602 West State Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

The new Elmira Savings Bank is open in Ithaca’s West End, and this project is done. A former restaurant is now 5,000 SF of renovated space plus 1,600 SF in a contemporary addition. Design-wise, it’s a smart re-use of a century-old structure, modernizing it but maintaining the integrity the original structure. Kudos to HOLT Architects for a successful blend of old and new. Elmira’s Edger Enterprises brought the $1.7 million project from the drawing board and into reality.

There’s no doubt that the project is further proof in the increased vitality and attraction of Ithaca’s long-forsaken West End, and another step on the the path to turning it into a stronger neighborhood. Within just a block, one has the new Planned Parenthood (2014), the 17-unit Iacovelli Apartments (2013), the renovated HOLT Architects office (2016), a gas station renovated into the Jade Garden restaurant (2015), and the new microbrewery opening up in the rear of the Cornell Laundry warehouse.

If there is one thing I wish had gone different with this project, it was the sale of the property and removal of three low-income families. That got ugly, and it tarnished what was otherwise a decent project. The story I’ve been told in the two years since is that the bank were mislead by the previous owner, who gave them old rental paperwork saying tenants were month-to-month, and ESB mistakenly assumed it was still accurate. So there’s something to be said about due diligence and taking a couple hours out to meet with tenants before any notices go out.

The northern end of the property has preserved a few mature trees, and in the long-run ESB would like to partner with a developer, affordable or otherwise, to do something along West Seneca. Plus, there are organizations like Lakeview, who coincidentally looked at doing a development where ESB is nowand are moving forward with affordable housing in the West End. More opportunities for mixed-use plans with market-rate and affordable housing will open up as properties go on the market and Ithaca’s economy continues to develop – and plans like Cayuga Med’s are big if auspicious question marks.

While it’s great to have new housing plans brought forward, it’s also important to maintain existing affordable housing (and programs to assist) while adding those new options. With Lakeside and Parkside scooped up and pushed upmarket, and Maple Hill now market-rate Ithaca East, that takes hundreds of units out of the equation, and this is a significant concern. It’s no surprise that tensions boiled over given the difficulties in preserving existing LMI housing options, and in approving and building new ones.

Anyway, enough with the final thoughts. Enjoy the photos.

Before:

After:





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

15 07 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 





107 South Albany Street Construction Update, 6/2017

22 06 2017

Seems fair to move this one over into the construction column. Introducing 107 South Albany Street.

The State Street Corridor represents one of Ithaca’s best possibilities for infill development. It’s a mixed-use area with a hodge-podge of buildings and styles, from ornate century-old properties to commercial utilitarian structures. It has a number of sites that have easy access to downtown and amenities, permitting a walkable lifestyle. It’s also less expensive than downtown properties. With this in mind, the city rezoned much of it in 2013 to allow for 5-story buildings, up to 60 feet tall, with no need for parking. The zoning was a simple box overlay regardless of lot lines, which resulted in some “secret” infill opportunities like 512-514 West Green Street, whose rear yard was in the rezoned area, and as a result, owner Carmen Ciaschi was able to legally slip in a two-family home without adding additional parking.

107 South Albany Street was rezoned as a result of the 2013 overlay. The existing property was a mixed-use two-story home that had an apartment on the upper floors, and converted on the first floor to commercial office functions (law office). This presented an opportunity for the enterprising developer.

Enter Stavros (Nick) Stavropoulos. The West Hill native, whose family runs the State Street Diner, runs a small rental company, Renting Ithaca. However, Stavropoulos has slowly and steadily made his way from management to real estate development – first with additions to existing buildings like 318-320 Pleasant Street, and then entirely new properties like 514 Linn Street in 2015, and a project currently at 1001 North Aurora Street. His M.O. so far has been to find middling properties in desirable locations, and add inoffensive infill rental housing – nothing that stretches code, nothing that will anger the neighbors. Earlier projects were designed by Lucente family favorite Larry Fabbroni, but more recent projects have turned to a low-profile, longtime Ithaca architect named Daniel Hirtler, who runs Flatfield Designs. Stavropoulos picked up 107 South Albany Street for $236,000 in August 2015.

Seemingly, each project he takes on is larger than the last. 1001 North Aurora is a 4-unit project, 12 bedrooms with a hard cost of about $400,000. 107 South Albany is slated to be his latest and greatest yet. The original plan, as introduced in Spring 2016, was to build a new six-unit building at the rear of the existing house, and renovate the house into three apartment units, for one studio, six one-bedroom units, and two two-bedroom units. After a few months of planning board review and critique from the design committee, the 3,954 SF, $500,000 plan was approved and slated to start in July 2016.

However, that plan never moved forward. Instead, this past winter, Stavropoulos decided to submit a new set plans. The new plan called for eleven units and eleven bedrooms, but instead of retaining the existing house, it would be deconstructed and replaced with a new three-story, 8,427 SF building. With its neighbors including a former gas station-turned medical service and older, historic structures, the building’s design is an attempt to bridge the gap. The front sports a cornice, a brick veneer on the first floor, tan fiber cement lap siding above and a traditional window arrangement. In contrast, a stucco finish fiber cement stair tower in the middle of the structure serves as a visual interest for passerby on West State Street, and gives the building a modern touch. The building’s height is capped at 40 feet 5 inches, well below the constraints set by the zoning.

The building isn’t designed for active street use, with a recessed entry and bike storage area for privacy, and no first-floor windows on the front facade. However, in an attempt to create an attractive streetscape, the building uses lighted wall recesses on the exterior, the brick work will have decorative patterns, and a large semi-circular iron trellis that will be adorned with native twining vines. The project cost is $946,600, according to the city’s Site Plan Review document.

As of this month, Finger Lakes ReUse has deconstructed the existing house, cleaned and processed the salvaged materials, and has them for sale at their warehouse/store on Old Elmira Road. The foundation and front staircase are all that remain. The plan is to start construction on the new building in the September/October time frame, and to have it open for occupancy by summer 2018. No contractor or construction manager has been named as of yet.

From June:

From May:

Pre-development:

Isometric Plan and interior layout:

 

 





Hotel Ithaca Construction Update, 6/2017

21 06 2017

This project isn’t 100% complete – some stone veneer still needs to be applied, and the landscaping needs to be seeded – but for practical purposes, the new wing is ready for occupancy and this project is done. The first hotel guests in the new wing are unpacking their bags this month, and already there are chairs out on the balconies. The project began in March 2016, which gives a period of about 15 months from launch to opening. Interior and balcony photos can be found on The Hotel Ithaca’s twitter account.

As a project, it’s not inspiring architecture, and rather than market growth, it’s more about keeping the Hotel Ithaca successful in Ithaca’s upward trending downtown market. But it adds a few jobs, it’s a $15 million investment, and it demonstrates strong, sustained support for Ithaca’s leisure and hospitality market.

Hart Hotels of Buffalo, founded by David Hart in 1985 and operating locally under the name Lenroc L.P., was the project developer. Krog Corporation, also of Buffalo and a favorite of Hart Hotels, was the general contractor. NH Architecture of Rochester, another frequent partner of Hart Hotels, was the project architect. NH Architecture is rather busy lately, as architect for both Dryden’s Poet’s Landing, and Lansing’s Cayuga View Senior Housing.

Side note – I’ve heard through the rumor mill that the owners of the Sunoco next door have been offered very lucrative sums to sell their gas station, as it’s on a choice corner for development close to the Commons, and allows a 100-foot tall building. But alas, the owners have had no interest in selling.





Tompkins Financial Corporation HQ Construction Update, 6/2017

20 06 2017

Over to the Tompkins Financial HQ. The rear face is a bit strange-looking at first glance because there’s a set of steel beams projecting right next to the first layers of gypsum sheathing, so it’s not clear where the back of the building is. A look at the plans indicates that the rear steel extension outlines a future stairwell, which projects a little further back from the main body of the building. The eastern segment of the skeleton has yet to be built past the elevator core, and consequently the rest of the rear/north wall projection has yet to be erected. As the rest of the structural steel is bolted into place, that will be boxed up, decked and sheathed.

The lower floors have been sprayed with an undercoat of fireproofing, and are starting interior build-out with steel stud walls and concrete masonry units (cinder blocks). Under the safety cover, the fire-proof gypsum panels extend the full height of the building, with rough openings for future windows. Note that the top floor is set back a little bit from the lower floors, which can seen a little better in April’s update; this will be faced with a black brick veneer, while the projecting wall of the lower floors will be faced with a lighter stone. This feature was designed to make the building’s bulk a bit more subtle, and to respect the size and fenestration (window arrangement) of the DeWitt Mall next door.

Still a ways out from its March 2018 delivery date, but it looks like LeChase has things on track.





1001 North Aurora Street Construction Update, 6/2017

19 06 2017

Admittedly, at the moment this pair of two-family homes looks rather bland from Aurora Street, and slapdash from Queen Street. However, it looks like the painting is just starting. The LP SmartSide wood siding will be painted with Sherwin-Williams “Rice Grain” on the first floor and dormer, and the second floor will use S-W “Sawdust”. The swatches of wood shingle on the eastern building have the darker color on both the second floor and dormer, which doesn’t match the city’s filing, but paint typically isn’t the type of detail that will get you in trouble unless it was a stipulation of approval. The short of it is, it’s not clear if anything has changed with the paint scheme, but it might have. The trim boards will be painted S-W “Nacre”.

Another task still on the to-do list is building the porches that both units in the building will share. It’s a T-configuration – residents will step out and down their own step onto a shared landing at the top of the front steps. The porches will have decorative columns and banisters, and access panels below the porch landing. Most of the porch will be built with pressure-treated wood and painted in off-white “Nacre”, there will be dark brown steps (treated wood?), and the access panels will match the siding. About the only thing not wood will be the handrails, which will be steel.

A peek inside shows that the drywall has been hung. The next steps are typically flooring, cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and tiling, interior trim boards (baseboards, crown moulding) and painting. After that will come appliances and the finish work.

The 3-bedroom, 1.5 bath units at 202 and 206 Queen Street should be ready for occupancy later this summer. There were going for $2325/month ($775/bedroom) on Craigslist, and there haven’t been any ads lately, so it’s probably safe to assume all four units have been rented. Stavros (Nick) Stavropoulos is the developer, and Daniel Hirtler is the architect.





210 Hancock Construction Update, 6/2017

18 06 2017

210 Hancock is chugging towards completion later this summer. Lecesse Construction has all four sub-components of the apartment building have been framed and sheathed. Building A is almost finished from the outside, with some exterior finished and trim still on the to-do list. The Blueskin will be faced with Alpolic aluminum panels, some of which have already been installed. Masonry work is underway on Building C, using Redland Whitehall Brick (it’s not often one sees unpainted white brick). More information on the exterior materials can be found in April’s post.

Note that the buildings are all elevated at least a few feet from ground level, and it’s particular noticeable with the five rental townhouses on the northeast corner. This is because of floodplain restrictions – several blocks of Fall Creek and Northside have the unfortunate luck of being in the 100-year floodplain, and most of Northside except for few blocks around Lewis and Jay Streets are in the 500-year floodplain. This approximated frequency is at risk of decreasing as the inlet gets clogged and layered with fresh silt, and with less volume and capacity, the un-dredged inlet would be more likely to have a high water event overflow its banks. It’s one of many reasons why the city is pressing for state dredging of the inlet before disaster strikes.

WHCU reported a few weeks ago that INHS has had no shortage of applicants for the 210 Hancock rentals. After receiving over 200 applications, they set up a lottery in which 122 “made it through” , and then selected the top 60 (there are 59 rental units though…might be a just in case there’s a drop-out, or it could just be conversational rounding). If it’s anything like New York City’s lottery, what happens is that each application is validated, sorted for requested unit type, and is assigned a randomized log number – those who get 1-48 for the one-bedroom subset, and 1-11 for the two-bedrooms subset, are awarded dibs on a unit, so long as they pass the income check and background check. In previous measures, about 86% of rental applicants, six out of every seven, came from inside Tompkins County, with just under half from other parts of the city of Ithaca.

The seven for-sale units are also just beginning sales marketing. The three on Hancock are, from east to west, 204, 206 and 208 Hancock Street, and the four for-sale units on Lake Street going south to north are 406, 408, 410 and 412 Lake Street. 206 Hancock, 408 Lake and 410 Lake will be 910 SF 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath units that will sell for $112,000 to qualified buyers. 406 Lake and 412 are 1088 SF, 2 bed 1.5 bath units priced at $129,000. The largest units, 204 Hancock and 208 Hancock, are 1300 SF, 3 bed 1.5 bath units that will sell for $145,000. The plan is to have buyers lined up for all seven units by the end of the year.