Village Solars Construction Update 9/2019

13 09 2019

So there’s been some news regarding the Village Solars buildout. The community center is in flux. The original proposal was for a mixed-use building with ground-level commercial and community amenities, and 20 one-bedroom apartments on the upper levels. Now, it’s an unknown. Per the Lansing Star:

“(T)hey will relocate the community center site to a location more central what will become an enlarged, single development. The lower floor would have amenities like a restaurant, a work-out center, and other features, with apartments on the upper floors. If not, they would build the smaller community center as already accepted by the Town.”

That means that the community center is being moved to another location on the site, and potentially take a different physical form, though programmatically it remains the same (commercial/community use on the ground level, residential above).

When the article says a more central location, it refers to the 96.44 acres of land east of the complex. The Village Solars are owned by Steve Lucente, and the undeveloped land to the east by his father Rocco, who had purchased it in 1960 and was recently planning his own apartment complex (schematic in the early Village Solars site plan below). My understanding is that the two Lucentes didn’t get along at all – I was warned to never bring up Steve when interviewing Rocco. After Rocco passed away about 18 months ago, Steve saw an opportunity to purchase the vacant land to the east from Rocco’s estate, and build a bigger complex in future phases (as yet unapproved). The purchase offer, at least check, is still being reviewed by Rocco’s Executors.

However, this created a problem. Local Law #6 of 2017, the Planned Development Area (PDA, like Ithaca’s PUD it’s D-I-Y zoning) with the town, stipulated that the community center had to be built and open by the end of 2020, and only one more apartment building could be built before it was done. So Steve Lucente and his project team had to make the case to the town of Lansing Planning Board and Town Board give them time to purchase the land and design the new community center, and let them do three more apartment buildings in the meanwhile to keep on pace with their construction plans. If the offer feel through, he’d build the community center starting next summer and finishing in 2021, a year later than initially planned. Generally, of all the communities to have to make such a request, Lansing would be one of the most accommodating.

Officially, only the Town Board really decides PDA amendments. But here, the Town Board was uncomfortable with the request at first, referred it to the Planning Board for guidance, and then after the Planning Board weighed in, it returned to the town board with a recommendation to consider during voting.

This caused some debate, with some of the planning board feeling like their credibility was taking a hint with this latest delay (the community center was delayed at least once, hence why it was explicitly stated in the 2017 PDA revision), and at least one member of the town board feeling as if they were purposely misled since banks would have received the notice of intent to modify the plans several months ago, but Steve Lucente countered that it was not a firm plan and only became firm later in the year when the offer looked like it had a good chance of being accepted. On a 3-1 vote, the town is permitting three more apartment buildings and only two more, and expects a community center to start next year in either the old or the new location.

At this point, the last of the originally permitted buildings, 24-unit 36 Village Circle North (3 three-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms, 3 one-bedrooms and 12 studios) has had its foundation footers poured and is awaiting the concrete slab pour. The tarp and mesh are in place for stability and added strength respectively, and you can see the below-ground utilities poking out, capped for the time being. A surveyor was on site during this visit to make sure everything was level and in good order before the wood frame starts to rise. The three newly permitted buildings are all reconstruction of existing 8-10 unit buildings, into two 18-unit buildings (2 Village Place, 22 Village Place) and one 24-unit building (117 Village Circle North).

Apparently, occupancy rates have been strong. Building “L” (113 Village Circle North) opened in June, and 22 of its 24 units were spoken for, with the other two rented shortly after.

As for the future, it’s not clear. Something will be proposed that may very well require more PDA amendments, but we’ll see. The elder Lucente’s complementary apartment complex was supposed to be around 300 units in size (built over several years), and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Village Solars plan expands by a similar amount.

 





802 Dryden Road Construction Update, 9/2019

8 09 2019

It’s safe to declare this project as done. A site visit on Friday had some landscapers on site, and a small crew powerwashing the construction dust off the vertical lap siding. The final product is true to the renderings (that’s less common than one might think), the biggest difference I can see is that the pavilion used unpainted wood and corner brackets in the renders, and it’s painted without brackets here. Since the website for the apartments uses renderings in place of its “photos” page, let me be the one to supply the first photos of the finished product.

All things considered, the design is fine, and by being in a less settled part of Dryden right next to Cornell, it draws less attention from Varna residents who might otherwise not be fans if it were closer, and it’s right next to its primary place of “employment”, making for a minimal commute and lower vehicular traffic presence. In addition, with 108 bedrooms, that’s about 108 fewer students and student family members competing on the rest of the local market (these are geared a little more towards graduate/professional students, and some of those come to Cornell with spouses or children in tow).

The developer, Maifly Development of suburban Pittsburgh, did explore purchasing neighboring lots for a second development, but there are no indications that this has been pursued further. Maifly is in growth mode and purchased the under-construction project from the original developer, Modern Living Rentals, in a $2.075 million deal in September 2018.

For the sake of noting it since the emails come in regularly, the Trinitas plan down the road is in a holding pattern while they complete a study of infrastructure needs and impacts as part of the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR). Other than that, I’m not aware of any other projects undergoing or close to undergoing site plan review in the Varna/366 Corridor.

Granger Construction of East Syracuse led the buildout, STREAM and John Snyder Architects designed the townhouse strings, GMB Consulting Services did the LEED score analysis, T.G. Miller P.C. handled land surveying and Marathon Engineering tackled the civil engineering work – Marathon’s Adam Fishel shepherded the project through the town boards. M&T Bank provided the $8.6 million construction loan.

Before:

After:

 

 





815-17 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2019

18 07 2019

This project rose quietly and quickly. 815-17 North Aurora is a small infill project in Fall Creek, replacing what was previously a significantly deteriorated two-family house. It was one of the typical “urban farmhouses” popular in Ithaca in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with major, unsympathetic additions tacked on at a later date. Under its previous owner, who purchased the property in 1999, the house started a gut rehab, but only got through through the “gut” part and never got to the “rehab”.

In June of 2018, the property was placed on the market for $269,000, and the listing noted small-scale redevelopment potential, that the city could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes per zoning. For smaller developers, this was an opportunity. Fall Creek has become Ithaca’s walkable, urban darling in recent years so the market would support a plan, provided that the neighborhood or city didn’t object. The site could never host some grand multi-million dollar project, but it was a chance to build something complementary to the neighborhood, and add density through modest urban infill (Historic Ithaca objects to anything involving a teardown being called infill, but the textbook definition is more accommodating).

The opportunity the site held was right up the alley of a family of local owner/developers, 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. They purchased it for $235,000 on March 7th.

The project involves teardown of the original structure, and replacing 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 includes two parking spaces and a two-car wood-frame garage 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.

The $627,000 development should be complete by August per Site Plan Review documents, 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).

Rather unusually, this project actually got some significant pushback from the Planning Board, which tends to be more acquiescent towards smaller projects; some of it had to do with the project itself, but it was also proposed while the city was hotly debating the merits of infill, a discussion that still continues. The argument was that the project will be rentals, would probably never be owner-occupied, and the board was questioning the merits of approving a project that would likely bring in students to the neighborhood and detract from Fall Creek’s “character”. In response, the initial plan for four parking spaces was replaced with two spaces and a two-car garage, with the newly freed space turned into an outdoor common area. A porch was added to the street-facing duplex, and a den in each unit to make them more family-friendly. All in all, there were four revisions from the first submission in October 2018, to final approval in February.

If you’re wondering about the color swatches – the lower level fiber-cement lap siding will be Sherwin-Williams “Knitting Needles” (light grey), and the front door and shake siding on the upper levels will be S-W “Westchester Grey”. Personal opinion, Ithaca is naturally grey enough as it is, but that’s just one guy’s take. Trim boards will be gloss white and the roof shingles will be Owens-Corning TruDefinition Duration Estate Grey. The concrete base, naturally grey, will remain exposed or potentially get a parge coat, the design plans left either option on the table.

The slab foundation is in, and the buildings are framed, sheathed in plywood ZIP Panels, roofed, shingled, some roof trim boards have been attached, fiberglass windows have been fitted, and the PVC sewer line is clearly visible in its trench. The inside of the wood-frame structure is framed out, and utilities roughs-in (mechanical/electrical/plumbing) are underway. Sorry folks, this one sneaked up on me – demo permits were filed in March, building permits May 20th. Hopgart Construction of Horseheads is the construction manager.

Early drawing.

Final design.





News Tidbits 6/30/19

30 06 2019

 

1. We’ll start off at the waterfront. A rundown single-family home and an antique store / former printshop at 313-317 Taughannock Boulevard sold on the 28th to an LLC at the same address as the City Harbor development site. The development team, which includes Lambrou Real Estate, Morse Constriction, Edger Enterprises, and businesswoman Elizabeth Classen, has been active beyond the boundaries of their Pier Road project. They intend to buy The Space at GreenStar when GreenStar is moving in to their new flagship up the road at the end of the year, and now there’s this purchase to consider.

Zoning (Waterfront “Newman District”) allows for up to five floors and 100% lot coverage with no parking required, but like the 323 Taughannock townhouse project a couple doors down, it’s difficult to build that high along Inlet Island’s waterfront because the soils are waterlogged, and the costs for a deep pile foundation typically outweigh the benefits of going up to five floors. The need for an elevator above three floors is another potential inhibiting factor for a small site like this. The rumor mill says that it was one of the partners that purchased the property, and that there is a small redevelopment planned, so keep an eye out for further news in the coming months.

2. Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, a potential prime opportunity just came onto the real estate market. 720-728 West Court Street is Wink’s Body Shop and Collision Center, and Wink’s Hobbies. Previously a storage and equipment facility for Verizon and the Hearth & Home wood stove and fireplace store, the Winklebacks moved their shop there about a decade ago and have expanded to fill out both buildings in the years since. They purchased the property for $1.7 million in 2014, and the current assessment has them at $1,387,500.

As of now, the asking price is $4.5 million. That high asking price is essentially an expectation of redevelopment, and to be fair, the site comes with a lot of potential. The zoning here is WEDZ-1a, 5 stories maximum, no parking requirement and 90% lot coverage. In terms of gross square footage, someone could build out about 215,000 square feet, though any practical proposal would likely be substantially less. If there’s a deep-pocketed developer who wants to get in on the West End with a large footprint and a lower amount of pushback compared to some other locations, this is a good prospect. David Huckle of Pyramid Brokerage is handling the listing.

Side note, the yellow shaded area above is not developable – it’s city-owned with an easement conveyed to allow non-structural uses, like parking or green space, unless they decide to expand Route 13.

3. While not totally unexpected, Jeff Rimland’s 182-unit, 180-space redevelopment proposal for the eastern third of the Green Street Garage was unsolicited. The IURA’s Economic Development Committee did consent to Rimland’s request to being the preferred developer for the site, but before anyone starts typing up those scathing emails, there’s a crucial difference between this portion of the site, and the western and central sections that filled up so many headlines last year and led to the Vecino Group’s Asteri Ithaca project.

There is ground floor commercial space under the garage on the ground level of the eastern section. Rimland owns the ground floor, part of his purchase of the former Rothschild’s back in 2003, and he also has a 30% stake in the Hotel Ithaca (the remainder being Urgo Hotels). Basically, no one else would be able to do anything with that site without his permission. Meanwhile, because the garage above the commercial space is public, the air above the garage is public, so he has to seek an easement from the city for any skyward projects. So while he could stop any other projects, the city has its own hand of cards to try and get what they want out of his project, like an affordable housing component or other desired features. By the way, and this detail is for reader Tom Morgan – the height will be 126′ 8 1/4″. A bit less than Harold’s Square, but a few feet more than Seneca Place.

4. The latest Asteri submission still consists of rather vague watercolor renders, but it show some substantial design differences from the original submission. Among the changes include design revisions to the conference center space, the addition of a stairwell, a setback at the northwest corner, and different window patterns.

As part of the revisions, Vecino actually pitched three different ideas to the city – an eight-story, 173-unit apartment building with a 9,000 SF grocery store; a 12-story, 273-unit apartment building with a 9,000 SF grocery store; and an eleven-story, 218-unit building with the two-story, 45,000 SF conference center space, including a 12,000 SF ballroom. All host 350 parking spaces. The IURA made it clear its preference is for the conference center option.

Construction looks like it would be from June 2021 – July 2023; and Cinemapolis would have to temporarily relocate during the demolition phase, June 2021 – January 2022. A number of units would be set aside for those with developmental disabilities, with support services provided by Springbrook Development Disability Services.

5. Visum seems fairly confident it will soon earn city approval for its 49-unit, 141-bed rental project at 815 South Aurora Street. To quote the Facebook post: “815 South Aurora St is coming along! Hopefully should have final site plan approval and be breaking ground in August!” The project is slated for a Fall (really late August, since that’s the start of academic fall) 2020 opening.

At the planning board meeting last week, the board voted 6-1 (Jack Elliott opposed) to final approval for Cornell’s 2,000 bed North Campus Residential Expansion, and that will be rapidly getting underway over the next few weeks. Vecino’s Arthaus project was pulled at the last minute because the results of the air quality study weren’t ready in time. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, the board reacted favorably to the Visions Federal Credit Union branch / amphitheater proposal at 410 Elmira Road, and declared itself lead agency for environmental review.

Some design tweaks (larger and better integrated townhouse porches) were suggested for the Immaculate Conception School redevelopment project, and like the council and community group did before them, the board asked the Carpenter Park team to explore integrating affordable units throughout the site rather than having them all in one building. That last one is always going to be tough, because state-administered affordable housing grants like those that the Carpenter developers are pursuing don’t allow affordable units to be spread out among the market rate out of concern the market-rate section goes bankrupt; you could put them in the same building as market-rate, but they would have to be one contiguous entity within the building, as with Visum’s Green Street proposal.

6. Surprise surprise. According to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, the Lansing village planning board voted to name the latest Lansing Meadows revisions a “minor change” after the developer submitted revisions calling for 12 units in four triplexes by July 31, 2020, and another two triplexes by December 31, 2020, for a total of 18 units, two less than the 20 initially approved. All infrastructure (water, sewer, one-way road) would be completed in the initial phase, and having those 12 units completed will satisfy the TCIDA’s agreement for the tax abatement awarded to the project back in 2011. The vote will allow the code enforcement office to issue the building permits necessary to get underway next week.

 





City Centre Construction Update, 6/2019

18 06 2019

For my practical purposes, I’m going to call this one complete. The 193 apartments opened for occupancy at the start of the month, and interior framing and utilities installations are underway for the three ground-floor commercial tenants (Collegetown Bagels, Chase Bank, and the Ale House) later this summer. Landscaping and pavement is in, although the underground garage was cordoned off. With no good angles aloft, it’s not clear if the 7.5 kW rooftop solar array is in place yet.

Overall I think this project will be a real asset to Ithaca’s Downtown. It creates an active-use streetwall where there was once dead space, and extends and enhances the activity of the Commons and the other side of the 300 Block of East State. The addition of over 200 new residents downtown (224 if one per bedroom or studio) will also benefit local business owners with a steadier crowd than the workforce 9-5 and hotel guests. The project is a 218,000 SF, $52 million vote of confidence in the future of Ithaca’s urban core.

The design, however, is pretty average. The curved wall facing East State and North Aurora is a nice touch (and good on the Planning Board to push for the cornice), but the mishmash aluminum panels makes me think of an old beater car that had its original fender panels replaced with those a different color. As always with architecture, to each their own.

First person to name all the people in the Ithaca art mural in the photo set below gets a shoutout on the blog.

Background information and the history of the project can be found here. The project team includes Newman Development Group, Humphreys & Partners as architect, Whitham Planning and Design LLC as the team representative and point of contact for the review process, and T. G. Miller PC for civil engineering and surveying work. EC4B Engineering handled the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering, and Taitem Engineering served as the energy systems consultant.

Before:

After:





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 5/2019

2 06 2019

If you think these went up fast, it’s because they did. The modular pieces from Bensonwood were installed in just a couple of weeks; the group of three one week, and the group of five the next (note that the two substrings are slightly offset from each other). The units came with windows fitted and ZIP panel plywood sheathing already in place. The wood rails for the lap siding came after installation onto the foundation. The first floor will be faced with brick, the top two floors with fiber cement lap siding.

The 323 Taughannock project has a name “Boathouse Landing on Cayuga Inlet“. It’s a mouthful. The website is full of the typical heavy, pretentious marketing that defines high-end residential real estate – the reference to “private lifts”, for instance, because calling it an elevator is too plebeian. There’s a substantial possibility that STREAM Collaborative designed the website and branding as they’ve done with some of their projects like the Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing, especially since the layouts are similar, but I doubt any of their staff would employ such overly florid language. It might have been someone at the developer (Arnot Realty) office or a marketing team they contracted out to.

Features and amenities include private patios and balconies, cable and high-speed internet, stainless steel Energy Star appliances, off-site solar power, in-unit laundry, LED lighting, plank flooring on the upper levels, radiant floor heating in the bathrooms, A/C and heat that can be controlled for each room in the unit, private elevators and smart video doorbell systems on certain units, and fully accessible units for those who may have mobility or physical impairment issues. Pets are permitted, and there appears to be an on-site fitness center in the works.

The floor plans can be seen here. The eight two-bedroom units come in three flavors, dubbed “Catalina”, “Hinckley” and “Garwood”. Catalinas have the elevators, and are the largest at 1,750 SF.  Hinckleys are slightly smaller at 1700 SF and lack the elevators, while Garwoods are the smallest at 1,360 SF. All are 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath units. The eight studios come in three flavors as well – “Crosby” (670 SF), “Hobie” (630 SF), and “Laser” (600 SF). It is not clear how those names were selected.

According to online listings, the top-of-the-line Catalinas are listed at $3600-$3700/month, while the other two-bedroom units are $3,400-$3,500/month. Studios go for $1,500-$1,850/month. The project team is aiming to be ready for occupancy by July 29th.

More about the project history and features can be found here.

 

Absolutely not.

The Catalina two-bedroom floorplan.

The Laser studio floor plan.





802 Dryden Road Construction Update, 5/2019

2 06 2019

Still clearing the photo cache. From the Voice, with the abridged photo set:

“Next to the Cornell Arboretum, the 42-unit, $7.5 million Ivy Ridge Townhomes are fully framed, and two of the townhouse strings are practically complete from the outside. The website for the project touts that two of the buildings are 100% leased, which doesn’t give any clues about what percentage of all the units are leased — I could tell you the first two houses on my street are occupied, but if the other five are vacant, then that paints a substantially different picture of my street. But hey, apparently they’re giving $20 lunch gift card as a thank you for doing tours, so we know it’s not 100%.

Looking at the website FAQ, it’s clearly geared to Cornell students, and though rents haven’t been posted on most websites, it looks like C.S.P. Management has discreetly posted the figures online. A two-bedroom will be $1,800/month, a three-bedroom $2,500/month, and a four-bedroom $3,200/month. Cable and most utilities (all except electric) are included in the rent, the units come partially furnished, and pets, include large dogs, are allowed. Stainless steel appliances, in-unit washer and dryer, and marble tile are also planned. Exterior features include 70 parking spaces, bike racks, stormwater ponds, bioretention areas, a children’s playground, and a dog park. Occupancy/project completion is expected by mid-August, in time for the fall academic semester.”

***

It looks like once the buildings are framed, sheathed and fitted with windows and doors, wood rails are attached over the housewrap for the vertical siding, which is attached in segments. Two of the seven-unit apartment strings (“E” and “F”, using the earlier nomenclature) are largely complete from the outside with the exception of structural trim and finish work (porches/balconies/awnings), two others (“D” and “C”) have exterior siding being applied, one was sheathed but not fitted with rails (“A”), and the last one, on the right in the first image (“B”), is still in the process of being sheathed, though I believe it started construction before “A” did. This is all work that can be finished in time for the school year. The website FAQ claims June; dunno about that.

While landscaping won’t come until the end, it looks like the wood and concrete bases for the “Ivy Ridge” monument signs are in place out front.

Units will come partially furnished, as many student-oriented and young professional residential facilities do. Bedrooms include a queen-size bed, a four-drawer dresser, a desk and a chair, and a headboard with an integrated shelf and a USB charger. In the commons area, there will be a dining table with chairs, a couch, a living room chair, a coffee table, an entertainment center, and a side table. Included in the rent are water, sewer, high-speed internet, cable, trash, and recycling. Residents are only responsible for electricity. The website seems to be making a bit of an effort to downplay the student side of it, probably for Dryden’s sake, but being right on the eastern edge of Cornell will certainly give them and edge over most of the rentals in the Varna and West Dryden areas.

More information about the project and its recent sale between developers can be found here and here.