News Tidbits 11/17/2018

18 11 2018

X. Let’s start this off with a look at a couple of new projects that will be coming forward to the city of Ithaca Planning Board later this month. The first is 815-17 North Aurora Street. Back in June, when the existing property went on the market, I noted that zoning could conceivably allow the dilapidated house currently on the lot to be taken down and redeveloped into two two-family homes. Lo and behold, that is exactly the plan.

Although the listing has been pulled, no sale has been completed, so it’s not clear what kind of premium they are willing to pay for a double-lot development opportunity in trendy Fall Creek. But thanks to the Site Plan Review (SPR) documents, we at least know who the pending owner/developer is – the Stavropoulos family of West Hill, who own the State Street Diner and a growing portfolio of rental units under the name “Renting Ithaca”. The Stavropoli have redeveloped several properties in the past few years, including 1001 North Aurora Street (4 units), 107 South Albany Street (11 units), a two-family home at 514 Linn Street and a two-family unit planned for 209 Hudson Street (they originally applied to build two two-family buildings, but reduced it to one after neighborhood pushback). Their M.O. is basically small-scale rental infill, nothing especially large or ostentatious, and with that they go under the radar for the most part. In short, this R2b-zoned site is a perfect fit for them.

The plan is to tear down the vacant property, and replace it with two two-family structures, four units total. Each will be three bedrooms and 1,290 SF. Their usual architect of choice, Daniel Hirtler, has designed the structures to fit in with the Fall Creek vernacular, with recessed entries and aesthetic details (such as a transition between fiber cement shakes and clapboard siding) for visual interest. The buildings are positioned so that one is in the front of the lot, one at the rear, and only the front structure is visible from most public viewsheds. The site will include four parking spaces with new landscaping and utilities. Heating will come from electric heat pumps, and while the roofs will be capable of hosting solar panels, those aren’t expected to be included as part of the initial build. LED lighting, energy efficient appliances and water heaters, and high-efficiency spray foam insulation are included. This project would very likely meet the new Green Building Policy Requirements if in place. Given recent news in Fall Creek, it should be noted that the old building does contain asbestos (as do most in Fall Creek), but a demolition/deconstruction plan has yet to be filed.

The $627,000 project would be built from January to August 2019, which is a clear nod to having the units ready in time for the next academic year. Fall Creek tends to be less desirable to undergrads at Cornell because of the distance (<1% of total population), but graduate and professional students often rent in the neighborhood (~9% of graduate/professional students at Cornell live in Fall Creek). The planning board is expected to declare itself Lead Agency for project review this month, with approval in December of January, assuming demolition plans, excavation plans and other needed information has been received and approved.

The other new plan to be reviewed this month is for a renovation and expansion of the Maguire Ford Lincoln property at 504 South Meadow Street, just south of Wegmans and the Econo Lodge. Now, for the news savvy, you might be asking, “isn’t Maguire supposed to be moving to Southwest Park?” The answer is two-fold; for one, Ford-Lincoln was not a part of that plan. For two, there hasn’t been much in the way of formal movement on that plan, and the city is hesitant to move forward with a deal because part of the site will serve as a spoils drying area for the inlet dredging, and because of the homeless encampment, which the city would rather not disturb at this time. The evictions didn’t work out so well last time, and members of the Human Services Coalition’s Homeless Task Force are advocating for the city to create a permanent housing solution on-site.

What this all means is that Maguire has to focus on its existing properties to keep them modern and fresh for the time being, both by their own requirements and by Ford’s  – new car dealers must renovate frequently, since carmakers force them to update or risk losing their exclusive rights to sell new vehicles.

Local firm John Snyder Architects is in charge of design for the $1.5 million project, and while some eco-advocates will kvetch that a car dealer can never be green or sustainable, the building itself is designed to fit Ithaca’s yet-to-be enacted Green Building Policy. The second floor will be expanded with new offices, new customer bathrooms will be installed and the parts and customer waiting areas will be renovated and expanded. The showroom will also be expanded, and it will be slightly closer to Meadow Street than permitted in bib box land, so a zoning variance for front yard setback will be required. As a quick aside, JSA doing a car dealership is an interesting change – usually, car dealership design work has gone to Schickel Architecture.

The additions, which will result in a net increase of 5,610 SF, will be steel-framed, with concrete slab foundations, and faced with a couple variations of aluminum metal panels for a contemporary exterior finish. Apparently, that curved thing at the entrance is called a “foil”. Ithaca’s Elwyn & Palmer is assisting with the structural engineering. While there will be landscaping and circulation improvements, and the amount of green space will be increased from the existing site layout, the project will not meet impervious surface zoning restrictions, and will need a second variance to allow the proposed plan.

It’s not 100% clear what the proposed design is, since the elevation drawings don’t match the renders. Note the second-floor windows near the service area and the differences in the panel colors and elements (vertical ribs vs. rectangular panels) in the render.

The plan is to have approvals by January for a March to September 2019 build-out. Because of a tight corporate deadline from Ford, and since the Board of Zoning Appeals is not having a December meeting, and possibly not a January meeting either (expected lack of quorum?), the project team wants to discuss some sort of bundling of review and zoning variances in the review.

3. Ithaca-based architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is cooking up their latest project design, and posted hints of this “Net Zero” energy building on Twitter. There’s a very high chance this small multi-family Net Zero project is local, given STREAM’s nearly-singular focus on the Tompkins County market. Also, given that it’s a three-story building with what appears to be 4-6 units, I’d take a guess at a more settled, primarily residential urban area. Not Downtown Ithaca, but maybe one of the village centers or one of Ithaca’s more residential inner neighborhoods. If it’s an Ithaca-area rental, given the August-August academic calendar that the local apartment market revolves around, I suspect we’ll see more about this project in the next few months if the developer is aiming for fall 2019 occupancy.

4. Something to keep an eye on for the future. 602 Elmira Road sold for $690,000 on October 24th. Not only was the buyer was a New York-based hotelier, but the price paid is far above assessment – the three-acre parcel was only valued at $150,000, and had sold for $140,000 back in September 2014, from the realtor who subdivided it, to another hotel developer, Guru Hotels LLC. So it’s distinctly possible that Guru Hotels developed a plan, designs and all, but decided to not move forward with it and found another interested hotel developer to take over on the development, which would explain much of the premium on the sales price. Of course, those plans have never been brought forward to the town of Ithaca planning board, so buyer beware.

The location has some desirable factors – along Route 13 just beyond city limits, near Ithaca Beer, and within the town of Ithaca’s proposed Inlet Valley agri-business and tourism Corridor. The town as been a bit scattered on how it sees this swath of land next to 13A – the Comprehensive Plan saw it as natural space, current zoning is light industrial, and the Inlet Valley zoning and design guideline study is okay with either of those, an agriculture-related business or something tourism-focused, which a hotel would fit under. Stylistically though, a typical chain hotel will not e approved here – like with the nearby Sleep Inn project, it will have to embrace the ‘rustic look’ the town wants here.

5. 323 Taughannock has its construction loan. Tompkins Trust Company lent the development team $4.061 million to finance work on the 16-unit townhouse project on Inlet Island. The builder looks like a newcomer – Benson Woodworking Company. The firm normally does business as a modular and timber-frame builder based out of New Hampshire. I suspect given the choice of firms that the townhouse units will actually be framed and sheathed off site, and transported over to be assembled like pieces of a puzzle. It’s an unusual project for a firm that mostly does higher-end vacation homes and cabins, but 323 is a wood-frame structure, and the project has already had issues with the poor on-site soils and spiraling costs – a modular approach would potentially save on costs and make the logistics of the construction site easier to manage.

6. Cayuga Ridge has also received a construction loan, a set of them to finance its renovation plans. Three loans, for $12,558,750, $2,216,250 and $1,500,000, were received from CIBC Bank USA (the U.S. division of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, based out or Toronto with the main U.S. office in Chicago). The fourth loan, for $3 million, came from Metropolitan Commercial Bank out of New York. The owners of Cayuga Ridge are based out of the New York area, so perhaps that would explain the choice of lenders. The loans cover $19.275 million of the $21 million renovation, which will thoroughly update the interior layout with updated utilities and enhanced patient services. The renovation is expected to result in 49 new jobs at the nursing and rehabilitation center, mostly new nurses and nurses’ aides.

7. It’s a few weeks old now, but the infill housing behind 310 West State Street is coming along. These are the modular pieces of the new six-bedroom rental being craned into place. Also, the renovation of 310 West State is coming along, soon to be a “co-op” for young professionals. The renovation to the existing home is being paid for through a combination of private funds and a RESTORE NY state grant, while the rear infill is all private equity.

 





News Tidbits 11/5/16: Condemnation and Praise

5 11 2016

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1. The Maguire waterfront plan has been rejected. By an 8-2 vote, the Ithaca city Common Council voted to discontinue consideration of the state-of-the-art Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, with most citing concerns about the project’s marginal or poor fit with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for an urban mixed-use form of development in the Carpenter Circle area where this dealership is proposed. The votes in favor of the proposal, from the third ward’s Donna Fleming and first ward’s George McGonigal, cited ways it could be conceived as fitting with the plan (greener alternative, local business expansion), and challenges the site offers to the city’s urban plan (poor soils, trains, chemical storage, power lines).

Although this shuts down the current proposal, this may not be the last we hear from the Maguires or the Carpenter Business Park site. At the meeting, company President Phil Maguire offered a teaser, saying they may partially liquidate their land holdings to bring in mixed-use development that would share the CBP space with the dealership. Given the heavy alterations that would need to occur, the council decided to vote down the existing proposal and send a message that it doesn’t fit the city’s goals. However, the council said they and the planning department would expedite review of an amended proposal, should it come forth.

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2. If you’ve ever wanted some explicit discussion of the challenges of doing affordable housing in Tompkins County, here’s a great summary courtesy of the the town of Ithaca. Back in August, the town’s Planning Committee (of town board members, similar to the city’s PEDC Committee) met with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Director Paul Mazzarella for a Q&A. The town is considering regulations for inclusionary housing, and after INHS’s Greenways project fell through, they would like guidance and input on to make an effective code that promotes affordable housing without killing all residential development. Here are some of the highlights:

– Ithaca is a market of smaller builders. Local developers aren’t able or interested in doing huge projects, and most outsiders don’t see Tompkins County as a big enough or profitable enough market to tap into. So that leaves it to smaller builders who don’t have scale efficiencies, and are inclined to build luxury housing because the return on investment is more likely (i.e. less risky). The strong local economy also means that the local construction labor pool is largely tapped out, and additional crews have to be imported.

– Mandated affordable housing tends to work best in expensive, hot markets where the Return on Investment (ROI) for the market-rate units is more likely – your Seattles, San Franciscos and New Yorks. Even there, it is often paired with incentives such as height or square footage. Mazzarella noted he doesn’t think the city’s voluntary program will work very well. One thing to note with mixed-income projects is that the market-rate units will often be higher priced to cover the cost of lower-priced units. Simplified example – say you’re building ten houses for a sale price of $250,000. To meet an affordable mandate you sell two at $200,000, but to still obtain adequate ROI, that $100,000 is going to spread among the other eight – so you have two for sale at at $200,000, and eight at $262,500.

– We talk about modular homes as lower-cost alternatives, and for rural locations they often are, due to materials and labor costs. However, INHS found that in their experience for sites in the city and town, the cost is comparable to stick-built, although at larger scales, cost efficiencies may be achieved (ex. the Belle Sherman Cottages).

Another interesting read is the committee’s September meeting with city historic preservation planner Bryan McCracken and Historic Ithaca’s Christine O’Malley about protecting historical resources. As it turns out, the city cannot designate an individual landmark without the owner’s permission, and historic districts require the approval of 60% of affected property owners.

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3. Seems like Tiny Timbers had a well-attended open house. On their blog, the Dolphs have shared a cross-sectional diagram of an exterior wall – beneath the hemlock siding and copper trim will be ZIP sheathing and polyiso (thermoset plastic foam) insulation. ZIP is everywhere in residential construction, polyiso less common – locally, it was used extensively with the Boiceville Cottages in Caroline. On the inside, one has sheetrock and bamboo flooring. Exposed hemlock posts and ceilings will complement the sheetrock.

Also being rolled out is a fifth home design, a larger two-bedroom, two-bath home with a hipped roof. Variety is the space of life, as the saying goes.

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4. It was exciting to finally see the release of renderings for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue. Links to the Site Plan Review document, historical documentation and drawings can be found in the Voice write-up here. There have yet to be images released for the garden apartment building to be built at the rear of the property, but look for the same general design features as the rowhouses. As expected from ikon.5 Architects, the design is modern and glassy, and given the Facebook comments and a couple of emails that came in, some neighbors are less than happy about that. However, this isn’t a historic district, so long as it meets zoning regulations, Novarr is free to hire whoever he darn well pleases. As mentioned in previous write-ups, he had ikon.5 design his guest house, so this isn’t strictly a cost thing, he genuinely likes their work. It was a bit surprising but interesting to see the well-researched history of the three 19th century boarding houses currently on the property, and it makes me wonder if that was a requirement. Novarr’s proven to be accommodating in the past, perhaps he’ll deconstruct rather than demolish, and the salvageable parts can be reused.

The project team will meet with members of the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon for Design Review – about the only thing that stands out at initial glance is the lack of windows or visual interest with the north face, barely noticeable in the rendering. That probably won’t fly with the board, but we’ll see if it gets changed up as it goes through review. City Centre, the 8-story Trebloc site redevelopment, will also undergo further design review at the meeting.

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5. The Chapter House is going to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) yet again. The changes are subtle and few, but the rules are the rules. A service door will be added to the west (rear) wall, the inset vestibule is being reconfigured a bit, and the third-floor dormer windows are being changed from double-hung to casement – meaning that instead of sliding up and down, they’ll open with a crank. The ILPC will vote on the changes in November, which will probably sail through without much debate, and hopefully, just maybe, quite possibly, the Chapter House project can get underway.

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6. A couple quick updates from the town of Ithaca Planning Board minutes – after some discussion and a bit of praise for the redesign effort, the board opted for timber-trimmed Design “A” for the Sleep Inn proposal on Elmira Road. The minutes from Maplewood’s EIS meeting were also uploaded, and it is rare to see this much positivity in discussion of a project – not to say there weren’t dissenters, but the alternative energy source and efficiency initiative, use of local labor, and softening of the design on Mitchell Street won most of the speaking audience over. Public comment closed on Halloween, and now the project team must respond to all the reasonable comments received as part of the review process.





News Tidbits 10/15/16: Stoops and Stumbles, Growth and Gables

15 10 2016

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1. The Maguire proposal for Carpenter Business Park will be heading to the Common Council next month, but the prognosis isn’t good. The city council’s Planning Committee voted 4-0 to say that the proposal didn’t fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for the near-Waterfront property – the plan calls for walkable, urban mixed-uses, preferably with residential components. The discussion wasn’t unanimous in its logic – 2nd Ward Councilmen Nguyen and Murtagh were stronger adherents to the plan, while the 1st Ward’s Cynthia Brock doesn’t think housing is appropriate – but they all disagreed with the multi-brand car dealership plan as-is. Maguire has asked for a delay in vote so that the plan could be tweaked, but the Committee voted to move forward.

Because of the 18-month TMPUD in place, the Common Council has to vote to approve all projects in the waterfront area, so the resolution to decline further review of the project will be voted on at the next non-budget Council meeting. It will not be unanimous – the 3rd Ward’s Donna Fleming wrote a letter of support for the project, and the 1st Ward’s George McGonigal voiced support for the concept though not this particular plan. But the chances of approval are pretty slim at this point.

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2. Judging from the site photos John Novarr’s project team sent along, it looks like environmental remediation has already commenced at the site of his faculty townhouse project at 119-125 College Avenue in Collegetown. 121 College, in particular, is already in the early stages of remediation. It’s a pretty extensive photo documentation, one that might have to do with historic preservation aspects, like determining what can be salvaged and reused. It’s pretty clear that the properties, which were recently acquired from an Endicott-based landlord who held the properties for decades, are in rough shape. Novarr seems to have a preference for prepping sites before plans are approved (ex. 209-215 Dryden), so it’s uncertain how much time these three boarding houses have left.

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3. Courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Neighborhood Investment Committee, we get to see a pretty thorough breakdown of the expenses and revenues of an owner-occupied affordable housing project.

The details come as part of INHS’s application for $314,125 in Federal HUD HOME funds, to be used for the 7 for-sale townhouse units included with the 210 Hancock project, collectively called 202 Hancock. The funds would be used to cover soft costs, like project management, engineering and architecture fees, legal fees, and site inspections.

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The 202 Hancock project construction cost is estimated at $1,754,860, about $344,000 per unit, or about $198/SF. That’s expensive, but not unusual – 203 Third Street was about $190/SF. The cost is high due to rapidly rising construction costs, and due to federal guidelines and lender specifications, INHS is required to hire contractors with extensive insurance. Add in soft costs and it jumps to $2,408.371.

Now let’s consider the sales. The five two-bedroom units are expected to sell for $130,052 to a household making no more than $38,046. The two three-bedrooms will sell for $164,979, to households making $42,428/year or less. Those incomes don’t meet the rule-of-thumb of 3.4x annual income, but HOME funds cover part of the cost ($24,000 for the 2-bedrooms, $36,000 for the three-bedrooms). INHS gets $960,218 in the project sales – and that’s the same amount Tompkins Trust Company is willing to cover with a construction loan. So the initial gap is $1,448,155. Now we’re starting to see why new housing can be so expensive.

INHS gets $7,000 in revenue from Energy Star rebates on appliances, and has up to $351,153 equity they can put towards the project, most of that being the value the of 202 Hancock’s land. The IURA would issue a low-interest bond for $215,875 to be paid back by INHS, and the non-profit has secured $280,000 in grants directly from the state (NYS AHC), and $280,000 in NYS CDBG funds awarded by local governments (this tactic is known as “subsidy layering“). This complicated puzzle of funding sources is why so many developers are not interested in doing affordable housing.

Side note, one of the pre-development costs is market analysis. Might seem silly, but grant reviewers want proof the housing crisis isn’t just bluster, and that these units won’t sit empty. An analysis by Randall/West determined that at a sale price of $136,000 for a 2-bedroom, and $162,000 for a 3-bedroom, qualified buyers would be found and under contract within 4.6 months. The units should be available for occupancy by June 2017.

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Secondly, thanks to a legal settlement between the state and Morgan Stanley, a $4 million affordable housing grant is available for renovations of existing INHS scattered site rentals (98 units in 44 buildings across the city). Most of these units are rented to individuals making 60% or less of the area’s median income (about or less than $32k/yr). The funds would go towards major, long-term renovations, such as new roofs, windows, siding, and energy efficiency improvements. INHS could also use the funds, disbursed via the city, to refinance its portfolio, acquiring some of the properties and paying off $1.8 million in loans on already-purchased properties.

Here’s the short of it – the goal is to buy/pay off the scattered rental sites they manage, renovate and make them energy efficient and comfortable, lock them into the Community Housing Trust so that they become permanently affordable, transfer the land to a wholly-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation, and then sell some of the buildings to an LLC while INHS continues as property manager. The funds from sales would finance new affordable housing. This is all set up as it is to take advantage of legal and tax benefits of different corporate tax structures, while minimizing the drawbacks. Potentially, the Morgan Stanley settlement money could be used to leverage an additional $15 million in tax credits and affordable housing grants from the state.

Correction, per INHS’s Scott Reynolds in the comments section: rentals aren’t in the Community Housing Trust, but affordability would be required for 50 years.

Rochester-based SWBR would be in charge of renovation design plans, and 2+4 Construction will be general contractor. Tenants may need to be relocated as renovations occur, which will be coordinated by INHS staff. The goal is to have the settlement money accepted by the city by the end of the year, financing by April 2017, and renovations completed by the end of 2018.

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4. It’s another one of those special meetings – the city Planning Board will be sitting down next Tuesday to go over comments and sort another batch of public comments regarding the Chain Works DEIS, this time on public health. Once you get past the few pages of “this will never work and don’t bother trying”, there’s actually some interesting back and forth about remediation and what that entails. Also on the agenda are revisions to the Holiday Inn Express down in Southwest Ithaca – namely, they’re trying to avoid building the stairs to Spencer Road, as well as some other landscaping issues. At the second meeting later this month, the board is expected to Declare Lead Agency, open public hearings and review parts of the FEAF for TCAction’s Amici House, 8-unit 607 South Aurora, and the 8-story City Centre project on the Trebloc site downtown.

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5. The plans for Maplewood have been modified yet again, in a change that the project team hopes will please neighbors and the town of Ithaca planning board. In revised plans submitted this past Wednesday, the 4-story apartment building planned for Mitchell Road has been replaced with a few sets of 2.5 and 3.5-story townhouses and stacked flats, and Building B to its north was extended slightly to compensate for the loss of bedrooms. Even so, the accompanying letter from Scott Whitham states that the unit and bed count have decreased slightly, from 473 units and 887 beds, to 442 units and 872 beds.

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Also modified was their appearance – stoops, porches, dormers and gable roofs were added to give them a more harmonious appearance with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s not clear if the rest of the units were aesthetically modified as well.





News Tidbits 9/17/16: Point By Point

17 09 2016

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1. Starting this week off with the Maguires again. Although there was significant vocal opposition from planning committee members to the proposal, they decided to postpone the decision for another month. It would have been more merciful and understanding if they had just declined to continue, but the committee voted 4-1 against making a decision at their Wednesday night meeting, citing to need to process public comment. Most of the comments in favor of the proposal mostly spoke highly of the Maguires as employers and economic drivers (and even some of the opposition did as well), most of the opposition focused on the plan not meshing with visions for what they want the neighborhood to become. The board will consider a resolution against the project next month, but it sounds like the decision has already been made.

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2. This will be something of an unusual month. Along with the typical retinue of meetings, the Planning Board will have a special meeting next week to weigh in on the next round of Chain Works District EIS public comments, approve some slight revisions to 210 Hancock, and zoning determination for 201 College Avenue.

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The changes to 210 Hancock are noticeable but minor. On the landscaping side, the concrete curb around the playground is proposed to be removed as a cost-saving measure, a fence separating the for-sale and for-rent townhouses will be removed and a fire lane put in, and the Lake Avenue paving will be changed up to match the waterfront trail. For the buildings, the 54-unit apartment building would have some windows tweaked or removed to standardize sizes (reduce cost) and fire safety concerns, and some of the yellow metal panels would be replaced with brick for cost and ease of installation. No changes are proposed to the townhouses.

As for 201 College, City Zoning Director Phyllis Radke issued a determination that 201 College is compliant and permitted by MU-1 zoning. She also states a number of concerns with the Planning Board’s handling of the review. Among the reasons cited are:

  • Pre-site plan review in November 2015 by zoning and planning concluded the project met CAFD guidelines.
  • Facade isn’t defined in the CAFD document. Building length and facade length can be interpreted as two separate measurements.
  • Facade length did not come up as a concern until July, four months after meetings began, after design review by the board, and after prelim site approval had been granted.
  • The building meets the conceptual guidelines provided in the zoning. While there are concerns about (yet unwritten) design standards and activation of both street facades, there’s nothing in the code for MU-1 that explicitly limits facade length on any side other than the primary face. There is, however, in MU-2. So secondary street facade length was stated in the code for one zone, but in no others. Even though it’s been argued as an ambiguity, the board did not consider secondary street facade length in its review of a CR-2 zoned duplex at 319 Oak Avenue in early 2015. The activation requirements apply only to the primary face for non MU-2 structures. If the board decided it was still ambiguous, Hess Realty Corp. vs. Town of Rotterdam (1993) says that ambiguities must be resolved in the favor of the property owner.
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  • The 2009 vision guidelines that people keep citing, and Neil uses on the “Save our Soul” facebook page – not only do they suggest taking down Neil’s house, they also have building lengths running the entirety of Bool Street.

With all that noted, even if it’s decided the project is in fact legal and doesn’t need a trip to the BZA, it likely won’t be moving forward this year, if at all. Visum couldn’t start in time for the desired August 2017 completion, and the project and site are for sale. For a potential buyer, though, it would be of significant benefit to have the zoning debate resolved before any sale occurs.

3. Out in the towns, there’s not a whole lot of development discussion in next week’s agendas. The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Maplewood Park (running behind schedule at this point) and issue a couple of lot subdivisions, neither of which are expected to be a big debate.  The town of Dryden received plans for a 10,500 SF self-storage facility for the vacant northeast corner of Freeville Road and Enterprise Drive. The 70′ x 150′ warehouse will house 121 units, and about 7,500 SF will be climate-controlled. The project will cost about $350,000. There also plans for an Open Development Area (ODA) on Dryden’s Scofield Road. ODA means an ROW or easement is required for building permits, and the town has to review the plans – nothing’s been filed yet.

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4. A pair of construction loan agreements worth noting this week. The first is Storage Squad’s facility going up at 1401 Dryden Road east of Varna. According to a filing on the 12th, the company received a construction loan of $1.4 million from Tompkins Trust. That money will be used to finance the build-out of their 79,600 SF storage facility already underway. The second is the Dollar General being built at the corner of Route 34/East Shore Drive and Cayuga Vista Drive in Lansing. Primax Properties (under the name Sea Mountain Ventures II LLC) received a $956,000 loan to build the 9,100 SF retail store, which is also under construction. that loan was also filed on the 12th. The lending institution is BB&T, a major regional bank in the Southeast. Primax is headquartered in Charlotte, and BB&T is headquartered just 90 minutes up the road in Winston-Salem, so in this case, it’s less about a bank being interested in Ithaca, and more about two major companies located near each other and having an established business relationship.

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5. So the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee selected the $3.7 million Seneca/Corn proposal to submit to the state for the Restore NY 4 grant. And I feel a bit embarrassed because the Voice story, comparing the Seneca/Corn proposal and the State Street rehabs, ran after the decision was made, so it comes off as a bit clueless thanks to timing. Anyway, the application will be looked at by the Planning Committee, and submitted in early October. If all goes well, funding could be granted by the beginning of next year, with the renovated Wyllie’s and the Ithaca Glass overbuild ready for tenants by early 2018. Ed Cope is the developer, STREAM Collaborative the architect.

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6. For sale this week, and for the budding entrepreneur – 2,310 SF neighborhood commercial retail at 402-04 West Court Street in the Washington Park neighborhood. Talk about a change. When I started at Cornell ten years ago, this was “The Corner Store”, and it was severely run down. I don’t remember the florist sign, but everything else in the assessment photo below fits my memories from the mid 2000s.

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During the past ten years, the bump-out was renovated, then the building was repainted, and The Corner Store became the “Red and White Cafe“, a highly-regarded neighborhood fish fry and seafood restaurant. According to the listing, the major renovations came about three years ago. County records indicate the property last exchanged hands in 1988. Along with the retail space comes 432 SF of storage.

The listing is asking for $975,000, but that would be for building and business – the building and lot are valued at $120,000, so any potential buyer is going to be much more interested in the cafe than the building.





News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





Plans Shift into Gear for Maguire Dealership on Carpenter Circle

9 02 2016

This write-up is intended to be an exploration of the project itself. An exploration of the controversy will be heading to the Voice.

Let’s start with a little backstory. Carpenter Business Park was formally established in the early 1990s during the Nichols administration, when the city was hoping to pull industrial and commercial business from the burgeoning suburbs back into the city. Up to that point, the land had been mostly vacant space and earlier on, an informal garbage dump. The community gardens lease began in the late 1980s. Ithaca has had plans to develop an industrial park on the site since the 1970s, but the problem is that the site is relatively small and isolated with one only access road (Carpenter Circle). So no one touched it for over a decade.

In the early 2000s, a company under the name Ithaca Templar LLC bought several of the parcels for $2.2 million, but the land remained vacant and the properties eventually went into foreclosure. The foreclosing lender put the land back on the market last spring. Enter Carpenter Business Park LLC, and the $2.7 million August and September land/building sales that my colleague Nick Bogel-Burroughs covered for the Voice. Nick provides a great background on the land sales and initial city reaction to the then-rumor that the Maguires had purchased the land.

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Now a little background on the Maguires. The Maguire family of auto dealerships, started in Trumansburg in 1977, is the eleventh-largest employer in the county with over 420 staff. Phil Maguire and company previously approached the town of Ithaca with the idea of developing a headquarters and series of dealerships on Route 13 near Seven Mile Drive. However, the town board wanted to make the area a PDZ, while Maguire wanted an outright rezoning, which would have given the company more freedom with the way they used the site. The two parties couldn’t come to terms, and the proposal was tabled. Had it been a few years earlier, the plan probably would have been more acceptable, but as proposed it was counter to the small business and low-density residential the town was envisioning for the Inlet Corridor in its newly-passed Comprehensive Plan.

Meanwhile, in the past few years, the city’s been trying to figure out how to redevelop the Waterfront, and Carpenter by extension. Currently, it’s industrial land. Commercial buildings need only be 2 floors to be legally permitted, but residential is not. Waterfront mixed-use zoning had been floated in late 2013 and early 2014, but several city officials and at least one common council member shot the idea down. Then came last June’s Form Ithaca charrettes of what could be done under the ideas of the new 2015 Comprehensive Plan, and the passage of the plan itself. The dense, mixed-use, walkable allure grew stronger and has become the city’s official stance, but the zoning has yet to be updated as the plan recommends. The city does allow for Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) on industrial land that could allow residential use, but only at the Common Council’s discretion.

So in the current case with the waterfront, it’s another situation where the core of the issue is that the proposal conflicts with a newly-passed Comprehensive Plan. It’s hard not to feel a little sympathetic towards the Maguires, who seem to suffer once and again from awful timing.

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Timing and location issues noted, it’s an otherwise very attractive proposal as car dealerships go. Above is a copy of the site plan. The area to the upper right is the NYSDOT redevelopment with the preferred layout; essentially a placeholder, since development is years off, if it ever happens. The Maguires propose a $12 million, 50,000 SF LEED Gold building with rooftop gardens, solar panels, extensive landscaping, rainwater harvesting, and a solar-powered battery charging station for electric cars. This location would sell the Ford, Lincoln and Nissan brands. The site proposes employee, service and some car display parking where power line ROWs prevent construction of permanent structures.

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The project, with a proposed launch later in 2016, is intended as a Phase I – Phase II would renovate the current Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership at 504 South Meadow Street into the new Hyundai/Subaru location (at a cost of $5 million), and then Phase III would expand the Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram location into the old Hyundai/Subaru space (cost of $1 million). The three-year set of plans would result in about $18 million of investment.

Community benefits would be complimentary parking for the community gardens and farmer’s market, and sales and tax revenues. A report from TCAD suggests an increase of $340,000 annually in property tax revenue, and $436,000 annually in sales taxes ($776,000 total, of which the city’s share is about $294,000). TCAD projects the direct creation of 57 jobs when all phases are completed, with an average annual wage of $44,300. TCAD also predicts 13 spinoff jobs.

So, it looks like a great project. But it’s the location issue that will drive the controversy.

Along with the Maguires, local firms TWMLA, T.G. Miller P.C., and Schickel Architecture are working together on the proposal.

 





News Tidbits 2/6/16: Good Ideas and Bad Ideas

6 02 2016

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1. Let’s start with the big news this week, Cornell’s long-incubating plans to redevelop Maplewood Park. Official write-up on the Voice here. Personally, looking at the viewer stats, I’m a little disappointed that this has gotten as little attention as it has, since it’s a very large, very important project. But I suppose it’s a double-edged sword, because invariably, when a project does get a lot of attention, it’s because it’s a huge controversy (State Street Triangle, Black Oak wind farm, 210 Hancock, and so on).

There’s a lot to like about the plan (found here on the town’s website). Dense, walkable, a little mixed-use (more office or retail would be nice, but given that it’s tax exempt space, the more space there is the more controversial this project would likely be). Buildings aren’t too likely to cause controversy, since they’re 4 floors at most and they’ll be designed to blend in (“echo the surrounding neighborhood with the use of contemporary features”, per the narrative). Most of the comments on the Voice article describe Cornell as the great Satan, but one reader did express desire for the bigger, taller buildings to be central to the parcel, with townhouses on the outside. As a relatively untrained observer, it would seem that would be best from the perspective of trying to minimize appearance as much as possible, but it would also encourage vehicular traffic towards the center of the parcel, and negatively impact its pedestrian orientation. I haven’t seen any reactions from local planners, but I am curious what their first impressions are.

When writing up Tuesday’s article, my thought was that this was “Phase I”, Ithaca East/Maple Hill was “Phase II”, and East Hill Plaza/East Hill Village was “Phase III” with a 2019 or later start; but the rumor mill is circulating that work on the first parts of East Hill Village may be concurrent with Maplewood Park. We’ll see what arises in the coming months.

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2. When those units come online in 2018, it’ll be a big step towards reducing the deep housing deficit. But in the meanwhile, the housing market will be uncomfortably tight. Which is why it’s good to see some pooled city/county/Cornell money being disbursed for affordable owner-occupied housing. The Community Housing Development Fund proposes that the city give $80,000 towards Habitat for Humanity‘s “Breaking Ground” duplex at 101-107 Morris Avenue in Northside (208/201 Third Street), and $85,000 to INHS for the seven moderate-income owner-occupied townhouses at 210 Hancock, and an affordable 1368 SF single-family home at 304 Hector Street on West Hill. Cornell will give $235,000 towards the townhouses and Hector Street home, but $100,000 of that is a re-allocation of funds from the cancelled Greenways project. The county is giving $100,000 towards six rental units at 210 Hancock.

Claudia Brenner has designed most of INHS’s homes in recent years, but this time around it looks like Noah Demarest of  STREAM Collaborative penned the home design. This is a revision of the previous render, if memory serves correctly; INHS had wanted to build the home last year, but construction costs as high as they are, the non-profit held off.

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3. In other news, the county’s Government Operations Committee was to make a decision on the Biggs Parcel this week, but decided not to. It’s set to the return to the county’s agenda at the meeting on March 2nd. The ICNA has submitted a purchase offer (sum undisclosed) for the 25.5 acre parcel. The offer from Roy Luft to combine the parcel’s cluster zoning rights to build senior housing on his property at 1317 Trumansburg Road still stands, as far as I’m aware. Update – From the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas, the Luft proposal has been dropped due to “size and complexity”.

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4. Courtesy of the city, some more details on Cornell’s Ag Quad renovation. Site Plan Review (SPR) application here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, project specs here, drawings here. Formally, the project is referred to as the “Cornell Ag Quad Utility & Landscape Project”, since the project also involved major utility upgrades and repairs under the quad. The work planned calls for new steam lines, a telecom duct bank, new sanitary piping and water lines underground, and above ground there will be new paths, light posts, pedestrian plazas with stone benches, fire apparatus access path, blue light phones and a loosening of the soil compacted by other construction projects (such as the staging area for Warren Hall while it was under renovation). Most trees will be preserved, except for a few that stand where the new utilities and fire lane will go.

The project cost is $3 million on the SPR, with a rehabilitation period from April 2016 to July 2017, divided into two phases. No new permanent jobs, but about 25 construction jobs will be created. MKW + Associates LLC of New Jersey is serving as the consulting landscape architect.

On a side note, at least we can be fairly sure now that Cornell does plan on taking down the surge academic buildings at some point for a future permanent building.

5. Ithaca wants to build bridges. Physically, anyway. The city will hold a public information meeting next week 2 PM Wednesday on replacing the deteriorated single-lane Brindley Street bridge on the west side of the city. The bridge, which dates from 1938 and was last modified in 1952, is functionally obsolete and in dire need of rehabilitation.

Currently, the city is weighing two plans – a $2.43 million replacement of the old one-lane steel bridge with a two-lane bridge with sidewalks and shoulders for walkers and bikers, and a $2.59 million plan that extends two-lane Taughannock Boulevard through a parking lot, over a wider span and intersecting with Taber Street, leaving Brindley a single-lane bridge. While more expensive, this option diverts most traffic away from the awkward six-way intersection Brindley has with West Seneca and West State Streets. The nitty-gritty can be found in the design report here. It would also be of significant benefit to the Cherry Street industrial park and future waterfront development by improving access to the area.

Whichever plan moves forward will be decided by April, with construction from May-November 2017. Most of the project costs will be covered with federal funds, with some state funds and municipal bonds covering the balance (80/15/5% respectively).

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6. Some progress on 902 Dryden, perhaps. From the town of Dryden Town Board minutes, The number of new units is down, from 12 to 8, and only 26 new bedrooms from the previous 38. The overall square footage is also down, from 18,000 to 11,000 SF, with 26 parking spaces, 1 per bed. So that render above from December is outdated (although the color scheme is nice and bright, hopefully that carried over), there are two units on the right and six on the left, as well as the existing duplex.

As a result of the smaller project, one of the casualties is the net-zero aspect, because the initial cost for installing the solar panels outweighs the decreased revenue. Heat will be all-electric with the opportunity to install solar at a later date, if it pencils out. As for the opposition, it definitely sounds more muted in the town minutes, one neighbor seems intent on forcing enough site studies to break the bank, but overall the commentary reads muted to positive. The minutes don’t indicate if the public meeting is finally closed and if a vote to approve the project can be taken later this month.

7. Looks like Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times was able to get the Maguires to open up about their plans for Caprenter Business Park. In a phone call with Brokaw, Phil Maguire confirmed plans for a $12 million, 40,000 SF Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, which will then allow them to proceed with renovations of their properties down by Wegmans. While they estimate about 70 jobs would be created and that it will be designed to be “inlet-worthy”, the problem remains that a car dealership flies in the face of the mixed-use urban environment that the city had been envisioning for the waterfront. One valid point does get raised though – side-by-side NYSEG power lines overhead would have to be buried for many building projects on the Circle (but not for parking lots), which gives any developer an extra several hundred thousand dollar expense in the development process.

Sketch plans are expected to be shown at the March Planning Board meeting later this month, about the same time the Common Council is expected to adopt the temporary PUD zoning that would give them say over any projects proposed in the waterfront area. Expect this dealership proposal to be a very heated and occasionally uncomfortable debate.

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8. What’s on the agenda for next week? Not a whole lot new. The city’s projects memo doesn’t have any new projects, unless you count Island Fitness redoing their parking lot. There are a few more renders for the Cherry Artspace, as well as some project details – $200,000 construction cost, 1,944 SF building by Claudia Brenner with seating for up to 164 on the lower level, 2 jobs created, May – October 2016 buildout.

The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission has some minor old business to attend to, and what likes some discussion over the recently-purchased home at 410 North Cayuga will be introduced (chances are, it’s something like window or roof replacement, maybe an add-on room). Discussion is planned for 311 College Avenue, the old firehouse home of the Nines, but this is also likely to be minor.

The town of Lansing’s planning board also has a meeting next week, but the only item of discussion is the Mirabito petroleum storage facility on Town Barn Road.