towards one of its home builds and to buy two other sites, INHS gets additional funds towards their citywide renovation project, and Visum’s 327 West Seneca Street gets $200,000 (this project was carried over from the last round, because they wanted to make sure Visum knew what it was doing). Perhaps the most interesting component here is the NRP Ithaca Townhomes project on West Hill near Cayuga Medical Center, which has received approval, but with a lack of high-value state funds, it has languished in post-approval funding hell. The original breakdown was 66 units in phase one and 39 in phase two, so the 69 here suggests something was modified a little bit.

Unit sizes will range from $850/month, 745 square-foot 1-bedroom units to $1500/month, 1,344 square-foot 3-bedroom units, with most units being two or three bedrooms. The infrastructure improvements (streets, lighting) will be privately built and maintained by the developer. Seven units (2 1-BR, 3 2-BR, 2 3-BR) will be set aside for the mobility impaired, three units for those with hearing or vision impairment (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), and three units for those with special needs (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), defined in this case as recovering victims of domestic violence situations.

The original plan was to start construction last spring, and frankly, the project probably still needs a sizable state grant before funding can go ahead. But with this funding, it’s another piece of the puzzle. If it has some dedicated funds already, and the state doesn’t have to fork over as much, then the state is more inclined to support the project because on its end, it gets more bang for the buck. So keep your fingers crossed.

3. The rumor mill says that Vecino is falling for Ithaca like a teenage girl for a boy band crush. The multi-state firm specializes in two types of housing – affordable housing (under names like Asteri, Mosaic, Libertad and Intrada) and student housing (Muse), which makes Ithaca a good fit. Rather conveniently, Vecino projects identify segments of their target market in the building name. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage in Ithaca, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing – the only other one I’m aware is in a converted warehouse in Troy (which all my Albany colleagues call ‘hipster central’ or ‘Williamsburg North’, the downtown far removed from its days as ‘Troilet’). The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. Of course, the Voice commenters hated this with a passion because artists = leftists liberal dirty hippie types = evil incarnate. I’ve learned that the softer reactions tend to be with affordable senior and affordable veterans housing, which I cynically suspect is because the most vocal complainers tend to be more politically conservative in their views, and seniors and vets tend to be more politically conservative than the general population – so rather than engaging in circular fire, some, but definitely not all, will hold their tongue.

But, while the commenters didn’t like it, the city planning board did. It’s 120 units (40 studio, 60 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing (50-80% are median income, just like Milton Meadows in item 1), which is a hefty amount and critically needed. A number of units will be set aside for specialized needs and administered by Tompkins Community Action, which will be offered office space in the building. The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design. The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

4. My only regret is that because the working title of 116 Catherine was 114 Catherine, readers will be confused for years to come. Jagat Sharma designed a tasteful three-story infill building in Collegetown to the rear of 116 Catherine and the Mission Apartments – these would join the rest of the Lambrou properties that comprise Eddygate Park. Also like 116 Catherine, it’s three units – two six-bedroom units, one five-bedroom unit, about as student-oriented as a project can be. Still, infill is much more preferable to a parking lot in Collegetown. Every bit of housing helps, and it’s a couple million dollars of assessed property to help fill local coffers. If the Lambrous choose to pursue this one, which is smaller than what the CR-4 zoning allows and is tucked away from the street, the planning board is unlikely to give them much trouble.

As for the Sharma-designed building that would potentially built in the foreground of this project, 301B Eddy, the last I heard was that it was not an active pursuit, if not totally off the table.

5. Here we have a do and a don’t. Do: hire a seasoned architect like Jagat Sharma, who knows his way around city staff and boards. Don’t: design anything without checking to see if the rules and regulations changed. In this case, they did, quite a bit.

The problem here with 312 East Seneca Street isn’t the development plan, which calls for ground-floor retail and studios and 2-bedroom apartments on the floors above. That’s all fine and dandy. But the city has really been focused on increasing the quality of building designs submitted for review in Ithaca, and that was codified into the Downtown Ithaca Design Guidelines, which were enacted as law earlier this year. If this were 2013, Sharma and developer Stavros Stavropoulos would probably be okay. As of now, they are not. The only part of this design that’s acceptable is the first three feet facing East Seneca Street. The exposed CMU walls on the sides? Not allowed. And according to the Times’ Matt Butler, the planning director seemed a bit insulted by the design.

Potential design options that would be compatible include additional interior facade visual elements, facade articulation and alternative side materials (brick, stone, metal panel, fiber cement, and for the sides only, synthetic stucco/EIFS) and possibly a step down in height at the rear, since the site is on the edge of its zoning.

Consider for comparison, the new Tompkins Financial building. It’s an interior block site, and while it builds very close to the boundary line and they have (and could have) bigger neighbors, the sides and rear have windows, facade variation and articulation, brick and metal panels, and design elements like sunshades and a small top floor setback. That’s very much in the mindset of what the city is looking for in the design of a downtown project. In any case, if the Stavropoli want to do something here, the sketch plan design will need to be substantially modified before there’s any hope of approval, and some meetings with city staff couldn’t hurt.

6. There have been some potential issues that have sprung up with the Emmy’s Organics project at the end of Cherry Street. The soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building. If that’s the case, the project may not move forward, which may also result in Emmy’s moving itself and its jobs out of the city. The IURA will vote on Thursday to authorize $5,000 to hire an engineering firm to do an analysis of the geotechnical reports to see what special requirements a foundation would need, and if those requirements make the project infeasible.

7. Quick little note here – Lansing Meadows was delayed this past summer because developer Eric Goetzmann “was not able to secure contractors – too much other construction going on”, according to an email from TCAD’s Heather McDaniel. With TCAD and the village blessing, the construction start has been pushed back to Spring 2019.

8. It’s been a while since 46 South Street (formerly Hamilton Square) has updated their website, but to wrap up this post, here’s some good news for affordable housing advocates – the 73-unit, mixed-income, mixed rental and for-sale proposal by Claudia Brenner and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has passed the Trumansburg planning board’s SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review). That means that the environmental impacts are effectively mitigated by the project team. Site plan approval has yet to be issued, and is likely to be hotly debated with neighbors who have been opposed to the project since the proposal was introduced in May 2017. Review began about a year ago, and likely has a few months more yet ahead of it – certainly one of the longer review processes as of late.

On a happier note, color renderings! Nice variation in materials and style. For those so inclined, the 2 hour audio from the planning board can be found on the village website here.





News Tidbits 9/11/18

12 09 2018

1. The first phase of the airport expansion has been awarded. As reported by my Voice colleague/boss Kelsey O’Connor, Streeter Associates of Elmira placed a construction bid for $7,638,000 to complete the first of three phases. The initial phase will be covered with a state grant, and the airport has applied for federal funding as well – about two-thirds of the $24 million total cost is covered by grants, and the airport is looking for ways to close the gap. The bid was the lowest received, with Murnane Contractors offering a more expensive construction bid of $8,483,000 for the first phase, and LeChase Construction coming in with a bid at $8,996,000. Phase one entails renovating and expanding the terminal, updating the airline offices, moving screening equipment behind the counter areas, utilities upgrades and improvements to the lobby area for better flow. Streeter has a long track record in Tompkins County, with projects including the expansion of Ives Hall on Cornell’s campus, and the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Also discussed at the meeting was an agreement to sell 15 acres of airport-owned land along Warren Road to the NYS DOT for $840,000. This vote was not without some contention, with residents of Hillcrest Road complaining about the relocation to a location near their properties, and the final vote to approve the sale was a 9-4 split. Note that this is just the sale of land, a site plan and environmental analysis have yet to be performed, but a new facility on Warren Road would allow the DOT to move from the inlet location that the city and county have sought to redevelop into mixed commercial and residential uses. The primary complaint seems to be that the sale was too sudden; and to be fair, it was short notice. I wasn’t even aware until reading the meeting agenda a week earlier. However, the intent to move to Warren Road has been stated on multiple occasions, and it’s been in the planning stages for about two years, since they decided the property they bought in Dryden wasn’t going to work out.

2. A couple of interesting little notes from the Journal’s article examining the City Centre project on the 300 Block of East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. The Ale House restaurant’s move and expansion into the ground level will create about twenty additional jobs, and the build-out of the new restaurant space will take place from January – June 2019. Secondly, the developer, Newman Development Group, says a tenant has signed up for one of the two remaining retail spaces, but a confidentiality agreement prevents them from naming the business. Talks are also underway for filling the third retail space. I don’t have revised numbers for the retails spaces (after initial approval, the ground floor retail was consolidated from four spaces to three), but the Ale House is filling the largest space (5,700 SF), and the remaining two are approximately a few thousand square feet each.

3. The city of Ithaca Common Council decided to be proactive at their last meeting and name preferences that they would place strong emphasis on when considering a PUD for the Immaculate Conception site on the 300 Block of West Buffalo Street. As reported by my new Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi, the site sits in the city’s recently-approved Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD). Within PUD-ODs, projects that don’t fit with existing zoning may be allowed if they offer community benefits. The Common Council and Planning Board both need to approve PUD-OD proposals.

A preference isn’t a stipulation, but since the Council votes on PUDs, it’s a strong clue to what they’ll expect in return for granting a variance. One is the inclusion of affordable housing, and the second is retaining the gymnasium for use as a publicly-accessible indoor recreation space, noting that the Greater Ithaca Activities Center is headquartered next door and would benefit from the facility.

In theory, a buyer could buy the property and do a straight-up renovation without needing to invoke the PUD-OD (the site is R-2a residential, but the building itself would give the benefit of pre-existing variances), but given the Rochester Diocese’s marketing of the PUD in advertisements, it’s a strong possibility a buyer will want to utilize the PUD.

Proposals for the site are due to the diocese by October 5th. Once a developer is selected and a plan submitted for review, then the process of PUD negotiation with the city can begin in earnest.

4. Here’s a look at Emmy’s Organics application for a tax abatement from the IDA. The organic cookie maker is planning a 14,650 SF facility on the 200 Block of Cherry Street in Ithaca’s West End, with a potential 20,000 SF on top of that in 2-3 years time if business continues to grow as it has.

With land acquisition, soft and hard construction costs, and new equipment, the project investment for phase one is $2,292,000, and would retain 28 jobs in Ithaca as well as support the creation of 19 new jobs. The time frame on this is quite fast – due to contracts that can’t be fulfilled in the existing premises, Emmy’s wants to start construction this fall and have the building opened by Spring 2019. Rowlee Construction of Fulton (Oswego County) has been retained as the general contractor.

According to the documentation, Emmy’s is seeking the standard 7-year abatement plus an energy incentive that enhances the 7-year abatement (the incentive tweaks the tax rate for those seven years and saves Emmy’s an extra $73,820), as well as mortgage recording and sales tax exemption on equipment and construction materials purchases. The abatement plus energy incentive would save $215,142, the sales tax exemption $97,600, and the mortgage tax exemption $4,298, for total savings of $317,040. New taxes in the first seven years would total $70,889 in revenue to the county, city and ICSD.

Although the application says 19 new jobs, that might be for both phases – only seven jobs are listed in the application, four production positions ($13-$15/hour), a $20/hour clerical positive and two $45/hour administrative positions. They state they are willing to pay a living wage, so it seems the IDA could make that part of the conversation. The meeting will be Thursday the 13th.