News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





News Tidbits 4/7/18: A Day Late and A Dollar Short

7 04 2018

1. It appears the Sleep Inn hotel is moving forward. Building permits for the 37,000 SF, 70 room hotel at 635 Elmira Road were issued by the town of Ithaca on March 23rd. According to the town’s documentation, the project cost is $4.1 million, though it’s not 100% clear if that’s hard costs (materials/labor) and soft costs (legal/engineering/design work), or just hard costs alone.

The Sleep Inn project was first introduced in Spring 2016, and underwent substantial aesthetic revisions to a more detail, rustic appearance. Even then, the project was barely approved by the Planning Board, which had concerns about its height, relatively small lot size and proximity to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so although the Sleep Inn brand is new to the area (and uncommon in upstate New York), it’s not as unusual as it seems. Given the size, a 12-month buildout seems reasonable. Look for updates as the project gets underway.

2. In a similar vein, the gut renovation and expansion at 1020 Craft Road now has a building loan on file – $1.88 million as of April 3rd, courtesy of Elmira Savings Bank. The existing 10,500 SF industrial building has been gutted down to the support beams, and will be fully rebuilt with an additional 4,400 SF of space. The project is being developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton. According to the village of Lansing and the developer, the project will be occupied by multiple medical tenants.

3. The problem with tight publishing deadlines is that if a quote doesn’t arrive in time, you can either put it in afterward as an updated statement, or it gets left out. So on the heels of the report that Visum Development Group is upstate New York’s fastest growing company in terms of revenue (Inc.com’s guidelines were three-year period 2014-16 and at least $100,000 in revenue to start), I wanted to share this for those who might have missed the article update. The statement comes courtesy of Todd Fox, who was asked for comment and responded the following day.

“I would love to acknowledge the Visum team because without them I would never be able to accomplish what I am doing. I’m blessed to have the most passionate and talented people I have ever met. Chris Petrillose is my longest running team member and is the backbone of operations. I also want to acknowledge Patrick Braga, Matt Tallarico, Marissa Vivenzio, and Piotr Nowakowski. They are all rock stars and deserve so much of the credit for our success!

We are currently looking to expand into several new markets, which are as far south as Sarasota Florida and as far west as Boise Idaho. For the Ithaca market, we are essentially hitting the breaks on student housing for Cornell, as we beginning to experience some softening in the market. Our new focus is on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals. We actually have multiple properties under contract and plan to bring about 1,000 to 2,000 new beds online over the next several years.”
Note the last parts. The market for student housing if softening. Visum will focus on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals, things Ithaca could use more of, and 1,000 to 2,000 beds would certainly make a dent in the housing deficit. Of course, proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see what happens over the next several years.

4. The town of Ithaca was less than pleased about Maplewood’s request to extend indoor working hours until 10:30 PM. Labor, weather and building supply (wood frame) issues were cited as reasons for the needed extension. The Ithaca Times’ Matt Butler, who was at the meeting, provided this quote:

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Yikes. The “happy medium” the board finally gave in to was construction until 9 PM on buildings interior to the project site, away from the main roads. The tradeoff is that EdR and Cornell now expect to not have some of the later structures ready until August 20th, practically move-in day for all of Cornell’s on-campus undergrads.

5. Readers of the Voice and Times will know that the county is pursuing some of the $3.3 billion in federal dollars earmarked but not yet disbursed for opioid crisis treatment. While a temporary addiction facility is being prepared, there are plans in the works to open a detox and stabilization facility in Tompkins County. Unfortunately, it needs much more funding to move forward. The new facility will cost $11 million to build and make operational, and so far about $1 million has been received so far in grants.

For the purpose of this blog, I asked about the design beside Angela Sullivan and Senator Schumer – it is a conceptual design for demonstrative purposes, and a location for a new facility has not yet been fully determined. However, they intend to send a press release once a site has been selected.

By the way, the green logo at lower right is a giveaway on the architect – that would be Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, who are specialists in healthcare facilities.

6. New to the market this week, “Clockworks Plaza” at 402 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 12,821 SF building was one of the few sizable buildings built in Ithaca in the 1990s (1993, to be exact), and is on the market for $2.6 million. The current owner, masked by an LLC, bought the property for $1.5 million in April 2016, the same value for which it is assessed.

That came up on the blog here. The buyer was Steven Wells of suburban Boston, who purchased the property in a buying spree that also included 508 West State Street (former Felicia’s, empty at the time) and 622 Cascadilla Street. 508 West State is now rented by Franco’s Pizzeria. Zaza’s still occupies 622 Cascadilla.

As I wrote at the time of sale:

“They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.”

The reason why the public relations game was ‘behind the eight ball’? He was the guy who sold 602 West State Street and adjacent low-income housing properties to Elmira Savings Bank. There were accusations that the transaction between Wells and the bank was poorly handled, with claims that the lease terms of existing tenants were changed improperly, and tenants not being told their homes were being sold. It’s not clear it that’s accurate, because no one would share their documents to prove their claims. But what is clear is that this created a nightmare situation.

 

7. It looks likely fewer people will be living in City Centre than first intended. The initial 192-unit mix was 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms and 53 two-bedrooms. The newly-proposed mix is 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. It also appears the retail space has been reconfigured from four spaces to three, though the overall square footage appears to be about the same. There are some minor exterior changes proposed as well; paver colors, lighting, the types of metal panel used (Alucoil to Overly Dimension XP and Larson ACM panels), landscaping, and exterior vents. Assuming the PDF is accurate, the panel change is slight, but gives the building a slightly darker grey facade. Some of these changes are in response to code and safety discussions, others are likely value engineering.

8. From the city’s project memo, we see Greenstar’s new store (which is going into the Voice) and a pair of new if small projects.

The first is that it appears Benderson is expanding South Meadow Square again. Along with the pair of endcap additions underway, the Buffalo-based retail giant is looking to add a 3,200 SF addition to the west endcap of one of its smaller retail strings. The addition is on the Chipotle/CoreLife strip, next to Firehouse Subs. The dumpster enclosure currently on-site will be relocated to the Panera strip across the road to make room for the building, which will be flush to the sidewalk with…a blank wall. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity there. The 35′ x 92′ addition has no announced tenant, though 3,200 SF is reasonable for a smaller restaurant or retail space (Chipotle is 2,400 SF, for instance, and Panera 4,100 SF; the stores in this particular retail strip, which includes a vitamin store, tanning salon and barber shop, are in the range of 1,380-4,089 SF). The total project cost is only $132,000, and no construction period is given in the Site Plan Review document.

The second is a “pocket neighborhood” in Northside. Barken Family Realty of Ithaca is planning to renovate two existing homes at 207 and 209 First Street, and add a new 2,566 SF two-family home behind the properties. They would be set up as a “pocket neighborhood”, consolidated into a single tax parcel with a common area, picnic tables and raised plant beds. The fence would be repaired and the gravel driveways improved. No demolition is planned, but five mature trees would come down to make way for the new home (6-8 new trees will be planted).

Hamel Architects of Aurora designed the new duplex, which is intended to quietly fit into the neighborhood context. Each unit will be two bedrooms. The $265,000 project would be built from October 2018 to March 2019.

9. We’ll finish this week with a potential new build. The above project was first showcased on STREAM Collaborative’s Instagram at an early stage. It is a 3.5 story, 11,526 SF building with 10 units (6 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom), and the two one-bedrooms on the first floor are live-work spaces – the front entrances are workspaces for home businesses. It is proposed along West Seneca Street, and only the south side of West Seneca allowed for mixed-uses like live/work spaces. Materials look to be Hardie Board fiber cement lap siding and trim. The design is influenced by other structures along West Seneca, and a bit from STREAM architect Noah Demarest’s time with Union Studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked before setting up his own practice back in Ithaca – there are similarities between here and Union Studio’s Capitol Square mixed-use design in Providence.

The project actually was sent with its name and title, but fingers crossed, it will be part of a bigger article.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 12/2/17: The Changing Calculus

3 12 2017

1. Perhaps the big news of the week is that Visum Development Group’s project for 311 College Avenue (the Nines restaurant and Bar) was revived after negotiations with the seller moved in a favorable direction. This time around, it appears that Visum is bringing something close to an “A” game proposal; Jagat Sharma is still the architect of record, but Visum’s VP for New Market Development, Patrick Braga, had a heavy hand in the design work and historical research. The designs produced are more historically inspired and embrace some of the elements that make the old fire station attractive to the public – the first floor doors will pull up like garage bays or slide open to create a sort of open-air loggia on warm days, and a cornice element is retained. Floor to roof will be about 66 feet according to the Times’ Matt Butler, and still contain about 50 1-bedroom and studio apartments as well as 750 SF of retail. For the record, he and I did a bit of collaboration on describing the architectural features before we ran our respective stories.

The sketch plan had a kinder reception from the Planning Board this time around, if still cautious. Even though John Schroeder made it clear he would never accept any plan for The Nines, he said something to the effect of, if this design were proposed for any other MU-2 in Collegetown, he would have no problems with it whatsoever. The rest of the board did a quick poll to see if the other members would at least entertain a proposal, and no one else said no, so the project is considered active.

Now, things can get a little awkward from here. The city planning director, JoAnn Cornish, made it clear that they could move forward with design if they want, but there’s a risk that the property may get landmarked before they get approval. Speaking with the city historic preservation director Bryan McCracken the day after the article, he said that a decision on whether or not to move forward with the landmarking process would be on the agenda for the ILPC’s December meeting. If they move forward, it still has to go to Common Council. I had previously heard through the grapevine that the council was favorable to landmarking in the case of the Nines, but that was before Visum brought forward a new plan. The truth is, things are fairly unpredictable at the moment, and it’s a matter of waiting and watching how different stakeholders act and react.

2. I like Matt Butler, he has time to do the stories that I can’t. This time, a look into the plans for a centralized government facility at the site of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. That study is still active, under the guidance of Kingsbury Architecture and TWMLA, as is the second study for a combined Public Works facility. The appraisal process and estimates of cost are also still underway.

It’s kinda a given that this would have tremendous impacts, as noted in the Voice. A lucrative Collegetown site and other redevelopment sites would be on the market, and hundreds of workers and daily visitors would extend Ithaca’s core down State Street, which the city wants, considering it to be one of the few directions downtown can expand towards without compromising too much of Ithaca’s existing urban fabric. The ILPC would need to sign off on plans due to the fire station’s proximity to the “Downtown West” historic district (it actually contains the IFD’s parking lot for the sake of contiguous parcels), so “super-edgy hypermodern” probably isn’t on the table design-wise. The city also has to make a decision relatively soon – the current city hall (former NYSEG HQ, built 1939) and “Hall of Justice” (1920s, renovated/expanded 1964-66) are in need of major renovations.

3. Also on the visionary end of discussion are future plans (2020 onward) for Collegetown’s transit network. Here, it is often a delicate case of balance; it’s a dense, lucrative secondary core of the city, but parking and traffic are problems, as is the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. One option being explored is a new bike lane up College Avenue that would eliminate 35 parking spaces (and was not well received), and the other is a more modest plan that largely keeps College Avenue as is, which many didn’t like either.

Perhaps the most interesting note from the article is that the city is examining the feasibility of expanding the Dryden Road garage by adding additional floors to the 1980s structure. The Dryden Road garage has the highest parking rates and a high occupancy, and is the most lucrative of the city’s four garages. The city is also looking at incentives for on-site parking, which to be honest, probably isn’t going to work in Collegetown for a number of planning and financial reasons (i.e. a developer will make a lot more from a rentable unit per SF, than from a parking space per SF).

4. Nothing much of note from the town of Ithaca Planning Board agenda. The owners of a former convenience store at 614 Elmira Road are seeking to perform minor renovations to the building for a bottle and can return (to be called IthaCAN & Bottle Return), and Maplewood is asking the town planning board permission to work on Saturdays in a mad dash to have the 872-bed complex ready for occupancy before August. Normally, renovations don’t need to visit the board, but the zoning for the Elmira Road requires a visit for each change of occupancy/use.

The city of Ithaca’s Planning Board memo is short as well, just the long-brewing plans for a garage-replacing addition to 115 The Knoll in Cornell Heights. The 1950s garage will be replaced with a 4-bed, 2-bath addition for Chesterton House, an all-male Christian interest group Sophia House, an all-female Christian group.  It appears the design has changed very little if at all since the plan first became public in May. The $349,900 addition, designed by STREAM Collaborative, would be built in the Spring and Summer of 2018 for an August opening. (Correction: Chesterton House is next door and owned by the same group. The project is for Sophia House. Thanks to Lyn for catching that.)

5. Local developers Steve Flash and Anne Chernish (d/b/a Rampart Real LLC) will be taking on a partner in the 323 Taughannock project. The couple sold a $203,000 stake in the 8-townhouse plan to Arnot Realty of Elmira (d/b/a 323T LLC) on the 22nd. For Flash and Chernish, it gives them a much bigger partner with experience and connections to contractors; for Arnot, it gives them a toehold in the buregoning Ithaca market, their first step into the city. The deed explicitly states this is a joint venture.

6. So this is interesting. On Friday 12/1, an LLC purchased an industrial/office building at 37-40 Elm Street in Dryden for $260,000. The property was built in the late 1980s and is about 25,000 SF, with a warehouse, manufacturing space, office space and three apartments.

The buyer was an LLC, but the LLC filing address traces back to 312 Fourth Street in Ithaca, a 13,800 SF complex of buildings and warehouses home to the All Stone & Tile Company, Ithaca Ice and Strawbridge & Jahn Construction. So either someone is growing out of space and the others are staying, or they are all moving. If they are all moving, that could be an opportunity. Zoning is B-4,  which allows a very wide variety of business and residential uses. Zoning is 4 floors/40 feet maximum height, 50% lot coverage, but being on the tip of the Waterfront/West End corridor, my suspicion is that the city could be a bit flexible with zoning variances for density and/or affordable housing. The only places one finds B-4 zones are the fringes of downtown, so it’s not well-suited for big projects, but there’s room to explore options. Of course, the electrical substation next door isn’t ideal, and the property isn’t even up for sale, but this is worth keeping an eye on.

7. So, there’s no real avoiding it this week – the tax bill in Congress. It really hurts Tompkins County. I did my one and only tweetstorm to cover some of the issues, and most of it still holds. Two last-minute changes softened the blow between then and now. One was the inclusion of the Collins amendment to reinstate a $10,000 cap on SALT (State and Local property tax) deductions, since the original Senate bill had no deduction. The other was raising the endowment from colleges with an endowment of $250,000/student, to those with $500,000/student. Cornell’s is about $310,000/student (6.8 billion/22,300 students). For the record, it wasn’t done to protect Cornell, it was done to protect conservative Hillsdale College after an amendment to give it an exclusive exemption failed. At least 30 schools were still hit, and this detail has to reconciled with the House Bill’s $250,000/student figure.

So apart from the SALT and college impacts I had already noted, one thing that got missed was that the bills allow prohibit schools from taxing out tax-exempt bonds to fund construction. For Cornell’s plan to add 2,000 beds, this is a problem.

So let’s just overview this real quick – a bond is a fixed-income investment in which an investor loans money to an entity, which borrows at a fixed or variable interest rate for a fixed period of time. When you buy a bond, you hold the debt for that entity. Most investors typically have some proportion of bonds in their portfolio – they typically are more stable investments than stocks, though the returns are typically less. Their relative safety is why financial planners recommend a higher proportion of bonds as one gets closer to retirement. The riskiness of a debtor not paying back is given by their bond rating. Cornell’s long-term debt rating is AA, which is very good, high-quality investment grade.

Now, in the case of non-profit schools, typically the tax-exempt bonds are issued with the approval of local and state authorities. The project to be financed by the bonds is determined by the school. The school does its internal approval of the project and bond plan, and the project it goes up to the community for planning board/environmental review. Once approved, the school chooses an approved issuer of bonds, often a state or local development authority (ex. The Dormitory Authority of NYS). A working group is put together to establish a timetable and structure for the bonds, and once the bond structure is settled and reviewed for issues, a public hearing is held on the bond issue, so that any issues or concerns are made clear before issuance. Barring no problems, the government signs off on the tax-exemption for the bond issue, a closing date is established and the bonds are marketed and sold, mostly to banks and big investment firms. The received funds are disbursed to pay for the project.

That’s getting taken away by this tax bill. That means any future bonds will be taxable, and have a much higher interest rate. Borrowing just became more expensive. A 30-year AA tax-exempt bond might be 2.76%, and a taxable bond 3.37%. That might seem a small difference, but a 2,000 bed project is on the order of $200 million (recall Maplewood is 872 beds and $80 million). So we’re talking millions of dollars more that Cornell will now have to pay to make those dorms happen. It opens up a distinct possibility that the project could be scaled back and/or delayed, which impacts the overall housing market. Probably the federal SALT tax cap is going to hurt much more.

Really, this bill was practically designed to decimate real and perceived enemies of politically conservative groups as much as it was designed to help billionaire donors and corporations. Poorly conceived, ignoring multiple non-partisan analyses and relying on overly optimistic projections, hastily put together and shoved through, blowing the debt trillions higher and immediately or eventually raising taxes on tens of millions. This is every cartoonish stereotype of Republicans amplified in one piece of legislation.

I don’t like to get political, but I’m a registered Republican, and have been my whole life. As a pragmatic never-Trump moderate, I joke that I’m a New York Republican and a Texas Democrat. When one writes about government red tape, the Cargill Mine, and Ithaca’s progressives attacking affordable housing, it tends to reaffirm beliefs.

But hell, this tax bill is throwing every principle out the window with this bill, causes a ton of damage to a place I care about, and with a morally deficient and unstable president at the helm, I can’t do it anymore. I mailed off the form today to become an independent. After this, I just can’t see myself voting Republican again, not for a long time.

 





210 Hancock Construction Update, 10/2017

17 10 2017

One last walk around the block. It looks like only minor exterior finishes and landscaping/playground and basketball hoop installations left. TCAction’s daycare center has been dedicated the “Sally G. Dullea Childcare Center”, in honor of Sally Dullea, a longtime Ithacan and retired M&T Vice President who led TCAction’s Board of Trustees. Next door, The balance of the first-floor commercial space for a “Free Science Workshop”, which is a part of the Ithaca Branch of the Physics Factory, non-profit exhibition program that engages children with science. The “Physics Bus” in the parking lot is the mobile exhibit.

It also appears that either the multi-use path or the project itself has been dedicated to outgoing INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella. Not a bad way to say thanks after 27 years of service. As for his replacement, Johanna Anderson, best of luck, and I look forward to being a constructive nuisance.

It’s never been a secret that I was an advocate for this project, given the clear need for affordable housing, and the transparency and responsiveness of the project team during early planning. I continue to hold the project in high regard. It is a real improvement over the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store that was once here. It helps to fill a crucial deficit in a well-thought out, contextual, urban-friendly package. While walking around, I saw a young woman moving furniture into an apartment, a man and his son heading into one of the homes, and an older gentleman walking a dog. I think that, as the dust settles, it’ll blend seamlessly into Northside’s urban fabric, and be a worthy asset of the Ithaca community.

Before (image courtesy of Jason Henderson of Ithaca Builds):

After:






210 Hancock Construction Update, 8/2017

22 08 2017

210 Hancock is nearly complete from the outside. On the apartment buildings, the brick veneer has been attached over the Blueskin, as have most of the Alpolic aluminum pearls (dark-grey “charcoal”, off-white “pearl”, and intensely bright “EYL Yellow”). Early drawings also had lime green panels in the mix, but this was later deleted. The finalized elevation drawings suggests some more yellow panels will be attached between the ground-floor windows under the awning. In fact, it’s mostly the EYL yellow panels that have yet to be installed on Building “A” and Building “B”, the southernmost pair (and the first buildings shown in the parade of pics below). The northern buildings, which are built over a ground-floor garage, are partially faced with Barnes & Cone architectural masonry – upscale and arguably more attractive versions of concrete masonry units (CMUs).

The large expense currently being paneled on Building “D” (the northern end of the building string) will be more EYL Yellow, although this will be Morin corrugated metal panels, custom painted to match. The corrugated metal, which is used elsewhere (ex. top of building “B”) in blue-grey color, will add a little more visual interest to an otherwise featureless wall. According to the 210 Hancock website, occupancy is slated for September 1st. It looks like they have a one-bedroom available, which seems odd given the lottery, but the price tag suggests this one-bedroom is one of the moderate-income units (those with annual income in the $41,000 – $60,500 range). Offhand, 11 of the 54 units were designated moderate-income, in order to provide a mixed-income development. Similarly, the handicap-accessible three-bedroom townhouse (the one-story red one) is still for rent, but the other four rental townhomes are spoken for.

The townhouses are mostly finished, and marketing has started for the seven for-sale units. Three are already under contract. The cutoff for maximum annual income is 80% of Tompkins County’s area median income or less – $42,380 for a 1-person household, $48,400 for a 2-person household, $54,450 for a 3-person household, and so on. The wood lattice screening below the porches will be painted to match the trimboards, which come in three shades of Certainteed vinyl – “Natural Clay”, “Sandstone Beige” and “Flagstone”, or to the layman, dark tan, tan and light grey.

Outside of the building, the new lightpoles are in. RGL Inc. of Binghamton, a subcontractor for Lecesse, is laying down the new curbing and sidewalks, with road paving/striping, landscaping and the new playground to follow. For the record, the playground will be open to all neighborhood children regardless of whether their families live in the Hancock complex. As a plus, the play area connects directly with Conley Park without the need to cross any streets. Personal aside, in the affordable apartment complex I grew up in, June 25, 1997 was one of the most memorable days of my childhood because that was when they replaced a field dumpster pad with a playground — and I can remember how absolutely packed it was for weeks afterward.





News Tidbits 7/15/17: Ess Ess, Dee Dee

15 07 2017

1. Hamilton Square. There’s a lot to say here.

First, the neutral segment. The website is up, www.southstreetproject.org. Plenty of renders (definitely not cookie-cutter), site plans, housing prices, everything one needs for a fair assessment. The units are no more than 2 floors, mostly townhouse format. 47 affordable rentals units, 11 affordable for-sale units, and 15 market-rate for-sale units for a total of 73 on a 19 acre site. That’s less than 4 units per acre (0.26 acres/unit, comparable to the older 0.25-0.5 acre lots on Pennsylvania and South Streets), and fits zoning. The units are interspersed throughout the property. Parking ratio is 2 spaces per units, units are a mix of 1-3 bedrooms. There will be aging-in-place and energy efficient home options for sale, as well as in the rentals. The project will host a playground and nursery/daycare facility geared towards low and moderate-income households. Much of this comes from the result of constructive community feedback.

But what started off on a polite note is getting really ugly, really quickly. It is not a good sign when my editor calls me and tells me that, as a person of color, she felt uncomfortable at the latest meeting.

Given the transparency of this process, which still hasn’t even been submitted for formal planning board review, I find comments about this being “hidden” or rushed through to be a stretch. The project hasn’t submitted anything for formal review yet. Nothing but a sketch plan has been done, and multiple community meetings, and 30-minute small group listening sessions. It really does not get much more personal than that.

One of the questions that was raised was that people are unable there are many more affordable rentals than for-sale units. There are two reasons why that is. For one, funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. The government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. That’s why the buildout for the for-sale units is 2-8 years. For two, for low and moderate-income households often don’t have much money saved for a big expense such as down-payment, and far more are capable of renting versus buying.

There are valid concerns that need to be addressed. For example, traffic. A study is being conducted with a third party. The typical thing I hear, affordable housing, or any project really, is that “they’ll lie, they’re in XYZ’s pocket”. If no one trusts you to do your job properly, no municipal board will sign off on accepting your study, and you’re finished as a firm. Likewise with stormwater analysis and civil engineering. School system capacity is checked with the district, which basically just sends a letter saying “yes, we have room” or “no, we don’t have room”. The study is being conducted and will be made public long before any approvals are granted, people can weigh in after reading it to say whether it’s comprehensive and adequate, and feel free to say something and explain why it may not be. That’s the purpose of SEQR, to determine impacts and mitigate unavoidable impacts.

On a related note, a board’s job is to review the objective components of a project. It is not appropriate, or legal, to decide on a subjective trait like whether the people who will live there fit the “Trumansburg way of life” or that the project is “too Ithacan”. Who decides what those things are? Because too quickly, it degenerates into a look or an image, and a train of thought that should never be a part of any development conversation. Because it’s subjective, those terms meant something quite different in 1997, and something quite different in 1977.

Also, there seems to be this idea that poor people in urban neighborhoods will be forced out here, and they will be a burden on TrumansburgThere are plenty of people who live and work in Trumansburg who need affordable options in a rapidly-appreciating real estate market. The one bedrooms will be rented to individuals making $22k-$48k. That could be a store manager, a barista, a school teacher or a retiree. Tenants are screened, visited at their current home and interviewed before being offered a unit. Qualified affordable home buyers will mostly be in the $42k-$64k range (80-120% AMI). Think nurses, office workers, tradespeople (following INHS’s sales deeds, I actually see a lot of ICSD teachers). The market rate units will offer whatever the market allows price-wise; new townhouse-style housing in Trumansburg would likely fetch $250k+, so think upper-middle income.

It would be nonsensical to make people in Ithaca move into housing in Trumansburg that they don’t want and would drive up their costs; however, those who want to live there, whether because they admire Trumansburg, work there, or both, will seek the opportunities it provides.

For a county that seems keenly aware of its housing issues, there tends to be an uncomfortable amount of pushback against affordable housing, whether it be Fall Creek, South Hill, Lansing or Trumansburg. Does that qualify as being “too Ithacan”?

2. Taking a look at the county’s records this week, it looks like 210 Linden Avenue’s construction loan has been filed. Elmira Savings Bank is lending Visum Development (Todd Fox and associates) $3.15 million, with $2,358,783 towards the hard costs (materials/labor) of replacing the existing 12-bedroom student apartment house with a 9-unit, 36-bedroom apartment building. Elmira Savings Bank is one of the biggest single-family construction loan lenders in Tompkins, but they have only been the lender for a few multi-family projects. The only other multi-million project in the past few years was the 18-unit Rabco Apartments at 312 Thurston Avenue in Cornell Heights – a project that, along with the cancelled 1 Ridgewood, so incensed deep-pocketed permanent residents nearby that they petitioned and succeeded in getting the city to downgrade the zoning.

Also filed this week was a $415,000 construction loan from Tompkins Trust to the owner of Hancock Plaza on the 300 Block of Third Street in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 19,584 SF shopping plaza, built in 1985, is assessed at $1.485 million and has been under its current ownership since 2002. Most might know it for the DMV, but it also hosts Istanbul restaurant, a bookkeeping service, and a gas station and convenience store that opened in renovated space in 2015. There’s no indication in the loan as to what kind of work will be performed, about $363,000 has been set aside for hard costs like materials and labor, and the work is required to be finished by March 2018.

3. Also filed in both sales and construction loans this week was paperwork for 306 North Cayuga Street, right next to DeWitt Park on the edge of Ithaca’s downtown. Also known as the C. R. Williams House, the 8,798 SF, ca. 1898 property was assessed at $900,000 and on the market for $1.4 million last year. The sale price was $1.3 million.

I was privy to an email chain that engaged an out-of-state condo developer to look at the property, but that person was not the buyer.  The LLC traces back to Travis Hyde Properties, just a few blocks away.

According to Frost Travis of THP, the plan is to renovate the live/work space to allow for more space for THP, which is outgrowing its North Tioga Street location, and four apartment units. Exterior changes will only be cosmetic, but any substantial changes will be subject to ILPC approval, as the property sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. Elmira Savings Bank is lending $1.24 million for the renovation, of which $1,204,752 is going towards the actual construction (so apparently, this was a big week for ESB). The project is expected to be complete by next summer, according to the loan filing.

4. For the aspiring homebuilder or developer – new to the market this week, a run-down though salvageable 1830 home at 1975 Dryden Road just east of Dryden village, and 101 acres of developable vacant land currently rented out for agricultural use. The sale price is $795,000. The county GIS lists the property at 112.4 acres, but without a map in the listing, it’s hard to tell if there’s a typo or if there might be a subdivision somewhere. The assessment is for $531,900, $401,300 of which is the land. It appears the property has been in the ownership of the same family since 1968. The property is listed as a rural agricultural district, which is geared towards ag uses, but permits office, one-family and two-family homes as-of-right; multi-family and box retail require special use permits. Zoning is one unit per two acres, but in the case of a conservation subdivision that preserves open/natural space, it’s one unit per acre – either way, only about 50 units allowed here. Technically, a PUD (aka DIY zoning) is also an option, but would need adequate justification. Kinda hoping it doesn’t become conventional suburban sprawl, but will reserve judgement for when this sells.

 

5. Ithaca is once again competing for $10 million in state funds as part of the regional Downtown Redevelopment Initiative. The funds are intended to spark investment in urban cores and improve infrastructure for communities throughout the state, ten cities selected each year, one in each region. Readers may recall Elmira won last year. This year, Ithaca is competing against two of its Southern Tier peers – Watkins Glen, with which it competing with last year as well, and Endicott, a struggling satellite city over by Binghamton, that is entering the competition for the first time. Reports suggest the Ithaca submission is largely the same as last year’s. Winners will be announced in the fall.

 

 

 





210 Hancock Construction Update, 6/2017

18 06 2017

210 Hancock is chugging towards completion later this summer. Lecesse Construction has all four sub-components of the apartment building have been framed and sheathed. Building A is almost finished from the outside, with some exterior finished and trim still on the to-do list. The Blueskin will be faced with Alpolic aluminum panels, some of which have already been installed. Masonry work is underway on Building C, using Redland Whitehall Brick (it’s not often one sees unpainted white brick). More information on the exterior materials can be found in April’s post.

Note that the buildings are all elevated at least a few feet from ground level, and it’s particular noticeable with the five rental townhouses on the northeast corner. This is because of floodplain restrictions – several blocks of Fall Creek and Northside have the unfortunate luck of being in the 100-year floodplain, and most of Northside except for few blocks around Lewis and Jay Streets are in the 500-year floodplain. This approximated frequency is at risk of decreasing as the inlet gets clogged and layered with fresh silt, and with less volume and capacity, the un-dredged inlet would be more likely to have a high water event overflow its banks. It’s one of many reasons why the city is pressing for state dredging of the inlet before disaster strikes.

WHCU reported a few weeks ago that INHS has had no shortage of applicants for the 210 Hancock rentals. After receiving over 200 applications, they set up a lottery in which 122 “made it through” , and then selected the top 60 (there are 59 rental units though…might be a just in case there’s a drop-out, or it could just be conversational rounding). If it’s anything like New York City’s lottery, what happens is that each application is validated, sorted for requested unit type, and is assigned a randomized log number – those who get 1-48 for the one-bedroom subset, and 1-11 for the two-bedrooms subset, are awarded dibs on a unit, so long as they pass the income check and background check. In previous measures, about 86% of rental applicants, six out of every seven, came from inside Tompkins County, with just under half from other parts of the city of Ithaca.

The seven for-sale units are also just beginning sales marketing. The three on Hancock are, from east to west, 204, 206 and 208 Hancock Street, and the four for-sale units on Lake Street going south to north are 406, 408, 410 and 412 Lake Street. 206 Hancock, 408 Lake and 410 Lake will be 910 SF 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath units that will sell for $112,000 to qualified buyers. 406 Lake and 412 are 1088 SF, 2 bed 1.5 bath units priced at $129,000. The largest units, 204 Hancock and 208 Hancock, are 1300 SF, 3 bed 1.5 bath units that will sell for $145,000. The plan is to have buyers lined up for all seven units by the end of the year.