607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

Thanks to the rapid turnaround time for modular units, the the duplexes at 607 South Aurora Street in the city’s South Hill neighborhood are galloping towards their completion date next month.

One thing to keep in mind is that, once the foundation has been built (Superior Walls here) and underground utilities are in place (water/sewer), it’s basically a matter of trucking in the boxes from the supplier and craning them into place. Per Ithaca Builds (the website is down but the pages are archived), they’re already framed, sheathed, utilities are mostly in, the interiors have drywall hung, windows and doors have been fitted, and even cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and countertops are in place. 80% of the construction work for the duplex is completed by craning four boxes into place and locking them together. The pros are better quality control, less waste, and a quicker turn around time. The cons to modular units is that there’s generally a limited set of designs and customization, although that has improved in recent years, particularly if a developer has a somewhat generous budget (see the Belle Sherman Cottages for example).

Once the boxes are craned and secured to the foundation and each other, the inside will undergo painting and finish work, while the outside gets faced with the exterior material of choice and porches, garages or other details are attached. Here, the rear three duplexes use vinyl siding, lap siding on the lower floors and shake siding on the gables, with decorative lap bands and color variations to give the outside some curb appeal. These units will have small porches with lattice skirts. The unit facing Aurora will receive nicer finishes since it’s the unit that will be seen the most by passing traffic. This includes fiber-cement siding, a full-width porch with decorative brackets (seen under construction below), and sculpted roof brackets.

Note that the rear of the existing house at 607 South Aurora has been expanded, its roof raised slightly. The original five-bedroom house is being extensively renovated into two three-bedroom units. The eight new units will each be three-bedrooms, going for about $700 per bedroom. To quote the ad:

“This home has 3 bedrooms with 2 baths and everything is BRAND NEW!

Newly constructed in 2017, this home features stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, LED lighting throughout the home, all oil bronze finishes, with large bedrooms and ample closet space. The home is equipped with its own washer and dryer, and can come fully furnished. This property is conveniently located less than one mile from Ithaca College, with off-street parking available, this unit is a beautiful place to call home! This property is pet friendly with the correct pet and owner. 

Other Features:
-Stainless steel dishwasher, refrigerator, range and hood vent.
-Luxury vinyl flooring throughout
-W/D in unit
-Beautiful tiled bathrooms
-Modern-Contemporary Style
-Bedroom Furnishings: includes bed frame, bed mattress, dresser, desk, and desk chair
-Dining Room/Kitchen Furnishings: offer seating for dinning
-Living Room Furnishings: includes a couch
-All Room Furnishings: includes curtains decorating all windows
-Located right up the street from the heartbeat of Ithaca, the Ithaca Commons! Magnificent place to eat, shop, and have fun in the Ithaca area
-The TCAT bus stops near the development.”

A couple blocks away, Modern Living Rentals picked up 217 Columbia Street, which has the potential for a rear unit, although it’s just as likely MLR will simply spruce up the existing two-family. The fact that the rentals are only until 5/31/2018 kinda leaves the door open for some construction work next summer.





902 Dryden Road Construction Update, 7/2017

17 07 2017

Seeing as these are expected to open for occupancy next month, this will probably be the final visit to the 902 Dryden site.

From the outside, these look to be complete. The landscaping is partially done. Grass is down and some of the parking area has been bordered with wood beams, but some sidewalk and plantings have yet to be poured/planted, and the bike shed will come towards the end.  About the only thing left for the buildings thesmelves are a few minor pieces of trim (trim boards, porch light fixtures). I’m still a bit disappointed that secondary colors were dropped in father of a color I like to call “bland oatmeal”, but the variation of shingle-style, lap and vertical siding makes up for it somewhat.

The inside of the units are in varying states of late-stage interior work – one of the end units was nearly showpiece ready with only some minor painting left. Working northward to units less further along, cabinetry and appliances were being installed, as were lighting fixtures, oven hoods and kitchen backslashes. Visum/Modern Living Rentals seems to strongly prefer neutral shades for interior colors, which is generally advisable when selling or renting a home. The appliances hanging up on the wall behind the kitchen counters are the air-source heat pumps.  The units closest to Forest Home Drive were still in the midst of drywall paint prep – there was a worker walking around on professional drywall stilts, which I did not take photos of because I wasn’t sure if they would see me and force me to go off-site. The drywall had been hung and appeared to be mudded, but not painted.

To quote the online ad:

These beautiful townhouses are a great place to call home!!
Brand new construction in late 2016 [sic?], has all the amenities needed! Brand new EVERYTHING, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, kitchen complete with a dishwasher! Great sized rooms with ample closet space, all custom tiles bathroom as well! Washer and dryer IN unit!

902 Dryden is not big or ostentatious. I wouldn’t call it out of place in rural Varna, and another 8 units and 26 bedrooms are welcome to the local rental market. Modern Living Rentals and Visum Development are bringing a pretty solid addition to the Varna market. Consider this a preview of MLR’s next project, the 42-unit rental complex they want to put in just a mile up the road at 802 Dryden.

Bella Faccia Construction is the general contractor, and STREAM Collaborative is the architect.





News Tidbits 7/8/17: Watching the Fireworks

8 07 2017

1. A pair of major downtown projects are starting to get a move on site-prep and demolition. The Trebloc Building has been torn down to make way for the 187,000 SF, $32.9 million City Centre project.

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

For a bit of historical perspective, the Trebloc Building was a sort of monument to municipal desperation. Up until 1967, the site housed several 2-5 story buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then along came urban renewal. The city had made plans to demolish the buildings and sell the lot to a bank tenant, who would build a new office and help revitalize the city’s run-down downtown. But after demolishing the building, the potential bank tenant never followed through on its original intent, and the city spend years trying to sell the lot, which was used for makeshift parking in the interim. Finally, they found a buyer in the Colbert Family doing business as the Trebloc Development Company. The Trebloc Building was originally planned to have two floors, but financial troubles had reduced it to one before it finally opened for business in 1974.

One could argue that nothing quite represented the nadir of Ithaca’s downtown quite like the struggling, unloved and unlovely Trebloc Building did. There are some buildings worth fighting for, and even some mediocre ones that come down with a bittersweet sentiment. This was neither.

Perhaps unhappily for downtown businesses, City Centre will be under construction for quite some time; adjusting the estimate given to the IDA, late 2019 or even early 2020 is possible.

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks west, Harold’s Square is also gearing up for demolition of 123-135 East State Street. Unlike the Trebloc teardown, Developer David Lubin will be deconstructing the existing structures, so that their components can be re-used (the process will be managed by Finger Lake Re-Use). I’ve always been kinda partial to the green tile on the former Race Office Supply, so hopefully that goes to a good home. 137-139 East State will be renovated as part of the Harold’s Square project. Harold’s Square, a 180,000 SF building with a hard construction cost of $32.6 million, is expected to take about 18 months, opening in Q1 2019. Dunno why City Centre’s construction schedule is a year longer, although with the underground garage, the project is a little larger (211,200 SF), and more structurally complex. It could also just be a very generous estimate.

2. Tompkins County will be hosting a meeting at the Museum of the Earth on July 19th at 7:30 PM to discuss plans for the Biggs Parcel on the town of Ithaca’s portion of West Hill. As covered previously, the 25.5 acre parcel, which has something of a long news history, has been for sale since last summer, but without any firm offers, the county ended its realtor contract and has been trying to figure out with to do with the property. Although there are some streams and wetlands, there are some development possibilities; neighbors have been pushing for it to be a county-owned natural preserve, but the county wants an option that will pay taxes, whether that be a multi-family development, private estate or otherwise.

While the county did not identify this parcel as a high environmental protection priority, they are busy working with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect a 125-acre property in Caroline, and there are ongoing discussions regarding a 324-acre property in Dryden.

3. As with nearly every sizable project in Tompkins County, the Inn at Taughannock expansion is being met with some resistance from neighbors. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, arguments cited include traffic, view sheds, size, neighborhood character (which seems a bit weird, given there’s not much of a neighborhood nearby), and most frequently, noise, which the town could help resolve by asking for an acoustical counsultant’s report like what Ben Rosenblum submitted in Ithaca for his cancelled proposal for a jazz bar at 418 East State Street. The addition, which calls for a new restaurant, event space and five guest rooms, would create about 25 jobs if built and opened as planned. The often-joked but actually rarely-seen email calling me a “thoughtless corporatist” arrived in the inbox after the first write-up, which indicates this fireworks show may not be over for a little while.

4. In a bit of a weird hang-up, the Heritage Center project attempted to give itself a formal name, but the name was shot down by the County Legislature. The proposed moniker of “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was defeated in a 7 yes -3 no vote (8 yes votes required) because a few of the legislators felt there hadn’t been enough time to gauge community reaction. Personally, I thought “Tompkins County Heritage Center” was fine, but to each their own.

5. Thankfully, the county’s endorsement of the Housing Strategy was unanimous. This is but a baby step in solving the county’s housing woes, but it’s an important step. The county now has a sort of guiding document to help address issues in adding and improving the local housing stock.

There are a few key things that the county will need to adhere to when moving forward. First is working with communities to identify suitable areas for development, and making updates to infrastructure and zoning to guide developers towards those properties instead of far-flung, natural areas where acquisition costs are low and there are fewer neighbors to contend with. Second is bridging the affordability gap – some of this can be done by encouraging new housing at market-rate, but the county will need to be constructively engaging and reliable when helping affordable housing plans apply for grants or exploring tax incentives to help make their proposals feasible.

The third, and arguably the most controversial point here, is standing firm in the face of opposition. Many Tompkins residents are averse to new housing (or really, new anything) near them. For example, consider the Tiny Timbers plan recently announced for Lansing Town Center. The plan checks a lot of boxes – at $175-$225k, it’s fairly affordable owner-occupied new housing, with a smaller ecological footprint than many detached single-family homes. Yet, in the Voice comments, it was dumped on as both a glorified trailer park and unaffordable at the same time, and the neighbor who tried and failed to buy the property from the town to prevent development was trying to scare people from small house living (which at 1000-1500 SF, these aren’t really “tiny” houses anyway). The county should listen for the sake of good government, but after weighing the argument, unless a project is truly a detriment to a community’s quality of life, the county and local boards will need a firm backbone in withstanding criticism. It also helps if people who like a project give their two cents in an email or meeting.

So, good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fingers crossed.





News Tidbits 6/25/17: Lazy Sunday

25 06 2017

1. Starting off with the new project of the week: 42-unit, 108-bedroom 802 Dryden Road. As relayed on the Voice, the parcel currently hosts several rental properties in varying condition. The project is Modern Living Rentals’ largest to date, partly because developer Charlie O’Connor tends to focus more on smaller infill in urban areas.

Although no time table has been given for the $7.5 million project, a likely prospect is approval by the end of the year, with a spring 2018 groundbreaking, and a summer 2019 opening. While John Snyder Architects is in charge of design modifications, the townhouse designs are recycled from STREAM Collaborative’s 902 Dryden plan currently finishing up down the road. Marathon Engineering’s Adam Fishel will be shepherding the project through the approvals process, just as he did the Sleep Inn for Elmira Road.

Location-wise, it’s on a bus route but most everything will need some kind of vehicular transport, so it’s fairly auto-centric. There isn’t a lot of lot nearby apart from a few small rentals and single-family homes, and Cornell farm fields. On the other hand, few neighbors means fewer people likely to raise a fuss at planning board and town board meetings. As long as they provide town favorites like heat pumps, don’t expect big hangups as this plan moves through municipal review.

2. So here’s something out of the blue. Recently, the house at 2124 Mecklenburg Road in Enfield was sold to “The Broadway Group LLC d/b/a TBG Alabama LLC”, and a $998,000 construction loan agreement was filed shortly afterwards. One does not normally see million-dollar projects in Enfield, but a look at the filing yielding no information other than to suggest it was a retail building.

A little further digging indicates The Broadway Group, based out of Huntsville, Alabama, specializes in the development and construction of Dollar General stores. The lender, Southern States Bank, headquartered in Anniston, Alabama, is a preferred commercial lender for TBG. So this is a similar case to the Dollar General recently built in Lansing by Primax Properties –  it’s less about a bank being interested in Ithaca, and more about two major companies located near each other and having an established business relationship. A check of Enfield’s Planning Board reveals that the applicant took great pains not to reveal the name of the tenant, saying only a stand-alone variety dry goods store. A confidentiality clause with client limits what they could say, and TBG will technically own the metal building for a year until it transfers over to Dollar General. Expect a Q4 2017 and with it, 10-12 retail jobs.

I’ll be candid on this one – I sent out an email before writing anything up for the Voice asking if there were enough Enfield/West Hill readers who would care enough to justify an article being written. Jolene encouraged it, the piece went up, and the traffic on the article was actually pretty good, somewhat above average in fact.

3. The city has decided which option it wants to pursue for its rework of University Avenue. Basically, say goodbye to the northbound parking aisle and say hello to a new bike lane. The southbound parking aisle will remain, along with a 7-foot wide sidewalk and 10-foot travel lanes.

4. It looks like plans for the next Press Bay Alley are moving forward. 110-112 West Green Street was sold to Urban Core LLC (John Guttridge / David Kuckuk) for $650,000 on the 19th, and a $581,250 construction loan from Tompkins Trust was filed the same day. Technically, some of the construction loan is actually for the purchase; according to the IURA breakdown, the renovation into micro-retail, office and two 500 SF apartments will only cost about $207,500, plus $40,000 for soft costs like architectural plans, engineering and legal expenses. As part of the $200,000 loan extended to Urban Core LLC by the IURA, the project needs to create at least 6 full-time jobs at full occupancy. On the Press Bay Alley Facebook page, the developers have announced plans for a spring opening, and issued a call for active-use tenants looking for anywhere from 300-2,000 SF.

5. Cincinnati-based Bloomfield Schon has arranged to sell the Cayuga Green complex, lofts, apartments and all. The developer would sell the buildings to Laureate House Ithaca Management LLC. Upon the intended purchase date of August 1st, Laureate House would pay the IURA loan balance ($733,130 at the moment with a $4,880 monthly payment) off in full. That would be about 21 years earlier than anticipated. Laureate House appears to be a start-up real estate firm backed by three wealthy Cornell alums; although the literature says they seek to launch 55+ communities for active seniors in college towns, there don’t appear to be changes in use or commercial/residential tenant mix planned with the purchase of Cayuga Green.

6. Been meaning to note this, but it appears 210 Linden Avenue is undergoing asbestos remediation, which means that the building is being prepped for deconstruction. It looks like Visum Development will be moving forward soon with their plans for a 9-unit, 36-bedroom student apartment building on the property. I did not seen any outward indication of similar work being performed on 118 College or 126 College Avenue at last check, though it’s been a couple weeks.

7. Here’s a look at the city of Ithaca’s Planning Board agenda for next week. Harold Square and 323 Taughannock will have their latest revisions checked for satisfaction of final approval (various paperwork submissions, and of samples of exterior materials to make sure they’re acceptable). 238 Linden Avenue, 232-236 Dryden Road and the DeWitt House old library redevelopment are up for final approval, and the McDonald’s and Finger Lakes ReUse’s supportive housing projects will be reviewed for determination of environmental significance, which basically means that potential impacts have been addressed and if necessary, properly mitigated.

There is also one semi-new project, which is 709-713 Court Street  – that would be the street address for Lakeview’s $20 million mixed-use affordable housing plan on Ithaca’s West End. From previous paperwork, it is known that it’s 5 floors with 50 units of affordable housing, 25 of which will be set aside for Lakeview clients with psychiatric disability. There will be 6,171 SF of commercial space on the first floor, and 17 parking spaces. PLAN Architectural Studios of Rochester will be the architect. Apart from a rough outline, there have been no renders shared of the project, so that’s the “semi-new” part.

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

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

A. Project: Mixed Use Apartments – Harold Square 6:10

Location: 123-129 E State/ MLK St (the Commons)

Applicant: L Enterprises LLC

Actions: Satisfaction of Conditions

Project Description: The Board approved project changes with conditions on May 23, 2017. The Applicant was asked submit revised materials to return to satisfy the conditions in June.

B. Project: Apartments (Short-Term Rental) 6:30

Location: 238 Linden Ave

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for DRY-LIN Inc.

Actions: Public Hearing Determination of Environmental Significance, Preliminary & Final Approval, Approval of Transportation Demand Management Plan

C. Project: McDonalds Rebuild 6:50

Location: 372 Elmira Road

Applicant: McDonalds USA LLC

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

D. Project: Residential Mixed Use (DeWitt House) 7:00

Location: 310-314 N Cayuga Street

Applicant: Kimberly Michaels, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Frost Travis, Owner

Actions: Preliminary and Final Approval

E. Project: Apartments 7:20

Location: 323 Taughannock Blvd

Applicant: Noah Demarest for Rampart Real LLC

Actions: Satisfaction of Conditions

Project Description: The Board approved the project with conditions on May 23, 2017. The Applicant was asked to submit revised materials to return to satisfy the conditions in June.

F. Project: Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartments 7:40

Location: 214 Elmira Road

Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse

Actions:  Public Hearing  Determination of Environmental Significance

G. Project: Apartments (60 Units) 8:00

Location: 232-236 Dryden Road

Applicant: Noah Demarest of Stream Collaborative for Visum Development Group

Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance, Preliminary and Final Approval, Approval of

Transportation Demand Management Plan

H. 709-713 Court Street – Housing – Sketch Plan 8:20

  1. Zoning Appeals 8:45
  1. Old/New Business
  2. Planning Board Comments on the Proposal to Rezone Areas of the Waterfront 8:50
  1. Reports
  2. Planning Board Chair (verbal)

9:10

  1. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
  2. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)
  3. Approval of Minutes: May 23, 2017, April 25, 2017, and November 22, 2016 (time permitting) 9:30
  4. Adjournment 9:35




107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 6/2017

22 06 2017

Seems fair to move this one over into the construction column. Introducing 107 South Albany Street.

The State Street Corridor represents one of Ithaca’s best possibilities for infill development. It’s a mixed-use area with a hodge-podge of buildings and styles, from ornate century-old properties to commercial utilitarian structures. It has a number of sites that have easy access to downtown and amenities, permitting a walkable lifestyle. It’s also less expensive than downtown properties. With this in mind, the city rezoned much of it in 2013 to allow for 5-story buildings, up to 60 feet tall, with no need for parking. The zoning was a simple box overlay regardless of lot lines, which resulted in some “secret” infill opportunities like 512-514 West Green Street, whose rear yard was in the rezoned area, and as a result, owner Carmen Ciaschi was able to legally slip in a two-family home without adding additional parking.

107 South Albany Street was rezoned as a result of the 2013 overlay. The existing property was a mixed-use two-story home that had an apartment on the upper floors, and converted on the first floor to commercial office functions (law office). This presented an opportunity for the enterprising developer.

Enter Stavros (Nick) Stavropoulos. The West Hill native, whose family runs the State Street Diner, runs a small rental company, Renting Ithaca. However, Stavropoulos has slowly and steadily made his way from management to real estate development – first with additions to existing buildings like 318-320 Pleasant Street, and then entirely new properties like 514 Linn Street in 2015, and a project currently at 1001 North Aurora Street. His M.O. so far has been to find middling properties in desirable locations, and add inoffensive infill rental housing – nothing that stretches code, nothing that will anger the neighbors. Earlier projects were designed by Lucente family favorite Larry Fabbroni, but more recent projects have turned to a low-profile, longtime Ithaca architect named Daniel Hirtler, who runs Flatfield Designs. Stavropoulos picked up 107 South Albany Street for $236,000 in August 2015.

Seemingly, each project he takes on is larger than the last. 1001 North Aurora is a 4-unit project, 12 bedrooms with a hard cost of about $400,000. 107 South Albany is slated to be his latest and greatest yet. The original plan, as introduced in Spring 2016, was to build a new six-unit building at the rear of the existing house, and renovate the house into three apartment units, for one studio, six one-bedroom units, and two two-bedroom units. After a few months of planning board review and critique from the design committee, the 3,954 SF, $500,000 plan was approved and slated to start in July 2016.

However, that plan never moved forward. Instead, this past winter, Stavropoulos decided to submit a new set plans. The new plan called for eleven units and eleven bedrooms, but instead of retaining the existing house, it would be deconstructed and replaced with a new three-story, 8,427 SF building. With its neighbors including a former gas station-turned medical service and older, historic structures, the building’s design is an attempt to bridge the gap. The front sports a cornice, a brick veneer on the first floor, tan fiber cement lap siding above and a traditional window arrangement. In contrast, a stucco finish fiber cement stair tower in the middle of the structure serves as a visual interest for passerby on West State Street, and gives the building a modern touch. The building’s height is capped at 40 feet 5 inches, well below the constraints set by the zoning.

The building isn’t designed for active street use, with a recessed entry and bike storage area for privacy, and no first-floor windows on the front facade. However, in an attempt to create an attractive streetscape, the building uses lighted wall recesses on the exterior, the brick work will have decorative patterns, and a large semi-circular iron trellis that will be adorned with native twining vines. The project cost is $946,600, according to the city’s Site Plan Review document.

As of this month, Finger Lakes ReUse has deconstructed the existing house, cleaned and processed the salvaged materials, and has them for sale at their warehouse/store on Old Elmira Road. The foundation and front staircase are all that remain. The plan is to start construction on the new building in the September/October time frame, and to have it open for occupancy by summer 2018. No contractor or construction manager has been named as of yet.

From June:

From May:

Pre-development:

Isometric Plan and interior layout:

 

 





1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 6/2017

19 06 2017

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

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

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

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





Village Solars Construction Update, 6/2017

17 06 2017

It’s not often that I run into someone who’s aware of this blog, let alone while taking site photos. When I arrived at the Village Solars property off of Warren Road in Lansing, I was immediately surprised to see they were taking down one of the older 1970s 10-unit properties, 102 Village Place. A salvage job this is not; the excavator was actively tearing through the brick veneer and wood window frames, leaving them in a pile as it slowly worked its way through the building. A gentlemen with a hose was spraying the fresh debris down to keep airborne dust to a minimum. To be honest, even if the building has little historic value, there’s always a bit of a bittersweet feeling to see a place that hundreds called home fall to the march of progress.

And the march of progress it is. As readers of the Voice may be aware, the plan for the Village Solars has been changed up. The next few phases will remove the 1960s-1970s 8-unit and 10-unit (all 1-bedroom) buildings and build new Village Solars buildings on their foundations. The net gain in units will be 70, bringing the number built and to be built from 502 to 572, and a gain in bedrooms of about 124.

It’s a bit complicated of a breakdown – four of the new building planned – 24-unit “K”, 24-unit “L”, and 18-unit “M” – were originally to be the next phase. When all that was said and done, Building “F”, which will host retail components, a community center and 20 studio units, was to be built. Those are being pushed off in favor of the replacement units. For example, 102 Village Place, coming down in the photos below, will be replaced with a 24-unit building that will also be called 102 Village Place. It’s five peers closest to the Village Solars will also be coming down for the construction of 18 or 24 unit apartment buildings on their footprints. There will be five phases, and it looks like two older buildings will come down and have replacements built each year for the next three years, with the last two being the all-new K/L/M and F. The designs for the six new buildings will be similar to the existing Village Solars.

So while taking photos, I happened to see a gentleman in a wide-brimmed hat and loafers, drinking a couple beers. I intended to not make waves and to just walk past when he broke the ice by saying “I’m surprised there aren’t more neighbors out watching. You don’t see something like this everyday.” I ended up making my acquaintance with Jon Lucente, the son of Rocco Sr., brother of Steve and uncle to Rocco Jr. – so, not as directly involved as the others, but still aware and knowledgeable. Turns out he lives in the Village Solars.

One of our conversation topics swirled around the hassles of regulation – a little talk on the Briarwood mess ten years ago, a little bit about Varna, and a lot about the Village Solars. To be frank, he had nothing but great things to say about Lansing town government. But he complained some of the building code regulations created headaches for his family and their in-house contracting team. For example, the buildings had be earthquake-proof, and the expensive sprinkler systems over the balconies are only legal until 2022 but they were the only type approved for use. Interestingly, they originally wanted to do four floors but building codes say an elevator is required for 4 or more floors (this tripped up Ecovillage as well as few years back). Jon brought this all back to the cost being passed on to tenants.

On my end, it was mostly just polite acknowledgement. I understand his point, but details like the elevator rule are in the building code for safety reasons. The thing is, building codes are an imprecise science – they may be too stringent in some circumstances, but lacking in others, so as a result they’re constantly re-evaluated. Given an event like the London Grenfell Tower fire disaster, where the Reynobond aluminum panels were stuffed with polyiso insulation, which is a risk because it can produce toxic fumes if it burns, there’s always good reason to take a hard look at the codes and reassess. For the record, polyiso is a common insulation material, although in the local cases I’m aware of, it goes on over the fireproofing and under the cladding, meaning it would be very difficult to set it on fire, and the Grenfell case implies the panels may have created a tunnel effect for heat and flame. The specific cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower is banned for use on buildings taller than 40 feet in the U.S.  

Anyway, I still enjoyed an opportunity to chat with one of the Lucentes. Building “I” is occupied and Building “J” will be open for occupancy at the start of July – just a little exterior trim left to do on the outside. The photos below have a close-up of the fiber cement board used on the Village Solars, which apropos to this post, doesn’t burn because it’s basically sand and concrete mixed with wood pulp. Won’t make the same claim about those wood-grain trim boards though.