Village Solars Construction Update, 6/2018

16 06 2018

It looks like there’s a lull in the construction at the moment. Both 102 Village Place and 116 Village Circle appear to be complete, though a quick guess would be that 102 Village Place is already occupied, and 116 Village Circle will be ready for its first tenants at the end of the month. The two have a total of 42 units, 24 in the former and 18 in the latter. TCAT is in discussions to add or modify a bus route to service the growing apartment complex, which has already added a couple hundred residents to the area since 2013, with plans for hundreds more over the next several years.

According to the phasing plan, the next phase is to replace 2 Village Circle and 22 Village Circle with a pair of 18-unit buildings. Those would be twelve studios and six two-bedrooms each, replacing two ten one-bedroom unit buildings (net gain of 28 residents, for those keeping in track). Demolition has not yet started on the existing structure, but the most likely plan is to start a little later in the early summer, and have the new pair of buildings ready for a spring 2019 occupancy.





News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.





Village Solars Construction Update, 3/2018

24 03 2018

It looks like 102 Village Place is just about complete from the outside, with only some minor finishing work like trim boards remaining on the to-do list. Its peer, 116 Village Circle, is a little further behind, with rough-ins, insulation and drywall in place inside, and exterior facade work underway. The air-source heat pumps have been installed, but not fully hooked up yet. The 42 units in these two (24 and 18 respectively) should be ready for occupancy by the end of the spring.

I never caught it before, but the project docs say the developer, Lifestyles Properties (the Lucente family), will plant over 500 cherry trees on the property as phases concludes and the land is no longer disturbed. Perhaps a few of the saplings below are included in that figure.

According to the phasing plan, the next phase is to replace 2 Village Circle and 22 Village Circle with a pair of 18-unit buildings. Those would be twelve studios and six two-bedrooms each, replacing two ten one-bedroom unit buildings (net gain of 28 residents, for those keeping in track). These would likely start later this year for a 2019 completion.

After that time, Phase 3b, a 20-unit, 20-bedroom mixed-use community building (building “F”, all-new), would also start construction, with the start of phase 4, the 24-unit replacement of 36 Village Circle, to follow in the 2019-2020 timeframe. 3b has to start before Phase 4 if even just one day sooner, as that was added as a stipulation by the town planning board before any new phases commence (presumably, it would also have to be completed in reasonable time). Lifestyle Properties says the two buildings per year phase-in works well for Tompkins Trust Company as lender (its market segment and location can comfortably absorb another 42 or so units every year), and for the in-house construction team and preferred subcontractors. Spring 2022 is the practical conclusion, but there are plans for additional buildings east of the current site, which could add a few hundred more units throughout the 2020s.

Just as a subjective observation, there has definitely been a change in Lansing’s development pattern. It’s still fairly suburban, but the numerous 3,000 SF Cardamone homes that seemed to be ever-underway on cul-de-sacs in the mid 2000s have now been reduced to a trickle – I never see more than 2 or 3 underway at any one time these days, and driving through Cayuga Way, Woodland Park and Whispering Pines is often a waste of gas. However, multi-family is taking off in areas with sewer access, like here at the Village Solars, and with the English Village / Cayuga Orchard properties between East Shore Drive and Triphammer Road. Likewise, the village is getting plenty of infill on its vacant parcels, from large projects like the Bomax Drive Apartments and Cayuga View Senior Living, to smaller ones like Triphammer Row.

There’s some evidence to back that up – according to the federal HUD Building Permits Database, from 2003-2006, Lansing town and village approved 187 single-family homes and not a single multi-family unit. From 2013-2016 (the latest available), the two approved 92 single-family homes and 148 multi-family units.





Village Solars Construction Update, 1/2018

24 01 2018

Work continues at the Village Solars apartment project in Lansing, though it’s mostly been interior construction these past couple months. 102 Village Place has had some of its composite wood siding applied (LP SmartSide treated and engineered wood siding), and the electrical wiring and air-source heat pump units are in place, though not fully connected just yet.

102 VP was already framed, roofed and fitted by the November visit, so chances are, they’ve already done utilities rough-ins and insulation, and they’ve moved on to drywall, baseboards and interior trim boards, priming and painting, and maybe some plumbing fixture and cabinetry installs. The three-story apartment building, which replaces a ten-unit 1970s structure, will have 24 units – 12 studios, three 1-bedroom, six 2-bedroom, and three 3-bedroom. If one wants to look at this from a population perspective, each of the ten units was a 1-bedroom, so the back of the envelope says there will be a net gain of 26 residents (one per bedroom, 36 – 10). And presumably, a couple million dollars in assessed value.

116 Village Place, the younger of the pair, is not as far along but has been fully framed, wrapped and shingled since November, and some siding has been attached. It looks like not all the windows have been fitted, given the wrapped rough opening on the third floor in the first photo below. Based off the open door in that same photo, it looks like framing, insulation and utilities rough-ins (plumbing, electrical, HVAC) are ongoing. 116 is the smaller building of the two, with 18 units, 12 studios and six 2-bedrooms. Like 102, it also replaces an older apartment building, an eight-unit structure of one-bedroom units (and 14 more residents on-site, using the same math as before).

Lifestyle Properties is the developer, with their in-house contractor in charge of construction. It doesn’t look like the new units are being marketed yet, but existing 2-bedrooms are going for $1,325/month, and 3-bedrooms for $1,375-$1,720/month. Anecdotally, Lifestyle has had an easier time filling the smaller units than the larger 3-bedroom units.





Village Solars Construction Update, 11/2017

25 11 2017

Another redeveloped building is underway at the Village Solars property along the 1000 Block of Warren Road in Lansing. The original 8-unit, 8-bedroom 116 Village Circle is no longer of this world; the early 1970s structure was torn down to make way for a new three-story building with 6 2-bedroom units and 12 microunits (400-600 SF). Along with the framed and sheathed 102 Village Place, that means that Lifestyle Properties does in fact have two buildings underway at the site; perhaps the last visit in September just happened to catch the project during a brief lull.

102 Village Place has been fully framed, sheathed, roofed, windows and doors have been fitted, and the fiber cement siding is just beginning to be installed (possibly by T&J Contractors of Auburn; most construction work by Lifestyle Property/the Lucente family is handled by an in-house crew). On the inside, expect electrical, plumbing, and HVAC to be underway; with no open doors or windows, it was not clear if they’re hanging drywall yet. In comparison to the “older” new apartment buildings, these new ones have different fenestration and even have stone veneer at the bases, though the overall building designs are generally similar. It’s not completely certain what the purpose of all the eaves (eavelets?) are on the walls of 102, though given the utility lines, it may have something to do with weather/ice protection for the air source heat pumps, which are shielded by small eaves and wood lattice on the latest completed apartment buildings.

The replacement structure for 116 Village Circle is just starting the framework for the second floor. As previously noted, it’s not uncommon to just housewrap over the rough openings, and cut out the holes later. The excess will be trimmed off and the edges will be fastened back to the inside wall, allowing for a tight and complete wrapping of the rough opening. Taking a guess, 102 will probably be done by the end of March, and 116 the end of June perhaps.

Side note, I’ve never noticed the Village Solars construction crew put a flag up on topped-out structures before.





Village Solars Construction Update, 9/2017

1 10 2017

It looks like the Village Solars are moving along, albeit at the slowest pace in years. Since 102 Village Place was torn down back in June, the site was cleared, the foundation and underground utilities reconfigured, and framing has begun on its replacement. The wood frame was up to the top floor by the time of this late September site visit, and erection of the roof trusses was due to take place in just a few days. The housewrap is already in place, and as the interior receives its frames, pipes, wiring and rough-ins, work will being on window and door fittings. Probably looking at an early spring finish here.

Note that it’s not uncommon to just housewrap over the rough openings, and cut out the holes later. The excess will be trimmed off and the edges will be fastened back to the inside wall, allowing for a tight and complete wrapping of the rough opening.

Interestingly, none of the other tear-downs or new building sites have started, meaning that only one building is currently under construction. That’s rather unusual for Lifestyle Properties, whose in-house construction crew typically works on 2 or 3 buildings at a time. There was a dirt pile near one of the future building sites, but it’s been that way for a while, so it’s likely being used as a staging area. The limited construction suggests that the Lucentes may be falling behind their anticipated construction timeline, which generally calls for two or three buildings a year in order to stay on track.





Village Solars Construction Update, 6/2017

17 06 2017

It’s not often that I run into someone who’s aware of this blog, let alone while taking site photos. When I arrived at the Village Solars property off of Warren Road in Lansing, I was immediately surprised to see they were taking down one of the older 1970s 10-unit properties, 102 Village Place. A salvage job this is not; the excavator was actively tearing through the brick veneer and wood window frames, leaving them in a pile as it slowly worked its way through the building. A gentlemen with a hose was spraying the fresh debris down to keep airborne dust to a minimum. To be honest, even if the building has little historic value, there’s always a bit of a bittersweet feeling to see a place that hundreds called home fall to the march of progress.

And the march of progress it is. As readers of the Voice may be aware, the plan for the Village Solars has been changed up. The next few phases will remove the 1960s-1970s 8-unit and 10-unit (all 1-bedroom) buildings and build new Village Solars buildings on their foundations. The net gain in units will be 70, bringing the number built and to be built from 502 to 572, and a gain in bedrooms of about 124.

It’s a bit complicated of a breakdown – four of the new building planned – 24-unit “K”, 24-unit “L”, and 18-unit “M” – were originally to be the next phase. When all that was said and done, Building “F”, which will host retail components, a community center and 20 studio units, was to be built. Those are being pushed off in favor of the replacement units. For example, 102 Village Place, coming down in the photos below, will be replaced with a 24-unit building that will also be called 102 Village Place. It’s five peers closest to the Village Solars will also be coming down for the construction of 18 or 24 unit apartment buildings on their footprints. There will be five phases, and it looks like two older buildings will come down and have replacements built each year for the next three years, with the last two being the all-new K/L/M and F. The designs for the six new buildings will be similar to the existing Village Solars.

So while taking photos, I happened to see a gentleman in a wide-brimmed hat and loafers, drinking a couple beers. I intended to not make waves and to just walk past when he broke the ice by saying “I’m surprised there aren’t more neighbors out watching. You don’t see something like this everyday.” I ended up making my acquaintance with Jon Lucente, the son of Rocco Sr., brother of Steve and uncle to Rocco Jr. – so, not as directly involved as the others, but still aware and knowledgeable. Turns out he lives in the Village Solars.

One of our conversation topics swirled around the hassles of regulation – a little talk on the Briarwood mess ten years ago, a little bit about Varna, and a lot about the Village Solars. To be frank, he had nothing but great things to say about Lansing town government. But he complained some of the building code regulations created headaches for his family and their in-house contracting team. For example, the buildings had be earthquake-proof, and the expensive sprinkler systems over the balconies are only legal until 2022 but they were the only type approved for use. Interestingly, they originally wanted to do four floors but building codes say an elevator is required for 4 or more floors (this tripped up Ecovillage as well as few years back). Jon brought this all back to the cost being passed on to tenants.

On my end, it was mostly just polite acknowledgement. I understand his point, but details like the elevator rule are in the building code for safety reasons. The thing is, building codes are an imprecise science – they may be too stringent in some circumstances, but lacking in others, so as a result they’re constantly re-evaluated. Given an event like the London Grenfell Tower fire disaster, where the Reynobond aluminum panels were stuffed with polyiso insulation, which is a risk because it can produce toxic fumes if it burns, there’s always good reason to take a hard look at the codes and reassess. For the record, polyiso is a common insulation material, although in the local cases I’m aware of, it goes on over the fireproofing and under the cladding, meaning it would be very difficult to set it on fire, and the Grenfell case implies the panels may have created a tunnel effect for heat and flame. The specific cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower is banned for use on buildings taller than 40 feet in the U.S.  

Anyway, I still enjoyed an opportunity to chat with one of the Lucentes. Building “I” is occupied and Building “J” will be open for occupancy at the start of July – just a little exterior trim left to do on the outside. The photos below have a close-up of the fiber cement board used on the Village Solars, which apropos to this post, doesn’t burn because it’s basically sand and concrete mixed with wood pulp. Won’t make the same claim about those wood-grain trim boards though.