1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 8/2017

20 08 2017

This small infill project in Ithaca’s Fall Creek is just about done. Tenants have already moved into the four three-bedroom units, and it looks like all that’s left on the outside is grass seeding and a coat of paint. According to the guys working on the duplexes, the mismatch in the second floor LP SmartSide wood siding was because the store they bought them (think they said Home Depot offhand) from had ran out, so they just bought what was available with the intent of painting over it when they were ready. It looks like the first floor has been painted, so that’s a good sign. It is nice to see that, although they were threatened for deletion if expenses came too high, the side windows on the inward-facing walls of the units (east side of 202, west side of 206) were retained.

This is a small, unassuming project. It replaced an older single-family home with four units that fit in with the neighborhood. It’s a bump in density without garnering too much attention. To be candid, it’s probably the only feasible way to add density to Fall Creek – scout out the few vacant lots, or buildings with less historic or aesthetic value, and try to design something that fits in (the only other one I’m aware of is the Heritage Builders infill project on West Falls Street, but at this point it would need re-approval from the planning board).

The three guys out front said that once these are complete, they expect to start work on developer Stavros (Nick) Stavropoulos’ next project at 107 South Albany Street. That site has not changed much over the summer, all that is there at the moment is the fenced-off foundation of the old building. The 11-unit apartment building slated for that site is expected to be completed by summer 2018.

 





1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 6/2017

19 06 2017

Admittedly, at the moment this pair of two-family homes looks rather bland from Aurora Street, and slapdash from Queen Street. However, it looks like the painting is just starting. The LP SmartSide wood siding will be painted with Sherwin-Williams “Rice Grain” on the first floor and dormer, and the second floor will use S-W “Sawdust”. The swatches of wood shingle on the eastern building have the darker color on both the second floor and dormer, which doesn’t match the city’s filing, but paint typically isn’t the type of detail that will get you in trouble unless it was a stipulation of approval. The short of it is, it’s not clear if anything has changed with the paint scheme, but it might have. The trim boards will be painted S-W “Nacre”.

Another task still on the to-do list is building the porches that both units in the building will share. It’s a T-configuration – residents will step out and down their own step onto a shared landing at the top of the front steps. The porches will have decorative columns and banisters, and access panels below the porch landing. Most of the porch will be built with pressure-treated wood and painted in off-white “Nacre”, there will be dark brown steps (treated wood?), and the access panels will match the siding. About the only thing not wood will be the handrails, which will be steel.

A peek inside shows that the drywall has been hung. The next steps are typically flooring, cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and tiling, interior trim boards (baseboards, crown moulding) and painting. After that will come appliances and the finish work.

The 3-bedroom, 1.5 bath units at 202 and 206 Queen Street should be ready for occupancy later this summer. There were going for $2325/month ($775/bedroom) on Craigslist, and there haven’t been any ads lately, so it’s probably safe to assume all four units have been rented. Stavros (Nick) Stavropoulos is the developer, and Daniel Hirtler is the architect.





1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 4/2017

21 04 2017

Some more progress on the two-building, four-unit 1001 North Aurora Street project in Fall Creek. Since February, the building have been framed out, roofed and shingled. For the record, the shingles are Owens Corning TruDefinition Duration Shingles, Terra Cotta color. Huber ZIP System plywood sheets are being attached to the exterior over the wood studs, and interior framing, rough-ins and drywall is underway.

On a happy note, it looks like the side windows on the eastern building, which had the potential to be deleted as a cost-saving measure, are indeed going in based on the rough openings. The exterior will consist of two brownish shades of LP SmartSide cedar texture siding, with a white lap band and trim. Technically, that white is Sherwin-Williams “Nacre”, and these plebeian lips had to go to Google to figure out how that’s pronounced (NAY-ker). Because mother-of-pearl is just two darn pedestrian. The browns are “Rice Grain” and “Sawdust”.

Developer Stavros Stavropoulos (d/b/a Renting Ithaca) should be bringing these 3-bedroom rental units onto the market by the end of May, as 202 Queen Street and 206 Queen Street. Shortly thereafter, he and architect Daniel Hirtler which be launching into next project, and their biggest to date – a 3-story, 11-unit apartment building at 107 South Albany Street, just west of downtown.





1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 2/2017

20 02 2017

Another project making rapid progress in a short time. The two two-family homes at 1001 N. Aurora Street are being framed out. Going over the wood studs are Huber ZIP sheathing plywood panels, like all the cool kids are using in residential wood-frame construction.

There are pros and cons to each approach. DuPont, in sales literature for its Tyvek Housewrap, touts easier installation, more durability during installation, and claims superior waterproofing. The ZIP system, however, has made significant inroads into the construction market because it does an excellent job at allowing moisture to escape while keeping external water from getting in, and although it requires a little more care to work with (taping), it’s still fairly easy to work with. ZIP panels also tend to be more expensive. Liquid water-resistant barrier (WRB) sprays like the ones you see used on commercial buildings and at Cornell tend to provide the best waterproofing, but they are the most expensive option. So if one drew a scale weighing cost and performance, they could have housewraps at the low end of cost and relative performance, ZIP panels in the middle, and WRB sprays at the top.

Anyway, these duplexes will be known as 202 Queen Street and 206 Queen Street. In the signage on the site, the bottom design is what was approved (quick tip – do not use old renders on signage). They replace a single-family home. Stavros Stavropoulos is the developer, and Daniel Hirtler the architect – the two are also behind the plans for the new 11-unit apartment building at 107 South Albany Street.

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1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 1/2017

11 01 2017

This is another one of those modest-sized infill projects where if you blink, you might just miss it.

1001 North Aurora is on the north end of Fall Creek, across the street from the elementary school. The plan replaces an old though not especially historic single-family home with twom two-family homes, each unit with three bedrooms for a total twelve. Four parking spaces are included. The project was approved in October 2016 by the city planning board; the lot subdivision that triggered board review.

Over the course of review, the board requested a little more character in the house designs, including more windows, two different shades of lap siding (which will be LP SmartSide wood siding, painted Sherwin-Williams “Rice Grain” and “Sawdust”), and dormers. The materials also include Owens Corning TruDefinition “Terra Cotta” shingles and S-W “Nacre” trim boards. The initial design looked like this, and the final is shown below. The eastern building will not have the dormer, and may not have the pocket windows in the west wall either, as those were stated to be cost-dependent. The side facing Aurora, however, has to put them in as a stipulation of the approvals; after some recent issues with other projects, the board’s been getting a little more assertive when it comes to building details being built as approved.

The developer is Stavros Stavropoulos. The Stavropoulos family is perhaps best known for running State Street Diner, but recently they’ve been wading deeper into the development pool, building a new two-family home at 514 Linn Street and a two-family addition onto 318-320 Pleasant Street. Tompkins Trust gave a $400,000 construction loan to this project back in August.

Each unit will ring in at about 1200 square feet. Local architect Daniel R. Hirtler, fresh off of another duplex on the corner of Oak Avenue and Oneida Place in Collegetown, is in charge of design. Construction is expected to wrap up by the end of May 2017. According to Craigslist, the units are renting for about $2325 each ($775/bedroom), and two of the four units are already rented. Quote:

“New duplexes featuring 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath apartments. Open floor plans, ductless heating and cooling in every room, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, corian counter tops, stackable washer and dryer, fully furnished, off street parking and much more.”

You’ll notice in the photos below that the completed foundation slab sits a little above the ground – the northern part of Fall Creek has a high water table, so to help avoid water/flooding issues, the buildings are raised slightly. Wood framing is just beginning, so look for these to take shape as we finish out the winter and head into spring.

Quick final detail – 1001 North Aurora Street was the old address. These properties will use addresses on the 200 Block of Queen Street.

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News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





The War in Fall Creek

22 09 2015

A few weeks ago in the Voice, an article ran saying that bidding wars were breaking out in Fall Creek. Homes in the neighborhood are being fought over by multiple buyers, and driving up the sales prices (and assessments for all the other properties).

So, being of an analytical mind, I wanted to see if there was any way to prove that. And that is the topic of today’s post.

So the hypothesis is, if there are bidding wars going on, we should be seeing relatively low reductions from listing to sales price, or even sale prices above the listing price. According to anecdotal evidence from real estate website Zillow, 90-95% of list value is common, assuming that the home was priced realistically for its market.

Using the bounds of Fall Creek as defined in the article, listing and sales data were pulled from houses sold within the neighborhood from 2013 to present. Zillow and Trulia (mostly Zillow) were used to find old listing prices, and the sales price were cross-checked with the county records website when possible. The initial price was used, meaning that if the owners reduced the price before a house sold, it “didn’t count”.

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One of the problems is, not all houses go through real estate agents, and not all homes are widely advertised when they’re put on the market. There’s a lot more sale information out there than there is listing information. Nevertheless, sales and listing prices were found for 45 homes in the Fall Creek area. Not the most robust sample size, but the homes are a nice distribution of sub-neighborhoods and sales values. The mean listing price here is $238,460, and the median $226,900. The average home value in Ithaca was about $220,500 over that time period (and $229,100 now), so our initial values are both pretty close to the city average.

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Now let’s look at the sale prices. Many prices went down, and judging from the increase in a few of the pricier bins, some values went up as well. The mean sales price is $234,444, and the median sales price is $225,000. The lump sum math says that the average decrease from listing to sales price was 1.68%. So if we go by the Zillow guideline of where sales price is 90-96% of listing price, and here the sales price is 98.32% of the list price, then there’s at least evidence that Fall Creek is doing quite well as a real estate market.

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However, looking at the aggregate values don’t tell the whole story. Breaking down and sorting the percentage change between listing price and sales price, 17 of the listings saw an increase from the asking price in the listing, to the sales price. And then there’s at least 4 property owners who either had really unrealistic expectations, or were hosed. One of those houses was on the market for 22 months, while most of the other listings were on the market for 2-4 months (and by on the market, I’m counting the pending sale/listing removed period).

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If one goes looking for trends with time, they won’t find anything here. With an R-squared of 0.0447 (and R of 0.2114), the trend line is crap and there’s no strong correlation with prices as a function of time. There didn’t appear to be a strong trend geographically either, although I did not set up the data for geographic parameters (but if someone really pushes for it, it’ll be produced for verification’s sake).

In conclusion, there might be some bidding wars going on. There are definitely homes selling over asking price, and the housing market in Fall Creek is certainly healthy. But there are still a number of homes selling in the more typical -5% to -10% range, either because sellers are asking too much, or because buyers haven’t been biting (given the other evidence, I’m going with sellers asking too much).

There have been very rapid appreciations in home values in the past 15 years, which have caused strains for residents with modest or fixed incomes. But for now, home buyers appear more than happy to offer a way out. For better or worse.