Previews and Reviews From the AIA Design Crawl

10 10 2016

Last Friday, several Ithaca-area architecture and engineering firms banded together to co-host an open house night at their locations across the city. Here are some of the latest and greatest plans are from some of the local designers.

The first stop was John Snyder Architects in Ithaca’s West End. On display were the Carey Building plans and other recent works, like the internal renovation of the South Hill Business Campus for CBORD.

The second location on the list was HOLT Architects at 619 West State, which was probably the most family-friendly of the hosts, based off of the pizza bar and the children’s play-room. HOLT had several new and in-progress projects they shared with the public that evening.

20161007_175436 20161007_175444

The Computing Center is looking to move out of the Cornell Business Park and into a new property to be built at 987 Warren Drive in the town of Lansing. The property is currently a two-story farmhouse and includes a vacant lot on the corner of Warren Road and Warren Drive, purchased by its current owner (an LLC) in December 2014. The new building appears to be a one-story structure.
20161007_175504 20161007_182158
HOLT is arguably the local specialist for medical facilities and lab structures. Here’s a pair of projects recently completed at Cayuga Medical Center. The Surgical Services Renovation is a renovation and addition that includes space next to the front entrance, creating a new “face” for the complex. The Behavioral Health Unit is an addition on the northwest side of the building, and isn’t visible from most nearby roads and structures.

The online version of these will be showing up in the Voice soon enough, but here are the latest design plans for the Old Library site. The indoor parking was eliminated so that the fourth floor could be set further back, and the entire building has been pulled away from West Court Street. The building still has 57 apartment units for the 55+ crowd.

The next stops were at Taitem Engineering and SPEC Consulting. Taitem (which stands for “Technology As If The Earth Mattered”) serves as structural engineering for many local projects, focusing heavily on renewable energy sourcing and energy efficiency. The focus of their open house was a tour of their LEED Platinum, 120-year old building at 110 South Albany Street, which they said was only the fourth renovation of its kind to achieve Platinum designation. I snapped a photo of Taitem’s staff, but that was taken for the IV Twitter account.

SPEC Consulting had on display a couple of home renovations they have underway, a mixed-use building in Johnson City, as well as rehab of a vacant commercial building in downtown Binghamton into a 70-unit mixed use building. To be honest, I was more focused on the personal than professional when I was at SPEC – I ran into someone I knew from undergrad whom I hadn’t seen in nine years, who apparently settled in the area and married a SPEC architect.


At STREAM, several projects were on display – 201 College Avenue, State Street Triangle concept drawings, and a room showcasing Tiny Timbers. According to Noah Demarest, this was the first time they had shown all the home plan designs together. Also there was Buzz Dolph, the entrepreneur behind Tiny Timbers.

Not shown here but on display were a pair of attractive design concepts for CR-4 zoning in Collegetown. They might become more than concepts at some point.

This is the latest Maplewood site plan, courtesy of Whitham Design and Planning. Here are the two big changes (previous site plan here) –

1. The Maple Avenue building has been broken up into two separate buildings.
2. Townhouses sit on Mitchell at the southwest corner of the site, replacing the multi-story apartment building previously planned.

The number of beds, previously 887, has probably decreased a little bit as a result.

I did not make it to Chiang O’Brien Architects, unfortunately. It looks like from their website they have a new project underway at SUNY Oneonta.

News Tidbits 10/8/16: No Rain, But the Money’s Flowing

8 10 2016

1. The Sleep Inn project at 635 Elmira Road went back to the town of Ithaca planning board last Tuesday. The initial write-up looked good – town planners were very pleased with the proposed changes, and the developer, local hotelier Pratik Ahir, proposed two different concepts to the board to see which one they were more comfortable with. The one that the board likes would be finalized in the plans and submitted for final approval later this year. No media were at the meeting, so I do not know which concept they preferred.

Both concepts by HEX 9 Architects attempt to maintain the rustic character that the town seeks to maintain for its part of the Inlet Valley Corridor. Concept one at top uses stone veneer (Elderado Stone), timber trusses, Hardie plank lap siding, and asphalt shingles. This design features balconies on both the front and rear of the building. Concept 2 incorporates a more varied roofline and building face, metal roof panels, stone veneer and a couple different types of Hardie Board. Concept 2 has less timber and no balconies. The town planning department felt that both concepts were unique enough and rustic enough to get its benediction in the SEQR analysis they sent over to the board. The concepts are a big improvement over the rendition we saw in August.

2. Looks like the Canopy Hilton is a go. The project secured a $19.5 million construction loan from ESL Federal Credit Union on Friday September 30th. ESL is a new face to the local market – “Eastman Savings and Loan” was founded in Rochester in 1920 to serve employees of former photography giant Eastman Kodak. The 7-story, 131-room hotel is expected to open in Spring 2018.

3. Also funded this week – the second phase of Poet’s Landing out in the village of Dryden. Citibank is lending $7,702,326 to Rochester-based Confier LLC to build the 48 affordable apartment units across the street from Dryden High School, just west of 72-unit phase one. The documents were filed on Tuesday the 4th. The design of the second phase’s will be the same as phase one’s, an eight unit per building design by NH Architecture that is one of Conifer’s standard designs. The total project cost is $10.8 million, with the balance come from state affordable housing grants and tax credits. The build-out is expected to take about a year.


4. So a few news bits about 201 College. The partially-deconstructed house at 201 College is now getting torn down, which had nothing to do with approval, and everything to do with break-ins and safety issues – there was evidence of squatters taking up residence, and the expense of a tear-down is worth avoiding a lawsuit or tragedy. Speaking of which, although a ruling on 201 College has yet to be issued and won’t be for a few weeks, Neil Golder’s lawsuit has already been re-filed. The court hearing is scheduled for December. According to an exchange with my colleague Mike Smith, Fox is planning rowhouses along Bool Street, within a 45-foot height limit but spanning the block, as it seems he has a purchase option on neighboring 202 Linden.


5. According to Nick Reynolds at the Times (yes, he jumped papers), the buildings to be deconstructed for the Harold’s Square project are to be vacated by the end of October. Developer David Lubin plans to start the deconstruction process, which is a little more intensive and lengthier than a typical demolition, in November. Things have been complicated by the city’s decision to forego the project in the Restore NY grant application, where the $500,000 was allocated to pay for demolition, and must now be sourced from elsewhere. Once secured, the plan is to file for the permit, and by law they have up to 30 days to start deconstruction from the day the permit is issued. Construction should go for about 18 months, once the site is cleared.

607_s_aurora_2 607_s_aurora_1

6. The 8-unit 607 South Aurora project will be seeking “Declaration of Lead Agency” at the Planning Board meeting, and materials have been filed with the city. Project narrative here, SPR application here, drawings here. The big changes since sketch plan were sidewalk and parking lot revisions, and rotating Building D to establish harmony with Hillview Place. The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million and aims for a construction timeline of March to September 2017. This is the next incremental step up for Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals, whose M.O. is to quietly pursue modestly-sized infill projects in less dense parts of the city (ex. the two duplexes planned for 312-314 Old Elmira). In a change of pace, the staff of Sharma Architecture are the designers this time around.


7. From the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, the new two-family house at 123 Eddy Street has been granted zoning variances. Expect the Sharma-designed two-unit, six-bedroom rental property to start construction next year in time for the 2017-18 academic year.

20160918_155855 20160918_155910

6. House of the week. Instead of one underway, this week will show two recent completions. Leading off is this house on West Hill’s Campbell Avenue, built by Carina Construction. This project came up in a weekly roundup back in late May – it’s a $320,000 project per the permit filing with the city, with $280,000 lent by Tompkins Trust. The contrast between the wood siding and the (fiber cement?) vinyl siding is a nice touch, as is the two-story porch. Definitely a unique house, and a showcase of just what kind of variety one can do with modular pieces if they’re willing to get creative.

20160918_162315 20160918_162648

Now for house number two. This isn’t a new build, but a very thorough renovation. Every time I take photos, I run into the owners, and normally I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But, given that I’ve run into him twice, he’s familiar enough with me that we’ve had a conversation about his work.


This is in Fall Creek on North Aurora. The couple who own this place moved in from Pennsylvania, they were just starting retirement when the wife’s father was no longer able to take care of it. It had been a duplex, but the other unit was more workshop space. The building was in good shape, but these folks wanted to modernize and refresh it, so they decided to do a to-the-studs renovation, basically turning it into a new home within an existing shell. Fiber cement, wood shingles, a few modern touches (the south bumpout, the unusual gable/shed hybrid dormers), a carriage house, a lot of work went into it over the past year and a half and it shows.

Ithaka Terraces (215-221 West Spencer Street) Construction Update, 9/2016

4 10 2016

I wanted to wait until the Voice condo piece was published before putting these photos up. Work has started on the twelve condominiums planned for 215-221 West Spencer Street. The project, dubbed “Ithaka Terraces”, is the idea of Ed Cope, a retired Cornell biologist who owns the local property management firm PPM (Premium Property Management) Homes.

215-221 West Spencer Street is a steeply sloped 0.47 acre site that was previously home to a multistory apartment building. The building had fallen into disrepair by the early 2000s, and the city bought the property for $530,000 in 2003 with plans to turn it into affordable housing. However, that plan was thrown off track after the building burned down not long afterward. The site was then used as an informal parking lot by nearby residents for a number of years while the city figured out what they wanted to do with it. The city deeded the property to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency in 2013, who attempted to sell it as affordable housing, but found no takers at the $100,000 starting bid. Cope picked up the property when it was offered for sale to general housing, paying $110,000 in March 2015. Sketch plans were presented a few weeks later at the March Planning Board meeting.

The parcel is zoned R-3a, and the property required some variances for having parking within rear yard setback, which the planning board and BZA were comfortable with given the steep topography of the site. The property was approved by municipal boards last fall. Long story short, it’s classically-inspired urban infill.

The plan is to have the buildings ready for occupancy by September 2017. Units range from $265,000-$390,000, depending on size and location. Two of the units are 3-bedrooms, and the other ten are two-bedrooms, ranging from 637-1311 SF. For those interested, more information can be found at the just-activated website for the project here.

Along with Ed Cope (operating as “Net Zero NRG LLC”) on the project team is architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative, Taitem Engineering for structural engineering, T.G. Miller P.C. for site surveying and civil engineering, and green building expert AquaZephyr as general contractor. All of those businesses are local. The sawhorses in the photos say McPherson Builders, but they could be a subcontractor, or on loan.

In the now two-week old photos below, Building A is already under construction, while the site for building C has been leveled. More specifically, the foundation has already been dug, formed and poured for Building A, and the first-floor walls have been erected. Like their little pioneer across the street, The buildings are designed to be net-zero energy capable. The slab foundations will be insulated with R15 rigid foam, and the first floor walls use insulated concrete forms (ICFs) similar to the Fox Blocks used for the Thurston Avenue Apartments a couple of years ago. The walls are put together block-by-block, with concrete poured into the inside gaps. This provides insulation on both the interior and exterior of the wall.  The building will use electric air source heat pumps for winter heating and summer cooling, with the electricity provided from a solar array Cope owns in the town of Caroline. The buildings will seek net-zero certification once they are completed.

Here’s the press release from Ed Cope that I received as part of our Q&A:

One of my primary interests in Ithaca housing is to help improve the overall community. My development goals all come from that objective, and so for the past few years I have worked to identify sites that are a very inefficient use of space, and are therefore mostly vacant and difficult to build on which is why they are still in need of development.

This combines with my longtime interest in efficient use of energy which includes building energy-efficient buildings. This interest leads me into risky but rewarding projects and works well with the city’s infill development initiatives. At PPM Homes we have transformed many of the older houses that we have acquired into much more energy-efficient dwellings.

One of our successes was the complete rebuild of a rundown property on a steep and difficult site at 201 S. Aurora. We were able to transform this property into a beautiful and more appropriate “gateway” to South Hill, a sharp contrast to the decrepit and crumbling house it once was.

The Ithaka Terraces project is our second effort at completely new development, the first being across the street at 228 W. Spencer where we took an impossibly small and impossibly steep postage stamp of a site and built a netzero energy 2-bedroom house.

This house, which is now on the market, is currently powered completely by PPM Homes offsite solar array which incredibly also provides all of the electricity for many of the properties that PPM Homes manages.

The condos at Ithaka Terraces will also be powered by an additional solar array that we will be built by Renovus Energy next to our current array which is 15 miles outside of Ithaca.

Both of these properties on West Spencer Street are built on sites that are extremely difficult on which to build. They have been vacant for years and would probably have remained vacant for years to come. Special engineering consideration due to the peculiarities of building on the sites has been handled by Tatiem Engineering.

The Ithaka Terraces project also responds to the recognized need for condominiums downtown. Three blocks from the Commons and consisting of 12 two and three bedroom units, these condominiums will provide upscale quality and energy-efficient living.

In the interest of reflecting Ithaca’s namesake our design will add a pleasing Greek aesthetic to this part of West Spencer Street. The project should be complete by this time next year and be available for reserving units by early summer. Our website for the project is up and running at .

20160918_144152 20160918_144204 20160918_144222 20160918_144249 20160918_144307 20160918_144337 20160918_144604

215-221_spencer_v3_1 215-221_spencer_v3_2



News Tidbits 10/1/16: Sketchy Details

1 10 2016

1. Over in Lansing, it looks like Park Grove Realty is having a rough time getting their plans rolling. Legions of angry homeowners turned out at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a requested zoning change for a 20-acre Bomax Drive property that Park Grove seeks to build 140 apartments upon. The meeting wasn’t about the project, which will follow the zoning change once approved. For the record, the meeting was only about the zoning change, which is currently zoned for office park business/technology and has been owned by Cornell since 2008.

The unusual thing is that the primary opponent seems to be the Jonson family, of development company IthacaHome, formerly known as Forest City Realty. They built some of Lansing’s 1990s subdivisions and the Heights of Lansing project at the end of Bomax Drive, which is stalled out due to a lack of interest and Ivar Jonson’s passing. The claim from Janet Jonson is that if left commercial office/tech, then maybe an office building would be built and executives would build homes on some of their vacant lots. Even Larry Fabbroni was there to say an office building would generate less traffic than housing would. The meeting was very heated, according to the Lansing Star’s Dan Veaner.

The village planning board was there to listen, but not especially sympathetic. For one, there’s plenty of undeveloped commercially-zoned land; but there is a housing shortage. For two, although some complained “transients” would lower their housing values, these units will be going for $1,400-$1,900/month. The board’s not focused on the project just yet, that will come in due course. Meanwhile, the trustees moved to schedule public review for the zoning change, with that meeting planned for October 17th.

A couple miles away, Park Grove has also been getting flack for taking down willow trees as part of a plan to reduce root damage and mold issues, and to expand parking and add a 425 SF rental office on the Triphammer Apartments (former Chateau Claire) property. The heavy-handed approach was not well received. In short, Park Grove’s principals are the village pariahs at the moment, though they have brought some of it on themselves.


2. Just a brief check-up on the Maplewood Park redevelopment. The project team has been busy over the past month making revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of its determination of adequacy, and the DEIS was just accepted for public review as of the town of Ithaca planning board meeting on the 20th.

A digital copy of the revised DEIS can be found on the town’s website here. A public hearing will also take place on October 18th. The SEQR review period is 45 days from acceptance, so public comment will be accepted on the document up to 4 PM on Halloween.


3. As part of their campus housing study, Cornell launched an extensive survey of their students. A summary and a link to the full results can be found on their webpage here. The university also held public forums this past week on campus to hear opinions from the community and explain what happens next (what needs work, how much campus housing is needed, where on campus, what student segments, strategies for the next 25 years, and so on).

Among the grad and professional (MBA/JD/MPH/etc) students, more anticipated living on campus when they arrived, than actually did – 32% vs. 18% of respondents. On average, G/P students felt they should pay about 7% less than they do. They want Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, on-site laundry and package/mail delivery. Outside, they want wider sidewalks and more frequent bus stops/service, and parking fees should be bundled in rent if parking is offered.

Those off campus preferred Downtown (26%) and Collegetown (24%). Grads and domestic students preferred Downtown, professional and international students preferred Collegetown. Grad students tended to be more satisfied with their housing than undergrads.

Similarly, more undergrad respondents want(ed) to live on campus – 56% do or have, 78% want/wanted to. That stat’s a little weird, since freshmen are required to live on campus. Only about 45% describe an apartment as ideal housing, vs 88% for grad/prof students. They also want Wi-Fi and laundry, as well as study areas and dining nearby. 49% selected Collegetown as their preferred housing choice, with another 36% preferring an on-campus location if available.


At the public forums, the university presented a few potential building sites for new campus housing. The goal was to have sites away from full-time residential areas (less hassle), easy to prepare (less physical hassle), accommodate 300-500 students (scale efficiencies) and be near existing facilities (quality of life and infrastructure). Three north campus locations were presented – CC parking lot, the side lot at RPCC, and the fields next to Appel Commons. The RPCC and CC locations show up on the 2008 Master Plan as well, 3-6 floors and up to 200,000 SF of space. So it seems those two locations have a more sustained interest. The city of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights have a boundary line that straddles those sites, a latitudinal line just south of Jessup Road. If something were proposed, most of the land is in the city, but the village would have to vote to defer decision-making to the city. That is a potential complication that Cornell has to keep in mind.


4. The Evergreen Townhouses project in Dryden will be the subject of a special meeting of the town planning board on Wednesday October 5th at 7 PM at the Varna Community Center. The full suite of documents, including county review, planning board notes for the town board (recall that in Dryden, the town board votes to approve projects instead of the planning board), sewer capacity report and concept plan description can be found here. SEQR has been reviewed and a traffic study has been completed. The project will need a PUD approval, since 36 units exceeds what the zoning allows (28). If the PUD is approved, land will be deeded to the town for its recreational rail trail. Like the Park Grove project in Lansing, this rental proposal has seen a fair amount of opposition, due to traffic and concerns about renters, and the possibility of encouraging suburban sprawl east of Varna. Oddly enough, for being this far along in the process, there still haven’t been any detailed renders of the townhouses released to the public.

5. Here are a few details about the 607 South Aurora project. Readers might recall the sketch plan was presented at the August Planning Board meeting.

As I discovered this week, sketch plans are actually off the record. Meaning that a developer doesn’t have to give it to the city for publication if they don’t want to. Apparently, John Novarr is going this route – although images for his townhouse project on the 100 Block of College Avenue were presented last week, the city has no official record of them, and he said he has no intent to share plans until he’s ready for the city to declare itself lead agency. For what it’s worth, the project, geared towards Cornell faculty and staff, was well received by the Planning Board.

On the one hand, not sharing the sketch plan limits public exposure and the risk brought by exposure, and it allows the board to eliminate the most controversial aspects before the public can see them. On the other hand, it’s less transparent, and makes me an unhappy camper.

Back to the topic at hand, 607 South Aurora as initially conceived calls for 4, 2-family, 2-story houses on the property, while retaining the existing house. That’s a total of 8 units, and 24 bedrooms total. Parking would be in two sections tucked back from the street. The project is not unlike the one approved for 312-314 Old Elmira Road in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. Although STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest presented the project at the August meeting, STREAM is not in charge of this proposal. The project is being designed by Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma for local developer Charlie O’Connor.

607_s_aurora_1 607_s_aurora_2

Charlie O’Connor is a part of Modern Living Rentals, and regardless of how one might actually feel about their work, it is probably the most transparent development/rental company in the local market. True to form, a quick check of their website turned up images of 607 S. Aurora. It looks like the same general design will be used for each building, and each unit will be 3 bedrooms and about 1,122 feet. I hope they change up the exterior colors for variety’s sake. The board and planning department was fine with the buildings, but suggested revisions to the site plan, so the next iteration will likely have a different site layout.

20160918_164039 20160918_164106

6. Sorry, didn’t realize the lens was smudged. This very subtle duplex is underway in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, behind an existing duplex at 512-14 West Green Street. Because it fits in all the setbacks (it’s a very large, deep lot for an inner city parcel) and the rear of the property falls into the State Street Corridor’s CBD-60 zoning (i.e. no parking required), this project never needed more than staff-level approval from the city. Honestly, were it not for a small disturbed area at the curb-cut from construction vehicles moving in and out, one would never know this duplex was under construction.

The property is owned by the Ciaschi family, and appears to have been passed between family members since at least the 1960s. A building loan filed on June 17th indicates that Tompkins Trust lent $330,000 towards the project. As with many smaller builds, this a modular by Ithaca’s Carina Construction. Carina is supplied by Simplex Homes, and it looks like this 3-bedroom/2-unit is based off Simplex’s “Elkton IV” plan (but that could be wrong). Give how far along the outside is, it would not be a surprise if renters move in by the start of October.


7. The near-death Black Oak Wind Farm could actually happen, if they pay Enfield the money they want for FOIL costs. Using the original EIS, they’ve reverted to the initial plan, including use of the landowners’ properties who tried to pull out in the face of the project’s rancorous opposition. The BOWF project team had been attempting to move two of the turbines to accommodate property owners who changed their mind about being associated with the project, but the Supplemental EIS had been caught in legal red tape with the town of Enfield and the town of Newfield to its south, where one of the alternative sites was planned. So the new plan is to just go forward with the original signed contracts and build what was proposed before the 2015 SEIS. The project team has requested final approval, but the town has said they want to be paid $19,000 for the cost of handling all the FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) requests, of which they’re not sure who’s actually required to cover the cost.

This project and its manager, Marguerite Wells, have probably been put through a greater Hell than any other proposal in this county, which is really, really saying something. Let’s recall, apart from the opposition that has demonized the project manager and the investors (successfully, one could unfortunately argue), that when they considered the alternative site, Newfield’s town board rewrote their wind farm law to implicitly but effectively ban wind turbines from the town. The BOWF project has been incubating for nine or ten years.

According to Marguerite Wells, if they can’t get approval at the Enfield town board’s October 12th meeting, the wind farm proposal dies. And with it, pretty much any commercial wind turbine plans for Tompkins County (looking at Newfield, maybe single-family turbine plans as well – the way the 2016 revision is written, a homeowner can’t even hook up a little one to their roof, as it’s too close to an occupied structure).

8. Here’s a little kick in the pants to end the week. It was reported in Bloomberg of the five Ivies that have released results so far, Cornell’s endowment did the worst in the past year, with a -3.3% loss (which comes out to a drop of about $200 million). The university is taking reactive measures, including moving its investment offices to New York City. “The investment committee believes over the long term the relocation to New York City gives us even better access to potential staff who might not be willing to move to Ithaca,” said Cornell CFO Joanne DeStefano. That’s a bit deflating.


Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 9/2016

29 09 2016

Novarr-Mackesey‘s curvilinear Collegetown Terrace is one of those projects that’s so big, we can see multiple steps of the construction process at once. In general, the further west one goes, the further along the building is. On the east end, the stairwell and elevator shaft stand high above the framing underway. Steel exterior stud walls are being sheathed with plywood with rough openings for windows. Some of the interior steel stud wall framing can be seen as well. In the next section further west, the framing and sheathing are further along, but still a few floors short of the stairwell/shaft. Some structural steel, which separates groups of units, is present as well. The westernmost third is fully framed and mostly sheathed, enough that the maroon-colored waterproof barrier has been applied to the plywood in most places, and windows have been fitted into many of the rough openings.

Continuing west, we come across the “fish scales” – yes, for better or worse, they’re going on Building 7, likely topped by the aluminum metal walls previously seen in Phase II. The side facing thr gorge has the same linear earth-tone facade that is present on Building 5. The westernmost end of the building is not a little further behind, possibly for ease of materials transport, or because of different architectural details that they have yet to bring to the site (based on the rough openings and the sheathed steel, both are plausible). It looks like the southwest corner will host a glass curtain wall section setback from the primary walls, based off of the steel framing.  An early render suggests the common spaces will be clustered along the west end of Building 7. Note that parking will be on the lowermost two floors, with dorm style units on the third floor, and regular apartment units on the upper three floors. The wood forms next to the western stairwell/shaft look to be for a new concrete staircase that will run alongside the west wall.

Montour Falls-based Welliver is in charge of the build-out, and CTT7 should be complete and ready for occupancy by August 2017. Princeton’s ikon.5 Architects are the building designers, and Baltimore’s Floura Teeter the landscape architect. Big league commercial real estate financial lender Walter & Dunlop Inc. provided the $70 million bridge loan.

A quick google search turns up a surprising number of AirBnB hits.

20160918_141746 20160918_141751 20160918_141758 20160918_142023 20160918_142027 20160918_142040 20160918_142046 20160918_142129 20160918_142148 20160918_142409 20160918_142442 20160918_142518 20160918_142738 20160918_142928 20160918_142944 20160918_142952

News Tidbits 9/24/16: The Implicit and the Explicit

24 09 2016


1. Over in the town of Dryden, it looks like Buzz Dolph and STREAM Collaborative’s Tiny Timbers project is up for preliminary approval. The site plan hasn’t changed much, just slight modifications for a dumpster/recycling enclosure and a bus pull-off. However, the home options have been expanded a bit. There will be five options, ranging from a 1-story 525 SF home starting at $99,500, to a 1,050 SF model priced at $184,500. Design specs (flooring, finishes, HVAC) can be found here.

Along with Tiny Timbers, Dolph is planning a similar, smaller project near his house on Quarry Road in Dryden town. That $800,000 project, called “Quarry Ridge Cooperative“, consists of two duplexes (four units), all owner-occupied. The homes will be connected to a shared driveway and carport through breezeways. Back of the envelope calculations suggest these units will be around 1,000 SF each. The 2.26 acres will be collectively owned by the four homeowners.

2. On a related note, another sister project to Tiny Timbers is being prepped for a site on the city’s portion of West Hill. Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.


3. I dunno if I’ve ever seen such strenuous contention between the planning board and the city’s planning department. The planning board’s objected to Zoning Director Phyllis Radke’s determination that the project is legal per the Form District MU-1 Zoning.

The document put forth by John Schroeder and approved by the board rests on the following interpretations:
-in cases where the zoning isn’t explicitly stated in denser zones, it should rely on what is stated in less dense codes, and interpretations of the introductory “purpose and intent” section of the code, which qualifies similarities of form and scale if the numbers and dimensions for facade length aren’t explicitly stated.

-The argument also draws debate towards the unstated but implied interpretation of street facade, which refers to the building’s primary face, vs. building facades facing both streets. The board’s filing argues that the Bool Street facade was intended as a primary facade early on.


-Unlabeled parts of the diagram, such as MU-1’s, have no meaning. Even if they could give the impression of longer facades, it’s not the intent of the code.

The document goes on to say that Radke “invented claims unsupported by the text”, uses “tortured logic” and “silly conclusions”. Ouch.  Since interpretation is not a cut-and-dry matter of clear definitions, so we end up with an argument from both sides that relies on an interpretation of ambiguities, something more akin to a court room. A curious result of this discussion is that the Planning Board had to send out a letter to neighbors saying they would be arguing zoning determinations, which are going to be far out of most readers’ expertise, as the precise details and intent of the 2014 zoning will be the primary driver of this debate.


4. The Ithacan is reporting a mid-to-late October opening for the Marriott, the Journal is reporting November. Presumably, one of them is correct. The delay from the original August opening is attributed to a labor shortage. Hiring is currently underway for the 159-room hotel and its restaurant, which according to the IJ, are expected to employ 50 to 60 in total. About 75% will be full-time, and wages are expected to run from $10/hr + tips for wait staff, to $18-$19/hour, with the hope that a premium paycheck compared to similar positions at other local hotels will translate to a premium experience for guests.


5. It looks like TC3’s Childcare facility is well on its way to reality. At least $4.5 million has been secured for the $5.5 million project and its scholarship endowment for students with children. $2.5 million for that was recently received in a set of state grant and funds, according to WHCU. Another $2 million comes from benefactor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the new facility will be named.

20160918_141051 20160918_141131

6. It’s been a while since I’ve done house of the week. So, here’s a new house underway on the 200 Block of Pearl Street in the city’s Bryant Park neighborhood. Ithaca’s Carina Construction is doing their modular magic here, the pieces have been assembled and most of the siding and roof trim has been attached. Not 100% sure if there will be a porch, the lack of siding above the door suggests it’s a possibility.

To be honest, when I was going through my list of single-families underway, I was mostly finding that Carina dominated the list. Since Avalon Homes went under, and most stick-builds are beaucoup bucks due to higher labor and materials costs, Carina’s offerings have broad appeal in Ithaca’s isolated, tight home market.

The lot was created four years ago by a subdivision of 222 Miller across the street. Since then, it exchanged hands a few times before a local realtor sold the property for $130,000 in July to a family who relocated to the area from Texas.


7. The Planning Board Agenda is up, and it’s the shortest in ages, thanks to that special meeting last week. Here’s the rundown:

1.  Agenda Review                                                      6:00
2.  Privilege of the Floor                                              6:01

 3.  Subdivision Review

A. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                      6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency  – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Recommendation to BZA

A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                          6:30
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance
Touched on this one last week. Deconstruction of an existing single-family home for two two-family homes, each on its lot.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  Two Duplexes                                              6:45
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Applicant: Dan Hirtler for Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

B. SKETCH PLAN:  Townhomes & Apartments at 119-121 & 125 College Ave.        7:00

I’ve spilled some electronic ink on this project before – Novarr’s $10 million project for faculty townhomes and apartments. Rumor mill says “modern-looking” and “glassy”, which given Novarr’s fondness for ikon.5 architects (his guest house is on the main page of their portfolio), that isn’t a surprise. The three parcels are CR-4 zoning, so 4 stories and 50% lot coverage allowed. Previous estimates were for 50-60 units. I’d say the biggest uncertainty in approvals comes from the existing apartment houses, which haven’t been declared historic, but former councilwoman Mary Tomlan and the Planning Board’s John Schroeder recommended for consideration in 2009 (only 15 of the 31 suggestions were considered, and only 2 received historic designation, Snaith House and Grandview House). Novarr’s been amenable to compromises before (see Collegetown Terrace), so we’ll see what happens here.

5. Zoning Appeals
• #3044, Area Variance, 170 Pearsall Pl.
• #3046, Area Variance, 404 Wood St.
• #3048, Appeal of Zoning Determination, 201 College Ave.                                 7:30


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

10 09 2016

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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