News Tidbits 3/12/17: Affordable Housing Week 2017

13 03 2017

It’s been a busy week. Let’s start by reviewing some of the entrants for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 16th and 23rd as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants, same number as last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.982 million requested, and $1.149 million available; that’s up from $1.85 million requested in 2016, with $1.54 million available (about $273,900 of that came from the returned funding for INHS’s cancelled project at 402 South Cayuga Street). In fact, the amount of money available is the lowest it’s been in a few years – in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. With the increasing requests, the chances for funding have gone down this year.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. The big new proposal coming out this year appears to be Lakeview Health Service’s plan for the corner of North Meadow and West Court Streets on the city’s West End. I expanded on the basics in a Voice article here, but for the blog’s sake, we’ll take a look at the finances.

In terms of leverage, it’s a pretty big project – a request of $250,000 towards a $20,081,186 project. However, keep in mind this project is only eligible for HOME funds and not CDBG (Federal Community Development Block Grants), and the city only has $295,245 in HOME funds to work with after overhead is taken into account – this is a pretty substantial request for something still in the conceptual stages.

The project fills a substantial by providing 50 units of affordable rental housing, all 1-bedroom units, in a 5-story building. Not only that, but half of those units would be set aside for those living with psychiatric disabilities. Ten of the general housing units would be available to those making 50-60% of area median income (AMI, about $27-$32k), with the other 40 going for less than or equal to 50% AMI. Those units will be interspersed with the general affordable housing. The special needs residents will be considered case-by-case; it’s for those who are generally independent, but may need assistance in stressful or difficult times. Lakeview will maintain an office on the first floor that will be staffed 24/7.

Some retail space will also be available on the first floor, which helps to cover the operational expenses, and meets the city’s goal of a more dense and vibrant West End. 17 parking spaces will be provided, so it’s expected the residents will utilize bikes and mass transit. The design will be slab-on-grade, with a deep foundation – soil in this part of the city is poor due to the high water table, so projects either have to be one or two floors with slab foundations, or they have to build enough floors to accommodate the costs of driving piles into the ground, in this case 80 feet down. This is something to keep in mind with the waterfront rezoning, as the soils are pretty similar.

The pro-forma assumes $730,300 in income in the first year after vacancies are noted, and about $313,500 in expenses, leaving a little over $416,800 for debt service. Everything goes up a little bit each subsequent year for inflation. The debt service is scheduled to last for 50 years.

Rochester’s PLAN Architectural Studios is the architect, so expect a modern design not unlike the cancelled concept plan for the Elmira Savings Bank site on West State and Meadow. The preliminary floor plan suggests the retail will face West Court Street rather than the Meadow/13 corridor.

As with many affordable projects, this one has a rather extended schedule due to the need to compete for public grants in tandem with private loans – funding applications are being submitted this year with loan awards during 2018, including the IURA’s. Construction would be from October 2018 to April 2020, with rent-up shortly thereafter. It’s odd to think this likely won’t even show up in the 2020 census, but we’re starting to get that far into the decade.

2. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity is continuing to move forward with their 4-unit townhouse plan at 402 South Cayuga. The non-profit has agreed to purchase the land from the city for $32,000, a below-market price that the city is fine with accepting, given Habitat’s plans for 4 owner-occupied affordable townhomes for those making 30-60% area median income (AMI). They are requesting $80,000 towards the $270,000 cost. It appears that Habitat’s splitting it into two phases, two units in each – given the small size of their organization, it’s a sensible approach. $540,000 for ~5200 SF of units is also quite a deal, at about $104/SF, about half the cost of an INHS project. Habitat does have volunteer labor that it can utilize.

Habitat is hoping to parlay the Morris Avenue two-family they’re doing later this year into sustained interest and funding for Cayuga Street – attracting donors with one city project, who might be interested in donating time and dollars to the next one. Like with Lakeview, construction is likely on a 2018-2020 timeframe. They’re also only eligible for HOME funds, so either Lakeview or Habitat will not be getting their full request, possibly both.

3. On the economic development side, TCAction is requesting $84,200 towards their $8.25 million childcare center at 661-665 Spencer Road. The project is part of the Amici House plan and was approved by the city concurrently, but technically separate from the 23 units of vulnerable youth housing being provided next door.

Named for a late, long-time TCAction employee Harriet Giannelis, the project helps fund the site acquisition – one of the land parcels is owned by the county, and TCAction has a $184,000 purchase lease-back agreement (the county bought the land from a private owner, and they’re currently leasing it to TCAction), which will be paid off partly with the IURA funds. The new 7,010 SF childcare center will provide daycare and early-education programs (Head Start) to 40 low-income children. Although promising three new jobs in the application, TCAction expects 21 Full-time equivalent positions to be created. It’s easier to provide an employee’s lifetime income documentation for 3 staff vs. 21. Welliver will be the project contractor, so expect local union labor.

Most of the other funds come from county, state and federal grants – another $500,000 comes from a loan with M&T Bank.

4. Also on the economic side is Finger Lakes Re-Use’s expansion plan at 214 Old Elmira Road. the non-profit has refined their plans for a new mixed-use expansion, and plans to start the city’s formal project review process later this month. Some of the numbers have been tweaked a little bit, but the basic components are the same – Finger Lakes ReUse would work with Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) to bring a new 4-story, 26,100 square-foot (SF) building to FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The first floor would expand FLR’s retail operation, while the upper floors would provide office space for FLR, and 22 units of transitional housing for formerly homeless individuals. Plans also call for an 8,100 SF warehouse for salvaged lumber/wood, and a 600 SF pavilion. 79 parking spaces are included in the project.

As with TCAction’s Giannelis Center, 9 FTE jobs are expected to be created by the $10 million project, but FLR promises to provide previous income documentation for 3. The monetary request from the CDBG funds is $100,000, and they will also be using Welliver. Welliver seems to be the safe choice when a developer wants subcontracted or direct local union labor.

The application states the $100k is going towards site acquisition, which I’m not fully following since they own the property and it doesn’t appear any new property is to be acquired. Perhaps the site has legal stipulations that have to be bought away? It’s not totally clear.

If I can be an architecture critic for a moment, I like the warm colors, but that largely blank east stairwell is kinda bleak. Maybe use those orange panels on that as well? Or another warm color?

Anyway, we’ll find what the IURA thinks; funding will be determined by the end of April, and formally awarded in June after the city’s Planning Committee signs off on the disbursement.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

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3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.





News Tidbits 5/28/16: A Battle Between Neighbors

28 05 2016

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1. It seems the Planning Board had something of a philosophical crisis at their meeting, per the Times’ Josh Brokaw. The cause of the crisis is Neil Golder, Todd Fox and 201 College Avenue. Here’s the backstory.

201 College is a 2.5 story, 12-bedroom house on the corner of College and Bool. Local developer Todd Fox has a proposal on the boards for a 5-story apartment building (shown above). Neil Golder lives next door at 203. He moved into 203 in 1972 when he was a grad student at Cornell, bought the place in the early ’90s, lived there with his partner Kathy until she passed a couple of years ago. He still lives there, and rents out spare bedrooms.

201 and 203 were rezoned as part of the 2014 Collegetown rezoning to MU-1. This came only after years of debate, and Neil was one of the residents who pushed to have the properties rezoned in 2009 with a payment in lieu of parking scheme that upset a lot of the landlords, who mounted a significant legal challenge that prevented the rezoning from happening – more about that can be found in this Voice explainer.

For the record, Golder has never been much of a fan of development in Collegetown. His two big things have been that density is bad (but he seems to have mellowed on this issue since the parking push in 2009), and that Collegetown needed a grocery store. He was supportive of Collegetown Crossing because the developer (the Lowers) live next door at 205 and Greenstar will be opening a grocery store on the ground floor.

So, back to the zoning. There are nine MU-1 properties. The four between Catherine and Cook belong to Novarr – he has not expressed any intent to redevelop them. The other five are 215, 209, 205, 203 and 201 College Avenue. Novarr has expressed intent to redevelop 215 starting in late 2017. 209 is Grandview House, a historic landmark, and pretty much untouchable. 205 is Lower’s house, 203 is Golder, and then you have 201.

201 is the southernmost of the nine, and therefore most likely to stand out. The thing is, zoning consistent, when development happens organically, it means the parcel most likely to stand out isn’t necessarily the last one to get developed, nor will it necessarily be the smallest. In this case, the physical transition is from 2.5-3.5 story houses, to 5-story apartment, to 2.5 story house, and then a 3.5 story house and 5-story boarding house.

As of right, Todd Fox can build up to 5 floors and 70 feet tall as an average height. The site slopes slightly, so the building is shorter on the north side than the south side. The design fits the zoning – but it has to go to the BZA for a couple of minor area variances, one for entrances off of Bool, and the other, the board requested the project incorporate – the building was moved northward slightly to allow for street trees and a wider sidewalk on College Avenue. The May agenda noted that the Board had no concerns with either variance.

Golder has sent letters to the Times and the Voice (directly to my colleagues Mike and Jolene but not to me, interestingly), he has been stopping people on the street to sign his petition, he’s tried the ILPC, Planning Board, Historic Ithaca, friends in city government, even the city forester, everything and everyone he can to try and halt the current plans, but there has yet to be a compelling, objective counter-argument.

Countering some of the claims in his many letters, the individual pine trees at the front are not historic landmarks or city-owned, the city has to review and approve of construction plans anyway, and the traffic issue had already been discussed back during the rezoning. The developer has agreed to push the building back, which will give more visibility to Golder’s driveway, and a curb bump-out at the corner is proposed as part of the project. So that leaves the aesthetic argument of “I don’t like it”, which puts the Planning Board in a really difficult spot because as long as the form districts say the design is fine, that argument won’t stand up to a legal challenge.

There is a strong argument with his solar panels, which have been a part of broader discussion within the city. 201’s height would marginalize Golder’s solar panels, so in that case the project causes non-subjective hardship; this could be mitigated if 201 has solar panels (they are being considered) and shares electric, or by other compensation. Although, it might depend on when the panels went in, before or after rezoning. If people start rushing to put up solar panels as a back-door method to thwart development, the city’s going to step in.

So here’s the essence of the issue – after years of fighting over zoning, and finally settling on a compromise in 2014, the city is faced with a development that is legal, but it’s vehemently opposed by a venerable and high-profile neighbor, where the objections can be effectively mitigated, but not necessarily the way he wants them to be. A planning board member has to find the balance between allowing everyone to have their say, and acknowledging valid issues that should be addressed, without letting individuals exert too much control over their neighbors and infringing on property rights.

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2. Okay, onto other things. The city might be acquiring a couple of sizable West End/Waterfront parcels from the county. The properties, which consist of a pier/boardwalk, informal parking and vacant land, are located at the end of West Court and Cascadilla Streets, and are being seized as a tax foreclosure. The county is looking at selling them to the city in exchange for the $42,844 in back taxes. The larger one is 2 acres, the smaller 0.6 acres, and in total they’re valued at $630,000. The owner, an LLC, picked them up for $156,625 in 1999.

If the city picks them up, they’ll be filed into the IURA’s holdings for potential sale down the line. As it is, the parcels have issues – the railway, accessibility, and soils down here are known for being difficult to build on. But in the long term, there’s potential for water-focused amenities, private development, or a combo of the two. It looks like a good investment given the city’s still-in-the-works plan to encourage redevelopment of the West End and Waterfront, so this is worth keeping an eye on as things move forward.

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3. The IURA reviewed funding proposals for affordable housing earlier this Spring, and the minutes are now online. the duplex at 622 West Clinton, and the affordable unit with the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga project were not funded. The IURA is encouraging 622’s applicant to re-submit for next year, and the minutes note that 402 is likely to still go forward, but without the affordable unit.

It’s also been noted that there is some discontent with INHS because the cost of their projects are coming in high, and that they would like more diversity in applying entities. However, the seven townhomes at 202 Hector and the single-family house at 304 Gector (all for-sale housing) are fully funded. The Habitat for Humanity duplex on the 200 Block of Third Street is also fully funded.

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4. Another piece of news from the IURA – the new occupant for the Rumble Seat Music building. It appears to be a drink bar called “Watershed Union“, serving coffee and juice by day and adult beverages by night. Five or six living wage jobs would be created. There might be some grumbling over the moral evils of alcohol, but the business plan has the support of neighboring businesses and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Also, the Canopy Hilton is still moving forward. But are doing a minor LLC ownership change to allow another Patel family member to be a part of the ownership team.

5. Hitting the market this week, for all those big-potato investors out there – the Belmont Townhouses at 324 Spencer Road. The listing from local realtor Brent Katzmann has the price set at $2,595,000, for a 14-unit complex that opened in 1995. The posting mentions the possibility of a 1031 Exchange, which allows an individual to sell a currently-owned investment property, and buy a new investment property of equal or greater value while avoiding capital gains taxes – continuity of investment locks up the profit gained from sale.

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6. House of the week. This house is on the 100 Block of Campbell Avenue on Ithaca city’s portion of West Hill. This home is being built by Carina Construction, an Ithaca-based modular home specialist. The foundation and garage were poured and the pieces were probably craned on and locked together sometime in the past few weeks – a little bit of siding has started to show up on the front. The process is a lot like the one Carina used to assemble the Belle Sherman Cottages across town.

Color me impressed, the design is unique, and once exterior details like the porch and second-level deck go on, I imagine it’ll look really nice. Tompkins Trust lent $280,000 back in April, and the construction permits were issued not long thereafter (the total project cost is in the $320k range, per the permit filing). The land was created in a lot subdivision last year, and sold for $35,000 last August.





Coming Up: Yet Another Round for CIITAP Revisions

9 03 2016

The city is trying yet another approach to CIITAP. This one involves cash payments.

Previously, the city considered a multi-faceted set of revisions, but a number of issues were raised – namely, there isn’t good documentation on stats such as the proportion of local labor typically involved in a CIITAP project. While the IDA voted in February to adopt a labor policy that requires solicitation of bids from local contractors and local labor participation in CIITAP projects, that’s more to provide future guidance after some projects have submitted documentation, and doesn’t achieve any near-term changes in CIITAP as requested from some corners.

So here comes the latest iteration, a lump sum deposit into a “community benefit fund” for general use (hopefully a formalized HOME/CDBG type of disbursement and not just a grab-bag for different programs). The idea was raised at the last PEDC meeting and the IURA explored options.

The overlying theme is to select a plan that doesn’t change affect bottom lines – not to make any easier on developers (the accusations of the current CIITAP being too easy is what brought about this revision in the first place), but to not chase them out to a hay field in Lansing either, costing the city a fund payment, jobs and future tax revenue, not to mention encouraging suburban sprawl. The IURA looked at a bunch of different proposals, shown below.

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The preferred option goes for a 1% upfront cost and a total abatement on increased property taxes for three years, and then moving to a 70% abatement on new construction for year 4, tapering to full taxation after year 10. This option was determined to have the least impact on a project’s financial feasibility.

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There’s a positive and a negative to this approach. If a developer is proposing a $20 million project, forking over $200,000 to the city right off the bat could be a major obstacle towards getting a loan and bringing an approved project into reality. But it might be overcome if they can effectively explain to an investor or potential lender the tax benefits in the financial analysis. It definitely makes the development picture more complicated, but this might be the only way to keep the current version of CIITAP, which has done a lot to help redevelop downtown. The Common Council members will share their at their Wednesday meeting.





Affordable Housing Week 2016

8 03 2016

Expanding on last year’s theme, it’s affordable housing week. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 24th and 28th as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants (up from 21 last year) range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.85 million requested, and $1.56 million available, so that means an 84% chance of funding, all parameters being equal. For comparison, in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. The chances for funding have gone up this year.

Part of the reason for the better chances this year is unfortunate – the return of $273,869 in 2014 HOME funding meant for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project that has not come to fruition. Although HOME funds can be awarded for rental projects, the funding was awarded by the city specifically for owner-occupied housing, so the money comes back into play. There’s also about $26,300 left over from last year that went unallocated.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

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1. Last year, INHS applied for and received almost $458k for 210 Hancock, for which site prep is currently underway. This year, they’re applying for funding for two projects – seven owner-occupied units at 202 Hancock (new tax parcel), and the single-family home planned for 304 Hector Street.

The 202 Hancock townhouses are requesting $567,000 towards a total project cost of $2,359,013. This is a high figure, but it also seems like it would address the recent, very major issue of rapidly rising construction costs derailing multiple affordable housing projects. INHS will be putting up $550,000 of its own money, and already has received a $280,000 city/county/Cornell grant (Community Housing Development Fund) towards the project. The rest comes from bonds, the state, land equity and the buyers themselves.

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Doing the math ($1,438,640 construction cost, 8,463 SF total), the construction cost budgeted is $170/SF, a little less than the $190/SF they paid for 203 Third Street, but not impossible. Perhaps a larger project of townhouses can utilize cost efficiencies to keep the price down a bit.

The two-story wood frame townhouses would be LEED Certified. Five two bedroom units (1,147 SF) would be sold for about $114,000, and the two three-bedroom units (1,364 SF) for $136,000, available to those making 60-80% of local AMI, or $37,000-$49,000/year. The townhouses would be a part of the Community Housing Trust (CHT), keeping them affordable even as they are sold to others in later years. the anticipated construction period is November 2016 – June 2017. HOLT Architects of Ithaca is designing the townhomes.

Design wise, they look halfway between the first iteration of the rental townhouses, and the approved version.

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2. Also from INHS, the 304 Hector application. The amount requested is $100,000 towards a $369,294 project. This seems remarkably high. In the application, INHS notes the construction costs of $262,000 are from actual bids received from Rick May Construction (who is also doing 203 Third Street) and subcontractors. The math comes out to about $191.50/SF. One of the reasons for the very high cost is that INHS is required to hire contractors with enough liability insurance to cover any major accidents, and a lot of smaller builders don’t have enough insurance. $40,000 has already been granted towards the project from the CHDF.

The house would sell for $142,000 to a family making $37,000-$49,000/year (60-80% AMI), the same parameters as the 202 Hancock townhouses. The house would also be a part of the CHT. An April 2017 – January 2018 construction is planned. Local company STREAM Collaborative is the house’s architect.

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3. Meanwhile, at the 402 South Cayuga Street site, developer/architect Zac Boggs and Isabel Fernandez are requesting $105,000 towards their 4-unit townhouse project, priced out at $1,020,000, of which $820,000 is for construction. Of the 4 units, one two-bedroom unit will be available to a family making 80% AMI or less (i.e. $49,000/year or less), selling at $150,000. The other three units, 2 2-bedroom and 1 3-bedroom, would be rented out for 2-5 years, and then sold on the “lower-end of market-rate”, which is estimated in the mid to upper $200s. The units would follow LEED standards, and the affordable unit would be put into the CHT.

Precision Builders of Ithaca would construct the project. A May 2016 – June 2017 build-out is planned, though it doesn’t appear to factor in the planning board approval process.

Aside from the grant, most of the funds for the project will come from a bank loan, with $120,000 of their own money and $40,000 in county bond funds. Assuming these are the same size as the 2 and 3-bedroom INHS townhouses, the construction cost comes out to about $170/SF.

One thing that comes to mind in the context of the inclusionary zoning debate is that this might be the only way to really go in the long-term. If INHS gets priced out of feasibility in the city, trying to cover the cost of affordable units with substantially more expensive market units might be the only option, which is a rather uncomfortable thought. One of the issues with inclusionary zoning is that it prices out the middle; developers have to make up the cost somewhere, and the market-rate units are the scapegoats. Communities end up with a small portion of affordable housing, but mostly expensive housing. With this project, part of the money is being recuperated by renting the other units for at least a few years, which some may scoff at, but costs are, what they are.

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4. Habitat for Humanity is requesting $75,000 towards their $305,500 duplex project at 101-107 Morris Street (to be redesignated 202-204 Third Street) on the Northside. Each unit will sell to a familiar making less than 60% AMI ($36,750/year), and the families will have to put in “sweat equity”, helping to build the houses (350 hours of labor). To keep costs down, labor is volunteer-based and materials are donated – as a result, the project only has a $180,000 construction cost, a little over $60/SF.

The units will be two-story, have porches and designed to fit into the neighborhood. The state has given the project a $70,000 grant already, and the city/county/Cornell CHDF has given $80,000. the rest is covered by corporate grants (Cargill, Lowe’s, M&T Bank) and individual donations. A timeline of April 2017 – April 2018 is anticipated.

No renders, but the above site plan was included in the application.

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5. Last, the only truly new project for this post. 622 West Clinton Street in the South Side neighborhood. The applicant, Jerame Hawkins, proposes deconstructing a decaying barn at the rear of the property and replacing it with an affordable owner-occupied duplex. Hawkins, who runs the county’s Youth Advocate Program, would make each unit available to a family making 60% AMI or less ($36,750/year or less), in particular Section 8. The duplex would be modular, 3-beds and 1,561 SF each, with Carina Construction and Finger Lakes ReUse working with Hawkins on the project. The construction cost of $292k works out to about $93/SF.

The house at the front of the property, which dates from the late 1800s, would be renovated and retained as affordable housing. Hawkins is requesting a grant of $135,000 towards the $364,634 project. A project timeline of October 2016 – January 2017 is given in the application.

The one potential red flag I’m seeing is a line in the app that says “retaining for a minimal [sic] of 1 year”. Either that gets clarified and extended, or the IURA won’t be interested this proposal on account of it not being affordable for long enough a period of time.





News Tidbits 2/13/16: A Week of Uncomfortable Prospects

13 02 2016

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1. We’ll start off this week with some zoning and land-use discussion. the village of Lansing, which tends to have a very tight grip on their zoning, modified their code for a new addition, called “Commercial Medium Traffic” (CMT). The zone, which has taken about two years to get to this point, will override what is currently zoned a Commercial Low Traffic (CLT) area. As a result of the rezoning, some previously-okayed uses in their CLT zone – clinics, group homes, construction storage, sit-down restaurants – have been removed, but adds cafeterias and assisted living facilities. Splitting hairs, one supposes. Looking at the use guidelines, about the only big use the CMT allows that CLT doesn’t is “small-scale sales” like boutique shops, and “low-traffic food and beverage”, which covers bars and sit-down restaurants.

The reason for this change comes from a couple of angles – the village has a number of vacant or underutilized parcels in the affected area, which they feel is detracting. Developers have approached the board about building retail/restaurant space on some of the land, but that would have required rezoning to commercial high traffic. But the high traffic zone also allows “hotels and big boxes”, so the village needed an in-between. Now it’s finally in place.

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2. Now for another land use debate. The town of Ithaca has authorized doing an analysis on what a fair bid would be for the development rights of 33 acres of land off of Seven Mile Drive and Route 13. These parcels are currently farmed by the Eddy family, and a mini-golf facility was previously proposed on one of the properties. Before that, they were to be included in the 2014 Maguire development before the Maguires pulled their project, partially because the town said the dealership and headquarters proposal wasn’t in line with their new Comprehensive Plan.

The problem is, neither is this. The town would buy this with the intent on keeping all of it farm fields. The comprehensive plan called for TND Medium Residential (townhouses, elder cottages, small apartment buildings and compact single family) and the “Inlet Valley Gateway” (quoting the plan, “intended to be a setting for a mix of office, small-scale retail, hospitality, and tourism and agritourism uses, with low-impact light industrial, artisanal industrial, and skilled trade uses”). The concern is, if the town starts displacing development from the areas recommended, developers will start looking at areas where it’s not recommended.

For the record, the 22.38 acre parcel is for sale for $425,000, and the 10.59 acre parcel is for sale at $325,000. The assessed value is only $188,800 total. The development rights will probably fall somewhere between. This definitely isn’t as cut-and-dry as the 62 acres the town picked up for $160k in December. The town will have an idea of the cost for the rights later this year.

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3. A few notes from this week’s TCIDA agenda. The Hotel Ithaca project is up for final approval of its tax abatement, which given that the public meeting drew not a single commenter, shouldn’t have any issues going forward. 210 Hancock also has some slight tweaks to its agreement, and Simeon’s is applying for a sales tax exemption on construction materials and refurbishment. The $660,000 project’s exemption would be worth $27,079 by their calculation. Simeon’s estimates 27 jobs at opening, and 14 new positions over 3 years, about half of which appear to be living wage. The tax exemption amount is small enough that it seems like a non-issue, but we’ll see what happens if the application is accepted and a public hearing scheduled.

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4. From the city Planning and Economic Development Committee – the Commons street-level active-use ordinance and the waterfront Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development (TM-PUD) were moved to go ahead to the Common Council next month. More on the Commons ordinance here, and the TM-PUD here.

Committee members were favorable to an amendment to the cell phone tower fall-zone law, though perhaps not in the most ideal way for Modern Living Rentals’ 87-unit 815 South Aurora proposal. On the bright side, a draft law for circulation could be ready by April. On the not so bright side, the city’s going with the 120% value used by other municipalities – that would give the 170 ft. tower near the project site a 204 ft. no-build fall zone instead of the current 340 ft. (200%), but it’s still greater than the 180 ft. MLR requested. This means the project would probably need to be revised somewhat if that’s the version of the law that moves forward. But, something would be better than nothing.

Oh, and the chicken law was voted for circulation, which opens the possibility of a council vote in April, for 20 test subjects in a pilot program.

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5. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency is in a bit of a dilemma. INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project, which has 4 units of affordable owner-occupied housing, is stalled. The construction costs are rapidly rising out of the range of feasibility. The only way it moves forward is if it’s a rental project, which is easier to finance.

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Ostensibly, the IURA would like owner-occupied housing. And a rival proposal has been offered by local architect Zac Boggs and his partner, former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández. It would offer four rentals for 2 to 5 years, and then go up for sale – in the $180-$230k range, which is somewhat more than the $110-$130k range typically offered by INHS. So what do you do? Sacrifice some affordability for some home ownership, or vice-versa? The IURA needs to figure that out. Additional renders and cover letter here.

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6. I think this is the ninth iteration of the Canopy hotel; quite possibly the most version of a single project I have on file. What’s changed since last time? Well, the inset panels in the northwest wall are back. Some cast stone was added to the base,  the second floor rood deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised. It looks like an improvement, and hopefully one that Baywood Hotels can bring to reality after being stuck in finance limbo for so long. Additional imagery here, cover letter from local architectural consultant Catherine de Almeida here.

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7. The Times’ Michael Nocella ran a really nice piece this week looking at the past, present and future of development in Varna. According to the article, Modern Living Rentals (my sympathies to Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox, since all of their projects seem to be wrapped up in one debate or another) needs a unanimous vote of approval for the 8-unit, 26-bed addition to 902 Dryden Road to be able to move forward (a 6-bed duplex already exists on the property). In Dryden, the five-member town board does the vote, and the current Dryden town supervisor helped close the sale of the parcel to MLR, so he must recuse himself. Shooting it down at this point, after the project’s cut its size by 40% from 18,000 SF to 11,000 SF, would be very unfortunate, and create an uncomfortable disconnect between the Varna Master Plan designed with community input, and what the board thinks Varna should have.

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As mentioned in the article, the northeast corner of Rt. 366 and Freese Road is one of those parcels where the town and Varna residents think development should happen, but really isn’t feasible. I remember when Todd Fox shared his proposal (STREAM Collaborative’s drawing above) with the town for that corner, and the reception was very positive, much more so than the owner’s earlier plan for 20 modular townhomes. Then not long after, everything ground to a halt. MLR decided not to buy the parcel after it turned out the land was incredibly unstable (there used to be a huge pile of material on the site, dubbed “Mount Varna”; the story of which gets written about extensively on the Living in Dryden blog, since Simon St. Laurent and the owners had quite the feud going). The chances of anything but grass growing on that corner is pretty low.

So, with the former “Mount Varna” land in mind, a master plan is not an exact thing; if it shows for three sets of five townhouses on a parcel, that’s not what may necessarily may happen. It just indicates the kind of density and scale of development the plan deems appropriate. 902 Dryden isn’t drawn on the master plan, but the plan welcomes the idea of townhouses on Forest Home Drive, which 902 abuts. So a vote in favor of the 8 new townhouses is, indirectly, a vote of support in the Varna Master Plan.

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8. The town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee will be looking into writing up and establishing a moratorium on all 2-unit residential buildings at its meeting next week. Doesn’t specify location, or rental vs. owner-occupied; just a ban on buildings with two units.

On the one hand, this is probably an attempt to curb student housing being built near IC; the town’s Planning Committee chair is someone with a long history of fighting development, and is seeking greater input on the Planning Board’s discussions. Students and student-amenable housing are just his favorite topics as of late. But the agenda doesn’t specify the type of unit or location, and that is very concerning. From a number of reasons, a broad-brush moratorium, without regard to neighborhood or owner occupancy, doesn’t seem like a good idea.

1) If the goal is to limit student housing, only a small geographic subset of the town is really necessary. IC students, which seem the primary cause of concern, congregate only in the neighborhood adjacent to campus.
2) The moratorium could harm affordable home-ownership. In a number of cases, one unit is occupied by the owner, and the other is rented out as a source of income.
3) Limiting new supply keeps housing costs high and pressures them to rise higher, since demand will not be altered by the moratorium.
4) The town only permits a small number of units each year. In 2014, it was 10 single-family and 2 2-unit properties (so, 14 units total). In 2013, it was 25 single-family, 10 2-unit. The preliminary 2015 numbers are 21 single-family, and 3 2-unit. There were no permits for structures with 3 units or more.

I asked Ithaca town planner Dan Tasman, and while his email notes that it’s targeted at student rentals, it doesn’t assuage my concerns of being too broad of an execution.

“The Town’s zoning code allows accessory apartments in some zones.  The intent is to let a resident have a close family member or friend live with them, or a tenant to help pay the mortgage, in a space that’s more private.  Basically, an in-law apartment.  However, a few builders are taking advantage of the privilege.  They’ll build a house with an accessory apartment, and rent out both units, with student tenants in mind.

There’s also concern about a growing number of “student specials” — very utilitarian duplexes, purpose-built for student rental.  There’s quite a few of them on Pennsylvania Avenue and Kendall Avenue, near Ithaca College.  Their design and siting can often seem institutional, and out of place with the neighborhood’s residential character.”

I’m not a proponent of moratoriums at all, but I’m hopeful this proposal isn’t as broad as it looks. If the net is cast too wide, this is going to do a lot more harm than good.

 





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

23 01 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Site Plan Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VI. Zoning appeal recs for the Habitat duplex

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

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