News Tidbits 5/4/19

4 05 2019

1. Generally speaking, when the opposition is opposed to the aesthetics rather than the purpose, then a project is in good shape for IDA approval. That looks to be the case with the Vecino Group’s Arthaus project. The 124-unit all-affordable (50-80% area median income) project at 130 Cherry Street will be seeking IDA approval for an abatement at the May meeting, after hosting its public hearing this month (minutes here). As noted by the Ithaca Times, apart from complaints about it being too big or ugly, there wasn’t much in the way of opposition to the premise of the project, which is what the IDA is more interested in. As far as the IDA is concerned, aesthetics are something to be handled by the Ithaca Planning Board; if it’s okay with the PB, then it’s okay with them. Chances are pretty good that the abatement will be granted. The abatement is worth about $3.73 million towards the $28.8 million project.

2. It may have taken two tries to get the zoning variance approved, but Habitat for Humanity is moving forward with its redevelopment and new builds at 1932 Slaterville Road in the town of Dryden. The existing 19th century farmhouse will be renovated into a four-bedroom home, a first for the local chapter. The land will be subdivided into two additional one-acre parcels for a new three-bedroom home on each lot, about 1,100 SF each. Each home will cost about $70-$75,000 to build, and the goal is to have them ready for occupancy by mid-2020.

Habitat homes are typically sold to families making under 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), or about $36,000/year. The homes would have built with a combination of professional contractors and volunteer labor, including 350+ hours of “sweat equity”, where the future homeowners actively work as members of the construction crew. In a market starved for affordable housing, every little bit helps.

3. We don’t tend to see many big commercial or industrial buildings listed for sale (if in part because there aren’t many), but it looks like the TransAct Technologies building at 20 Bomax Drive in Lansing is now for sale. Now, before anyone gets nervous, the business isn’t going anywhere; they’ve always leased the space since the building opened in 1998 and have a triple-net lease.

A triple-net lease means the tenant pays everything – insurance, maintenance and real estate taxes (formally, net insurance, net maintenance and net real estate taxes on the leased asset – the three nets).  As a result, the rent is substantially lower than it otherwise might be. It may not be all that lucrative, but the property ends up being a fairly safe investment (though with a lot of fine print to determine who pays for things like if a tornado hits or the foundation cracks), generating a modest amount of rent and functioning like an inflation-protected bond, but guaranteed by the lessee rather than the government. All the better when the tenant is stable and signed on for the long-term as TransAct has been.

For just under $6 million, the buyer gets a fairly new industrial building on 7.54 acres with 18,066 SF of office space, 55,759 SF of warehouse and manufacturing space, and the security of a long-term tenant. This will not be an exciting sale, but it’ll be interesting to see who the buyer is. Warren Real Estate is the seller’s agent, and the offering description with financial data is here.

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4. A little bit of soapboxing. I’ve been seeing and getting some messages to this effect lately. First, I’ll note that the first comment is a bit disingenuous. That’s the highest-priced three-bedroom unit. To quote the range of prices from the Ithaca Times:

“Affordable in this case will include rents for people making 50-80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), which means that rents for studios will be between $737 and $1180 per month, to 1,095 and 1,752 [per month] for a three-bedroom apartment, the highest price.”

Anyway, the comments tend to be to the effect of “this isn’t affordable enough, so I can’t support it”. That’s a textbook case of letting the perfect getting in the way of the good. Here is a project with 124 affordable housing units, with 40 of the units set aside for formerly homeless youth and families with on-site supportive services from TC Action. It would do a lot of good to have this project available to the community.

Honestly, the argument feels like the next evolution of the arguments against affordable housing in general. Now that it’s firmly ingrained that there is a lack of affordable housing in Tompkins County and it does negatively affect the community, the next step is to say, essentially, that nothing is good enough. From a pragmatic stadnpoint, since these projects aren’t something banks and credit unions will fully finance because of the lack of a sizable return on investment, it falls to NYS to award grants. The state will not dispense larger tax credits to make a unit drop from 60% AMI to 30% AMI, that’s up to the developer to make up the bigger financial gap. To do that, either they add in higher-priced units to compensate, or the project doesn’t happen. Which is probably the end goal for many of the complainers anyway. It’s kinda like saying you’re available for a date, but only to those who are millionaire PhDs.

Anyway, weigh each project on its merits. But set reasonable goals.

5. As reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, developer Eric Goetzmann is seeking changes to the senior housing to be included as part of the Lansing Meadows project. The primary changes are making Lansing Meadows Drive into a one-way street (thus allowing it to be slightly narrower while still able to host on-street parking), and making each duplex into a triplex – three senior housing units per string, for a total of thirty. As a result, the units will be slightly smaller, though still two-bedroom apiece. The two end units in each building will be 1252 SF with a 395 SF garage. The center unit will be 1114 SF with a 251 SF garage. The third change is that Goetzmann and his project team want to amend the approvals to allow the sale of units in the future (the initial plan still calls for market-rate rentals).

This comes with a set of issues that need to be sorted out. The project has to be complete by July 2020 as required by the village in their approval resolution. The village planning board now has to consider the proposed amendments and consider whether they constitute a major change from the approved Planned Development Area (PDA, the village’s DIY zoning). Doing so would either cause the plan to be delayed and violate the resolution, or if declined for further consideration, the resolution would likely trigger a lawsuit between the village, Goetzmann, and the county IDA, who granted an abatement to Lansing Meadows. If they say the changes are minor in the context of the PDA, then construction is expected to start as soon as the amended PDA is granted (May 13th at the earliest).

The plan is to build the northern triplexes first, and then the southern units. The planning board’s not a fan from an aesthetics perspective, but the village’s code officer that the northern half is more elevated, so this reduces stormwater risks. With construction underway and loose soil on the site, if built later the exposed northern half could result in runoff and flash flooding downhill, into the southern half and its new homes. The commercial component on the east side of the property cannot legally be built until all residential units are completed.

It’s been nine years since this project was first pitched, and most stakeholders just want to get this project out of their hair. It’s not clear when that will happen.





News Tidbits 4/24/19

25 04 2019

1. Here’s a real estate sale worth noting. A vacant 25-acre parcel of land between 1758 and 1786 Trumansburg Road (just south of Jacksonville) sold for $140,000, according to a deed filed with the county today. What makes this sale interesting is that the buyer is an LLC associated with the operating address of Classen Home Health, the senior healthcare firm run by local businesswoman Patty Classen. The Classen family has not been shy about investing in development projects, though her sister Elizabeth is the more active one at present. Elizabeth owns the Bridges Cornell Heights skilled care facility, and  is also involved as a partner in Travis Hyde Properties’ 66-unit Library Place Development. Taking a semi-educated guess, there’s a good chance this property will be developed out into senior housing at a later date, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

2. Meanwhile, over in the village of Lansing, the former Autodesk Building has exchanged hands. The 19,470 SF office building on 2.37 acres sold for $4.14 million, from the Colbert family of commercial landlords (Greenstate Properties) to an LLC led by local businessman and developer Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate. The Colberts developed the property and opened the building in 2002. The price was substantially more then  the assessment of $3.15 million, but that’s probably not because of a planned redevelopment. It likely has more to do with having a tenant lined up for the building, the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County, who will build out and operate a 40-bed detox facility at the site. A stable, long-term tenant is a strong asset to have when selling a property. The village of Lansing has not been a fan of the project (the argument being, those in treatment “don’t belong [here]” and pose a safety threat), but since it’s just an interior renovation and medical uses are permitted in its zoning, there’s not much the village can do as long as everything remains in compliance with code. The sale may be finished, but the facility won’t host overnight stays until at least the summer, and the renovations won’t be finished until late 2020.

3. How often do I report things out in Enfield? Practically never. But the town planning board is reviewing a pair of small apartment projects this month. Patrick Head, owner of Head’s Excavating, plans to build a pair of four-unit apartment buildings, each on a different site in the town. The first would be at 1795 Mecklenburg Road, and the other on the southwest corner of Enfield Center Road and Van Dorn Road. All of the units would be rentals, two bedrooms each, and according to the Environmental Assessment Forms, it looks like each unit will be about 1200 SF, with either two floors or one floor with a finished basement. Both properties are currently vacant; the former used to host a farmhouse but was destroyed by fire in September 2015, and the later is a vacant 5-acre lot that was created through the subdivision of a larger property.

4. Sticking with the rural towns for now – out in Danby, plans are underway for a new mixed-use project at 1839-1849 Danby Road. The development calls for a small commercial retail plaza and a space for a cafe or restaurant, as well as additional residential rental space. 1839 Danby Road is a two-family house with six bedrooms, and 1849 Danby Road is a four-unit apartment house with six bedrooms, along with a couple of garages and sheds.The historic portions of the homes would be saved and incorporated into the development, which is designed to incorporate sustainable building practices (green roofs, alternative energy sources), and create a “town center” like sense of place in the hamlet of Danby. That includes a small B&B, a seasonal food market, and the small market/cafe. Ultimately, if successful the project would expand out to fifteen housing units and two more commercial spaces. It’s not big by most standards, but it’s notable for a 3,500-person town. Property owner Olivia Vent is the developer, and the plans are being designed by Ben Rosenblum Studio.

5. According to the town of Dryden’s planning department, the medical project at 2141 Dryden Road will be fairly modest in size – two floors, 3600 SF. The 908-acre Mill Creek subdivision on Caswell Road is listed as 40 lots, up one from the previous 39, though it could just be something like a stormwater parcel. Also of note, the Route 13 development study from Warren Road to the western boundary of the village of Dryden. With several large development floated for the corridor, the county has an RFP out to do a study for “strategic guidance” so as to allow development while minimizing potential negative impacts (traffic, environmental degradation from in-commuters, etc.) The RFP for that closed on the 22nd.

6. Will the Lansing Meadows senior housing ever happen? Developer Eric Goetzmann of Arrowhead Ventures is trying to change the senior housing in the Lansing Meadows project again. Given that the village and the county have had it up to their proverbial necks with his shenenigans, this has the potential to be very poorly received. The approved plan as it stands is for twenty two-bedroom units. It was supposed to start construction last year, but was delayed a year due to construction bids coming in higher than anticipated. Either the bids have come in too high again and he’s trying to value engineer the project, or some other issue has arisen. We’ll see how this one goes next Monday.





News Tidbits 12/9/18

9 12 2018

1. Let’s start out in Lansing. Milton Meadows if officially underway. The 72-unit apartment complex, the first development to get off the ground at the Lansing Town Center site off Route 34B, will be targeted at the 50% – 80% area median income range (~31k-~48k for a single person household) and give priority to income-qualified veterans.

The plan is to roll out the $17.1 million project in stages as the buildings are completed next year. Nine of the structures will be apartment buildings ranging from 6,600-10,200 square feet (SF), with 8 apartment units apiece. The buildings are designed so that all the units in a structure are the same size range, so all one-bedroom buildings (4), all two-bedroom buildings (3), and all three-bedroom buildings (2). The last building would be a 3,100 SF community center. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. The project will be built to LEED Silver energy standards.

Funding comes from a variety of state and local sources, the largest single grant being $5.1 million courtesy of New York State. The first units should be ready by late spring, and the last units will come online next fall.

2. In the next round of county/city/Cornell affordable Housing Development Fund recommendations, breakdown above. Habitat gets some funds towards one of its home builds and to buy two other sites, INHS gets additional funds towards their citywide renovation project, and Visum’s 327 West Seneca Street gets $200,000 (this project was carried over from the last round, because they wanted to make sure Visum knew what it was doing). Perhaps the most interesting component here is the NRP Ithaca Townhomes project on West Hill near Cayuga Medical Center, which has received approval, but with a lack of high-value state funds, it has languished in post-approval funding hell. The original breakdown was 66 units in phase one and 39 in phase two, so the 69 here suggests something was modified a little bit.

Unit sizes will range from $850/month, 745 square-foot 1-bedroom units to $1500/month, 1,344 square-foot 3-bedroom units, with most units being two or three bedrooms. The infrastructure improvements (streets, lighting) will be privately built and maintained by the developer. Seven units (2 1-BR, 3 2-BR, 2 3-BR) will be set aside for the mobility impaired, three units for those with hearing or vision impairment (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), and three units for those with special needs (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), defined in this case as recovering victims of domestic violence situations.

The original plan was to start construction last spring, and frankly, the project probably still needs a sizable state grant before funding can go ahead. But with this funding, it’s another piece of the puzzle. If it has some dedicated funds already, and the state doesn’t have to fork over as much, then the state is more inclined to support the project because on its end, it gets more bang for the buck. So keep your fingers crossed.

3. The rumor mill says that Vecino is falling for Ithaca like a teenage girl for a boy band crush. The multi-state firm specializes in two types of housing – affordable housing (under names like Asteri, Mosaic, Libertad and Intrada) and student housing (Muse), which makes Ithaca a good fit. Rather conveniently, Vecino projects identify segments of their target market in the building name. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage in Ithaca, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing – the only other one I’m aware is in a converted warehouse in Troy (which all my Albany colleagues call ‘hipster central’ or ‘Williamsburg North’, the downtown far removed from its days as ‘Troilet’). The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. Of course, the Voice commenters hated this with a passion because artists = leftists liberal dirty hippie types = evil incarnate. I’ve learned that the softer reactions tend to be with affordable senior and affordable veterans housing, which I cynically suspect is because the most vocal complainers tend to be more politically conservative in their views, and seniors and vets tend to be more politically conservative than the general population – so rather than engaging in circular fire, some, but definitely not all, will hold their tongue.

But, while the commenters didn’t like it, the city planning board did. It’s 120 units (40 studio, 60 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing (50-80% are median income, just like Milton Meadows in item 1), which is a hefty amount and critically needed. A number of units will be set aside for specialized needs and administered by Tompkins Community Action, which will be offered office space in the building. The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design. The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

4. My only regret is that because the working title of 116 Catherine was 114 Catherine, readers will be confused for years to come. Jagat Sharma designed a tasteful three-story infill building in Collegetown to the rear of 116 Catherine and the Mission Apartments – these would join the rest of the Lambrou properties that comprise Eddygate Park. Also like 116 Catherine, it’s three units – two six-bedroom units, one five-bedroom unit, about as student-oriented as a project can be. Still, infill is much more preferable to a parking lot in Collegetown. Every bit of housing helps, and it’s a couple million dollars of assessed property to help fill local coffers. If the Lambrous choose to pursue this one, which is smaller than what the CR-4 zoning allows and is tucked away from the street, the planning board is unlikely to give them much trouble.

As for the Sharma-designed building that would potentially built in the foreground of this project, 301B Eddy, the last I heard was that it was not an active pursuit, if not totally off the table.

5. Here we have a do and a don’t. Do: hire a seasoned architect like Jagat Sharma, who knows his way around city staff and boards. Don’t: design anything without checking to see if the rules and regulations changed. In this case, they did, quite a bit.

The problem here with 312 East Seneca Street isn’t the development plan, which calls for ground-floor retail and studios and 2-bedroom apartments on the floors above. That’s all fine and dandy. But the city has really been focused on increasing the quality of building designs submitted for review in Ithaca, and that was codified into the Downtown Ithaca Design Guidelines, which were enacted as law earlier this year. If this were 2013, Sharma and developer Stavros Stavropoulos would probably be okay. As of now, they are not. The only part of this design that’s acceptable is the first three feet facing East Seneca Street. The exposed CMU walls on the sides? Not allowed. And according to the Times’ Matt Butler, the planning director seemed a bit insulted by the design.

Potential design options that would be compatible include additional interior facade visual elements, facade articulation and alternative side materials (brick, stone, metal panel, fiber cement, and for the sides only, synthetic stucco/EIFS) and possibly a step down in height at the rear, since the site is on the edge of its zoning.

Consider for comparison, the new Tompkins Financial building. It’s an interior block site, and while it builds very close to the boundary line and they have (and could have) bigger neighbors, the sides and rear have windows, facade variation and articulation, brick and metal panels, and design elements like sunshades and a small top floor setback. That’s very much in the mindset of what the city is looking for in the design of a downtown project. In any case, if the Stavropoli want to do something here, the sketch plan design will need to be substantially modified before there’s any hope of approval, and some meetings with city staff couldn’t hurt.

6. There have been some potential issues that have sprung up with the Emmy’s Organics project at the end of Cherry Street. The soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building. If that’s the case, the project may not move forward, which may also result in Emmy’s moving itself and its jobs out of the city. The IURA will vote on Thursday to authorize $5,000 to hire an engineering firm to do an analysis of the geotechnical reports to see what special requirements a foundation would need, and if those requirements make the project infeasible.

7. Quick little note here – Lansing Meadows was delayed this past summer because developer Eric Goetzmann “was not able to secure contractors – too much other construction going on”, according to an email from TCAD’s Heather McDaniel. With TCAD and the village blessing, the construction start has been pushed back to Spring 2019.

8. It’s been a while since 46 South Street (formerly Hamilton Square) has updated their website, but to wrap up this post, here’s some good news for affordable housing advocates – the 73-unit, mixed-income, mixed rental and for-sale proposal by Claudia Brenner and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has passed the Trumansburg planning board’s SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review). That means that the environmental impacts are effectively mitigated by the project team. Site plan approval has yet to be issued, and is likely to be hotly debated with neighbors who have been opposed to the project since the proposal was introduced in May 2017. Review began about a year ago, and likely has a few months more yet ahead of it – certainly one of the longer review processes as of late.

On a happier note, color renderings! Nice variation in materials and style. For those so inclined, the 2 hour audio from the planning board can be found on the village website here.





News Tidbits 8/11/18

11 08 2018

News Tidbits 8/11/18

1. It looks like the Mettler-Toledo facility has a buyer. Ongweoweh Corporation bought the 27,000 SF property at 5 Barr Road in Dryden for $3.24 million on August 3rd. Readers may remember that Mettler-Toledo decided to consolidate the Hi-Speed Dryden plant with a new facility in the Tampa Bay metro, taking 185 jobs with it. Founded in 1978 in Spencer, Ongweoweh Corporation is a Native American-owned pallet management company providing pallet & packaging procurement and design services, recycling services and supply chain optimization programs. The firm had only recently bought its existing 17,577 SF headquarters at 767 Warren Road in Lansing, for $2 million in September 2016 – as Ongweoweh moves to the larger space, it’s putting 767 Warren up for sale for $2.3 million. It’s not clear if this physical expansion will add jobs, and a request for comment was not returned. The company employs a little over 100 people according to a third-party profile, and 58 are based in the Ithaca area.

2. Let’s talk about another business expansion – Emmy’s Organics. The organic cookie producer’s new warehouse and HQ came one step closer to reality this week when the city’s Planning Committee gave its approval to let the full Common Council vote on the sale of 2.601 acres of IURA land to Emmy’s for $242,000. The land is towards the south end of Cherry Street, it’ll be the terminus of the extended Cherry Street, which will be lengthened 400 feet and create two new one-acre lots to sell to business that contribute to the IURA’s goals of job creation for LMI individuals. Examples include drilling tech firm Vector Magnetics, lab electronics manufacturer Precision Filters and the Crossfit Pallas gym. A fourth lot on the west side of the newly extended road would be deeded to the city as a natural buffer between development and the waterfront/Black Diamond Trail.

The initial phase of the $1.25 million development includes 4,000 SF of office/breakroom/entrance area, a 4,500 SF production area, and a 5,500 SF warehouse (14,000 SF total). If growth continues as it has, the plan is to implement a second phase in 2-3 years for a 20,000 SF expansion. The new facility will create at least five new jobs (total staff 24), and the potential expansion would likely add at least another twenty given that phase two called for the parking lot to grow from 22 to 41 spaces.

The rendering of the new HQ above, which is a STREAM Collaborative design, shows both phases. The section in the foreground is phase one, the shed roof structure at back is phase two. The section of parking lot towards the left is a phase two addition as well. No zoning variances are required. Whitham Planning and Design is leading the project through the city review process.

3. Let’s linger on Whitham for a moment. From their website is likely one of the runner-up proposals for the North Campus Residential Expansion over at Cornell. They were partnered with Ann Beha Architects and Baltimore-based Design Collective for a competing design that was ultimately not selected. Cornell interviewed four development teams before going with their final choice, Integreated Acquisition and Development, a firm associated with John Novarr and Phil Proujansky who did the Breazzano in Collegetown. Although owned and operated by Cornell, there is a developer’s fee IAD will earn for developing the NRCE project on behalf of Cornell. That fee varies per project and is usually confidential, but 3-6% is common in commercial builds, and by that yardstick, for a $175 million project IAD stands to make several million dollars.

With nothing more than a site plan, I’d be willing to guess that given the team members, the plan would have been a contemporary design, though perhaps more conservative than ikon.5 – Ann Beha designed the elegant if subdued first phase of the Cornell Law School addition.

4. The Hotel Ithaca is moving forward with the next phase of plans for its South Cayuga Street property. The next project is to tear down the vacated south wing, a 2-story structure built in the 1970s, and replace it with a surface parking lot. At a glance, this is not at all a welcome proposal for a downtown street corner. However, it comes with some promise of a hotel addition down the line. A development pad will be created for a “future market-driven addition”, meaning that if business grows and they decide to expand the hotel, they’ll have a level, stable, shovel-ready site. Until then, it’s seventeen fewer parking spaces the hotel will need in the Cayuga Street parking garage. The $550,000 project would be carried out from August to November, and NH Architecture is handling the landscaping, refinishing of the tower wall and overall application on behalf of owner Hart Hotels.

5. Visum’s not wasting any time on its affordable housing proposal for 327 West Seneca Street. The three-story, 12-unit building is planned for an October start and an April 2019 finish, and will be going before the planning board this month Declaration of Lead Agency and review of Parts 2 and 3 of the Environmental Assessment Form.

The project is an interesting little case study of how maximum height isn’t necessarily optimal. The zoning allows four floors; they want to serve 70-80% area median income, which requires 18 bedrooms for economic feasibility at this site. But to have four floors, the materials need to be fire-rated, and the units would need either emergency exit stairs, or an elevator. Since it’s a small building lot, an elevator would eat into the square footage of units, about a bedroom per floor, so there’s no net gain in rentable space with a fourth floor, but there would be an increased project cost. One could save costs by putting in the stairs vs. the elevator, but the fourth floor units would be harder to fill because they would pose greater access difficulties – ask around and see how many people want to walk up four flights everyday. This is actually one of the major reasons why the Village Solars in Lansing are also three floors, the expense of elevators would have driven their budget higher than the mid-market segment Lifestyle Properties wanted to serve.

Net-zero energy use is being explored (electric heat pumps powered by off-site renewables), and yard and setback variances are being sought after the city seemed receptive to a variant sketch plan with a few more square feet in the units for the sake of livability. STREAM penned a traditional design fitting with the block, and the revisions added a few more windows into the sides of the structure.

Also in the projects memo for this month are final approval for Benderson’s 3,200 SF addition at 744 South Meadow Street and the Declaration of Lead Agency for Cornell’s new north campus dorms. The Benderson project’s landscaping plan was modified slightly, and a new rear exit door and front awning are being considered.

6. Out in the towns there’s not much going on next week. A special meeting of the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board will decide whether or not to defer to the city as lead agency in the environmental review of Cornell’s north campus expansion. The town of Lansing will be holding public hearings for a one-lot subdivision and a four-lot subdivision for single-family homes.

7. The Lansing Village Cottages plan has its work cut out for it. The design has been tweaked such that the first two home clusters were combined, and the road connecting to Craft Road was realigned. The Millcroft Way connection will have a vegetative buffer and the road would be for emergency vehicle only. However, Millcroft Way residents are still seething – they have $500,000-$700,000, 2,500 SF+ homes locked under a covenant, while the same person who sold their lots is now selling to a developer planning 800-1200 SF cottages. Concerns include traffic, home values, density, and too many senior housing developments, which is a bit of an odd one. Logan’s Run isn’t just a street in Dryden.

The village is pretty hesitant to support this – the Board of Trustees sent the proposal back over to the Planning Board, hoping that they could make some recommendation as to whether it meets the goals of the village. On the one hand, that would seem an easy yes at a glance, it’s senior housing close to urban areas in an affordable price range. However, after shelling out close to $50,000 for lawyers to fight Lisa Bonniwell over her lawsuit to stop the East Pointe Apartments, money that won’t be paid back (perhaps indirectly in property taxes in a few years), the village is afraid of another Article 78 lawsuit, and the residents of Millcroft are very deep-pocketed and willing to go to court. This is vaguely reminiscent of a study that shows wealthier areas are much more adept at stopping density and new housing in general because they have more leverage – one of those being that a fear of costly litigation is a strong municipal deterrent.

8. We’ll end on a positive note – after eight years of back and forth, it appears site prep has begun on the 20 senior housing units planned as part of the Lansing Meadows project. Since developer Eric Goetzmann had until July 31st or else face significant legal action (Goetzmann applied for and received a tax abatement for the BJ’s that was contingent on the housing, and it was at risk of being clawed back), I had dropped by August 3rd. After looking around, it did not seem to be under construction; a bit of upturned dirt and a bulldozer on site. The village decided it was, if barely, according to the Lansing Star:

Yes, he scratched the earth. Yes, he does have the soil fencing in,” {Village Code Enforcement Officer Adam} Robbs said. “He has hired a dedicated contractor at this time to do the site work. He has a culvert permit and approval to install a temporary culvert for construction use. I do have a preliminary set of plans. I am hesitant to say he has begun a significant amount of work… but he has begun work.”

>We’ll see if it merits an update in October.





News Tidbits 7/7/2018

7 07 2018

1. The infill project at 209 Hudson has been revised and reduced in size. The new plan from the Stavropoulos family of developers calls for just one new duplex at this time, on the existing lawn and swimming pool of the extra-large lot. The rear duplex was eliminated in the revised plan. A small zoning variance is still required for the subdivision (side yard deficiency), but it’s less likely to catch the ire of BZA members this time around because more mature trees are preserved in this reduced-size iteration. Modest bay window projections, fiber cement panels and wood trim will help create a higher quality product.

The duplex would be a quick build since it’s modular, but it’s not going to be ready in time for fall semester – spring (January) would be feasible, if the individual units are assembled before the snow flies. The Planning Board will make their recommendation this month, and the BZA will have their vote in early August, with potential final approval in late August. Quick note, as this has fallen under the threshold for the Ithaca project map (3 units or more), it has been removed.

Also due for review this month are final approvals for 128 West Falls Street (above) and a 3,200 SF endcap addition at South Meadow Square, and approval of a subdivision at 508-512 Edgewood Place.

2. Recently, Visum Development posted photos on their Facebook/Instagram taken during setup for an interview with Park Productions, and Ithaca College student media group. Normally, that’s not something to write about, but this caught my attention:

327 West Seneca is the new all-affordable project they introduced at last month’s planning board meeting. As for the others, I don’t have much of a clue. Ithaca does not have a Main Street, so that’s likely another community. 409 State may refer to an older building at 409 West State or 409 East State, but 409 East State is Travis Hyde’s Gateway Center property (and who at last check had no plans to sell).

As for the others, it looks like the first number was erased. Also of note, there is no East Cayuga, it’s just North and South. So I dunno quite what to make of it – hints of projects with some red herrings, it seems. Worth a look, but it’s not much to work with just yet.

3. Time for a little more speculation. A vacant lot east of 404 Wood Street in the city of Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood sold for $70,000 on June 26th. The buyers were a husband-and-wife pair who also happen to work for Taitem Engineering, a prominent local consulting engineering firm with specialties in structural engineering and associated branches in the context of green/sustainable building operation. The pair previously did a LEED Platinum, net-zero energy home in Ulysses two years ago. The likely guess here is that they’ll be building their next net-zero energy residence on this lot.

As previously noted when the property went up for sale in January 2016 (it was later subdivided from 404 Wood, which was sold a while ago), “(p)laying with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.”

TL;DR – if they want to do a small infill net-zero apartment building, they can. If they want to do a sizable single-family residence, they can do that as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

4. On the policy side, the Ithaca Common Council voted Wednesday night to move forward with a CIITAP stipulation stating projects pursuing the tax abatement must have a mandatory affordable housing component of 20%, available to those making 75% Area Median Income, affected all residential projects with ten units or more.The extension of CIITAP applicable properties along the Waterfront was also approved.

The policy comes forth after considerable debate over the right percentage and right income to apply. It’s the Goldilocks principle – too little and you don’t add an appreciable amount of affordable housing and may even decrease the amount once redevelopment occurs in lower-income blocks, too much and developers just won’t build (the Portland problem), and those who stick around will renovate existing buildings instead, meaning less supply overall, fewer existing lower-income units and accelerated gentrification. Among things discussed Wednesday night, a proposal to modify the mandatory size requirement of affordable units from a minimum of 80% the square-footage of the market-rate to 100% failed 5-4 (needed six), the % of affordable units went from 10% to 25% (the 25% was the First Ward’s George McGonigal, who has a history of being opposed to new market-rate and affordable housing, and did not get a second to open discussion).

It’s too early to say if this is too much or not enough – the City Harbor folks were in attendance for the discussion (they were at the meeting for a different topic), but didn’t raise concerns to 20%, so it seems likely their project is able to continue. The county IDA is the grantee of abatements with the city in an advisory role only, so they’ll have the final say on the application of the new law.

5. Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Childcare Center has the funds it needs to move forward. The project, first proposed in February 2016, calls for an 8,000 SF, $4 million building, plus a $1.5 million endowment for operating costs. State funds support much of the cost, as well as a $2 million donation from Ithaca CEO and major TC3 donor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the center will be named.

According to Jamie Swinnerton over at Tompkins Weekly, the project includes six classrooms with two infant rooms, three playgrounds, and be, in part, staffed by students studying to be teachers and childcare providers. 12 jobs will be created, and since it’s for faculty, students and staff, those jobs are expected to be full-time and all year-round. The building is expected to be partially opened by the start of the Spring semester, and fully occupied by the Fall 2019 semester.

Design-wise, the latest design in Tompkins Weekly shows smaller windows and the loss of some hipped roof bumpouts at the rear of the building (older version here). Value engineering noted, but the goal of helping students with children stay in school, and get the degrees they want to build their professional foundations on outweighs any shade thrown at the design changes.

6. Also finally moving forward – Lansing Meadows. There was an 11th-hour holdup for the 20-unit senior housing project when the village expressed discomfort with accepting future ownership of Lansing Meadows Drive, feeling the turns were too sharp and posed a liability. Developer Eric Goetzmann relented and agreed to maintain the road as a private road, and the village board approved the project 3-2; there are still a lot of sore feelings about the often-delayed and arguably underwhelming final proposal. Goetzmann has until July 31st to obtain permits to begin construction, or else the county IDA will recommence seeking clawback reparations from abated taxes, most of which went toward the BJ’s that was built in 2011-12.

7. Let’s slay some inbox rumors. East Hill Village is not cancelled. Nor is Trinitas’ Dryden Townhomes project. I checked with the project teams – both are still active projects. However, East Hill Village is waiting on the town of Ithaca to finish updating its zoning to a more form-based code, and the project will not move forward until that happens.

8. For fun: here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet on how the Ithaca metropolitan area lines up with other metros on new home construction permits since 1980. Key takeways – Ithaca/Tompkins County was in the top 10% of metros in 2017 for multi-family housing permits per capita (30th of 381), but it lags quite a bit in the construction of single-family homes, so its overall rank is only the 64th percentile (137th of 381). Even then, it’s still one of the fastest growing housing markets per capita in the Northeastern United States. 2016 and 2017 have been strong years, while 2015 and earlier were generally well below the national average.

The multi-family number per capita is arguably skewed higher than a typical year thanks to large projects like 441-unit/872-bed Maplewood, but the message seems to be that the community is seeing real results from its push for housing. However, with a lack of single-family being built, Ithaca and Tompkins County need to figure out ways to compensate for what single-family provides (i.e. home ownership). It’s not necessarily “we should build more single-family homes” although that is part of the answer. It’s also encouraging suitable single-home substitutes (condos) in desirable areas while maintaining a strong, steady flow of new units as the local economy continues to grow.

 





News Tidbits 3/31/18: A Bit of a Lull

31 03 2018

1. In Lansing, a local developer seems to have gotten the message when it comes to a small senior housing project. As reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, the latest version of Eric Goetzmann’s Lansing Meadows calls for 20 2-bedroom units ~1500 SF (square feet) each in ten buildings along a loop road, “Lansing Meadows Drive”. The project uses the entire parcel, with the eastern end set aside for a small (less than 2500 SF) neighborhood retail component.

Goetzmann is less than happy with the latest version, saying that financially it doesn’t work, but he needs to get something built to fulfill the requirements of the BJ’s tax abatement in 2011 – the senior housing component of the project has been delayed so long, the county has prepared legal action to recuperate abated taxes if Goetzmann doesn’t get the senior housing started ASAP. The answer at the last pair of meetings went from “I just want to get this done” to “We’re looking to build 12 units and if we’re successful we’re looking to build some more, which really didn’t bode well for negotiation – at this point, a low or breakeven ROI is a price Goetzmann is willing to pay over paying the county and village millions. The Planning Board is satisfied with the newest design, and a vote to approve a special permit to start construction could be as soon as April 9th. The actual construction docs would take ten weeks and the project has to go out to bid contractors, but Goetzmann is optimistic the units will be built this year.

It’s a quiet month otherwise for the village, with a cell tower and a parking lot expansion the only other things on the latest agenda.

2. Let’s take a quick look at some noteworthy sales from the past month:

The Belleayre Apartments at 702 Stewart Avenue sold for $5,434,500 on the 22nd. The seller was Sebastian Mascaro, who some readers might remember because he previously owned the Chapter House before it burnt down. The buyer was Kimball Real Estate. The 44-unit building, which retains classic Collegiate Gothic details popular when it opened in 1933, is assessed at $3.85 million. Mascaro had paid $4.25 million for the building in November 2011. Don’t expect any big changes here, but it’s evidence of the strength of the local multi-family market.

9 Dart Drive, a 4.56-acre vacant parcel in the village of Lansing, sold for $52,500 to VPA Development on March 22nd. Yes, there is something planned here – the village Board of Trustees is aware. VPA Development’s mailing address is the same as local businessman Nick Bellisario, who is building warehouses on Hall Road in Dryden, and is a partner in the Varna Tiny Timbers (The Cottages at Fall Creek) project. Zoning here is the village’s Medium Density Residentialsingle-family and two-family homes, schools and religious facilities. Zoning is one unit per 20,000 SF for a single-family home, 25,000 SF for a duplex. So in theory, perhaps 8 or 9 home lots if single-family.

3. One of the questions that makes a fairly regular appearance in the inbox – will Maplewood finish on time in July 2018? It’s a good question, one that Cornell and EdR are damn determined to give a yes answer for. To make up for weather delays and other issues, the Maplewood construction team is requesting to do interior work to as late as 10:30 PM Monday-Friday. Keep in mind, this is on top of the Saturday hours and previous workday extension (four hours, two on both sides, to 7 AM – 7 PM). The town of Ithaca, which has to approve these changes, seems amenable to it so long as no generators are operating, doors and windows are closed, and supervisory staff is present – basically, don’t disturb the neighbors.

At last check, unseasonably cold and wet weather over the past several months had led the project to fall behind, and subcontractors to move to steadier jobs elsewhere. The project has fallen as much as 25 days behind schedule. The extensions, if approved, would create an 85.5 hour construction week, manned by different crews.

Side note, the town of Ithaca hasn’t had much else to review lately – the planning board has only had two meetings out of the scheduled six so far this year. The other projects were a single-family home lot subdivision on Trumansburg Road, and renewing the approvals for New Earth Living’s 31-unit Amabel single-family ecohousing development on Five Mile Drive. I have not seen anything underway when I’ve driven by, and the website has not been updated in a while, so it’s nice to know that something is still in the works.

4. For good housekeeping – things are slow in Dryden, so slow they cancelled their monthly planning board meeting. Things are also fairly slow in the town of Lansing, where the big controversy is a plan to relocate the shooting range for Lansing Rod & Gun. The issue is that environmentalists have criticized the gun shot’s proposal for lead shot remediation, as well as saying the range is too close to Salmon Creek. The town is still reviewing documents and has yet to make a decision.

5. Recently, the Collegetown Neighborhood Council floated a Business Improvement District (BID) similar to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance. The reception was lukewarm, according to the Times’ Matt Butler. It’s not that the concept is disliked, although some smaller property owners are a bit nervous about being outvoiced by bigger players. It’s more a concern that a BID would likely be financed by a property tax surcharge, something that the county’s (and arguably, one of upstate’s) most expensive neighborhoods would rather not have to deal with. A DIA-type group may engage in security, local beautification, event planning, or other needs as the business owners as we see fit; as of now, it’s still just a hazy idea, but we’ll see what happens with it.

6. The relative quiet in the project pipeline extends to Ithaca City. At the February planning board meeting, U-Haul corporate had submitted plans for a 5-story building that, in the words of Matt Butler, “they kicked that idea to the curb….just bludgeoned the dude.” Apparently it was too much – too big, too tall, no attractive. Also, the project for 207-209 First Street is not as bad as initially feared. Both existing two-families will be renovated, but not torn down, and a new duplex would be built at the rear of the property lots. The board says it could be similar to the Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood, and was supportive of the plan overall.

This month was one of the quietest meeting agendas I’ve seen in years – the only project up for formal review and approval was the Stewart Park Inclusive Playground, as well as updates on the Chain Works District zoning, and the City Harbor plans. City Harbor was a late addition. There is plenty in the pipeline, some of which will come forward in the next few months; just seems there’s a bit of a lull at the moment.

7. Just a reminder – meetings for the East Hill Village neighborhood-scale proposal will be held at the The Space @ Greenstar on Monday 4/9 (an update of the past several months, 4/11 (workshops for concept designs), and 4/12 (presentation of preferred concept designs and alternatives). All meetings will be 6-8 PM, and the public is encouraged to attend.

Here’s a copy of the presentation from last May’s meeting – not anything groundbreaking, but it makes it clear that Cornell’s land holding are much more patchwork than folks might realize. I suppose the owner of the East Hill Car Wash stands to make a pretty penny at some point.





News Tidbits 2/26/2018: One, Two, Many Tweaks

26 02 2018

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. Than Lansing Star is reporting that developer Eric Goetzmann is in serious trouble. The village of Lansing Planning Board rejected his latest request for the Lansing Meadows senior housing component, which was to build twelve units on a fraction of the lot, and leave the rest vacant. Frankly, they liked the units, but the vacant and potentially saleable lot was too much for them to overlook. To be honest, they and the village Board of Trustees have been fairly accommodating to his other requests, but this seems to be the last straw, and they let him know it.

They will consider the latest revision, but only as a major revision, not as the minor change Goetzmann had hoped for. That means it will take months to go through the procedural review and vote. Meanwhile, the IDA has initiated legal action because Goetzmann failed to hold up his end of the deal they agreed to when he received his abatement back in 2011.

Some projects are successes. Some break even, some don’t turn out as well as hoped. But as Lansing Meadows goes, this is neigh close to a disaster.

2. On a more positive note, Lansing will be considering, coincidentally, another 12-unit townhouse project. Called “Triphammer Row”, the market-rate units are planned for the vacant rear portion of a Cornell-owned parcel at 2248 North Triphammer. This blog reported on the parcel in a news roundup back in July 2016, when it went up for sale:

“Hitting the market this week is a potential opportunity for the deep-pocketed investor/developer. The property is 2248 North Triphammer Road in the village of Lansing. The sale consists of two parcels totaling 3.42 acres – a 1.53 acre parcel with a 2,728 SF M&T Bank branch built in 1992 and holding a long-term triple-net (NNN) lease; the other, an undeveloped 1.89 acre parcel to the rear that the listing notes could be developed out into 13 housing units. The price for the pair is $2,125,000.”

The plan calls for roughly 1,350 SF units with ground-floor garages. They’re intended to be marketed towards seniors looking to downsize, and young families. The developer is Robert Poprawski, who runs a small hotel group (Snooze Hotels) in metro Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Poprawski is a 2005 Cornell graduate, so there’s the likely local connection.

The planning board is supportive, but the big issue will be the driveway – they would prefer the townhomes share Sevanna Park’s driveway. That’s tricky because Sevanna Park’s road is privately owned. Not impossible to make a deal, and it would likely have the village’s benediction, but it’ll take a little while to see if a deal can be made between Sevanna Park’s HOA and Poprawski (all things considered, given that a much larger retail/office building and parking lot could be built on the combined lots, 12 more homeowners doesn’t sound like a bad option).

The village is also reporting there are development plans for the balance of the Millcroft property (the 32-acre remainder of the parcel, once intended for luxury single-family homes, has been for sale for a while), and vacant 4.56-acre 9 Dart Drive. The Ramada Inn (correction: the new extended-stay hotel proposed behind the Ramada) and Target are the only businesses interested in buying their properties from the mall’s owner, and Bon-Ton’s on deathwatch. The town’s code and planning officer notes that if it weren’t for Namdar Realty buying the mall, it would have failed, which would have forced the remaining tenants out and turned the mall into a vacant husk, to say nothing of the property tax implications.

3. Let’s shift over to Dryden. It’s been rumored for a little while that 1061 Dryden, aka the “Evergreen Townhouses”, would be trying to shift towards a smaller footprint – here’s the plan. The approved proposal calls for 36 3-bedroom units, six strings of six units. The reduced size plan still has six strings of six units, but the middle four have been reduced to two-bedroom units. The total occupancy goes from 108 to 84, and the footprints have shrunk as bit. Old render at top, new renders at middle, new site plan at bottom with new footprints in red. HOLT Architects’ design is generally the same, though I have an armchair critique with the rear flanks of the strings – a window opening would do a lot for aesthetics, if the floor plans permit.

(You can check the town’s website for docs, but some webpages have been hacked and replaced with a phishing scam, so use caution).

According to Dryden town planner Ray Burger, the developer, Lansing businessman Gary Sloan, would like to start construction this summer. That would put these units on track for an opening in time for the 2019-2020 academic year (in other words, about 12-14 month constriction timeline).

4. Another project moving forward – 118 College Avenue in Collegetown. This is a Visum proposal to replace a five-bedroom house with a 5-unit, 28-bedroom apartment building. The project was approved by the city early last year. According to the advertisements on Zillow, rents are expected to be $1,200/person, plus utilities.

I asked Visum’s Patrick Braga to confirm, and he replied that building permits would be approved “any day now”, so they’re probably looking at an August 2018 opening. With regards to a follow-up inquiry about its near-identical twin planned for 126 College Avenue, Braga replied they he does not “have any information on the status” for that project.

5. The new Greenstar West End store. Maybe coming soon. According to the news release, if the membership approves the move, the new store would be open at 750 Cascadilla Street by November 2019. The expansion would more than double their floor space, and add sixty living-wage jobs. Membership will vote on the plan next month.

The above render is courtesy of STREAM Collaborative – even without their logo, their software relies on the same pack of white Priuses, Volvos, and Touraegs to fill parking spaces (my family of mechanics would be proud I use vehicle models as a telltale attribute). The design is attractive for a big box – it has shed roofs and exposed wood trusses that give it a warmer, less industrial appearance. For the record, STREAM also did 118 College Avenue in the previous tidbit.

6. Honda of Ithaca has been sold to the Maguires for $3.5 million. The sale was recorded with the county clerk on the 20th. The acquisition means that Maguire represents just about every major vehicle make in the Ithaca area. It also drew some impassioned responses regarding customer service experiences, which given Maguire’s very visible presence, is not to be unexpected.

According to county records, the 27,558 SF dealership was built in 1985 as Cutting Motors Buick-Pontiac-GMC, and sold for $1.8 million in 2009. It was renovated and expanded in 2012; the portion closest to Elmira Road is the expansion space.

7. The Lambrou family’s latest project is coming along. Being built at 123 Eddy is a contextually-sensitive two-family home at 123 Eddy Street. While modular, the home was designed to have features respectful to its location in the East Hill Historic District – this includes a double-decker porch, roof brackets, shake siding and decorative columns and railings. The new three-bedroom units should be ready in time for the 2018-19 academic year.

8. Quick note – building permits for both the Amici House residential and head start/daycare buildings have been filed and granted by the city. The Harriet Giannellis Childcare Center’s hard costs are estimated at $1,267,479, while the 23-unit residential portion’s hard costs are estimated at $3,627,333. Welliver will be the general contractor.

9. Looks like a pretty quite planning board agenda for this month. A pair of new projects, but they’re small ones. Let’s have a look:

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III.A. Stewart Park Inclusive Playground 6:15

B. College Townhouses – Modified Site Plan approval 6:35

C. Proposed U-Haul Self-Storage Project – Sketch Plan 7:10

Although vague, this is like for the former Salvation Army property at 339 Elmira Road. U-Haul purchased the lot in January 2016 from the development group that planned and cancelled a hotel for the property. As noted on the Voice recently, there’s been a building boom in self-storage facilities lately.

The most plausible guess for this corporate-owned property is that this will likely take after the chain’s default design for self-storage facilities, with maybe some modest aesthetic differences. Not especially pretty, but the city would probably prefer that over a parking lot for U-Haul trucks.

D. Proposed duplex and parking – 207 and 209 First Street 7:30

207 and 209 are a pair of run-down rental two-family homes in Ithaca’s Northside. After the previous owner passed away, they were sold to local businessman David Barken in June 2017. Barken previously caused a stir in Fall Creek when he bought, renovated and sold a Utica Street home for a much higher price (he said on the list-serve it wasn’t intended to be a flip, it was intended for a family member who decided to live elsewhere). Barken purchased the home for $160,000 in September 2016, and it sold for $399,500 in June 2017. He also rents out a couple other units in Fall Creek.

EDIT 3/8: Rather than a tear-down and replacement, the scope of the project appears to be that the homes would be renovated, and a new duplex would be built towards the rear of the lots. Per email after the meeting from David Barken:

“While in its beginning phases and still taking shape, I have no intention to tear down the existing homes. Instead, I plan to steadily improve these properties, working on both the exteriors and interiors as the planning phases for any future project moves forward.

Rather than de-densification, my aim is to add more fair market rate, non-student housing to the downtown market and add to urban density in our city’s core. I am designing the site for a total of 6 apartments, with an emphasis toward communal interaction, landscaping, and urban gardening. I envision a pocket community for renters, complete with the 4 renovated units in the front of the lot and an additional duplex placed in the rear of the parcel.”

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks FGEIS

B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 311 College Avenue – The Number Nine Fire Station

6. Reports 8:20

7. Approval of Minutes (1/23 and 1/30) 8:40

8. Adjournment