128 West Falls Street Construction Update, 12/2018

6 01 2019

This post was supposed to go up a week ago, but was delayed by a bout with the flu. Sometimes, things get delayed and health concerns have to take precedence. 128 West Falls Street is an example of that.

128 West Falls Street is a single-family rental home situated on a mostly empty 0.375 acre urban lot on the northwest side of Fall Creek. The property was bought by Heritage Park Townhomes back in December 2012. Heritage Park, recently rebranded Perfect Heritage, is the umbrella organization for a few different businesses run by local builder Ron Ronsvalle and his family. Those include Perfect Painters (home painting), Heritage Builders (home construction), Heritage Park Rentals, and a few years back, there was even an auto repair business.

On the development side, Heritage Builders has built or renovated a number of small-scale residential and commercial projects around the greater Ithaca area, tapping into a variety of markets. These include student rentals on South Hill, apartments and commercial retail/office space in Lansing, some smaller multi-family infill in the city of Ithaca, and some for-sale housing on South Hill. There isn’t really a pattern, it’s more or less what’s available at the time they’re looking to take on something new.

In March 2014, plans were first announced for infill apartments at 128 West Falls Street, consisting of three new buildings with six rental units. The design of these was rather awkward and somewhat larger than the typical 1.5-2.5 story homes that comprise nearby blocks, so there was a fair amount of pushback from neighbors. This was problematic because the Board of Zoning Appeals was required to sign off on setback and parking variances needed for the project to move forward; the property is being subdivided into three parcels, one for the existing single-family home, one for the to-be-built duplex (later a single-family home) to the east, and the third for the two duplexes on the west end of the parcel. The existing home will have no on-site parking within its (middle) lot, instead sharing with the west lot.

The project team met with neighbors, heard their concerns, and reworked the design – it was a bit smaller, with five units in two two-family homes and and one single-family home, and the designs, created by architect/engineer Lawrence John Fabbroni of Fabbroni Associates, showed a more traditional aesthetic when the revised site plan review was submitted in October 2014. At the time, the planning board hailed it as a successful example of working with the community to create a mutually acceptable outcome. The plans were approved by the planning board in February 2015.

However, the project didn’t move forward, and after two years, the approvals expired. Not long after the project was approved, Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. As the letter from Fabbroni stated, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.” For a while, it had looked like the project was unlikely to ever happen. However, the request for re-approval was submitted in June 2018, and with no changes, the project generated little discussion and was re-approved the following month. The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period in two phases from August 2018 to August 2020.

The project includes seven off-street parking spaces, one driveway, sidewalks/walkways, stormwater facilities and landscaping (new trees, pavers, raised plant beds). The three units facing West Falls Street are designed to resemble typical older homes in the neighborhood. Building 1 is a single-family building with three bedrooms, finished in LP Smartside wood lap siding colored Sherwin-Williams Aurora Brown on the lower floors, LP Smartside wood shake siding on the gable level and colored S-W Roycroft Brass, and trim panels in S-W Roycroft Vellum. Building 2 is two units with three bedrooms each; the massing of Building 2 is broken down into two distinct halves, connected only through the foundation and a ground level breezeway. The west unit will have a bay window and a full gable roof with dormers, while the east unit has a partially-hipped roof, creating visual interest between the two otherwise mirrored units. LP Smartside wood lap siding in S-W Renwick Olive will be used on the lower levels of each., LP SmartSide smooth wood panels with batten trim will be used on the west unit’s gable level, while the dormers on the east unit will use lap siding, both colored in S-W Roycroft Bronze-Green. The trim panels will once again be S-W Roycroft Vellum. For the record, all of these colors are from Sherwin-Williams’ “Heritage Palette” historic color series; and historic East Aurora, New York is home to the Roycroft Campus.
The building tucked back from West Falls Street, Building 3, is a more contemporary design hosting two two-bedroom units. The lower levels use LP engineered wood siding in S-W Rockwood Blue-Green, and on the gable level, smooth wood panels in S-W Downing Stone. As with the other two, the wood trim panels are painted S-W Roycroft Vellum. Altogether, there’s a total of five new units and thirteen new bedrooms in the project. The project is designed such that the whole four-building, six-unit assemblage can be converted into condominium housing at a later date, if Heritage Park chooses to do so.
The photos below suggest a quicker timeframe for construction than suggested in the 2018 Site Plan Review – framing is substantially underway for all structures, with the first two floors framed out for Buildings 1 and 2, and above-ground framing just getting underway for Building 3. The concrete foundations are complete. A good estimate would be an August 2019 completion for all five units, or in other words, they decided to merge the two phases back into one. The designs don’t totally match the drawings. The elevations don’t show windows in the basement level concrete, and some of the other window patterns don’t totally align either.





Press Bay Court Construction Update, 12/2018

21 12 2018

For practical purposes, I’m calling this one complete as of the end of this year. At least one of the new stores was set up and ready for opening (Gee June Bridal) while a couple others were just starting to fit out their spaces with equipment for their own launches. Among them will be Halal Meat and Groceries, One Ring Donuts, Hair • Color • Art and Bramble, an herbal retailer, moving from its Press Bay Alley slot. Calzone restaurant D.P. Dough will move from the rear storefront to the front of the 108-114 West Green retail strip, right along West Green Street in the former Hausner’s Garage. The hawk mural was given a touch up courtesy of Connecticut-based street artist Ryan ‘ARCY’ Christenson.

The fitting out of the West Green Street retail units is ongoing, but the four apartment units are nearly complete with only minor finishing details left, and based off Press Bay Alley’s Instagram, it’s quite the transformation. From their facebook page:

Beautiful historic spaces with modern amenities. These apartments are truly unique. Original 1914 wood rafters and exposed wood deck ceilings, steel beams, and brick surfaces paired with completely new utilities and modern design features

• super-efficient air source heat pumps (heat and AC)
• all LED lighting
• brand new appliances (including dish washer and garbage disposal)
• tasteful modern cabinets with soft close hardware
• beautiful tile bathrooms with modern frameless glass shower enclosures
• freshly refinished original distressed hardwood floors
• Air tight spray foam insulation and high-performance rigid foam on the roof
• Sprinkler system for fire safety

Prices range from $1200-1300/month plus electric*

Included in the rent:

• WiFi Internet**
• Garbage and recycling disposal
• Water service

Apartments are substantially complete and available for a January 1 occupancy

*heat/AC and cooking are all electric, this is a fossil fuel free building

**building is NOT equipped with cable, internet is provided by high speed fiber optic line

$1200-$1300/month is more than the 75% AMI below-market units they were originally aiming for, but not by much – $1200/month works out to $48k-$52k/year, or 80-90% of the local AMI of $59k. “Workforce housing”, to borrow a Visum Development Group term for the 80-90% bracket.

The biggest deviation from the plans appears to be that the passage into the former Ithaca Journal press building has not been built, and instead of vegetation and hardscaping for the amphitheater and court pavers, it’s only vegetation. It’s not clear if the amphitheater and west entry to the press building will be built at a later time.

All in all, this is a great project to have in Ithaca’s Downtown. It extends the vitality of the Commons westward in a form sympathetic to the neighborhood and physical surroundings, making use of a vacant building. It also enhances Press Bay Alley by generating more foot traffic next door. It will provide complementary attractions to make downtown a more engaging place for visitors, and supplies a bit of new moderate-income housing. A big win for the city of gorges.

More info on the development of the project can be found here.

//www.instagram.com/embed.js





Hilton Canopy Hotel Construction Update, 12/2018

20 12 2018

We’re starting to see some of the face materials being attached to the Canopy Hilton’s exterior.The brick veneer is Bowerston Shale Company Red Smooth blend. The bumpout with the industrial-style bay windows will use a darker and browner blend called “Pioneer Smooth”. Some of the “Sauteed Mushroom” fiber cement panels are also visible underneath the scaffolding. “Rockport Grey” and “Dark Ash” (light grey and dark grey) fiber cement panels will be used on the upper levels and to provide visual interest being the bricked spaces. Most of the sheathing is in place, as are most of the windows.The bridge blue bands around some of the windows is probably sealant/waterproofing material.

An interesting little detail here – during the excavation, some remnant fragments were found from the former Stand Theater, which occupied the site from 1917 until its demolition in 1993. It was a grand building in its time, designed in an Egyptian Revival theme (which the Carey Building emulated when it was built a few years later) and capable of sitting 1,650 in golden age splendor. But the theater was never well designed for the transition from stage to screen, and after decades of decay, it closed first in 1976, and then reopened for a few years at the end of the 1970s into the 1980s for live shows, but the expense of maintenance proved a burden on shoestring budgets. Although on the tail end of urban renewal, the car was still king in the early 1990s, and a parking lot was deemed a better alternative to a decaying theater whose revitalization attempts had failed. A few of the more decorative pieces that were found will be put on display in an exhibit inside the hotel lobby.

The 131-room hotel, on the east end of Downtown on the 300 Block of East State Street, is expected to open in 2019. Baywood Hotels, the developer, has been quite busy lately, purchasing the five year-old Fairfield Inn at 359 Elmira Road a few weeks ago. Rather curiously, the $5.9 million purchase of the 106-room hotel was $1.1 million below assessment. The sale used a “bargain and sale deed”, which one often sees with foreclosures. Bargain and sale deeds are riskier than standard deeds. It basically means that if the property has an issue or unpaid bill, you’re on the hook, not the seller.

The curious details of that sale makes me think of a never-completed story the Voice was working on involving the Fairfield. Not long after the Voice launched, the then-owners reached out in an email, saying they had constructed and opened the Fairfield, and after being open almost two years, “we can attest that there is no need for hotel rooms since demand is on a downward slide and we are having trouble servicing our debt. We also feel the Ithaca City officials are artificially generating demand hype to attract more hotel developers along with promises of tax abatement.” We had worked out this idea where their story would be part one, and getting the city and business officials to respond would be part two.

I did an interview with the Fairfield owner and manager, but to prove their claim wasn’t just their hotel and that it was a citywide/regional problem, we needed hard data, proprietary information on occupancy rates and things like Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR). The regional data of all hotels combined did not back up the claim, and with none of the Fairfield’s peer hotels were willing to take part or even support or refute the Fairfield owners’ claims, there was an inability to expand the story beyond the Fairfield’s anecdotal experience, and so it never moved beyond a first draft. It was the first in-depth story I had worked on that failed to pan out.

In retrospect, I suspect the truth was somewhere in the middle. Given that one of the boutique hotels was cancelled, and how much time was needed for the new downtown hotels to obtain financing, there was clearly some concern from lenders about what the market could support. But because those new hotels are opening over a period of a few years, and local economic growth has continued, the worst fears of the hotel “boom” have been avoided.

Further information on the Canopy hotel can be found here.





News Tidbits 12/17/18

18 12 2018

Here’s a look at the agenda for the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board meeting this month. It’s a week earlier than usual due to the Christmas holiday. Notes and comments in italics below.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Special Order of Business – Presentation of the Greater Southside Plan 6:05
3. Privilege of the Floor 6:20
4. Approval of Minutes: November 27, 2018 6:35

5 Special Permits 6:40

A. Project: Bed & Breakfast Special Permit
Location: 130 Coddington Road
Applicant: Noah Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval

Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit for use of the property as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast. The property was originally issued a Special Permit in 1998 for operation of the five bedroom home as a homeowner occupied Bed and Breakfast; the Special Permit was not renewed in 2003, as required by §325-9c(4)(g)[3], and has therefore expired. During a recent home inspection, it was discovered the property had continued to operate absent a Special Permit, necessitating a new Special Permit application. No physical alterations to the building or the site are proposed. Issuance of a Special Permit is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act “(“SEQRA”)

This is a simple case of where the previous owner never renewed the five-year permit and didn’t tell the new buyer, who planned to continue using the home as a live-in Bed & Breakfast. No letters of opposition are on file. Approval, with the proper completion of all necessary forms, is likely to be straightforward.

B. Project: Bed & Breakfast Home Special Permit 6:50
Location: 2 Fountain Place
Applicant: Jason K Demarest
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Special Permit Approval
Project Description: The applicant is seeking a Special Permit to operate the existing 4,492 SF nine (9) bedroom residence located at 2 Fountain Place as a Bed and Breakfast Home. The owner is proposing to utilize four (4) of the nine (9) bedrooms as guest bedrooms for a period not to exceed 21 consecutive days, with a fifth bedroom utilized for home-owner occupancy. Guest occupancy will be limited to two persons or one family per guestroom. No exterior modifications are proposed to the existing home to establish the B&B use, and the existing house is compatible with the character of the neighborhood. Existing parking for seven (7) vehicles exists in the turnaround off Willets Place. The applicant does not propose cooking facilities in the guestrooms, and food service is to be limited to guests of the B&B. No other B&B Homes exist within 500 feet of the property. One sign that is five (5) SF maximum in area and not self-illuminated will be installed in compliance with Chapter 272 of the City Code, “Signs.”

Under city zoning code, B&Bs, which are to be owner-occupied, are allowed to four bedrooms to be used for the guests. A zoning code variance to use eight bedrooms as guest occupancy seemed unlikely, but the new owners believe the B&B may still be viable. Local architect Jason K. Demarest (brother of STREAM’s principal architect, Noah Demarest) is known for his historic restorations and historically-inspired design work, so his involvement is auspicious for those who hope that the century-old mansion and former Ithaca College president’s house retains its character.

6 Site Plan Review

A. Project: Chain Works District Redevelopment Plan (FGEIS) 7:00
Location: 620 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Jamie Gensel for David Lubin of Unchained Properties
Actions: Review FGEIS & Town Comments – No Action
Project Description: The proposed Chain Works District seeks to redevelop and rehabilitate the +/-800,000 sf former Morse Chain/Emerson Power Transmission facility, located on a 95-acre parcel traversing the City and Town of Ithaca’s municipal boundary. The applicant has applied for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for development of a mixed-use district, which includes residential, commercial, office, and manufacturing. The site’s redevelopment would bridge South Hill and Downtown Ithaca, the Town and the City of Ithaca, by providing multiple intermodal access routes including a highly-desired trail connection. The project will be completed in multiple phases over a period of several years with the initial phases involving the redevelopment of the existing structures. Current redevelopment of this property will focus on retrofitting existing buildings and infrastructure for new uses. Using the existing structures, residential, commercial, studio workspaces, and office development are proposed to be predominantly within the City of Ithaca, while manufacturing will be within both the Town and City of Ithaca. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/119

Hey, they’re starting to include documentation links in the agenda descriptions now! Most of the town’s comments are minor modifications and a possible correction on one of the traffic lane analyses. There’s a boatload of paperwork to dig through, so this meeting is just a chance for the planning board to look at the town’s comments, digest some of the supplemental files, and make sure there are no red flags or major concerns within that subset of information.

B. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 7:20
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Determination of Environmental Significance
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 59,700 SF, 1,200-seat, dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

This is likely to be the most contentious part of the meeting. The planning staff have conducted their analysis. Some traffic mitigation measures are sought, including circulation and mass transit / multi-modal transit improvements. The city will make sewer system upgrades a stipulation of project approval, and being next to the Cornell Heights Historic District, the board as Lead Agency wants a more sensitive use of materials and material colors, and extensive vegetative screening to be reviewed further before approval. But the most debated component, the energy use impacts, the city feels is effectively mitigated through the proposed measures by the applicant team.

I’m going to raise one point of correction though – the number of beds is going up to 2,079, but the planning staff should note that a campus-owned fraternity house, the former Sigma Alpha Mu building at 10 Sisson Place (the chapter moved to 122 McGraw Place), is coming down to make way for the project, so the gross number of beds is at least 30 less that that figure.

C. Project: Falls Park Apartments (74 Units) 7:50
Location: 121-125 Lake Street
Applicant: IFR Development LLC
Actions: Review of FEAF Part 3 – No Action
Project Description: The applicant proposes to build a 133,000 GSF, four-story apartment building and associated site improvements on the former Gun Hill Factory site. The 74-unit, age-restricted apartment building will be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units and will include 7,440 SF of amenity space and 85 parking spaces (20 surface spaces and 65 covered spaces under the building). Site improvements include an eight-foot wide public walkway located within the dedicated open space on adjacent City Property (as required per agreements established between the City and the property owner in 2007) and is to be constructed by the project sponsor. The project site is currently in the New York State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP). Before site development can occur, the applicant is required to remediate the site based on soil cleanup objectives for restricted residential use. A remedial investigation (RI) was recently completed at the site and was submitted to NYSDEC in August 2018. The project is in the R-3a Zoning District and requires multiple variances. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B(1) (h)[2], (k) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617-4 (b) (11). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/852

Part III of FEAF is the city planner-written review of impacts, proposed mitigations, and whether the lead agency feels the mitigations are appropriate and effective. Some stormwater, remediation plan and other supplemental materials are still needed before a declaration of significance can be made. 

D. Project: New Two-Family Dwellings 8:10
Location: 815-817 N Aurora
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Public Hearing
Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish an existing two-family residential structure and construct two new 1,290 SF two-family dwellings on a 9,590 SF lot. The existing residential building is a legally non-conforming building with a side setback deficiency (2.9 feet instead of the required 5 feet). The proposed redevelopment will include four parking spaces for four three-bedroom apartments. The applicant is requesting the Board’s approval to use the landscaping compliance method for parking arrangement. The project site is located in the R-2b Zoning District and meets all applicable zoning lot and setback requirements. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/859

City staff were really unhappy about this plan last month, and it was implied that this was one of the examples of “bad” infill that may lead to the new single primary structure overlay. However, barring extreme circumstances (think Maguire at Carpenter Park), review will continue under the current regulations. No new materials appear to have been submitted since the last meeting. 

E. Project: Maguire Ford Lincoln Additions and Improvements 8:30
Location: 370 Elmira Road
Applicant: John Snyder Architects PLLC
Actions: Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to demolish a portion of the existing building and construct two additions with updated exterior materials. The existing building is 18,500 GSF, with 2,265 GSF proposed for demolition. The new building will be 24,110 GSF. Site improvements include incorporation of a new pedestrian walking path, and site connections to Wegmans. Approximately 311 parking spaces are proposed to accommodate customer, service parking, employee, and display parking. The project site is located in the SW-2 Zone, is subject to the 2000 Southwest Design Guidelines, and will require a zoning variance for a front yard that exceeds the maximum permissible in the SW-2 district (34 feet maximum permitted, 69-feet 3-inch setback proposed). This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”); however, it will be treated as a Type I Action for the purpose of environmental review. Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/860

The revised plans include modified architectural features (more windows, a green wall), and a greater amount of vegetated landscaping to comply with zoning. On-site solar panels are being considered per board recommendation, but the old building was not designed to hold the weight of solar panels. The new wings will be designed to host panels. Heat pumps are being evaluated for some functions, but some of the heavy-duty components like the service bay will likely rely on modified conventional fuel systems. The building will meet or exceed NYS Energy Code requirements.

F. West Hill- Tiny Timbers – Sketch Plan 8:50

This one has been a long time coming. Tiny Timbers bought a 5.45 acre parcel on the south end of Campbell Avenue’s 400 block back in September 2016, and has long planned one of its cluster home developments on the vacant lot. As noted at the time on the blog:

“Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.”

G. 112-114 Summit Ave – Sketch Plan 9:10

This one required some fact-checking, because 114 Summit Avenue was the former Cascadilla school dorm that came down last year to make way for the Lux apartment project at 232-236 Dryden Road. A better address for this project might be “238 Dryden”, and the rumor mill says it’s by Visum Development Group, who developed the Lux. Although the exact positioning seems uncertain, the parcel north of the Lux is CR-3 (three floors, 40% lot coverage, parking and houselike features such as gables and porches required), and the remaining adjoining parcels are CR-4 (four floors, 50% lot coverage, no parking required). With student housing experiencing a little more slack in the market lately, it’s not clear if this is student housing, or another use.

7. Old/New Business PRC Meeting Time/ Date 9:30

8. Reports
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development 9:40

9. Adjournment 9:50





238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 12/2018

14 12 2018

John Novarr and Phil Proujansky’s project at 238 Linden Avenue is moving right along. For an all-residential construction, this is a heavy-duty building. It uses a steel frame with steel stud walls and gypsum sheathing – unlike wood-framed structures that could go up in smoke, this building is designed to be durable and withstand and potential fire-related calamities. It may be related to the fire code issues that delayed the project?

It looks like the design is similar, but not exact to the renders below. While some of the rough window openings are still being carved out of the gypsum panels, it’s not the same fenestration pattern. The sunken rear courtyard remains – it will be nice during the summer, but every leaf in Collegetown will seem to find its way in there by November.

The 13,715 square-foot building, which will house 24 studios, is topped out but not yet fully framed. Corrugated steel decking is in place and some interior framing has occurred as well. Based off the demolition plan submitted for 325 College Avenue around the corner, the targeted completion date for this structure is sometime next summer – given it’s designed to serve Executive MBA students at the Breazzano next door, that makes good sense.

Briefly, to touch on that 325 College Avenue site – the rumor mill does not know what’s planned, but the only consistent detail is that it will not be student housing. The market is too weak, and many Collegetown landlords are holding off on projects until the impacts of Maplewood, and potentially Cornell’s North Campus, have been fully absorbed. It’s not a situation where anyone seems to be going bankrupt, but the big Collegetown players have taken a more conservative approach as a result of Cornell’s new housing. As to what they could plan other than student housing, we’ll see. Faculty/staff housing, a hotel, another Cornell-related institutional use…plenty of options.

A history and overall description of the 238 Linden Avenue project can be found here.





323 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 12/2018

3 12 2018

Some projects have clear, concise histories. This is not one of them.

323 Taughannock started off in the summer of 2014 as a $3.5 million, 23,000 SF mixed-use building with ground-level office, 18 covered parking spaces, and 20 apartment units on the three stories above (total of four stories, 50′ height). The firm proposing the building was Rampart Real LLC, managed by local lawyer Steve Flash, who partnered with businesswoman Anne Chernish to develop the plan.

Flash had long had an interest in Inlet Island. He was an original co-owner of the Boatyard Grill restaurant on the island, and is an owner and co-manager of the nearby Finger Lakes Boating Center. In 2007, he sought to build a five-story condo/hotel on Inlet Island, and was shot down. If you think Ithacans are opposed to development now, take a look at the previous link. Current affairs don’t hold a candle to how anti-development the community and many local elected officials were for much of the 2000s. But Flash continue to scout out opportunities where he might be able to do something in time. He picked up the vacant, rundown former bar at 323 Taughannock Boulevard for $280,000 in July 2011.

The apartment plans, which were designed by STREAM Collaborative, were reviewed, revised, and approved by the city. Although the original plan was to build the apartments out from January – August 2015, the project had been unable to move off of the drawing board and into reality due to cost concerns related to “parking, soft soil, and relatively tight space,” according to Flash. Being on the waterfront means that the soils have a high water table and are easily compressed, making multi-story construction difficult. The challenges faced with the apartment building were complicated by the proposed first-floor parking, which posed constraints on the building’s structuring, and raised construction costs beyond feasibility. Long story short, although the approvals were in place, the cost projections became too steep for the developers to follow through, and the site sat quiet.

With the original plan no longer feasible, a replacement development plan was submitted in December 2016. This was a proposal for eight for-sale townhouses. Totaling 20,174 SF it’s effectively 16 units in eight townhomes – the first floor will consist of 8 studio type apartments that could also be used as commercial space. The second and third floors, which have separate entrances, will be occupied by 8 townhome style 2-story units. The original idea was that they could be live/work spaces, or that renters would live in the studio units and their rents would help cover the mortgages of the townhouse owners. Offhand, I remember they were to be in the upper 300s to low 400s price range.

The general aesthetics of the design remained the same – as with the apartments, the for-sale townhouses are being designed by local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative. The facade “features historic and contemporary elements of rustic bricks, steel, traditional clapboard siding, and window casings”, per STREAM’s website. Five of the townhomes are larger – 645 SF studios with 2 bed/2 bath 1,608 SF units above, for a total of 2,253 SF in the “Unit A” townhouses. “Unit B”, with three examples, is a little smaller, with 514 SF studios and 2 bed/2 bath 1,384 SF upper-level units, for a total of 1,898 SF (the IDA application shows slightly different square footages for each unit, probably due to design revisions). Four units will have private elevators. The property will be landscaped and include eight on-site parking spaces with access to nine more next door. The public will have access to the waterfront on a paved promenade.

During this second round of review, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five had their balconies moved from the second floor to the third floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design was still roughly the same, the changes were only in the details.

The second set of reviews did get drawn out a bit because the project was caught up in the city’s TM-PUD affair, their fight to keep the Maguires from moving forward with their dealership at Carpenter Business Park. But the design fit zoning and was in line with the city’s desire for a more active, denser waterfront. The project was approved in May 2017.

Six months later in November, Flash and Chernish sold a $203,000 stake in 323 Taughannock plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira, who own the Arnot Mall and some commercial and multi-family properties in the Elmira/Horseheads area. As 323T LLC, the new joint venture gave Arnot a 75% stake to Flash and Chernish’s 25%, meaning Arnot is now the primary developer. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the burgeoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city.

One of the decisions made in this change of ownership was that the units went back to being rentals – very expensive rentals, to the tune of $3,400-3,500/month for the upper-level units. By HUD guidelines, that’s affordable to someone making $140,000/year. The studios will go for $1,400-$1,500/month. Seeking a ten-year tax abatement, sales tax exemptions and mortgage tax exemptions proved to be the most controversial part of this project, and to be fair, it’s a tough sell from a public relations perspective to say your ultra-luxury units deserve a $605,855 tax abatement. But the IDA decided that the long-term property tax increase would be worth it, and the project could potential spur development elsewhere on the island and the West End, and granted the exemptions in January 2018. One of the people who raked the developers and the IDA over the coals was Amanda Kirchgessner, back when she was a well-meaning citizen and before she became a highly controversial state senatorial candidate.

Tompkins Trust Company has lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. 323 T LLC partner equity was expected to be $1.153 million at the time of the IDA application, but that may have changed, since the bank loan was only expected to be $3.461 million at the time – total project cost was $4.615 million.

Ithaca’s Taitem Engineering is in charge of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural design services. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company, working with applicant contractor D Squared Inc. (Doug Boles and Doug Dake) of Lansing. Benson’s primary work is as a modular and timber-frame builder for properties in and around southern New Hampshire where they’re based. With 323, the wood-frame wall system will actually be framed and sheathed off site by Benson, and transported over to be assembled by D Squared like pieces of a puzzle. The modular approach potentially saves on materials and labor costs makes the construction itself more energy efficient, and may make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage. The plan is to have the project be “nearly net-zero”, meaning it’s efficient in its energy use, and close to having all of its energy needs met by renewable sources (the project will be powered by an off-site solar array). For the record, yes it will use heat pumps.

Taitem also designed the rather unusual timber-based pile system deployed at the project site. The project itself is relatively light as building go, but because of the waterlogged soils, a deep foundation is still required for structural stability. Instead of heavy-duty steel, treated timber can do the job for a fairly modestly sized project like this, an affordable, lighter-load alternative. As long as the timber isn’t exposed to high levels of oxygen (open air, there isn’t enough dissolved in groundwater), they can last for hundreds of years. You can see the piles in the photos below, and watch the pile driving process in the embedded Twitter video courtesy of Ithaca second ward councilman Ducson Nguyen. All the piles are in place, and a 6″ concrete slab will be formed and poured over the top.

Construction is expected to take about eight months, roughly placing a timeline for completion at summer 2019.

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Village Solars Construction Update, 11/2018

21 11 2018

The Village Solars complex is a development project that never truly stops. Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) only builds two or three new apartment buildings each year, but after four years of construction, it has resulted in quite a large development. A visit to the site shows the next buildings are just getting underway – based off the latest site plan, it appears to be Building “L” and Building “K”, which is a little out-of-order in that these two were supposed to built in 2020-2021, after another phase that so far remains unbuilt. Building L’s foundation has been formed and poured, with all the utilities poking out of the concrete, to be routed into the framing as the building goes up; Building “K” looks like it’s still in the excavation stage. The crushed stone helps with drainage, site leveling and preventing cracks in the concrete due to settling. That water will be pumped out before the footers are poured.

Each of the two buildings, which have slightly different designs, is designed to host 24 units – 3 three-bedroom, 6 two-bedroom, 3 one-bedroom, and 12 of the one-bedroom “micro-units”, which are 400-500 square feet. Expect a mid-2019 opening for the pair. Next year’s phase likely involves one more apartment building in Phase “4”, as well as the construction on their mixed-use community center building (Building “F”), which will go in that empty space in the last photo. The town of Lansing’s Village Solars amended PDA law (#6 of 2016, to be technical) says the developers are only allowed one more building to be built before the community center must be constructed, and that the center must be built by the end of 2020.