News Tidbits 4/8/17: Please Don’t Document-Dump on Fridays

8 04 2017

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. The town of Dryden planning board did not take too kindly to the Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden Road outside Varna. The board denied recommendation for approval unless some stipulations are met first; some might be easier, like a vegetative buffer with the neighbors and a shared driveway. Others will be trickier – the board recommended removing all the solar panels and replacing them with electric heat pumps, and board members strongly encouraged reducing the number of units.

Not to downplay the value of heat pumps since they’ve become the preferred sustainable feature for projects going before local boards these days, but there is a substantial initial cost involved for their installation, and it takes a few decades for the energy savings to pay off. Some of the cost for the pumps can be balanced out through density of units, because some flat development costs (for example, the cost of land acquisition) can be distributed out; but fewer units with a more expensive feature is the classic “do more with less money” conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Disclaimer, these are ballpark figures and every project has its nuances or other factors to consider, like tax rates, contractor bids and logistical costs.

The Village Solars heat pumps are a $50,000-$60,000 cost, $4,000-$5,000 per unit. Phase 1 didn’t have the heat pumps, but the later phases do, and those later phases are about $2 million-$3 million per 15,000-20,000 square-foot building, with 12-22 units depending on configuration. In the case of 1061 Dryden, each 6-unit string is about 10,800 SF (1800 SF per unit, no common areas), and given the $4.5 million total cost, we’re talking a ballpark estimate of around $750,000 per townhome string. If one assumes proportional costs for the heat pumps based off square footage, that’s $30,000-$40,000 per 6-unit string. So it is a higher incremental cost per string, and more of a burden per tenant. The Village Solars rent for $1600-$1650 for a three-bedroom, and the going rate for new units in Varna is about $1950 for a 3-bedroom, if the new townhomes at 902 Dryden is any indicator. The rent increase for the Village Solars was about $50/unit, but those units are smaller, so you’re probably looking at a larger amount, conservatively $75/unit, for the Evergreen units.

Going off those numbers, it looks like heat pumps are possible, although the units will likely be somewhat less affordable as a result. It isn’t clear if that disables the proposal, because it depends on imputed vacancy rates at different income levels, and whatever the required income is to make the necessary Return on Investment. However, the project would become less feasible if there are substantially fewer units and the construction cost per unit shoots up – because of the combination of flat vs. incremental expenses, taking away six units won’t drop the cost $750,000, it’ll be less. The cost of the solar panels is also an unknown, as are the costs of doing these revisions to please the board. The development team was not at the meeting, which is unfortunate; we’ll have to wait and see how this moves forward.

2. Speaking of the Village Solars, according to the latest minutes from the Lansing Town Board, Lifestyle Properties is exploring taking down some of the old Village Circle Apartments, and replacing them with new buildings. These older, 8,000-12,000 SF structures date from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and have 8-10 units per building. Since the newer buildings are about 15,000-20,000 SF and tend to have 18-22 units, that could explain where the 423 units statistic came from last month – some of it comes from buildings on new sites, some are replacement buildings for existing structures.

3. The city Common Council held their monthly meeting, and signed off on the IURA sale of 402 South Cayuga to Habitat for Humanity with little debate, and while the TM-PUD for 323 Taughannock was a bit problematic due to some confusion with the minutes from the public hearing, the approval was carried unanimously. The project is now free to go before the Planning Board for State/City Envrionmental Quality Review, and the Design Review is considered complete.

Side note, the city’s four fire stations were renumbered. The old numbers hailed from the days before the stations consolidated in the 1960s and 1980s, and were confusing for many. Fire Station No. 9 (309 College Avenue in Collegetown) is now No. 2, insert joke here. Central Station (310 West Green Street) becomes Station 1- Central, Station 5 (965 Danby Road) becomes Station 3- South Hill, and Station 6 (1240 Trumansburg Road) becomes Station 4- West Hill.

4. Bucket list objective achieved – an interview with Jagat Sharma. Some will be in the Voice, maybe Friday afternoon of Monday morning; but rather than leave the excess on the proverbial cutting room floor, here were some portions left out of the piece for the sake of brevity, or because they’re too technical for the general audience:

Q: So, what’s your thought process when designing a building? Apart from necessities like zoning and client requirements, do you take cue from surrounding buildings, the environment…what are you thinking about as you sketch the first concepts of a new building?

JS: For infill projects, the sites are very narrow. My project at 409 Eddy, if I recall correctly, is a very narrow site. My clients had never hired an architect before, and it was a challenge to convince them. Most of them, they think how many rooms they can rent, so you give them a number, and you work it out, and you figure out the design from the surrounding context, how the buildings line up, how the window patterns line up, symmetry, scale. You lay out a plan for how the windows would fall, how would it match with the existing window lines on surrounding buildings. Frankly, back then (409 Eddy was built in the mid-1980s) there was not much context, many buildings were in poor condition, you had some brick buildings, but otherwise not much. You try to relate it to what you’ve done before, the streetscape, you try to change up things with color, bay windows, you play with that, organize everything in a symmetrical way. Later on, my later buildings in the past 10-12 years, I’ve begun to take more liberty, play with them [the designs] more, 3-D effects, projections, penthouses, balconies, corner windows and more glass. And at the street level, they’re more urban, they have colonnades, like 309 Eddy, it looks very nice. But all of them…if you’re the only actor on the stage, you’re playing your own thing. If you look at Collegetown, Eddy Street and up, 309, 303, 301, some are angled, they’re different materials – if you’re in the middle of those, you feel like you’re in a hill town, it’s a good feeling.

Q: And how would you describe your experience with working with the city and its various interests?

JS: You earn respect from them by being honest and sincere. I deliver what I say I do, we don’t change things at the last minute. The city is happy with that. I have a good relationship with the Planning Board, what they are looking for, they want good materials, detailing. The building department wants to make sure you meet the codes; we sit down and meet if we have different interpretations on how the code reads – but you have to work on it from day one. It takes time, building inspectors, commissioners come and go and you have to earn their respect each time by doing the right thing, don’t hide anything.

5. According to Matt Butler over at the Times, Lakeview Ithaca might be a little larger than initially anticipated. In a report on homelessness, he mentions a meeting attended by Lakeview’s CEO, who said the new building would have 56 affordable units (vs. the 50 previously reported in the IURA application), with 28 reserved for those with mental disability. A time frame of fall 2018 – fall 2019 is given for construction, somewhat slower than the April 2018 start reported in the IURA application.

6. A couple of interesting things to note from the ILPC Agenda for next Tuesday, apart from the usual stairs, porches and windows. One, 123 Eddy got a revamp in accordance with the commission’s design guidance – gone is the porch, and more detail was strongly encouraged. I still prefer the previously-approved design, but this is an improvement from the Craigslist ad.

Meanwhile, downstate businessman Fei Qi is finally heading back to the board with a plan for the historically significant but structurally deficient 310 West State/MLK Street. Previously, he wanted to do 3,800 SF of office space in a renovation partially financed by state tax credits, but it wasn’t funded and the office market is a bit lackluster in Ithaca anyway. At the time, residential was ruled out due to fire safety issues.

However, this new plan is a residential project. It’s a proposed 12-bedroom “co-op” living arrangement (Co-op? SRO [Single Room Occupancy]? Neither one is a terrible idea, although SROs have negative connotations). JSC Architects of suburban NYC (Fresh Meadows) would remove a rear chimney, put in new shingles, add a wheelchair ramp and skylights, along with the to-the-studs internal renovation. It’s an interesting plan, though the ILPC might be iffy on some of the details. We’ll see how it goes over.

7. If you all could pardon me on this, the city document-dumped Friday morning, and I don’t have the time at the moment for a full write-up. But the projects memo is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here’s the brief summary:

A. McDonald’s would replace their existing 4,800 SF restaurant at 372 Elmira Road with a new 4,400 SF building.

B. Benderson Development wishes to renew approvals for a 14,744 SF addition to their shopping plaza at 744 South Meadow Street (this would be on the south end next to Hobby Lobby, where KMart’s garden center was years ago), and build a new 7,313 SF addition at the north end of the strip. Apparently, Ithaca’s a safe harbor in the ongoing “retail apocalypse”.

C. 323 Taughannock as noted above

D. DeWitt House is moving forward. With ILPC Design Approval (Certificate of Appropriateness) in hand, envrionmental review still needs to be conducted. Site plan review docs note it’s a $17 million project with a December 2017 – March 2019 construction timeframe.

E. Novarr/Proujansky’s 24-unit 238 Linden apartment project

F. 118 College Avenue, carried over from the previous month, and

G. Finger Lakes Re-Use, carried over from the previous month.

 

 





News Tidbits 4/1/17: High Energy Debates

1 04 2017

1. There might be yet another potential hang-up with the Lansing Meadows project. Previously, developer Eric Goetzmann presented planned to the Lansing village Board of Trustees to densify the initial 12-unit plan and add a small retail component, such as a coffee shop, diner or similar gathering venue. The idea was well received, and so Goetzmann approached the planning board with 20 senior housing units and a small commercial lot TBD, where it was A) news to them, and B) not-so-well received.

According to the Lansing Star, the objection is not to the housing; in fact, the planning board said they’d prefer another four housing units rather than commercial. But they’re not comfortable with the sudden change, and Goetzmann’s looking at the additional costs of revised plans because the Board of Trustees and the Planning Board were not on the same page. It is kind of a weird situation, although not unprecedented (it bears some similarity to the 201 College debate in Ithaca city last year, where the Planning Department and Planning Board were not on the same page). The boards are supposed to meet in early April to retify their differences so Goetzmann knows what he can move forward with, hopefully by this summer.

Looking at the screenshot above, Salem R. LaHood of suburban Syracuse is the architect; apart from being a design partner for some high-end outlet malls, I can’t find much else on his resume.

2. The solar arrays planned in Dryden are getting are less-than-welcome reception, per Cassandra Negley at the Ithaca Times. The argument is pretty similar to the one often used on affordable housing – “we know it’s needed and we like it in concept, but we don’t want it anywhere near us”. But then far from one person is close to another; and it results in lackluster solutions, like affordable housing so far out that it’s isolated from needed goods and services.

One of the biggest sources of opposition is from family and friends of those interred at the Willow Glen Cemetery, which is the landscaped area south of the panels in the image above. Although many of the opposed do not even live in New York, let alone Dryden, it’s argued that the project is “sneaky back-room industrial solar” and will “destroy the atmosphere” (coincidentally, the land across the road from Willow Glen is zoned for and being marketed to roadside commercial tenants). It’s fine to be concerned, but looking at this particular site, the anger is a little overblown – there is sufficient room for a green screen of hedges and trees between the panels and the cemetery, which could easily be included as a stipulation as part of the approvals. Sustainable Tompkins is attempting to push back against some of the criticism, but on the balance, the public comment on the Dryden solar arrays is negative.

Let me approach this with an overarching view. Dryden is strongly opposed to an increase in natural gas (much to Lansing’s chagrin). Wind energy has been vociferously opposed just over the valley in Enfield, and Newfield essentially outlawed wind turbines. Solar panels are also being fought in Ulysses and Newfield. In Ithaca, there have been onerous battles over allowing panels on rooftops in historic districts. The energy to power homes and businesses has to come from somewhere; the preference seems to be for a sustainable option, rather than oil or gas piped in from Pennsylvania or beyond. Every choice is going to have its pros and cons – gas is cheap but environmentally unsound; wind turbines are tall and highly visible; solar panels need space for their cells. Frankly, a lightly-populated area on untaxed land owned by Cornell, which would then pay a PILOT fee for the solar panels, seems like a reasonable option. Someone has to step up and lead by example. Why not the town that fought fracking and won?

Anyway, the town pushed their meeting on the project back by one week to digest the onslaught of criticism. The meeting will be held at the town hall on Thursday April 6th at 7 PM.

UPDATE: The April 6th meeting has been cancelled and cannot be rescheduled until additional paperwork about the project has been received.

3. On the topic of energy, it looks like Cornell wants to move ahead with a trial run of its experimental geothermal project. Per the Times, the initial test phases of the “Earth Source Heating” project could take up to six years and $12-$15 million, which is a lot of money given that no one is certain if it will ultimately be a viable source of renewable energy. Some concern is being expressed that the project is too similar to fracking, but unlike the fracking process, where water is used to shatter shale beneath the surface to extract natural gas, the water used here is much lower pressure and kept in a closed loop, in comparison to fracking’s constant expansion of extraction sites. For the time being, the naysayers are assuaged, so now comes years of designing the project and permitting; an extensive Envrionmental Impact Statement (EIS) seems almost certain. ESH would be groundbreaking in more ways than one, if successful.

4. It looks like the major hurdles to the Travis Hyde Properties Old Library redevelopment have been cleared. With the historic district Certificiate of Appropriateness granted from the city’s ILPC, it’s now a matter of going through site plan review – the developer is hoping for an expedited process that’s settled by May, which given the joint meetings between the Planning Board and ILPC, may be possible. The design review is already complete as is most of the documentation, so at this point, it’s just a matter of making sure there are adequate environmental mitigations in place. After that, it’s time for the county to draft up their docs for the $925,000 sale of the property, and hopefully THP can get the mixed-use project underway later this year. The 73,600 SF project will host 58 market-rate units for the 55+ crowd, community space administered by senior services nonprofit Lifelong, and 1,250 SF of street-front commercial.

5. The Tompkins County IDA held its public hearing for the City Centre tax abatements. As expected, the reactions were mixed. A couple of developers not associated with the project (Frost Travis and Todd Fox) came out and spoke in support, which is really great. For one, these guys are invested in the city and knowledgeable about the market, so they should have an idea on whether City Centre would be a welcome economic addition or detraction. For two, it’s nice to see members of the same real estate community standing up for each other. There are cases now and in the not-so-distant past where developers went out of their way to fight other projects, with the parochial scope that as few units as possible would mean as high rents (revenue) as possible. I’m not necessarily saying every project is great and they need to stick up for it, but it’s heartening to see some are taking a broader scope and speaking on behalf of the ones they recognize as beneficial to the community.

The detractors seem less upset about the project itself than the abatements, and there is the fundamental misunderstanding that taxpayers are “paying” for this project. There is no paying; it just phases in the new property taxes on top of the existing value and taxes for the parcel, rather than one big lump increase from the moment of completion. For the sake of example, if they’re paying $100,000 in taxes now, and a given project will bring it up to $1,000,000 in taxes, an abatement means they’ll still pay $100,000 until the site’s developed, then $200,000 right after completion, then $300,000 the following year, and so on until $1,000,000 (plus inflation) is attained. I’ve tried to explain this in the Voice, the Times has tried to explain this, but it’s still a problem.

6. Two Collegetown projects were brought to light at last week’s planning board meeting. 232-236 Dryden, a Visum Development project, would replace a large surface parking lot and rundown 30-unit apartment building with a 191-bed, 2-building complex. 238 Linden, a Novarr-Mackesey infill project, replaces a 10-bed, non-historic apartment house with 24 studio units in a townhouse-format structure designed by his favorite firm, ikon.5 Architects of Princeton. The target market is Johnson students, particularly Executive MBAs who may want to be closer to the university. One of the neat features is that the rear will have a treated “chameleon-like” surface that will change color depending on viewing angle, not unlike the pearl metallics used on some custom cars.

The plan is to have both 232-236 Dryden and 238 Linden underway late this year. Both are likely to have August 2018 openings, although 232-236 Dryden might be a two-phase project, with the second structure coming online in August 2019.

Keen readers will note that the Times has the sole coverage of 238 Linden right now, and this was not in the Voice; Nick Reynolds was at the meeting, I was not, and while I’ve been trying to get renders, I have yet to come through with one. I’d rather play catch-up than sacrifice integrity. I’ll follow up in the Voice eventually, but in the meanwhile, the blog is fair game because I make no money from it.

7. The town of Ithaca planning board looks to have a fairly quiet agenda for next week. Renewing some temporary modular structures at Cornell, construction signage for Maplewood, and An 11-lot subdivision on South Hill, “Ithaca Estates III” featuring Lilium Lane, Monarda Way and Rock Cress Road.

Unfortunately, it’s the Monkemeyer property, where the town has been entertaining ideas of a new urban neighborhood since its new Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2014. Evan Monkemeyer chose to revive a plan from 2010 for two cul-de-sacs off of a new arterial road that would cut through the property; and given the long-term build-out schematic shown above, there would be more cul-de-sacs to come, for a fairly conventional 1990s era suburban layout. Even though he’s apparently mowed the future roads in place on satellite, this doesn’t match up with the town’s Form Ithaca-inspired visions at all. The issue isn’t the housing, it’s the layout. The town’s planning push has been moving away from cul-de-sacs and towards connected streets.

Monkemeyer’s gone down this road before. It didn’t work out very well. Reviving a seven year-old plan that doesn’t fit with the town’s more recent Comprehensive Plan is not, and shouldn’t be, something that is going to sail through the planning board. Token future park space isn’t going to change that. Of course, then he’ll just whine to Rep. Tom Reed again. To Monkemeyer’s credit, the town has been taken uncomfortably long with formulating their new zoning code, it looks like some of the multi-year delay was the town’s fault over who was responsible for a water easement – but given the 6+ years since the issue was raised, it doesn’t appear he was pushing the matter much.





News Tidbits 12/4/2016: Not Forgotten

4 12 2016

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1. It looks like the Old Library proposal will be coming up to bat one last time. Developer Travis Hyde Properties and its project team will present one last major revision at the January Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) meeting. Things are well behind schedule at this point, as the ILPC continues to take issue with the old library proposal – which at last check, has had seven separate designs proposed and shot down for one reason or another. The Times reports that senior services non-profit Lifelong is one again involved in the project, although it had never really left – they will control the community room on the first floor, and will receive the revenues generated from renting it to outside entities. The last iteration may once again include first-floor interior parking, since that was the sticking point at the October ILPC meeting – the plan for design #8 is to increase parking from the proposed 10 spaces, to 25-30 spaces. If the January concept is acceptable, or at least close to ILPC approval, Travis Hyde will pursue the 55-60 unit plan; otherwise, it’s over.

The county had hoped that the sale of the property would generate $925,000 at the outset, as well as future tax revenues; the current building’s mechanical systems are past their useful life and in need of replacement, a cost likely to exceed a million dollars. With no sale, and a perceived “toxic” site for development due to opposition both during the RFP stage and during this review process, the county and city will be in a less than enviable position if things fall through.

At the housing summit, the old library came up as a point of concern and contention; JoAnn Cornish, the city’s planning director, suggested at one that if the county had been willing to part with the property for a token $1, than the need to build up on the site wouldn’t be so great. I happened to be taking notes next to a county legislator and Old Library Committee member who muttered that that was a terrible idea and Cornish had no idea what she was talking about. Anyone looking for common ground is going to have a real hard time finding it.

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2. It looks like Cayuga Medical Associates’ plan for Community Heights is nearly good to go. Only a couple minor revisions were presented at the Cayuga Heights Planning Board’s meeting on the 28th – a rear (east) driveway, sidewalk work and a detention basin. Cover letter here, updated site plan here, and a letter noting a potential change in hosted medical specialties here. The $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road is 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space. The initial presentation in March called for a 3-story, 39,500 SF structure. Two buildings, a one-story office building and a vacant drive-thru bank branch, would be demolished.

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3. Now for something that’s a little less certain – the 400-406 Stewart Avenue reconstruction. One can’t call it the Chapter House reconstruction, because there’s no certainty that that is what will happen. Nick Reynolds has the full story over at the Times. The Chapter House’s intended space on the first floor is being advertised by Pyramid Brokerage for $35/SF, double the bar’s rent from before the fire. The owner of the Chapter House referred to all this pre-development as a “money pit” as the building still has no anchor tenant, but he was still open to being a part of the rebuild. In short, it looks like we’re seeing some bickering between the developer and potential tenant spill out into the public domain, and we’ll see how it plays out.

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4. At the city planning board meeting last week, preliminary approval was granted to Charlie O’Connor’s four two-family homes at 607 South Aurora. City Centre also continued with its review, with comments focusing on sustainability and solar panels. Changes to the project are minor at this point, and we’re probably close to the final product at this stage. Amici House was also debated, with neighbors expressing concerns about the size, and uncertainty on whether TCAction can handle 23 homeless or vulnerable youth.

I’ll register a small complaint – the north stairwell of the residential building. I’d encourage TCAction and Schickel Architecture to explore using smoked or tinted glass to reduce glare, rather than bricking it in. It makes the building look cold and industrial, which seems just as unfriendly to neighbors as glare would be.

The board also went ahead with lead agency on Novarr’s College Townhouses project, and was shown brief presentation on two Visum Development Group projects, 126 College and 210 Linden. More on those here.

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5. The Times included a quick Collegetown construction rundown about a week and a half ago. Two quick addendums –
A. Still no plan for 330 College Avenue, since Fane did the development version of trolling by proposing a 12-story building in a 6-story zone, and was told there was “no way in hell” it would happen;
B. Nothing scheduled for 302-306 College Avenue, aka “Avenue 102”, until at least mid-2018. The rumor mill says the Avramis family, who proposed a two-building, 102-unit sketch plan in October 2014, are concerned about market saturation. Given Cornell’s plans to increase their enrollment by raising their incoming freshman class size from 3250 to 3500, it might be worth another look.

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6. The city has released the preliminary design guidelines from Winter & Company. The Collegetown guidelines are here, Downtown’s here. Although there are suggested rather than mandatory, in theory, a project team could use these guidelines to formulate plans that would be less likely to get hung up in the city’s project review process – one could call it “form-based code lite”. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking in here, but the guidelines do promote urban-friendly and contextual designs. These are draft open to public comment – those who would like to can send their thoughts to city planner Megan Wilson at mwilson*at*cityofithaca.org by December 15th. there are some differences between existing zoning and these guidelines (for example, setbacks) that will need to be addressed at some point – the revised drafts will roll out in mid-January.

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7. Now that the county housing summit is behind us, I think that while there wasn’t any sort of huge breakthrough at the event, it was helpful to the community to have the obstacles and suggested goals shared with a large audience. Although, as county legislator Anna Kelles pointed out, it wasn’t necessarily a wide audience – renters, younger residents and lower-income individuals were not well-represented. At least for me, the big, exciting news was Cornell’s plans for new housing, which I will be writing about for the Voice later this week. While not perfect, the event did bring to light certain issues – NIMBYism can be a delicate topic in an audience like this, but one of the points that was stressed at the summit was, if you support a project, then let the governing body in charge know you support it and why. Heck, JoAnn Cornish was saying the city gets opposition emails from residents of California and Oregon. A little support from local residents, even students, reminds city staff and board members that there a variety of opinions.

I can definitely say that not everyone who attended was pro-development – after the woman behind me asked if I was a reporter (I said yes, for the Voice), she kept passing me notes like “since when did development bring property taxes down”, “developers are just in it for the money” and “Ithaca shouldn’t have to change”. I don’t think she liked my replies – the first one I wrote back a response about spreading the tax burden out with new infill development, the second I wrote “strictly speaking perhaps, but they don’t want to turn out a terrible product”, and the last, I perhaps unkindly wrote “[t]ell that to the families being priced out. Something has to change.” She got up and left shortly afterward.





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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 7/16/16: Summer Storms of a Different Kind

16 07 2016

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1. It looks like the first round of funding has been filed for INHS’s 210 Hancock project. The $7,790,511 construction loan was filed with the count on July 11th, with the lender of record listed as “CPC Funding SPE I LLC”. CPC is the Community Preservation Corporation, a non-profit lending institution funded by 69 different lenders in a revolving loan fund in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This includes big banks like Citi and wells Fargo, and smaller regional banks like Chemung Canal Trust. Since affordable housing isn’t intended to be a moneymaker, it’s difficult to get lenders to cover the construction costs of a project. CPC serves as a middleman, allowing multiple private lenders to engage in modest amounts of financing for affordable, multi-family housing.

The 54 apartments and 5 townhouses partially funded by this loan are expected to be ready for occupancy next summer.

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2. Things aren’t going well with the Old Library redevelopment. In Tuesday’s joint meeting between the ILPC and the Planning Board, some felt the current design of Travis Hyde’s DeWitt House proposal was too dull, some felt the previous design was best, and some fell in between. But, it seems like none of the three approaches has enough support to get a Certificate of Appropriateness, with a few of the members feeling that no design will work for the site because they feel they’re all too big. Frost Travis replied that the project can’t afford a major size reduction and still be feasible. Now the county’s getting involved since they selected the Travis Hyde proposal, and things are getting quite contentious.

Doing a quick check, for at least the previous iteration, the Travis Hyde proposal was about 85,600 SF, and the Franklin/STREAM condo proposal was 5 floors and 58,000 SF. Would residents have pushed Franklin/STREAM to reduce floors and potentially make the condo project infeasible? Who knows. If folks start clamoring for three floors or less, that will likely eliminate any proposals due to the cost of rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the county will have no viable options for a building in need of expensive repairs just to be usable. We’ll see what happens next month.

3. Namgyal Monastery has officially sold its city property. The house they owned at 412 North Aurora Street sold for $275,000 on the 13th, which is the same price it’s assessed at. Namgyal has purchased for the property for $150,000 in November 1992. A 2006 assets assessment placed the value of the Aurora Street house at $300,000, which might have been a bit generous.

On the one hand, the sale nets the monastery funds to continue construction of the new 13,000 SF facility on South Hill, which was recently selected to be a site of the Library of the Dalai Lamas. On the other hand, their webpage states they intended on keeping the Aurora Street house.

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4. The Ithaca Times’ Jaime Cone, new wind turbine laws in Newfield may effectively prohibit their construction. The town of Newfield decided to expand the radius of legally required unoccupied space from 1.5x the height of the turbine, to three times the radius of the propellers. In the case of the turbine that Black Oak Wind Farm (BOWF) was looking to put there, that raised the necessary easement support area from within 750 feet of the base, to 1,760 feet. Also, instead of 750 feet away from occupied structures, it’s 1,760 feet from any property line – in case anyone wanted to build on vacant land. Quoting Marguerite Wells, the beleaguered project manager of BOWF, “It makes it unbuildable…It’s a common way to outlaw wind farms in a town, to make the setback impossible.”

Apparently, things are so bad now, the town of Newfield voted to block a BOWF driveway that routed through Newfield to get to one of their Enfield sites. Given that a Tompkins County town is actively preventing and being malignant towards alternative clean energy sources and providers, it’s surprising there hasn’t been grater push-back from the sustainability proponents.

Overall, it’s been a rough month or so for green energy producers in Tompkins County – Ulysses is furious at Renovus and their solar panel installations, and Lansing’s planning board wants to vote in a moratorium on commercial solar panels.

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5. The county’s PEDEEQ (Planning et al.) Committee is voting next week to take $2,500 from the county’s contingency fund to host a housing summit this fall. Another $2,500 will come from the Planning Department. The purpose of the $55,000 summit is to take all the updated plans and housing needs assessments (the county’s, which is the big one, is due out next week) and figure out way to incorporate them into an updated county housing strategy. $45k comes from a Park Foundation grant. From the tone of the summit description, it doesn’t sound like the county’s affordable housing issues have improved since 2006, but we’ll see just how severe the housing issue has become when the study comes out later this month.

On a separate note, the county is looking to award the 23-bed Amici House project $225,000 in affordable housing grants, plus a loan forgiveness of $75,000 in pre-development costs.

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6. To round out this week of mostly unpleasant news, Mark Anbinder at 14850.com is reporting that the Marriott’s opening will be delayed from August 23rd to a likely opening in October, according to the director of sales. However, as extra padding in case of further delays, it appears won’t be taking further reservations for dates before mid-November. Unfortunately, this is well past Ithaca’s big tourist season, so it’s a safe bet to say neither Marriott nor the folks who had August and September reservations are pleased.





News Tidbits 7/9/16: Land Ho

9 07 2016

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1. Starting off this week, a couple of new pieces regarding Ithaca’s waterfront. First, the city’s chances of picking up some prime waterfront real estate at a low, low price are gone, though not any fault of their own. Readers might recall that back in late May, the properties were about to be foreclosed on for unpaid taxes, and the county was discussing selling the parcels, worth over $630,000, to the city if the city paid off the $42,844 tax bill. Pretty sweet deal for the city, right?

But the owner, an LLC that has held the parcels since the late 1990s, managed to pay off the tax bill and an attached penalty fee, which means they get to keep the land. So, if the city had any plans for those parcels, they’ll be filing those away for a long while.

2. However, it looks like several properties are being put up for the sale in the city’s West End near the Waterfront. Local realtor Brent Katzmann has four properties listed – 321 N Fulton, a duplex on 0.11 acres for $144,800; 319 N Fulton, a single family on 0.04 acres for $109,875; 626 W Buffalo, a single family on a narrow and deep 0.15 acre lot, for $124,999; and 622 W Buffalo, a duplex on a narrow and deep 0.19 acre lot, for $134,800. The prices generally run at or up to 10% over the tax-assessed value ($130,000/$100,000/$125,000/$125,000). The currently owner is a Long Island-based LLC, led by a pair of New York City real estate lawyers, who acquired the properties from 2010-2012. Prior to them, many of the properties have been through a merry-go-round of owners over the past 10-15 years.

The properties are in fair to rough shape, and the marketing tactic being used isn’t renovation, but rather development potential. The four properties all fall within WEDZ-1a zoning, which is the city’s attempt at encouraging development on the West End. WEDZ-1a permits residential, commercial and mixed-use 2-5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage (100% if less than 50 feet on two sides – the Buffalo parcels and 319 N Fulton), and no parking requirement. The properties are not affected by the city’s TM-PUD.

The West Buffalo lots could be tough since the house in-between is owned by someone else, but deep lots and the corner of North Fulton and West Court offer some potential. Worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who they sell to.

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3. One less homebuilder around. Avalon Homes is closing up shop. The Ithaca-based company is selling off its lots and trying to wrap up the homes they have underway. Rumors abound as to why, but if firm, verifiable information can be obtained, there will be more to follow.

Avalon made its name doing stick-built built, with a focus on affordability and green construction. Avalon, a certified Living Wage employer, was the general contractor for INHS’s Holly Creek townhomes (shown above), and employed at least a dozen back in 2010.

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4. The Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be conducting another joint meeting on Tuesday the 12th at 5:30 regarding the Travis Hyde Properties’ proposal for the Old Library. HOLT Architects responded to comments from the ILPC at its last meeting that the design needed to be “quiet” by submitting the revised elevations seen below.

Mission accomplished? Armchair architect comment here, but the revised design is too far the other way. There’s a joke about the color beige, coincidentally similar to the new brick, being an adjective for “dull, boring, indistinctive“. I like the previous design with its wood-like fiber cement and characterful roofline, and I wonder if perhaps a revised color palette of that design, with maybe a few less full-sized balconies, would be a happy medium.

5. As announced on city of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be the site of a library and museum of the Dalai Lamas, the first of its kind outside of Tibet. The facility would be located on the 28 acres Namgyal owns on South Hill at its Du Khor Choe Ling monastery complex. Architectural plans and costs are still being determined, but a quote from Ngawang Dhondup, administrator for Namgyal’s facility, says that it will be larger than Namgyal, which has been underway since 2007 and will be about 14,500 SF when completed.

All in all it’s a great feather in Ithaca’s cap, but two things to be a bit wary of moving forward are the reactions and possible opposition from neighbors to what will be a very high profile religious facility, and given geopolitical issues, the reception to the Library of the Dalai Lamas may not be so warm from some denizens of cosmopolitan Ithaca.

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6. Way back in 2010 and early 2011, when the BJ’s Wholesale club was proposed in Lansing, one of the components of the proposal was to build 12 units of senior housing on land north of the then-proposed store. The project also called for wetlands, walking trails and a bird sanctuary on the undeveloped portion of the 11-acre property. Developer Eric Goetzmann (Arrowhead Ventures/Triax Group) faced considerable opposition to the plan since it involved big box retail and was housing outside of the density corridor, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application calling for a smaller PILOT was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (some of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

Well, the BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was just approved by the Army Corps, and the final permits expected shortly. With the wetlands taken care of, Arrowhead can begin to look towards the housing component, which they plan to put forward later this year for a 2017 construction date. As part of these plans, they want a one-year extension on the legal construction start for the housing from the IDA. Given that Arrowhead has met the other criteria and can demonstrate proof of progress on the wetlands, this probably won’t face much opposition. But eventually, it looks as if the village of Lansing will finally get those 12 units of senior housing.

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7 It looks like the Biggs Parcel is officially listed for sale. Local realtor CJ DelVecchio was selected by the county to manage the listing for the 25.52 acres near Cayuga Medical Center. The asking price is $275,000. The land comes with a conservation easement on the northwest side due to its proximity to a stream, and the wetlands near the center would be tricky to work with, because wetlands typically can’t be developed unless new wetlands are created, which is not cheap or easy to do.

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Readers might remember that this parcel has quite a history behind it. Declared surplus land by Tompkins County, the county had set up a tentative deal for a 58-unit affordable housing complex on the property, but the deal fell through after the wetlands were discovered to cover more area than previously thought.

Neighbors, via the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), have tried to force the county to hold onto the land to keep it from being developed. One of the big sticking points had been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county isn’t especially concerned at this point if the land gets developed or not, but they have made it clear that they want to sell it to a private owner that will pay taxes. The problem is, proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The ICNA did end up making a closed bid for the property, but the offer was rejected.

A neighbor to the south did propose reconfiguring the property to preserve the woods and build cottages on his back lot – by adding the Biggs land, he could have built more units under the regulations of the cluster zoning. But the plan fell through due to “size and complexity”, according to the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas.

The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the revised 2016 assessment brings that down to $240,000.





News Tidbits 6/11/16: Summer’s Heated Discussion

11 06 2016

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1. We’ll start this off out in Lansing. The 153 acres of land for the Lansing town center is once again in the news. The Lansing Star is reporting that the town is once again serious about selling the land.

So begins yet another chapter in the 20-year saga of the town center land. The town bought the land from the state in 1993 for $100,000, and at the time the land was deed-restricted to recreational use. In 2012, the town paid an additional $294,800 to remove the recreational deed restriction. An article about it was published here in August 2012 (original map below; dunno where why offhand it says 156 acres vs. the 153 reported now). HOLT Architects and TWMLA were hired to draw up some overarching design themes, a Request for Proposals was issued, and three developers responded.

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Calamar Enterprises’ Buffalo office submitted a proposal for a $17.4 million, 110-unit market-rate senior apartment building on 13.5 acres, and Cleveland-based NRP Group submitted plans for 80 one-story patio homes on about 15.5 acres. Calamar later re-sited their project at the town’s wish to the northern part of the land, and increased the number of units to 124. Green Square, led by David Taub and HOLT Principal Graham Gillespie, proposed 60 units of housing and 23,000 square feet of retail in 2-3 story arrangements, and civic and recreational space. Altogether, the value of the three would have approached $50 million.

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However, all of this was contingent on a sewer being built, which did not happen. The developers agreed to do a package plant that would service just the town center, there was discussion of an IDA-backed tax incentive zone, and the town stood to make a hefty return on investment, but…to quote the Star, “However, the deals fell through.  Actually it seemed more like they just faded away. At least one of the developers had signed paperwork saying they intended to purchase acreage from the Town.  The Town didn’t seem in any hurry to sell the land, even with clearly interested developers.  When the developers disappeared there was no reported effort by the town to pursue the deals.”

Since then, the town continues to get a steady stream of interest, but no real idea on how they want to move forward. Like Ithaca city and town, they’re looking at the possibility of Form-Based zoning for the site, and the town hopes to issue a more specific RFP than before, incorporating revised assessment values. The most intensive approach involved the Form-Based Code and a specific RFP, the least specific is just putting up a for-sale sign ans seeing what happens. Whatever the case, the lax approach the town has taken the past few years may no longer be feasible, with the ticking tax time time bomb of the possible power plant closure looming over the town and schools’ budgets.

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2. Speaking of long processes, the Old Library project has formally filed paperwork here to begin the application process for the Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. The meeting is scheduled for city hall at 5:30 Tuesday the 14th. Although it says early design review, a lot of the legwork has already been done at this point, since the Planning Board and ILPC have been conducting joint meetings with the project team over the past several months to create a design that they’re all comfortable with. However, the ILPC is likely to refine some details moving forward.

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At this point, the unit mix consists of 22 1-bedroom units with about 700 SF each, 25 2-bedrooms with about 900 SF each, and 10 2-bedrooms with 1200 SF each, the extra space intended as a den or home office. The building also includes a 1,800 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, and 3,750 SF of first floor commercial space. The total facility size comes out to about 85,600 SF, and parking for 25 cars and at least 12 bikes, and another 34 bike spaces for the community room. Exterior materials include brick, limestone, and a couple forms of fiber cement, including wood-textured fiber cement.

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3. The STREAM Collaborative House at 228 West Spencer is up for sale. The house has its own website here. The 1,152 SF, 2-bedroom net-zero energy house is listed at a price of $305,000. For more info on the house, Noah Demarest was kind enough to give a construction tour of the house while it was underway, and the blog post I wrote up afterwards can be found here.

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4. It’s pretty clear at this point that the Evergreen Townhouses project at 1061 Dryden is evolving into the next hot-button development issue out in Varna. The Times has their interview with the angry neighbor here, and more info can be found in the town of Dryden’s April planning board meeting minutes here. So far, the only image of the townhouses themselves has been a perspective that only shows massing – 2 stories, gabled roofs.

Also of note is the town of Dryden Planning Department’s recommendation to the town board (and the planning board’s approval) for an increase in density in certain areas. The change in code affects parcels zoned rural residential, with municipal water and sewer access. The density would be increased from 2 units per acre to 6 per acre. Looking at the zoning map and the sewer map, that would primarily affect the corridor from Varna to the 13/366 intersection, and a rural swath just north of Dryden village near TC3. What this would do is allow 1061 Dryden Rd to withdraw PUD application, and apply for a special use permit (SUP), which are generally easier to obtain.

On a side note, googling Tiny Timbers brings up a Times editorial, written by the Times, that argues against Tiny Timbers for not fitting in with the appearance of Varna. Actually, it kinda takes everyone to task, from developers to town government to residents. But, to make one counter-point regarding mixed-use, commercial services need a certain amount of traffic (not necessarily vehicular) to thrive. If the population base within a certain radius isn’t there, the risk is too great for someone to put their money on the line and hope that they can somehow draw in customers. If Varna wants a mixed-use center with shops and cafes, they’re going to need the population to support it. Some think that will include 1061, some (probably more) think Tiny Timbers, but if there’s no “push”, the ball won’t be rolling.

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5. A couple of minor things to note in sales. The 4,200 SF former “Imperial Buffet” property next to the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall has sold to a Syracuse-bsed LLC (Watersprite LLC, established 2004) for $590,000 on Friday the 10th. I personally will always remember this place as being the only place my mother was comfortable with eating in Ithaca because she hates eating out, and felt everything else was “snobby and expensive”.

Meanwhile, the 12-bedroom, 2,837 SF house at 201 College Avenue, the property subject to a heated debate between Neil Golder and Todd Fox, sold for $2.65 million on Friday the 10th, which seems outrageous except that it’s becoming the norm for inner Collegetown transactions – Novarr picked up 5,500 SF 215 College for $5.3 million last year. There will be no delving into that debate again this week, but the city uploaded 580 pages of documentation here, and my colleague Mike Smith is preparing a story for the Voice.

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6. Houses of the week. This pair of duplexes are being built on Birdseye View Drive near Ithaca College. Each house has a 4-bedroom unit and a 2-bedroom unit; recent advertisements on Craigslist (since expired, so no link, sorry!) have them $750/bedroom. The developer is the owner of Mahogany Grill downtown, who also happens to be a part of the business team renovating the former Lucatelli’s into a new restaurant, a Tapas and pasta restaurant called Mix Social Dining after the chef’s wife.

These photos are a couple weeks old now, but the one on the right looks nearly complete, while the one on the left was still in the (wood) framing and sheathing stage. Based off the rough window and door openings, they are not exactly the same, but expect them to look similar.