News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





News Tidbits 12/9/17: Not Enough Time in the World

9 12 2017

1. The good news is, Maplewood is progressing. The bad news is, it is not progressing fast enough. A combination of bad weather (rain-outs), and staffing issues. The weather delays had been so bad (with rain 2.5x monthly normals in October) that some subcontractors walked away to take other jobs – while the ~200 Maplewood construction jobs are quality union labor, it’s been difficult to get a full week’s work in. It’s a Monday-Friday job; with a rain-out, they lose a day in the week. That means they also lose out on a day’s pay. Over the past year, 37 days have been partially or fully rained out. A provision in the subcontractors’ contracts allows them to leave for other jobs id the issue becomes too severe, so some have done just that. Not hard feelings, just a tough situation for everyone.

Now about 25 days behind a very tight schedule, EdR and LeChase are asking to be allowed to regularly work 8 AM – 4 PM Saturdays. The town is open to this, but wants more documentation before signing off. So, expect a six-day workweek during the winter and spring. The goal is still to deliver the $80 million, 872-bed project by July.

2. The Seneca Street Garage is “showing its age”. As the garage is now about 45 years old and is designed to last about 50 years, some components are starting to deteriorate. The city has constructed some shoring posts to keep the concrete pillars relatively stable. They are not at risk of collapse, but the tension cables, which are used in combination with rebar to provide for a heavy-duty concrete structure with fewer columns, are starting to wear out. Decades of salt, water and corrosion will do that.

The city will lose about 20 parking spaces from the life-extension measures. The Times is reporting that the city hopes to get another ten to fifteen years out of the garage, and hope to have a plan for replacement parking in place within ten years. That could be a demo and rebuild of the garage, or it could be something more substantial, like the Green Street Garage project. It’s something to mull over now, but there are no big decisions planned anytime soon. Perhaps a Seneca Street rebuild with mixed uses ends up being one of the big urban developments of the late 2020s.

3. A development site on West Hill has exchanged hands. As covered previously, Bella Vista was a planned 44-unit condominium project on Cliff Street that was approved in 2007, and never came to fruition. The site it was proposed for, an 11.71 acre property at 901-999 Cliff Street, was put up for sale in December 2015 for $395,000. Finally, it has been sold.

The developer, Mauro Marinelli as Primary Developers Inc., sold the land to American Blue Sky Holdings LLC for $330,000 on the 5th. The LLC is owned by local businessman Greg Mezey, who previously bought the 12,000 SF medical office building next door at 821 Cliff Street for $945,000 in February 2015. Since then, he and realtor Ryan Mitchell have undertaken some modest building and site improvements. As Red Door Rentals, they own and manage a few apartment houses with a total of about 25 bedrooms.

So what does that portend here? Good question. Watch and wait, for now. The Bella Vista project could still be built, but it must be re-approved by the city of Ithaca, since project approval is only good for two years. Zoning is R-3a, primarily residential uses with up to 4 floors and 35% lot coverage. Parkin is one space per unit or three bedrooms (whichever produces more), and small-scale commercial is allowed with a special permit. The site’s topography is a challenge, but the size of it and its proximity to downtown and the West End make it an interesting opportunity.

4. It looks like the first phase of Dryden’s Maple Ridge subdivision has just about filled out. For owner/developer Paul Simonet, it’s been a long time coming – the development launched right before the recession in 2008, and development didn’t really take off until the economy recovered. In 2013, there were three houses. By November 2014, only four houses had been built, with a duplex underway. Now, there are ten homes, and just about all one of the home lots have been sold. Some of the lots in phase one were combined by buyers.

Interesting, many of the homes built in Maple Ridge are modulars – I half-jokingly suggest that Carina Construction take prospective buyers through here to show them the variety of options one can pursue with modulars. It looks like this latest build on Applewood Lane will also be a modular – the foundation is built (note the dark Bituthene membrane for moisture protection), and the pieces will be trucked over and craned and assembled shortly, if they haven’t been already.

Ultimately, Maple Ridge is supposed to be three phases and 50 lots, and phase two will have about 29 lots, and since these are larger, they’re less likely to consolidated as phase one’s were. Given the need for a new road and infrastructure, sales seem unlikely until well into next year. The village minutes (the few they upload) does show that Simonet is actively pursuing the second phase.

It also answers a question from last week – the Elm Street office/warehouse complex will be the new home of the Ithaca Ice company, after some modest renovations.

5. The Lakeview affordable housing plan for the 700 Block of West Court Street, now called “West End Heights” was selected to receive a $100,000 grant from the inter-municipal and Cornell affordable housing fund (CHDF), but the funds will be delayed a little bit because they need to be moved into the 2018 budget, as the check will be going out in 2018.

6. The latest phase of the Village Solars (the reconstruction of 102 and 116 Village Circle) is being built with a $6 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company. The agreement was uploaded to the county’s records on the 7th. The contractor is “Actual Contractors LLC” with an address at Stephen Lucente’s home on the lake – it’s their in-house construction crew. Albanese Plumbing will be rigging sprinklers, heating and water pipes, T.U. Electric will be doing electrical and fan installations, and Bomak Contractors of Pennsylvania is the subcontractor for excavation, bedding and foundation work. Apparently Larry Fabbroni, the consulting architect, charges $90/hour for design work, while engineering/surveying is $107.50/hour.

102 and 116 comprise 42 units (24 and 18 units respectively), but if you’ve been reading the construction updates for the project, then you already knew that. The loan says both buildings have to be completed by August 15th, 2018.

7. Not a whole lot going on at the moment. Lansing town will be hosting a Planning Board to look at a telecommunications tower, and three new 1-acre home lots to be carved from a larger lot off East Shore Circle. The city’s project review meeting is so slim, they didn’t need to attach any files – just the old business with the Sophia House addition on the Knoll, and that’s it. The city Board of Public Works will be looking at plans for a new inclusive playground at Stewart Park.





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Looking at the photos closely, there are some differences between what was shown in renders, and what’s being built. “Nt”, the corner building, has different window patterns and sizes, different dormers, and a steeper roof pitch than shown any of the renders. Taking a guess, the project team is value engineering on the fly, going with quicker or easier design options to save on costs and stay closer to the tight timeline. As long as the habitable square footage and distribution of units/bedrooms in unchanged, this is allowed, for both projects that require an EIS, and smaller ones that fall under the usual SEQR negative declaration. It is rather odd to have such a steep roof pitch on “Nt” if there’s no habitable space in the attic, because that’s not really a time saver or money saver compared to the lower roof pitch, and no windows means no legal bedrooms.

The neighboring strings on Mitchell were also modified, though at a glance at “Ot”, it only appears to be the dormers, which were combined and made flush with the exterior wall. There’s a pretty strong likelihood that Pt and It-2, which are still being framed, will show similar modifications.

The modern string that has been framed, fitted and wrapped, “Kt-2”, appears to have the same shape and features as advertised. The modern units are cheaper to build per unit, so they would have been less likely to undergo additional value engineering.

Apartment Buildings “B” and “C” are being framed, with “C” up to its top floor, and “B” still working on the first floor. There are no obvious changes to the design of Building “C” when compared to renders.

Most subterranean utilities have been laid at either end of the site, and several foundations have been completed. Excavation and utilities installation are ongoing closer to Maplewood’s center. With all the disturbed soil piled around, it’s hard to tell just how many structures have commenced with excavation and foundation work, but an offhand estimate for the number of foundations underway or complete is at least one dozen. Some wooden forms for concrete pours of later townhouse strings can be seen around the property, as is steel rebar for strengthening the concrete, and the large cement mixers towards the northern end of the site. CMU stairwells have been or are being built for the northern trio of multi-family apartment buildings, “D”, “E”, and “F”. Note the construction staging basically has the ends of the site being built first, with work moving steadily inward through the fall and winter. The first units will be finishing up around the time the last ones start construction.

 

 





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part III: Site Photos

5 09 2017

The rough construction timeline for the Maplewood structures looks something like this: Apartment buildings B and C started construction first in the spring, and the first townhouses were scheduled to begin in May. All of the major apartment buildings are expected to start construction by the end of August, while the last of the townhouse strings will not begin build-out until January 2018. Roughly speaking, the ends of the project site have earlier starts than structures in the middle of the site, and the more traditional-looking townhouse units start construction before the more modern strings.

The timeline is likely slightly behind schedule. During the mid-August site visit, a worker said that five of the foundations had been completed, but it seems at least six should have been finished by that point. The reason given for the relatively slow progress has been the wet summer, which has interfered with certain parts of the construction. For example, concrete pouring and curing for the foundations becomes a lot more complicated with the presence of frequent downpours. Rainwater can damage the foundation during certain stages of the process by causing the new pour to become soft again, reducing its structural integrity. Depending on timing, extra precautions have to be taken, or even worse, if it’s a real washout of a day the pour simply can’t take place at all. Several construction days have been lost, and to pick up the slack, the project asked for and received approval to increase the workday from 8 AM – 6 PM, to 7 AM – 7 PM, with the town’s stipulation that the extra two hours keep work noise below 85 decibels.

The photos below come from three separate time periods – February, which was mostly just site prep and excavation for underground utilities, the continuation of utilities excavation and installation in April, and the readying of connections to those new utilities in August. The circular concrete structures seen in April and August are for underground electric utility junctions. Similar structures may be used for wastewater pipes and drainage pipes. The teal pipes are PVC sewer pipes, and the rectangular precast concrete sections are protective covers. New curbing is being installed along Mitchell. I don’t know what the ridged crescent-shaped orange structures are, but if a reader knows, feel free to chime in in the comments.

Above-ground, it looks like the masonry stairwells for apartment buildings B and C have been built as of August. The slots in the sides suggests structural steel frames. A trailer on-site belongs to Peppard & Sons Masonry of Lockwood, so they may be the pertinent sub-contractor. Foundation slabs can be seen, and wood forms have been prepared for future pours.

 

Pre-development site photos:

February 2017:

June 2017:

August 2017:





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part II: Site Plan and Layout

3 09 2017

Unlike most projects, Maplewood is basically an entire new neighborhood – there are five large apartment buildings, 21 townhouse strings, and the community center, for a grand total of twenty-seven buildings. The building elevations for each structure can be found in Building Set Plans 1-3, on the town of Ithaca’s website here.

The pretty version of the site plan, from STREAM Collaborative, has most of the buildings pretty clearly labeled, but is a little outdated – the townhouses along Mitchell were added late in the process, and were not labelled here. However, this is the easiest diagram to follow, and highlights some of the landscaping features of the project. The childrens’ play area is located at the intersection of James Lane (the north-south road) and Lena Street (the east-west road). The overlook is a natural area at one of the highest elevations of the property, and the community garden is at the turn of James Lane. The bus stop/food truck area, unlabeled here, is the intersection of Maple Avenue and Veterans’ Way. The knoll between apartment buildings D, E and F is the location of the Mitchell family cemetery plot, last active in the 1850s.

Here is the more accurate but less attractive site plan. The townhouses along Mitchell have been renamed, but otherwise everything else is the same. Notably, there is no apartment building “A”. “A” was the multi-story building along Mitchell Avenue that was removed late in the planning process. In short, five multi-story buildings, B, C, D, E, and F. Then there are the townhouses, to be covered in detail in the next section.

The Townhouses

The townhouses are all 2-4 bedrooms. Counting them all off, there’s At, Bt, Ct, Dt, Et, Ft, Gt-1, Gt-2, Ht-1, Ht-2, It-1 and It-2, Jt-1 and Jt-2, Kt-1 and Kt-2, Lt, Mt, Nt, Ot, and Pt. The color coding is for easy reference.

Each uniquely-lettered string is its own design. The Gt’s, Jt’s, and Kt’s are near-identical twins exception for unit layout and building elevation steps to accommodate slopes. The more traditional-looking Ht-1 and Ht-2, and It-1 and It-2 strings are mirror images of their same-lettered counterpart.

The modern-looking townhouses use a brick veneer, light and dark fiber cement panels and lap siding, cast stone accents and wood canopies, along with concrete foundations and stairs. The more traditional townhouse strings (Ht’s, It’s, Nt, Ot, Pt) are finished with fiber cement siding and trim boards. All townhouses are 2.5-3 stories in height. Modern townhouse strings At, Dt, Et, Gt-1 and Gt-2 take advantage of the site’s slope to employ rear garages tucked into the hillside.

The ones with integrated garages (At, Dt, Et, Gt1/2’s) are all 3-bedroom units. At is 4 units, Dt is 5 units, Et is 6 units, and the Gt’s are 7 units each.

Two of the modern townhouse units have no garages and large full-length setbacks on their third floors. This includes Bt (4 units) and Lt (5 units). They are all three-bedroom units.

Five of the modern strings have no garage and full-length top floors. These are 4-bedroom units, like Ct (4 units), Ft (6 units) and Mt (6 units). Kt-1 and Kt-2 (Kt-1 shown in the render above) have three stacked flat 2-bedrooms on each end of the townhouse string (the first floor is one 2-bedroom unit, and the other two-bedrooms are stacked over it), and 4 four-bedroom units in the middle, for ten units each.

Then there are strings that a mixture of setbacks and no setbacks. Jt-1 and Jt-2 have 11 units apiece – 3 2-bedroom stacked units on each end of the string for a total of 6 2-bedroom units, and 3 three-bedroom and 2 four-bedroom units are wedged in between. The three-bedrooms lack a rear bedroom on the top floor.

Now the traditional units. Ht-1 and Ht-2 appear to be 7 units each – 4 3-bedrooms, 3 2-bedrooms in a stacked flat format. They are separated by the West Sylvan Mews (and the small street next to the Community Center is called East Sylvan Mews). It-1 and It-2 are almost the same as the Ht’s, but the end unit is a bit larger, resulting 4-bedrooms instead of three (for a unit total per building of 3 2-bedrooms stacked, 3 3-bedrooms, 1 4-bedroom). Nt is the same as It, but with one less three-bedroom in the middle, resulting in a total of six units – three stacked flat two-bedroom units, two three-bedrooms, and one four-bedroom unit. Lastly, Ot and Pt are the same basic design, except Pt has one more unit in the middle. Ot is clad in green siding and has 4 three-bedroom units, and Pt is clad in red siding and has 5 three-bedroom units.

The Apartment Buildings

These should be easier to follow along with, as they were labelled from south to north. All multi-story apartments use the modern design motif. The buildings generally have the same floor plan for each full floor, except for utilities/storage rooms, and that the first-floor lobby is the location of the community study room on each floor directly above.

Building B is a 4-story, L-shaped building. The building will contain 4 two-bedrooms, 2 three-bedrooms, 1 one-bedroom and 11 studios per floor. Assuming one bed/resident per studio and one per bedroom otherwise, that means 72 units and 104 beds.

Building C is a 4.5 story, J-shaped building with a partially exposed basement level. The basement has 2 two-bedroom units, one one-bedroom unit and two studio units. Each of the four upper floors has 5 two-bedroom units, 4 one-bedroom units, and 4 studio units. That results in 57 units and 79 beds.

Building D is a 4-story. L-shaped building with 4 three-bedrooms, 2 two-bedrooms, 5 one-bedrooms and 3 studios per floor. At full occupancy, Building D’s 56 units will have 96 beds.

Building E (shown above) is a 4-story, L-shaped building. The corner facing Maple Avenue and Veteran’s Way will have a small retail space; the same space on the second through fourth floors is a two-bedroom unit. Overall, the building will have 16 three-bedroom units, 7 two-bedroom units, 16 one-bedroom units and 28 studios (about 106 beds).

Building F is a 4.5 story, I-shaped building. The habitable basement has 1 two-bedroom unit, 1 one-bedroom, and 3 studios. Each of the upper floors has 3 three-bedroom units, 2 two-bedroom units, 4 one-bedroom units, and 3 studios. The final sum is 53 units and 78 beds. In sum, the apartment buildings will provide 305 units and 463 beds.

The community center is something of a question. It looks like two floors with a 100′ x 65′ footprint, but I haven’t seen an exact square footage beyond early approximations of 5,000 SF.





The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part I: History and Planning

28 08 2017

Being as large and complex as it is, it was hard to figure out a way to present the Maplewood project clearly and coherently. After some thinking, it seems the best combination of clarity and detail will be to split it into three sections. This section, Part I, will be an overview of the site history and project planning. Part II will examine and break down the site plan with all of its contributing structures. Part III will be the regular construction update, which will be bi-monthly just like all the others.

Quick primer note – Maplewood Park was the name of the old complex. The new one is just called “Maplewood”. With the shorthand for Maplewood Park being Maplewood, it can get confusing.

Let’s start with the background. Love it or not, Cornell University is one of the major defining organizations of the Ithaca area. It employs nearly 10,000 people and brings billions of dollars in investment into the Southern Tier, Tompkins County and Ithaca. That investment includes the students upon which the university was founded to educate.

Traditionally, neither founder Ezra Cornell nor first university president Andrew Dickson White were fans of institutional housing. Their preference was towards boarding houses in the city, or autonomous student housing (clubs, Greek Letter Orgs, etc), where it was felt students would learn to be more independent. This mentality has often underlain Cornell’s approach to housing – it’s not a part of their primary mission, so they only build campus housing if they feel it helps them meet academic and institutional goals. If many potential students are opting for other schools because of housing concerns, or the university is under financial strain because it has to subsidize high housing costs in their scholarships, then Cornell is motivated to build housing in an effort to improve its situation and/or become more competitive with peer institutions.

With that in mind, being one of the top-ranked schools in the world means that, in the historical context of the university’s goals and plans, new housing is rarely a concern. Cornell will update housing in an effort to be more inclusive and to improve student well-being, but with labs, classrooms and faculty offices taking precedence, building new housing is rarely an objective. Only about 46% of undergrads live on campus, and just 350 of over 7,500 graduate and professional students.

From 2002 to present, Cornell has added 2,744 students, with a net increase in Ithaca of about 1900. The net increase in beds on Cornell’s Ithaca campus during that same time period is zero. While Cornell did build new dorms on its West Campus, they replaced the University “Class of” Halls. 1,800 beds were replaced with 1,800 beds. In fact, the amount of undergraduate and graduate housing on campus had actually decreased as units at Maplewood Park and the law school Hughes Hall dorm were taken offline, either due to maintenance issues, or for conversion to office/academic space. When the announcement for further decreases came in Fall 2015, I wrote a rare Ithaca Voice editorial, and even rarer, it brought Cornell out to the proverbial woodshed for poor planning and irresponsibility.

To be fair, while Cornell was the guilty body, removing housing isn’t a problem on its own. It’s when the local housing market can’t grow fast enough to support that, that it becomes a problem. The Tompkins County market is slow to react, for reasons that can be improved (cumbersome approvals process) and some that can’t (Ithaca’s small size and relative isolation poses investment and logistical hurdles). In the early and mid 2000s housing was added at a decent clip, so the impacts were more limited. But housing starts tumbled during and after the recession, and it was unable to keep up. As Cornell continued to add students in substantial quantities, it became a concern, both for students and permanent residents.

By the mid-2010s, Cornell was faced with financial strains, student unhappiness and worsening town-gown relations, all related to the housing issue. As a result, the past couple years have become one of those rare times where housing makes it close to the top of Cornell’s list of priorities.

In weighing its options, one of the long-term plans was to redevelop the 17-acre Maplewood Park property. The property was originally the holdings of an Ellis Hollow tavern keeper and the Pew family before becoming the farmstead of James and Lena (sometimes Lyna) Clabine Mitchell in the early 1800s. In 1802, James was passing through from New Jersey to Canada with plans to move across the border, but stopped in the area, liked it, and bought land from the Pews, then moving the rest of his family up to Ithaca. Apparently there’s a legend of Lena Mitchell attacking and killing a bear with a pitchfork for eating her piglets. Many of the home lots in Belle Sherman were platted in the 1890s from foreclosed Mitchell property.

Like many of the Mitchell lands, it looks like the property was sold off around 1900 – a Sanborn map from 1910 shows a brick-making plant on the property along the railroad (now the East Ithaca Rec Way) and not much else for what was then the city’s hinterland. It’s not clear when Cornell acquired property, but by 1946, Cornell had cleared the land to make way for one of their “Vetsburgs”, also known as Cornell Quarters. The 52 pre-fabricated two-family homes were for veterans with families, who swelled Cornell’s enrollment after World War II thanks to the GI Bill. Once the GIs had come and gone, Cornell Quarters became unfurnished graduate housing, geared towards students with families, and international students.

The Cornell Quarters were meant to be temporary, and so was their replacement. In 1988-89, the university built the modular Maplewood Park Housing, with 390 units/484 beds for graduate and professional students, and an expected lifespan of 25 years. The intent was to replace them with something nicer after several years, but given Cornell’s priorities, and housing typically not among them, it fell to the back burner. As temporary units with marginal construction quality and upkeep, poor-condition units were closed off in later years, and capacity had fallen to about 356 beds when the complex’s closure was announced in May 2015 for the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

Cornell had long harbored plans to redevelop the Maplewood site – a concept schematic was shown in the 2008 university Master Plan. After weighing a renovation versus a rebuild with a few possible partners, the university entered into an agreement with national student housing developer EdR Trust to submit a redevelopment proposal. The partnership was announced in February 2016, along with the first site plan.

The core components of the project were actually fairly consistent throughout the review process. The project would have 850-975 beds, and it would be a mix of townhouse strings and 3-4 apartment buildings, with a 5,000 SF community center to serve it all. The project adheres to New Urbanist neighborhood planning, which emphasizes walk-ability and bike-ability, with interconnected and narrow streets, and parking behind buildings rather than in front of them. Energy-efficient LEED Certification was in the plans from the start.

 

However, the overall site plan did evolve a fair amount, mostly in response to neighbor concerns raised through the review process. Many residents on or near Mitchell Road were uncomfortable with multi-story buildings near them, so these were pulled further back into the complex, and late in the process the remaining Mitchell Street multi-story buildings were replaced with very-traditional looking townhomes with a smaller scale and footprint. More traditional designs were also rolled out for the pair of townhouse strings closest to Worth Street, since neighbors noted they would be highly visible and wanted them to fit in. The building planned in the city’s side was also pulled inward into the parcel early on due to neighbor concerns – it became an open plaza and bus stop. The university was fairly responsive to most concerns, although the most adamant opposition didn’t want any multi-story units at all, and really preferred as few students and as few families as possible.

For the record, that is every site plan I have on file. Go clockwise from top left for the chronology. So from beginning to end, there were at least five versions made public. The final product settled on 442 units with 872 bedrooms, with units ranging from studios to 4-bedrooms.

It’s also worth pointing out that the town of Ithaca, in which the majority of the property lies (the city deferred the major decision-making to the town), had a lot of leverage in the details. The town’s decades-old zoning code isn’t friendly to New Urbanism, so the property had to be declared a Planned Development Zone, a form of developer DIY zoning that the town would have to review and sign off on. Eventually, the town hopes to catch up and have form-based code that’s more amenable to New Urbanism. The town also asked for an Environmental Impact Statement, a very long but encompassing document that one could describe as a super-SEQR, reviewing all impacts and all mitigation measures in great detail. The several hundred pages of EIS docs are on the town website here, but a more modest summary is here. If you want the hundreds of pages of emailed comments and the responses from the project team, there are links in the article here.

Some details were easier to hammer out than others. The trade unions were insistent on union labor, which Cornell is pretty good about, having a select group of contractors it works with to ensure a union-backed construction workforce. Also, at the insistence of environmental groups, and as heat pumps have become more efficient and cost-effective, the project was switched from natural gas heat to electric heat pumps, with 100% of the electricity to come from renewables (mostly off-site solar arrays).

Taxes were a bit more delicate, but ended up being a boon when it was decided to pay full value on the $80 million project. It was a borderline case of tax-exemption because Cornell would own the land and EdR would own the structures, and lease the land for 50 years; but Maplewood Park was exempt, so it could have been a real debate. Instead, EdR said okay to 100% taxation, which means $2.4 million generated in property taxes on a parcel that previously paid none. Some folks were also concerned if the schools could handle the young child influx, but since Maplewood Park only sent about 4 kids to the elementary school on average, and the new plan would send 10 students when the school has capacity for another 26, so that was deemed adequate.

On the tougher end, traffic is a perennial concern, and Cornell wasn’t about to tell graduate and professional students and their families to go without a car. Streetscape mitigations include raised crosswalks, curbing, and landscaping, EdR is giving the town $30,000 for traffic calming measures (speed humps and signage) to keep the influx of residents orderly and low-speed. A new 600,000 gallon water tank also has to be built (planned for Hungerford Hill Road).

One of the thorniest issues were the accusations of segmentation, meaning that Cornell was falsely breaking their development plans up into smaller chunks and hiding their future plans to make the impacts seem smaller. This has come in the context of the Ithaca East Apartments next door, and the East Hill Village Cornell is considering at East Hill Plaza. However, neither were concrete plans at the time, and still aren’t – to my understanding, Cornell had some informal discussions about Ithaca East but decided against it early on in the process. And they only just selected a development team for EHV.

In the end, many of the concerned neighbors and interest groups were satisfied with the changes, and actually lauded Cornell and EdR for being responsive. The EIS was formally requested in May 2016. The Draft EIS was accepted in August 2016, public meetings on it were held in October, and the Final EIS was submitted at the end of October. After some more back-and-forth on the details (stormwater management plan, or SWPPP), the Final EIS was approved right before Christmas and the project was approved in February 2017, starting work shortly thereafter for an intended August 2018 completion. With the wet summer, the project managers asked for a two-hour daily extension on construction (8 am-6 pm became 7 am -7 pm) to meet the hard deadline, which the town okayed with a noise stipulation of less than 85 decibels.

Rents for the project, which include utilities, wireless and pre-furnished units, are looking to range from $790-$1147 per bed per month, depending on the specific unit. Back of the envelope calculations suggest affordability at 30% rent and 10% utilities, for 40% of income. Cornell stipends currently range from $25,152-$28,998, which translates to $838-$967/month.

On the project team apart from Cornell and Memphis-based EdR are Torti Gallas and Partners of Maryland, New Urbanist specialists who did the overall site plan and architecture. Local firms T.G. Miller P.C. and Whitham Planning and Design are contributing to the project as structural engineer and public relations representative respectively. SRF & Associates did the traffic study. Although not mentioned as often, STREAM Collaborative did the landscape architecture for the project. The general contractor is LeChase Construction of Rochester.

So that’s part one. Part two will look at the structures and site plan itself. And then with part three, we’ll have the site photos.





News Tidbits 2/25/17: Creating a Place to Call Home

25 02 2017

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1. It looks like the homes designed for Tiny Timbers won’t just be limited to Tiny Timbers. The company has partnered with realtor Brent Katzmann for a to-be-built house in Lansing’s Farm Pond Circle housing development touts a Tiny Timbers-based home design by STREAM Collaborative. 1.09 acres and a 2 bed, 2 bath 1,430 SF house for $219,400. The relatively low price compared to most new builds is in part due to Tiny Timbers’ modular approach – the “Big Cube” retails for $156,900 with a finished basement, and the Farm Pond parcels go for $39k-$45k, so not counting the soft costs (permits/marketing), that pretty much sums up the costs.

Farm Pond Circle is a 19-lot subdivision in Lansing town that was the brainchild of the late Jack Jensen. All homes have to exceed state energy code by 20%, cannot exceed 2600 SF, and cannot use aluminum or vinyl siding. A couple lots have been aside for affordable single-family home construction. After Jensen’s passing in 2014, another local homebuilder, Bruno Schickel (Boiceville Cottages), picked up the undeveloped lots (10 of the 19) for about $165k last February, and intends to follow through on Jensen’s plans.

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2. Speaking of Tiny Timbers, it appears the budding modular timber-frame builder is expanding their offerings into a full line of homes. Tiny Timbers now has 16 different models in five series. Prices range from a completed 600 SF model with no basement at $109,900, to a 1,950 SF model with finished basement at $197,900, land and well/septic not included.

In a blog post on their website, Caleb Dolph, builder Buzz Dolph’s son and the guy in charge of marketing, says that the first sold house is underway in Hector (if Ithaca had exurban areas, Hector would be it), at least five others are in contract, though it’s not clear if any of those are for the 15-lot Varna site. Given that they planned for ten houses in 2017, the Tiny Timbers staff might have underestimated the market, which is more a fortunate challenge than a complaint.

3. A local non-profit is looking to expand its real estate footprint a little bit. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) is seeking to buy a run-down house at 626 West Buffalo Street and renovate it into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The county would provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the house is for sale for $99,999, the purchase offer is for $95,000, and a further $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

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4. Staying on the topic of special needs housing, the Second Wind Cottages is looking to add another three cottages in Newfield this year. The cottages are modest, ~200 SF and costing $12-$15k each to build. As reported by the Times’ Jaime Cone, every unit provides shelter to a formerly homeless male. Rents are “pay as you can”. A small community facility provides services like a kitchenette, office, washer and dryer. Three more cottages are planned for 2018, which will round out the “campus” with 18 units. A similar facility is planned up the road, one that will house homeless women and children. Although Newfield is a ways out, both sites are on the bus line into Ithaca.

The Second Wind Cottages are a private endeavor by businessman Carmen Guidi, and paid for through grants, fundraisers, and donations (money, furniture, etc). Volunteer labor similar to that used for Habitat for Humanity is utilized and welcomed. Like with the OAR house, by providing a safe, warm space to live, these units may help reduce homelessness and the issues homelessness creates.

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5. Work has yet to start on the new two-family home planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown, but it looks like developer/landlord Nick Lambrou is seeking major changes to the project. Lambrou wants to replace the approved design at top, with the one below, which is copied from a Craigslist posting. The designs are both by Jagat Sharma, but the new plan is a variant of the two-family homes that Sharma’s doing for Charlie O’Connor at the recently-approved 4-building 607 South Aurora project.

The property falls into the East Hill Historic District, which is under the ILPC’s jurisdiction. According to Bryan McCracken, the city’s Historic Preservation Planner, the design will be heading for review within the next month or two.

The design has been used before so there’s familiarity with the design and lower risk, plus there are possible cost efficiencies if using the same contractors as O’Connor, because they’ll move quicker as they’ve done it before. On the other hand, unlike 607 South Aurora, this property is in the East Hill Historic District, and full-time neighbors on Orchard Place have been watching these plans very closely – they’re wary of students, and will likely not be fans of the projecting second-floor porch, as the previous version was tucked into the building. Not sure using a slightly more decorated version of a design being deployed elsewhere will get the ILPC’s blessing, but we’ll see what happens.

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6. Why yes, Lansing town is still hopping mad about the natural gas issue. The town supervisor cites the tap-out as the cause of delay for Robert Weinstein’s 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, although the previous documentation says it’s a sewer issue – the developer has to deploy an Orenco modular sewer system, which has to be approved by the NYS DEC.

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7. Here’s a copy of Maplewood’s buildout timeline. The first Maplewood apartments should start construction in May 2017, pending no issues. Generally, the crews will be working from the outside in; buildings closer to Maple Avenue and Mitchell Street have earlier construction schedules, while those interior to Maplewood will start in the fall or early winter. Also, street names. Veteran’s Place will continue to be the main thoroughfare, but from north to south, it will intersect with “James Lane”, “East Sylvan Mews”, and “Lena Street”. James Lane wraps around to form the secondary N-S thoroughface on the east side of the parcel. James and Lena Mitchell were the original owners of the property when Ithaca was first settled in the early 1800s.

The Stormwater Property Protection Plan (SWPPP) still needs to be okayed by the town of Ithaca, but that’s about the only thing left before final approval is granted.

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8. It looks like the Planning Board meeting should be interested. Not a whole lot being decided, but some sketch plans have been submitted. For rental projects aiming for August 2018 openings, Feb-Apr is going to be the primary submission period, as they seek approvals by May or June so that construction can run on a Summer 2017 – Summer 2018 schedule.
AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time
1.Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:10
Location: 109 Dearborn Place, Tax Parcel 9.-3-11
Applicant: Lee and Elizabeth Ambrose
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Recommendation to BZA

4.Site Plan Review
A. Project: Apartments (11 Units) 6:30
Location: 107 S Albany Street
Applicant: Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

B. Schwartz Plaza Redesign- Sketch Plan 6:50

More on that here.

C. 238 Linden Avenue – Townhomes – Sketch Plan 7:10

238 Linden is a non-historic student rental house, and a John Novarr property in a CR-4 zone – 4 floors, no parking required. Further to that, 240 Linden to its north was taken down for staging space for the Breazzano Center, but as that will be finishing up this Spring, it leaves an MU-2 (six floors, no parking) parcel open for development. A townhomes plan suggest one or both of these parcels will host something not unlike the ikon.5-designed townhouses plan Novarr plans to build at 119-125 College Avenue.

D. 372 Elmira Road – McDonalds Rebuild – Sketch Plan 7:30

If Ithaca’s lucky, it’ll have upscale features like the one finishing up in Dryden. Otherwise, a modern update to the 1980s design is plausible. A number of older McD’s restaurants nationwide have been upgraded to the new design in the past few years.

E. 301 Eddy Street – Student Apartments 7:50

This is intriguing. 301 Eddy is a Nick Lambrou property in an MU-2 zone – a four-story, 8-unit/37 bed apartment building built in 1995, and it’s also the address for Collegetown Park’s parking lot. One possibility is replacing part of the parking lot with another apartment building – Lambrou may push to six floors, but it’s not his style. He’s described his offerings as “boutique” buildings, properties with less than 20 units and 20-50 bedrooms. Recent examples include 2015’s 116 Catherine Street, and 2012’s 309 Eddy Street. If the past is any precedent, this will be a Jagat Sharma design.

5. Zoning Appeal: #3057, Area Variance, 109 Dearborn Place 8:10

6. Old/New Business: Special Meeting Chainworks District DGEIS – Transportation 8:20

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