News Tidbits 10/20/18

20 10 2018


1. So here’s an intriguing update to the stalled redevelopment at 413-415 West Seneca Street. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services was preparing to buy the former Ithaca Glass property and its development plans, which had hit a major snag due to structural issues with the existing building, and continued financial issues with pursuing of a completely new build (bottom). INHS was planning on purchasing the site and going with the original plan, which would have added four units to the existing two apartments and vacant commercial space. But someone outbid them for the site. The buyer, who has not finalized the purchase, may elect to use either of the plans designed by STREAM Collaborative, or pursue a different project at the site.

While that plan may have fallen through, it looks like the INHS Scattered Site 2 rehab/redevelopment plan will be moving forward following approval of amendments to the funding plan by the IURA and Common Council. The revised plan will dedicate funds toward the replacement of fourteen units (four vacant due to structural issues) in three buildings to be replaced with a new thirteen-unit apartment building at 203-208 Elm Street on West Hill, and major rehabiliation of four other structures (sixteen units) in Southside and the State Street Corridor.

2. Speaking of sales, here’s something to keep an eye on – the Lower family, longtime Collegetown landlords, sold a pair of prime parcels on October 4th. 216-224 Dryden Road was sold for $2.8 million, and 301 Bryant Avenue was sold for $1.4 million. Both properties were sold to LLCs whose registration address was a P.O. Box. A couple of local development firms like to use P.O. Boxes, but with nothing concrete, it’s uncertain who’s behind the purchases.

301 Bryant Avenue has some historic significance as the formal home of the Cornell Cosmopolitan Club. Founded in 1904 as a men’s organization to provide camaraderie and support for international students attending the university, the 13,204 SF, 35-bedroom structure was built in 1911 and served as the equivalent of a fraternity’s chapter house, providing a shared roof, shared meals, social events, lectures by students and faculty about other lands and cultures, and professional networking for students arriving from abroad. A women’s club was organized in 1921. As Cornell grew and different international groups founded their own organizations, the club’s purpose was superseded, and shut down in 1958. The building was purchased by the parishioners of St Catherine’s a parish center before the new one was built in the 1960s, and served as a dorm for the Cascadilla School before Bill Lower bought the building in 1973. Lower converted the structure into a six-unit apartment building, with the largest nit being eight bedrooms. With an estimated property assessment of $1.27 million, the sale appears to be for fair value – no issues, and no indications of redevelopment.

216-224 Dryden Road is much more interesting from a development perspective. 11,600 SF in three buildings (county data suggests either 14 units, or 9 units and 20 single occupancy rooms), the earliest buildings in the assemblage date from the early 1900s, but with heavy modifications and additions to accommodate student renter growth. Bill Lower bought the property way back in 1968. The properties are only assessed at $1.87 million, well below the sale price. That suggests that a buyer may be looking at redevelopment of the site. The site is in highly desirable inner Collegetown, and the zoning is certainly amenable; CR-4 zoning allows 50% lot coverage and four floors with no parking required. CR-4 offers a lot of flexibility – 119-125 College Avenue and the Lux are recent CR-4 projects.

3. The other recent set of big purchases also occurred on October 4th. “325 WEST SENECA ASSOCIATES LLC” bought 111 North Plain Street, 325 West Seneca Street, 325.5 West Seneca St (rear building of 325) and 329-31 West Seneca Street for $1.375 million. 325 West Seneca is a three-unit apartment house assessed at $200k, 325.5 West Seneca is a modest bungalow carriage house assessed at $100k, 329-331 West Seneca is a two-family home assessed at $360k, and 111 North Plain Street in a neight-unit apartment building assessed at $475k. Added up, one gets $1.135 million, which suggests the purchase price was reasonable.

Given that 327 West Seneca is currently the subject of a moderate-income redevelopment proposal from Visum, one would expect Visum to likely be behind these purchases, right? But the LLC traces back to the headquarters of a rival real estate development firm, Travis Hyde Properties. The whole thing strikes me as a little odd, but who knows, maybe Frost Travis bought the properties as stable assets rather than development sites.

4. Let’s stick with Travis Hyde Properties for a moment – here are the submissions related to his Falls Park Apartments proposal. Readers might recall this is the plan for 74 high-end senior apartments on the former Ithaca Gun site. Drawings here, 138-page submission package courtesy of TWMLA’s Kim Michaels here. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture will handle the landscape design, and newcomers WDG Architecture of Washington D.C. are designing the building.

No cost estimate has been released for the project, but buildout is expected to take 20 months. 150 construction jobs will be created during buildout, and the finished building will create four permanent jobs. The project will utilize New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (NYS BCP) tax credits. In the case of this project, the credits would be a smaller credit to help cover the costs of site remediation insurance, and a larger credit awarded by the state that would cover 10-20% of the project’s property value, depending on whether it meets certain thresholds. It is still not clear at this point if a CIITAP tax abatement will be pursued.

The 74 units break down as follows: 33 two-bedroom units (1245 SF), 9 one-bedroom units with dens (1090 SF), and 32 one-bedroom units (908 SF). All units include full-size kitchens, wood and/or natural stone finishes, and about half will have balconies. Also included in the 133,000 SF building is 7,440 of amenity space, and there will be 85 parking spaces, 20 surface and 65 in the ground-level garage.

A number of green features are included in the project, such as LED lighting, low-water plumbing fixtures, and a sophisticated Daikin AURORA VRV high-efficency HVAC system, which uses air-source heat pumps. It look like there is some natural gas involved, however, for heating the rooftop ventilation units, and in the amenity space’s fireplace.

Due to soil contamination issues, the plan is essentially to dig up the soil and cart it off to the landfill in Seneca County. The soil runs up to 11.5 feet deep, and the building foundation will be 15 feet below current surface level (about 85% of the foundation will be a shallow slab, with deeper piles near the northeast corner). As a result, some of the bedrock will be removed and disposed of as well. What soil does remain on-site will be sealed in a NYSDEC-approved cap. Concerns about VOCs in the groundwater are somewhat mitigated by the geology of the site (horizontal fractures carry the VOCs downhill), but the ground level is a ventilated garage in part to prevent sustained exposure to vapor intrusion. The project will be presented at this month’s Planning Board meeting, where the board is expected to declare itself lead agency for environmental and site plan review of the proposal.

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5. So, one of the reasons why the Voice writeup on the Carpenter Park site didn’t include building renders was because in a follow-up phone call for hashing out the emailing of PDF images, Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning was adamant they not be used, describing them as highly conceptual. He didn’t even want to pass them along out of fear they’d mislead the general public. For the merely curious, here are images taken by Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen.

The architecture firm that’s involved with the project is a newcomer to the Ithaca area – Barton Partners, which has a lot of rather high-end, traditional-looking design work scattered throughout the Northeast, as well as a new more modern designs similar to the placeholders. Can’t make any hard conclusions at this point, but a look through their portfolio gives an idea of what one might expect to see with the Carpenter Park redevelopment.

6. The former Wharton movie studio at Stewart Park is slated to become a gallery and visitor’s center, thanks to a $450,000 state grant. The building, which was the studio’s main office from 1914 to 1920, and is currently used by the city Board of Public Works, will be renovated into the Wharton Museum, with exhibit space, a public meeting room, and a terrace / seating area overlooking the lake. The project will be a joint effort by the Wharton Studio Museum and Friends of Stewart Park, with assistance from the City of Ithaca. Todd Zwigard Architects of Skaneateles (Skinny-atlas) will be in charge of designing the new museum space. It will be fairly modest in size, about 1,000 square feet, with the rest remaining for BPW use; the public works division will compensate the loss of space with an addition onto its annex nearby.

The project should dovetail nicely with a couple of other local nonprofit projects underway – the revitalization and expansion of the Stewart Park playground will give younger visitors something to do while their parents or grandparents check out the museum, and there’s potential to work with The Tompkins Center for History and Culture on joint projects that encourage visitors to pay a visit to both Downtown and the lakefront.

7. The Old Library redevelopment is once again the subject of controversy. Due to structural issues with the roof and concerns about it collapsing onto workers during asbestos abatement, the city condemned the building, which changed Travis Hyde Properties plans from sealing the building in a bubble and removing the asbestos before demolition, to tearing it down without removing asbestos from the interior first. Much of the asbestos from its late 1960s construction was removed as part of renovations in 1984, with more in the 1990s, but in areas that weren’t easily accessible, it was left in place.

The new removal plan has led to significant pushback, led by local environmental activist Walter Hang. A petition floating around demands that the city un-condemn the building and then forces Travis Hyde to renovate the building enough to stabilize the roof to remove the asbestos.

While the concern about the asbestos is merited, there are a couple of problems with this plan. It boils down to the fact that New York State code, rather than the city, defines what a developer can and can’t do with asbestos abatement. The two options here are stabilization and removal before demolition of the above-ground structure, or tearing it down piece by piece and using procedures like misting to keep the asbestos from getting airborne, with monitors in place to ensure no fibers are entering the air. The city can’t force a developer to choose one approach over another, if a building is condemned, and the city can’t force Travis Hyde to renovate the building to a state where it wouldn’t be condemned. That would be the NYS Department of Labor’s role. But if the city rescinded its condemnation, a roof renovation would involve removing the existing roof – a procedure that involves misting the on-site asbestos to keep it from getting airborne. With workers going in an out of the building to stabilize the structure and being put at risk by the unstable roof as well as the asbestos, the Department of Labor isn’t going to sign off on anything putting crewmen at risk of a roof collapse.

There is some consternation with this, and that’s fair. The development project did take several months longer to move forward than first anticipated, though had it started on time it’s not clear if the city and THP wouldn’t have been in this position anyway if work had started sooner. Demolition is expected to start within thirty days of the permit being issued (and it has, so in effect, any day now), and take six to eight weeks to complete.

8. Unfortunately, I had to miss this year’s architects’ gallery night, which is a shame because the local firms like to sneak in yet-unannounced plans. Case in point, this photo from Whitham Planning and Design’s facebook page clearly shows something is planned at the site of the Grayhaven Motel at 657 Elmira Road. The Grayhaven has four on-site structures, and the two westernmost buildings look as they do now…but the footprints of the two eastern buildings, where one first pulls in, do not match their current configuration. Intriguing, but also frustrating. The boards on the floor are related to the Visum Green Street proposal, and the other wall board is a North Campus proposal that didn’t make the cut, previously discussed on the blog here.

9. Out in the towns, there’s not a whole lot being reviewed as of late. The town of Lansing will have a look next week at marina renovations, a one lot subdivision, and a 4,250 SF (50’x85′) expansion of a manufacturer, MPL Inc., a circuit board assembler at 41 Dutch Mill Road. The expansion of their 14,250 SF building will create five jobs or less, per site plan review documents.

In Dryden town, the town board continued to review the proposed veterinary office in the former Phoneix Books barn at 1610 Dryden Road, and they’ll had a look at a cell phone tower planned near TC3. Danby’s Planning Board looked at an accessory dwelling application and a two-lot subdivision last week. Ulysses had a look at a proposal for a 6,400 SF pre-school and nursery building planned for 1966 Trumansburg Road, a bit north of Jacksonville hamlet.

The village of Cayuga Heights Planning Board has a single-family home proposal to look at 1012 Triphammer Road, and in the village of Lansing, the Planning Board and Board of Trustees will review and weigh consideration of a PDA that would allow the Beer family’s proposal for multiple pocket neighborhoods of senior cottages to move forward on 40 acres between Millcroft Way and Craft Road. Trumansburg is still looking at the 46 South Street proposal from INHS and Claudia Brenner.

10. Last but not least, the city of Ithaca Planning Board’s agenda for next week. Apart from the long-brewing Carpenter project, there’s nothing else that’s new, continuing the relative lull in new projects. Cornell’s North Campus Expansion continues its public hearing, and the new warehouse and HQ for Emmy’s Organics looks ready to obtain final site plan approval.

1 Agenda Review 6:00
2 Privilege of the Floor 6:05
3 Approval of Minutes: September 25, 2018 6:15
4 Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:20
Location: 111 Clinton St Tax Parcel # 80.-11-11
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Subdivision Approval

Project Description: The applicant is proposing to subdivide the 1.71 acre property onto two parcels: Parcel A measuring 1.6 acres (69,848 SF) with 299 feet of frontage on S Geneva St and 173 feet on W Clinton St and containing two existing buildings, parking and other site features; and Parcel B measuring .1 acres (4,480 SF) with and 75 feet of frontage on W Clinton St and containing one multi-family building. The property is in the P-1 Zoning District which has the following minimum requirements: 3,000 SF lot size, 30 feet of street frontage, 25-foor front yard, and 10-foot side yards. The project requires an area variance of the existing deficient front yard on the proposed Parcel B. The project is in the Henry St John Historic District. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), and is subject to environmental review.

The story behind this is that for legal purposes, INHS needs to split an existing house from its multi-building lot before it can proceed with renovating it as part of the Scatter Site Housing renovation project. No new construction is planned.

B. Project: Major Subdivision (4 Lots) 6:30
Location: Cherry Street, Tax Parcel # 100.-2-21
Applicant: Nels Bohn for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval

Project Description: The IURA is proposing to subdivide the 6-acre parcel into four lots. Lot 1 will measure 1.012 acres, Lot 2 will measure 1.023 acres, Lot 3 will measure 2.601 acres, and Lot 4 will measure .619 acres. Lot 3 will be sold to Emmy’s Organics (see below), Lot 4 will be left undeveloped for future trail use, and Lots 1 & 2 will be marketed and sold for future development. This subdivision is part of a larger development project that is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (c) and (j) and B(4) the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11), for which the Planning Board made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

The Emmy’s Organics project is really two components – one, the new building in the city-owned Cherry Industrial Park, and two, the city’s (IURA’s) construction of a street extension that would service Emmy’s and two smaller lots which could then be sold to a buyer committed to economic growth for presently low and moderate-income households.

5 Site Plan Review
A. Project: Construction of a Public Road 6:45
Location: Cherry Street, Tax Parcel # 100.-2-21
Applicant: Nels Bohn for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Project Description: The IURA is proposing to extend Cherry Street by 400 feet. The road will be built to City standards with a 65-foot ROW, 5-foot sidewalks and tree lawn, and will be turned over to the City upon completion. The road extension is part of a larger development project that is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (c) and (j) and B(4) the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11), for which the Planning Board made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

B. Project: Construction of a 14-24,000 SF Production Facility (Emmy’s Organics) 7:00
Location: Cherry Street, Tax Parcel # 100.-2-21
Applicant: Ian Gaffney for Emmy’s Organics
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary &Final Approval

Project Description: Emmy’s Organics is proposing to construct a production facility of up to 24,000 SF, with a loading dock, parking for 22 cars, landscaping, lighting, and signage. The project will be in two phases: Phase one, which will include a 14,000 SF building and all site improvements; and Phase two, (expected in the next 5 years) which will include an addition of between 14,000 and 20,000 SF. As the project site is undeveloped, site development will include the removal of 2 acres of vegetation including 55 trees of various sizes. The facility is part of a larger project that includes subdivision of land a 40-foot road extension by the Ithaca IURA extension that is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (c) and (j) and B(4) the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11), for which the Planning Board made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

C. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20 Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Public Hearing (continued)

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). All NCRE materials are available for download at: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50 (Notes above)
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Project Overview Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11).

E. Sketch Plan – Mixed-Use Proposal – Carpenter Business Park 8:10

6 Zoning Appeals 8:30
# 3108, Area Variance, 327 W Seneca Street
# 3109, Area Variance, 210 Park Place (construction of a carport)
# 3110, Area Variance, 121 W Buffalo Street (installing a deck and wheelchair lift)
# 3111, Use Variance, 2 Fountain Place (the proposed B&B in the old Ithaca College President’s Mansion)
# 3112, use Variance, 2 Willets Place

7 Old/New Business 8:40
Special Meeting October 30, 2018: City Sexual Harassment Policy, Special Permits (Some of the BZA’s Special Permits Review duties are set to be transferred to the Planning Board).

8 Reports 9:00
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

9 Adjournment 9:25





News Tidbits 9/2/18

2 09 2018

1. For lovers of old houses and those trying to restore them, the 1880 Queen Anne-style house at 310 West State Street, dubbed “The Tibbetts-Rumsey House”, is offering a tour of the renovations later this month. The tour, which starts at the front entrance at 11 AM on September 22nd, is free, but registration is required; if you’re so inclined, and since late September in Ithaca is generally a pretty nice time of the year for weekend outings, you can register here. The plan is to restore the house into a nine-bedroom co-op style living space, with a new six-bedroom co-op unit in the rear of the property.

The 3,800 SF residence was designed by local architect Alvah B. Wood and built by contractor John Snaith (of Snaith House) in 1880. Wood, a Cornell classmate of the more famous architect William Henry Miller, designed a number of prominent local structures, including the old Ithaca town hall at 126 East Seneca Street (built 1881, demo’d 2003, now the site of Tompkins Financial brand new HQ), the Immaculate Conception Church (1896) and the railroad/bus depot at 701 West State Street (1898). Union Army Captain J. Warren Tibbetts and his family were the first residents of the home. It was sold to the Rumsey family in 1885, and they owned it until 1966.

2. The medical office building near the intersection of Warren and Uptown Roads looks like it’s one step closer to happening. An LLC associated with Marchuska Brothers Construction, an Endicott-based firm that has been making inroads into the Ithaca market, bought the 2.71 acre lot and the plans from Arleo Real Estate LLC for $470,000 on the 27th. A sketch plan was presented to the village of Lansing in February 2017 for the one-story medical office building, but no formal review was carried out after the site and plans went up for sale for $500,000. Marchuska is free to change the design as they see fit, so don’t treat the renders as final. The firm recently completed the renovation of a former manufacturing facility on Craft Road into medical office space primarily leased by Cayuga Medical Center, and are the general contractors for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture project.

3. The tiny houses project at 16 Hillcrest Road in the town of Lansing is over for the time being. The town Zoning Board of appeals shot down the variance required for the lot, which is zoned industrial/research due to what is essentially a boundary line quirk. The reason cited isn’t that they don’t like the project, but rather that they don’t think it meets the intent of ZBA variances. The neighbors were opposed to the 421 SF homes, but were okay with a duplex, which could arguably be worse for them because one could build a pair of 2,000 SF, three-bedroom units that could generate more traffic and have a greater environmental impact. Even moreso, if one fully utilized the 1.26 acre lot for an office or industrial structure, that would have much greater environmental impact than either residential option because the lot could be fully utilized within standard setbacks, meaning a larger structure and parking lot, greater stormwater runoff, commuter/work-related traffic, industrial noise and related activities. An argument can also be made that these small homes would have been provided a new affordable option in an area plagued with affordability issues.

The Lansing Star seems cognizant of those arguments, and in the write-up sounded disapproving of the vote. “The denial of the variance does not mean the project has been killed. But in a sense the project is before it’s time, or zoning ordinances are behind the times. With small individual houses growing in popularity, building small scale neighborhoods defies zoning laws that were designed for conventionally sized homes.”

It’ll be a while before any zoning change is approved, and any challenge to the ZBA ruling is unlikely to go anywhere, so this proposal has been deleted from the Ithaca project map until a revival seems plausible.

4. Exxon Mobil is set to auction off a trio of parcels in the hamlet of Jacksonville. Tying into the story of the old Methodist church I wrote for the Voice last March, a major gas spill fifty years ago contaminated the groundwater and made the properties practically unlivable; after years of attempting to bring Exxon Mobil to task, the multinational energy firm purchased the properties, tore down most of the buildings except the church (after the town’s pleading), and basically sat on the lots with minimal upkeep. A municipal water line was later laid through the hamlet to provide clean water, and the gas has disintegrated and diffused with decades of time to safe levels, per the state DEC’s analysis. The town of Ulysses picked up three of the six lots, selling two to architect Cameron Neuhoff to restore the church into a residence and community space, and holding onto the third for the time being as it figures out what to do with it. The other three still owned by Exxon Mobil are the ones going up for auction. There is no reserve and the auction is set for 5 PM on October 17th. More information is available from Philip Heiliger of Williams & Williams Real Estate Auctions here.

5. Cayuga Heights is continuing with its review of the renovation and conversion of 306 Highland Road from a fraternity into a 15-unit apartment building. The plans have been slightly modified so that with the addition, the building grows from 3,400 SF to 4,542 SF (previously it was 4,584 SF).  GA Architects PLLC of Dryden is the architect of record; their online presence appears to be bare bones, and may have previously gone by the name Guisado Architects – it looks like principal Jose Gusiado has done a few homes in the Dryden and Lansing areas. Former Cornell professor and startup CEO John Guo is the developer.

6. Here’s a rough timeline for the Green Street Garage preferred developer decision – the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee is expected to rank the projects in order of preference by September 14th, discuss it at the September public hearing, hold an Executive Session with Common Council in October, and formally designate a preferred developer by October 25th. From 11/1/2018 to 2/1/2019 there will be an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) between the preferred developer and the city, which is a designated time to negotiate details regarding sales and development of the site. This serves as the basis for a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA), which would be reviewed and approved by the IURA EDC by the end of February. From there, the Planning and Economic Development Committee of the Common Council will hold their public hearing and vote in March, and the full Common Council at their April 3, 2019 meeting.

It’s a long and complex process, but the goal is to have the major details sorted out by that preferred developer designation on October 25th – given the garage’s degraded state and limited life span remaining (two, three years at most) and the time needed to stabilize the structure and determine continent measures for any rebuild, having either side pull at late in the negotiation would be very problematic (suing the city during any stage in this process is never a good idea). Hopefully everything works out between the city and its choice of developer.

6. Not a whole lot of new and interesting coming public at the moment. A new “Dutch Harvest Farms” wedding barn at 1487 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing looks interesting. Tapping into the trend of using barns for wedding receptions, the 50.44 acre property would host a 7,304 SF pole barn, pond and associated parking and landscaping improvements. The facility would be capable of hosting up to 160 people on-site. The plans are being drawn up by local architecture firm SPEC Consulting, and the intent would be to build out the $750,000 project in the spring and summer of 2019.

7. Bad news for the Ithaca Gun site; a remedial investigation by the state DEC indicated that there is still enough lead present on the property that it poses a significant threat to public health. This doesn’t necessarily derail plans for the redevelopment by Travis Hyde Properties, but the DEC will need to conduct a review, make recommendations for cleaning, and sign off on any cleanup effort THP proposes.

8. A follow-up on the Ongweoweh Corporation news note from a couple weeks back – although they didn’t respond to my inquiry, they did respond to the Journal. And the move to the larger digs in Dryden comes with 25 to 50 new jobs in Dryden over the next few years, so while it may not have been my article, I’ll gladly share positive news.





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. is contributing to the project as structural engineer, and Whitham Planning and Design is the site plan designer, landscape planner and boots-on-the-ground project coordinator for municipal review. Brous Consulting did the public relations work, and 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.





News Tidbits 6/5/17: The Return, Part III

5 06 2017

1. The Ithaca Gun site is almost in the clear, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The state is proposing a “no further action” status for remediation of the Lake Street site along Fall Creek gorge, where the factory maintained a presence from 1885 to 1986. Testing the guns with lead bullets for decades had the unfortunate result of contaminating the gorge with toxic levels of lead and heavy metals, and the area has been under remediation in some form for almost 20 years. The first round of cleanup for the Superfund was from 2002-2004, but insufficient cleaning resulted in a second round of cleaning in 2014. A third round to excavate more contaminated soil along the steep slopes of the gorge was undertaken by the federal EPA over the past couple of years.

To quote: “Based on the results of the investigations at the site, the interim remedial measures and post-IRM screening that have been performed, the NYSDEC is proposing No Further Action as the remedy for the site…Periodic site inspections and reporting, which include additional removals of lead shot as needed, will ensure continued protection for the environment and public health.”

Note that this only impacts the part of the site that was donated to the city as parkland. A separate remediation plan has been crafted by Travis Hyde Properties as part of their plans to build 45 units of housing on the former factory site, the “Ithaca Falls Residences“. The completion of work on the city land would allow THP to put the finishing touches on their plan, and potentially move forward with their long-incubating housing proposal.

2. There was one detail that was initially missed when going over the failed candidacy of Lisa Bonniwell to the village of Lansing Board of Trustees. While her family’s housing development, the “Heights of Lansing”, has been in perpetual stall with only about 22 of the 80 units built since approval in 2005 (and the last townhouses in 2011-12, shown above), they do plan to start work on another “six-plex” string of luxury townhouses this year – Bonniwell cast blame on the gas moratorium for the holdup. Gives them something else to focus on after their lawsuit over the Park Grove Apartments re-zoning down the road, in which the courts decided in the village’s favor.

The existing units are 3 bedrooms, 2,297-2,400 SF and sell for about $350,000-375,000. Expect the next batch to be fairly similar, though with different exterior details – each string’s exterior finishes are unique.

3. Sticking with Lansing, the Cayuga Farms townhouses are planning some modest changes – the buildings will be smaller, which will allow 20% green space and the construction of a community clubhouse. There will still be 102 units with 3 bedrooms each, 1500-1800 SF, in the upper-middle (“premium”) market segment. The plan has been held up for years while trying to find appropriate ways to address wastewater/sewage, initially floating a pricey Orenco modular site-specific plan. However, with the likelihood of a sewer main being routed up North Triphammer Road in the near-future, that would render the sewage treatment issue a moot point and allow the already-approved project to move forward with permit requests.

4. Nothing too exciting with the local planning boards at the moment. The town of Ithaca is reviewing adjustments to the Westview subdivision that would allow homebuilder to have building permits open for more than two houses at any given time, and to allow him to build houses from different project phases (locations) so long as they have road frontage, sewer and water. Apparently the 2004 stipulations have created a headache with his newest home lots.

Meanwhile in Ulysses, the town planning board will be reviewing plans for additions to the Taughannock Inn at 2030 Gorge Road. The rather whimsical structure designed by architect Jason Demarest would add a “gatehouse/stable”, with five guest rooms, a check-in area, a bar and dining space, ice cream parlor, tent space, reflecting pools and whatever else that makes it sort of romantic events center for weddings, banquets and reunions. The 1870s inn will receive a new cupola, and the projects needs several zoning variance and a noise law revisions so that they can create to 90 dB until 1:30 AM.

5. Lansing’s 1020 Craft Road was picked up by an LLC tied to a construction company out of Endicott for $615,000 back in April, so that was was a strong indicator that something was planned. That plan looks like a gut renovation and 4,410 SF in additions, as well as a paved and landscaped parking lot. Pyramid Brokerage is already advertising professional office space in the 10,500 SF building, which was built around 1980 and used for manufacturing (sheet metal fabrication), and it was looking pretty run down by the time it was purchased. The lease is for $18.00/SF, with a minimum available space of 5,250 SF, which would be a pretty good sized office. Depending on the finishes though, it might have appeal for those looking for a suburban location with easy parking – CFCU’s headquarters is next door, and several other firms are housed in neighboring buildings.

6. The county released its report of potential tax foreclosures. The long story short is that if property taxes aren’t paid, the county may seize a property (courtesy says they give a couple warning first), which may then be sold by the county at auction to pay off the back taxes, or it may be given to a municipality if the community wants it, or it may be withheld completely if it is deemed to have special ecologic value (biodiversity, wetland, “Unique Natural Areas”, etc.)

There doesn’t appear to be anything too exciting in this year’s batch. The city almost got some prime waterfront real estate at a bargain price last year, but the owner was able to pay the tax bill before the city could claim it. This year, we see several rural properties that the county would like to put deed restrictions on for stream buffers and conservation options, a pair of industrial properties in Caroline and Dryden, and a handful of single-family homes around the area. Nothing that looks especially tempting to the ambitious, although there are a handful of individuals who scoop these properties up at auction and then market them at a much higher price (with some success).





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

3 06 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 





News Tidbits 6/4/16: A Stormy Summer Start

4 06 2016

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1. We’ll start this week off with a follow-up on the 201 College Avenue debate. All discussions of planning philosophy noted, one solid request, as reported by Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times, was to try and reduce the bulk from the College Avenue side, if not necessarily the building footprint. The above drawing was submitted by STREAM Collaborative’s Rob Morache earlier this week, with a cover letter describing the changes here. The modification reduces the building by 2 bedrooms, to 74, which to go by Todd Fox’s comment in the Times article, puts the project at the borderline of financial feasibility. The middle still pops out a little because that’s where the fire stairs are located. Some minor details were changed with the accent panels, and recessing the windows slightly on the south and west facades. For the record, the panels are Nichiha and Allura fiber cement, with painted metalwork and fiberglass window sashes.

Although now outdated, a shadow study for the previous design has since been uploaded by the city. There are two versions, with and without neighboring building shadows, here and here respectively.

Expect further detail refinements; the building is set to go in front of the Design Review Committee Tuesday morning.

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2. WSKG did a segment earlier this week on micro-apartments, with an interview with Frost Travis and the Carey Building project wrapping up on East State Street. A few details worth noting from the segment – 5 of the 20 rental units (which range from $1,225/month for the microunits to $2,699/month for a high-end penthouse 2-bedroom) are already spoken for and the building’s not even finished yet. For some reason, Monica Sandreczki says there will be about 35 residents at full occupancy, which is a big stretch since there are 16 micro-units and 4 two-bedroom units – going one person per micro-unit and bedroom, a better estimate would be 24.

The news piece also notes that the 201 College project contains micro-apartments – which is true, given that the building is 44 units and 74 bedrooms, and at least the early plans had a number of split-level 410-670 SF studio units.

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3. And 401 Lake Street will bite the dust. The Common Council voted 8-1 last Wednesday night to have structure demolished and the tax-foreclosed properties be designated as parkland. Cynthia Brock (D-1st) voted against the measure and preferred a sale for tax reasons, and her ward counterpart George McGonigal (D-1st) argued that the city was destroying historic working-class housing, though he ultimately supported the measure. Brock did take a whack at new affordable housing in the city, commenting that INHS is getting $75,000 for each townhouse, and Habitat for Humanity getting $75,000 for a duplex even with its volunteer labor, when there was a potential, cost-efficient opportunity for affordable housing designation with this unit. Josephine Martell (D-5th) seemed to be the strongest proponent for demo, stating that the unique potential to enhance the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be taken every opportunity of. The city bought the tax-foreclosed property from the county; the background on that is on the Voice here.

The funds for the demolition, estimated at $25,000, will come from the sale of IURA land to the Hilton Canopy project. That measure was approved 6-3, with Brock, McGonigal and Graham Kerslick (D-4th) opposed. With work on the Lake Street Bridge currently underway, demolition is not expected for at least a few months.

There was a thought exercise regarding the selling the falls’ parking lot to INHS for development of 3-9 units of affordable housing; it’s an interesting idea, since 401 and the adjacent are right next to the Falls, but the 0.55 acres of city property adjacent to the Lake and Lincoln Streets intersection is still over 200 feet away at its closest point.

4. The rare bit of news out of Enfield. A $612,000 building loan was issued by the Bank of Greene County to provide funds for renovating and expanding the volunteer fire station at 172 Enfield Main Road.

Give that Enfield issues no more than a handful of new construction permits each year, it’s about the only other thing going on apart from the Black Oak Wind Farm debate. One would think that arguments like “the wind does not blow as much as it used to” would be easily shot down and things would move forward, but instead it’s Marguerite Wells, the project manager for BOWF, getting raked over the coals. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do feel bad for her.

5. In case anyone was wondering – county planner Megan McDonald says the Denter housing study will be publicly available by late July.

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6. Here’s something intriguing from the county’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee agenda – a proposal to “Prepare airport land for future development“, seeking $500,000. None of the money comes from the county; it appears to be dependent on grants, or an interested developer. Which, given the fact that this shows up in budget docs going back to 2014, doesn’t exactly seem to be generating many queries.

The parcels are described as the “Cherry Road and Agway parcels”, which must be owned by the county since they want to lease out the land – but checking the deed records of parcels adjacent to the airport, there’s no record of an Agway in any of the deed histories. The parcels may be related to the properties in the airport business park feasibility study, shown above and awarded to the team of Clark Patterson Lee and Camoin Associates this past winter.

7. It’s unusual to see Cornell buying property these days, but this Friday, the university purchased the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road on Ithaca’s West Hill for $157,000. The house is a 19th century fixer-upper on 1.21 acres – Cornell owns the land surrounding it, some of which is being subdivided off to build the Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project. The house is assessed at $215,000, but the real estate listing notes it needs some work, and it’s been off and on the market for five years.

Several years ago, Cornell expressed intent to develop the 35 acres it owns into a mixed-use complex with a hotel institute, housing, offices and medical services, but the only part of the plan that ever really moved forward was Conifer’s project. I haven’t seen the plans in years, but I remember the early plans (there were a couple versions) were very sprawly; six, eight years ago, walkability was not as valued as it is now.

By buying the house, Cornell reduces its need to work around a neighbor and can incorporate the property into potential plans. This purchase would seem to suggest that Cornell still has strong interest in developing the rest of the West Hill property at some point. In the meanwhile, Cornell might rent it out while the school figures out what it wants to do with the acreage.

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8. House of the week. From the outside, 228 West Spencer Street is almost done, and the interior is fairly far along as well, with finishing work underway. Architect Noah Demarest says the house will be put up for sale in a few weeks, if everything goes as planned.





The Chain Works District DGEIS, Part One: Introduction

20 04 2016

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Chain Works is, without a doubt, the single largest project currently being considered in the Ithaca area. It’s a very large project in terms of square footage, in terms of cost, in terms of length of build-out. Being such a large and important, it needs to be examined carefully – it could help propel Ithaca’s economy and ambitions to a higher quality of life, or it could serve as 95 acres of dead weight.

Between March 29th and May 10th, the city is receiving public comments on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the DGEIS. The city’s website appears to be outdated, but the Chain Works District website is up to date – any comments readers might have, any questions or concerns, are submitted to the City of Ithaca Planning Board as lead agency for environmental review. UnChained Properties LLC, the developer, offers a blank form here, or if one prefers, comments can be sent directly to Ithaca senior planner Lisa Nicholas at lnicholas@cityofithaca.org.

What a DGEIS does is evaluate the potential impacts of growth on local resources and facilities, such as traffic, water supply systems, utilities infrastructure, social and aesthetic impacts. The DGEIS, which will need to be finalized, is part of New York State’s Enviromental Quality Review (SEQR, pronounced “seeker”) and a necessary precursor to any planned/contemplated construction and development of the site.

So, the DGEIS main body is 422 pages, with about 3 GB’s worth of appendices. Although 45 days is allotted for public comment, not a whole lot of people want to read through 422 pages, but the table of contents allows people to jump around if there’s one or two thing they’re more keen to read about. A link to the DGEIS is offered by project partner Fagan Engineers here, but you might need to submit an email and name before being able to see it.

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So, basic details, per the “Description of Action”:

Chain Works District Project is a proposed mixed-use development consisting of residential, office, commercial, retail, restaurant/café, warehousing/distribution, manufacturing, and open space within the existing 95-acre Site which traverses the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary . Completion of the Project is estimated to be over a seven-to-ten year period. The first phase, referred to henceforth as Phase I, will consist of redeveloping four buildings generally located at the northernmost and southernmost ends of the complex of existing buildings. These first four buildings are approximately 331,450 square-feet (SF), and will house office, a mix of office and residential, and industrial uses. Subsequent phases of development will be determined as the Project proceeds and will include new structures to complete a full build-out of 1,706,150 SF.

So, just based off that, anything that gets developed, is as the market and NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) allows. If the market isn’t amenable or the cleanup plan isn’t approved, don’t expect the plans to move forward all that fast, if at all. If the market is good and the DEC signs off on plans, expect the build-out to be on the shorter end of the 7-to-10 year time-scale.

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Related infrastructure work for the Project will include: (1) removing select buildings to create courtyards and a network of open spaces and roads; (2) creating pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular connections through the Site from South Hill to Downtown Ithaca; (3) improving the existing roads within the Site while creating new access points into the Site; (4) mitigating existing environmental impacts from historic uses; (5) fostering the development of a link, the Gateway Trail, to the Black Diamond Trail network; and (6) installing stormwater management facilities, lighting, utilities, and plantings.

No big surprises – some buildings in the interconnected complex will come down, shared road concepts will dominate the internal transportation system of the neighborhood, the site will be more fully integrated into South Hill and trails, and usual site details like stormwater plans and landscaping are going to be incorporated into the project.

Given its complexity, the project team is pretty broad – eleven organizations, from the Ithaca, Elmira, Corning and Rochester areas. Local firms include STREAM Collaborative, which helped draw up the design standards and rezoning, Randall + West for more rezoning work, and Brous Consulting, which is handling public outreach. UnChained Properties is headed by David Lubin of Horseheads (suburban Elmira). From what I’ve been told, project development to-date has cost somewhere around $2 million dollars.

Likewise on the approvals – the project will need something like fifteen approvals from a dozen different government groups and agencies.

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Let me share an introduction and summary comparable but maybe more approachable than theirs – a background primer on why this is happening can be found on the Voice in my introduction article here, and Mike Smith’s summary article here.

Much of Chain Works reuses what was once the Morse Chain / Emerson Power Transmission (EPT) factory, which employed thousands from the 1900s, up until the last workers were let go and the facility shut its doors in 2011. During the mid 20th century, industrial processes used chemicals and compounds that are known to be toxic – Trichloroethylene (TCE) being the best known, but also heavy metals and oils. These not only affect the site and its building, they’re also in the soil and groundwater of South Hill.

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The site is classified as Class 2 Superfund site, which the DEC describes as “a significant threat to public health and/or the environment and requiring action”. While EPT is responsible for clean-up, they’re only responsible for the bare minimum (the industrial standard, what can be safely exposed to for 8 hours) unless otherwise specified by a proposed reuse, in which case they have to clean to a higher standard like residential use.

So that leaves us at present – a vacant 95.93 acre, 800,000 SF industrial site split between municipalities and with varied terrain and conditions. One of the most basic goals of CWD is to get the city and town to rezone the land to allow a mix of uses – PUD/PDZ, which give flexibility in site development based off of standards the developer, the city/town, and in this case NYSDEC mutually agree to.

 

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So, in the PUD/PDZ, one of the broad takeaways is that each of the four form code has its own design standards – height, width, window-spacing, setbacks and most physical details, even signage. Unlike typical zoning, it’s the appearance that is more thoroughly managed, not the use. Those can be found in detail here. The design standards utilize what’s called LEED ND (Neighborhood Development), design standards created for large-scale green, well-integrated and sustainable development. A gated community it ain’t.

The goal of these design standards is to mitigate some of the adverse impact the new and renovated buildings will have on the community – promoting alternate transit reduces traffic, limiting floors and floor heights reduces visual impacts, and so on.

Build-out falls under four general form zones: (1) CW1- Natural Sub-Area, 23.9 acres of old woodland to be limited to passive recreation. (2) CW2- Neighborhood General Sub-Area, 21.2 acres of townhouses, stacked flats and similar moderately-dense development, mostly in Ithaca town; (3) CW3- Neighborhood Center Sub-Area, 39.7 acres of mixed-use, in a combination of renovated and new buildings towards the northern end of the property in the city, and (4) CW4, Industrial Sub-Area, a 10.3 acre zone for industrial uses in existing buildings at the Emerson site. The site borders Route 96B, single-family and multi-family homes, natural areas and steep terrain.

About 0.91 acres will be subdivided off and maintained by Emerson for active groundwater treatment. The other 95.02 acres would be sold to UnChained Properties.

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The re-development is fairly multifaceted. Some buildings will be renovated, a few will come down, a couple will receive additions, an quite a few others, like those in the all-residential CW2 zone, will be brand-new. Specifically in Phase One, four buildings – 21, 24, 33 and 34, will be renovated.

In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at the neighborhood design standards and detailed plans for Phase One.