News Tidbits 3/11/19

12 03 2019

1. The city of Ithaca and The Vecino group have come to a tentative agreement. The two have been negotiating since entering into a 90-day Exclusive Negotiating Agreement at the end of last year. While Vecino is still looking at the financial models for the conference center space, it appears that the city is ready to move forward with a formal agreement to be voted on by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and the Common Council, and then to have the building plans reviewed by the Planning Board, and then the sale of the property to be brokered by the IURA and agreed to by the Common Council. If approval is granted in good order and state funding is obtained (Vecino is pursuing 4% low income housing tax credits, vs. the more competitive 9% variety), then construction could start on the $95 million mixed-use project by late 2020.

2. GreenStar will be asking the IURA for a $400,000 loan to assist in the construction of their new flagship location at 770 Cascadilla Avenue. It does not seem to be related to their construction woes, as the initial paperwork was filed in January, but it makes for rather awkward timing. The loan is likely to be approved without significant reservation thanks to GreenStar’s reputation and the promise of dozens of living wage jobs, though the IURA is unhappy with what is described as “weak collateral”, and it has some concerns with GreenStar’s ability to fundraise.

Important note – the paperwork mentions one of GreenStar’s funding sources will be the buyer of the current Space A Greenstar at 700 West Buffalo Street, who so happens to be “the owner of the Cascadilla Street property”. This buyer will pay $2 million for the building when GreenStar moves out in early 2020.

At first glance, one might think that’s Guthrie. But Guthrie transferred ownership of the parcel to “Organic Nature LLC” last month. Organic Nature LLC is a company owned by the project team building City Harbor. In short, the City Harbor developers are buying the Space @ Greenstar, and likely have plans for the property.

3. If you’re an urban planner – and I hope this blog is interesting to you if you are – the IURA is issuing a request for qualifications for a parking study. The project will include three major tasks: analysis of the current parking system; determination of possible scenarios of programs and actions for the future direction of the parking system that are financially sustainable; and preparation of a strategy and an implementation plan, with estimated costs and a schedule. TLDR; look at existing operations, describe future directions (ten year period), make parking-related recommendations and implementation recommendations. Knowledge of transportation demand management and experience with designing strategic initiatives to handle parking needs will be a big plus. Submission packets due April 12th to Director of Parking Pete Messmer, more info at the end of the agenda packet here.

4. Quick note – the North Campus housing proposed by Cornell was modified slightly at the request of city boards. The new design adds “break points” in the facade to activate the central wings of the buildings and make the building masses seem less imposing. The general massing and material choices remain unchanged.

5. Mid-sized Collegetown landlords Greg and Mataoula Halkiopoulos (of Matoula’s Houses) have decided to renovate a decrepit 19th century carriage house at the rear of their property at 214 Eddy Street, and turn it into a three-bedroom, 839 SF rental. 214 Eddy is in the East Hill Historic District, so the design, by local architect John Barradas, will need to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. It looks like a practical renovation, respectful of the carriage house’s form but also with a modern touch. Early Design Guidance will be offered at the March ILPC meeting, and any decisions on a Certificate of Appropriateness are still a few months out.

6. There have been some major changes to the Perdita Flats plan at 402 Wood Street. Previous version here. For one, it now has frontage on Fair Street and will have a Fair Street address. The building and garden have been re-positioned, the footprint reduced slightly (38’x36′ to 36’x36′), larger porch, modified exterior cladding materials, and the driveway has been removed at the Planning Board’s suggestion. The building remains 4 units and 7 bedrooms, and STREAM Collaborative penned the redesign.

The wood shiplap siding and standing-seam black metal siding are a bit of an acquired taste, especially with the wood oiled or left to grey naturally. But the house is still planning to be a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing, and that’s the real statement to developers (Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt) are trying to make. The owners will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





Harold’s Square Construction Update, 9/2018

29 09 2018

With the Commons Playground issue seemingly settled, the Harold’s Square project continues to rise on the Commons (more specifically, 133-139 East State Street). The full floor area has been built out for the first and second floors, the third floor is partially assembled, and a few steel beams and joints have been erected for what will become the fourth and fifth floors. Note that the floor plate will only cover the full footprint of the building for the lowest four floors – the fifth has some modest setbacks from the Commons to create the impression of multiple structures and break up the massing, while floors six through twelve are the tower portion, where most of the apartments will be located.

Granted, the south views from those apartments are likely going to be for only a limited time. The two proposals that have garnered the most positive feedback and initial scoring for the Green Street Garage Redevelopment are the Vecino proposal and the Visum/Newman proposal, each of which calls for a tower similar in height to Harold’s Square. My impression is that, if forced to advocate for one or the other, the Harold’s Square development team might be slightly warmer to the Visum/Newman proposal because it provides for a wider alley between the buildings as well as aesthetic improvements to that alleyway.

Quick aside, in pitching the Little Commons proposal for the Green Street Garage, I had a mixed reaction to the IURA submission. The elephant in the room was always that whatever design he and his partners submitted would be sufficiently short so that the Harold’s Square owners (L Enterprises and McGuire Development) would retain the ability charge a premium for the upper-story units in the market-rate Harold’s Square building. The proposal’s website, which STREAM Collaborative put together, does a very good job stepping around that and emphasizing other potential benefits of a modestly-scaled structure. The written submission, however, stated the importance of protecting the Harold’s Square viewshed, which is readily recognized, but maybe not something that should have been explicitly acknowledged, because it could easily be twisted and rub reviewers the wrong way – “views are only for those with deep pockets” or “catering to the wealthy tenants next door”. It’s the kind of comment that reads better to developers than to the general public, and my personal take is that, however true, they just shouldn’t have brought it up.

Anyway, as seen in the Harold’s Square photos, once the structural steel is laid out, the corrugated steel decking is attached and a rebar mesh laid atop the decking for the concrete pour of the subfloor. As with foundations, the mesh provides stability and strength to the concrete as it cures. The openings between floors are for elevator cores and stairwells. The skeleton will rise at a fairly quick pace given the effort to take advantage of the relative meteorological calm that early fall provides, but I don’t see anything on the project website that indicates a ballpark estimate of when topping out might occur – the crane isn’t expected to be down until March, if I have my notes right, and after that happens, the structure should be closed up enough / far enough along with exterior work such that the Commons playground can be returned to active use. A mid-2019 opening is planned; no word on potential commercial tenants on the lower floors.

The WordPress for the project can be found here, and the Ithacating project description here.





News Tidbits 9/18/18

19 09 2018

1. Unofficially, here are the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee ratings for the four Green Street Garage proposals, with a screenshot courtesy of Councilor Steve Smith (D-4th Ward). I’m not quite sure how the total score was calculated, but overall, the Vecino Group’s proposal was the most highly rated, followed by the Visum/Newman Group submission. The general consensus was that the Harold’s Holdings plan was aesthetically pleasing but didn’t include enough of the benefits that the city was seeking, and the Ithaca-Peak proposal was underwhelming in terms of affordability and community benefits.

2. So here’s an interesting little item that came out of last week’s PEDC Meeting. A developer had apparently approached Committee Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) with the idea of redeveloping the Family Medicine site for an eight-story building. Murtagh did not state the intended mix of uses if any was stated (probably ground-level commercial with residential above), but he did express strong reservations for their plan, which would have required a PUD, the D-I-Y zoning the city uses to allow more flexible project design in exchange for community benefits signed off by the Common Council as well as the Planning Board.

Few would argue with the statement that the Family Medicine site, located on the 200 Block of West State Street just west of Downtown Ithaca, is underutilized. It’s a one-story ca. 1980 structure with surface parking. The Cornell Baker Program has used the site among others for student projects to come up with cost-efficient proposals in various parts of the city (officially for academic purposes, but no doubt the local development scene pays at least some attention to the final presentations). I remember one project that showed a seven-story building would be just enough of a return on investment to possibly entice redevelopment with Family Medicine remaining in the ground-level of the new structure. This theoretical proposal did make use of a tax abatement. By this argument, an eight-story proposal could be a better sell, or it could be the result of an attempt to work in an affordable housing component while still making enough money per square foot to appeal to lenders. Regardless of what the circumstances were to push eight floors, this idea likely won’t be coming to the planning board anytime soon.

3. It looks like the Ivy Ridge apartment project in Dryden has been sold to a new developer. An LLC associated with local real estate firm Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor) sold 802-812 Dryden Road for $2,075,000 on September 12th. Filed on the same day was a construction loan from M&T Bank to pay for construction of the project – a rather substantial $8.6 million for the 42-unit townhouse complex.

The buyer’s LLC could be traced back to a suburban Pittsburgh address for Matthew Durbin, and a little online searching indicates Durbin is a Cornell Johnson School (MBA) Alumnus, a former investment banker turned business executive. In short, he has a demonstrated familiarity with the Ithaca area, business acumen and the money to make things happen. Site prep is underway and no changes to the project design or timeline are indicated. As for O’Connor, he’s now a much wealthier man, and we’ll see if any of those recent gains are turned into equity for future MLR projects.

If anyone else is still looking for shovel-ready multi-family projects, 1061 Dryden is still for sale.

4. On a somewhat related note, 312 East Seneca Street was sold by Jagat Sharma (better known for his architecture firm, but 312 East Seneca house his office) for $800,000 on September 14th. The buyer was an LLC that traces back to the Stavropoulos Family on West Hill, who have undertaken a number of small to medium-sized development projects in the Ithaca area over the past several years.

This purchase would impact MLR and Visum Development’s plan for Seneca Flats, a 42,000 SF multi-story mixed-use structure at the corner of East Seneca and North Aurora. The two firms based their initial drawings on the presumed purchase of this building. However, they had also drawn up floor plans for options that did not include 312 East Seneca – offhand, the plan with the site had 85 units, the plan without had 60 units. Basically, lop off the rightmost (northern) quarter of the above drawing. As for the Stavropouloses Stavropoli, they paid more than double the assessed value ($390,000), so there’s a good chance they have their own plans.

5. This blog gravitates towards hard/quantitative data, so here are a few facts about the airport expansion from the SEQRA environmental forms:

– The Passenger Terminal Expansion. will consist of three additions totaling 15,600 SF. 8.500 SF is an addition to the passenger holding area (which makes flying sound about as comfortable as it feels), 5,400 SF for additional bagging screening space and office space for the TSA and for airlines, and 1,700 SF by the main entrance for expanded passenger circulation and ticket counter space.

– Apron reconstruction, 40,000 SF. The apron is the area where planes park, refuel, and where some passenger loading/unloading takes place.

– Utilities replacement, interior “building enhancements”, one new passenger boarding bridge, and refurbishment of the existing boarding bridge.

– Installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system using 40 underground wells, 350-400 feet deep, and a closed-loop piping system. The operation is similar to a heat pump system, using the earth’s latent heat as a reservoir. The ground disturbance area to install the wells will be about 15,000 SF (~0.35 acres).

– Installation of overhead canopies with solar panels in the airport parking lot.

-Construction of a new 5,000 SF customs facility. The facility will be a one-story masonry structure with steel framing. The facility will accommodate no more than twenty passengers, and is exclusively tailored towards international business visitors – it’s been previously stated that business executives and Asian visitors, who often come in via Canada, have expressed a strong interest in private jet accommodations.

– Approximately ten new employees as a result of the terminal expansion, and six more from the construction of the new customs facility, for a total of sixteen new full-time jobs.

6. Thanks to reader Alec for this tip – a collection of contiguous Avramis Real Estate-owned Collegetown rental properties at 120 Catherine, 122 Catherine, 124 Catherine, 128 Catherine, 302 College, 304 College, and 306 College were not made available for rent for the 2019-2010 academic year. A check with sources indicates that according to the rumor mill, a buyer has them under contract, but the sale has yet to be finalized.

This is worth noting because we’re talking about a multi-million set of properties with 68 existing beds, but more importantly they have significant redevelopment potential – the lots can be consolidated into a large MU-2 zoned parcel (six floors, 100% lot coverage no parking) and a large CR-4 zoned parcel (four floors, 50% coverage, no parking)In fact, back in 2014, the Avramises proposed a two-building development that would have resulted in about 102 units and 202 beds. The Jagat Sharma-designed proposal never began formal review. The off-record commentary was that the Avramises got cold feet during the heat of the Collegetown building boom, though given their central location, these properties would be better insulated from a downturn in the student rental market than Outer Collegetown or fringe neighborhoods. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

7. We’ll wrap this up with a pair of Dryden projects. The first, 1610 Dryden Road. Most folks better remember this barn as the former Phoenix Old Used and Rare Books, which closed in 2015 after a 30-year run. In early 2017, a proposal came along to use the barn as a trailer sales dealership, but it did not come to be. Now, for the second time in as many months, the proposal is a veterinary clinic, “Elemental Pet Vets”. Local veterinarian Curtis Dewey and his wife Janette are proposed to renovate the 6000 SF barn with accessory parking and landscaping. The property is zoned rural residential, so any commercial plan needs a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the town of Dryden. The town planning department is generally amenable to the reuse even if out of sync with zoning, so long as the parking and accessory structures are approved by the town, the curb cut meets NYS DOT regulations, and a landscaping buffer is in place. Ithacor of Cortland will be the general contractor.

The rendering is a bit…strange, so strange that I’m still not sure if they plan on taking down the pitched roof for a flat one, or if they decided thirty minutes in their late 1990s rendering software would convey enough to get approval. Seriously, this might be one of the worst renders I’ve seen for a project, and that’s saying a lot given the number of low budget drawings that go through the boards for small projects.

Meanwhile, as previous covered by the Journal, the Laser Brewer fashion boutique at 1384 Dryden Road has closed with the retirement of Peggy Laser after forty years of business, and her son Riley is expanding his Brew 22 coffee bar, kitchen and beer taproom to fill out the 3248 SF space. This project also requires an SUP because the younger Laser is adding a drive-through window (for the coffee and baked goods, brew-thrus are illegal in New York but okay in plenty of other states). Other than that and an exterior paint job, no further structural changes are planned.

 





News Tidbits 9/2/18

2 09 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





News Tidbits 11/18/2017: Fears and Hopes for the Future

18 11 2017

1. Here’s an interesting sale – a 62.1 acre parcel on Troy Road sold for $380,000 on the 13th, less than half the original asking price. The buyer, “Troy Heights LLC”, is registered to the same address as Giora and Limor Fix, a semi-retired husband and wife couple who have acquired a number of rental properties around the area over the past decade, with 43 or so units worth something in the ballpark of several million dollars (units are marketed by the Fixes under the name “Homes-for-you Rental Properties”).

The Troy Road property is intriguing because there was a development proposal floated there a few years ago. Rural Housing Preservation Associates LLC had proposed a 130-unit combination of middle-market single family homes, townhouses and small apartment buildings for the site back in 2014; it started as 206 units, the town and neighbors complained it was too big, the project was whittled down to 130, and then the proposal was cancelled by September 2015. Using cluster zoning, the project could have built out 145 units in the low-density residential (LDR) zone, since the town’s cluster zoning allows 2.3 units/acre. STREAM was in charge of the project design, and some of the renders of the never-built apartments can be found here on their website.

So here is a log lot, bought by folks involved in local real estate and with significant assets, under the name “Troy Heights”, which sounds like a project title if anything. I reached out to Giora Fix, and he was kind enough to respond:

“[C]urrently we do not have any concrete plans to develop Troy Road. Once we have them I will be happy to share with you.”

So something to keep an eye on, though it might be a while.

2. Here’s a piece of news from the Times’ Nick Reynolds. With regards to the police consolidation debate, the city wants to have the headquarters downtown on Green Street (likely in that proposed centralized government facility floated for the Central Fire Station site), while the towns would prefer something near the current BPW on the north end of the Northside neighborhood, which offers easy access to Route 13. Consolidation is still a rather unlikely prospect at this time, and there’s little enthusiasm from the more rural parts of the county. But it sounds like the sheriff is keen on killing the city’s ideas before they take off.

3. Bad jobs month for the state, good for Ithaca. The Ithaca metro (Tompkins County) added 1,800 jobs (all private sector) from October 2016 to October 2017, bringing the total to 67,800. The 3.2% increase was the largest gain by percentage in the state over the time period. Unfortunately, the state as a whole lost 11,900 jobs last month, which falls even more to 14,600 jobs when taking away those added by the public sector (government jobs). A study from the Federal Reserve Bank last month notes that upstate economic growth in general has been losing steam over the past year, with exceptions for Ithaca and Albany. New York City is performing reasonably well.

While it’s well and good that Ithaca is doing well, I have concerns about the recent tax reform bill going through Congress. With the potential hit to SALT deductions and the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers, I could see significant negative impacts on the local economy. Given that most communities have property taxes in the range of $2500-$4000/$100,000, a cap of $10,000 as proposed by the House would hit many middle-class and upscale neighborhoods hard. A typical home in Ithaca city is worth about $230,000-$270,000 range at this point, and with about $3779 per $100,000 in property taxes, that means that homeowners with properties valued over $265,000 will take a financial hit, close to half of the homes sold. The Senate’s version removes the SALT deduction completely, affecting all local home buyers. Either case would be a severe blow to the home buying market.

Another concern is the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers as proposed by the House plan. Speaking from experience, I had a waiver that saved me about $14,000/year at the public university where I did my master’s. In my case, seeing that taxes would have cost an extra couple thousand in theory, though the doubling of the standard deduction might have limited its impact on me. A Cornell graduate student is looking at $20,800-$29,500, and could see a tax bill larger than any savings from the standard deduction increase. The Senate version does not tax tuition waivers. Another, lesser factor to consider is that the student loan interest deduction for borrowers on-time with their payments would be eliminated.

On a final note, Cornell’s endowment would be taxed an extra 1.4% under the House bill, as would any college whose endowment is worth more than $250,000 per full-time student. Cornell’s endowment is $6.8 billion, and the school has 23,016 students across all campuses as of Fall 2017. That is over the allowed cap of $5.75 billion as calculated by the bill’s guidelines.

The long story short is that Cornell recruitment takes a hit, as does its endowment, and that could impact current employment as well as future hiring. Politics aside, these “reform” bills are definitely a cause for concern from Ithaca and Tompkins’ economic standpoint.

4. A separate note not so much economic, but something many Ithacans care about – the House bill takes away the historic building rehabilitation tax credit. The renovation of 310 West State Street that I reported in the Voice earlier this week would be off the table without them, and the building will likely be demolished if the credits are eliminated. So the impacts aren’t just economic, but perhaps aesthetic as well.

5. This is looking to be a very quiet late November. For the first time in over a year, the town of Ithaca has cancelled two planning board meetings in a row. Meanwhile, in the city, the only “old business” reviews are final site plan approval for the 601 South Aurora duplex, and final approval for the Brindley Street Bridge replacement.

6. So technically, the Request for Proposals went out for the Green Street Garage site. A site tour for interested applicants is scheduled for December 4th, applications are due by January 23, 2018, and no timetable is given for the selection of the preferred developer. The applications are to include a cover letter, application form, description of project team members with relevant experience, proof of ability operate in NYS, good reputation, financial status, marketing plan, tenant management plan, conceptual designs, financing plan and demonstrated capacity to obtain financing, purchase price, project schedule, community impact benefits statement, schedule, and specific concerns (acknowledgement of site issues and plan to resolve them). A $500 application fee is also required.

Obviously, Ithaca Associates LLC has a huge leg up on the competition, since they not only have a plan fleshed out, they own the ground lease under the eastern end of the garage that everyone else would have to negotiate to obtain. About the only legitimate opening to another developer would be for the western and central portions of the garage, though the city’s requests make it such that anyone else interested had better be thinking big with housing, parking, and other site uses. Saying you’d leave things as-is would be an immediate disqualifier. Unless Fox or Lubin are dreaming up multi-story apartment buildings, it isn’t likely many developers will entertain this RFP. This really feels like it’s just the city stalling for time so they can fully absorb the immensity of the 365-unit, $118 million “Village on the Green” proposal.





News Tidbits 11/11/17: It’s Back

12 11 2017

1. One of the reasons for the lull in weekly round-ups has been the lack of smaller news items to fill it with. A few larger items made it into Voice articles, but there wasn’t much of a middle ground between “expand into article” and “not newsworthy”. I’m happy to take comments here about Voice articles, although the blog is intended to cover topics that may not be ready for a full write-up.

As noted in the Voice, there isn’t much before the city of Ithaca at the moment. A sketch plan for infill rental housing at 209 Hudson Street is likely dead in the water as a result of the new South Hill Overlay, and a modest infill plan calls for a duplex at 601 South Aurora on the corner with Hillview Place, which can only be an improvement from the informal parking lot currently there. The modular unit design is thoughtful (varied materials, plenty of windows) if unexciting, and the sidewalks are a plus. The units are physically structured as townhouses, but technically they aren’t, since townhouses are defined by International Building Code as strings of units of three or more.

Meanwhile, things are so slow in the town at the moment that they cancelled their last Planning Board meeting. Before that, the only notable item on the agenda was the Cayuga Ridge renovation, which is primarily internal. Their October Building and Codes Department report indicates a single two-family home was approved, in the Cleveland Estates housing subdivision; virtually all of those duplexes have been intended as student housing.

2. If there is one town that is rather busy next week, it would have to be Lansing. The surface facilities for the new Cargill mine shaft are up for final approval at the Planning Board meeting next Tuesday, more discussion is expected about the Milton Meadows affordable housing plan at the town center, and a couple of minor projects (communications tower, illuminated free-standing sign) are up for review and vote. Neither Cargill not Milton Meadows appear to have changed significantly since their last presentations.

Also scheduled is review of public comments regarding the Comprehensive Plan, which cover several topics, with the most frequent being the Bell Station zoning (park vs. lakeshore low density) and some individuals unhappy with the potential for mixed-use or residential development near their homes or farms. Joe Wetmore has a pretty thorough critique, ranging from unrealistic expectations to discomfort with what he calls “segregated housing” based on income and age. Going political for a moment, I suspect if it weren’t for many progressive town and village boards rushing to join the Article 78 on Cargill, with less than careful thought and discussion of Cargill’s blue-collar workers and their family/friends, Wetmore would be an incoming town councilman (and to be fair, he may end up winning when the absentee ballots are counted and tallied next week).

3. Over in Dryden, just about everything is good to go with Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit rental complex planned for 802 Dryden Road, next to the Cornell arboretum. The November tweaks were for lighting, landscaping and sidewalk details. The designs of the townhouse strings were reworked in October to include three different designs, to be used twice each (six buildings, seven units each, 42 units/108 bedrooms total). While the materials remain the same, the designs differ substantially in roof lines, architectural detailing and fenestration pattern. At this point, no one would mistake for a recycling of 902 Dryden as they started off as; John Snyder and his team have had the chance to express themselves, and the designs are contemporary and visually interesting. It looks like final approval will be coming potentially soon, which will permit a Spring 2018 – Summer 2019 construction time-frame.

Other than that, the town is reviewing another Tiny Timbers subdivision, this one for 1540 Ellis Hollow Drive. Similar to its counterpart just down the street at 1624 Ellis Hollow Drive, the long, narrow lot would be serviced with an internal driveway for five homes with a little over an acre each, and the rear (northern) 5 acres would be granted a conservation easement, to remain natural space and help protect the Fall Creek watershed. The original plan was a deed restriction, but the town’s conservation board is pushing the easement so that future owners of the land can’t just lift the restriction. They also requested an S-shaped driveway because they feel the slope is greater than Dolph states; an S-shape would also throw the plans out of whack, so let’s see what happens.

On a final brief note, review and discussion is ongoing for a pair of solar arrays off of 2243 Dryden Road, one of 1.3 MW and one of 2 MW.

4. Looking at what’s on the market this week, here’s something for the deep-pocketed investor/landlord who wants to start with an all-new, low-maintenance building. 6-unit 707 East Seneca Street is on the market for $2,999,000. The 6,469 SF apartment building was built just two years ago, after developer Todd Fox bought city surplus land that was once a playground for the closed East Hill Elementary, deeded to the city in 1982 and promptly forgotten for decades until potential liability risks convinced the city to put it up for sale. Each unit is three bedrooms, and according to the advertisement, it generates over $220k in revenue each year, which is not shabby.The property is assessed at $1 million.

It’s a bit surprising that Fox would want to part with a nearly-new building with solid rental potential, and it makes me curious if the funds would be used to fund other Visum projects planned or approved. While Fox did take a financial hit from the cancelled 311 College Avenue project, the amount invested was far less than the sale price for 707 here.

5. Also worth noting, though it’s not good news – The Computing Center’s plans to build a new 4,600 SF headquarters appear to be over. The building site and the approved building plans at Lansing’s 987 Warren Road are up for sale. $499,000 gets you 1.57 acres, the plans, and a single-family home on the eastern end of the property that generates $2,000/month. The project had received an $85,084 tax abatement for the $1.394 million project, which was expected to create six new jobs. For the record, any buyer would need to re-apply for an abatement; the one granted will go unused. At least offhand, it looks like they may have added the jobs (retain 14, add 6, and the website shows nineteen plus the retired founder, and two job postings), but it’s uncertain – they acquired a competitor (Sherpa Technologies) in September, which increased staff to 22. Based off the time of the listing, with the acquisition of Sherpa they may have just led TCC to go a different direction with a new headquarters. What will be, will be.

6. According to construction loan documents filed with Tompkins County, the new 11,180 SF Rite Aid being built at 79 North Street carried with it a $2.71 million price tag. Chemung Canal Trust Company, an Elmira-based bank with branches in Tompkins County, is providing the loan to Dryden Group LLC/Ellicott Development. Ellicott, a major developer out in Buffalo, will be using an in-house contractor team to build out the retail space.

A couple of emails came in asking if this would be a Walgreen’s. On paper, that’s a no – everything filed and documented says Rite Aid, and this was confirmed with the town planning staff. However, Walgreen’s is in the process of acquiring 1,932 Rite Aid stores (leaving Rite Aid with 2,600), and closing several hundred stores that are within close proximity to existing Walgreen’s. It’s possible that the existing Dryden Rite Aid is one of those to be “shut down as part of the sale” as the new Rite Aid-turned-Walgreen’s is being built on the north end of the village. Keep an eye on it.

7. Quick little side note – Ithaca Associates LLC, the development team behind the $110 million Green Street Garage project, is apparently in talks with INHS to manage its affordable housing component. That’s according to Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) meeting minutes. So they are serious about meeting the city’s demand for affordable housing with some undetermined percentage of the 365 units. Heck, 60 or 70 units would be a sizable contribution, should it pan out, and it would make the project more palatable since it would clearly have a mixed-income aspect to go with its mixed uses.

8. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be taking up discussion again on the Nines, though they are less than pleased with the recent 5-5 tie vote the Common Council had on the Chacona block, broken by the mayor’s vote against historic designation. For me, the fascinating part was having someone like Cynthia Brock, typically opposed to greater density, speak in favor, while pro-development councilors like Ducson Nguyen and Seph Murtagh voted in favor of historic designation. So, it was an unusual breakdown of votes that I would not have predicted, although I had heard before the meeting that it would likely be a close vote.

There is no doubt that anything Student Agencies submits will be scrutinized extra closely, especially if they try to maximize square footage or incorporate design features that don’t mesh with neighboring structures. It’s fair to say that while they lucked out with being allowed to redevelop, the resentment already stirred up means anything proposed will be starting behind the proverbial eight ball, and they would be wise to really put their best foot forward and not rush plans.

Interestingly, it looks like someone, likely but not confirmed to be the Reach Project social service group, plans to submit concept designs for the carriage house that once stood behind the house at 310 West State Street. This is a historic district, so any designs for the drug treatment and potential safe heroin injection “harm reduction” site would need to be approved by the ILPC.

It’s been amusing and a bit excruciating to see some of the comments on the Voice – some people are all about historic buildings; but it tortures them to see these venerable structures used for what they see as a less-enlightened cause than a high-end B&B or boutique office. If zoning laws (and higher authorities, in this case) okay it, so be it. Many historic buildings have humdrum or low-brow histories as factories, home businesses or tenements, and to say they can’t be used for something permitted just because it seems icky is not only illegal, it denies part of the historical element.

7. Intriguing, though I have questions – the city is looking at expanding the use of PUDs from beyond the few industrial zones to city-wide so long as properties are 2 acres. They’re also looking at expanding CIITAP to allow 1-story industrial and waterfront projects, as well as an affordable housing component of 20% on all residential or mixed-use projects with residential components of 10 units or more.

The PUD plan comes on the heels of the new Waterfront zones, which allow residential uses on a greater number of parcels, and is in fact the recommendation of the Waterfront Working Group (WWG), a 17-member group of staff and public who reviewed planned zoning changes to the Waterfront. The city planning staff are amenable, though they suggest a minimum acreage of 2 acres.

With the proposed CIITAP change, the reasoning makes sense, although its effectiveness is questionable. Industrial construction is locally limited and is usually build-to-suit for a specific client. There’s also a strong preference to less dense areas with easy access with lower land values, like Lansing or Dryden. More power to the city I guess, I just don’t see it being utilized. As for the housing component, the intent is good, but the issue always ends up being an issue of “moreness”. Developers often have to build bigger to re-balance expenses and revenue within mixed-income structures. This can make it tougher for them to get financing since it’s a larger, more costly build-out (a bigger financial risk, all other things being equal). Residents in turn balk at a bigger project with the traffic, aesthetic changes and other impacts it creates, not to mention some still instinctively sneer at affordable housing, mixed-income or not. It’s not an outright deal-breaker, but it is something to keep in mind.

The PUD can be troublesome since it’s a sort of “DIY zoning”, which would make existing rules pointless and a lot of upset voters if allowed without some big stipulations. 2 acres would limit many projects in the core of the city, but if you happen to be, say, a major landowner along the Waterfront or in the vicinity, like Guthrie or Cayuga Medical Center, it’s basically a red carpet invitation, as it allows them to set the bounds for a project. Notably, neither of those two fall within CIITAP’s boundaries, so while they wouldn’t be eligible for the tax abatement, they also don’t have to worry about the affordable housing component if they choose to do something with housing in the mix.