News Tidbits 9/18/18

19 09 2018

1. Unofficially, here are the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee ratings for the four Green Street Garage proposals, with a screenshot courtesy of Councilor Steve Smith (D-4th Ward). I’m not quite sure how the total score was calculated, but overall, the Vecino Group’s proposal was the most highly rated, followed by the Visum/Newman Group submission. The general consensus was that the Harold’s Holdings plan was aesthetically pleasing but didn’t include enough of the benefits that the city was seeking, and the Ithaca-Peak proposal was underwhelming in terms of affordability and community benefits.

2. So here’s an interesting little item that came out of last week’s PEDC Meeting. A developer had apparently approached Committee Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) with the idea of redeveloping the Family Medicine site for an eight-story building. Murtagh did not state the intended mix of uses if any was stated (probably ground-level commercial with residential above), but he did express strong reservations for their plan, which would have required a PUD, the D-I-Y zoning the city uses to allow more flexible project design in exchange for community benefits signed off by the Common Council as well as the Planning Board.

Few would argue with the statement that the Family Medicine site, located on the 200 Block of West State Street just west of Downtown Ithaca, is underutilized. It’s a one-story ca. 1980 structure with surface parking. The Cornell Baker Program has used the site among others for student projects to come up with cost-efficient proposals in various parts of the city (officially for academic purposes, but no doubt the local development scene pays at least some attention to the final presentations). I remember one project that showed a seven-story building would be just enough of a return on investment to possibly entice redevelopment with Family Medicine remaining in the ground-level of the new structure. This theoretical proposal did make use of a tax abatement. By this argument, an eight-story proposal could be a better sell, or it could be the result of an attempt to work in an affordable housing component while still making enough money per square foot to appeal to lenders. Regardless of what the circumstances were to push eight floors, this idea likely won’t be coming to the planning board anytime soon.

3. It looks like the Ivy Ridge apartment project in Dryden has been sold to a new developer. An LLC associated with local real estate firm Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor) sold 802-812 Dryden Road for $2,075,000 on September 12th. Filed on the same day was a construction loan from M&T Bank to pay for construction of the project – a rather substantial $8.6 million for the 42-unit townhouse complex.

The buyer’s LLC could be traced back to a suburban Pittsburgh address for Matthew Durbin, and a little online searching indicates Durbin is a Cornell Johnson School (MBA) Alumnus, a former investment banker turned business executive. In short, he has a demonstrated familiarity with the Ithaca area, business acumen and the money to make things happen. Site prep is underway and no changes to the project design or timeline are indicated. As for O’Connor, he’s now a much wealthier man, and we’ll see if any of those recent gains are turned into equity for future MLR projects.

If anyone else is still looking for shovel-ready multi-family projects, 1061 Dryden is still for sale.

4. On a somewhat related note, 312 East Seneca Street was sold by Jagat Sharma (better known for his architecture firm, but 312 East Seneca house his office) for $800,000 on September 14th. The buyer was an LLC that traces back to the Stavropoulos Family on West Hill, who have undertaken a number of small to medium-sized development projects in the Ithaca area over the past several years.

This purchase would impact MLR and Visum Development’s plan for Seneca Flats, a 42,000 SF multi-story mixed-use structure at the corner of East Seneca and North Aurora. The two firms based their initial drawings on the presumed purchase of this building. However, they had also drawn up floor plans for options that did not include 312 East Seneca – offhand, the plan with the site had 85 units, the plan without had 60 units. Basically, lop off the rightmost (northern) quarter of the above drawing. As for the Stavropouloses Stavropoli, they paid more than double the assessed value ($390,000), so there’s a good chance they have their own plans.

5. This blog gravitates towards hard/quantitative data, so here are a few facts about the airport expansion from the SEQRA environmental forms:

– The Passenger Terminal Expansion. will consist of three additions totaling 15,600 SF. 8.500 SF is an addition to the passenger holding area (which makes flying sound about as comfortable as it feels), 5,400 SF for additional bagging screening space and office space for the TSA and for airlines, and 1,700 SF by the main entrance for expanded passenger circulation and ticket counter space.

– Apron reconstruction, 40,000 SF. The apron is the area where planes park, refuel, and where some passenger loading/unloading takes place.

– Utilities replacement, interior “building enhancements”, one new passenger boarding bridge, and refurbishment of the existing boarding bridge.

– Installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system using 40 underground wells, 350-400 feet deep, and a closed-loop piping system. The operation is similar to a heat pump system, using the earth’s latent heat as a reservoir. The ground disturbance area to install the wells will be about 15,000 SF (~0.35 acres).

– Installation of overhead canopies with solar panels in the airport parking lot.

-Construction of a new 5,000 SF customs facility. The facility will be a one-story masonry structure with steel framing. The facility will accommodate no more than twenty passengers, and is exclusively tailored towards international business visitors – it’s been previously stated that business executives and Asian visitors, who often come in via Canada, have expressed a strong interest in private jet accommodations.

– Approximately ten new employees as a result of the terminal expansion, and six more from the construction of the new customs facility, for a total of sixteen new full-time jobs.

6. Thanks to reader Alec for this tip – a collection of contiguous Avramis Real Estate-owned Collegetown rental properties at 120 Catherine, 122 Catherine, 124 Catherine, 128 Catherine, 302 College, 304 College, and 306 College were not made available for rent for the 2019-2010 academic year. A check with sources indicates that according to the rumor mill, a buyer has them under contract, but the sale has yet to be finalized.

This is worth noting because we’re talking about a multi-million set of properties with 68 existing beds, but more importantly they have significant redevelopment potential – the lots can be consolidated into a large MU-2 zoned parcel (six floors, 100% lot coverage no parking) and a large CR-4 zoned parcel (four floors, 50% coverage, no parking)In fact, back in 2014, the Avramises proposed a two-building development that would have resulted in about 102 units and 202 beds. The Jagat Sharma-designed proposal never began formal review. The off-record commentary was that the Avramises got cold feet during the heat of the Collegetown building boom, though given their central location, these properties would be better insulated from a downturn in the student rental market than Outer Collegetown or fringe neighborhoods. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

7. We’ll wrap this up with a pair of Dryden projects. The first, 1610 Dryden Road. Most folks better remember this barn as the former Phoenix Old Used and Rare Books, which closed in 2015 after a 30-year run. In early 2017, a proposal came along to use the barn as a trailer sales dealership, but it did not come to be. Now, for the second time in as many months, the proposal is a veterinary clinic, “Elemental Pet Vets”. Local veterinarian Curtis Dewey and his wife Janette are proposed to renovate the 6000 SF barn with accessory parking and landscaping. The property is zoned rural residential, so any commercial plan needs a Special Use Permit (SUP) from the town of Dryden. The town planning department is generally amenable to the reuse even if out of sync with zoning, so long as the parking and accessory structures are approved by the town, the curb cut meets NYS DOT regulations, and a landscaping buffer is in place. Ithacor of Cortland will be the general contractor.

The rendering is a bit…strange, so strange that I’m still not sure if they plan on taking down the pitched roof for a flat one, or if they decided thirty minutes in their late 1990s rendering software would convey enough to get approval. Seriously, this might be one of the worst renders I’ve seen for a project, and that’s saying a lot given the number of low budget drawings that go through the boards for small projects.

Meanwhile, as previous covered by the Journal, the Laser Brewer fashion boutique at 1384 Dryden Road has closed with the retirement of Peggy Laser after forty years of business, and her son Riley is expanding his Brew 22 coffee bar, kitchen and beer taproom to fill out the 3248 SF space. This project also requires an SUP because the younger Laser is adding a drive-through window (for the coffee and baked goods, brew-thrus are illegal in New York but okay in plenty of other states). Other than that and an exterior paint job, no further structural changes are planned.

 





News Tidbits 8/18/18

18 08 2018

1. Here’s the latest update to “The Village at Varna” the Trinitas proposal for the hamlet of Varna. The project had originally started with 224 units and 663 beds, and this latest iteration is down to 219 units and 602 beds. The most notable changes in this new layout are the incorporation of a three-story parking garage to conserve green space, and a larger retail area fronting Dryden Road – there’s nothing in the filing, but at a glance it’s about double the previous size, so from 800 to something around 1600 SF.

With the inclusion of a garage, that frees up more green space – at 55% of the site, it’s now only 4% lower than the requirement (59%, the site is a mix of Varna Hamlet zone types). 541 parking spaces are provided, vs. the 549 required by zoning, and there are some setback variances requested for setbacks from the property line buffers (the buffers themselves are the required 20′ width).

One thing that stands out to me as a potential issue isn’t shape or scale, but unit mix. Of those 219 units, 110 are four-bedroom units. Beyond the argument that four-bedroom units are clearly student oriented (the demand simply isn’t there within the general market), I’m doubtful the demand for 110 four-bedroom units exists outside of Collegetown. Most grad students who take a shine to Varna also opt for smaller spaces, and the undergraduates who fill 4 bedroom+ units generally aren’t interested in living this far out. What modest demand there is for four-bedroom units, is identified and met – projects like 802 Dryden have already incorporated a number of four-bedroom units in their plans. I understand that from a cost per square foot perspective, it’s more efficient to do four-bedroom units (one four-bedroom doesn’t need two kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms like two two-bedroom units would). But it would likely be tougher sell than Trinitas realizes, especially with Cornell planning to expand their campus offerings in the next few years.

To be frank, I’m firmly in the camp that Trinitas could do something good here, but I’m not sure this is it.

2. Let’s just throw another piece of bad news out there – even with the project redesign, PPM Homes cannot make the Ithaca Glass redevelopment work financially. That’s unfortunate not just because of the ten units of infill housing that may not be built, but it and the Wyllie Dry Cleaner redevelopment had received a $500,000 RESTORE NY grant. While that money is untouched, it doesn’t look good to the state that a project that the city vetted and advocated over competing projects has stalled out. To be fair, apparently not even Ed Cope knew of the structural issues at the time of application. The later revision for the Ithaca Glass site removed Wyllie’s from the grant award, and the status of that project isn’t clear. The IURA notes that Cope has talked with INHS about possibly selling them the site so they could go through with the original smaller and modern-looking overbuild, but the issue was that the overbuild wasn’t structurally feasible without a huge investment, and INHS has a lot of coals in the fire at the moment (offhand there’s the Salvation Army site, 209-213 Elm Street, 402 South Cayuga, the Green Street Garage, and Hamilton Square). It’s not looking good at the moment.

3. Speaking of which, quick update on the Salvation Army rebuild and expansion – it’s still in the works between them and INHS, but going slower than first anticipated. The project probably won’t be applying for construction funding this fall, but instead it’s expected to be reviewed by the city, approved and seeking affordable housing funds sometime next year.

 

4. At least the airport expansion project seems to be moving along. According to airport staff, the state has a heavy hand in it, and there have been weekly meetings to source fund to fill the $8 million gap needed to bring the $22 million project forward. Bids have already opened on phase one, the construction of the new main terminal, and the bidding period will close by the end of the month. Phase two, the geothermal power and new concourse, will be bid in early 2019, as will the third phase, the new solar array and U.S. customs facility.

5. Some good news on the affordable housing front, the county is set to disburse joint Cornell-Ithaca-Tompkins Community Housing Development funds funds to help Cornerstone Group’s Milton Meadows proposal move forward in Lansing, eventually totaling $256,875 towards the 72-unit apartment project. Milton Meadows would serve 14 households at up to 50% AMI (area median income, 100% = $59,000/year for a single person), 42 at 60% AMI, and 16 at 80% AMI.

In the next round of funding to be awarded this fall, it looks like the county will award two grants – one to INHS, $140,000 from the CHDF to help pay for two of the four for-sale townhouses at 402 South Cayuga Street (the 80% AMI ones, as the two 100% AMI middle-income units aren’t eligible), and $300,000 to Visum for the twelve units of affordable housing planned at 327 West Seneca Street. The Visum project is conditional since the administrative committee for the funds is awaiting additional details, and the project needs to be approved by the city. Perhaps PPM Homes should reach out for a discussion about whether an application could make its West Seneca project (item #2) work.

6. Developer Scott Morgan’s 16-unit Cayuga Vista Townhomes aren’t in formal review yet, but the land has exchanged hands – $139,500 on the 15th, every penny the sellers wanted. This makes it considerably more likely that the rental project (2 one-bedroom, 12 two-bedroom, 2 three-bedroom) will be coming forward to the town of Lansing planning board over the next few months.

7. For those who dream of owning a B&B, the William Henry Miller Inn is for sale. The building dates from 1878 and served as the private residence of the Osborn family from 1914 to 1996. In 1998, innkeeper Lynette Scofield purchased the property and renovated it into the Inn, which opened the following year. The Inn has enjoyed rave reviews on travel advising websites.

For $1.499 million, you too can be an innkeeper – the sale includes all furnishings, future bookings and  “infinite good will”. It definitely reads as if a very strong preference will be given to those who maintain the inn and its high standards vs. other uses. The inn has nine beds and eleven bathrooms, with an accessory owner’s cottage with one bed and bath. It’s something to fill out your daydreams this weekend.





News Tidbits 3/10/18: Affordable Housing Week 2018

11 03 2018

For today, let’s take a look at the entrants competing for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on Thursday 3/22 and Thursday 3/29 s part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 28 applications, three more than last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing.

In aggregate, there is $2,042 million requested, and about $1.239 million available. For the sake of comparison, that’s a 60.6% funding vs. request ratio, slightly more than last year’s 58%, but less than the 83.2% ratio of 2016, and the 67% ratio in 2015. 2016’s ratio was high because of $273k in unspent money originally earmarked for the earlier INHS plan for 402 South Cayuga Street.

Roughly speaking:

Year    Request    Amount Available

2015 / $1.78m / $1.215m

2016 / $1.85m / $1.54m

2017 / $1.982m / $1.149m

2018 / $2.042m / $1.239m

Unfortunately, HUD funding is not going up – of that $1.239m, about $184k is carried over from 2017 – Finger Lakes ReUse decided to decline last year’s $50k award, as did 402 South Cayuga Street ($80k, Habitat for Humanity’s cancelled project) and Housing for School Success (~$34k). The other roughly $20k was unallocated funds. In truth, the award for 2018 is $1.055 million, while requested amounts continue to rise, and the head of HUD gets embroiled in scandal for, among several reasons, ethics issues involving HUD business dealings with his family, and trying to spend $31k on a dining set for his office.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. A full rundown is provided by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor here. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. First, 402 South Cayuga Street. This site has had a rough history, unfortunately. It’s a small vacant lot just south of Downtown Ithaca that has had little good luck in the past several years. Five years ago, INHS originally attempted to build four units of for-sale housing on the property, but could not make it financially viable, as construction costs rose beyond what they could do within budget. Another developer proposed a market-rate plan, but the city, which owns the lot, has a strong preference for affordable for-sale housing. Habitat for Humanity also made an effort to build for-sale housing on the site, but it too saw construction costs rise beyond their capacity.

The grant application, $150,000 towards that $1.057 million project, would revive the INHS plan the planning board approved a few years ago. Two of the townhomes would sell to households making at or below 80% of Area Median Income (AMI, at or below $42,400/year for a single person), while the other two would sell to those making at or below 100% AMI (at or below $53,000/year), sometimes called “missing middle” housing. The funds would be used for construction and soft costs (legal paperwork, permit fees) on the two lower-priced units.

The reason why this is feasible now is that for one, the planning and design costs from 2013 have been paid off and the design is nearly the same, and two, the project will be modular instead of stick-built. INHS would partner with Cayuga Country Homes to build the four units. The units would be locked into the Community Housing Trust, and include features not in the previous plans, such as air-source heat pumps. However, the bay windows on the north and south walls have been removed from the new plans.

Breaking it down a little more, the construction cost would ring in at around $177/SF, about 10-15% less than stick-built. The three 2-bedroom units are 1190 SF and will cost about $210k to build, while the three-bedroom will be 1352 SF and cost about $239k to build (total about $870k, of which $830k is consumed by hard costs, materials and labor).

INHS will sell the 80% AMI two-bedroom at $121k, and the 80% AMI three-bedroom at $139k. The two 100% AMI units will sell at $159k. INHS will need to cover the remaining $291,000 with grants and subsidies just to break even. It is possible to build marginally cheaper, but insurers require INHS has to use contractors with at least $1 million in workplace liability coverage.

If funding were awarded later this spring, the units could be ready by April 2019. Although the construction method is different, the exterior changes are generally cosmetic – slightly different window arrangements, deleted bay windows, and porch details. It’s still at its essence four 2.5 story townhomes with ground-level rear garages and cantilevered rear decks. It is possible they could be signed off on at the staff level, but it’s more likely they would need to pay a quick visit to the planning board. The exterior changes could be reviewed and approved in one meeting.

2. The other INHS submission is titled “Scattered Site Phase 2: New Construction”. The request is for $100,000 to help cover soft costs (architectural and engineering fees) associated with the projects in the application. Calling them “scattered” is a little bit of a stretch – it’s two sites. One is 203-209 Elm Street on West Hill. That will have thirteen units, replacing twelve existing units, a count that includes 4-unit 203 Elm Street, currently vacant due to structural concerns. Six of the thirteen will be targeted to households at 50% AMI ($26,500/year for a single person), and the other seven at 60% AMI ($31,800/year). Ten of the units are one-bedrooms, and the remaining three are two-bedrooms.

The big question is the $16 million project planned for Downtown Ithaca. Although INHS cannot name the applicant, there were enough hints to figure it out with a fairly high degree of certainty. I can’t run conjecture on the Voice, but here, well, take the disclaimer that I could always be wrong. But consider the following:

From the notes in the application, we know it is:

  • In census tract one – mostly Downtown and the State Street Corridor.
  • The current site is a small commercial building.
  • It is in the CBD – Central Business District.
  • The site would host 20,000 square-feet of commercial space, and 40 housing units. The 30 one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units would be set aside for those making 30-60% AMI ($15,900-$31,800/year).
  • An unknown number of units would be set aside for formerly homeless individuals or those in need of supportive housing. The current owner would provide supportive services in the first-floor of the commercial space.
  • The partner in the project has provided services for over 150 years.
  • INHS would buy the land for $750,000.

The only site that checks off all the boxes is the Salvation Army property at 150 North Albany Street. It is currently valued at $800,000, following a $100,000 bump upward last year. A back of the envelope suggests a gross square footage of 55,000 SF, plus or minus a few percent. That would put the new build at roughly the same size as Breckenridge Place (55,300 SF).

Zoning at the site is a little odd – it’s a split, CBD-60 on the southern two-thirds, and more restrictive B-2d on the northern third. CBD allows up to 60 feet in height, 100% lot coverage no parking requirement. B-2d allows four floors, 40 feet in height, and has no parking requirement if a building is more than 60% residential use – which there’s a fairly high chance this project would exceed. I’m picturing something five or more likely six stories on State, and stepping down to four on West Seneca Street. But, there’s still a chance I could be wrong, and this may isn’t the right site.

An approximate construction time frame for the mystery project appears to be October 2019 through January 2021. A sketch plan revealing the mystery partner and site is expected to be shown to the city planning board in June. SWBR Architects of Rochester is in charge of design.

3. The last one I’ll cover is the Finger Lakes ReUse expansion. Let’s preface this by saying they don’t own the site – the former grocery store turned BOCES turned eco-services non-profit entered into a purchase agreement with John Novarr in February 2014 to purchase the building for $1.25 million (below the assessment of $1.35 million), which they will do exactly five years after the agreement was signed, in February 2019. The $100,000 requested would be assistance towards the purchase of the property, freeing up their money to work on their upcoming construction projects.

As is, the site is a 17,000 SF retail building, and a 1,330 SF former garage/repair shop. Plans have been proposed for major additions – 6,500 SF of retail, 65,000 SF of office space, and 12,000 SF of supportive housing, which consists of 22 studios for low-income individuals, with emphasis on formerly homeless and/or incarcerated individuals. Welliver, INHS and TCAction have provided guidance and assistance; Welliver may be the general contractor as construction proceeds, and TCAction may manage the housing units. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Point of confusion – the approved plans call for a 26,100 SF, 4-story building with mixed-use retail, office and living space components, and an 8,100 SF open-air metal warehouse for reclaimed wood processing and storage. That all totals 34,200 SF, not 83,500 SF. There’s 49,300 SF that is not clearly spoken for.

The warehouse is phase one, will cost about $500,000, and be ready by Q3 2018. It will generate at least three living-wage jobs (an estimate Finger Lakes ReUse says is conservative). Phase two is funding dependent on the affordable housing component, and will provide at least six new living-wage jobs. Although NYS HCR affordable housing grants don’t typically cover commercial space, they can be applied to mixed-use structures.

The total project cost is $10.521 million. $1.89 million of the costs are covered with a NYSERDA grants, and Empire State Development has also offered a $500,000 economic development grant. Add in other grants and awards received or being pursued, and it appears that only about $3 million will be covered through loans. IURA funding an extra $100k makes the project more competitive for other grants, since FLR will have demonstrated they have more secured funds, and a higher chance of moving forward. The idealized time frame calls for a late summer 2019 construction on Phase II with completion a year later, but sit back and see what happens with applications and awards first.

 





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.