News Tidbits 8/15/15: Big Houses and Little Houses

15 08 2015

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1. In good news, INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development was granted all the necessary zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The vote was 3-0 in favor; one board member abstained after expressing her distaste for the project. Variances were needed for the height (46.5 feet vs. the 40 feet legally permitted), the parking requirement (84 required, 64 planned) and loading zones for the three commercial spaces, which was granted at the previous BZA meeting. The project now moves on to the Planning Board again for preliminary approval.

210 Hancock also applied for $3.9 million in tax abatements from the Tompkins County IDA, and these were granted at last night’s meeting. According to the application, the tax abatement was requested because the commercial spaces and the pedestrian walkways along Lake Avenue and Adams Street can’t be covered by affordable housing grants. The foundation and high acquisition cost of the former grocery store were also cited as factors in the application.

Unfortunately, documents filed with the city indicate that the townhouses will no longer be for sale, they will only be rental units. INHS says that they received updated, detailed construction costs and the result is that it would be “infeasible to build and sell the townhouses affordably“. If there’s any silver lining to that, it’s that all the townhouse units will now be handicapped-accessible, and that they will be built at the same time as the apartment building (no need for subdivision or owner-occupied grant money, which is harder to get). Construction will be May 2016 to July 2017, rather than 2016-2019.

EDIT: INHS Executive Director Paul Maazarella sent an email this morning saying that the plans have been re-revised, and now 5 of the 12 units will be rentals. 7 of the units, all 2-bedrooms, will still be for sale. Quoting the email –

“This aspect of the project has many unknowns that still remain to be resolved, so we decided to take a cautious approach with the Planning Board and announce that they will all be rentals. Some of the challenges that we have for for-sale units on this site are:  very high land cost; the demo cost for the existing building; uncertainty about the availability of development subsidies; the type and cost of the ownership structure (condo, coop or HOA); the impact of high property taxes on affordability; and the overall development cost in relation to producing a unit at an affordable purchase price.  Since then, we’ve reviewed the numbers and reconsidered our earlier decision.

We have now firmed up a plan to keep 7 of the 12 units as for-sale units and make 5 of them rental units.  All 5 of the rental units will be 3-bedroom homes (the only 3-BRs in the project) and one of them will be fully accessible.
The 5 rental units will be clustered at the end nearest to Adams St.  The for-sale units will be closer to Hancock St.
The rental units will be built at the same time as the multifamily building.  We don’t yet know the timeline for the for-sale units.”

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On that note, here’s an updated render of the townhouses. Quoting the memo from Trowbridge Wolf,

“The townhomes at 210 Hancock will utilize architectural details in the porches and roof lines as well as a mix of materials and colors to provide architectural diversity. Architectural precedent will include homes built in the late 19th/early 20th century and characterized as “tudor”, “arts and crafts”, “American four square” etc. The goal is to design the 12 townhomes as if they were built over time with some unifying features that make them feel part of the larger 210 Hancock community.”

2. From townhouses to big houses. Here’s an attractive proposal for a renovation at 109 Dearborn Place in Cornell Heights. 109 Dearborn is currently a 3,800 SF storage building with an attached apartment unit, and has been since the 1960s; previously it was an office building for the Paleontological Research Institute, and built specifically for PRI in the early 1930s. The building was purchased from Cornell by Dr. J. Lee Ambrose (M.D., so he can get away with using ‘Dr.’ outside of his field without sounding pretentious) for $177k in 2012. Bero Architects of Rochester and Ellis Construction of Lansing are in charge of the design and build respectively.

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The proposal involves new roofing, dormers, roof extensions, and a gut interior renovation to be done in phases over the next few years. Being in the Cornell Heights Historic District, the project needs Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) approval. Since the building is considered non-contributing to the historic district (the age is right but being a purpose-built office building isn’t), ILPC may be a little less stringent with this project.

3. Staying on the theme of grand houses, a lakeshore homesite has received a multi-million dollar loan. The property at 1325/1327 Taughannock in Ulysses is right on the lake, and two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The loan, for $2.25 million, was filed on the 13th, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust.

The owner is a senior investment banker from New York with connections to Cornell. In other words, the type of person a lot of Ithacans love to hate. Looking on the bright side, this is an extra couple million for Ulysses’s tax rolls (my anecdotal finding is to tack on about 30% to hard construction costs to get the assessed value, and the hard costs here are $1.87 million…so $2.43 million). Single-family projects of this magnitude in Tompkins County are quite rare, they could be counted on two hands. It’ll definitely be worth a trip to see what this lakeside manse looks like as it moves towards its May 2016 completion.

4. Also in sales, the Carpenter Business Park was purchased by “Carpenter Business Park LLC” for $2.4 million from the lender that repo’d it from the owner earlier this year. Four parcels were purchased – all the land along Northside’s Carpenter Circle except for the community gardens and the building supply company. The LLC is registered to the same P.O. Box as Ithaca’s Miller Mayer law firm, and there’s no indication if there are plans for this site. But you’ll see something here if plans arise.

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5. The State Street Triangle public relations campaign begins in earnest – the CEO of Campus Advantage recently submitted an editorial in the Journal, and the Texas-based company has also launched a website, Ithacaliving.com. It’s as one would expect, it touts the economic impacts and the addition of housing to the underserved Ithaca market. For those who are more neutral, the site’s worth a look for some new perspective shots, courtesy of the folks at STREAM Collaborative. CA’s effort to assuage the concerns of city officials and the public has been lackluster so far, so we’ll see if this is a sign they’re willing to be more active and engaging.

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6. Over in Ithaca town, the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) is still underway for College Crossings. Only this time, the town acknowledges that plopping a building in the middle of a large parking lot doesn’t mesh with their comprehensive plan. The building is acceptable, but the site plan layout needs work seems to be the gist of the town planner’s review.

7. From the city of Ithaca Planning Board Project Review meeting next week, the phrase of the week will be “carriage house”. Specifically, two proposals in the city for accessory apartments in the style of carriage houses.

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Carriage houses were essentially garages for horse-and-buggies. The first proposal, at 201 West Clinton Street, is highly reminiscent of those long-gone days, and it needs to be since it’s in Henry St. John Historic District (more talk about the meticulous restoration of the main house here). The proposal is going up to the planning board for recommendations for a zoning property line setback variance at the next BZA meeting. The 650 SF, 1 bedroom garage/carriage house would replace a non-contributing garage from the 1960s. The architect isn’t stated in the documents.

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The other proposal is for 607 Utica Street in Fall Creek. The applicant is seeking demolish a rear garage in favor of a one-bedroom, 510 SF unit. In the zoning appeal application (one again for property line setbacks), the homeowner states “My goal has never been to become a landlord…I am hoping to do this only because the income from this would allow me to remain in the community”. Once again, the affordability problem is making itself known. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is responsible for 607 Utica’s “tiny house”.

As a matter of opinion, I think these are a great idea. These add to the housing stock, contribute income to homeowner-landlords living only feet away, they’re not obtrusive, and their small size lends well to modest, sustainable living. I hope they go forward.





News Tidbits 8/8/15: A Shocker on Cayuga Street

8 08 2015

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1. As reported by several news outlets, the Tompkins County Legislature came to the surprise conclusion last Tuesday to give preference to the Travis Hyde proposal for the Old Library site at the corner of West Court and North Cayuga Streets. The final vote was 8-5.

I’ll be honest, I was shocked. I figured the county legislature would just never come to a resolution, or that on the off-chance that it did, it was going to be in favor of the Franklin Properties proposal, which had by far the most vocal support of the three proposals (the third being the unloved Cornerstone proposal for affordable senior housing). If this has been the city’s site to sell, the decision would have gone to Franklin, so I think this ordeal highlights the somewhat differing interests of the city and county. Regardless, I feel either proposal would have been successful for the Old Library site, and I am pleased to see something moving forward.

From here, the project is to move into an SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) assessment coordinated with the city of Ithaca. The project also needs to go forward to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) for a certificate of appropriateness. It is quite possible that the design will be changed during those reviews. Once those are approved, a sales agreement will be drawn up late this fall, the county authorizes sale around Christmas, and the actual sale of the property to Travis Hyde would happen in January 2016. If the Travis Hyde project can’t move forward and the sale hasn’t happened, then the county can authorize the Franklin proposal, which would also have to negotiate the same processes to arrive at the selling stage. In sum, a big hurdle has been jumped, but there’s a lot more that needs to happen before any shovels hit the dirt.

2. For all you would-be developers out there, here’s this week’s opportunity – since the folks that own Felicia’s Atomic Lounge have decided to focus on a new restaurant in Trumansburg, their Ithaca site is closing and the property is for sale. On the surface, you get a 1-story, 1,500 SF building at 508 West State Street for about $350,000. Dig deeper and zoning permits a 60′ tall building with no parking required. The city and county have designated the West State corridor as the place where they would like to focus denser development, and the zoning was revised in 2013 to reflect those desires. If/when the property sells, if it merits further attention you’ll see a news update here.

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3. Demolition of the Chapter House’s fire-damaged walls is taking longer than expected because the owner had to apply for a certificate of appropriateness from the ILPC to approve demolition. For those that are interested in reading about how water and fire damage have structurally comprised the structure, the application bundle can be found here. Apart from the usual applications like window and roof treatments, the ILPC is also set to begin discussion of 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue, where a new apartment building is likely to be built to replace the one totally destroyed by the Chapter House (and which I wrote about here on the Voice). For those interested in attending, the meeting is at 5:30 PM in the 2nd floor conference room at Ithaca City Hall.

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4. Looking at the city’s planning board projects memo for the month, August is going to have a lot og big decisions in store. Novarr’s academic building at 209-215 Dryden in Collegetown is up for preliminary approval, as is Tompkins Financial Corporation’s HQ (shown above) and the Dibella’s sub shop in southwest Ithaca. If INHS’s 210 Hancock gets zoning approvals at the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting next Tuesday, it will be up for final approval at the August planning board meeting as well. The 12-unit “pocket neighborhood” at 215-221 West Sepncer will complete environmental review and possibly granted permission to face the BZA, and the massive State Street Triangle project will have more public discussion and review, with no decisions expected. A very busy month that will hopefully pane out to a busy construction season in 2016.

5. Looks like there’s a potential site being weighed for a new Collegetown fire station. In minutes from the Board of Fire Commissioners, the location is described as being towards Maple Avenue, on land that would either be donated or bought outright. That would place it up by the Fairview Apartments and Cornell facilities, assuming it’s not further out in Ithaca town (services are shared if I remember right). An unidentified consultant has been chosen to review the costs of selling the land in Inner Collegetown and building a new station vs. renovating the current 47 year-old property.

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5. Random house of the week turns back to 203 Pearl Street in Ithaca’s Bryant Park/Belle Sherman neighborhood. I spy with my little eye, a large garage opening, a rough-in for a door to its left, a couple of rough window spaces, and lots of roof trusses. It’s supposed to be a 1,276 SF house, but one could be forgiven for thinking the owners are just building a nice garage. The lot was separate when the neighborhood was first plated, but decades ago 201 Pearl bought the land and used it for an in-ground pool. The pool was eventually filled up, and the land subdivided once again this past spring.





News Tidbits 7/11/15: Trying to Make A Dent in the Housing Deficit

11 07 2015

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1. We’ll start this off with a brief data map, courtesy of Curbed NY. The Urban Institute, a DC think tank, quantifies the country’s affordable housing problem with a detailed study that lays out, county by county across the whole United States just how many units are affordable to what it labels “extremely low-income” (ELI) households, who make 30% or less of county median income. In Tompkins County, this means families of four making $23,200 or less during 2013, the latest year for which data is available. The full report comes with an interactive map.

Nationwide, the numbers aren’t very good – in 2013, only 28 of every 100 ELI families could find affordable housing, down from 37 out of every 100 in 2000. In Tompkins County, the situation is even worse – it’s gone from affordable housing being available for 19 out of every 100 ELI households in 2000, to 16 out of every 100 ELI households in 2013. There was only two other counties in the northeast that fared worse – Centre County, PA, home to State College and Penn State, and Monroe County, PA, a far-flung NYC commuter county.

While much of the talk about affordability focuses on the middle class getting priced out, it’s worth noting that the tight housing market and college-centric rental market have had a continued negative impact on what little housing there is for the poorest tiers.

2. Staying on the topic of affordability,  the county is all set to sell a foreclosed vacant lot in Freeville to INHS for the express purpose of affordable housing. This was first mentioned on the blog a couple of weeks ago. The 1.7 acres of land off of Cook Street in Freeville is assessed at $25,000, but the county is generously selling the land to INHS for the low price of $7,320, which is the amount owed on back taxes and “required maintenance”. This project would be next to Freeville’s other affordable housing complex, the 24-unit Lehigh Crossing senior apartments south of the parcel. Those were built in 1991 and are managed by a for-profit developer out of Buffalo (Belmont Management).

As noted previously, the village of Freeville (population 520) is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This is likely to be the first new rural project post-merger, and the first new affordable housing development outside of Ithaca in several years. BHTC had a string of failures prior to the merger. For INHS, after the controversy with Stone Quarry and 210 Hancock, taking on a development site that’s likely to have less opposition will be a welcome change of pace.

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3. No full decisions from the Board of Zoning Appeals on the 210 Hancock project, but there was plenty of acrimony. Of the three requested variances (height, parking and commercial loading), only the commercial loading variance was granted at Tuesday’s meeting, with the height and parking up in the air until additional information is received about pile driving impacts and winter odd-even parking. INHS has just over two months to submit the additional information.

The same vitriolic sentiment could be applied for the Old Library proposals, where legislator Martha Robertson has been called out for a possible ethics violation, and emails on the Fall Creek Neighborhood Association listserve have turned unpleasant. All in all, it’s been a pretty harsh week for anything related to development in or near Fall Creek.

Some of the 210 opposition is upset that they’re being perceived as “classist”, but when the gentleman leading the opposition posts tweets like this to the #twithaca page for all to see, a negative reaction shouldn’t be a surprise. As for the old library debate, the legislature’s Old Library Committee met on the morning of the 10th, but no endorsements were made.

4. A couple of details worth noting for ILPC’s meeting next Tuesday – “early design guidance” for work planned at 201 W. Clinton Street, and “discussion” about 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue in Collegetown.

201 West Clinton, also known as the Hardy House, was built around 1835, and was previously the home of the local Red Cross chapter from about 1922-2011. After the ARC moved out, it was restored and converted back to a private residence. The house was more recently reviewed/approved for solar panels, and I dunno what’s in store for this next round.

As for 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue, those would be the addresses for the historic (ca. 1898) three-story red-shingled apartment house destroyed during the Chapter House fire last Spring, and the fire-damaged but still-standing apartment house to its north. They are/were operated by CSP Management, the same folks tending to the Simeon’s project. So let’s keep hopes up for a possible rebuild faithful to the original 406.

If you still need your weekly dose of crazy, here’s a rather paranoid screed submitted as part of an application to the ILPC. I can only imagine the committee’s initial reaction to this.

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5. Time to move another Collegetown project into the “under construction” column – 307 College Avenue, a.k.a. Collegetown Crossing, will hold a formal groundbreaking on Monday at 10 AM. The 46-unit, 96-bedroom project was approved last September after a years-long debate over parking; the project was only able to move forward when the new Collegetown zoning went into effect last year. Expect a 12-month construction period, with occupancy likely in August 2016. Collegetown Crossing, which also includes a 4,000 sq ft Greenstar grocery store branch, a pocket park and a TCAT transit hub, is being developed by the Lower family and their company Urban Ithaca.

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6. Looks like we’re on to another iteration of the proposed pair of duplexes at 112 Blair / 804 East State Street in outer Collegetown. Updated file here, previous plans here. It kinda feels like there’s a disconnect going on – the neighbors basically don’t like the houses for being boring pre-fab duplexes; the developer, Demos/Johnny LLC (Costas Nestopoulos), doesn’t want to change that, but is willing to adjust the site layout and invest in extensive landscaping in an effort to hide them. The two sides have met and they seem close to a compromise.

Rather unusually, the 12-bedroom project (4 units with 3 bedrooms each) will open to student tenants in January 2016, after a construction period of September-December 2015. Being a small project, there will probably be enough intersession shuffling to make it work.

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7. Here’s another small project getting a revision – the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler addition down in bog box land. Still adding 20 display spaces, but the addition has grown from 1,165 SF in the last version to 1,435 SF, include a small 418 SF second story intended as a lunch room. This project, which will need an area variance, is also looking at September-December 2015 buildout.





News Tidbits 6/27/15: A Bad week for YIMBYs

27 06 2015

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1. Starting this off with least controversial news-maker this week – John Novarr’s 209-215 Dryden Road project, which I wrote about for the Voice here and with site plan details and SPR/render links here. The first article’s a little helter-skelter as a write-up because there was a lot of frantic 11:30 PM fact-checking going on in an effort to get the news out.

The $12 million, 12,000 sq ft proposal is smaller than Collegetown Dryden, but more importantly, the project isn’t residential; it’s classroom and office space for Cornell’s MBA program, three floors for each of those uses. That definitely brings something different to Collegetown and its mostly residential focus. With assurances given that the property will be kept on the tax rolls, the initial opposition appears to mostly be related to the design, which to be honest, is rather avant-garde and an acquired taste (not one I’ve acquired, to be honest). However, bringing 200 staff and a few hundred professional students into Collegetown would be a real asset for businesses struggling to stay open amid the neighborhood’s 32/36-week profit window.

209-215 Dryden Road is within the MU-2 zoning from the looks of it, so a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seems unlikely at the moment. We’ll see what happens moving forward, this one could be a fairly smooth approvals process.

2. For a smaller developer, Ithaca-based Modern Living Rentals has been pretty busy this year. Along with 707 East Seneca Street and 902 Dryden, they have a modular duplex (3 bedrooms each, 6 total) currently under construction at 605 South Aurora Street in Ithaca city. A construction permit was issued back in 2014, according to the city planning report. The orientation is a little odd in that the new duplex is being built in front of the old home on the property, since the house is longitudinally centered but set back on its lot. Taking a guess, the intended market is likely IC students. The new units look like they’ll be ready for occupancy in time for the fall semester.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the Tompkins County Government Operations Committee – plans to sell a vacant lot to non-profit housing developer INHS. In its May minutes, the committee announced intent to sell a vacant, foreclosed parcel in Freeville for affordable housing. The property is described as a 1.72 acre parcel on Cook Street in the village, which through a little deductive searching, turns up the lot in the map above, just north of the Lehigh Crossing Senior Apartments. The minutes state that INHS is in the process of drafting up an acquisition offer for the county attorney.

Freeville is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This might be the first new rural project post-merger. The Lehigh Crossing Apartments have 24 units on 2.3 acres, so if INHS were to build at the same density, this site would be looking at something around 18 units. Not big, but not inconsequential, especially for a 520-person village.

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4. A decision to decrease sewer hookup costs in Lansing village also shares some details about a senior housing project in the works. The news comes from the Lansing Star, where the village voted to decrease its sewer hookup fee from $2,350 per unit to $1,000 for the first unit and $500 for each additional unit. Apparently the high fee was the result of the lack of a permitting process in the 1990s.

The article notes that the developer of a mixed-use request had requested a fee waiver because it would have cost $138,650 for their “59 units of senior housing”. Now it will be $30,000. Not as good as a waiver, but still pretty good. Lansing village only has one project that meets the description provided, the 87,500 sq ft Cinema Drive project covered here previously. The semi-educated guess back in May was 51 units, so the ballpark estimate wasn’t too shabby.

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5. It’s official, 327 Eddy is under construction. Asbestos removal has been completed and the Club Sudz building is coming down. The Fontanas hope to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by next August. In replacement of Club Sudz’ and Pixel’s 7 units and 2,500 sq ft of commercial space, the new 5-story building will bring 1,800 of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall the building was originally going to be six floors, but a floor was lopped off since it was approved.

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6. Updated renders for 215-221 West Spencer Street, coming right up. A little more detail on the facades, some window updates from the last version, and…well, honest personal opinion…it’s a very attractive design. Materials could underwhelm it, but as presented, it appears to be a lovely addition to South Hill. Good work STREAM Collaborative.

The 12-unit, 26-bed project plans to start construction next year. The project replaces an informal (dirt) parking lot.

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7. Touching on the Old Library decision briefly, a public meeting on the two proposals will be held Monday June 29th at 6:308:30pm at Greenstar’s “The Space” (700 West Buffalo Street). Douglas Sutherland will represent Franklin Properties (first image) and Frost Travis will be presenting for Travis Hyde. Should the County Legislature decide to take another vote to see if the stalemate will be broken, the next chance will be at their July 7th meeting.

EDIT: The public meeting scheduled for the 29th has been cancelled .

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8. Onto the thornier topics – Not sure what was worse this week, the reaction to the State Street Triangle project, or the INHS Hancock Street opposition. The objective, non-partisan write-up about the State Street project is on the Voice here. This and news piece #9 are opinion pieces, feel free to ignore them.

At least the State Street objections (latest renders here), I can understand the initial shock and recoil; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jive with that. Regardless, by Ithaca standards it is massive, 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms; if this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).

But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site. Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit”.

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, than a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely. Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:
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to this:

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Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

9. Now for 210 Hancock. Here is a project that’s been transparent, incredibly transparent, throughout their whole planning process. At first, there was little opposition. Now, it threatens the proposal, apartments, townhomes and all.

A wise man once told me in when I was preparing a piece, “There’s no point in talking about this with you, the public’s going to have issues with it either way”. At this point, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve read the petition, and I’ve read the facebook comments. It’s regrettable, to say the least.

A lot of the comments just seem to be misinformed. People saw the petition, thought that INHS was only building the apartments, and signed it. The petition was worded with charged and selective language. I’d like to take a few minutes out to refute and argue some of the commentary.

“there must be a safe place for children to play…”

“People need access to green space, yards and the ability to get outside directly from their living space.”

“I want my 3 year old to grow up in a neighborhood where he can safely ride a bike, play sports and walk his dog.”

You’re right. That’s why the project, as proposed by INHS and tweaked by the city Planning Board, builds a playground that blends into Conley Park without the threat of vehicular traffic (shown in the plan below). Adams Street and Lake Avenue would be removed, allowing kids living in the apartments and townhomes to go the playground without crossing any street.

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“I’m a lifelong resident, and I’m frankly getting tired of seeing all these areas getting bulldozed and developed…especially when we have dozens of empty/condemned houses and buildings just sitting around!”

The rental vacancy rate is 0.5%. A healthy market is 3-5%. Further to that, if there are dozens of homes, even if they were for sale, it’s still not enough to handle the demand, which is in the few thousands.

“inadequate parking planned.”

“The parking issue is already a problem. This will only make it worse.”

“I am a Fall Creek resident and do not want this area in our neighborhood to resemble Collegetown in density or difficulty in parking.”

84 parking spaces are required by zoning, 64 are proposed. However, only 22 spaces are expected to be used by the 53 apartments. In the parking study of INHS tenants, 41% of apartment tenants have 1 car, 12% of those have two. One of the reasons why INHS’s parking utilization is so low is that many of its apartments are rented by seniors – for example, Breckenridge Place is 60% seniors on fixed incomes. With limited mobility and/or income, many don’t maintain personal cars.

In a sense, although the Cornerstone project for affordable senior housing wasn’t selected by the Old Library site, the INHS project on Hancock Street may serve in some ways as a reasonable alternative.

“We don’t owe any developer a profit on their development.”

INHS is a non-profit community developer. The townhouses sold at Holly Creek over the past year were in the $105-$120k range. For comparison’s sake, the townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages sold for double that, and those aren’t even considered high-end (high-end would be the $410,000 townhomes in Lansing’s Woodland Park).

The reason why construction won’t start until Fall 2016/Fall 2017, with the apartments finishing up in Fall 2017/Fall 2018, is that they are completely reliant on government grants and donations from community supporters. The townhouses won’t start for a couple of years (their time frame is 2018-2020) because funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. Just like with the condominium debate, the government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. As for the rent-to-own option suggested by the petition writer, it’s speculative, complicated, and NYS/federal HUD will not provide grants for that type of property acquisition. INHS couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

“[need]assurance mixed income will be there”

It will. As I wrote in March:

“210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.”

“A 54 apartment high-rise is not the appropriate place for children to grow up, low income or not.”

“It is too dense and not suited to Fall Creek or Northside.”

“I moved to Ithaca and settled in Fall Creek to live in a small town.”

For starters, it’s harder to make housing affordable if there are fewer units on the a plot of land. Secondly, because the INHS project takes lead on the city’s right-of-way (ROW) on Lake Avenue and Adams Street, the calculated density per acre is 23.6 units per acre. Cascadilla Green, one block to the north, is 20 units per acre. Also note that units are 1 and 2 bedrooms per unit; most of the houses on blocks in Northside and Fall Creek are 3 bedrooms per unit.

What probably bothers me the most are some of the comments in the online petition for INHS.

“Shame on you “Ithaca Neighborhood Housing” for even thinking of creating something that will breed trouble…”

“This is an uncivilized proposal…”

“if all on welfare, this will invite crime…”

One of the reasons I harp on affordable housing is that I grew up in affordable housing. This 147-unit mixed-income complex in suburban Syracuse. Apartment 28E. I shared a bed with one of my brothers until I was 10, and even after my mother was finally able to buy a small ranch house, we shared a bedroom until he graduated and went to college two years before I did (by that point, we had moved on up to bunk beds). My mother did what she could. We were never more than working class, but she worked hard (still does) and made sure her kids worked hard.

At least some of the comments are kind enough to be “I want affordable housing but”. Others really make it sound like that those in need of affordable housing are a contamination of the community. Those statements aren’t worth debating. They’re just hurtful.

Anyway, this might be the longest news update I’ve done, so I’m going to wrap this up and detach from the computer for a while. There may or may not be a photo update Monday night, we’ll see.





News Tidbits 6/13/15: Things that make you go Hmm

13 06 2015

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1. We’ll start this week’s round-up with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the Old Library decision. The general, non-partisan rundown can be found in the article I did for the Voice. Rather than rehash that, I’ll give my own thoughts and opinions here.
In what should be no surprise to anyone, there’s a lot of acrimony flying around. The unavoidable problem here is that everyone has a different expectation for the site. To be honest, I was a little surprised that the Travis Hyde proposal was the winner. The Cornerstone and Franklin proposals were running about even when it came to public sentiment – many of the Voice commenters were stressing the need for affordable senior housing, just like the county did in the RFEI. Others used online petitions to push for the condos and saving the old library, but I personally felt that that was always going to be a stretch simply because the condos are a double-edged sword; they’re a needed commodity, but that “air of elitism” associated with the sale of a public asset for high-end homes would hound the legislators all the way to the voting booth.

The truth is, the RFP was designed to be unattainable, and I called it out for that last fall. There was no way a project was going to incorporate all the things it requested. Franklin couldn’t renovate the building and make their units at the affordable level. Cornerstone was able to make their units affordable but wasn’t as environmentally friendly as the others (it also requested a large PILOT). And I guess Travis Hyde was in the middle. Which on that 0-5 scale they used to score the projects, gives a simplified sort of 5-0 (2.5), 0-5 (2.5), 3-3 (3). With unrealistic expectations, of course the legislators were going to be disappointed, and they set up everyone else to be disappointed too. But the thought of holding onto a vacant building with its mechanical systems at the end of their useful lives, ready to put the county on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in replacement costs, is probably the worst option out there.

TL;DR: There was going to a large contingent angry with the legislature’s decision, whatever it was. It’s times like this I wonder if the county should’ve just sold the site to the highest bidder.

Just for the record, because the three proposals were so different, and I thought all of three of them were good community assets, I honestly didn’t have a favorite. I had a slight preference towards DPI early on, but when they dropped out I became neutral about the whole process. But it’s only the Franklin supporters that are accusing me of subversively undermining them in the Voice write-ups, and it’s making me really cold to their cause.

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2. From the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) agenda, more talk this week about removing the setbacks from Nate’s Floral Estates (more on that in a moment), and a Memorandum of Understanding that both the city and Cornell will be chipping in $100k from their affordable housing funds to help finance INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing project (specifically, the 53 apartments – the 12 for-sale townhomes are being financed separately).

As covered by Jeff in the Voice, concerns have been raised that the site is unfit for new development due to the possibility of environmental contamination. Nate’s is partially on the site of the old city landfill, and has been for 40 years. But concerns raised by Ithaca city councilwoman Cynthia Brock, Ithaca town board member Rich DePaolo, and environmental activist Walter Hang have tabled the zoning change for now until the Department of Health can re-review their previous correspondence on the park’s expansion and determine if the extra 30 feet is safe to build on. The expansion may still happen, and we’ll just have to wait on the DOH’s decision before any zoning changes move forward.

On a separate note, there’s this line from the March minutes, which are rolled into the agenda for approval:

Alderperson Brock would like to see an increase in owner-occupied housing in the City. She does agree that affordable housing is needed, but the need is for “for sale” housing.

The last I checked, Ithaca is the 11th most expensive city in the country for rents as a proportion of income. The city needs affordable housing, for-sale housing, and affordable for-sale housing.

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3. Fresh renders of the Tompkins Financial HQ. This one’s had some pretty substantial revisions from the initial bland brick box. A little more character and a more varied use of materials. More drawings here, cover letter here. This project’s just scooting right along, the applicants hope to have preliminary site approval granted at the June 23rd Planning and Development Board meeting. Construction is now expected to start in August and wrap up in February 2017.

A traffic study conducted by SRF Associates of Rochester determined that with only 20 employees moving from the suburbs into downtown, that the impact to the vehicular traffic on East Seneca (thousands of cars per day) will be negligible. A long-term increase in traffic is likely if other entities move into the rented space TFC vacates, but that’s well outside the scope of a traffic study.

The initial work calls for site clearing, demo of the existing drive-thru branch on site, then excavation down to the first sub-floor, thenceforth pile driving shall commence. It’s anticipated the sandy soils will make the pile-driving move along faster, but the other buildings nearby will necessitate temporary support installations during the excavation process.

On a related note, Tompkins Financial has filed an application with the IDA for a 10-year tax abatement. The application for the $35 million project (of which $28 million is for construction of the new building) states that the requested abatement would save the project $4.06 million in property taxes, and $2.112 million in sales taxes. New taxes generated and paid over the same time period would equal $3.782 million.

In the application, TFC states that it would be a few million dollars cheaper to build at “a generic rural site”, and in order to make downtown headquarters more financially acceptable, they decided to apply for tax breaks.

The application only suggests 6 new jobs over the next three years, paying $37k-$84k annually. Given previous estimates of 77 new jobs over 10 years, this lack of major job growth early on forces the later years to pick up the slack.

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Of course, we also have a render of the new drive-thru across the street, which is nice but not nearly as exciting.

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4. Sometimes I feel like I should do a random house of the week feature. Here we have a modular home being built on the 200 Block of Eastern Heights Drive in the town of Ithaca. It looks nearly finished at this point; permits for the home were filed back in March, so this one seems to have followed a normal building schedule with no major hangups.

Some modular homes are done on the cheap and look the part; others, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, do a great job with the finishes. This one may not look as great the Belle Sherman project, but it looks like a decent infill home for the Eastern Heights neighborhood. And it has great views to boot.

5. According to the town of Ithaca’s May 11th minutes, a developer has expressed interest in buying fire Station No. 9 at 309 College Avenue in Collegetown. An appraisal has been done and the City has hired a consultant to look into it. Fire Station No. 9 was built in 1968 to replace the original station, which is now The Nines. It sits in Collegetown’s densest zone, MU-2, so a potential replacement could be six floors with no parking requirement. There’s a lot to be looked at here, especially with the potential public safety impacts. But it’s something worth paying attention to over the next several months.

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6. It’s unusual in Ithaca to see real estate advertisements posted with speculative commercial build-out plans. The above computer drawing is from the online posting for the sale of 120-140 Brindley Street in the West End. The three smaller buildings already exist – the “Aeroplane Factory” on the right and the other two properties comprise ~18,000 sq ft of flex office space. The drawing also shows an unbuilt 3-story office building; I don’t know how serious plans were for it, but it’s probably just conceptual. The real estate ad itself notes that a live/work building is possible, as well as a 6-story building of 25,000 sq ft.  The 2.38 acre site’s for sale for $2.79 million.





News Tidbits 5/9: Changing Elevations

9 05 2015

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1. Looks like the CU Suites project is in fact the render shared by Taylor Contractors. Readers might remember these elevations from last week for a proposed “Cinema Drive Senior Housing”, but that the image didn’t match up with the proposal, a 3-story, 43,000 sq ft structure. According to the village of Lansing’s Board of Zoning Appeals agenda, the project is now a multi-story mixed-use building with a size of 87,515 square feet, which looks about right for the building proposed above. The project is seeking rear yard setback and height variances for not enough of a rear yard parking setback from the lot line, and for exceeding the maximum height allowed by zoning (which is 35 feet).

Doing some back of the envelope calculations, if one calls only the top three floors senior housing ((3/4.5) * 87515 = 58343) and uses the rough guidelines of 15% for circulation/utilities and 980 sq ft per unit, then one gets about 51 units, which makes this a pretty sizable project by local standards.

inhs_pride_v3_elevations_1 inhs_pride_v3_elevations_2

2. Now for a change or perspective – new perspectives of the 210 Hancock project, in the form of elevations found in higher resolution here. Now you can see what all of the buildings look like as a whole, rather than the simulated viewpoints previously shown. The elevations heights give the apartment building’s height at about 40 feet. Apart from some tweaks to the way the first-floor parking is screened, there haven’t been a whole lot of changes since the last planning board meeting. Note that the buildings are tucked in or pushed out and separated by “hyphen” connectors so they don’t present one continuous street wall. The design is by local firms TWLA and HOLT Architects.

Am I the only one who finds the lime green and goldenrod to be a bit..intense when compared to the other facade materials?

112_blair_v3_1 112_blair_v3_2

3. You want more new drawings? You get more new drawings! This batch represents the latest incarnation of the duplexes proposed for 112 Blair Street / 804 East State Street. Renders copied from here, project narrative here. Developer Demos / Johnny LLC (the Nestopoulos family) is still trying to have these ready in time for the Fall 2015 school year. Rather than continue seeking an area variance in zoning, the project is back down to two duplexes with three bedrooms and ~1,235 sq ft each (12 bedrooms total). After meeting with neighbors, it was decided to move back to surface building to reduce building height, and to add expansive front porches, which gives the otherwise bland duplexes a little character. Site Plan Review will take place this month.

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4. Looks like there might be an expansion of senior care facilities in Ithaca town. The Ithaca Town Board is set to discuss changes next week to the Planned Development Zone (PDZ) for the Sterling Heights / Clare Bridge Cottage assisted living facilities, located on Bundy Road just north of the city-town line. Sterling House is a 48-unit assisted living facility, while Claire Bridge Cottage is a 32-unit facility specializing in memory care (Alzheimer’s and dementia). The new building, a 23,200 sq ft 32-unit facility to be called “Clare Bridge Crossings”, is designed to bridge the gap between the two – patients who might be in early stages of illness and experiencing mild symptoms, but otherwise still capable of some degree of personal independence.

The new building appears to be a one-story addition tucked between the other two structures, so it won’t be visible from the street. Along with the new building, there will be updates to parking, landscaping stormwater facilities, and the addition of a couple of courtyards between the buildings. The architect is PDC Midwest, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in memory care facilities.

Now, some readers might be saying, “who cares?”. There’s a couple of reasons to care. For one, this is important from a quality-of-life perspective. Picture a senior couple where one is reasonably healthy and the other has memory care needs. It means a lot to have a facility nearby that can care for their loved ones. Secondly, an expansion would bring with it a number of jobs to support the new residents – nurses, maintenance, kitchen staff and so forth. So there’s an economic benefit as well.

Full disclosure – my mother is a nurse who works for an assisted living program that includes clients with memory care concerns. So I’ve heard a thing or two about a thing or two.

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5. On a parting note for the week, here’s a little more information on Cornell’s redevelopment plans for East Hill Plaza. According to Planning Committee minutes from the town of Ithaca, Cornell will be taking part in a multi-day design charrette hosted by form-based zoning proponents FormIthaca in early June. Form-based zoning in a very small nutshell is zoning that focuses on design elements rather than use. Cornell is interested because the plan will hopefully lead to a regulating plan for the “compact mixed-use” development Cornell hopes to build to build in that area. The plan could provide language for a new Planned Development Zone that would potentially allow Cornell to move forward with a housing/retail mix at East Hill Plaza.

Cornell has sought to redevelop East Hill Plaza and surrounding parcels (most of which they already own) for several years. A vision for the plaza shows up in Cornell’s 2008 Master Plan (the so-called “East Hill Village” shown above), and given the need for housing in the area, East Hill Plaza would likely be one of the location where opposition would be less likely, given the the lack of homeowners nearby and the site’s proximity to Cornell.

 





News Tidbits 4/25/15: Long Week, Long Reads

25 04 2015

Grab the popcorn and sodas, folks, this will be a long one.

inhs_pride_design_comparo_v1_v3_1

1. Let’s start with some new and updated renders for the evolving 210 Hancock Street development that INHS has planned for the Northside neighborhood.

In each image, the top half is the old version, the bottom half the newest version. The lead image, an aerial rendering, shows that the houses haven’t changed much, though at the city and neighborhood’s insistence, Lake Street has now been closed off to all vehicular traffic in the refined proposal. The biggest structural changes have been in the apartment buildings – the color scheme of materials has been changed up quite a bit, and the partitions between the buildings have been re-worked to try and make the buildings appear less connected (one of the complaints raised was that they were too much like a wall; for this same reason, the buildings are slightly offset from each other, so no continuous face is presented towards the street).

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Looking closer at the individual apartment buildings themselves, the designs have been pretty thoroughly reworked. Different window layouts, different window sizes, different colors – about the only thing that’s been kept the same is the overall massing of each building. The plan calls for 53 1 and 2-bedroom apartments and about 65,000 square feet of space, of which 7,500 square feet will be covered parking. The included commercial space has been expanded from 8,200 sq ft in the initial proposal, to about 10,000 sq ft now. More renders of the newest iteration can be found here.

inhs_pride_design_v3_7

No real changes yet in the for-sale houses that will be included in the project, apart from a palette change (previous render here – the new one is less bright, with darker earth tones). These are designed to blend in with the surrounding homes, and fall in INHS’s typical 2-3 bedroom, 1,100-1,400 sq ft range. The houses are townhomes in rows of 2-4 units, All sporting one or two-story porches. These will be built in a phase separate from the apartments. Certain affordable housing grants are geared towards owner-occupied units specifically, so the Neighborhood Pride lot will be split up into two parcels, one with the apartment rentals, one for the homeowners.

Questions and comments can be directed to the City Planning Office at dgrunder@cityofithaca.org.

2. Up in Lansing village, it looks like a proposed mixed-use project may finally be moving forward after years of incubation. “CU Suites”, a 3-story, 43,000 square foot project proposed by the Thaler family for a vacant lot on Cinema Drive, is asking the village to waive sewer connection fees. Presumably, this is about getting their finances in order before moving into the construction phase; there has been no news if funding has been secured yet. Something to keep an eye on this summer, certainly.

The Cinema Drive site was previously approved for a project of those parameters in fall 2012, consisting of two commercial spaces and a 39-unit apartment building, but that plan has not been carried out. The CU Suites proposal went before the village for “alterations and possible clarification” last December. No updated renders on the village website, but a site plan of the previously approved plan can be found here.

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3. Here’s some more details on the “not feasible as presented” Flatiron project. Readers might recall the 12-unit affordable housing proposal at 910 West State Street was given low priority for HUD Entitlement Grant funding.

From the presentation notes recently posted online:

“The project application is not fully developed, but probably represents more of an effort to start a conversation about the project. There is a great need for affordable housing in the community. The project was conceived to address the high cost associated with typical renovations to properties which make them unaffordable. The project would be located in an oddly-shaped trapezoidal building which [Ishka Alpern] would like to renovate to match its prior condition. It would be a very nice, unique addition to Inlet Island. Inlet Island has historically been a location for affordable housing and it is important to maintain that, before too many unaffordable projects are built there. Unfortunately, it is difficult to build affordable housing units without some form of funding assistance.”

In the Q&A the committee had with developer Ishka Alpern, no time table was given, and Alpern said he was open to waiting a year to refine it. It was also noted that once a commercial lease on the property expires in four years, an even larger project could be proposed, though it could be limited by the poor soils. While it appears renovating is the most feasible approach, the city was not impressed with the cost of investment per beneficiary – larger projects like 210 Hancock mentioned above have economies of scale going for them, costing less to build per unit. Smaller projects like the Flatiron need proportionately more assistance, making them less attractive for grant money. The city’s looking for the greatest good for the greatest number, in a sense.

In other news from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), a private developer, Viridius Property LLC, is buying five duplexes with 10 units of affordable housing from non-profit Community Housing of Ithaca with the intent of keeping them low-to-moderate income, but retrofitting the buildings to run on renewable energy sources. Viridius, a company run by computer scientist and tech CEO Stuart Staniford and his wife, was established in early 2014, and has been on a buying spree as of late. They own $1.7 million in rental real estate assets now, these duplexes will raise it $2.7 million, and the goal expressed in a letter to the IURA is $5 million.

Quoting the letter sent to the IURA:

“Viridius is oriented to the “triple-bottom-line.” Although as a privately owned business
we will look to return on investment, we also seek to improve the environment and society. We
are particularly focused on contributing to the solution to climate change by converting the
existing building stock to be appropriate for continued use in the twenty-first century. At each of our properties, Viridius is removing the propane, natural gas, coal, or oil heating systems and replacing these with systems based on renewables. The specifics depends on the particular
building; to date, we have used pellet boilers and air source heat pumps. Viridius is also
developing our first solar panels at one of our buildings, and elsewhere acquires commercial
renewable power for electricity. Also, at our own residence we have deployed geothermal heat
pumps for heating and cooling and have all our electrical needs taken care of by solar panels on site. Viridius is certified as a living wage employer by the Tompkins County Worker’s Center
and has five full time staff at present in addition to the owners.

So it’s eco-friendly and/or affordable housing. Most residents will welcome the new fish into the local pond, even if all the property being acquired is a bit eye-raising.

Lastly from the IURA, the Carpenter Business Park on the north side is on the market for $2.85 million. Four vacant parcels on Third Street and Carpenter Park Road on the north side of the city recently sold for $2.216 million from “Templar LLC” based in Ithaca to “Ithaca Lender LLC” out of New Jersey, in what may have been a foreclosure sale. The address on file is associated with a company called “Kennedy Funding Financial LLC”, which is described as “one of the largest direct private lenders in the country, specializing in bridge loans for commercial property and land acquisition, development, workouts, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.” A google search turns up a legal notice between the two entities a few months ago.

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4. Construction is gearing up for the Gannett Health Center’s addition on Cornell’s Central Campus. Work on the project officially launched March 30th, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. Expect site clearing, excavation, and pile driving as we move through the spring and into the summer. The project will be broken into phases – Phase I focuses on new construction, Phase II on renovation of the current building, and Phase III concludes the project with reconstruction of the Ho Plaza entrance. About 75% of the material removed from the old building is expected to be recycled.

The architect of record is local architecture/Cornell alumni-filled firm Chiang O’Brien. There will be two additions, the four-story, 55,000 square-foot building featured above, and an additional 18,600 square foot addition that replaces the northeast side of the current building. The project also includes a new entrance and substantial renovations to the original 1950s structure (22,400 square feet of the existing 35,000), as well as landscaping, site amenities, and utilities improvements. The projected cost is $55 million, and the target completion date is October 2017.

The Gannett Health Center expansion has been a long time coming. Initial plans in the late 2000s called for a completely new building on site. HOLT Architects prepared a plan for a 119,000 square foot building, and an all-new building was also included in Cornell’s 2008 Master Plan. But once the Great Recession waged its battle on Cornell’s finances, the Gannett redevelopment was scaled back to its current form. According to a statement given by Gannett Director Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert to the Sun, the earlier plan had a budget of $133 million; the new addition and renovations are expected to cost $55 million.

The project is expected to create about 175 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs (additional doctors, counselors and support personnel) when completed.

5.  According to next week’s Board of Public Works agenda, the approved 327 Eddy apartment project has been pretty heavily modified.

Here’s the old design:
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Here’s what the developer is planning to build:

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I must have missed something? All the sources I’ve seen have referred to this as a six-story building, not five. The side windows were added late in the approvals process, I think. Anyway, the project is going to the BPW because the developer wants to project the top centerpiece window as a bay window rather than having it set back from the front facade. This would push two feet (2′ x 12′ isoceles triangle) into the city’s right-of-way over Eddy Street,  and the board is recommending to the council that the mayor authorize (he says she should he should, sheesh) the intrusion for an appraised value of $3,073.84, based on an appraisal value from Pomeroy Appraisal Associates in Syracuse.

The decrease in size also comes with a decrease in units and rooms – from 28 units and 64 beds to 22 units and 53 beds. This is a double-edged sword – some might cheer the loss of size or like that the roofline is continuous with its northern neighbor, but it will be harder to stem the tide of single-family home conversion to student apartments if Collegetown’s core isn’t as capable of absorbing Cornell’s student population growth.

The included email in the agenda says the planning board recommended an overhang bay window. Personally, I feel it would make the building look clunky. But that’s just me.

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6. Here’s another project being served up to the Planning Board this Spring. Additions and renovations to a car dealership down in southwest Ithaca’s suburbia. Site Plan Review and drawings here. The dealership is Maguire Fiat Chrysler. Plans call for combining two show lots into continuous lot and adding 20 spaces, adding a 1,165 square foot showroom addition, and new landscaping and signage, including a second freestanding sign for Fiat that requires a sign variance (the max allowed by zoning is one freestanding sign). Documents indicate all the work will cost about $360k and run from September to December of 2015.

Observant readers might remember that Maguires proposed a delaership/headquarters compound in Ithaca town late last year; but due to irreconcilable differences regarding standard zoning vs. Planned Development zone, the plan was tabled.

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7. Woof. Almost to the end. The Ithaca Planning and Development Board is going to have their hands full at next Tuesday’s meeting. Agenda here. Here’s a rundown of what’s in store:

– A minor subdivision to create a new home lot at 201-203 Pearl Street.

A. Approving the adjustment to the Carey Building design discussed earlier this week

B. Enhancements to the pocket park next to the Lake Street bridge (landscaping, paving)

C. Declaration of Lead Agency and discussion on INHS’s 210 Hancock project

D. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing and Determination of Environmental Significance for the proposed Texas Roadhouse on Meadow Street

E. Declaration of Lead agency for the Tompkins Financial HQ – hopefully, we’ll get some detailed renders at the meeting

F. “State Street Triangle Project (Trebloc Building site)” – This will be huge. I cannot stress by excitement enough at seeing the Trebloc Building demolished – I have not hidden my dislike of it, and in nearly seven years of writing this blog, it’s the only building I’ve ever called an “architectural turd“.  Located at 301 East State Street, the Trebloc Building was built in 1974 during the age of Urban Renewal, and was originally supposed to be two floors. The city has been quietly desiring redevelopment of the prominent corner for years, and the site was upzoned from 60 to 120 feet in late spring 2013.

According to some praise-worthy sleuthing by David Hill at the Ithaca Journal, the developer is Robert Colbert in cooperation with Austin Texas-based Campus Advantage, a large-scale developer of student apartments. plans call for a 120-foot building on site, with first floor retail and student-oriented apartments above.

This will be a tremendous project by Ithaca standards. The developer clearly states on its website that it’s only interested in working with sites that will provide at least 100 units of housing. Assuming the Trebloc Building’s footprint of 13,569 sq ft, one story retail followed by eleven floors of apartments yields almost 150,000 square feet of residential space. Figure a loss of 15% for utlities and circulation space, and an average size of about 980 square feet for an average residential apartment unit, and one gets 130 units and an unknown number of beds that could conceivably add a couple hundred students to downtown Ithaca’s population, not to mention millions of dollars of taxable real estate.

There’s a lot that will need to looked at – utility loads, parking, vehicle circulation, aesthetic impacts, and numerous other attributes. But the city’s holding the door open about as wide as it can for this site, and it’ll be an exciting process.

G. “Sketch Plan: Cornell Fine Arts Library – Rand Hall Addition”

Written about previously, it looks like the city will get its first chance to review the project. But someone with a insider’s look has some pretty harsh comments for the plan to renovate Rand hall.

Cornell Architecture professor Jonathan Ochshorn wrote in to tell readers here about the plans for the Fine Arts Library. I’m including a link to his blog post on the project here.

To try and sum up Prof. Ochshorn’s post would do him an injustice, but suffice it to say, the library plans will only keep the brick shell of Rand – the windows will be replaced, and a large “hat” will be placed on the roof. One that bears strong scrutiny from the Planning Board, since there could be significant visual aesthetic impacts on the Arts Quad Historic District.

I’m gonna tie up this post here and sit on the other items until next week. More weeks like this and I’ll need an intern.