The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 10/2017

23 10 2017

Continuing yesterday’s theme, here’s another one of Collegetown’s development opportunities playing out, though perhaps it was less obvious as the Linden Avenue properties – coming soon to Ithaca, 60 units with 191 beds of student housing at 232-236 Dryden Road, just east of Collegetown’s core and part of the eastern transition to the Belle Sherman neighborhood.

Once again, this is a case of Visum Development Group scouting potential opportunities at the right time and place to make something happen. Along with a large surface parking lot, the previous building on this site was a 30-unit apartment building and the former dormitory for the historic Cascadilla School, a private school with a 140-year history on the corner of Oak and Summit Avenues in Collegetown. The 4-story building once housed dorms, a dining hall and a gymnasium, but after its sale to private ownership after World War I, it was remodeled again and again, each seemingly more unsympathetic than the last. By the late 20th century, it was a grim, awkward-looking box, stripped of ornamentation and of its historic value. The previous owner, the proprietor of the Hillside Inn, had owned the property for several decades; Visum paid about triple the tax assessment ($7.65 million vs. $2.55 million) to buy the property in September.

There are two buildings to be built, totaling 84,700 SF – 232 Dryden (The Lux South) and 236 Dryden (The Lux North). This allows for different plane grades, meaning they’re different elevations. That makes it easier to blend in with the neighbors, and creates less ambiguity with height limits, something that bedeviled Visum with its 201 College Avenue project. As with 210 Linden, zoning is CR-4 – four floors, 45 feet from average grade, no parking required with a city-approved transportation demand management plan (TDMP). Usually, that means free bus passes or Carshare registrations, ample bike storage, and explaining how students can easily commute to campus by walking.

The project was proposed in March 2017 and approved by August. Overall, the changes were fairly modest. No zoning variances and little public opposition helped to create a smooth review process. The biggest change came during the design review process, and affected the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity, and the balconies are throwbacks to the Cascadilla dormitory’s long-gone shingle-style balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (that is the actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (real stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

The loan, for $16,354,628, was granted by S&T Bank, a regional bank based in Pennsylvania that has no retail banking presence in Ithaca, but has served as the financier for several projects, including the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Elmira Road, and Visum’s just-opened 201 College Avenue project. A breakdown of the costs shows the total project cost is $22,780,334. There’s $13,020,010 in hard costs (materials/labor), $7.65 million for property acquisition, $475,000 in soft costs (architect/engineering/legal), $250,000 for the demolition, and the rest is for taxes during construction and interest reserve (interest on the construction loan during construction). $650,000 (5% of the hard cost) is set aside as contingency funds just in case the expenses clock in higher than expected.

Despite the rather pretentious name and logo, it’s hard to argue the amenities don’t live up to the premise – according to the marketing website, tenants of The Lux and other Visum properties have access to a media lounge, study room, hot tub, sauna, full-service gym, game room and outdoor terrace. Tenants will have trash removal, stainless steel appliances, in-unit washer and dryer, and bike storage. I feel poor just typing this stuff out. Units are 1-5 bedrooms, with the smallest being 1 bed, 1 bath and 435 SF, and the largest being a 1693 SF, five-bedroom, five-bath. Rents will be $1200-$1300/month. Visum is running an offer that if all tenants on a lease (presumably a larger unit) can show they’re members of a registered student org, they get 10% off the first month and a $150 check will be given to their organization. Many larger Collegetown units are legacy properties among student groups (fraternity annexes, bandies, club and NCAA sports), passed down from year to year by members of the org. This may be a clever move to make next years’ renting a bit easier on Visum, whose CEO noted softening in the market this year.

A trip to the site shows caisson (steel pipe) piles have already been laid for The Lux South, and demolition is ongoing of the old apartment building on the site of The Lux North. The pipes extend down to the solid shale bedrock 46 feet below grade, according to local engineering firm Elwyn & Palmer. A deep foundation by any measure. A benefit to building in Collegetown is that the ground is much more amenable to deep foundations than the weak, water-logged soils of the West End.

 





210 Linden Construction Update, 10/2017

21 10 2017

Technically, 210 Linden Avenue has been stopped for the time being, but just for the sake of having it, here’s the project description post for future reference.

One of the intents of the Collegetown Form Districts was to encourage redevelopment in portions of Collegetown that the city saw as less desirable – the really stereotypically poor-quality housing that Cornell just called out in its state of the university address. These properties are generally unsuitable for families since most of them were purpose-built boarding houses, often with haphazard additions and renovations over the years to make the bare minimum of city building and fire code. With a captive market in Cornell students, many landlords didn’t see the need for quality because the prevailing logic was that it decreased profitability. Only during the first luxury developments of the 1980s (Fane’s Collegetown Court in 1985, Mack Travis’s Eddygate in 1986) did that really start to change, and even then, many older landlords clung to the old ideas, hesitant to change from a time-tested if ethically questionable formula.

Since then, it’s been something of a development see-saw; developers see greater profit potential, but typically they need to build big to ensure a good return on investment (balancing soft construction costs, hard construction costs, interest on construction loans and current/future taxes against the revenue from renters). A large project comes along and drives discontent from East Hill and Belle Sherman, who have long clashed with the different lifestyles of students, as well as a longstanding sense of wariness from the old-style landlords who would try to buy homes and turn them into student slums. The city places a moratorium, tweaks the zoning, process starts anew. From a municipal perspective, it’s always been a delicate balance between the substantial taxes generated from Collegetown, and quality of life issues (traffic, rowdiness).

In general, the 2014 form-hybrid zoning, which removed some parking regulations and put the focus on Collegetown’s core, has had favorable outcomes; the only real debate has been 201 College Avenue, which was a rather unique situation. 210 Linden Avenue is a textbook example of a shared goal between city and developer – the 200 block of Linden has many properties in poor condition, and the city would like redevelopment mixed among the better-maintained older houses. With that in mind, zoning is generally CR-4 – 4 floors, and no parking required as long as a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan is received and approved by city staff. New buildings wouldn’t be large or oppressive since most buildings are 2.5-4 floors on this block, and with planning board input, high quality designs would enhance the walkable environment, build the tax base, and add some housing to reduce pressure on adjacent streets. Developers in turn would have more flexibility, and removing the parking rules really opens up the possibility for new builds on Linden’s small lots.

Previously, 210 Linden was a rather ramshackle 12-bedroom apartment house. Visum Development Group (VDG), led by local businessman Todd Fox, saw a potential opportunity for a new build and established a purchase option with the then-owners, a pair of small local landlords. The redevelopment is not an especially large project, medium-sized by Collegetown standards. It is 14,400 SF with 9 units, all of which are 4-bedroom, 2-bath, for a total of 36 bedrooms. Each floor has two units, except for the partially-above grade basement, which has one unit and space for the bike room, trash room and mechanicals. The project will use electric air-source heat pumps, and be net-zero energy capable with the use of an off-site renewable energy source.

210 Linden was first proposed in November 2016. With basically no opposition, and a design that the planning board found perfectly appropriate, it sailed through the review process, and approval was granted in January 2017. In something of a rarity for city projects, no zoning variance was required. 210 Linden fits the maximum length, width and building lot coverage allowed under the Collegetown Area Form District’s CR-4 zoning, and comes in at or just under the 45-foot height maximum – the sites are sloped, and the 45′ height is defined as the average above grade plane. Exterior finishes includes stucco at basement level, a couple shades of grey fiber cement lap siding above, red doors, metal balconies and natural wood trim.

There were virtually no design changes from beginning to end – the only noticeable change was that the doors were moved from the left side of the balcony/terrace to the right. The project was a fraternal twin to another infill development Visum has planned, 126 College Avenue. One has to give credit to the architect, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, for being able to provide cost-efficient and well-received designs.

A frequent partner of VDG, William H. Lane Inc. of Binghamton, is the general contractor. Right now, only the demolition and foundation excavation have been completed. Once the power lines have been buried out front by NYSEG, construction of the building can begin. The intent is to have the building completed in time for Cornell’s 2018-19 academic year, which starts in late August. Elmira Savings Bank gave VDG a $3.15 million construction loan in July to complete the project.

As one might expect with new units less than two blocks from Collegetown’s core, the cost per room is not cheap. Advertisements online say $5,000/month, or $1,250 per month per bedroom. Units come with 9′ ceilings, air conditioning, internet/cable, stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops, washer/dryer in-unit, balconies, and a security system, among other bullet points and exclamation points. A fitness room and other luxury amenities will be accessible to tenants at another Visum project, 232-236 Dryden Road.





107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 10/2017

20 10 2017

With the twin duplexes on the corner of Aurora and Queen completed, local developer Stavros Stavropoulos and his local contractor Northeast Renovations Inc. have been able to turn their focus towards building out 107 South Albany Street. At this stage, the spread concrete footers, also called formwork or footings, have been finished.

As in this case, footers are usually of concrete with steel rebar reinforcement that has been poured into an excavated trench and confined by wood forms. The purpose of footings is to support the foundation and prevent settling. The portion of rebar sticking out of the footers will be bent and wired into the foundation’s horizontal rebar, tying the two components together. I’m not sure if they simply filled in the basement of the old house or if they tore the walls out before bringing in clean fill and digging trenches for the new footers (I’d guess the latter for simplicity’s sake).

It looks like the outer footings for the ground-level common space (entry, bike storage, meter room) are at a slightly lower grade than the rest of the structure, so there might be two separate sections that comprise foundation, with one at a slightly higher elevation than the other.

The next steps involve a rebar grid being ssembled and tied per specifications, elevated a few inches from the ground by plastic rebar chairs that allow concrete to get underneath the steel rods. The concrete will be poured over the rebar, and as long as the bars stay in place, the new pour is left to dry into a solid, reinforced slab foundation upon which the building frame can be built. The building itself will have a wood-frame, so when it starts to rise, it should move at a pretty fast pace.

A summary of the project can be found here.





400-404 & 406 Stewart Avenue Construction Update, 10/2017

18 10 2017

Framing is up to the top floor of the former Chapter House property at 400-404 Stewart Avenue. The plywood ZIP Panels appear to switch from the roofing variety to standard walls on the top floor and for the recessed entrance on the ground floor, and this probably has to do with the finishing materials. The ZIP panels have slightly different thicknesses. The thinner ones in green are used with fiber cement, and wood or asphalt shingle finishes. The top floor of the Chapter House is supposed to finished with asphalt shingles, according to planning docs. The lower two floors with the red ZIP panels will be faced with brick (Redland Heritage, the same brick used with 210 Hancock’s commercial building). The north wall has already been coated in waterproof spray foam, which will protect the frame from the porous brick veneer. It looks like some interior framing and roughs-ins are underway on the lower floors. Next door, the slab foundation for the new apartment building at 406 Stewart Avenue has been poured and cured, and framing work appears to be starting on the above-ground levels.

Along with local firms Taitem Engineering (overall civil and structural engineering, with emphasis on energy efficiency) and Elwyn & Palmer (civil and structural engineering with emphasis on geotechnical work and foundations), a New Hampshire company called “Overlook Construction Consultants” identifies itself as a project partner, but their online presence is nearly nothing. Jason K. Demarest is the architect for both buildings.

Project description and background here.





210 Hancock Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

One last walk around the block. It looks like only minor exterior finishes and landscaping/playground and basketball hoop installations left. TCAction’s daycare center has been dedicated the “Sally G. Dullea Childcare Center”, in honor of Sally Dullea, a longtime Ithacan and retired M&T Vice President who led TCAction’s Board of Trustees. Next door, The balance of the first-floor commercial space for a “Free Science Workshop”, which is a part of the Ithaca Branch of the Physics Factory, non-profit exhibition program that engages children with science. The “Physics Bus” in the parking lot is the mobile exhibit.

It also appears that either the multi-use path or the project itself has been dedicated to outgoing INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella. Not a bad way to say thanks after 27 years of service. As for his replacement, Johanna Anderson, best of luck, and I look forward to being a constructive nuisance.

It’s never been a secret that I was an advocate for this project, given the clear need for affordable housing, and the transparency and responsiveness of the project team during early planning. I continue to hold the project in high regard. It is a real improvement over the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store that was once here. It helps to fill a crucial deficit in a well-thought out, contextual, urban-friendly package. While walking around, I saw a young woman moving furniture into an apartment, a man and his son heading into one of the homes, and an older gentleman walking a dog. I think that, as the dust settles, it’ll blend seamlessly into Northside’s urban fabric, and be a worthy asset of the Ithaca community.

Before (image courtesy of Jason Henderson of Ithaca Builds):

After:






Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

So we have a rule at the Voice not to publish the press releases of private for-profit entities unless they add something to an article. They don’t get published as standalones, if at all. From a pragmatic standpoint, giving a for-profit free advertising at our expense doesn’t make good financial sense, and it leads to questions about our integrity.

But, they still come in, filed away in case they come in handy at some point. That was the case here for the press release sent along by Brous Consulting’s Kevin Doubleday for the Ithaka Terraces project back on September 11th:

***

For Immediate Release: September 11th, 2017

Contact: Kyle Waller at 607-272-1765 or office@ppmhomes.com.

ITHAKA TERRACES CONDOMINIUM PROJECT GAINS APPROVALS NEEDED TO PROVIDE FIRST CONDOS AND FIRST NET-ZERO PROPERTY IN DOWNTOWN ITHACA

Ithaka Terraces is a new sustainable luxury condominium complex in downtown Ithaca, currently under construction at 215 West Spencer Street. Scheduled to open in Fall 2017, the Terraces are destined to be the region’s first net-zero condominium complex. The property is currently undergoing last-stage developments with units now available for sale through locally owned and operated PPM Homes. The project is also one of only a few condominium projects to be built in the area since the most recent recession.

The twelve unique units, inspired by colorful Greek cliffside architecture, thus the Ithaka name, range in size from a single story, 1005 square feet flat up to a two-story townhouse, 1520 square feet and boast high-end amenities including hardwood and tile flooring, luxury finishes, and a host of energy-saving appliances. Units start at $299,000.

Combining cutting edge green technology with a walkable location, a car-free or car-light lifestyle is easily attainable. The motivation to build Ithaka Terraces came from the developer’s desire to provide the maximum possible state-of-the-art sustainable living with the highest emphasis on achieving net-zero energy. Hence, no costs were spared to find and take advantage of opportunities in the design and building process to incorporate the most advanced sustainable techniques. The potential for reduced energy use is in place in these condominiums, making the inhabitants able to maintain one of the lowest environmental impacts and costs possible anywhere with a fantastic and active quality of life.

Ithaka Terraces strives to incorporate the most sustainable construction methods and living technology. This includes the use of air-source heat pumps, conduction ranges, LED lighting, electric water heaters, Low-E windows, super-insulated walls and roofs, smart temperature monitoring devices, and other energy-saving devices.

Further green features are available for even greater sustainable living at the Terraces, including charging stations for electric vehicles and at least six Ithaca Carshare vehicles stationed within walking distance. Transportation for the average household is likely to use more energy than the home itself. The Terrace’s convenient location makes it simple to reduce transportation energy use significantly by allowing cars to be an option rather than a necessity for the vast majority of trips.

Because of recent net-metering laws passed by New York State, off-site solar power can be provided to homes in cities from solar arrays outside the city, which makes net-zero living possible. All the energy used at Ithaka Terraces will be provided by solar power from PPM Homes’ 225 kw (835 panels) solar farm about 15 miles east of Ithaca.

Ed Cope, owner of PPM Homes and team leader of the Ithaka Terraces team, has been active in environmental and sustainability causes for forty years.  He started an environmental center in Indiana 25 years ago and he and his family live off grid, using power only from renewable energy (solar panels and some wind).  He started Energy Independent Caroline as part of his early efforts to switch the Caroline town government to renewable energy for its power use.  

One of his apartment buildings on South Hill was the first commercial roof-top solar installation in Ithaca. Ed has strived to build housing units so energy efficient that their entire energy use can come from his small solar farm outside Ithaca; truly net-zero energy. Additional team members include Stream Collaborative, Taitem Engineering, Renovus Solar, and TG Miller and Associates. The project is being managed by Kyle Waller at PPM homes.

For more information on Ithaka Terraces, you can visit: www.ithakaterraces.com or contact Kyle Waller at 272-1765 or office@pphomes.com.

END.

***

It looks like they might be doing soft marketing of the units, with a brochure up and inquiries allowed, but no formal listings up yet. The Ithaka Terraces website states that prices will be in the $299,000-$434,000 range, a ~10% jump from previous estimates. Units range in size from 1,005 SF to 1,520 SF. Ten are two-bedroom units, two are three-bedroom units.

Buildings A and C look like they’re getting the scratch coat for its stucco finish, while B is still ZIP panels and waterproofed covers. Framing is still underway for Building D, which started much later than the other three.offhand, I think the shingles are from one of Certaineed’s designer series, here in Cottage Red. The formwork along the east side/upper slope may be for a concrete retaining wall that will hold the hill back from the parking area.





607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 9/2017

2 10 2017

Landscaped, occupied, done. Modern Living Rentals’ infill project at 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill adds another 25 beds to the market, in four new two-family homes and a renovated existing home.

Strictly looking at the project, it’s pretty unassuming. This armchair critic thinks these turned out nicer than the ones on Elmira Road, though a greater splash of color on the siding would have been nice. The brackets and full-length porch are welcome additions on the Aurora Street structure.

If someone had told me 217 Columbia’s two-family infill would cause such a stir, I would have been surprised, since it’s a small project, and this and the Elmira Road pair didn’t create much a stir during the review process. But sometimes, after multiple projects of similar format, all it takes is one more to stir up enough consternation to snowball into a full-blown controversy.

I’m not going to fault anyone there. MLR’s Charlie O’Connor saw an opportunity and went for it. He is arguably one of the most reticent developers in Ithaca, preferring unobtrusive projects that he hopes will create as little debate as possible. It’s kinda funny in a way, because although he’s a business partner with Todd Fox (Visum’s property management is handled by MLR), the two of them are near-opposites in that regard. He paid a fair sum for 217 Columbia Street, so he doesn’t want to walk away from the investment, but he’ll do whatever it takes to make the neighbors happy short of cancelling the project. At last check, there was a proposal to stipulate the two three-bedroom units would not be permitted to student renters, and that the building would be stick-built and designed to better fit with the older structures of the neighborhood.

On the other side, permanent residents have a right to be annoyed if the perceived balance between students and non-students starts to shift and harm their quality of life. The neighborhood, like many of Ithaca’s more walkable parts, has experienced significant upward pressure on housing prices, and rental infill units can be a double-edged sword because the individual property is priced out of reach for homeowners (for-sale infill would be a different story). Even with the owner-occupied properties, there’s a strong whiff of gentrification, turning what was once a blue-collar neighborhood serving downtown shoppers and Morse Chain into a hodgepodge of increasing number of student rentals, and more white-collar, deep-pocketed households.

Somewhat incongruous to all this is that Ithaca College’s student population has declined almost 10% since 2010, which would suggest less pressure for student rentals; however, many of the college dorms date from the 1960s, and the utilities systems need replacement – some are already on their last legs, and that may limit occupancy as they sputter into obsolescenceThe college and students are aware of the discord and are trying to address it gently; more extreme measures like curtailing the ability or capping the number of students who can live off-campus might create major blowback, something the college may be actively trying to avoid after last year’s turmoil. A new dorm or two would help, but even modular temporary dorms can cost a fair sum, and there is nothing planned in the short-term. A long-term question mark is the impact of the Chain Works District, but that’s a few years out at best.

Landlords should at least be cognizant of this tension (and the ones on South Hill tend to be a mixed bag, to be honest), because if things turn south and the college does take drastic measures, units are going to become much harder to fill at current monthly rates. Town officials and voters were unhappy with the quality and appearance of new housing built in the Birdseye View development and in the Pennsylvania-Kendall Avenue corridor, and that contributed to the push to curtail student housing in the town’s portion of South Hill.

The local community is not easygoing or forgiving. If you do crap work, crap will hit the fan sooner or later. Even if you do good work like 607 South Aurora here, it pays to be attentive and flexible.

While legal language is being prepared for an overlay that would prevent more than one primary structure on South Hill properties until a new neighborhood plan is developed (2-3 years minimum), 217 Columbia had already started review before that was considered, so in effect it’s grandfathered in, even if it hasn’t started construction before the overlay likely gets passed by PEDC this month and Common Council in November.