East Pointe Apartments Construction Update, 6/2018

24 06 2018

If the name doesn’t sound familiar, that’s okay. For the past two years, the common reference to these was either “The Bomax Drive Apartments” or the “Park Grove Realty Apartments”, either of which was used interchangeably. The official name according to Park Grove Realty’s webpage is “East Pointe Apartments”. East of what, I dunno.

Park Grove Realty is a new company headed by a group of long-time developers and real estate professionals. Andrew Crossed and Andrew Bodewes cut their teeth at Conifer Realty, a regional affordable housing developer based out of Rochester (readers might be familiar with some of their local projects, including Linderman Creek, Cayuga Meadows, and Poet’s Landing). They knew their way around development and had familiarity with the area. Not only that, they were working with Tom LiVigne, who has been on the board of many local projects and recently retired as the president of real estate operations at Cornell.

While LiVigne was at Cornell in 2008, the university purchased a 19.46 acre parcel on Bomax Drive. The property was zoned for business and technology, which is intended for commercial office, warehousing or tech-focused industrial space, which is what Cornell originally had in mind. But, with the onset of the Great Recession, and a re-assessment of Cornell’s needs, nothing ever came forth for the property.

A little bit of speculating here, but because Conifer’s Cayuga Meadows had been floating around since the late 2000s, LiVigne would have been professionally familiar with Crossed and Bodewes. It seems likely that as LiVigne retired in early 2015, and Crossed and Bodewes launched their company a few months later, they might have approached him with the idea of an Ithaca project, knowing the market’s strong economics and housing deficit. LiVigne was familiar with Cornell’s excess holdings, and whatever discussions he had with Park Grove post-retirement led to the idea of a project on this property.

The project was first conceived and brought before the village of Lansing in July 2016. East Pointe is a 140-unit townhouse complex, fourteen strings of ten units, plus a community building, situated on a wooded vacant parcel on Bomax Drive. The intent was to explicitly avoid Collegetown and Downtown, and do a project geared towards the upper-middle class market segment, more specifically empty nesters and young professionals who may be moving in for work, but have yet to buy a house (this is exactly the same sub-market and words used by the developers of the 102-unit Cayuga Orchard project over in the town of Lansing, and even bears a passing resemblance). Arguably, a modest slice of graduate/professional students is possible as well.

To make the project possible, the zoning would have to be changed to high-density residential – the village planning board wanted a traffic study and wasn’t excited that there was no affordable housing here (the project team argued the asking price Cornell wanted made affordable housing infeasible), but was otherwise open to the idea of the zoning change; no one had developed a business and technology space since 2005, and residential was seen as a downzoning from what could have been done there, should Cornell have really pushed for a large office of research building. The neighboring developer, however, was not okay with the rezoning.

I don’t intend to rehash Forest City Realty and the Jonson family’s attempt to stop the project, but the argument was that it was a “spot rezoning” and that it was illegal. The Jonsons felt the units would decrease the desirability of their own project, the luxury for-sale townhomes in the Heights of Lansing. It became so impassioned that Lisa Bonniwell (Ivar and Janet Jonson’s daughter) ran herself and allies to try and take over the village Board of Trustees and mayorship last year in an effort to stop the proposal – they lost by a large margin. They also took the village to state court, lost, appealed, and lost again. The village estimates, with considerable distaste, that although they won, the court cases cost them close to $50,000.

It’s because of the lawsuit that the timeline gets a little muddled. The rezoning request was filed in September 2016, the public hearing in October, and the zoning change was made in November 2016 – to make it clear, that was the rezoning, not the project. The project wasn’t approved until November 2017, after the lawsuit was rejected and had gone to an appeals court. For a little while, Park Grove had a “continue at your own risk” for preparing final drawings and legal paperwork, given that the appeal was not declined by the state court until February 2nd 2018. The first real sign the project was moving forward came on March 16th of this year, when Cornell sold the land to Park Grove for $1.5 million, $300,000 more than what the university paid in August 2008.

Each string will have four units on the first floor, and six units on the second floor. Each unit has their own entrance, and the project is being described by the developer as “walk-up garden style“. The mix of units is 36 one-bedroom units, 90 two-bedroom units, and 14 three-bedroom units – since 36 and 90 don’t break down evenly by 14, I’d expect slightly difference unit mixes per building, and perhaps that will result in some slight design differences for things like window and door placement. However, they’ve only ever shown one apartment string in their official renders. The renders above are from early in the process (top), and the one they uploaded to the company website last week (bottom) – note the differences in the end garages and in the second floor/roof on the right side of the image. it may be a change in design, or it may be two different building designs they plan to utilize depending on unit layout. Have to wait and see on that one.

The one-bedrooms will be about 900 square feet and go for $1,400/month, according to an early interview with the Ithaca Times. The 1,300 SF two-bedroom units will go for $1,700/month, and the three-bedrooms, which will be about 1,400 SF, will for $1,900/month. The Lansing Star gives similar stats. Renters will get “high end finishes and amenities”, with possible amenities including  the community building with swimming pool, bocce ball court, walking trails, a community garden and a dog park.

I have not seen any building costs or local lending activity associated with the project, but if it’s in the ballpark of the nearby Village Solars (which is $2-$3 million per building), then it would not be unreasonable to expect something in the range of $30 million (of course, I am not the county tax assessor, so don’t take my word as gospel).

The architect, James Fahy Design Associates of Rochester, has a lot of experience with newer suburban developments, both single-family and multi-family. A google search (their website hasn’t been updated) shows similar gable-loving, shake siding and stone veneer embracing projects in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany areas. Jess Sudol of Passero Associates is the engineering consultant.

Right now, the site is being cleared and graded, with subterranean utilities installs (water/sewer) and early foundation excavation work is underway. The first two apartment strings are expected to be ready by Spring 2019. DGA Builders of Pittsford (suburban Rochester), a division of Pennsylvania-based DGA Construction Group, appears to be the general contractor, and A.E.Y. Enterprises of Macedon (Wayne County) is the site work subcontractor.

 

 





News Tidbits 6/10/2018

11 06 2018

1. For those of you looking out for something interesting next week, here’s your notice. In the village of Lansing Monday night, a sketch plan is set to be shown involving a cluster home development on the remaining phases of the Millcroft property, about 40 acres off of Millcroft Lane and Craft Road. According to the agenda, the proposal comes from Ithaca-based landlord/developer Beer Properties in partnership with Hunt Engineers.

The back story here is that the Millcroft subdivision was approved in the mid 2000s as a three-phase, 31-lot development for high-end ($500k+ homes). As it turns out, the market for that, absent lake views and on relatively small lots, isn’t so great. The Great Recession didn’t help either. The first phase of 14 lots is mostly built out, and the second phase was approved and shows up on town maps, but no construction has taken place. The village has been aware of a project in the works since at least February.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the property listing for the land, which was on Zillow for quite a while – I recall a figure around $850-$950k. The property falls in the village’s medium density residential zone, Cluster zoning means the lots themselves are smaller to preserve natural space. However, the maximum number of units is the same as maximum allowed by regular zoning – 40 acres in sewered Lansing village MDR means up to 87 units, if I’m doing the math right. Not sure if single-family, townhome or otherwise, so keep an eye out for a follow-up.

2. For sale, 15.31 acres off of Wellsley Drive in the village of Dryden. Sewered, watered, and originally planned for 36 homes but never approved. Price of the land $149,900.

Here’s maybe the more interesting part – this borders Maple Ridge. Maple Ridge’s first phase is built out, and the developer, Paul Simonet, would like to build the roads and lay out phase two (and eventually phase three). However, the village’s issue is that there’s only one entry and exit into the development – something they’ve been hesitant to sign off on because of possible safety/access issues.

Now, this may have already been resolved – the village of Dryden has only updated their website twice since February, with legal paperwork for keeping fowl – but if not, there’s the option of buying the Wellsley Drive property and routing a road through there. Maybe $150k plus the extra road work isn’t in Simonet’s price range, but it’s at least an option.

3. The village of Trumansburg commissioned an independent study from Camoin Associates (the same folks who did the Airport Business Park study) looking at the financial impacts of 46 South (formerly Hamilton Square) on the village. I’ve been told this wasn’t public yet, but it’s on the village’s planning board webpage, so I dunno about that.

Quick refresher: 73 units. 56 affordable, 17 market-rate. 6 affordable rental townhomes, 40 apartments, 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, and 17 market-rate units, single-family and townhome style. 140 residents at full buildout in 2023, assuming one per bedroom.

Here’s the TL;DR on the finances. The net income to the village itself is -$23,757/year when fully built out. The unfortunate truth of residential development is that, frankly, people have needs. They use roads, they call police and fire, they use municipal power lines and water pipes and sewer mains. It is not offset by the village’s share of property taxes, here in this mixed-income example, or in the vast majority of cases. This is a reason to advocate housing density, because the impacts on, say, building new roads or infrastructure is often less per unit.

On the flip side, the school district, which makes up a greater share of the property taxes, sees a net increase of $97,669/year when fully built. Tax revenue more than offsets the expenditure of approximately 33 new students. Not everyone living in has a child, but everyone pays school taxes. This money not only helps the district, the incoming students help ameliorate concerns that declining enrollment may soon lead to consolidation with a neighboring district.

Economic impacts can be broken down into three components – the construction jobs, long-term operation/maintenance, and growth induced by the new residents, who will not just live locally, they will also shop, dine and spend money in the village. There will be an estimated $18.17 million spent on construction, $1.45 million will be spent within the County, creating 20 construction job-years in total (note there are multiple guys on site once, the project is expected to be fully complete within five years), and nearly $695,000 in total earnings. Operation/maintenance in perpetuity creates the equivalent of two jobs, creating $60,732 in earnings and $229,782 in sales. The households will spend nearly $1.7 million yearly within the County, which will support 20 total jobs with over $676,500 in earnings per year. In other words, $2 million spent in the county, 22 jobs and $737,500 in net new earnings from having those 140 more residents in the village.

By the way, if one was inclined to read 289 pages of public comments about 46 South, that can be found here. The project will be discussed at the village board’s meeting Monday evening.

4. Let me note this before I forget again – Park Grove’s Bomax Drive Apartments have started construction. The first two strings of 10-unit, three-bedroom townhomes are expected to be completed by Spring 2019. I’ll make a site visit soon for a longer write-up.

5. Meanwhile, the Triphammer Row townhomes are on pause until the road situation gets worked out. The village won’t sign off on using M&T Bank’s parking lot as an entry route, and the Sevanna Park condos don’t want to allow access to the 15 units through their private road. As a result, the village is seeking to have the road turned over to them, in part to encourage this for-sale plan, and in part because will ownership of the entry road to Sevanna Park will allow them to install better curb cuts and traffic control.

6. Here’s a for-sale property with some small-scale redevelopment potential, this one in the city of Ithaca. A dilapidated house is for sale at 815-17 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. thanks to unsympathetic additions, the historic value is marginal. A buyer could restore it, or if interested, since it’s a double-lot, they could split the lot in two and do a two-family home on each property. Given other recent projects in the area such as 202 and 204 Queen Street and 128 West Falls Street, it appears to be an opportunity to do some modest densification keeping with Fall Creek’s fabric without upsetting the community too much in the process. The property is for sale for $269,000.

7 Let’s tie this up with something intriguing. Next week, the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee is being asked to support a grant application by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to the New York Main Street (NYMS) grant program. They are seeking $322,500 from the state to leverage work on four downtown projects – a commercial project in the Clinton House, a commercial project in the Boardman House, a “commercial and housing project” at 108 West State Street (the Ithaca Agency Building), and a 12-unit development by Visum Development in the West State Street Corridor. Any rehabbed housing units will be required to be 90% area median income for at least five years, but I dunno if either housing plan has existing units, I think the Ithaca Agency Building was all office space. STREAM Collaborative just moved into the second floor, so they would know best.

Quick postscript here – there’s nothing but an outline according to the DIA’s Gary Ferguson, so no Voice writeups for a while yet.





News Tidbits 2/10/18: It’s In The Minutes

10 02 2018

1. It’s round four of the senior housing proposed as part of the Lansing Meadows PDA. This time, developer Eric Goetzmann is proposing two six-unit strings, two stories, all units two-bedrooms with enclosed garages. The Lansing Star notes that the site plan is very unusual in that all the housing is clustered at one end of the property, leaving a big vacant space that could in theory be sold off. Apparently it also caught the Lansing village planning board’s attention.

“It just looks too obvious,” said Planning Board Chair Mario Tomei. “There’s got to be some other thought going through your head about what that green area is going to be. Are you willing to share it?”

Goetzmann replied, “I don’t have anything, Mario. I need to get these 12 built. To get these things done, and then I’m going to be done with this. I don’t have any other plans for the future. I’ve listened to what you’ve said. I’ve never pushed anything. The last plan I brought here was 100% within the code. If I wanted to come back and fight it I could have done that. You had a reaction to it, and I understand. I do commercial development, not residential. But I agreed to it as part of (the overall plan to build BJ’s). I made a commitment to get these things done, and I want to get them done.”

That much is correct. The county IDA granted Goetzmann a tax abatement on the construction of BJ’s in 2011, on the provision of the wetlands and senior housing being built. After several extensions, the IDA had told him no more, the housing either starts this year, or they’ll consider him to have breached their contract. So if Goetzmann doesn’t start work on the senior housing soon, they’ll consider legal action, possibly a “clawback” on the abated taxes. As a result, this has a whiff of desperation, although the vacant land is still a question mark to just about everyone. The planning board will continue to review the plans later this month.

2. So here are a few other interesting little tidbits out of the village of Lansing:

– At the Crystal’s Salon and Spa site at 2416 North Triphammer Road, there is an early concept plan being considered for redevelopment into mixed uses with about sixty housing units. There are wetlands on the property, which the developers (as yet unknown) have said will be avoided. Zoning for the property is Commercial Low Traffic (CLT), which allows multi-family housing with a special permit. CLT is otherwise limited to office space and low-traffic operations, non-retail and non-food service. The spa might be permitted as a “clinic” health facility, the code’s a little vague at points. Crystal’s is 3.42 acres, which seems a little small for a Lansing project, though not impossible, and it’s certainly more plausible if it includes the vacant 5.61 acres next to it. Maximum height is 3 floors/35 feet., no limit on lot coverage so long as it meets setbacks and parking requirements.

1020 Craft Road, a former manufacturing facility, is being renovated by Marchuska Brothers Construction for a medical office tenant. Pyramid Brokerage has a site plan concept sketch up on their website.

The 140-unit Bomax Road apartments plan had a litigation hearing on February 2nd. It appears the developer of the proposed complex has won? If so, the plan could legally move forward.

Cayuga View might be a summer or even an early fall opening, rather than Spring 2018.

3. Over in Dryden, not a whole lot going on at the moment. The town will be reviewing the plans for Nick Bellisario’s second warehouse at 57 Hall Road. The 10,800 SF structure is a 60′ x 180′ x 20′ pole barn with a corrugated metal finish, garage bays, four parking spaces and some modest landscaping. It’s designed to complement the 12,000 SF warehouse next door, which is used by Tiny Timbers for manufacturing the components of their modular home kits. However, it’s not clear if there is a tenant in mind here.

4. It appears that there’s been some movement on the Cornell North Campus dorms. From the Student Assembly’s Campus Planning Committee fall notes:

Aspiration – 2000 new beds, 275 new freshman/year for 4 years

Process

  • Housing Master Plan will be shared with CPC in two weeks
  • Early site review: North Campus the area of focus – existing freshman and number of sophomores, and area with developable sites
  • RFP Process: 24 developers, 9 responses,  interviewed 4
  • Cornell funding decision: this will be owned and operated by Cornell
  • Fee developer to construct
  • Board of Trustees approved this early portion of the process over summer

Paul Stemkowski, serving as the North Campus Housing Expansion project manager reported:

  • We have a developer
  • Site analysis has commenced, reviewing municipal zoning and boundaries in the site areas, natural features, and a noted historic district   
  • Phase 1: proposed as 800 beds on CC Lot (1200 beds initial studies) 4 and 5 story buildings and new dining element
  • Sophomore and freshman villages
  • Appel Fields: housing proposed here for 3 to 4 stories

Timeline: August 2020 goal for phase 1 phase 2: 2021

Phase I will open spaces for deferred maintenance work- Balch Hall needs lots of restoration, rehabilitation

So, we’re looking at 4-5 floors and at least 800 beds in multiple structures on what is CC lot (the leftmost blue patch in the map), and 3-4 stories in multiple structures on the Appel Fields (rightmost blue patch). It will be Cornell owned and operated, but that makes the RFP part a bit confusing – tapping someone to build and sell Cornell the final product, or what exactly? If August 2020 is the goal, then summer 2019 is probably the hard deadline for a construction start, so expect formal site plan review to begin this fall at the latest (sooner if an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is expected by city planning staff). The only commercial component appears to be new dining facilities, though they are considering additional carryout food service options. No new parking will be added, and work on the Helen Newman Hall athletic facility is not a part of the expansion plans.

The October minutes cover plans for the College of engineering, with a gut renovation of Hollister and demolition of Carpenter Hall and Ward Labs. However, these appear to already be outdated, given Cornell’s state-funded plans to renovate Ward into the CEPSI+ business incubator.

5. Lansing is finally getting that sewer line, though it won’t be along North Triphammer Road. According to the Lansing Star, the new sewer will go along East Shore Drive and Cayuga Heights Road because it appeared more feasible, and gave the village of Lansing an opportunity to reconfigure a difficult intersection. The current treatment facilities are not far from maximum capacity, and as a result, the village is expanding the lot size needed for a single-family home with a sewer connection, from 30,000 SF to 45,000 SF (just over an acre). An unsewered lot requires 60,000 SF. for the record.

Relevant to this blog, the line will terminate at a trio of lots under development or redevelopment in the town – the RINK, which is adding a climbing wall, as well as the 117-unit and 102-unit English Village and Cayuga Orchard housing developments. The village mayor, Donald Hartill, says the sewer project is in good financial shape, and that a revised land survey will allow final engineering to commence, ultimately leading to construction later this year.

 

6. City Harbor updated its website with additional info. Most of it has been shared previously, but the developers note that the project would create 120 new jobsGreenstar would be responsible for about 60 of those positions, while Guthrie, the waterfront restaurant and a few management/maintenance roles would compose the rest.

7. Not a whole lot going on at the moment. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will host its monthly meeting next Tuesday evening to continue consider of historic designation of the Nine, and provide design guidance to a smaller proposal for the adult co-op planned at 314 West State Street. The original nine-bedroom proposal was considered too big to adequately defer to this existing historic building, so the structure was reduced to a similarly-designed six-bedroom building.

Meanwhile, the city planning board will host its Project Review meeting next week as well, but only two projects are on the agenda – Novarr’s revised College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue (on the Voice here) and the Stewart Park inclusive playground.





News Tidbits 8/12/17: Two Kinds of Rehab

12 08 2017

1. It looks like some Trumansburg residents want to build a recreational complex. According to the Ithaca Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, for the civic group Trumansburg Community Recration, “{t}he ultimate goal is to build a recreation center, soccer fields, baseball fields, a youth football field, a skate park, and a pool to the community. The first phase of the project would be building the sports fields and possibly a recreational campus. While the group is still searching for space for these amenities, it is raising funds through grants and donations. The fundraising goal right now is $750,000.”

Along with private donations, the community advocacy organization is seeking state funds, which state law requires be obtained via municipal entities, i.e. the village, school district, town and county. It’s not that governing bodies have to commit money, they just have to express support and sign off on applications, and allocate the awarded funds if/when they are received.

Phase two for the non-profit would be a community center, likely a re-purposed building, and phase three would be a pool, which is garnering significant community attention. Although the group hasn’t committed to a location (the rendering is completely conceptual), it is examining the feasibility of different sites in and around Trumansburg. Interested folks can contact or donate to the group here, or sign up for emails if they so like.

2. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has finally received the money from a July 2016 grant award. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) will be using it toward a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created. Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

While the location is quite rural, the nature of the facility (rehab, focus on opioid abuse) is getting pushback from at least one town board member who doesn’t want it in the town (link, scroll down to 7-25-TB minutes). The plan has yet to go before the Ulysses planning board.

3. INHS made its name on home rehabs, and it looks to be making a return to its roots. The non-profit developer is asking the IURA for $41,378 towards the renovation of an existing 3-bedroom house on 828 Hector Street, which will then be sold to a low-moderate income family (80% AMI, about $41,000/year) and locked into the Community Housing Trust.

The project cost is $238,041. $152,000 to buy the foreclosed property from Alternatives Federal Credit Union, $8,000 in closing/related costs, $60,000 in renovations, $5,000 contingency, $8,141 in other costs (legal/engineering), and $4,900 in marketing/realtor fees. The funding sources would be $144,163 from the sale, $15,000 from INHS’s loan fund (to cover the down payment for the buyer), $37,500 in equity and the $41,378 grant. A for-profit could renovate for cheaper, but federal and state guidelines say INHS has to hire those with a $1 million of liability insurance coverage, which takes many small contractors out of the equation.

Side note, the city’s federal grant funding disbursement was dropped by $50,000, because HUD is an easy target in Washington. Luckily, Lakeview decided to forego its grant funds because they found the federal regulations unwieldy, which freed up a little over $43k to move around to cover most of the losses.

4. Speaking of Hector Street, it looks like Tiny Timbers is rolling out a pair of new spec plans for two lots on the city’s portion of West Hill. The house on the left, for 0.27 acre Lot 1, is a 1,040 SF 2 BD/1BA design listed at 187,900, which is a good value for a new house in the city. 0.26 acre Lot 2 is a 3 BD/2 BA 1,370 SF home listed at $222,900. Taking a guess based on the lot sizes, these are the wooded vacant lots west of 920 Hector. There’s a third vacant lot over there, but no listing yet.

5. On the city’s Project Review Committee meeting agenda, which is the same as the memo…not much. Lakeview’s 60-unit affordable housing project on the 700 Block of West Court Street will have its public hearing and determination of envrionmental significance, the last step in SEQR and the one before preliminary approval. Same goes for INHS’s 13-unit project on the 200 Block of Elm Street.

Apart from related or minor zoning variances and review of proposed historic designation in Collegetown for the Chacona and Larkin Buildings (411-415 College and 403 College), the only other project for review is 217 Columbia, Charlie O’Connor’s. Which, as covered by my Voice colleague Kelsey O’Connor and by Matt Butler at the Times, did not go over well, though Charlie seemed willing to change plans to avert a firestorm. From a practical standpoint, I’d imagine he’s much more focused on his much larger 802 Dryden Road project, and this is small if hot potatoes. The 6-bedroom duplex (three beds each) is designed by Ithaca architect John Snyder.

My own feeling is that a moratorium isn’t the answer, but if they wanted to roll out another TM-PUD so that Common Council gets to review plans as well as the Planning Board, then so be it. My issue with moratoriums is that local municipalities do a terrible job sticking to timelines and have to extend them again and again. Plus, there are projects like the Ithaka Terraces condos, or the new Tiny Timber single-family going up on Grandview, that aren’t the focus of the debate but would be ensnared by a blanket moratorium.

Meanwhile in the town, the planning board discussion for next week will mostly focus on the NRP Ithaca Townhouses on West Hill. The revisions will be up for final approval, which would allow NRP to move forward with their 2018-19 Phase 1 buildout (66 units and a community center). Phase II (39 units) will follow in 2019-20.

6. In sales this week, the big one appears to be 808 East Seneca – 5 unit, 4,125 SF historic property just west of Collegetown in Ithaca’s East Hill neighborhood. List price was $1.575 million, and it sold for modestly less, $1.45 million, which is well above the $900,000 tax assessment. The sellers were a local couple had owned the property since 1982, and the buyer is an LLC formed by the Halkiopoulos family, one of Collegetown’s old Greek families, and medium-sized landlords with a number of other houses in the area.

Perhaps more intriguing is the sale of 452 Floral Avenue for $100,000 to home builder Carl Lupo. The vacant 4.15 acre property had been the site of a 30-unit affordable owner-occupied project back in 1992, but given that the Ithaca economy was faltering in the early 1990s, the plans never moved forward.

7. A quick update from the Lansing Star about the Park Grove Realty lawsuit. While the Jonson family of developers may have lost the village elections by a large margin, their lawsuit accusing the village of an illegal zoning change to permit the project has been reviewed by the state’s court system – and they lost. The state supreme court ruled the zoning change was perfectly legal, appropriate to the revised Comprehensive Plan, and accusations of negative impacts on the Jonsons’ Heights of Lansing project are overblown and speculative.

The Jonsons intend to file an appeal, and have to send in their final draft by September 5th. At this point, the project is left in a waiting pattern – the village is leaving the public hearing open until the appeal is resolved. If the appeal overturns the ruling, than the project can’t proceed regardless of village approval. Given the basis for the initial ruling, an overturning seems unlikely, but it will be a few more months before any approvals can be granted.





News Tidbits 4/15/17: Good and Bad Decisions

15 04 2017

1. It looks like the Lansing Meadows issue is being resolved. Village mayor Don Hartill has issued a sort of mea culpa for not sending the project to the Planning Board before inviting it to the Village board of Trustees, saying the Planning Board was caught off guard and it was his and the village attorney’s fault. So the project will visit the Planning Board with Hartill and developer Eric Gortzmann on hand to answer any questions the planning board might have. A workable solution is possible – the planning board isn’t necessarily opposed, they would prefer more housing but could be willing to hear out a commercial component so long as it’s set back from the road and screened from the homes by foliage. Optimistically, the cafe/diner and twenty senior housing units might be good to go within a month.

2. The Biggs Parcel is up in the air. There have been no offers since going on sale last July, and the contract with realtor CJ DelVecchio has expired. The county has decided not to renew while they weigh options. Options being weighed for the three-month hold include a smaller housing development on eight of the acres on the corner of Indian Creek and Harris B Dates Drive, and/or a solar farm, which may split neighbors between a low-intensity, eco-friendly project, and losing a portion of the woods so that the solar panels could operate. There is no plan for another Cayuga Trails-type project like what NRP proposed before the discovery of more extensive wetlands convinced them to cancell the project in September 2014.

3. The town of Ithaca has selected its firm of choice to conduct the economic development study and strategic plan for its Inlet Valey corridor southwest of the cityConsultEcon, Inc. of Cambridge, in partnership with Behan Planning and Design of Saratoga, was selected from six applications. Behan has previous experience in the area; in fact, they won an award for their work on the 2012 Varna Master Plan over in Dryden. The town will pay $30,000, and the state will pay $30,000 through its Empire State Development division. Although not state in the town agenda, I believe the time frame to perform and submit the study is six months.

According to Ithaca town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, the goal is to turn Inlet Valley from an auto-centric hodge-podge with no overarching character, to a semi-rural neighborhood with an agribusiness, “artisanal industrial”, and tourism focus, capitalizing on Ithaca Beer and the existing and proposed lodging. The Sleep Inn proposal submitted a potential rustic streetscape that gives an idea of the aesthetic the town seems to be going for.

4. From the PEDC, the Southside housing plan is ongoing, and the IURA has hired their new planner after Lynn Truame left for INHS. There was considerable discussion over the Waterfront rezoning, with general conceptual support, although the First Ward councilors are not fans of mixing housing with light industrial areas, or forcing businesses to compete with housing developers for waterfront sites. Councilwoman Brock (D-1st) was opposed to housing in the Cherry Street Corridor. The proposal was granted by vote the permission to circulate for review and comment, so there’s still time for thoughts and opinions to be contemplated and discussed.

5. On another note, many of the speakers at the PEDC meeting were there to speak out against the City Centre project at 301 East State Street, not because they didn’t like the building (well, most of them), but because it didn’t have affordable units, which they felt should be a requirement for abatements.

I support that to a degree, but I’m also aware that, all other things equal, the revenue loss from the affordable units has to be made up for somewhere, usually by passing the costs on to the other tenants. In that case, the city ends up with a lack of units for those with middle incomes. I like the idea of modestly more generous zoning as a tradeoff to the inclusionary housing component, but as a proposal, that didn’t go over so well – developers didn’t like it (because to build more they need bigger loans, so it hurts smaller developers), anti-development folks didn’t like it (because affordable or not, it’s more of what they don’t like), and there was significant uncertainty on whether it’d be effective.

The county IDA had its vote for the sales/mortgage/property tax abatements the following day, and they decided to grant the abatements 5-1, with legislator Will Burbank opposed. The 192-unit mixed-use project is expected to begin construction with the next couple of months, for an early 2019 completion.

6. Once in a while, you get a project so despised by neighbors, they decide to run for office as single-issue candidates – namely, to stop the project. That’s what happening in Lansing village. Mayor Donald Hartill and two incumbent trustees, Ronny Hardaway and Patricia O’Rourke, are being challenged in the May election by mayoral candidate Lisa Bonniwell and two trustee candidates, Gregory Eells and John LaVine. Their goal is to overturn the rezoning of the Park Grove property on Bomax Drive, which rezoned commercial/tech office space to multi-family, enabling a 140-unit apartment project to move forward with planning board review.

This is not the first time something like this has happened in Lansing. When the Lansing Reserve affordable housing project was proposed in 2011, two residents opposed to the project, Yasamin Miller and Brian Goodell, ran against incumbent trustees on a single-issue platform of stopping the project. They lost by 2:1 margins, but Lansing Reserve never moved forward, and since then the land has been bought by the village for park space.

Although in a Voice capacity I can’t formally take sides, I have big issues with the challenger’s platform. I’m not a big fan of the Park Grove as a project, but the rezoning makes sense. As the county’s airport business park study demonstrated, the demand for new commercial and industrial space is very limited, while from the Denter study, it is clear the demand for housing is quite strong (5,000 units in the next decade). It amazes me that the challengers are saying the project will lower property values in a village with substantial price appreciation and major affordability issues (but as noted by the Star, Bonniwell’s family developed the expensive and still incomplete Heights of Lansing project nearby, so she has a vested interest in limiting housing).

Not only that, in the interview with the Lansing Star, challenger LaVine suggests the village should look at eventually merging with the town of Lansing, which is completely contrary to the village’s formation in 1974 as a reaction to the mall, when residents demanded for stricter zoning that the town didn’t want to accommodate. The town has much looser zoning than the village. If voters think for one moment that the town wouldn’t seek to change zoning in the village to build up the tax base and cope with the likely loss of the power plant, they’re in for a rude surprise.

7. On the agendas, nothing too exciting this week. The town has a couple of telecom towers and a 600,000 gallon water tank for Hungerford Hill Road. Over in the city, it’s project review week, but zoning variances suggest another nicely-detailed garage from STREAM Collaborative (STREAM does really nice garages), a couple of home additions, and a new 1,695 SF house at 412 Worth Street in Belle Sherman designed by Jason Demarest. The property is a flag lot that straddles the city-town line, so it would be neigh impossible to do anything without a variance. Ulysses will just be discussing zoning, and the other towns and village will be doing their regular meetings later in the month.

 





News Tidbits 11/12/16: Oof.

12 11 2016

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1. Starting off this week in Lansing, the village has okayed a zoning change that would allow the planning board to move forward with consideration of a 140-unit upscale apartment project on Bomax Drive. Neighbors came out to oppose the zoning change for the 19.5 acre parcel from office park business/tech to high-density residential, saying it would create additional traffic and hurt property values. The village board, however, responded in dissent, noting a lack of housing, a fit with the 2015 village comprehensive plan, and that this was about the zoning and not the project, which the planning board will critique as a separate action. The zoning change was approved unanimously. Park Grove Realty is now free to submit plans to the village, and planning board review will go from there. Expect it to take at least a few months.

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2. A couple quick notes from the town of Ithaca – Therm Inc. has commenced construction on their 20,000 SF addition at their South Hill plant. It’s a few months later than originally anticipated, but underway nevertheless. The $2.5 million project is expected to create 10 manufacturing jobs, according to the county IDA.

Also underway at this point is the renovation and expansion of the Rodeway Inn on Elmira Road. The plans call for expanding the existing 25 motel units, adding 2 new units on the ends of the main structure, and renovating a house on the property for a 1,146 SF community room to serve guests. Landscaping and lighting would also be updated. The town pegs the construction cost at about $679,000.

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3. Here’s some good news – it looks like someone has taken up the Iacovellis on their offer of a free historic house at 341 Coddington Road, providing that the taker moves it. It appears NYSEG was creating some hangups since the power lines have to be moved out of the way (NYSEG is infamously difficult to work with), but with any luck, the house itself will be saved. My colleague Mike Smith is doing the legwork on a story, so hopefully more details on the “buyer” will come forth shortly.

4. Back in July, several West End properties owned by an out-of-area LLC hit the market. Now, at least one of them has sold. The duplex at 622 West Buffalo (blue in the map above) was sold for $90,000 to a gentleman from suburban Syracuse. Immediately after, paperwork was filed with the county for a $179,145 building loan courtesy of Seneca Federal Savings and Loan, a small regional bank out of Syracuse. The paperwork does not indicate if it will be renovations/additions to the existing building, or a new structure (sometimes the sale price is a part of the building loan, but in this case the buyer paid separately, with $171,187 set aside for hard costs).

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5. Sticking with county filings, the construction loan for the third phase of the Village Solars was filed with Tompkins County this week. $6 million is being lent by Tompkins Trust to fund construction of 42 units, 21 in each building. Initially they were slated to have 18 units each, but because the three-bedroom properties don’t have quite the same appeal as smaller one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) has broken up the units without significantly changing the exterior appearance and layout. Actual Contractors LLC, another Lucente company, is the general contractor, with Albanese Plumbing, T. U. Electric, and Bomak Contractors (excavation/foundation) rounding out the construction team.

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6. This is one of those unusual months were the city projects memo and the project review meeting agenda go out in the same week. Apart from the Collegetown Townhouse project, there are no new projects being presented, but there is new information and new renders.

In the projects memo, Novarr’s project is the new shiny, while Amici House, the8-unit project at 607 South Aurora and City Centre are being carried over as old business. Regarding City Centre, it doesn’t look like any particular points of contention have been raised by city planning, the framework for mitigating Historic Ithaca’s design complaint is already included, and most of the other requests are for more information/paperwork. From the Design meeting, it looks like the debate on the townhouses project is minor, mostly with where to locate the trees out front, and window details. They will not be putting windows into the north face because it’s on the lot line, but they will vary the materials for visual interest. The Design Committee requested that City Centre insert more windows in some areas, and less signage, as well as consideration of decorative elements to highlight the curved facade facing Aurora and East State Streets.

The project review committee meeting has all of the above, plus updated submissions from the Maplewood project team. Although no substantial development will occur in the city, the Maplewood project crosses municipal boundaries and the city has deferred to the town for lead agency. The meeting will also have a few zoning variances to comment on. The only notable zoning variance is for local realtor Carol Bushberg, who wants to do a one-story 812 SF rear addition at her office at 528 West Green Street, which is in a WEDZ zone and requires two floors.

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Looking at the Maplewood submission, the new dormer/gable style will be for the building strings that front Mitchell Street, and the two strings most visible from Walnut Street. More modern designs will be used for the remaining structures. Looking closely, the designs do vary from string to string, which will give the site some character and additional visual interest. The project timeline is pretty tight with submissions, meetings and approvals, aiming for preliminary approval from the town on December 20th, demolition to start immediately thereafter, and final site plan approval by January 3rd.

For links, here’s the Collegetown Townhouse updated submission, engineering narrative, site plan render, and cross section render. Here are the updated materials for 607 South Aurora (no significant changes, just a summary of submission materials),  here’s a new site survey for Amici House, and the project update for Maplewood.

7. Meanwhile, there’s nothing too exciting on any of the town boards next week. Lansing town will consider additions to a self-storage facility, a one-lot subdivision and a climbing wall facility next to The Rink. Ithaca town will be conducting their own analysis of Maplewood, and a one-lot subdivision.

Now, after this week’s election news, one might wonder if this has any impacts on local housing/development. Arguably, there are a few. Expect federal funds for affordable funding to be cut drastically, and grants for mass transit projects to also take a major hit. While those are major losses, the state has far greater control, so there will still be some funding available, but definitely not as much as would have been expected under a Democratic administration. Most land use and building issues are decided at the local level, so don’t expect significant impacts there.

More of a question would be infrastructure investments. The president elect wants to launch a massive rebuilding program, but the Republican Senate majority leader has already said that’s not something they’re interested in, so we’ll just have to see if he can force it through or not. If there’s any silver lining to all this, it might come in some form of deregulation, but while he might be a fan of urban environments, most of his cabinet will likely not. We also have to keep in mind the disdain for elite colleges like Cornell, so research funding, and the economy built off it, is probably going to take a hit. For the Ithaca area, the change in administrations is likely a net negative.





News Tidbits 10/29/16: Envision Small Spaces

29 10 2016

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1. The heated debate over the Park Grove project in the village of Lansing continues. The primary opposition to rezoning continues to be the Jonson family of Ithaca Home (Forest City Realty / IJ Construction), and residents of their Heights of Lansing development at the end of Bomax Drive. Reasons cited include loss in property values, increased traffic, and slowing the completion of their own project.

Pardon the incredulity when hearing about property value concerns in a community with well-documented property appreciation. Furthermore, only two houses have been built in the Heights of Lansing development in the past couple of years. Since the project first launched in 2006, they have sold 17 townhouses and homes, in a development that planned for about 80. They’ve been moving at a snail’s pace for years, and it;s hard nothing to do with the zoning of nearby property. Another angry speaker asked why Lansing has to shoulder the county’s housing burden, but it’s not just Ithaca that has housing issues. In short, while I’m critical of this specific proposal, the zoning change makes sense. The board may consider a zoning change at its November 7th meeting.

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2. Thanks to the county planning department, we have a little more information about NRP Groups’ revival of the Holochuck Homes project on West Hill. It appears Tompkins is intending to award $300,000 in Community Housing Development Funds to the development team. The CHDF funds go towards affordable housing projects intended for households making 80% of Area Median Income or less (AMI is about $54,000/year, so roughly $43,000/year and less). It looks like 89 of the 106 units in this townhouse proposal will qualify for the funds; most likely the other 17 will be priced in the 80-100% AMI range. Like 210 Hancock and other larger projects, units typically aren’t restricted to one specific income bracket, there tends to be a mix of lower and lower-middle incomes. It also appears that Arbor Housing and Development, an affordable housing developer based out of Corning, will be partnering with NRP Group on the project. Ithaca would be new territory for Arbor Housing, whose next closest site is an apartment building in Odessa in Schuyler County.

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3. Looks like Tiny Timbers is one step closer to reality. The property at 5 Freese Road, once known as “Mt. Varna”, was sold on the 25th by Nick Bellisario to “VTT LLC” for $184,122.59. Presumably, VTT is short for Varna Tiny Timbers. Bellisario and co-owner Otis Phillips had purchased the land for $90k in 2006, and considered a couple different development plans for the site, including a 20-unit modular townhouse project for the site several years back. The land was most recently assessed at $100k. Philips is bowing out of ownership, but county documents show Bellisario and Tiny Timbers creator Buzz Dolph are co-partners in the LLC. The 15-unit Tiny Timbers project will be hosting an open house Saturday the 29th, and may be considered for final approval by the town of Dryden in November.

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4. Up on Ezra’s former farm, a hefty donation will finance the renovation of Noyes Lodge into a campus welcome center. The family of trustee Marvin Tang ’70 is donating $3 million to partially finance the creation of what will be the Marvin Y. Tang Welcome Center, pending approval by the Board of Trustees. The gift responds to a challenge grant created by mega-donor Atlantic Philanthropies (funded by Charles Feeney ’56), which offered up to $3 million in matching funds to donations towards the new welcome center – so with $6 million secured, the renovation’s financing is secured and will be able to move forward. Cornell has long considered a reception and exhibition space by the gorges, having mulled over but ultimately backing away from a plan penned by architect Richard Meier in the late 1980s. Tang, now retired, was a venture capitalist based in Hong Kong, and the regional chairman of a recruitment firm for business executives.

The Noyes Lodge, a 9,100 SF building that opened in 1958 as a womens’ dining hall, is currently used for language classes and training. Those functions would be moved into newly renovated space in Stimson Hall. JMZ Architects of Glens Falls, a favorite of the SUNY System, will be the design firm in charge of the renovation and re-purposing. The exhibition space will be the work of Poulin and Morris Inc. of New York City. Cornell plans to open the new welcome center by Summer 2018.

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5. There seem to have been some changes to the Village Solars project up in Lansing. According to the newly-uploaded planning board minutes, the site plan has been revised from 174 units to 206 units, but most of that is tied up in unit reconfiguration. Reaching out for specifics, here’s the response from Rocco Lucente the younger:

We have found that the micro unit floor plans are very, very popular and the three bedroom units have been the only units we’ve had any problems with getting rented in a timely manner (like most companies we like to be rented out by the end of Cornell’s season if possible), so we will be modifying the three bedroom floor plans to become micro units and our new junior one bedrooms, which are slightly larger than the micro unit and includes a separate bedroom and living room/kitchen area. The total number of bedrooms goes up very, very slightly and the square footage should remain relatively unchanged.”

The micro units he’s referring to are the units created during phase two, when two larger units were split into smaller units as a sort of testing of the waters – apparently it worked out quite well. It’s worth noting that three-bedroom units had the highest vacancy rate in the Danter study. We’ll see if this creates significant design changes, but one thing’s for certain, it drives up the unit count per building – for instance, Building M, slated to be built in the next phase, has increased from 17 to 24 units.

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Modern Living Rentals has started advertising units for 201 College Avenue. Business partner Visum is shooting for August 2017, which will be a very quick pace – hopefully William H. Lane Inc., the general contractor, is up to the challenge. With heat included in the rent, a three-bedroom will run anywhere from $3,250-$4,170/month, a two-bedroom for $2,170/month, and a one-bedroom with top-floor patio access will cost $1,670/month,  which puts it pretty close to the high end of the Collegetown market. The “New York City-style loft apartments”, as the ads boast, come with such building amenities as a high-end gym, media lounge, bike room, and high-end security system. Apartment amenities include full furnishings, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, in-unit dishwasher machines, washer and dryers, 16′ ceilings, and cargo nets. Yes, cargo nets – they extend from the bedroom and over the living room, and are billed as “the perfect place to relax and study”, capable of holding up to five people. I asked architect Noah Demarest about them, and he said the idea came from developer Todd Fox, and that examples can be found on Pinterest.

Meanwhile, Charlie O’Connor’s three-bedroom two-family houses underway on Old Elmira Road will be ready by February, and come in at $2,100/month per unit.

 

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X. For those who might be interested, sign up for the Tompkins County Housing Summit can be found here. Attendance is free, and comes with a meet and greet on the night of Wednesday November 30th at the Greenstar workspace (“The Space”), and a day-long summit on Thursday December 1st (attendees can choose whether to attend one or both). It appears that there’s a wait-list already for the Thursday summit, but the Wednesday night reception still has space for new registrants.