News Tidbits 9/2/18

2 09 2018

1. For lovers of old houses and those trying to restore them, the 1880 Queen Anne-style house at 310 West State Street, dubbed “The Tibbetts-Rumsey House”, is offering a tour of the renovations later this month. The tour, which starts at the front entrance at 11 AM on September 22nd, is free, but registration is required; if you’re so inclined, and since late September in Ithaca is generally a pretty nice time of the year for weekend outings, you can register here. The plan is to restore the house into a nine-bedroom co-op style living space, with a new six-bedroom co-op unit in the rear of the property.

The 3,800 SF residence was designed by local architect Alvah B. Wood and built by contractor John Snaith (of Snaith House) in 1880. Wood, a Cornell classmate of the more famous architect William Henry Miller, designed a number of prominent local structures, including the old Ithaca town hall at 126 East Seneca Street (built 1881, demo’d 2003, now the site of Tompkins Financial brand new HQ), the Immaculate Conception Church (1896) and the railroad/bus depot at 701 West State Street (1898). Union Army Captain J. Warren Tibbetts and his family were the first residents of the home. It was sold to the Rumsey family in 1885, and they owned it until 1966.

2. The medical office building near the intersection of Warren and Uptown Roads looks like it’s one step closer to happening. An LLC associated with Marchuska Brothers Construction, an Endicott-based firm that has been making inroads into the Ithaca market, bought the 2.71 acre lot and the plans from Arleo Real Estate LLC for $470,000 on the 27th. A sketch plan was presented to the village of Lansing in February 2017 for the one-story medical office building, but no formal review was carried out after the site and plans went up for sale for $500,000. Marchuska is free to change the design as they see fit, so don’t treat the renders as final. The firm recently completed the renovation of a former manufacturing facility on Craft Road into medical office space primarily leased by Cayuga Medical Center, and are the general contractors for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture project.

3. The tiny houses project at 16 Hillcrest Road in the town of Lansing is over for the time being. The town Zoning Board of appeals shot down the variance required for the lot, which is zoned industrial/research due to what is essentially a boundary line quirk. The reason cited isn’t that they don’t like the project, but rather that they don’t think it meets the intent of ZBA variances. The neighbors were opposed to the 421 SF homes, but were okay with a duplex, which could arguably be worse for them because one could build a pair of 2,000 SF, three-bedroom units that could generate more traffic and have a greater environmental impact. Even moreso, if one fully utilized the 1.26 acre lot for an office or industrial structure, that would have much greater environmental impact than either residential option because the lot could be fully utilized within standard setbacks, meaning a larger structure and parking lot, greater stormwater runoff, commuter/work-related traffic, industrial noise and related activities. An argument can also be made that these small homes would have been provided a new affordable option in an area plagued with affordability issues.

The Lansing Star seems cognizant of those arguments, and in the write-up sounded disapproving of the vote. “The denial of the variance does not mean the project has been killed. But in a sense the project is before it’s time, or zoning ordinances are behind the times. With small individual houses growing in popularity, building small scale neighborhoods defies zoning laws that were designed for conventionally sized homes.”

It’ll be a while before any zoning change is approved, and any challenge to the ZBA ruling is unlikely to go anywhere, so this proposal has been deleted from the Ithaca project map until a revival seems plausible.

4. Exxon Mobil is set to auction off a trio of parcels in the hamlet of Jacksonville. Tying into the story of the old Methodist church I wrote for the Voice last March, a major gas spill fifty years ago contaminated the groundwater and made the properties practically unlivable; after years of attempting to bring Exxon Mobil to task, the multinational energy firm purchased the properties, tore down most of the buildings except the church (after the town’s pleading), and basically sat on the lots with minimal upkeep. A municipal water line was later laid through the hamlet to provide clean water, and the gas has disintegrated and diffused with decades of time to safe levels, per the state DEC’s analysis. The town of Ulysses picked up three of the six lots, selling two to architect Cameron Neuhoff to restore the church into a residence and community space, and holding onto the third for the time being as it figures out what to do with it. The other three still owned by Exxon Mobil are the ones going up for auction. There is no reserve and the auction is set for 5 PM on October 17th. More information is available from Philip Heiliger of Williams & Williams Real Estate Auctions here.

5. Cayuga Heights is continuing with its review of the renovation and conversion of 306 Highland Road from a fraternity into a 15-unit apartment building. The plans have been slightly modified so that with the addition, the building grows from 3,400 SF to 4,542 SF (previously it was 4,584 SF).  GA Architects PLLC of Dryden is the architect of record; their online presence appears to be bare bones, and may have previously gone by the name Guisado Architects – it looks like principal Jose Gusiado has done a few homes in the Dryden and Lansing areas. Former Cornell professor and startup CEO John Guo is the developer.

6. Here’s a rough timeline for the Green Street Garage preferred developer decision – the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee is expected to rank the projects in order of preference by September 14th, discuss it at the September public hearing, hold an Executive Session with Common Council in October, and formally designate a preferred developer by October 25th. From 11/1/2018 to 2/1/2019 there will be an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) between the preferred developer and the city, which is a designated time to negotiate details regarding sales and development of the site. This serves as the basis for a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA), which would be reviewed and approved by the IURA EDC by the end of February. From there, the Planning and Economic Development Committee of the Common Council will hold their public hearing and vote in March, and the full Common Council at their April 3, 2019 meeting.

It’s a long and complex process, but the goal is to have the major details sorted out by that preferred developer designation on October 25th – given the garage’s degraded state and limited life span remaining (two, three years at most) and the time needed to stabilize the structure and determine continent measures for any rebuild, having either side pull at late in the negotiation would be very problematic (suing the city during any stage in this process is never a good idea). Hopefully everything works out between the city and its choice of developer.

6. Not a whole lot of new and interesting coming public at the moment. A new “Dutch Harvest Farms” wedding barn at 1487 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing looks interesting. Tapping into the trend of using barns for wedding receptions, the 50.44 acre property would host a 7,304 SF pole barn, pond and associated parking and landscaping improvements. The facility would be capable of hosting up to 160 people on-site. The plans are being drawn up by local architecture firm SPEC Consulting, and the intent would be to build out the $750,000 project in the spring and summer of 2019.

7. Bad news for the Ithaca Gun site; a remedial investigation by the state DEC indicated that there is still enough lead present on the property that it poses a significant threat to public health. This doesn’t necessarily derail plans for the redevelopment by Travis Hyde Properties, but the DEC will need to conduct a review, make recommendations for cleaning, and sign off on any cleanup effort THP proposes.

8. A follow-up on the Ongweoweh Corporation news note from a couple weeks back – although they didn’t respond to my inquiry, they did respond to the Journal. And the move to the larger digs in Dryden comes with 25 to 50 new jobs in Dryden over the next few years, so while it may not have been my article, I’ll gladly share positive news.





News Tidbits 1/21/18: Twice in One Weekend

21 01 2018

1. It appears that 107 South Albany Street has had its exterior design heavily altered, even as the building is just starting framing. The old design’s flat roof and unusual stair column feature have been toned down to a pitched (gable) roof of about the same height and dimensions. According to ads on Zillow, the 1-bedroom units, which will be ready for occupancy by August 1st, will go for about $1,395/month. For the price comes a fully furnished unit with indoor bike storage, high-end appliances, tiled bath, custom cabinets and high-speed internet. Water and snow removal are included in rent, electric is not. Fairly certain Daniel Hirtler is still the architect for Stavros Stavropoulo’s latest residential project.

To be frank, I don’t know how much an exterior design can change without having to go back to the planning board – offhand, I think they can do pretty much whatever changes they like, so long as they don’t violate zoning laws or change the habitable square footage.

2. Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects totally revamped their website. Among the snazzy new updates was a video.

Now, there are an embarrassing number of HOLT projects I can think off the top of my head, but while watching the 1’22” film, there was one project I did not recognize at all. Above, we see two 4 or 5 story residential buildings along a waterfront – the perspective renders behind the gentlemen’s shoulder are likely all part of the same design set, and the white vehicles in the concept site plan are parked boats. It also appears TWMLA is involved as the landscape architect.

Blowing up the image gives the name “Lembeck Landing”. At first, I thought it said Lambrou Landing, and had reached out to see if it was part of City Harbor; the response was that this appears to be another project. I tried to analyze the streets, it doesn’t look like an Ithaca map, and one street may be named “Porter”. Probably not Ithaca, but someone’s getting some nice waterfront housing. Watch the video for brief shots showing the inside of CFCU’s new HQ and some selected material finishes.

Update: It’s Watkins Glen. An undeveloped parcel near its Porter Street. Thanks to Keith Eisenman for solving the mystery.

3. Let’s just touch on the waterfront real quick. City Harbor is going to be a very substantial project. The first sketch plan involved two large apartment buildings and medical space for Guthrie Clinic; Guthrie would lease its recently purchased warehouse at 770 Cascadilla Street to Greenstar for a bigger, grander co-op; and a third location that will be presented at this month’s planning board meeting. The apartment buildings will be 4 or 5 floors and had ground-level parking with large amounts of surface parking for Guthrie, something that planning board was not a fan of. The other Cascadilla industrial building, 750 Cascadilla, may come down for more parking.

On the one hand, underground parking is out of the question due to the high water table, and above ground parking structures have to contend with soil issues as well, likely leading to deep foundations and increased costs. But an asphalt sea on the city’s shores is not something that will get the board’s approval.

Still, we are potentially talking hundreds of units, as well as a substantial amount of commercial space (and perhaps jobs) with the Guthrie component and the Greenstar expansion. It may very well be that this and the Green Street Garage plan will be the big development stories for the year.

4. Cornell will not the idea of that glass “hat” die; they’re calling it a “suggestion of a future roof pavilion”. The city’s ILPC probably isn’t comfortable with that suggestion being so close to the historically-designated Arts Quad. Anyway, renovations are underway on Rand Hall into the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. The $21.6 million project, about half of which is funded by donations, will be ready for students and staff in August 2019.

5. It sounds like the city has had just about enough with the state’s aerial apparatus fire code changes that halted much of Collegetown’s approved development projects. They’re prepared to take steps to eliminate parking on Linden because the new state law says Linden is too narrow as-is to have construction taller than 30 feet. This seems to be in addition to the power line issue. For 210 Linden, whose developer (Visum Dev. Group) specifically applied for some kind of relief, it would just be in front of the building; Todd Fox had already started work when the building codes department were notified and started enforcing the new code, which is not a good scenario.

Ithaca would prefer the state grant a broad variance (the new code has apparently been an issue across the state), and normally removing parking wouldn’t “fix” the underlying problem, but since New York State did not notify municipalities they were changing the law, they’re attempting to compromise on something that they normally would not. It might also explain why activity in Collegetown has been quiet these past few months outside of the inner core, where the streets are wider and the power lines are underground. The city is looking into how to make development work with the fire code if the state refuses to budge on code modifications. To be fair, there is tens of millions in development and its associated tax revenue that the city was expecting and that the state, in the midst of a budget crisis, is (literally?) hosing them on.

Whatever the city decided at its BPW meeting last week, it seems to have made Visum happy. They’ve started marketing 210 Linden’s units again. It’s saying there are 10 4-bedroom units, and 1 1-bedroom unit, while my notes say 9 4-bedroom units. Maybe the basement was reconfigured? Not sure.

Update: According to a Visum Rep, 210 Linden is 9 4-bedroom units and has added a basement 1-bedroom unit. So now it’s 10 units, 37 bedrooms.

 

6. Around the county, not a whole lot else on municipal agendas at the moment; one of the reasons for no update last week. Dryden town’s planning board will be looking at plans for a new warehouse next to 51 Hall Road, as well as a 5-lot subdivision at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road for Tiny Timbers, the Dryden-based modular home builder. Tiny Timbers uses the warehouse at 51 Hall Road, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the new one is purpose-built for Tiny Timber’s growing business. The town of Ithaca planning board cancelled their last meeting.

The city is fairly quiet. The planning board agenda for next week is short and mostly contains smaller submissions – the pair of infill duplexes proposed at 209 Hudson are on the agenda, with some slight design tweaks (the eyebrow windows are an interesting touch on the rear building). To the developer’s (Stavros Stavropoulo’s) credit, the units are design to accommodate families rather than students – the giveaway are the separate dining room areas, vs the eat-in kitchens one typically sees with student rentals. Senior planner Lisa Nicholas also gave written kudos for the quality exterior material choices (Hardie Board fiber cement panels, aesthetic wood timbering, stone retaining walls).

A fly in the ointment, per reader email: none of the bedrooms are legal for 2-person occupancy. They are 115 SF each; the state fire code says double occupancy must be at least 120 SF. So that would be an issue if one considers couples’ bedrooms.

The board is expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms needed before a negative declaration for adverse impacts can be declared. The 4-bedroom addition for Sophia House (111 the Knoll, Cornell Heights) is up for final approval. The proposed playground at Stewart Park is also up for discussion, with the board once again expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms.BPW is not comfortable accepted the $1.7 million playgrounds, gardens and splash pad unless Friends of Stewart Park creates a $75,000 annual maintenance fund. Lastly, City Harbor will be up for a second round sketch plan, informal discussion to obtain feedback for any future formal submission to consider.

The Nines project (311 College Avenue) is not on the board’s agenda this month. Things are up in the air, as the ILPC has chosen to pursue historic designation, even as there is an active project submission. A little awkward, certainly.

On the 30th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to finalize the form-based code for the Planned Unit Development to be deployed for the Chain Works District.

According to notes from the city Planning Dept, the city approved $130 million in development in 2017. There were 29 projects with 568 housing units, 107 of which are designated affordable for lower & middle income (LMI) households. Also approved was 28,600 SF of new retail & office space. These were from a summary sheet from the planning department, and the detailed write-up will come next month.

7. On a closing note, preliminary estimates suggests that Tompkins County added an average of 1300 jobs over the 2017 calendar year, bringing the average annual job count to 65,300. The gain is just over 2.0%, comfortably above the national average of about 1.5%, but nothing that screams ‘boomtown’. Since 2007, the annual average has increased by 7,700 jobs, +13.8%. The numbers suggest that the gains are slightly better in the fall and spring (7500 – 7700 jobs) than for the summer and winter (7000 jobs), indicating that academic year seasonal jobs are growing slightly faster than the overall market.





News Tidbits 11/18/2017: Fears and Hopes for the Future

18 11 2017

1. Here’s an interesting sale – a 62.1 acre parcel on Troy Road sold for $380,000 on the 13th, less than half the original asking price. The buyer, “Troy Heights LLC”, is registered to the same address as Giora and Limor Fix, a semi-retired husband and wife couple who have acquired a number of rental properties around the area over the past decade, with 43 or so units worth something in the ballpark of several million dollars (units are marketed by the Fixes under the name “Homes-for-you Rental Properties”).

The Troy Road property is intriguing because there was a development proposal floated there a few years ago. Rural Housing Preservation Associates LLC had proposed a 130-unit combination of middle-market single family homes, townhouses and small apartment buildings for the site back in 2014; it started as 206 units, the town and neighbors complained it was too big, the project was whittled down to 130, and then the proposal was cancelled by September 2015. Using cluster zoning, the project could have built out 145 units in the low-density residential (LDR) zone, since the town’s cluster zoning allows 2.3 units/acre. STREAM was in charge of the project design, and some of the renders of the never-built apartments can be found here on their website.

So here is a log lot, bought by folks involved in local real estate and with significant assets, under the name “Troy Heights”, which sounds like a project title if anything. I reached out to Giora Fix, and he was kind enough to respond:

“[C]urrently we do not have any concrete plans to develop Troy Road. Once we have them I will be happy to share with you.”

So something to keep an eye on, though it might be a while.

2. Here’s a piece of news from the Times’ Nick Reynolds. With regards to the police consolidation debate, the city wants to have the headquarters downtown on Green Street (likely in that proposed centralized government facility floated for the Central Fire Station site), while the towns would prefer something near the current BPW on the north end of the Northside neighborhood, which offers easy access to Route 13. Consolidation is still a rather unlikely prospect at this time, and there’s little enthusiasm from the more rural parts of the county. But it sounds like the sheriff is keen on killing the city’s ideas before they take off.

3. Bad jobs month for the state, good for Ithaca. The Ithaca metro (Tompkins County) added 1,800 jobs (all private sector) from October 2016 to October 2017, bringing the total to 67,800. The 3.2% increase was the largest gain by percentage in the state over the time period. Unfortunately, the state as a whole lost 11,900 jobs last month, which falls even more to 14,600 jobs when taking away those added by the public sector (government jobs). A study from the Federal Reserve Bank last month notes that upstate economic growth in general has been losing steam over the past year, with exceptions for Ithaca and Albany. New York City is performing reasonably well.

While it’s well and good that Ithaca is doing well, I have concerns about the recent tax reform bill going through Congress. With the potential hit to SALT deductions and the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers, I could see significant negative impacts on the local economy. Given that most communities have property taxes in the range of $2500-$4000/$100,000, a cap of $10,000 as proposed by the House would hit many middle-class and upscale neighborhoods hard. A typical home in Ithaca city is worth about $230,000-$270,000 range at this point, and with about $3779 per $100,000 in property taxes, that means that homeowners with properties valued over $265,000 will take a financial hit, close to half of the homes sold. The Senate’s version removes the SALT deduction completely, affecting all local home buyers. Either case would be a severe blow to the home buying market.

Another concern is the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers as proposed by the House plan. Speaking from experience, I had a waiver that saved me about $14,000/year at the public university where I did my master’s. In my case, seeing that taxes would have cost an extra couple thousand in theory, though the doubling of the standard deduction might have limited its impact on me. A Cornell graduate student is looking at $20,800-$29,500, and could see a tax bill larger than any savings from the standard deduction increase. The Senate version does not tax tuition waivers. Another, lesser factor to consider is that the student loan interest deduction for borrowers on-time with their payments would be eliminated.

On a final note, Cornell’s endowment would be taxed an extra 1.4% under the House bill, as would any college whose endowment is worth more than $250,000 per full-time student. Cornell’s endowment is $6.8 billion, and the school has 23,016 students across all campuses as of Fall 2017. That is over the allowed cap of $5.75 billion as calculated by the bill’s guidelines.

The long story short is that Cornell recruitment takes a hit, as does its endowment, and that could impact current employment as well as future hiring. Politics aside, these “reform” bills are definitely a cause for concern from Ithaca and Tompkins’ economic standpoint.

4. A separate note not so much economic, but something many Ithacans care about – the House bill takes away the historic building rehabilitation tax credit. The renovation of 310 West State Street that I reported in the Voice earlier this week would be off the table without them, and the building will likely be demolished if the credits are eliminated. So the impacts aren’t just economic, but perhaps aesthetic as well.

5. This is looking to be a very quiet late November. For the first time in over a year, the town of Ithaca has cancelled two planning board meetings in a row. Meanwhile, in the city, the only “old business” reviews are final site plan approval for the 601 South Aurora duplex, and final approval for the Brindley Street Bridge replacement.

6. So technically, the Request for Proposals went out for the Green Street Garage site. A site tour for interested applicants is scheduled for December 4th, applications are due by January 23, 2018, and no timetable is given for the selection of the preferred developer. The applications are to include a cover letter, application form, description of project team members with relevant experience, proof of ability operate in NYS, good reputation, financial status, marketing plan, tenant management plan, conceptual designs, financing plan and demonstrated capacity to obtain financing, purchase price, project schedule, community impact benefits statement, schedule, and specific concerns (acknowledgement of site issues and plan to resolve them). A $500 application fee is also required.

Obviously, Ithaca Associates LLC has a huge leg up on the competition, since they not only have a plan fleshed out, they own the ground lease under the eastern end of the garage that everyone else would have to negotiate to obtain. About the only legitimate opening to another developer would be for the western and central portions of the garage, though the city’s requests make it such that anyone else interested had better be thinking big with housing, parking, and other site uses. Saying you’d leave things as-is would be an immediate disqualifier. Unless Fox or Lubin are dreaming up multi-story apartment buildings, it isn’t likely many developers will entertain this RFP. This really feels like it’s just the city stalling for time so they can fully absorb the immensity of the 365-unit, $118 million “Village on the Green” proposal.