News Tidbits 4/8/17: Please Don’t Document-Dump on Fridays

8 04 2017

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. The town of Dryden planning board did not take too kindly to the Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden Road outside Varna. The board denied recommendation for approval unless some stipulations are met first; some might be easier, like a vegetative buffer with the neighbors and a shared driveway. Others will be trickier – the board recommended removing all the solar panels and replacing them with electric heat pumps, and board members strongly encouraged reducing the number of units.

Not to downplay the value of heat pumps since they’ve become the preferred sustainable feature for projects going before local boards these days, but there is a substantial initial cost involved for their installation, and it takes a few decades for the energy savings to pay off. Some of the cost for the pumps can be balanced out through density of units, because some flat development costs (for example, the cost of land acquisition) can be distributed out; but fewer units with a more expensive feature is the classic “do more with less money” conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Disclaimer, these are ballpark figures and every project has its nuances or other factors to consider, like tax rates, contractor bids and logistical costs.

The Village Solars heat pumps are a $50,000-$60,000 cost, $4,000-$5,000 per unit. Phase 1 didn’t have the heat pumps, but the later phases do, and those later phases are about $2 million-$3 million per 15,000-20,000 square-foot building, with 12-22 units depending on configuration. In the case of 1061 Dryden, each 6-unit string is about 10,800 SF (1800 SF per unit, no common areas), and given the $4.5 million total cost, we’re talking a ballpark estimate of around $750,000 per townhome string. If one assumes proportional costs for the heat pumps based off square footage, that’s $30,000-$40,000 per 6-unit string. So it is a higher incremental cost per string, and more of a burden per tenant. The Village Solars rent for $1600-$1650 for a three-bedroom, and the going rate for new units in Varna is about $1950 for a 3-bedroom, if the new townhomes at 902 Dryden is any indicator. The rent increase for the Village Solars was about $50/unit, but those units are smaller, so you’re probably looking at a larger amount, conservatively $75/unit, for the Evergreen units.

Going off those numbers, it looks like heat pumps are possible, although the units will likely be somewhat less affordable as a result. It isn’t clear if that disables the proposal, because it depends on imputed vacancy rates at different income levels, and whatever the required income is to make the necessary Return on Investment. However, the project would become less feasible if there are substantially fewer units and the construction cost per unit shoots up – because of the combination of flat vs. incremental expenses, taking away six units won’t drop the cost $750,000, it’ll be less. The cost of the solar panels is also an unknown, as are the costs of doing these revisions to please the board. The development team was not at the meeting, which is unfortunate; we’ll have to wait and see how this moves forward.

2. Speaking of the Village Solars, according to the latest minutes from the Lansing Town Board, Lifestyle Properties is exploring taking down some of the old Village Circle Apartments, and replacing them with new buildings. These older, 8,000-12,000 SF structures date from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and have 8-10 units per building. Since the newer buildings are about 15,000-20,000 SF and tend to have 18-22 units, that could explain where the 423 units statistic came from last month – some of it comes from buildings on new sites, some are replacement buildings for existing structures.

3. The city Common Council held their monthly meeting, and signed off on the IURA sale of 402 South Cayuga to Habitat for Humanity with little debate, and while the TM-PUD for 323 Taughannock was a bit problematic due to some confusion with the minutes from the public hearing, the approval was carried unanimously. The project is now free to go before the Planning Board for State/City Envrionmental Quality Review, and the Design Review is considered complete.

Side note, the city’s four fire stations were renumbered. The old numbers hailed from the days before the stations consolidated in the 1960s and 1980s, and were confusing for many. Fire Station No. 9 (309 College Avenue in Collegetown) is now No. 2, insert joke here. Central Station (310 West Green Street) becomes Station 1- Central, Station 5 (965 Danby Road) becomes Station 3- South Hill, and Station 6 (1240 Trumansburg Road) becomes Station 4- West Hill.

4. Bucket list objective achieved – an interview with Jagat Sharma. Some will be in the Voice, maybe Friday afternoon of Monday morning; but rather than leave the excess on the proverbial cutting room floor, here were some portions left out of the piece for the sake of brevity, or because they’re too technical for the general audience:

Q: So, what’s your thought process when designing a building? Apart from necessities like zoning and client requirements, do you take cue from surrounding buildings, the environment…what are you thinking about as you sketch the first concepts of a new building?

JS: For infill projects, the sites are very narrow. My project at 409 Eddy, if I recall correctly, is a very narrow site. My clients had never hired an architect before, and it was a challenge to convince them. Most of them, they think how many rooms they can rent, so you give them a number, and you work it out, and you figure out the design from the surrounding context, how the buildings line up, how the window patterns line up, symmetry, scale. You lay out a plan for how the windows would fall, how would it match with the existing window lines on surrounding buildings. Frankly, back then (409 Eddy was built in the mid-1980s) there was not much context, many buildings were in poor condition, you had some brick buildings, but otherwise not much. You try to relate it to what you’ve done before, the streetscape, you try to change up things with color, bay windows, you play with that, organize everything in a symmetrical way. Later on, my later buildings in the past 10-12 years, I’ve begun to take more liberty, play with them [the designs] more, 3-D effects, projections, penthouses, balconies, corner windows and more glass. And at the street level, they’re more urban, they have colonnades, like 309 Eddy, it looks very nice. But all of them…if you’re the only actor on the stage, you’re playing your own thing. If you look at Collegetown, Eddy Street and up, 309, 303, 301, some are angled, they’re different materials – if you’re in the middle of those, you feel like you’re in a hill town, it’s a good feeling.

Q: And how would you describe your experience with working with the city and its various interests?

JS: You earn respect from them by being honest and sincere. I deliver what I say I do, we don’t change things at the last minute. The city is happy with that. I have a good relationship with the Planning Board, what they are looking for, they want good materials, detailing. The building department wants to make sure you meet the codes; we sit down and meet if we have different interpretations on how the code reads – but you have to work on it from day one. It takes time, building inspectors, commissioners come and go and you have to earn their respect each time by doing the right thing, don’t hide anything.

5. According to Matt Butler over at the Times, Lakeview Ithaca might be a little larger than initially anticipated. In a report on homelessness, he mentions a meeting attended by Lakeview’s CEO, who said the new building would have 56 affordable units (vs. the 50 previously reported in the IURA application), with 28 reserved for those with mental disability. A time frame of fall 2018 – fall 2019 is given for construction, somewhat slower than the April 2018 start reported in the IURA application.

6. A couple of interesting things to note from the ILPC Agenda for next Tuesday, apart from the usual stairs, porches and windows. One, 123 Eddy got a revamp in accordance with the commission’s design guidance – gone is the porch, and more detail was strongly encouraged. I still prefer the previously-approved design, but this is an improvement from the Craigslist ad.

Meanwhile, downstate businessman Fei Qi is finally heading back to the board with a plan for the historically significant but structurally deficient 310 West State/MLK Street. Previously, he wanted to do 3,800 SF of office space in a renovation partially financed by state tax credits, but it wasn’t funded and the office market is a bit lackluster in Ithaca anyway. At the time, residential was ruled out due to fire safety issues.

However, this new plan is a residential project. It’s a proposed 12-bedroom “co-op” living arrangement (Co-op? SRO [Single Room Occupancy]? Neither one is a terrible idea, although SROs have negative connotations). JSC Architects of suburban NYC (Fresh Meadows) would remove a rear chimney, put in new shingles, add a wheelchair ramp and skylights, along with the to-the-studs internal renovation. It’s an interesting plan, though the ILPC might be iffy on some of the details. We’ll see how it goes over.

7. If you all could pardon me on this, the city document-dumped Friday morning, and I don’t have the time at the moment for a full write-up. But the projects memo is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here’s the brief summary:

A. McDonald’s would replace their existing 4,800 SF restaurant at 372 Elmira Road with a new 4,400 SF building.

B. Benderson Development wishes to renew approvals for a 14,744 SF addition to their shopping plaza at 744 South Meadow Street (this would be on the south end next to Hobby Lobby, where KMart’s garden center was years ago), and build a new 7,313 SF addition at the north end of the strip. Apparently, Ithaca’s a safe harbor in the ongoing “retail apocalypse”.

C. 323 Taughannock as noted above

D. DeWitt House is moving forward. With ILPC Design Approval (Certificate of Appropriateness) in hand, envrionmental review still needs to be conducted. Site plan review docs note it’s a $17 million project with a December 2017 – March 2019 construction timeframe.

E. Novarr/Proujansky’s 24-unit 238 Linden apartment project

F. 118 College Avenue, carried over from the previous month, and

G. Finger Lakes Re-Use, carried over from the previous month.

 

 





News Tidbits 12/10/16: Missing Out On the Fun

10 12 2016

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1. We’ll start off out in the town of Lansing this week with a new business startup looking to climb to the top of the pack. Reach Works, the brainchild of an academic family that relocated to Ithaca, just earned final site plan approval to build a professional-grade climbing wall and facility at 1767 East Shore Drive, next to The Rink. The $1.2 million, 10,400 SF building will have a noticeable impact on the Lansing shoreline, as the building will reach 56 feet in height. South Hill’s George Breuhaus will be the architect in charge.

According to the Times’ Cassandra Negley, the owner looked at Chain Works for an opportunity, but those plans fell through. The finalizing of the wall design is underway now, and Reach Works hopes to begin construction in March and be open by next fall. Between the pro shop and the wall, they hope to employ five full-time and ten part-time, with most making about the living wage of $15/hour (although, the application on file with the town says six employees). The hope is that it also becomes a regional attraction, drawing in hardcore climbers from the Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton metros. Best of luck to them.

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2. Maplewood is almost ready. The city is set to give its final approval this month, and the town is expected to give preliminary approval before the Christmas holiday. The latest changes to the FEIS include the following details:

– The amount of money for traffic calming measures has been increased from $20,000 to $100,000. $30,000 goes to the city and town, and $70,000 will be allocated by EdR and Cornell for streetscape improvements that they will build.
– Recycled building materials will be incorporated into the buildings.
– A revised estimate states that 100 to 150 construction staff will be on site during construction. They will park behind the East Hill farmer’s market space and are expected to walk over to the site. They will work on weekends, with noisy work commencing after 8 AM.
– The units closest to the East Hill Rec Way have been moved another four feet back from the trail.
– Initial property taxes in 2018 will be $2.25 million. IT is assumed they will go up 3% each year thereafter.

Oh, and the questioner who freaked out over the East Hill Village plan online – that SWA plan dates from about 2007.

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3. Cayuga Med’s plans for a 6,000 SF addition to their Behavioral Health Unit has been approved. At this point, the project needs a minor zoning variance for height,and then CMC has to apply for certification from the New York State Office of Mental Health for the facility to be approved- specialized medical facilities, like CMC and Brookdale, have to prove there is a need before they’re allowed to build. The hospital hopes to open the project to bidding early next year.

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4. So ICYMI, the Masonic Temple rehabilitation is moving forward. Six months later than anticipated, but it is moving forward. The project is valued somewhere north of $1 million. There is one other project on the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) agenda that I thought of writing an article about, but decided it was too minor – the Alpha Phi Alpha house at 421 North Albany will be doing a reconstruction of a non-historically significant rear porch. If it were a full reno, I’d do a write-up for the Voice.

Also on the ILPC agenda – a discussion of Collegetown Historic Resources. I have the feeling this is being spurred by Novarr’s 119-125 College Avenue project, the College townhouses. Three historically significant but non-landmarked apartment houses were taken down to make way for the project, which is expected to go up for preliminary approval later this month. The city did a review after the document was first published in 2009, and landmarked the Snaith House at 140 College and Grandview House at 201 College – they could be considering making a move towards landmarking other properties – some of the historic structures on the 400 Block of College Avenue, and the 100 blocks of Oak Avenue, College Avenue and Linden Avenue are possibilities. Novarr has another project rumored for 215 College Avenue, but that building, dating from the 1870s and renovated/expanded numerous times, was not on the 2009 list.

5. Staying Collegetown, a big sale this week – 113 College Avenue sold for $1.7 million. That’s a very impressive price for an outer Collegetown apartment house – the tax assessment has it pegged at $610,000. The bones of the 13-bedroom, 3,738 SF building date from the late 1800s, but like its twin next door, it’s been the subject of a very unsympathetic renovation (records suggest the renos were done around 1980). The house has been owned by the Tallman family since 1987.

The property is zoned CR-4 – four floors, no parking required. CR-4 is the same zoning as Novarr’s townhouses and Visum’s latest pair of proposals. And, because what goes around comes around, the buyer is the same LLC that sold Visum’s Todd Fox 201 College Avenue for $2.65 million back in June – Russell Johnson’s PBC & Associates LLC. He also picked up a CR-3 building at 233 Linden Avenue for $750k back in the fall. Price suggests redevelopment, but the buyer isn’t known for that – he might have just paid big for a long-term investment. TL;DR, he might be planning something, he might not; we’ll see.

On a side note, the county’s going to make some money raising the property tax assessment on this one – offhand, I’ve noticed most of the houses sold this week (excluding a couple in Ithaca city) have gone at or well under assessment, which is a bit unusual, and probably not something that the tax assessor’s office wants to see.

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6. Good news and bad news from the Regional Economic Development Council awards. The good news is, the area’s getting money. Cargill gets $2 million towards their salt mine project (they requested $5 million), Cornell gets $250,000 for a startup business alliance, County Waste gets $355k for a food waste transfer station at the recycling center site, and the Sciencenter gets $150k for renovations. Several smaller awards are to hire staff for cultural and arts programs.

Now the bad news – one project, marked priority, was not funded – the Collegetown Travel Corridor proposed by the city of Ithaca to connect Downtown and Collegetown. I asked to make sure, and the Planning Department was just a little deflated in their response. Major bummer. I don’t doubt the value of arts programs, but $38,500 for a theatre director and $41,000 for a workforce expansion isn’t sustainable, it’s one year’s salary. That’s nice, but how does that benefit the area in the long-term? The Travel Corridor would have further encouraged urban development downtown and Collegetown that could have indirectly supported the arts through patronage, or directly through taxes that are used to fund local-level grants.





News Tidbits 7/9/16: Land Ho

9 07 2016

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1. Starting off this week, a couple of new pieces regarding Ithaca’s waterfront. First, the city’s chances of picking up some prime waterfront real estate at a low, low price are gone, though not any fault of their own. Readers might recall that back in late May, the properties were about to be foreclosed on for unpaid taxes, and the county was discussing selling the parcels, worth over $630,000, to the city if the city paid off the $42,844 tax bill. Pretty sweet deal for the city, right?

But the owner, an LLC that has held the parcels since the late 1990s, managed to pay off the tax bill and an attached penalty fee, which means they get to keep the land. So, if the city had any plans for those parcels, they’ll be filing those away for a long while.

2. However, it looks like several properties are being put up for the sale in the city’s West End near the Waterfront. Local realtor Brent Katzmann has four properties listed – 321 N Fulton, a duplex on 0.11 acres for $144,800; 319 N Fulton, a single family on 0.04 acres for $109,875; 626 W Buffalo, a single family on a narrow and deep 0.15 acre lot, for $124,999; and 622 W Buffalo, a duplex on a narrow and deep 0.19 acre lot, for $134,800. The prices generally run at or up to 10% over the tax-assessed value ($130,000/$100,000/$125,000/$125,000). The currently owner is a Long Island-based LLC, led by a pair of New York City real estate lawyers, who acquired the properties from 2010-2012. Prior to them, many of the properties have been through a merry-go-round of owners over the past 10-15 years.

The properties are in fair to rough shape, and the marketing tactic being used isn’t renovation, but rather development potential. The four properties all fall within WEDZ-1a zoning, which is the city’s attempt at encouraging development on the West End. WEDZ-1a permits residential, commercial and mixed-use 2-5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage (100% if less than 50 feet on two sides – the Buffalo parcels and 319 N Fulton), and no parking requirement. The properties are not affected by the city’s TM-PUD.

The West Buffalo lots could be tough since the house in-between is owned by someone else, but deep lots and the corner of North Fulton and West Court offer some potential. Worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who they sell to.

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3. One less homebuilder around. Avalon Homes is closing up shop. The Ithaca-based company is selling off its lots and trying to wrap up the homes they have underway. Rumors abound as to why, but if firm, verifiable information can be obtained, there will be more to follow.

Avalon made its name doing stick-built built, with a focus on affordability and green construction. Avalon, a certified Living Wage employer, was the general contractor for INHS’s Holly Creek townhomes (shown above), and employed at least a dozen back in 2010.

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4. The Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be conducting another joint meeting on Tuesday the 12th at 5:30 regarding the Travis Hyde Properties’ proposal for the Old Library. HOLT Architects responded to comments from the ILPC at its last meeting that the design needed to be “quiet” by submitting the revised elevations seen below.

Mission accomplished? Armchair architect comment here, but the revised design is too far the other way. There’s a joke about the color beige, coincidentally similar to the new brick, being an adjective for “dull, boring, indistinctive“. I like the previous design with its wood-like fiber cement and characterful roofline, and I wonder if perhaps a revised color palette of that design, with maybe a few less full-sized balconies, would be a happy medium.

5. As announced on city of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be the site of a library and museum of the Dalai Lamas, the first of its kind outside of Tibet. The facility would be located on the 28 acres Namgyal owns on South Hill at its Du Khor Choe Ling monastery complex. Architectural plans and costs are still being determined, but a quote from Ngawang Dhondup, administrator for Namgyal’s facility, says that it will be larger than Namgyal, which has been underway since 2007 and will be about 14,500 SF when completed.

All in all it’s a great feather in Ithaca’s cap, but two things to be a bit wary of moving forward are the reactions and possible opposition from neighbors to what will be a very high profile religious facility, and given geopolitical issues, the reception to the Library of the Dalai Lamas may not be so warm from some denizens of cosmopolitan Ithaca.

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6. Way back in 2010 and early 2011, when the BJ’s Wholesale club was proposed in Lansing, one of the components of the proposal was to build 12 units of senior housing on land north of the then-proposed store. The project also called for wetlands, walking trails and a bird sanctuary on the undeveloped portion of the 11-acre property. Developer Eric Goetzmann (Arrowhead Ventures/Triax Group) faced considerable opposition to the plan since it involved big box retail and was housing outside of the density corridor, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application calling for a smaller PILOT was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (some of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

Well, the BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was just approved by the Army Corps, and the final permits expected shortly. With the wetlands taken care of, Arrowhead can begin to look towards the housing component, which they plan to put forward later this year for a 2017 construction date. As part of these plans, they want a one-year extension on the legal construction start for the housing from the IDA. Given that Arrowhead has met the other criteria and can demonstrate proof of progress on the wetlands, this probably won’t face much opposition. But eventually, it looks as if the village of Lansing will finally get those 12 units of senior housing.

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7 It looks like the Biggs Parcel is officially listed for sale. Local realtor CJ DelVecchio was selected by the county to manage the listing for the 25.52 acres near Cayuga Medical Center. The asking price is $275,000. The land comes with a conservation easement on the northwest side due to its proximity to a stream, and the wetlands near the center would be tricky to work with, because wetlands typically can’t be developed unless new wetlands are created, which is not cheap or easy to do.

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Readers might remember that this parcel has quite a history behind it. Declared surplus land by Tompkins County, the county had set up a tentative deal for a 58-unit affordable housing complex on the property, but the deal fell through after the wetlands were discovered to cover more area than previously thought.

Neighbors, via the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), have tried to force the county to hold onto the land to keep it from being developed. One of the big sticking points had been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county isn’t especially concerned at this point if the land gets developed or not, but they have made it clear that they want to sell it to a private owner that will pay taxes. The problem is, proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The ICNA did end up making a closed bid for the property, but the offer was rejected.

A neighbor to the south did propose reconfiguring the property to preserve the woods and build cottages on his back lot – by adding the Biggs land, he could have built more units under the regulations of the cluster zoning. But the plan fell through due to “size and complexity”, according to the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas.

The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the revised 2016 assessment brings that down to $240,000.





Chapter House / 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 2/2016

24 02 2016

Not so much construction as a look at what the site as it currently stands. The Chapter House has been approved, and the apartments house planned for 406 Stewart Avenue, being a smaller project, just needs the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to sign off at this point, as the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) has given their tentative blessing. No specific numbers on number of occupants/bedrooms in the new Chapter House, but expect it to be fairly close to the total lost in last Spring’s tragic fire. 406 will be slightly larger thanks to improved interior circulation and the addition of a floor – 4 apartments and 7 occupants vs. the previous building’s 5 apartments and 6 occupants. Because of that one-floor increase, a reconstruction cannot be done as-of-right, so the project will need to be granted several area variances from the BZA.

In keeping with the ILPC’s fairly stringent approach, the buildings are designed to be sympathetic to the originals without being replicas (which is generally advised against by historic preservationists because it cheapens the value of buildings that have managed to survive the past century). The Chapter House will have GAF Sienna asphalt shingles on the roof and Inspire Aledora simulated slate shingles on the first-floor overhang, Redland Heritage SWB brick and bluestone.

The Chapter House project is paid for by Sebastian Mascaro of Florida, and 406 Stewart is funded by Jim Goldman of suburban Philadelphia. Jerry Dietz of local company CSP Management is representation both owners for their respective projects. Local architect Jason K. Demarest (brother of STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest) is the designer-in-charge.

Work on the new Chapter House is expected to begin shortly, with a late summer or early fall opening. 406 Stewart expects a May construction start with completion in January 2017.

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News Tidbits 1/23/2016: A Doozy of A Week Ahead

23 01 2016

1. Over in the town of Ithaca, an update is being considered for the Rodeway Inn budget motel at 654 Elmira Road. Previously, the motel had been approved for renovations that would expand the size of the 25 existing units and provide 2 new inside corner units, along with the associated landscape and site improvements. This proposal was originally approved by the town in December 2013, but then the project never went forward, partially because the Maguire group was looking at buying the property and tearing it down to make way for their artisanal car dealerships and headquarters. With the Maguire’s plan filed away in the circular drawer, the owners of the Rodeway Inn have decided to reconsider the renovation project.

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Along with the room expansion, the new plan also calls for renovating an existing on-site residence into a new office by building an 1146 SF addition, while the existing motel office is renovated into a community room to serve travelers. Variances for side-yard setbacks granted for the previous proposal must also be re-approved, since zoning variances in the town of Ithaca are only valid if construction starts within 18 months of being granted (in other words, the variance expired last June).

Pennsylvania-based HEX 9 Architects is in charge of design, and JAMNA Hospitality is the developer.

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2. From the city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council agenda next Tuesday, the latest iteration of the design plans for the Chapter House replacement and its neighbor at 406 Stewart Avenue. The Chapter House looks to be in the last stages of ILPC approval, while the apartment house next door is still in the early design review stage.

Looking at the Chapter house, the zinc roofing tiles have been replaced with asphalt, and two more paint colors will be included on the trim, which has gone from white to dark grey and black. The ILPC is doing what they do best, going over projects with a very fine toothed comb and debating every detail. Meanwhile, the current iteration of 406 Stewart Avenue calls for a 4-story apartment building with design features very similar to the previous 3-story building. That project still has some debates ahead of it, so we’ll see what happens moving forward.

Also on the agenda, discussion with the Planning Board about the DeWitt House/Old Library redevelopment, an update on repairs to 102 East Court Street, and some type of work being done at 210 Stewart Avenue (could be anything from paint color and shingle choices to major work; if it merits a post it’ll be included in a future update).

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3. The Times’ Josh Brokaw wrote a nice summary of developments down at the Ithaca Waterfront, although I wish it hadn’t run when it did (re: HOLT update). Thanks to Josh, we have an idea of what’s going on with the approved but as-yet unbuilt 21-unit 323 Taughannock apartment project:

There was an “unexpected issue” that came up, Flash said, with the project, and so they must take “a sharper look at the engineering” to make the costs work.

I’m going to take a slightly educated guess – the soils were even crappier than anticipated. The high water table and easily-compacted soil in the West End and Waterfront pretty much mandate that multi-story projects have deep, expensive foundations to support the weight of structures. A soil issue was one of the problems that delayed the Lofts @ Six Mile project, and the reason why it’s built tall and narrow; also, since the Bloomfield/Schon has to pay for that deep foundation, it’s one of the reasons why the Lofts are so expensive. From the sounds of the Times article, balancing the deep foundation with adequate parking for the parcel is an issue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, this project could be a real asset to that area.

Also, pretty sure that Cascadilla Landing still isn’t happening, and the Times has realized that. Anyway, it’s a good piece, and I’m not going to steal all of Josh’s thunder or his Myrick quotes, so spare two minutes and have a read through.

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4. For my moderate griping about timing with Josh’s Inlet Island development piece, I could note that this quote in the IURA Governance Commitee Agenda from city Planning and Economic Development Director JoAnn Cornish ties my article and his together:

“Cornish reported that the Planning and Economic Development Committee identified the Waterfront Neighborhood Plan as the Phase 2 plan of the Comprehensive Plan it would like to move forward with. Funding has been allocated for it. The plan would most likely be a hybrid Waterfront/West End neighborhood plan, in anticipation of significant development interest in that part of the city.”

In good news, affordable housing grants were thankfully saved in the federal budget, meaning that there will be a similar amount heading to NYS in 2016 as in 2015, and those funds would be available to future Ithaca projects should they jump through all the application hoops and be deemed worthy by Albany. The IURA is looking to smooth over any possible shortfalls by offering itself as a housing strategy consultant for the Waterfront/West End and Southside Phase II plans, and in the longer term, sales of parcels at the end of Cherry Street, at 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard, and Fire Station No. 9.

Also, the Argos Inn and Bandwagon Brewery/Restaurant have paid off their IURA loans. Proof that, although there have been failures (Finger Lakes Wine Center), the IURA can properly vet projects and be successful in its mission.

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5. House of the week. 102 Walnut Street, town of Ithaca. the last of Agora Home LLC’s Belle Sherman Cottages is nearly complete, possibly to go on the market as a spec house. The house is a little small than its neighbors since the lot is smaller, but the unique design gives the street some extra diversity. Apart from landscaping, paving and some finish work (on the exterior trim at least, although being a Simplex modular means the inside is probably finishing up as well), the house is just about finished. Nice work Carina Construction.

6. Last but certainly not least, the Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. It’s a big one.

I. Agenda Review
II. Public Comments
III. Special Order of Business – Chain Works District Redevelopment Project – Presentation of Draft Generic Envrionment Impact Statement (DGEIS) and Scheduling.

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It’s finally moving forward. The Chain Works District, which was last presented at a meeting in November 2014, is finally ready to discuss parts of its environmental review and timelines. Per the agenda, “The project is a mixed‐use development consisting of four primary phases: (1) the redevelopment of four existing buildings (21, 24, 33, & 34); (2) the repurposing of the remaining existing buildings; (3) potential future development within areas of the remainder of the site adjacent to the existing buildings/parking areas; and (4) future developments within remaining areas of the site.” This will merit its own piece, but in the interest of time, Ithaca Builds offers a great summary of the previous steps and the proposal itself.

IV. Subdivision Review – 101-107 Morris Avenue. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). This subdivision proposed to reconfigure a pair of vacant North Side lots to allow a duplex to be built by Habitat for Humanity. The two 1400 SF units would be sold to families with modest incomes. There’s a letter of support and the Board has already drafted a recommendation to the BZA giving their thumbs-up.

V. Site Plan Review

A. Cayuga Green Phase II (Lofts @ Six Mile Creek). The applicant proposes to omit a green screen on the parking garage. A letter from the developer asserts that the wall will be adequately masked by trees.

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B. Hilton Canopy Hotel – Project Update, addressing conditions of Site Plan Approval and Requested Changes. Developer Neil Patel (and represented by Scott Whitham) requests to increase the number of hotel rooms from 123 to 131, and increase building size from 74,475 to 77,884 SF. Height would remain the same. Once again, this is something that could be the subject of its own post, but will have to keep it brief for the moment.

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C. State Street Triangle – Project update, no decisions planned. 9 stories, 96′, 180 units, 452 bedrooms, 12,300 SF ground-floor retail, including space for Ithaca Bakery and CTB. See Thursday night’s Voice article for more info. Smaller, shorter, and maybe palatable.

D. 424 Dryden, parking lot rearrangement, Declaration of Lead Agency

E. E-Hub, 409 College Avenue, renovations. While technically it doesn’t require review, Student Agencies and STREAM are asking for thoughtful feedback.

F. Sketch Plan – Elmira Savings Bank, Route 13. Pretty sure this is the one tied up in that PR disaster. WEDZ-1a Zoning allows up to 90% lot coverage, 5 floors and 65′, but given previous statements, the short-term work might just have to do with renovations of the former Pancho Villa restaurant, maybe a drive thru lane or other major exterior work. We’ll see. Background reading on the parcels themselves here.

G. Sketch Plan – Cherry Artspace. Developer: Performance Premises LLC/Samuel Buggeln. Cherry Artspace, a theater company, is located at (where else?) 102 Cherry Street on the city’s southwest side. The building was purchased in August 2015 for $240,000, it had previously housed Renovus Energy before the solar panel company decided to move out to more spacious digs in Ulysses. The theater company, directed by Sam Buggeln (pronounced “bug-ellen”), wishes to renovate the ca. 1980, 1,154 SF building into dedicated performing arts space.

VI. Zoning appeal recs for the Habitat duplex

VII. Planning Board Resolution to the BPW regarding Seneca Street Streetscape work, Cascadilla Street Railing Options, and potential rezoning of a section East State Street/MLK Blvd. from B-4 to the more restrictive and residential-focused R-3a. Glancing at the zoning map, only the north side of the 400 Block is B-4, so the downzoning is probably intended for the houses on the corner of E. State and Schuyler, 420 and 422-24 E.State/MLK, and 108 Schuyler Place.

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Also worth noting, the Travis Hyde Old Library project will be discussed separately with the ILPC. That meeting is at 6 PM at City Hall. The Planning Board meeting at City Hall starts at 6:45 PM.





News Tidbits 8/15/15: Big Houses and Little Houses

15 08 2015

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1. In good news, INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development was granted all the necessary zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The vote was 3-0 in favor; one board member abstained after expressing her distaste for the project. Variances were needed for the height (46.5 feet vs. the 40 feet legally permitted), the parking requirement (84 required, 64 planned) and loading zones for the three commercial spaces, which was granted at the previous BZA meeting. The project now moves on to the Planning Board again for preliminary approval.

210 Hancock also applied for $3.9 million in tax abatements from the Tompkins County IDA, and these were granted at last night’s meeting. According to the application, the tax abatement was requested because the commercial spaces and the pedestrian walkways along Lake Avenue and Adams Street can’t be covered by affordable housing grants. The foundation and high acquisition cost of the former grocery store were also cited as factors in the application.

Unfortunately, documents filed with the city indicate that the townhouses will no longer be for sale, they will only be rental units. INHS says that they received updated, detailed construction costs and the result is that it would be “infeasible to build and sell the townhouses affordably“. If there’s any silver lining to that, it’s that all the townhouse units will now be handicapped-accessible, and that they will be built at the same time as the apartment building (no need for subdivision or owner-occupied grant money, which is harder to get). Construction will be May 2016 to July 2017, rather than 2016-2019.

EDIT: INHS Executive Director Paul Maazarella sent an email this morning saying that the plans have been re-revised, and now 5 of the 12 units will be rentals. 7 of the units, all 2-bedrooms, will still be for sale. Quoting the email –

“This aspect of the project has many unknowns that still remain to be resolved, so we decided to take a cautious approach with the Planning Board and announce that they will all be rentals. Some of the challenges that we have for for-sale units on this site are:  very high land cost; the demo cost for the existing building; uncertainty about the availability of development subsidies; the type and cost of the ownership structure (condo, coop or HOA); the impact of high property taxes on affordability; and the overall development cost in relation to producing a unit at an affordable purchase price.  Since then, we’ve reviewed the numbers and reconsidered our earlier decision.

We have now firmed up a plan to keep 7 of the 12 units as for-sale units and make 5 of them rental units.  All 5 of the rental units will be 3-bedroom homes (the only 3-BRs in the project) and one of them will be fully accessible.
The 5 rental units will be clustered at the end nearest to Adams St.  The for-sale units will be closer to Hancock St.
The rental units will be built at the same time as the multifamily building.  We don’t yet know the timeline for the for-sale units.”

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On that note, here’s an updated render of the townhouses. Quoting the memo from Trowbridge Wolf,

“The townhomes at 210 Hancock will utilize architectural details in the porches and roof lines as well as a mix of materials and colors to provide architectural diversity. Architectural precedent will include homes built in the late 19th/early 20th century and characterized as “tudor”, “arts and crafts”, “American four square” etc. The goal is to design the 12 townhomes as if they were built over time with some unifying features that make them feel part of the larger 210 Hancock community.”

2. From townhouses to big houses. Here’s an attractive proposal for a renovation at 109 Dearborn Place in Cornell Heights. 109 Dearborn is currently a 3,800 SF storage building with an attached apartment unit, and has been since the 1960s; previously it was an office building for the Paleontological Research Institute, and built specifically for PRI in the early 1930s. The building was purchased from Cornell by Dr. J. Lee Ambrose (M.D., so he can get away with using ‘Dr.’ outside of his field without sounding pretentious) for $177k in 2012. Bero Architects of Rochester and Ellis Construction of Lansing are in charge of the design and build respectively.

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The proposal involves new roofing, dormers, roof extensions, and a gut interior renovation to be done in phases over the next few years. Being in the Cornell Heights Historic District, the project needs Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) approval. Since the building is considered non-contributing to the historic district (the age is right but being a purpose-built office building isn’t), ILPC may be a little less stringent with this project.

3. Staying on the theme of grand houses, a lakeshore homesite has received a multi-million dollar loan. The property at 1325/1327 Taughannock in Ulysses is right on the lake, and two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The loan, for $2.25 million, was filed on the 13th, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust.

The owner is a senior investment banker from New York with connections to Cornell. In other words, the type of person a lot of Ithacans love to hate. Looking on the bright side, this is an extra couple million for Ulysses’s tax rolls (my anecdotal finding is to tack on about 30% to hard construction costs to get the assessed value, and the hard costs here are $1.87 million…so $2.43 million). Single-family projects of this magnitude in Tompkins County are quite rare, they could be counted on two hands. It’ll definitely be worth a trip to see what this lakeside manse looks like as it moves towards its May 2016 completion.

4. Also in sales, the Carpenter Business Park was purchased by “Carpenter Business Park LLC” for $2.4 million from the lender that repo’d it from the owner earlier this year. Four parcels were purchased – all the land along Northside’s Carpenter Circle except for the community gardens and the building supply company. The LLC is registered to the same P.O. Box as Ithaca’s Miller Mayer law firm, and there’s no indication if there are plans for this site. But you’ll see something here if plans arise.

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5. The State Street Triangle public relations campaign begins in earnest – the CEO of Campus Advantage recently submitted an editorial in the Journal, and the Texas-based company has also launched a website, Ithacaliving.com. It’s as one would expect, it touts the economic impacts and the addition of housing to the underserved Ithaca market. For those who are more neutral, the site’s worth a look for some new perspective shots, courtesy of the folks at STREAM Collaborative. CA’s effort to assuage the concerns of city officials and the public has been lackluster so far, so we’ll see if this is a sign they’re willing to be more active and engaging.

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6. Over in Ithaca town, the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) is still underway for College Crossings. Only this time, the town acknowledges that plopping a building in the middle of a large parking lot doesn’t mesh with their comprehensive plan. The building is acceptable, but the site plan layout needs work seems to be the gist of the town planner’s review.

7. From the city of Ithaca Planning Board Project Review meeting next week, the phrase of the week will be “carriage house”. Specifically, two proposals in the city for accessory apartments in the style of carriage houses.

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Carriage houses were essentially garages for horse-and-buggies. The first proposal, at 201 West Clinton Street, is highly reminiscent of those long-gone days, and it needs to be since it’s in Henry St. John Historic District (more talk about the meticulous restoration of the main house here). The proposal is going up to the planning board for recommendations for a zoning property line setback variance at the next BZA meeting. The 650 SF, 1 bedroom garage/carriage house would replace a non-contributing garage from the 1960s. The architect isn’t stated in the documents.

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The other proposal is for 607 Utica Street in Fall Creek. The applicant is seeking demolish a rear garage in favor of a one-bedroom, 510 SF unit. In the zoning appeal application (one again for property line setbacks), the homeowner states “My goal has never been to become a landlord…I am hoping to do this only because the income from this would allow me to remain in the community”. Once again, the affordability problem is making itself known. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is responsible for 607 Utica’s “tiny house”.

As a matter of opinion, I think these are a great idea. These add to the housing stock, contribute income to homeowner-landlords living only feet away, they’re not obtrusive, and their small size lends well to modest, sustainable living. I hope they go forward.





202 Eddy Street Construction Update, 6/2015

9 06 2015

Work is progressing at 202 Eddy Street in Collegetown, where a reconstruction is underway to replace a historic building destroyed by fire in March 2014. Owner/developer Nick Lambrou announced plans to rebuild on the site shortly after the fire, with every intent of capturing the original home’s character. Being a part of the East Hill Historic District, the design of the replacement structure had to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC). After thorough review, the ILPC approved plans for a new 12-bedroom apartment building that completely replaces the fire-damaged building.

The new structure is a faithful interpretation of the original building, though it’s not an exact copy. An entrance door was repositioned, exterior emergency stairs will be internalized, and a chimney will not be rebuilt, but otherwise, its a close approximation of the original 19th century home. The architect is Ithaca-based Jagat Sharma, who has previous experience from the reconstruction of Sigma Pi’s house when it burnt down in 1995.

In these photos from Friday, most of the windows at least one of the doors have been fitted, and the exterior plywood is sheathed in Tyvek. The third floor, with its distinctive cupola, gives us a preview of the trim and siding – HardiePlank lap siding and half-round shingle siding, both in shades of green reminiscent of the original house, and “Arctic White” trim boards. Looking through the third floor window, there might be some drywall hanging underway, and judging from the first floor rough door opening, the interior lower floors may still be rough-ins phase.

202 Eddy is on the agenda this month by the ILPC; the council will conduct an inspection of materials just to make sure all is in good order, and as a prerequisite for issuing a Certificate of Appropriateness in July.

County records indicate the cost of construction is estimated at $750,000. Plans call for the new building to be completed and ready for occupancy by August, in time for the fall 2015 semester.

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