News Tidbits 8/5/17: Having the Right Look

5 08 2017

1. Thanks to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, we have the first rough site plan for the proposed Cornerstone and Tiny Timbers projects at the Lansing Town Center site at the intersection of Route 34B and Triphammer Roads. Readers may recall that Tiny Timbers has proposed a development of 60 for-sale single-family homes (ten in the first phase) called “Lansing Community Cottages”, and Cornerstone is proposing up to 144 affordable apartments in two phases for the town center site.

Specifically, Tiny Timbers is looking to sell homes averaging about 1,000-1,200 SF in the $175,000-$225,000 range, which is a critical but tough-to-hit segment in the local housing market. With consultation from planner David West, the homes are designed in a traditional urban layout, with congregated parking spaces instead of garages, and community green spaces. None of the homes are more than 150 feet from the roads and parking areas, a safety requirement to ensure access for emergency vehicles. Ten units would be built in phase one, twenty in phase two, and thirty in phase three. About the only concern town officials have expressed at this point is a second means of ingress/egress to keep the traffic down on Conlon Road.

In contrast to Tiny Timbers’ site plan, the Cornerstone plan is a more conventional suburban layout with parking adjacent to each 8-unit structure. In fact, based on the above design, and the need for affordable developers to save on costs and therefore many reuse designs when they can, it’s likely that some of the Cornerstone apartments look something like the above image, which comes from a recent Cornerstone project near Brockport. The detailing and the colors may differ, but it’s a pretty good bet that’s how some of the finished units will look. Like Conifer, Cornerstone appear to be using a mix of their standard designs, and there are two distinct designs on the site plan, as well as a community center.

2. A redevelopment opportunity in downtown Ithaca has sold, but it looks like there are no plans. 110-112 West Seneca Street is a 538 SF salon with a large rental parking lot, and zoning is B-1a, meaning 4 floors 50% lot coverage, parking requirements in effect of about one space per unit or one space per 250 SF of commercial use. Tompkins Trust (Tompkins Financial Corp.) picked up the property on Friday the 28th for $600,000, below the $800k asking price but still quite substantial for what’s mostly land.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen here. Tompkins Trust had previously rented the 23 parking spaces on site for use by its own employees – whether they’re hedging bets or don’t trust the parking garage situation, they appear to be buying the property to use as parking. Boo. With any luck, after their new HQ opens up next spring and their parking situation settles down, they’ll find better uses or potential partners for the lot. With no historic attributes but proximity to major services and amenities, a parking lot on this property is a waste of potential.

3. The Harold’s Square project team has given their website a overhaul, and with that comes the official timeline. According to the web page, asbestos abatement is now underway, demolition will start in September, construction will last through January 2019, and marketing/lease-up for the commercial spaces and 108 residential units should will start in January 2019.

The project description web page mentions 100 construction jobs, 50 retail jobs and 200 office jobs, which seems accurate for the square footage of each use (12k retail, 25k office). The estimate of 250 residents is way too generous though – the back-of-the-envelope is one person per bedroom, and there are about 144 bedrooms/studio units.

Side note, I reserve the right to grouse that the media links both go to the Times.

4. Dunno what’s going to happen with the Lansing Meadows senior housing up by the mall. Background story on the Voice here. On the one hand, the wetlands were an arduous and expensive undertaking, and Goetzmann did those to Army Corps of Engineers standards. It does make it tougher for the project to be financially viable. On the other hand, the village has a right to be frustrated, and it’s not unreasonable that they’re feeling that they’re being taken for a ride. Goetzmann received an IDA tax deal for what was largely a retail project, largely a no-no because most jobs in retail are low wage. He also received a variance for a community retail component, and multiple extensions from the IDA on fulfilling the housing component.

An increase in density spreads the fixed costs out among a greater number of units, and it’s encouraged by the village and county, so that’s not the issue. The design is what bothers them – while shared walls and utilities is a cost-saving measure, the village has expected smaller, house-like units since the project was first proposed in the late 2000s. Maybe the happy medium between this and the ten duplexes is a site plan with 3-4 unit structures with 20-24 units, with the buildings designed with pitched roofs, dormers, small porches and other home-like features. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months.

5. Plans for co-op housing on West State Street have been waylaid, perhaps permanently. New York City businessman Fei Qi had previously proposed to renovate the historic 3,800 SF property at 310 West State Street into office space, and more recently a 12-14 person co-op. However, there have been a couple of issues with both plans – the ca. 1880 building is in need of significant structural renovation. Years of deferred maintenance prior to Qi (who bought it from the Salvation Army for $195k last year) has left the building in rough shape, and asbestos and lead need to be removed. For the housing proposal to be permitted, fire suppression systems would also need to be installed. Some city officials have expressed concern that like the carriage house that once existed at the rear of the property, if the building gets mothballed again, its structural integrity may be at risk. Any external changes would need to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. It appears that Qi recently applied to the commission stating economic hardship, saying he was unaware the building was a historic property and was not communicated to him by the seller or real estate agent, and cannot afford to renovate it to ILPC standards. The designation went into effect in April 2015, a year before sale.

Concurrently, Qi has put the property up for sale. For an asking price of $278,000, one gets the building and the architect’s plans. I’ve seen ball-park estimates of $500k for the renovation into office space, but I never saw an estimate for the co-op. As a result of the structural issues, the building’s assessed value plunged from $250,000 in 2016 to $100,000 last year, most of that being the land. Fingers crossed, someone steps up to the plate to save this building before it’s too late.

6. Last month, I speculated that there was a plan for redeveloping 217 Columbia Street on Ithaca’s South Hill. Turns out there is, and it’s really upsetting the neighbors. The plan by Modern Living Rentals is to preserve the existing building, but build an additional two-family home on the property as well. For the neighbors, this is apparently one student-oriented rental too far. Some are calling for a moratorium, and others a zoning change to prevent rentals without an owner living in the property. Most of South Hill’s zoning is R-2 residential, which is one-and-two family homes, and most of the construction in South Hill these past few years has been one and two-family homes. The issue is that they’re upset they’re rentals, many of which appeal to Ithaca College students further up the hill in the town. In theory, you could make it an approval requirement that the renters be non-students, although I’m not sure that would placate the situation. We’ll see how it goes.





News Tidbits 7/22/17: Throwing Darts

22 07 2017

1. Let’s start off the week with a little intrigue. A vacant 12.34 acre property on Wiedmeier Court in Ithaca town sold for $65,000 earlier this week – given that it was on the market for five years and marketed for development potential, the sale merited a closer look.

At first glance, it seemed to merit a shrug. The buyer was an LLC that could be traced back to a CPA in the San Francisco area, a woman of retirement age. The profile fits the deep-pocketed subset who might buy a sizable slice of land near Ithaca, and build a home for their retirement enjoyment. Not uncommon in Tompkins County.

Then on Wednesday, the same buyer purchased 114 and 122 Birdseye View Drive from the Cleveland family for $485,000. 122 is a 4-bedroom single-family, and 114 a 3-bedroom single-family. Both are next to IC, nearly new houses in a development otherwise filled with small-scale student housing. So, things just got more interesting. We’ll see if anything comes of the Wiedmeier property.

2. Just briefly touching on Hamilton Square this week – one of the questions I previously held off on addressing was the possibility of the abatement. Although the county has said they’re open to considering affordable housing tax abatements or PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) as part of their housing strategy, housing itself usually isn’t enough to merit a visit to the IDA. But with the addition of the nursery/daycare, it bared similarities to 210 Hancock, which cited its planned daycare center and the new jobs at the center in its PILOT request.

So, I asked what the plan was. Here’s the response from INHS’s Real Estate Development Director, Joe Bowes:

“We are not seeking an abatement from the IDA for the project.  If the day care is a non-profit then it would be tax exempt without the need for an IDA abatement.  The housing does not need the abatement in this case so it will be assessed and will pay property taxes.  210 had other reasons for requesting an abatement.”

Emphasis his. In the documentation on Hancock, the abatement was partially driven by the acquisition cost of the property and the need for a deep pile foundation. The buildings are much smaller at 46 South Street, so a slab/shallow foundation is suitable, and it helps that Trumansburg’s soil is less water-logged and more stable than Northside’s. This results in a lower development cost per square foot, so although they arguably could (and upset the neighbors even more), INHS isn’t pursuing a PILOT or abatement. The only tax savings will be for the eleven affordable owner-occupied units, which will be assessed for what they can sell for within the Community Housing Trust, rather than a market-rate value. This has the county’s support, because taxing a townhouse for double the value of what the lower-middle class homeowner could sell it for undermines its affordability.

3. Here’s an interesting note from Lansing regarding the Cornerstone land purchase. The first phase on 13.5 acres would be 68-72 units. The second phase on the remaining 8.9 acres would potentially host another 72 units. All of these would be affordable. This might cause a backlash as too much, but if one of the phases was general affordable housing, and the other affordable senior housing, then that might negate most of the blowback. Anyway, something to watch for.

On another note, the modified PDA for the Village Solars has a stipulation that the community center/mixed-use building (“F”, green dot) has to be completed by the end of 2020, and only 4 of the 9 other buildings will be approved before the community center is complete. Everything north of Circle North will not be allowed to start construction until the community center is open. This suggests a build-out of #116/#102, 2017-18, #2/#22, 2018-19, Community Center 2019-2020, #117/#36 2020-21, and K, L and M would be built in 2021-22.


4. Laurels and darts. Here’s a dart. The town of Ithaca is seeking to, once again, extend its moratorium on two-family properties. When the law was enacted in early May 2016, it was supposed to be for 270 days, meaning an early February expiration. Then it was extended to the end of July. Now they want to extend it to the end of October, which given the seasonal nature of construction, effectively stops all new two-family properties through the winter of 2017/18.

I’ll be frank. This is not a good look. There were a number of concerns from property owners when the law was proposed for a length of one year, was unfairly long, and the town has not only realized their concerns, it’s exceeded them. The town is establishing a bad faith precedent through what property owners will complain as either being ill will, or incompetence. Part of me is concerned that anyone fighting the town on something, be it zoning, development, conservation or anything, will use this as an example of how the town “can’t be trusted”. I’ve never been a fan of moratoriums, because they end up seeking extensions. Not impressed to have another example to file away.

5. And on that note, the town of Groton just slapped a six-month moratorium on all solar arrays designed to power more than one house or one agricultural farm. No commercial solar, no community solar. Technically, the law also stops wind turbines and gas pipelines, but the Times’ quotes make it clear this was all about solar.

6. The county legislature finally approved a name to the Heritage Center this week. The “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was approved 10-2. The previous vote failed due to a number of absent legislators and pushback for not having enough to consider the name. Legislator Chock D-3rd) initially wanted it named for late legislator Stu Stein, but naming buildings after people has been against county policy since the early 2000s. Legislator McBean-Clairborne (D-1st) voted against it because she felt the word “county” should be in there. This has not been a month where local government engenders confidence.

7. Short but interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting meeting up. The only thing up for final approval is the McDonald’s rebuild at 372 Elmira Road, while INHS’s Elm Street and Lakeview’s West End project are set to begin formal environmental review. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3.Site Plan Review

A. Project: Commercial Rebuild (McDonalds) 6:10
Location: 372 Elmira Road
Applicant:McDonalds USA LLC
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant proposes to replace the existing 4,800 SF restaurant facility with a new 4,400 SF building, construct a side-by-side drive-thru, install new landscaping, a dining patio, lighting, signage and a masonry landscape wall, as well as reconfigure the parking layout. The project is in the SW-2 Zoning District and requires an area variance. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.

B.Project: Elm St Apartments (Rebuild) 6:25

Location: 203-209 Elm Street
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The proposed project consist of the demolition of two single family homes and one
multiple dwelling and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act(“SEQRA”)§ 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: 709 West Court Street (Housing) 6:50
Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709–713 W Court Street
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels LLP for Lakeview Health Services Inc.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprintof 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will containing sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ- 1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(k) and (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

D. 105 Dearborn –Sketch Plan 7:10

This is Bridges Cornell Heights new 16-bedroom independent living building for seniors. If it’s at the Planning Board, that means the ILPC has signed off on the building and site design.

E. 311 College Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This is…curious. 311 College Avenue is The Nines restaurant and bar, and was built in 1905 as fire station No. 9 before the new station opened next door in the late 1960s. The old station was sold off and became the Nines in the early 1970s, and has been under its current ownership since 1980. The top two floors are used for storage, according to county records.

At a glance, it’s a valuable piece of land with a lot of posibilities – MU-2 zoning allows six floors and 100% lot coverage. On the other hand, this is a relative historic property in Collegetown, and development perceived as insensitive will likely see significant opposition. There had been talk by ILPC staff of giving the building historic designation back in February 2016 out of concerns over development pressure, but it seems no formal application was made. So there are options here, but the developer should proceed with caution.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50
#3066, 214 Elmira Road, Area Variance
#3079, 413 Titus Ave, Area Variance

5. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Planning Board Recommendation to Council Regarding Proposed Waterfront Rezoning
B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 403 College
Ave
C. Downtown Wayfinding

6.Reports 8:30
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison