News Tidbits 5/11/19

12 05 2019

1. The proposed revision (downzoning) along West State / MLK Jr. Street is moving forward with circulation (review by city departments and associated stakeholders), with a couple of major revisions. The zoning would not be CBD-60. It would be CBD-52 for structures with less than 20% affordable housing, and CBD-62 for structures with 20% or more affordable housing. The quirk in the height is due to mandatory floor heights, which will be 12 feet for the first floor, and 10 feet for each floor above – in other words, five floors for projects with a lack of affordable units (=< 80% area median income), six otherwise.

For 510 West State Street, in which all 76 or 77 units are affordable (my unit count is 76, but they typed 77 in a couple sport of the Site Plan Review), the project would remain largely intact. The new setback requirement would push the fifth and maybe a very small portion of the sixth floor back from West State/MLK Jr. Street for the mandatory fifteen feet, so a little square footage would be lost there. The city had initially sought thirty foot setbacks, but the Ithaca Fire Department said that it would not be reachable by their trucks if the fifth floor was that far away from the street face.

Now, some more astute readers might be wondering is this affects Visum’s other West End project at 109 North Corn Street. The answer is no. The setback rule only affects buildings fronting West State / MLK Jr. Street. The downzoning is intended to protect an aesthetically pleasing segment of West State more than anything else. The setback does technically apply to West Seneca Street, but the building height there is 40 feet anyway, which is the same as the setback.

The affected blocks now also include the 300 and 400 Blocks of West State Street. The only publicly known project that would be impacted is INHS’s Salvation Army redevelopment, which was only aiming for five floors on the West State Street side anyway, but could potentially be impacted by the setback rule – the project design is still in the concept stages with no public images.

A speaker during public comment asked to extend the zoning further to Downtown, and some councilors have discussed further downzoning because “the developers can just pursue a PUD”. That thought process ignores the drawbacks. The more areas impacted and the more stringent zoning becomes, the more labor and time intensive it becomes for city staff because it would likely trigger more PUDs, even while resulting in less development in general because a PUD adds months to a project timeline, uncertainty that lenders don’t like, and forces the Common Council to take on the role of a second Planning Board (which some councilors might be fine with, but some definitely would not and raised this as a complaint during the vote on whether to create the PUD overlay to begin with). Also, if the downzoning were to be applied to a property against the owner’s wishes, say the County Annex property for example, it would likely trigger a costly lawsuit. TL;DR, it looks tempting for additional “community benefits”, but could have significant negative impacts and should be used sparingly.

2. Staying in the realm of laws for a moment, there’s an ordinance that should be made aware to residents of Northside and Fall Creek. A proposal from 1st Ward councilor Cynthia Brock would require every rental agreement and every home sales transaction within 1200 feet of the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility’s boundaries to provide documentation of the potential issues and hazards of living near the plant – “you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences and discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of living and operating in proximity to a waste water treatment facility,” as the document states.

The document isn’t ill-intentioned, but this does impact over a hundred existing Northside and Fall Creek homes and apartments, and quite reasonably would have a negative financial impact on them, whether they plan to sell or if they rent out space. There is nothing on record that these residents have been notified of this proposal. City staff don’t even seem comfortable with the proposal as-is, they don’t think Fall Creek residents are substantially impacted and suggested a cutoff at Route 13, but the 1200 square foot radius seems to be the version being considered right now, paying a trip to city attorneys to see if it’s legal to apply it to all rentals, a detail added at the meeting. Honestly, this doesn’t seem well thought out at this time, and poses a burden to existing homeowners who have not been made aware because of the lack of sufficient outreach.

3. Arthaus and Library Place have had their tax abatement requests approved, on 7-0 and 6-1 votes. The former will bring 124 affordable housing units including special needs housing and artist-centric amenities to the city of Ithaca at 130 Cherry Street. The latter will provide 66 senior housing units on the former Library property on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street. Arthaus is expected to start construction at the end of the year, while Library Place will resume this month, with completions in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

County legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voted against the Library Place proposal, citing some of the concerns raise over the lack of affordable housing (three units will now be 80% area median income) and general discontent with the site. In my intro post to the project, I mentioned if vaguely that there was a legislator who thought the affordable housing, condominiums, and Travis Hyde projects were all terrible – that was McBean-Clairborne, who has generally favored county offices on the site instead of housing. The county did a study to consider renovating the old library for offices back in 2011, a couple years before the RFP, but the study found it was financially prohibitive because of the building’s unusual interior layout (that soaring 1960s atrium wasn’t a good use of space, and wouldn’t have been cheap to replace).

4. Carpenter Park is also moving forward, in this case with the pursuit of its special PUD zoning. The project is seeking the PUD because of some quirks in yard setbacks, and soil tests showing that they couldn’t place some of the parking underground as initially planned (so now it’s in an above ground garage between the ground-floor retail and the apartments in Buildings B and C). The project would bring about 411,600 SF of new space, including 208 apartments (42 affordable) and an expansion of Cayuga Medical Center’s medical offices, resulting in the creation of 150 jobs. The vote was 4-1, with councilor Brock opposed. The full council will vote on the PUD next month, and then the project can go to the planning board for design review. Keep in mind that the above designs might change somewhat, though the general scale and program mix should stay the same.

5. The Tompkins County Airport has received a $9,999,990 grant, as announced by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer at a press conference earlier this week. The county was strongly hoping these funds would come through. With the state grant, it means the county is only paying about $260,000 of the $24.5 million bill. Click the link here to learn more about the airport expansion project.

6. The Gun Hill Residences appear to be in the process of selling. A real estate trade magazine notes Southeastern U.S. regional bank SunTrust is giving the buyer a $13.3 million acquisition loan for DMG Investments LLC. DMG Investments is an American subsidiary of a Chinese development firm, DoThink Group of Hangzhou. The company has been active in upstate recently. DMG co-owns a new 322-bed student housing apartment in Albany and has projects scattered across the country. The full sales price has not been discolosed, as the deed has yet to be filed. It was noted that the ca. 1989, 94-unit, 273-bed Gun Hill Residences on Lake Street was nearly completely full at the time of closing (late spring, which is reasonable given a couple of kids might have washed out of Cornell or otherwise moved out). The property was previously owned by Rochester’s Morgan Communities, which was raided by the FBI last year. Morgan purchased the property in February 2011 for $6.15 million, and the current county assessment for Gun Hill is $12.65 million.

OLD render

NEW render

7. Some modest revisions to the Immaculate Conception School plans. Old render first, new render second. The design of the renovated school building has changed substantially, though the overall size has remained consistent. The changes could be due to any number of reasons, from cost concerns to utilities placements necessitating design changes. The single-family homes have been replaced with a four-string of townhomes, and the yellow string has been earmarked for for-sale units.

If I may – make one of the olive green townhome strings red or orange like the houses that have been removed. Keeps it from being so “matchy-matchy”, to borrow a JoAnn Cornish term. More renders can be found on INHS’s sparkling new website here.

On that note, on Monday May 13th the City of Ithaca will hold a Public Information Session for the proposed PUD (Planned Unit Development) for the Immaculate Conception School redevelopment. The Public Information Session will begin at 4:00 PM, in the Common Council Chambers in City Hall. In accordance with the requirements of the PUD, the developer and project team will present information about the project and answer questions from the public.

8. Looking at agendas:

The city Project Review Meeting (the run up to Planning Board meetings) will look at signage changes for the new Hilton Canopy on Seneca Way, a Presentation and potential Declaration of Lead Agency for 510 West State Street (now 50-70% area median income, initially it was 80-90% AMI), The 141-bed, 49 unit Overlook student housing at 815 South Aurora (updated, and review of Full Environmental Assessment Forms Part 2 and 3), final site plan approval for Arthaus and consideration of preliminary site plan approval for the Chain Works District (the focus right now is the renovations for phase one, office space, industrial space and 60 apartments). Apparently, the “Ezra” restaurant at the Hilton is now being called “The Strand Cafe”, after the theater that once stood on the site. More information can be found in the May project memo here.

The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Chain Works as well. Their portion of phase one involves the renovation of two manufacturing spaces into industrial and warehouse space (i.e. minimal work, just a sprucing up of the digs). Also your casual reminder that, unlike Dryden, Lansing or really any other sizable community in Tompkins County, the town permitted the construction of not a single new housing unit – again – last month. It looks the next stage of Artist Alley ($150,000 buildout) and Cayuga Med’s radiation vault ($2 million cost) were permitted.

It appears that the Beer family is heading back for another visit to the village of Lansing Planning Board regarding their until-now cancelled senior cottages project. The only thing known at the moment about this latest iteration is that it would fit the village’s cluster zoning, which means 97 units or less, but not in the same configuration as before (the pocket neighborhood-style homes were too close for code). We’ll see what happens.

Nothing much to note in Lansing town. Review of the Osmica event venue and B&B will continue, as will consideration of the Lake Forest Circle subdivision renewal and the 12,000 SF commercial building proposed for North Triphammer Road just north of Franklyn Drive.

– Courtesy of the village of Trumansburg, we have a new working title for 46 South Street, formerly Hamilton Square – now it’s “Crescent Way”. PApar krief, including revised EAFs, supplements and BZA findings here. The final version has some site plan changes on the location of some townhouse string types, but the overall unit count remains the same at 73 units (17 market rate for-sale, 10 affordable for-sale, 46 affordable rentals). Approval is on the horizon, a little more than two years to the date of when the project was first introduced. The project will be built in phases, with completion not expected until 2023.

 





News Tidbits 4/11/19

12 04 2019

1. Chances are very good that the county legislature will approve the purchase of the former orthodontics office on the 400 Block of North Tioga at their meeting next week. At least two subcommittees are recommending it, the feasibility study came back with reasonably positive results, and there appear to be no significant hurdles to moving forward. Representatives of the neighborhood sent in a letter with 25 or so signatories requesting the county build or deed away some land to build affordable housing on the Sears Street (rear) frontage of the lot, which is something the county is actively exploring but has yet to make a firm commitment to. It could range from townhouses, to three single-family homes, to two duplexes and a single-family home, to nothing, so 0-5 units, but the city and neighbors would appreciate at least a few homes to maintain neighborhood character. It’s doubtful the county would build the housing, but could deed lots to INHS or another affordable developer for the purpose of building out.

In terms of the project dimensions, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. The new office building could range from 32,000 SF to 46,000 SF, 3-4 floors, and 25-42 parking spaces. The historic building at 408 North Tioga may be renovated and repurposed for county offices, or sold off as-is. Concept site plans can be seen on the county website here. The vote on the evening of the 16th will only be for the county to purchase the property, and not to choose which development scenario is preferable. To be specific, there are actually three votes planned, one after another – the vote saying the environmental impacts are mitigated, the vote saying that the project is a public resource project exempt from zoning, and the vote to purchase.

The timeline on this project is very quick as local projects go. The county plans to break ground on the office building by this July, and have it occupied by the end of 2020 (this probably means HOLT Architects has concept drawings ready to go right now). The renovation or sale of the historic neighbor would also occur by December 2020. The housing, if any, would be a third phase after the other two components are completed.

The county estimates the total cost of a possible eventual project (designed to LEED Silver standards) to be $18.55-$19.55 million.  That estimate includes new building development ($12.8 to 14.5 million), land acquisition, and related renovation to 408 North Tioga, for which they would allocate $1 million for the 3,800 SF building. The initial acquisition costs would be covered by general county funds re-allocated in an amended Capital Program, and although it’s not clear in this agenda, it seems likely a municipal bond issue would be used to cover the construction costs.

Quick aside, it turns out the county did conduct a feasibility study back in 2011 to see if they could repurposed the Old Library into a county office building. That study, also conducted by HOLT, found that because of the library’s open atrium and unusual layout, the renovation costs made the project infeasible. It’s actually cheaper to build new than it would have been to rebuild the old library’s interior.

2. The Carpenter Business Park development held another community meeting in its quest for a PUD, and the Times’ Edwin Viera described it as “a firm shakedown”. The project has garnered some controversy as it had to shift to above ground parking (the result of soil tests indicating that the soils were in poor condition as they are along much of Ithaca’s West End) and no longer conformed to the site zoning. First ward council member Cynthia Brock made several swings at it for height, density, and the placement of affordable housing on the northern end of the site, for which she has made clear she will not support the PUD request. This is not a surprise, as Brock has not been circumspect with expressing her dislike of any proposed residential uses for the site. Her ward colleague George McGonigal likewise expressed concerns, and the fifth ward’s Laura Lewis noted concerns about traffic – there would be three access points to the 411,600 square-foot project.

Quick refresher – PUD stands for “Planned Unit District”, or as I often call it on the Voice and here on the blog, “Do-It-Yourself (DIY) zoning”. A project need not follow zoning code if it offers certain community benefits. The city recently expanded it for certain non-industrial properties, with Common Council now getting to vote on projects alongside the planning board to determine if community benefits are worth the variance from the legal zoning for a site.

3. It’s been almost two years since it was first proposed, but the mixed-income 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) project is inching forward in Trumansburg. The Tburg Planning Board is down to the nitty-gritty at this point, exterior finishes, plantings, parking and fencing. The zoning variances have been approved, though the number of parking spaces per unit was bumped up from 1.2 to 1.4 spaces per unit to satisfy zoning board concerns (there will be 144 parking spaces on-site). According to the Times’ Jaime Cone, there was spirited debate over the use of wood trim vs. a lumber composite material (Trex), which is wood fiber mixed with plastic, the plastic cousin of fiber cement. There are still some lingering concerns from the board, but it’s possible that preliminary approval for the project could be granted in May.

The basic project specs have stayed the same in recent revisions – a mix of 17 market rate for-sale homes, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes and 40 affordable rental apartments, plus a nursery school. The school, designed by HOLT Architects,has been redesigned to invoke a “barn” aesthetic.

While this may very well come to fruition, this contentious and drawn-out process was effective at repelling other potential developers in the village, so in a way those opposed still got some of what they ultimately wanted. The mixed-income housing may be approved, but it seems very unlikely anyone else will be taking interest in building much in Trumansburg for a while.

4. Normally the Times’ Edwin Viera does a good job as their go-to guy for real estate reporting, but the headline on this piece is a little misleading: “Old Library, Arthaus projects will have to try again for tax abatements”. They weren’t rejected. The IDA was only supposed to review applications this month, the vote is scheduled for next month.

That noted, there is still useful information in his article. We now have some potential rent figures for Arthaus: $737/month for a studio at the 50% area median income (AMI) price point, to $1,752 for a three-bedroom at the 80% AMI price point. At 124 units, the project would be the largest single addition to Ithaca’s affordable housing scene in over 40 years.

As expected, the 66-unit Library Place project garnered the lion’s share of attention and public criticism. Most were opposed, but a few members of the public spoke in favor. I had heard a rumor that Frost Travis offered to set aside three units for 80% AMI, but have yet to confirm. Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick did expressed some reservations with the project for its lack of affordable housing – the CIITAP mandatory affordable housing policy became law shortly after the CIITAP application was filed, so it fell into a legal grey area that the city didn’t want to fight a legal battle over. Travis Hyde also plans to pursue an abatement for Falls Park in due course, and that would have to have an affordable housing component.

5. Quick note – the College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue has a construction loan on file with the county. $18.3 million, courtesy of NBT Bank of Norwich. That’s a heck of a lot than the $10 million estimate first reported when the project first went public. The project unit count is revised upward slightly, from 67 units to 72 units, still a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms. The unit breakdown is not listed in the loan document, but previously the full occupancy would have been about 90 residents if one per bedroom or studio. Co-developer Phil Projansky signed the loan, which notes that he, John Novarr and any other investors involved have put up $4.47 million towards development of the project.

NBT Bank is a regional bank with a limited Ithaca presence but a major player in other upstate markets. This is their second major project they’ve financed in Tompkins County, the first being a $33.8 million loan for Harold’s Square.

6. The Maguires have reason to be optimistic in Lansing. While the review process has taken longer than anticipated due to concerns over lighting and signage, the village planning board looks likely to sign off on their new 25,235 SF Nissan dealership at 35 Cinema Drive.

7. Dear diary – the Common Council was “excited” and “praised” a project, according to my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi. One hopes that bodes well for INHS’s Immaculate Conception School PUD application. As previously noted, the project hosts a number of community benefits, including 78-83 units of affordable housing (at least four owner-occupied),  the sale of the former school’s gym to the city for use as a community gym by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, office space for family and children’s social services group, special needs housing and the renovation and preservation of the Catholic Charities building, which would continue to be used by the organization. The board also praised the outreach by INHS in designing the site, reducing the school addition from five floors to four at neighbors’ request (INHS was able to compensate the loss of housing elsewhere on the site).

This is a good sign, but the city has never issued a major PUD. The only two recent PUDs were the Temporary Mandatory PUDs (TMPUDs) on the West End and Waterfront, which were used in effect to stop the Maguire Waterfront dealership, and the Cherry Artspace, which was incidentally roped into it. Those were 2-8 and 8-2 votes respectively, a denial and a approval. The fact that a rather pedestrian 1,900 SF building in an industrial area got two “nay” votes leads me to be cautious until the ICS documents are signed and filed.

8. On that note, the CDBG and HOME fund disbursals are posted. INHS would get $200k of the $350k requested for the ICS project. The other economic development and housing-related submissions were also mostly or fully funded. Most of the public service ones were not.





News Tidbits 4/9/19

10 04 2019

1. Something to keep an eye on for potential future retail or hotel development – a pair of properties up for sale along the Elmira Street commercial corridor in the city of Ithaca. 363 Elmira Road is the former Aaron’s rent-to-own (which was a rather dubious enterprise, but I digress). After eleven years, they’ve called it quits and the site’s available for sale or lease from the Lama family of realtors. For $950,000, the buyer gets a 5,892 SF 1960s retail building and a 3,000 SF storage barn on 0.77 acres. The assessment is a more modest $525,000. This is probably too small for a hotel, but food retail or small box retail could make do here.

A little further down the road is the former Cold Stone / Tim Horton’s, which only survived a few years before the Syracuse franchisee threw in the towel on a dozen locations with hardly any notice back in November 2015. The property would later be bought by a suburban chain hotel developer out of Corning, Visions Hotels. The property for sale at 405 Elmira Road is the vacant lot next door, which is owned by the former owners of the Buttermilk Falls Plaza. For some reason, even though the plaza was sold over fifteen years ago, they held onto this 0.74 acre lot, and it was used for extra parking. The price is $465,000. The former Tim Horton’s is arguably too small for a standard chain hotel (60-80 rooms + parking), but if combined with this lot, development becomes much more plausible for Visions. Or, someone else may buy it for food-based or small box retail.

Both 363 Elmira and 405 Elmira are in Ithaca’s SW-2 zoning, which in practice is the city’s catch-all for suburban strip and auto-centric development. Residential would be unusual but legal. Zoning allows 5 floors and 60% lot coverage, though normally the development pattern is towards gobs of surface parking. Should some sales happen down this way, there will be an update.

2. We’ll stick to the real estate sales for the time being – INHS bought a small 0.11 acre vacant lot in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood last week, and chances are, it’ll be the next standalone for-sale single-family home. The previous owners had used 511 South Plain Street as a double-lot, which came with their home next door when they purchased it in 1986. INHS paid $65,000 for the lot, which is a tidy return for a property assessed at $38,500, and above the asking price of $59,000, which is not uncommon in Ithaca’s rapidly appreciating inner residential neighborhoods. In this case, INHS is likely to do an appropriately-scaled (1100-1400 SF) home for sale to a lower middle-income family making 80-90% of area median income. Seems like a win for the neighborhood, given concerns about gentrification and appropriate development. Expect home plans to come out in the next year or two.

3. So 511 South Plain Street will likely be an example of small infill development, a development of modest scale on what’s currently a vacant lot. Small infill is a way of adding density and addressing some of the area’s housing issues in a way that is less jarring and more accessible to existing homeowners and local landlords. With that in mind, the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability will be hosting a workshop at the Tompkins County Public Library on Wednesday the 24th at 5 PM on Infill and Small-scale Development. The presentation by the Incremental Development Alliance is for those who are interested to learn about small-scale development and infill, explore ways to design laws to encourage infill with robust and easy-to-understand zoning and design codes, and give education and advice to those who might be interested in being developers of small-scale additions to the community fabric. Think less City Centre and more like 1001 North Aurora or Perdita Flats. It’s a free event, no need to RSVP, and video will be posted online afterward.

4. If you ever wanted to look at the nuts and bolts of a real estate development project, local businessman Gary Sloan has but made practically all of the financial figures available for his stalled 1061 Dryden Road project in the hamlet of Varna. The 36-unit, 84-bedroom project has been for sale for a while now, and has been reduced slightly in sale price, to $1.95 million. Based on these documents, it looks like the CAP rate is 6.25%.

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investment for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income divided by Property Asset Value (in 1061 Dryden’s case, the NOI is $824,167, and the PAV for the finished project is $13,190,000). For example, if I make $50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The rumor mill says that some local developers have checked the plans out, but no one’s put in any offers to buy. The project comes with a Danter housing report and an analysis of Cornell University enrollment growth, clear nods towards both the potential as general market housing and student housing. But for the time being, the future of this project remains up in the air.

5. As covered previously, the city of Ithaca is looking to do a parking study to figure out how much it needs over the next ten years, and ways to mitigate some of that growth in need. The Ithaca Times’ Edwin Viera has their take, and there are a couple of details worth noting – any work on the Seneca Garage will wait until the Green Street Garage Development is complete, frankly because Downtown Ithaca cannot handle both garages being out of operation at the same time. That would mean a late 2021 or early 2022 reconstruction or redevelopment of the Seneca Street Garage at the earliest.

An RFEI to gauge redevelopment interest among private developers will go out in the next six months, and from there the process would be similar to Green Street – see what comes back after a few months, host meetings for Q&A and public input, score plans and declare a preferred developer (if any) before jumping into negotiations and any potential sales or usage agreements. We’d be well into the 2020 timeframe for any preferred developer decisions, which comes before negotiation and planning board review. There likely won’t be that much time between approvals being granted and construction because the process will take a long time to go through. Some early ideas being floated in a rebuild are a ground-level bus depot, or street-level retail to make for a more active pedestrian experience. This is a long-term project, but the RFEI could be an interesting read when it comes out later this year.

OLD RENDER

NEW RENDER

6. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is considering a tweak to its plans for the Immaculate Conception school property. The biggest change would be that the two family house on the corner of West Buffalo and North Plain Streets would come down and be replaced with three townhomes – this is not set in stone, but intended to show a plausible “maximum density” option. The two single-family units on North Plain are replaced with a string of four townhomes as well. In short, the density plan creates three more affordable units, for a range is 78-83 units total. The range is because the commercial space in the school may either be 6,024 SF and 83 units, or 11,372 SF and 78 units, depending on demand. In either case, there will be 55 parking spaces internally and 37 on the street.

According to the Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD) Application, the project would create 1.5 jobs directly in property management/maintenance, and will pursue a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement for the property, which is currently tax-exempt. A similar PILOT was used with 210 Hancock. The $25.3 million project would be complete by the end of 2021 – the rest of the filing is the same as the writeup on the Voice here.

7. It might be a bit petty to point this out, but the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) will be looking at giving their approval to some new murals, and as everything seems to do in Ithaca, two of the three have drawn negative attention. The Dryden Garage aikido mural received complaints that it promoted violence, while the sea life mural for the Seneca garage received complaints that the eel was off-putting, creepy and not appropriate because it wasn’t a native species. For the record, the third was an electrical box with a giraffe pattern, which a couple people called boring, but otherwise no one was upset about it.

Anyway, the PEDC is used to criticism of every flavor, and in the big picture, these are small complaints. Expect them to sign off, send to council for customary approval, and then look forward to the new art later this year.

8. The Common Council is expected to adopt the Findings Statement for the Chain Works District next month, which would be a big step towards approval of the project. A Findings Statement says that the plan is designed with reasonable mitigations acceptable to the city as representatives of public stakeholders, and it isn’t project approval, but it’s essentially an okay to begin applying for approval.

As part of the development process to obtain a PUD, Chain Works will need to submit at least one phase of firm development plans, and UnChained Properties LLC intends to submit Phase 1 of redevelopment to the Planning Board within the next month. Assuming it hasn’t changed, Phase 1 consists of the redevelopment of four existing buildings. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for light industrial uses, Building 21 will be modernized for commercial office space, and Building 24 becomes a mix of office space and 70-80 apartments. Given that it’s been over five years since the project first made news, it feel a bit anti-climatic at this very late stage, but let’s be optimistic that a vacant, contaminated site may be brought back to safe, productive use.

 





News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





News Tidbits 1/21/2019

22 01 2019

1. A quick note regarding the county’s feasibility study of a new county office building on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street on the edge between Downtown and Fall Creek – Ithaca’s HOLT Architects has been tapped to perform the analyses. The idea isn’t totally new to HOLT, who had drawn up rough ideas of a joint city-county office building as part of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s 2020 Strategy way back at the start of the decade. This process will quietly continue until the results are ready for review and discussion sometime in March.

In an off-record conversation with a county official, the topic came up of, “why not just move to one of the office buildings in the Cornell business park”, as the county Department of Health has done. This person pointed out that it would much easier to buy a building, renovate it, move in and start operations. Except for one bring problem – the suburban office park is hardly accessible, and so the choice of county occupants would be fairly limited, given the need for the county’s less well-off to be able to access the site. A location on the fringe of Ithaca’s Downtown is much more walkable and readily approachable from buses, bikes and so forth, while a Cornell business park is really only readily accessible to those coming by car or the occasional bus. So the county is willing to walk on coals and risk the ire of nearby residents in order to maintain a more accessible facility.

2. Before it was officially announced, the rumor that INHS was selected for the Immaculate Conception School had been floating around for a few weeks. Most of the city staff and officials I’ve spoken with were actually breathing something of a relief, because most of them know and trust INHS. Or rather, they trust INHS to be one of the less divisive choices out there. They’re local, they plan to have a mix of affordable housing and office space for family services-related non-profits, and they’ll be going through an open house process that will give residents a chance to help shape the project before anything goes up to the city for review.

Two details worth noting – for one, INHS does have timeline in mind for its redevelopment (new construction and renovations) to the site. It would like to have tenant occupancy by December 2021, so they’ve got three years to go from start to finish. Expect meetings this Spring and Summer, and probably a project submission by late summer for a fall planning board review and approval by the end of the year. That will give them time to start applying for and attaining affordable housing grants, and to break ground on the redevelopment sometime in 2020.

For two, the city of Ithaca intends on buying the school gymnasium on the northeast side of the parcel. The gym would be used for indoor recreation by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), which is just next door. They’re looking to pay $290,000 for the parcel. It is not clear if this was planned in conjunction with INHS, if INHS developed two separate purchase plans to accommodate that possibility, or if it simply throws a wrench into things. Generally speaking, gym access and affordable housing were the two signaled prerequisites for any city consideration of a Planned Unit Development (PUD), the DIY Zoning that would give more flexibility with site redevelopment. Regardless of PUD, I suspect renovation of the school and Catholic Charities buildings are one key redevelopment feature, and on the new construction side, the parking lot on the corner of North Plain and West Court Streets isn’t long for this world.

3. Tenant number two has been confirmed for City Centre – Collegetown Bagels will be moving from its 1,500 SF location at 201 North Aurora Street, to a 2,300 SF ground-level retail space inside the 192-unit apartment building. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, “Gregor Brous, owner and operator of Collegetown Bagels, decided to make the move after finding out the current building CTB is located in is being demolished.”

For the record, that’s a couple of years out. Visum Development does have plans for the site, which involve a mixed-use apartment building with approximately 60 units above ground-level retail. A sketch plan review was conducted back in 2015, but the plan has not undergone any formal review, and it has to undergo some redesigns anyway since they had planned to buy Jagat Sharma’s parcel at 312 East Seneca Street, and consolidate it into their project. Sharma instead sold to developer Stavros Stavropoulos, who has his own plans for a six-story building. The rumor has been that any redevelopment of the site is still a year or two away, but it is a likely prospect in the medium-term.

As for CTB, the larger space will allow them to try out some new concepts, expand their drink menu, and from the sound of it, add some alcoholic beverages to their offerings. This is not the first time they’ve looked at the Trebloc site, as they had tentatively agreed to move into State Street Triangle, had the building been approved and built.

4. Just to mention the Planning Board Agenda, for the sake of brevity, here’s the link, but not much is actually being decided on this month. Wegman’s is seeking yet another two-year extension on the 15,700 SF retail building they had approved in December 2014 (long rumored as a Wegmans-owned liquor store or a homegoods store similar to Williams-Sonoma). Amici House is seeking some signage variance approval and approval of site plan changes already made. This is likely to pass since its material color and detail changes, but because this was already done without consent and they’re going back to request consent after the fact, the board may have some harsh words. Amici House attends for its 23 studios to be available for occupancy by young, formerly homeless or otherwise vulnerable individuals by February 1st. Site plan approval is also on the agenda for the Maguire Ford Lincoln renovation and expansion. New proposals are the 200-unit mixed-use Visum affordable housing duo shared on the Voice today, and the Modern Living Rentals proposal for 815 South Aurora, which as touched on the other day, is likely to be pretty sizable.

The supplemental on the Falls Park senior housing project notes that the project is intended to qualify under Ithaca’s Green Building Policy under the “Easy Path” scoring system, and perhaps a bit disappointingly, the smokestack for Ithaca Gun, once intended for incorporation into the public space, will be coming down so that the ground beneath it can be cleaned during the remediation. However, smokestack bricks will be available as mementos for those who want them.

Heading to the ZBA will be a lot subdivision to split a double lot on Homestead Road back into two lots, the Amici House signage, and Agway’s plan to rebuild a 700 SF storage shed destroyed by fire, with a new one-story 1,400 SF structure. Zoning on its waterfront site requires two floors, but the new shed is only one floor and needs a variance.

 





News Tidbits 9/11/18

12 09 2018

1. The first phase of the airport expansion has been awarded. As reported by my Voice colleague/boss Kelsey O’Connor, Streeter Associates of Elmira placed a construction bid for $7,638,000 to complete the first of three phases. The initial phase will be covered with a state grant, and the airport has applied for federal funding as well – about two-thirds of the $24 million total cost is covered by grants, and the airport is looking for ways to close the gap. The bid was the lowest received, with Murnane Contractors offering a more expensive construction bid of $8,483,000 for the first phase, and LeChase Construction coming in with a bid at $8,996,000. Phase one entails renovating and expanding the terminal, updating the airline offices, moving screening equipment behind the counter areas, utilities upgrades and improvements to the lobby area for better flow. Streeter has a long track record in Tompkins County, with projects including the expansion of Ives Hall on Cornell’s campus, and the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Also discussed at the meeting was an agreement to sell 15 acres of airport-owned land along Warren Road to the NYS DOT for $840,000. This vote was not without some contention, with residents of Hillcrest Road complaining about the relocation to a location near their properties, and the final vote to approve the sale was a 9-4 split. Note that this is just the sale of land, a site plan and environmental analysis have yet to be performed, but a new facility on Warren Road would allow the DOT to move from the inlet location that the city and county have sought to redevelop into mixed commercial and residential uses. The primary complaint seems to be that the sale was too sudden; and to be fair, it was short notice. I wasn’t even aware until reading the meeting agenda a week earlier. However, the intent to move to Warren Road has been stated on multiple occasions, and it’s been in the planning stages for about two years, since they decided the property they bought in Dryden wasn’t going to work out.

2. A couple of interesting little notes from the Journal’s article examining the City Centre project on the 300 Block of East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. The Ale House restaurant’s move and expansion into the ground level will create about twenty additional jobs, and the build-out of the new restaurant space will take place from January – June 2019. Secondly, the developer, Newman Development Group, says a tenant has signed up for one of the two remaining retail spaces, but a confidentiality agreement prevents them from naming the business. Talks are also underway for filling the third retail space. I don’t have revised numbers for the retails spaces (after initial approval, the ground floor retail was consolidated from four spaces to three), but the Ale House is filling the largest space (5,700 SF), and the remaining two are approximately a few thousand square feet each.

3. The city of Ithaca Common Council decided to be proactive at their last meeting and name preferences that they would place strong emphasis on when considering a PUD for the Immaculate Conception site on the 300 Block of West Buffalo Street. As reported by my new Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi, the site sits in the city’s recently-approved Planned Unit Development Overlay District (PUD-OD). Within PUD-ODs, projects that don’t fit with existing zoning may be allowed if they offer community benefits. The Common Council and Planning Board both need to approve PUD-OD proposals.

A preference isn’t a stipulation, but since the Council votes on PUDs, it’s a strong clue to what they’ll expect in return for granting a variance. One is the inclusion of affordable housing, and the second is retaining the gymnasium for use as a publicly-accessible indoor recreation space, noting that the Greater Ithaca Activities Center is headquartered next door and would benefit from the facility.

In theory, a buyer could buy the property and do a straight-up renovation without needing to invoke the PUD-OD (the site is R-2a residential, but the building itself would give the benefit of pre-existing variances), but given the Rochester Diocese’s marketing of the PUD in advertisements, it’s a strong possibility a buyer will want to utilize the PUD.

Proposals for the site are due to the diocese by October 5th. Once a developer is selected and a plan submitted for review, then the process of PUD negotiation with the city can begin in earnest.

4. Here’s a look at Emmy’s Organics application for a tax abatement from the IDA. The organic cookie maker is planning a 14,650 SF facility on the 200 Block of Cherry Street in Ithaca’s West End, with a potential 20,000 SF on top of that in 2-3 years time if business continues to grow as it has.

With land acquisition, soft and hard construction costs, and new equipment, the project investment for phase one is $2,292,000, and would retain 28 jobs in Ithaca as well as support the creation of 19 new jobs. The time frame on this is quite fast – due to contracts that can’t be fulfilled in the existing premises, Emmy’s wants to start construction this fall and have the building opened by Spring 2019. Rowlee Construction of Fulton (Oswego County) has been retained as the general contractor.

According to the documentation, Emmy’s is seeking the standard 7-year abatement plus an energy incentive that enhances the 7-year abatement (the incentive tweaks the tax rate for those seven years and saves Emmy’s an extra $73,820), as well as mortgage recording and sales tax exemption on equipment and construction materials purchases. The abatement plus energy incentive would save $215,142, the sales tax exemption $97,600, and the mortgage tax exemption $4,298, for total savings of $317,040. New taxes in the first seven years would total $70,889 in revenue to the county, city and ICSD.

Although the application says 19 new jobs, that might be for both phases – only seven jobs are listed in the application, four production positions ($13-$15/hour), a $20/hour clerical positive and two $45/hour administrative positions. They state they are willing to pay a living wage, so it seems the IDA could make that part of the conversation. The meeting will be Thursday the 13th.