128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 12/2018

6 01 2019

This post was supposed to go up a week ago, but was delayed by a bout with the flu. Sometimes, things get delayed and health concerns have to take precedence. 128 West Falls Street is an example of that.

128 West Falls Street is a single-family rental home situated on a mostly empty 0.375 acre urban lot on the northwest side of Fall Creek. The property was bought by Heritage Park Townhomes back in December 2012. Heritage Park, recently rebranded Perfect Heritage, is the umbrella organization for a few different businesses run by local builder Ron Ronsvalle and his family. Those include Perfect Painters (home painting), Heritage Builders (home construction), Heritage Park Rentals, and a few years back, there was even an auto repair business.

On the development side, Heritage Builders has built or renovated a number of small-scale residential and commercial projects around the greater Ithaca area, tapping into a variety of markets. These include student rentals on South Hill, apartments and commercial retail/office space in Lansing, some smaller multi-family infill in the city of Ithaca, and some for-sale housing on South Hill. There isn’t really a pattern, it’s more or less what’s available at the time they’re looking to take on something new.

In March 2014, plans were first announced for infill apartments at 128 West Falls Street, consisting of three new buildings with six rental units. The design of these was rather awkward and somewhat larger than the typical 1.5-2.5 story homes that comprise nearby blocks, so there was a fair amount of pushback from neighbors. This was problematic because the Board of Zoning Appeals was required to sign off on setback and parking variances needed for the project to move forward; the property is being subdivided into three parcels, one for the existing single-family home, one for the to-be-built duplex (later a single-family home) to the east, and the third for the two duplexes on the west end of the parcel. The existing home will have no on-site parking within its (middle) lot, instead sharing with the west lot.

The project team met with neighbors, heard their concerns, and reworked the design – it was a bit smaller, with five units in two two-family homes and and one single-family home, and the designs, created by architect/engineer Lawrence John Fabbroni of Fabbroni Associates, showed a more traditional aesthetic when the revised site plan review was submitted in October 2014. At the time, the planning board hailed it as a successful example of working with the community to create a mutually acceptable outcome. The plans were approved by the planning board in February 2015.

However, the project didn’t move forward, and after two years, the approvals expired. Not long after the project was approved, Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. As the letter from Fabbroni stated, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.” For a while, it had looked like the project was unlikely to ever happen. However, the request for re-approval was submitted in June 2018, and with no changes, the project generated little discussion and was re-approved the following month. The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period in two phases from August 2018 to August 2020.

The project includes seven off-street parking spaces, one driveway, sidewalks/walkways, stormwater facilities and landscaping (new trees, pavers, raised plant beds). The three units facing West Falls Street are designed to resemble typical older homes in the neighborhood. Building 1 is a single-family building with three bedrooms, finished in LP Smartside wood lap siding colored Sherwin-Williams Aurora Brown on the lower floors, LP Smartside wood shake siding on the gable level and colored S-W Roycroft Brass, and trim panels in S-W Roycroft Vellum. Building 2 is two units with three bedrooms each; the massing of Building 2 is broken down into two distinct halves, connected only through the foundation and a ground level breezeway. The west unit will have a bay window and a full gable roof with dormers, while the east unit has a partially-hipped roof, creating visual interest between the two otherwise mirrored units. LP Smartside wood lap siding in S-W Renwick Olive will be used on the lower levels of each., LP SmartSide smooth wood panels with batten trim will be used on the west unit’s gable level, while the dormers on the east unit will use lap siding, both colored in S-W Roycroft Bronze-Green. The trim panels will once again be S-W Roycroft Vellum. For the record, all of these colors are from Sherwin-Williams’ “Heritage Palette” historic color series; and historic East Aurora, New York is home to the Roycroft Campus.
The building tucked back from West Falls Street, Building 3, is a more contemporary design hosting two two-bedroom units. The lower levels use LP engineered wood siding in S-W Rockwood Blue-Green, and on the gable level, smooth wood panels in S-W Downing Stone. As with the other two, the wood trim panels are painted S-W Roycroft Vellum. Altogether, there’s a total of five new units and thirteen new bedrooms in the project. The project is designed such that the whole four-building, six-unit assemblage can be converted into condominium housing at a later date, if Heritage Park chooses to do so.
The photos below suggest a quicker timeframe for construction than suggested in the 2018 Site Plan Review – framing is substantially underway for all structures, with the first two floors framed out for Buildings 1 and 2, and above-ground framing just getting underway for Building 3. The concrete foundations are complete. A good estimate would be an August 2019 completion for all five units, or in other words, they decided to merge the two phases back into one. The designs don’t totally match the drawings. The elevations don’t show windows in the basement level concrete, and some of the other window patterns don’t totally align either.





News Tidbits 12/17/18

18 12 2018

Here’s a look at the agenda for the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board meeting this month. It’s a week earlier than usual due to the Christmas holiday. Notes and comments in italics below.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Special Order of Business – Presentation of the Greater Southside Plan 6:05
3. Privilege of the Floor 6:20
4. Approval of Minutes: November 27, 2018 6:35

5 Special Permits 6:40

A. Project: Bed & Breakfast Special Permit
Location: 130 Coddington Road
Applicant: Noah Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval

Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit for use of the property as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast. The property was originally issued a Special Permit in 1998 for operation of the five bedroom home as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast; the Special Permit was not renewed in 2003, as required by §325-9c(4)(g)[3], and has therefore expired. During a recent home inspection, it was discovered the property had continued to operate absent a Special Permit, necessitating a new Special Permit application. No physical alterations to the building or the site are proposed. Issuance of a Special Permit is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act “(“SEQRA”)

This is a simple case of where the previous owner never renewed the five-year permit and didn’t tell the new buyer, who planned to continue using the home as a live-in Bed & Breakfast. No letters of opposition are on file. Approval, with the proper completion of all necessary forms, is likely to be straightforward.

B. Project: Bed & Breakfast Home Special Permit 6:50
Location: 2 Fountain Place
Applicant: Jason K Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval
Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit to operate the existing 4,492 SF nine (9) bedroom residence located at 2 Fountain Place as a Bed and Breakfast Home. The owner is proposing to utilize four (4) of the nine (9) bedrooms as guest bedrooms for a period not to exceed 21 consecutive days, with a fifth bedroom utilized for home-owner occupancy. Guest occupancy will be limited to two persons or one family per guestroom. No exterior modifications are proposed to the existing home to establish the B&B use, and the existing house is compatible with the character of the neighborhood. Existing parking for seven (7) vehicles exists in the turnaround off Willets Place. The applicant does not propose cooking facilities in the guestrooms, and food service is to be limited to guests of the B&B. No other B&B Homes exist within 500 feet of the property. One sign that is five (5) SF maximum in area and not self-illuminated will be installed in compliance with Chapter 272 of the City Code, “Signs.”

Under city zoning code, B&Bs, which are to be owner-occupied, are allowed to four bedrooms to be used for the guests. A zoning code variance to use eight bedrooms as guest occupancy seemed unlikely, but the new owners believe the B&B may still be viable. Local architect Jason K. Demarest (brother of STREAM’s principal architect, Noah Demarest) is known for his historic restorations and historically-inspired design work, so his involvement is auspicious for those who hope that the century-old mansion and former Ithaca College president’s house retains its character.

6 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 7:00
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Review FGEIS & Town Comments – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/119

Hey, they’re starting to include documentation links in the agenda descriptions now! Most of the town’s comments are minor modifications and a possible correction on one of the traffic lane analyses. There’s a boatload of paperwork to dig through, so this meeting is just a chance for the planning board to look at the town’s comments, digest some of the supplemental files, and make sure there are no red flags or major concerns within that subset of information.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance
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). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

This is likely to be the most contentious part of the meeting. The planning staff have conducted their analysis. Some traffic mitigation measures are sought, including circulation and mass transit / multi-modal transit improvements. The city will make sewer system upgrades a stipulation of project approval, and being next to the Cornell Heights Historic District, the board as Lead Agency wants a more sensitive use of materials and material colors, and extensive vegetative screening to be reviewed further before approval. But the most debated component, the energy use impacts, the city feels is effectively mitigated through the proposed measures by the applicant team.

I’m going to raise one point of correction though – the number of beds is going up to 2,079, but the planning staff should note that a campus-owned fraternity house, the former Sigma Alpha Mu building at 10 Sisson Place (the chapter moved to 122 McGraw Place), is coming down to make way for the project, so the gross number of beds is at least 30 less that that figure.

C. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3 – No Action
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). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/852

Part III of FEAF is the city planner-written review of impacts, proposed mitigations, and whether the lead agency feels the mitigations are appropriate and effective. Some stormwater, remediation plan and other supplemental materials are still needed before a declaration of significance can be made. 

D. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 8:10
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Public Hearing
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally non-conforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/859

City staff were really unhappy about this plan last month, and it was implied that this was one of the examples of “bad” infill that may lead to the new single primary structure overlay. However, barring extreme circumstances (think Maguire at Carpenter Park), review will continue under the current regulations. No new materials appear to have been submitted since the last meeting. 

E. Project: Maguire Ford Lincoln Additions and Improvements 8:30
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/860

The revised plans include modified architectural features (more windows, a green wall), and a greater amount of vegetated landscaping to comply with zoning. On-site solar panels are being considered per board recommendation, but the old building was not designed to hold the weight of solar panels. The new wings will be designed to host panels. Heat pumps are being evaluated for some functions, but some of the heavy-duty components like the service bay will likely rely on modified conventional fuel systems. The building will meet or exceed NYS Energy Code requirements.

F. West Hill- Tiny Timbers – Sketch Plan 8:50

This one has been a long time coming. Tiny Timbers bought a 5.45 acre parcel on the south end of Campbell Avenue’s 400 block back in September 2016, and has long planned one of its cluster home developments on the vacant lot. As noted at the time on the blog:

“Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.”

G. 112-114 Summit Ave – Sketch Plan 9:10

This one required some fact-checking, because 114 Summit Avenue was the former Cascadilla school dorm that came down last year to make way for the Lux apartment project at 232-236 Dryden Road. A better address for this project might be “238 Dryden”, and the rumor mill says it’s by Visum Development Group, who developed the Lux. Although the exact positioning seems uncertain, the parcel north of the Lux is CR-3 (three floors, 40% lot coverage, parking and houselike features such as gables and porches required), and the remaining adjoining parcels are CR-4 (four floors, 50% lot coverage, no parking required). With student housing experiencing a little more slack in the market lately, it’s not clear if this is student housing, or another use.

7. Old/New Business PRC Meeting Time/ Date 9:30

8. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development 9:40

9. Adjournment 9:50





News Tidbits 11/26/18

27 11 2018

Just to get this out in time, he’s a look at what will be a rather long but very interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting tomorrow evening.

1 Agenda Review 6:00

2 Special Order of Business – Planning Report on ILPC recommendation to designate the former Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad Station at 701 West Seneca Street. 6:05

3 Privilege of the Floor 6:20

4 Approval of Minutes: October 23, 2018 6:35

5 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 6:40
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Distribution of FGEIS & Review of Schedule – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca.

No decisions expected tonight, but the distribution of the FGEIS (Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement) is a major step forward. From here, the Planning Board will review and critique the document, and when satisfied, it will vote for a resolution of completion. A recommendation to adopt the Chainworks PUD zoning and the FGEIS findings will follow, and if successful, the Common Council will also vote to adopt the PUD zoning. That would complete generic review for the site – new builds would still come to the board as necessary, but renovations could potentially begin not long afterward. Timing-wise, the final approvals are still a few months out, but this massive 910+ unit project is slowly closing in on approvals, and potentially, construction.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:55
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3
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

Materials provided indicate that city planning staff are reasonably satisfied that the energy impacts of the massive North Campus housing plan have been mitigated. The only new letter on record this month is a letter of concern from the City Historic Preservation Planner about the project’s visual and aesthetic impacts on the Cornell Heights Historic District to the west.

C. Project: Apartments (12 Units) 7:25
Location: 327 W. Seneca Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for Visum Development
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a three-story apartment building with 12 units. Project development requires the removal of the exiting building and parking area. The project will include exterior bike storage, a trash enclosure, walkways, landscaping, signage, and lighting. The project is in the B2-d Zoning District and has received the required variances for front-, side-, and rear-yard setbacks. A small portion at the rear of the property is in the CDB-60 District. The project has received Design Review. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance on September 25, 2018.

Not much to add regarding Visum’s workforce housing (80% area median income) proposal for the State Street Corridor. The project is expected to receive $200,000 from the latest round of the Community Housing Development Fund, the affordable housing fund jointly paid into by the city, county and Cornell. In this case, Cornell will cover $170,000 and the city $30,000. Cornell doesn’t have any hand in this project, but having one entity pay most of the grant for a given project makes it less complex to administer. 

D. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:35
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
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).

Note that IFR is a Travis Hyde Properties business entity. The attempt to gain approval for an environmentally compromised project site is likely going to be more heavily scrutinized given the recent controversy regarding proposed demolition procedures for the Old Library site.

E. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 7:55
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of SEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally nonconforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).

F. Project: Maguire Lincoln 8:15
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. Landscape design will improve vegetative cover; however, it will not meet the City of Ithaca’s impervious/pervious requirements (12%). The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review.

G. Sketch Plan – 312 E Seneca Street, Jagat Sharma 8:35

312 East Seneca is a 4,482 SF three-story mixed-use building on the edge of Downtown Ithaca. The building was long-owned by Ithaca architect Jagat Sharma, who ran his practice from the building (1416 SF), the Alley Cat Cafe (1926 SF), and a four-bedroom apartment (1140 SF) on the upper floors.

A few years ago, the site was floated as part of the potential footprint for Visum Development’s Seneca Flats mixed-use project, though at the time it was made clear that it was not an essential property to the development, and simply a possibility if Sharma chose to sell to Visum. Sharma didn’t – in September, he sold the building to an LLC associated with the Stavropoulos family for $800,000, double the assessed value. That lofty price relative to assessed value was a big clue something was planned here, and it looks like the first glimpse of that will come tomorrow night. The Stavropoli of West Hill have been growing their assets through acquisition or development for the past several years, including the 4-unit North Aurora project in item E. above.

Normally, the Stavropoulos family is low-key about development, preferring lower-profile infill builds in established neighborhoods – the largest project of theirs to date is the 11-unit 107 South Albany project. They often turn to local architect Daniel Hirtler, but this time, Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma will have a hand in redeveloping the building that housed his office for so many years. This would be Sharma’s first building downtown since the Greenstate Building (127 West State Street) in 1991. For the record, this would be their second Sharma commission, with a duplex planned for 209 Hudson Street being the other (granted, that’s also a modular structure).

Zoning-wise, this is CBD-60. Within that zone, Sharma can design a five-story building up to 60 feet tall, no parking required, with any variety of commercial or residential uses. Any design will have to conform with the recently-adopted Downtown Design Guidelines. The Stavropoli are likely to do all-residential or residential with ground-floor retail. The current building is quite narrow, but it also only occupied the east half of the lot – a new structure could practically touch the neighboring building at 308 East Seneca.

H. Sketch Plan – 114 Catherine Street, Jagat Sharma 8:55

Things are about to get a bit confusing. A few years ago, the Lambrou family, mid-sized Collegetown landlords and developers of Collegetown Park, presented and built an infill project at 114 Catherine Street – while all the working docs used 114 Catherine Street, the address of the existing building set back into the lot, the new 3-unit, 17-bedroom building was christened 116 Catherine Street.

This new building is expected to be a replacement for the existing 114 Catherine Street, the Mission Apartments, and is expected to complement 116 Catherine in appearance (Jagat Sharma designed that as well). Zoning here is CR-4, up to four floors, with a maximum of 50% lot coverage (but not parking required). Expect this to be student housing – probably not too big, a few dozen beds at most, but something to take note of nevertheless.

I. Sketch Plan – 130 Cherry Street, Residential, Vecino Group 9:15

130 Cherry Street is a 4,600 SF auto body shop that’s been for sale for quite a while now. The rumor mill says Vecino CEO Rick Manzardo was walking around the area a couple of weeks ago, and it looks like there was a reason for that. The plan being floated is affordable “artist housing”. This wouldn’t be a new concept to Vecino, who renovated a vacant warehouse in Troy into the 80-unit Hudson Arthaus. What makes the Arthaus unique among affordable housing is that it offers on-site amenities geared to artists, as well as income-based rents for those who make only a modest living while engaged in their creative pursuits.  Those amenities include a wood shop, on-site storage units, gallery spaces managed by a local non-profit, and a computer/digital work suite.

Zoning here is “Cherry Street District” Waterfront Zoning. Since it’s north of Cecil Malone Drive, housing is allowed – but not on the first floor. The first floor is for light industrial and many commercial uses, including restaurants, stores and offices. No ground-level storage permitted, however. In this “artist housing” format, the first floor would likely be the exhibition/gallery.workshop space. The building may be up to five floors with 100% lot coverage once setback requirements are met. Bonus for this site, the Cherry Artspace is a few hundred feet away. With about 179,000 SF in building capacity offered by the site and zoning before setbacks are considered, a potential project could be fairly sizable.

6. Old/New Business 9:35

7. Reports 9:40
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

8. Adjournment 10:00





News Tidbits 11/17/2018

18 11 2018

X. Let’s start this off with a look at a couple of new projects that will be coming forward to the city of Ithaca Planning Board later this month. The first is 815-17 North Aurora Street. Back in June, when the existing property went on the market, I noted that zoning could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes. Lo and behold, that is exactly the plan.

Although the listing has been pulled, no sale has been completed, so it’s not clear what kind of premium they are willing to pay for a double-lot development opportunity in trendy Fall Creek. But thanks to the Site Plan Review (SPR) documents, we at least know who the pending owner/developer is – the Stavropoulos family of West Hill, who own the State Street Diner and a growing portfolio of rental units under the name “Renting Ithaca”. The Stavropoli have redeveloped several properties in the past few years, including 1001 North Aurora Street (4 units), 107 South Albany Street (11 units), a two-family home at 514 Linn Street and a two-family unit planned for 209 Hudson Street (they originally applied to build two two-family buildings, but reduced it to one after neighborhood pushback). Their M.O. is basically small-scale rental infill, nothing especially large or ostentatious, and with that they go under the radar for the most part. In short, this R2b-zoned site is a perfect fit for them.

The plan is to tear down the vacant property, and replace it with two two-family structures, four units total. Each will be three bedrooms and 1,290 SF. Their usual architect of choice, Daniel Hirtler, has designed the structures to fit in with the Fall Creek vernacular, with recessed entries and aesthetic details (such as a transition between fiber cement shakes and clapboard siding) for visual interest. The buildings are positioned so that one is in the front of the lot, one at the rear, and only the front structure is visible from most public viewsheds. The site will include four parking spaces with new landscaping and utilities. Heating will come from electric heat pumps, and while the roofs will be capable of hosting solar panels, those aren’t expected to be included as part of the initial build. LED lighting, energy efficient appliances and water heaters, and high-efficiency spray foam insulation are included. This project would very likely meet the new Green Building Policy Requirements if in place. Given recent news in Fall Creek, it should be noted that the old building does contain asbestos (as do most in Fall Creek), but a demolition/deconstruction plan has yet to be filed.

The $627,000 project would be built from January to August 2019, which is a clear nod to having the units ready in time for the next academic year. Fall Creek tends to be less desirable to undergrads at Cornell because of the distance (<1% of total population), but graduate and professional students often rent in the neighborhood (~9% of graduate/professional students at Cornell live in Fall Creek). The planning board is expected to declare itself Lead Agency for project review this month, with approval in December of January, assuming demolition plans, excavation plans and other needed information has been received and approved.

The other new plan to be reviewed this month is for a renovation and expansion of the Maguire Ford Lincoln property at 504 South Meadow Street, just south of Wegmans and the Econo Lodge. Now, for the news savvy, you might be asking, “isn’t Maguire supposed to be moving to Southwest Park?” The answer is two-fold; for one, Ford-Lincoln was not a part of that plan. For two, there hasn’t been much in the way of formal movement on that plan, and the city is hesitant to move forward with a deal because part of the site will serve as a spoils drying area for the inlet dredging, and because of the homeless encampment, which the city would rather not disturb at this time. The evictions didn’t work out so well last time, and members of the Human Services Coalition’s Homeless Task Force are advocating for the city to create a permanent housing solution on-site.

What this all means is that Maguire has to focus on its existing properties to keep them modern and fresh for the time being, both by their own requirements and by Ford’s  – new car dealers must renovate frequently, since carmakers force them to update or risk losing their exclusive rights to sell new vehicles.

Local firm John Snyder Architects is in charge of design for the $1.5 million project, and while some eco-advocates will kvetch that a car dealer can never be green or sustainable, the building itself is designed to fit Ithaca’s yet-to-be enacted Green Building Policy. The second floor will be expanded with new offices, new customer bathrooms will be installed and the parts and customer waiting areas will be renovated and expanded. The showroom will also be expanded, and it will be slightly closer to Meadow Street than permitted in bib box land, so a zoning variance for front yard setback will be required. As a quick aside, JSA doing a car dealership is an interesting change – usually, car dealership design work has gone to Schickel Architecture.

The additions, which will result in a net increase of 5,610 SF, will be steel-framed, with concrete slab foundations, and faced with a couple variations of aluminum metal panels for a contemporary exterior finish. Apparently, that curved thing at the entrance is called a “foil”. Ithaca’s Elwyn & Palmer is assisting with the structural engineering. While there will be landscaping and circulation improvements, and the amount of green space will be increased from the existing site layout, the project will not meet impervious surface zoning restrictions, and will need a second variance to allow the proposed plan.

It’s not 100% clear what the proposed design is, since the elevation drawings don’t match the renders. Note the second-floor windows near the service area and the differences in the panel colors and elements (vertical ribs vs. rectangular panels) in the render.

The plan is to have approvals by January for a March to September 2019 build-out. Because of a tight corporate deadline from Ford, and since the Board of Zoning Appeals is not having a December meeting, and possibly not a January meeting either (expected lack of quorum?), the project team wants to discuss some sort of bundling of review and zoning variances in the review.

3. Ithaca-based architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is cooking up their latest project design, and posted hints of this “Net Zero” energy building on Twitter. There’s a very high chance this small multi-family Net Zero project is local, given STREAM’s nearly-singular focus on the Tompkins County market. Also, given that it’s a three-story building with what appears to be 4-6 units, I’d take a guess at a more settled, primarily residential urban area. Not Downtown Ithaca, but maybe one of the village centers or one of Ithaca’s more residential inner neighborhoods. If it’s an Ithaca-area rental, given the August-August academic calendar that the local apartment market revolves around, I suspect we’ll see more about this project in the next few months if the developer is aiming for fall 2019 occupancy.

4. Something to keep an eye on for the future. 602 Elmira Road sold for $690,000 on October 24th. Not only was the buyer was a New York-based hotelier, but the price paid is far above assessment – the three-acre parcel was only valued at $150,000, and had sold for $140,000 back in September 2014, from the realtor who subdivided it, to another hotel developer, Guru Hotels LLC. So it’s distinctly possible that Guru Hotels developed a plan, designs and all, but decided to not move forward with it and found another interested hotel developer to take over on the development, which would explain much of the premium on the sales price. Of course, those plans have never been brought forward to the town of Ithaca planning board, so buyer beware.

The location has some desirable factors – along Route 13 just beyond city limits, near Ithaca Beer, and within the town of Ithaca’s proposed Inlet Valley agri-business and tourism Corridor. The town as been a bit scattered on how it sees this swath of land next to 13A – the Comprehensive Plan saw it as natural space, current zoning is light industrial, and the Inlet Valley zoning and design guideline study is okay with either of those, an agriculture-related business or something tourism-focused, which a hotel would fit under. Stylistically though, a typical chain hotel will not e approved here – like with the nearby Sleep Inn project, it will have to embrace the ‘rustic look’ the town wants here.

5. 323 Taughannock has its construction loan. Tompkins Trust Company lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company. The firm normally does business as a modular and timber-frame builder based out of New Hampshire. I suspect given the choice of firms that the townhouse units will actually be framed and sheathed off site, and transported over to be assembled like pieces of a puzzle. It’s an unusual project for a firm that mostly does higher-end vacation homes and cabins, but 323 is a wood-frame structure, and the project has already had issues with the poor on-site soils and spiraling costs – a modular approach would potentially save on costs and make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage.

6. Cayuga Ridge has also received a construction loan, a set of them to finance its renovation plans. Three loans, for $12,558,750, $2,216,250 and $1,500,000, were received from CIBC Bank USA (the U.S. division of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, based out or Toronto with the main U.S. office in Chicago). The fourth loan, for $3 million, came from Metropolitan Commercial Bank out of New York. The owners of Cayuga Ridge are based out of the New York area, so perhaps that would explain the choice of lenders. The loans cover $19.275 million of the $21 million renovation, which will thoroughly update the interior layout with updated utilities and enhanced patient services. The renovation is expected to result in 49 new jobs at the nursing and rehabilitation center, mostly new nurses and nurses’ aides.

7. It’s a few weeks old now, but the infill housing behind 310 West State Street is coming along. These are the modular pieces of the new six-bedroom rental being craned into place. Also, the renovation of 310 West State is coming along, soon to be a “co-op” for young professionals. The renovation to the existing home is being paid for through a combination of private funds and a RESTORE NY state grant, while the rear infill is all private equity.

 





News Tidbits 6/23/2018

23 06 2018

1. The Town of Dryden has rejected the Planning Board’s suggestion for a Varna moratorium. The vote was 3-1, with one absent. This means that Trinitas may continue with the project review process – it does not mean Trinitas will automatically be able to build their proposal as currently drawn up, since planning board review, town board approval (Special Use Permit) and zoning board approval are still required.

Unfortunately no members of the press were present at the meeting – I found out through reader email. Most were covering the Democratic Party NY-23 candidate forum, and the first mention of the moratorium vote online was in the uploaded board agenda that went up just a day earlier.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

2. When I first broke the Lansing Senior Cottages story for the Voice, there was something I was concerned would happen, but didn’t include in the write-up, because speculating gets me in trouble. But these are homes looking at middle-class seniors, placed next to $500,000-$700,000 homes. The residents of those luxury homes aren’t happy, as reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star.

They’re angry, which is fair in the perspective that when the property was plated, there was no sewer available here, and the plan was to keep it all high-end 2500+ square-foot homes. But the owner/developer of the land is selling off the future phases without any of the old covenants in place, meaning it’s subject to standard village zoning. 800-1200 SF cottages for seniors, some of which may potentially be for sale, is a welcome proposal to the eyes of the county. It seems unlikely this is going to hurt their home values; this is mid-market senior housing, not college student apartments (the only beer on the front lawn you’re going to see is if developer Beer Properties puts up signage). Plus, if you’re going to poll public opinion on this one, wealthy homeowners vs. middle-class seniors is not going to engender support for the homeowners. They could try a lawsuit against the landowner, but I’m doubtful it’s much of a case unless their covenants explicitly said what the undeveloped land would be used for.

The project is currently 107 units over multiple phases, about twenty more than allowed by zoning as-of-right, so it will need to go through a PDA with the village Board of Trustees’ consent, and Planning Board approval.

3. The Crossroads Life Center planned for the 100 Block of Lansing’s Graham Road is no longer alive. The project, which called for a meeting and retreat space to be owned and maintained by the Cornell International Christian Fellowship, fell through, and the land it was proposed for is once again up for sale. The 9.35 acre property (about 3-4 acres were to have been subdivided for the project) is for sale for $239,000. A couple half-acre home lots could be easily subdivided off along Dart Drive, but further development would have to address an old family cemetery towards the rear of the property. Zoning is medium density residential. Maximum buildout without special planned development area (PDA) rules is about 20 units under the village’s Medium Density Residential zoning.

4. Speaking of land for sale in Lansing, Cornell is actively marketing the remaining vacant parcels in its Business Park. Most of the park was built out in the 1980s and 1990s, with only a few building additions in recent years. A 5-acre parcel is available between 20 and 33 Thornwood (foreground in the aerial) for $63,000, and a 22-acre parcel is available for $276,000 (it may be subdivided further), and a 6.89 acre parcel next to airport is available for $86,500.  Lansing zoning doesn’t allow housing here, and so a commercial or industrial project will need to deal with the gas moratorium. A run-of-the-mill office building might be able to make the finances work, but an industrial or lab building with high energy needs is probably is out of the question until some gas is freed up (i.e. the airport renovation), or energy alternatives become more cost efficient.  The county is working on financing a Business Energy Navigator Program to help interested businesses determine their needs and options. Should something happen up here, look for an update.

5. The town of Ithaca is looking at expanding their Public Works Facility at 106 Seven Mile Drive “to better accommodate [their] growing employee base”, and is doing a feasiblity study to see how much and what costs they can expect. The study would be conducted by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates), and is projected to cost about $21k for all parties. The town board will vote to authorize the study next Tuesday.

6. The good news for the county was that the state gave Milton Meadows a big grant to move forward. The bad news is, they were hoping for three grants, the others for NRP’s Ithaca Townhouses and Lakeview’s West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street). The county is trying to find other funding streams with which to get these affordable housing projects to move forward this year.

The Ithaca Townhomes would add 106 units in two phases near Cayuga Medical Center. West End Heights would add 60 units, including units for those with special mental health needs, and units for those currently experiencing homelessness.

7. Not a big city planning board agenda meeting this month, but still some interesting details. Here’s the rundown.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:15
Location: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Potential Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:30
Location: 101 Pier Road
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision is to partition out the square of land Guthrie Clinic would be using for their new medical office building as part of the City Harbor development – they want to own their own building and parcel.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 6:45
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval – Recommendation to BZA

This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

B. Project: GreenStar Cooperative Market 7:15
Location: 750-770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for the Guthrie Clinic (Guthrie owns the land)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

Since the last round, plantings were added, the lighting and front entrance was revised, and the project team is in discussions with the gas station next door to add planting and landscaping there as well.

C. Project: Apartments (60 units) 7:35
Location: 232-236 Dryden Road
Applicant: STREAM Collaborative for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Approval of Revised Transportation Demand Management Plan

“The applicant has revised the site plan such that the previously proposed off-site parking is no longer included in the project and has updated the TDMP narrative to reflect this.”
D. 327 W Seneca St- Housing 7:45
The new shiny. 327 West Seneca is a B-2d-zoned property on the edge of the State Street Corridor – B-2d allows multi-family housing up to 4 floors and 40 feet with 75% lot coverage. It is currently a nondescript 3-unit apartment building, that’s been for-sale for almost a year now (asking price $264,900).
A cursory search of LLC filings finds 327 W. Seneca LLC was recently registered in Tompkins County, and the address it is registered to, is the business office of Todd Fox, CEO of Visum Development Group. This may be the project alluded to in the New York Main Street grant to be written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which talks about a 12-unit project by Visum planned somewhere in the State Street Corridor. No guarantees, but this seems likely to be that project.
5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3099, 314 Taylor St, Special Permit
#3100, 128 Falls St., Area Variance
#3101, 437 N Aurora St, Area Variance




News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





News Tidbits 1/27/18: The Shutterbug

28 01 2018

1. Let’s do some houses of the week. Above, the four new homes Tiny Timber has constructed at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road in Dryden. Each home lot is a little over an acre. The subdivision was approved last spring for the wooded parcel a couple miles east of Ithaca, and since then, Tiny Timbers has been busy selling units and lots to buyers. Two were sold in August, one in September, and the last in December. Therefore, this is 100% built out, since the last lot is a conservation lot at the rear (north) end of the property, designed to protect Cascadilla Creek. The units utilize a shared driveway, with spurs for each home. If you want to look at the homes more closely, click to enlarge the photos.

A similar plan is underway just up the road at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road, where Tiny Timbers will take a long, narrow undeveloped property and subdivide the land into five home lots and a rear (north) lot protected by a conservation easement. These homes will also be served by a common driveway. This proposal is still going through the review process, and when approved, the time frame for build-out will probably be similar. The home designs are the work of local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative.

2. Over in the village of Lansing, work has started on the next six-unit (hexplex?) at the Heights of Lansing property off of Bomax Drive. It appears that the foundation slab and footers have been formed, poured and insulated with foam boards. This is the first new townhouse string to be built in the development in six years.

Several reasons have been given for the long pause. The developers have said that the natural gas moratorium disrupted and delayed build-out plans. Secondly, the patriarch of Forest City Realty/IJ Construction, Ivar Jonson, passed away in 2014. More recently, the Jonson family (his wife Janet and daughter Lisa Bonniwell) were embroiled in a lawsuit to prevent a zoning change that would allow a market-rate apartment complex to be built down the road. Bonniwell was incensed enough to run for mayor in 2017 in an effort to stop the proposal, but did not win the election. The zoning change has been approved and the apartments were approved in October, but the Park Grove project has yet to move forward.

The townhouses were approved along with the last single-family home permit; there were some rather testy exchanges regarding sewer line easements and the installation of street lighting in conjunction with those permits. The lighting has to be in by March 2019.

Assuming these are like the other townhouses, expect them to be 3-bedroom units, low 2000s SF with garages, and to go for $350-$450k when they’re finished several months from now.

3. Dryden’s new Rite Aid is coming along. Fully framed, and the plastic in the window openings is likely intended to allow construction crews to work indoors without exposure to the fierce winter elements. The curbing and paving is complete in the parking lot, and it looks like they install metal bollards all around the lot’s perimeter to keep the less-than-attentive from driving into the wall (something that happened to the Nice N’ Easy in my hometown no less than three times before they finally put some in). It is still planned to open in March.

4. Over in Fall Creek, it appears a small apartment building is in line for some major renovations. 1002 North Aurora, a four-unit building built in 1898, had been on the market for $395,000. The seller had owned the property for 24 years, and the price was only slightly above the assessed value of $375,000.

On Friday, the property sold for $400,000 to an LLC associated with local developer Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor et al.). The same day, a building loan agreement was filed from Tioga State Bank to the LLC for $712,000. A lot of that was going towards the land acquisition, and once soft costs are deducted as well, the loan is $287,000.

MLR tends to be very transparent about their plans, and a glance at their recently updated website shows the purchase and a ‘information on this project coming soon’. However, they already uploaded the interior renovation plans from STREAM Collaborative. It’s a very thorough interior renovation, and it appears to complete change interior floor plans, with new bedrooms (net gain of one?) as well as new kitchens, bathrooms, and fire rated ceilings. Exterior changes appear to include a renovated fire escape staircase, a couple new windows on the third (top) floor), and a new skylight. While old, this apartment building is a hodge-podge of additions from decades past, so let’s see what a renovation can do to clean things up. It’s plausible the renovations would be complete by August, so they can appeal to students as well as the general market.

Quick aside, MLR has a few other “future developments” posted, though none that readers here aren’t already aware of – the 42 townhouse units at 802 Dryden, the proposed 201 North Aurora / Seneca Flats that isn’t moving forward for a while yet, and 217 Columbia, the duplex that unintentionally set South Hill into an uproar. 217 Columbia should be completed this year, and 802 Dryden in summer 2019.

5. It looks like Amici House is finally moving forward. The project, located at 661-701 Spencer Road, received a $3,732,469 loan from the New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation. The money was announced back in April, and appears to be getting disbursed now.

The five-story, 20,710 SF (square-foot) project, approved by the city of Ithaca last January, calls for 23 studio housing units for homeless or vulnerable young individuals in the 18-25 age range. Along with the units and office/function space for local social services non-profit TCAction, the plan also calls for a 7,010 SF early heard start facility, called the “Harriet Gianellis Childcare Center”, that will house five classrooms, kitchen and restrooms, and an outdoor play area. The childcare facility will serve 48 low-to-moderate income families and create up to 21 jobs.

Recently, the HGCC applied for a low-interest loan from the IURA, $90,690 to help cover unanticipated moving expenses associated with the project. TCAction thought they could stay on-site during construction, but the contractor said otherwise, so they’ll be 609 W. Clinton while the new Amici House is built. The loan says it will generate three jobs, but that’s more a technical stipulation than an actual figure associated with the project. The funding for the childcare appears to be separate, $1,325,000 already approved by the state, $603,000 from M&T Bank, and $84,200 from a standing IURA loan. It is fully funded, although it is not completely clear if it will be built concurrently with the housing (the likely answer is yes).