News Tidbits 8/24/17: Early Start

24 08 2017

1. The Old Library redevelopment is creeping forward. The Old Library Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature voted to recommend the sale of the property for the previously stated amount of $925,000 to Travis-Hyde. With that vote, it goes forward to the full legislature for a vote on September 5th, where there are no major challenges expected. The Library Committee vote was 4-1, with legislator Dooley Kiefer (D-Cayuga Heights) opposed. Kiefer has always been opposed to any sale, and has long advocated for a lease of the land – and the only way the lease made any practical sense was by being 50 years in length, so that any investment could have the possibility of being recuperated. Given that she’ll probably vote no again for consistency’s sake, and perhaps a rejection from legislator Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) because she was a long-time proponent of the condo plan, there aren’t likely to be any other opposition votes from the 15-member legislature. Once the sale is okayed, site prep for the 58-unit mixed-use senior facility at 310-314 North Cayuga Street can begin by the end of the year, with a spring 2019 opening expected.

2. So when is an expansion truly an expansion? That’s the question raised by the Times’ recent coverage of a proposed renovation of the county jail, which faces issues with overcrowding, but whose expansion of holding cells is strongly opposed by a number of advocacy groups. The jail is shared with the Sheriff’s Department offices at the moment, and the combined facility at 779 Warren Road is collectively referred to as the Public Safety Building.

The ideal concept as pitched by the Sheriff’s Office would create an additional 13,000 square-foot administrative facility adjacent to the jail that would provide office space, conference space and locker rooms for officers. This would free up programmatic space in the PSB to be used for support functions like classrooms and counseling/meeting rooms, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, and thus take up space in the jail). So,it’s  not a jail expansion per se, but a support services expansion, which would probably drive debate among advocacy groups. The proposal is strictly conceptual, but the county is prepared to move forward with a formal study from LaBella Associates if requested.

3. At the latest Planning Board meeting, Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive and affordable housing plan was granted the green light to go forward to the next step, though not without reservation and concern from some local business owners and elected officials. Per the Times’ Matt Butler, 1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal spoke in opposition to the current plan, feeling it was too large and unattractive, while nearby business owners were uncomfortable with the population who would live there. 30 units would be set aside for those who are mostly independent but may need some degree of mental health support, 22 units are general affordable housing, and eight are for formerly homeless individuals. All units are one bedrooms. Lakeview will provide office and support space for services on the first floor of the 62,700 SF building.

In other news, the debate over South Hill continued with the airing of grievances against student housing, Finger Lakes ReUse earned approval for its Elmira Road project, and someone must have left early, because the planning board failed to reach quorum (minimum attendance) to vote on recommendation of historic designation for the Chacona Block at 411-415 College Avenue.

4. Here’s an interesting little proposal out of Danby – a 10-unit pocket neighborhood. The project would be located on 2.2 acres at the rural intersection of Brown Road and Short Road, northeast of the hamlet of West Danby. The houses would be modular and modestly-sized with two basic styles, a 1.5-story cape and 1-story ranch. Additionally, they would be designed for aging-in-place, Net Zero Energy (zero net energy consumption), and have a shared common space (courtyard, lawn or similar), parking lot and septic system. The project, which has access to municipal water service, would require a zoning variance. The project is similar to the Amabel and Aurora Street pocket neighborhoods in Ithaca, though it’s a different developer – here, it’s Mike McLaughlin, a business owner from Newfield, and Danby residents Esther and Brooke Greenhouse. Esther was a team member in the condo proposal for the Old Library site.

Although not explicit, these are likely for-sale units, possibly with a push towards seniors. With shared spaces, modular components and modest sizes, the cost for these is likely to be modest as well – they would likely be similar to the Lansing Community Cottages price range of $175k-$225k.

5. After much debate, the Sun8 Dryden solar projects have been approved by the town planning board. The sites include a nearly 11 MW facility at 2150 Dryden Road, and an 18 MW facility along Turkey Hill and Dodge Roads. The projects will produce approximately 28 MW of electricity, which is enough to power the approximately 7,500 households. The project will utilize a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) of $8,000/MW, or about $224,000 in year one of operation, and with built-in inflation, about $8 million over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the town has begun review on a much smaller solar project at 2243 Dryden Road. Delaware River Solar is seeking approval to construct a 2.4 MW array on the interior portion of a farm property just west of the village near Ferguson Road. About 35 acres of the 115 acre parcel would be impacted during construction, with five acres used for the panels themselves.

6. In real estate listings, here’s something unusual for those who dare to be different – a Groton church, already renovated with living space and studio space. Aptly-located 113 Church Street is listed at $174,900 and 9,490 square feet on Zillow, but a check of county records says 9,166 SF – a 1,000 SF apartment, a 1,344 SF office, 4,078 SF “non-contributing space”, and 2,744 SF “cold storage”. The property was built in either 1881 or 1883 (county record) for a Congregational denomination, and after some mergers in the 1960s it became the Groton Community Church. From records and county file photos, it looks like the church building was re-purposed in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Previous tenants include a head start program, massage therapy, and art gallery. The tax assessment is for $100k, which seems to account for the old and somewhat mothballed condition of the property, such as the boarded up windows on the steeple tower. Should one be interested, contact info can be found in the first link.

7. This week’s news round-up is running a little early because I wanted to get the latest Trumansburg Hamilton Square materials out before the planning board meeting Thursday evening. Over the past few weeks, there haven’t too many changes to the project site plan, but the daycare center was moved from inside the loop road to outside, exchanging locations with a string of for-sale market-rate townhomes. The resulting move also seems to have decreased the number of market-rate units (some townhome, some detached single-family) down by one, to 14. 11 affordable for-sale townhomes and 47 affordable rental units are still in the mix.

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A copy of the traffic study from SRF Associates has also been made available on the project website. The traffic study aims to be thorough, and will likely be expanded in response to neighbor concerns about slower traffic like garbage trucks and school busses, snow impacts, and a possible sampling and estimation of school-focused but non-peak hours and a couple other intersections further from the project site (Rabbit Run Road, and Whig/South Streets). The meeting tomorrow will be at 7 PM at the Trumansburg Fire Hall. The actual submission of the project for formal board review is not expected until late next month, after incorporating feedback from the upcoming meeting.

 





News Tidbits 7/22/17: Throwing Darts

22 07 2017

1. Let’s start off the week with a little intrigue. A vacant 12.34 acre property on Wiedmeier Court in Ithaca town sold for $65,000 earlier this week – given that it was on the market for five years and marketed for development potential, the sale merited a closer look.

At first glance, it seemed to merit a shrug. The buyer was an LLC that could be traced back to a CPA in the San Francisco area, a woman of retirement age. The profile fits the deep-pocketed subset who might buy a sizable slice of land near Ithaca, and build a home for their retirement enjoyment. Not uncommon in Tompkins County.

Then on Wednesday, the same buyer purchased 114 and 122 Birdseye View Drive from the Cleveland family for $485,000. 122 is a 4-bedroom single-family, and 114 a 3-bedroom single-family. Both are next to IC, nearly new houses in a development otherwise filled with small-scale student housing. So, things just got more interesting. We’ll see if anything comes of the Wiedmeier property.

2. Just briefly touching on Hamilton Square this week – one of the questions I previously held off on addressing was the possibility of the abatement. Although the county has said they’re open to considering affordable housing tax abatements or PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) as part of their housing strategy, housing itself usually isn’t enough to merit a visit to the IDA. But with the addition of the nursery/daycare, it bared similarities to 210 Hancock, which cited its planned daycare center and the new jobs at the center in its PILOT request.

So, I asked what the plan was. Here’s the response from INHS’s Real Estate Development Director, Joe Bowes:

“We are not seeking an abatement from the IDA for the project.  If the day care is a non-profit then it would be tax exempt without the need for an IDA abatement.  The housing does not need the abatement in this case so it will be assessed and will pay property taxes.  210 had other reasons for requesting an abatement.”

Emphasis his. In the documentation on Hancock, the abatement was partially driven by the acquisition cost of the property and the need for a deep pile foundation. The buildings are much smaller at 46 South Street, so a slab/shallow foundation is suitable, and it helps that Trumansburg’s soil is less water-logged and more stable than Northside’s. This results in a lower development cost per square foot, so although they arguably could (and upset the neighbors even more), INHS isn’t pursuing a PILOT or abatement. The only tax savings will be for the eleven affordable owner-occupied units, which will be assessed for what they can sell for within the Community Housing Trust, rather than a market-rate value. This has the county’s support, because taxing a townhouse for double the value of what the lower-middle class homeowner could sell it for undermines its affordability.

3. Here’s an interesting note from Lansing regarding the Cornerstone land purchase. The first phase on 13.5 acres would be 68-72 units. The second phase on the remaining 8.9 acres would potentially host another 72 units. All of these would be affordable. This might cause a backlash as too much, but if one of the phases was general affordable housing, and the other affordable senior housing, then that might negate most of the blowback. Anyway, something to watch for.

On another note, the modified PDA for the Village Solars has a stipulation that the community center/mixed-use building (“F”, green dot) has to be completed by the end of 2020, and only 4 of the 9 other buildings will be approved before the community center is complete. Everything north of Circle North will not be allowed to start construction until the community center is open. This suggests a build-out of #116/#102, 2017-18, #2/#22, 2018-19, Community Center 2019-2020, #117/#36 2020-21, and K, L and M would be built in 2021-22.


4. Laurels and darts. Here’s a dart. The town of Ithaca is seeking to, once again, extend its moratorium on two-family properties. When the law was enacted in early May 2016, it was supposed to be for 270 days, meaning an early February expiration. Then it was extended to the end of July. Now they want to extend it to the end of October, which given the seasonal nature of construction, effectively stops all new two-family properties through the winter of 2017/18.

I’ll be frank. This is not a good look. There were a number of concerns from property owners when the law was proposed for a length of one year, was unfairly long, and the town has not only realized their concerns, it’s exceeded them. The town is establishing a bad faith precedent through what property owners will complain as either being ill will, or incompetence. Part of me is concerned that anyone fighting the town on something, be it zoning, development, conservation or anything, will use this as an example of how the town “can’t be trusted”. I’ve never been a fan of moratoriums, because they end up seeking extensions. Not impressed to have another example to file away.

5. And on that note, the town of Groton just slapped a six-month moratorium on all solar arrays designed to power more than one house or one agricultural farm. No commercial solar, no community solar. Technically, the law also stops wind turbines and gas pipelines, but the Times’ quotes make it clear this was all about solar.

6. The county legislature finally approved a name to the Heritage Center this week. The “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was approved 10-2. The previous vote failed due to a number of absent legislators and pushback for not having enough to consider the name. Legislator Chock D-3rd) initially wanted it named for late legislator Stu Stein, but naming buildings after people has been against county policy since the early 2000s. Legislator McBean-Clairborne (D-1st) voted against it because she felt the word “county” should be in there. This has not been a month where local government engenders confidence.

7. Short but interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting meeting up. The only thing up for final approval is the McDonald’s rebuild at 372 Elmira Road, while INHS’s Elm Street and Lakeview’s West End project are set to begin formal environmental review. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3.Site Plan Review

A. Project: Commercial Rebuild (McDonalds) 6:10
Location: 372 Elmira Road
Applicant:McDonalds USA LLC
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant proposes to replace the existing 4,800 SF restaurant facility with a new 4,400 SF building, construct a side-by-side drive-thru, install new landscaping, a dining patio, lighting, signage and a masonry landscape wall, as well as reconfigure the parking layout. The project is in the SW-2 Zoning District and requires an area variance. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.

B.Project: Elm St Apartments (Rebuild) 6:25

Location: 203-209 Elm Street
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The proposed project consist of the demolition of two single family homes and one
multiple dwelling and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act(“SEQRA”)§ 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: 709 West Court Street (Housing) 6:50
Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709–713 W Court Street
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels LLP for Lakeview Health Services Inc.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprintof 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will containing sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ- 1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(k) and (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

D. 105 Dearborn –Sketch Plan 7:10

This is Bridges Cornell Heights new 16-bedroom independent living building for seniors. If it’s at the Planning Board, that means the ILPC has signed off on the building and site design.

E. 311 College Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This is…curious. 311 College Avenue is The Nines restaurant and bar, and was built in 1905 as fire station No. 9 before the new station opened next door in the late 1960s. The old station was sold off and became the Nines in the early 1970s, and has been under its current ownership since 1980. The top two floors are used for storage, according to county records.

At a glance, it’s a valuable piece of land with a lot of posibilities – MU-2 zoning allows six floors and 100% lot coverage. On the other hand, this is a relative historic property in Collegetown, and development perceived as insensitive will likely see significant opposition. There had been talk by ILPC staff of giving the building historic designation back in February 2016 out of concerns over development pressure, but it seems no formal application was made. So there are options here, but the developer should proceed with caution.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50
#3066, 214 Elmira Road, Area Variance
#3079, 413 Titus Ave, Area Variance

5. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Planning Board Recommendation to Council Regarding Proposed Waterfront Rezoning
B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 403 College
Ave
C. Downtown Wayfinding

6.Reports 8:30
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison





News Tidbits 7/15/17: Ess Ess, Dee Dee

15 07 2017

1. Hamilton Square. There’s a lot to say here.

First, the neutral segment. The website is up, www.southstreetproject.org. Plenty of renders (definitely not cookie-cutter), site plans, housing prices, everything one needs for a fair assessment. The units are no more than 2 floors, mostly townhouse format. 47 affordable rentals units, 11 affordable for-sale units, and 15 market-rate for-sale units for a total of 73 on a 19 acre site. That’s less than 4 units per acre (0.26 acres/unit, comparable to the older 0.25-0.5 acre lots on Pennsylvania and South Streets), and fits zoning. The units are interspersed throughout the property. Parking ratio is 2 spaces per units, units are a mix of 1-3 bedrooms. There will be aging-in-place and energy efficient home options for sale, as well as in the rentals. The project will host a playground and nursery/daycare facility geared towards low and moderate-income households. Much of this comes from the result of constructive community feedback.

But what started off on a polite note is getting really ugly, really quickly. It is not a good sign when my editor calls me and tells me that, as a person of color, she felt uncomfortable at the latest meeting.

Given the transparency of this process, which still hasn’t even been submitted for formal planning board review, I find comments about this being “hidden” or rushed through to be a stretch. The project hasn’t submitted anything for formal review yet. Nothing but a sketch plan has been done, and multiple community meetings, and 30-minute small group listening sessions. It really does not get much more personal than that.

One of the questions that was raised was that people are unable there are many more affordable rentals than for-sale units. There are two reasons why that is. For one, funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. That’s why the buildout for the for-sale units is 2-8 years. For two, for low and moderate-income households often don’t have much money saved for a big expense such as down-payment, and far more are capable of renting versus buying.

There are valid concerns that need to be addressed. For example, traffic. A study is being conducted with a third party. The typical thing I hear, affordable housing, or any project really, is that “they’ll lie, they’re in XYZ’s pocket”. If no one trusts you to do your job properly, no municipal board will sign off on accepting your study, and you’re finished as a firm. Likewise with stormwater analysis and civil engineering. School system capacity is checked with the district, which basically just sends a letter saying “yes, we have room” or “no, we don’t have room”. The study is being conducted and will be made public long before any approvals are granted, people can weigh in after reading it to say whether it’s comprehensive and adequate, and feel free to say something and explain why it may not be. That’s the purpose of SEQR, to determine impacts and mitigate unavoidable impacts.

On a related note, a board’s job is to review the objective components of a project. It is not appropriate, or legal, to decide on a subjective trait like whether the people who will live there fit the “Trumansburg way of life” or that the project is “too Ithacan”. Who decides what those things are? Because too quickly, it degenerates into a look or an image, and a train of thought that should never be a part of any development conversation. Because it’s subjective, those terms meant something quite different in 1997, and something quite different in 1977.

Also, there seems to be this idea that poor people in urban neighborhoods will be forced out here, and they will be a burden on TrumansburgThere are plenty of people who live and work in Trumansburg who need affordable options in a rapidly-appreciating real estate market. The one bedrooms will be rented to individuals making $22k-$48k. That could be a store manager, a barista, a school teacher or a retiree. Tenants are screened, visited at their current home and interviewed before being offered a unit. Qualified affordable home buyers will mostly be in the $42k-$64k range (80-120% AMI). Think nurses, office workers, tradespeople (following INHS’s sales deeds, I actually see a lot of ICSD teachers). The market rate units will offer whatever the market allows price-wise; new townhouse-style housing in Trumansburg would likely fetch $250k+, so think upper-middle income.

It would be nonsensical to make people in Ithaca move into housing in Trumansburg that they don’t want and would drive up their costs; however, those who want to live there, whether because they admire Trumansburg, work there, or both, will seek the opportunities it provides.

For a county that seems keenly aware of its housing issues, there tends to be an uncomfortable amount of pushback against affordable housing, whether it be Fall Creek, South Hill, Lansing or Trumansburg. Does that qualify as being “too Ithacan”?

2. Taking a look at the county’s records this week, it looks like 210 Linden Avenue’s construction loan has been filed. Elmira Savings Bank is lending Visum Development (Todd Fox and associates) $3.15 million, with $2,358,783 towards the hard costs (materials/labor) of replacing the existing 12-bedroom student apartment house with a 9-unit, 36-bedroom apartment building. Elmira Savings Bank is one of the biggest single-family construction loan lenders in Tompkins, but they have only been the lender for a few multi-family projects. The only other multi-million project in the past few years was the 18-unit Rabco Apartments at 312 Thurston Avenue in Cornell Heights – a project that, along with the cancelled 1 Ridgewood, so incensed deep-pocketed permanent residents nearby that they petitioned and succeeded in getting the city to downgrade the zoning.

Also filed this week was a $415,000 construction loan from Tompkins Trust to the owner of Hancock Plaza on the 300 Block of Third Street in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 19,584 SF shopping plaza, built in 1985, is assessed at $1.485 million and has been under its current ownership since 2002. Most might know it for the DMV, but it also hosts Istanbul restaurant, a bookkeeping service, and a gas station and convenience store that opened in renovated space in 2015. There’s no indication in the loan as to what kind of work will be performed, about $363,000 has been set aside for hard costs like materials and labor, and the work is required to be finished by March 2018.

3. Also filed in both sales and construction loans this week was paperwork for 306 North Cayuga Street, right next to DeWitt Park on the edge of Ithaca’s downtown. Also known as the C. R. Williams House, the 8,798 SF, ca. 1898 property was assessed at $900,000 and on the market for $1.4 million last year. The sale price was $1.3 million.

I was privy to an email chain that engaged an out-of-state condo developer to look at the property, but that person was not the buyer.  The LLC traces back to Travis Hyde Properties, just a few blocks away.

According to Frost Travis of THP, the plan is to renovate the live/work space to allow for more space for THP, which is outgrowing its North Tioga Street location, and four apartment units. Exterior changes will only be cosmetic, but any substantial changes will be subject to ILPC approval, as the property sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. Elmira Savings Bank is lending $1.24 million for the renovation, of which $1,204,752 is going towards the actual construction (so apparently, this was a big week for ESB). The project is expected to be complete by next summer, according to the loan filing.

4. For the aspiring homebuilder or developer – new to the market this week, a run-down though salvageable 1830 home at 1975 Dryden Road just east of Dryden village, and 101 acres of developable vacant land currently rented out for agricultural use. The sale price is $795,000. The county GIS lists the property at 112.4 acres, but without a map in the listing, it’s hard to tell if there’s a typo or if there might be a subdivision somewhere. The assessment is for $531,900, $401,300 of which is the land. It appears the property has been in the ownership of the same family since 1968. The property is listed as a rural agricultural district, which is geared towards ag uses, but permits office, one-family and two-family homes as-of-right; multi-family and box retail require special use permits. Zoning is one unit per two acres, but in the case of a conservation subdivision that preserves open/natural space, it’s one unit per acre – either way, only about 50 units allowed here. Technically, a PUD (aka DIY zoning) is also an option, but would need adequate justification. Kinda hoping it doesn’t become conventional suburban sprawl, but will reserve judgement for when this sells.

 

5. Ithaca is once again competing for $10 million in state funds as part of the regional Downtown Redevelopment Initiative. The funds are intended to spark investment in urban cores and improve infrastructure for communities throughout the state, ten cities selected each year, one in each region. Readers may recall Elmira won last year. This year, Ithaca is competing against two of its Southern Tier peers – Watkins Glen, with which it competing with last year as well, and Endicott, a struggling satellite city over by Binghamton, that is entering the competition for the first time. Reports suggest the Ithaca submission is largely the same as last year’s. Winners will be announced in the fall.