News Tidbits 11/25/17: Not Going to Plan

27 11 2017

1. It looks like the Lambrous have started work on the new duplex they’ve long planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown. Foundation work is underway for the two-unit, six-bedroom home, which utilized Superior Foundation Walls and modular units. The building sits on the edge of the East Hill Historic District, so to make the building compliant with the ILPC’s wishes, it features Hardie Board siding, simulated shakes, scuplted brackets and an attic vent, and detailed railings and porches. The design went through a couple iterations, with the first being historically appropriate but expensive stick-built design, and the second a modular scheme that was non-compliant with the ILPC. The Lambrous plan to have the new three-bedroom units available for rent by August.

2. Lansing’s Milton Meadows affordable housing project is up for final approval next Monday, and it looks like the first 72-unit phase will be the only phase. According to documentation filed with the town, the presence of poorer soils and more wetlands than anticipated means that Cornerstone will not be undertaking a second phase. It does raise further questions regarding adjacent parcels and the amount of money the town of Lansing can reasonable gain since this sounds like a recent discovery. The final site plans here show no indication of Cornerstone Development Group buying the remaining 8.9 acres that were intended for phase two.

There are no huge obstacles to prevent approval, although some town officials are unhappy that they didn’t apply a stronger hand to the town center development plan (i.e. laying the roads and infrastructure as they wanted, and charging a higher price for the parcels). While most of the darts have been levied towards Cornerstone (some perhaps unfairly due to it being affordable housing), the town planning chair has also targeted Tiny Timbers for using Conlon Road as its primary ingress/egress in their sketch plan. But with sales already negotiated and approved, the town’s legal options are limited, and since they already dropped the ball on the town center once, the optics aren’t pretty. Any work Cornerstone does is dependent on state and federal grants that are highly competitive and awarded only a few times per year, so don’t expect much for at least a year or two after approval.

3. It looks like the land for the proposed extension of South Meadow Square has been fenced off. A query to the folks in PetSmart next door didn’t turn up much, although they said there had been some water and sewer work to prep for the new 7,315 SF addition approved earlier this year. I did not see what the current conditions are for the approved 14,744 SF addition on the south end.

4. The county and the city have competing views of the NYS DOT’s future in Tompkins County. The county has reiterated its hope that the DOT relocates to a location next to the county airport. The city would prefer a location in Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart and the proposed Maguire dealership campus. The request for state grant dollars depends on the airport proposal, and the DOT has stated preference for a site near the airport.

However, if grants are not awarded, the airport is still considering a plan to build a $1-2 million customs facility that would allow to become an international airport, servicing passenger jets from Canadian hubs (Toronto, Montreal). In the short-term, work is underway to add service to Chicago, which has an on-time percentage comparable to Detroit (80%), and better than Newark (60%) and Philadelphia (70%). Cornell is actively assisting, trying to persuade airlines as part of its “Global Cornell” initiative.

5. So here’s the city of Ithaca’s parks master plan. There’s a few interesting things of note in terms of acquisitions and de-classifications (sale).

First, a quick note – the city is legally required to replace any park land it sells off with newly acquired park land. So with that in mind, the city looked at its parks and found five that are “vastly underutilized” – Columbia Street Park (0.25 acres), Dryden Road Park (0.08 acres), Hillview Park (0.74 acres), Maple Grove Park (0.47 acres), and Strawberry Fields (9.16 acres).

The city would like to sell off the first four on that list, and replace them with a new acquisition somewhere in the city that has at least 1.54 acres, but the city is looking for up to 12 acres. Proximity to population centers, arterial roads, pedestrian access and minimal site prep are some of the big deciding factors in that acquisition process. Meanwhile, Strawberry Fields would be held for either designation as a “school park” to be managed in conjunction with the ICSD, or as a “teaching preserve” for practice field research and instruction.

If the city did opt to sell those four parks, well, there’s some development potential, though they wouldn’t be prime. Maple Grove is a Belle Sherman cul-de-sac surrounded by single-family homes. Dryden Road Park is a small triangle next to the parking garage, and while technically an MU-2 zone for six floors, it’s just as likely Cornell would pick it up amd add it to its tax-exempt rolls since it’s next to Cascadilla Hall. Hillview and Columbia Street on South Hill (R-2a zone) could potentially become a few home lots or a small apartment complex, but the land’s sale would be a political challenge.The city procedure would be an advertised sale offering through the IURA, followed by a grading system of applicants that meet the city’s specified price, as they did with foreclosed lots that became the Ithaka Terraces and 203 Third Street.

Not too keen to get in the weeds on this, since this would be controversial with neighborhood groups, but it’s really just a thought exercise at this point – any potential land sale would be on a long-term, 5 year+ time scale, and the city would need to have new land ready to be acquired for recreational uses. Even thatcould cause problems when neighbors complain that an untouched property becomes a public park that attracts people (this has been an issue with proposed extensions of the South Hill Rec Trail). There is plenty of time to debate the merits and drawbacks of long-term property assets. Right now, the focus is repair and renovating existing facilities in city parks.

6. Looking at the city’s planning board agenda for next week, it’s a short one. The duplex at 601 South Aurora and the Brindley Street Bridge are up for final approval, and a pair of new sketch plans will be reviewed – one is likely to be small, and the other a revision, potentially a downsizing. I’ve heard through the grapevine that several rental developers are holding off or even cancelling plans because they’re concerned about the impacts of Cornell’s 2,000 new beds for their North Campus – although right now there’s nothing formal apart from a statement of intent. Ideally, Cornell puts some concept forth soon, with plans not long thereafter; otherwise, there’s the risk that the local housing situation gets worse. Perhaps the reasonable worst case scenario is that, with recent federal attacks on higher education, Cornell is forced to trim its budget and cancels the housing plans, while still adding students to compensate for financial losses – basically, a sudden large growth in demand without growth in supply.

First, 209 Hudson. This was previously mentioned in a Voice article, it’s potentially a small-scale infill project by frequent infill developer Stavros Stavropoulos. The early plan for two of three rental buildings was shelved due to the South Hill overlay, and its possible that, given the relatively large lot, Stavropoulos may be planning a subdivision to build an additional two-family rental unit. Dunno if he can legally pull off more than that, however. R-2a with overlay allows a 1-2 family structure as a primary, with an accessory apartment in a secondary structure.

The second is 119-123 College Avenue. This is unusual in that this was the site for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project, a 67-unit, multi-building plan for rentals geared towards visiting Cornell faculty and staff. However, the recent NYSEG power line issue has proven problematic, and the last I checked, the project team was supposed to go before a state building codes board in Syracuse this month to get a variance to allow construction, on the basis that the power lines will soon be buried. The minutes are not online, so it’s not clear what the ruling was. While CR-4 zoning allows 45 feet as the plan is currently designed, a variance denial by the state would limit structural height to 30 feet, and would substantially impact the project’s feasibility in pricey Collegetown, as well as alter the design. For the record, 119-123 does not imply a smaller project; 123 College Avenue never existed, the three homes removed for this project were 119, 121 and 125. We’ll see what the revised plans look like next week.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the floor (3-minute maximum per person) 6:05
3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Duplex 6:15
Location: 601 S Aurora Street
Applicant: David Putnam
Actions: Public Hearing, Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a duplex on the .186 acre (8,114 SF) vacant lot. Site development includes parking for two cars, walkways, landscaping, a continuous sidewalk along the property frontage, drainage improvements and a trash enclosure. The applicant has designed curbing and on-street parking on Hillview Place in cooperation with the City Engineering Division. The project is in the R-2a Zoning district. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5. (C.)(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (c)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Brindley Street Bridge Rebuild and Relocation 6:35
Location: Intersection of W State Street and Taughannock Blvd
Applicant: Addisu Gebre for the City of Ithaca
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
Project Description:
The project will relocate current Brindley Street Bridge to align with W. State St./Taughannock
Blvd. intersection through the construction of a new single span extending Taughannock Blvd. over
the Cayuga Inlet to Taber Street. The project will retain existing Brindley Street Bridge and south approach road for pedestrian and bike use. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) for which the Board of Public Works, acting as Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance in 2016.

C. 209 Hudson Street – Subdivision & Site Plan Review – Sketch Plan 7:05

D. 119-123 College Avenue – Sketch Plan 7:35

4. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Collegetown Design Guidelines – Megan Wilson
B. Parks Master Plan – Megan Wilson

5. Reports 8:40
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)





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