Perdita Flats Construction Update, 1/2020

19 01 2020

Let’s start this off by taking the broader view. Climate change is real, and is increasingly harming our natural and built environments. In order to mitigate the worst of its effects and help ward off a potential global crisis, it is necessary to limit our environmental impacts. Building construction and urban planning is a major part of that, by using sustainable materials, construction practices, and following planning initiatives to limit the carbon footprint and wasted resources of older conventional approaches.

Ithaca and Tompkins County have approached this enthusiastically, though with mixed success. There is a robust environmental movement in the community, and many of them choose to practice what they preach, at least in their homes if perhaps not so much their site plans (case in point: Ecovillage, while well-designed structurally, is located so far from most goods and services and relies on vehicular travel and creates elevated infrastructure costs for installation and maintenance – in effect, “green sprawl”). Cornell Cooperative Extension maintains a database of local examples of sustainable housing.

One of the areas that has been severely lacking in truly sustainable housing, however, is the multi-family housing segment. The vast majority of eco-conscious housing built in Tompkins County is one-family or two-family. However, these are often on larger lots on the fringe of the urban boundaries of the Ithaca area. This has its limitations, not just the “green sprawl” issue, but affordability concerns related to land costs and single-family home construction costs. Given that it’s more environmentally efficient to invest in communities where infrastructure is in place and where goods and services allow for multiple transit options other than a car, it’s really crucial to demonstrate workable multi-family options, maximizing sustainability and demonstrating that it can be cost-efficient for a builder/developer to be green. But apart from a few examples like EcoVillage’s TREE apartment building, there are few local structures that really showcase what can be done these days with respect to sustainable building multi-family design and construction, especially in an urban setting.

Perdita Flats is an attempt to show that it can be done. In scale, it’s nothing particularly impressive. The site is an undeveloped lot at 402 Wood / 224 Fair Street, previously a double-lot with the neighboring house at 404 Wood (in fact, I noted its development potential when the lot was subdivided). The building itself will be 3,524 SF, three stories with a total of four market-rate units on a 36′ x 36′ footprint with a wrap-around porch. There will be one three-bedroom unit, one two-bedroom unit and two one-bedroom units – in other words, “missing middle” infill, smaller multi-family of similar unit density to many inner ring urban neighborhoods. (Apparently, the three bedroom is being reduced to a two-bedroom, but this was a very recent change.)

The building, a work of local firm STREAM Collaborative, is designed to fit in with the older homes in the neighborhood by using visual elements like the porch and the gable roof. The exterior will be finished out in natural shiplap wood siding and black standing-seam metal siding.

Where the building really shines is with its sustainability features – this is a net-zero project, meaning that all the energy it uses is provided by renewable sources. Energy-efficient features include a rooftop solar array with on-site battery energy storage, simple square shape, super-insulated building envelope (double stud wood framing and triple-pane low-e fiberglass framed windows), maximized natural daylighting through window placement and light-reflective paint, high-efficiency appliances, plumbing and fixtures, air-source heat pumps, low-emissions and non-toxic natural materials and finishes, and rainwater harvesting. To put it in perspective, the Ithaca’s Green Building Policy in the works requires a score of six points for approval, and this project would earn 17 points. The landscaping will include a shared garden plot, new sidewalk, and native greenery.

The project is the work of Umit Sirt and Courtney Royal. The husband and wife pair are staff of Taitem Engineering, a local engineering consulting firm that specializes in energy efficiency and the use of alternative (renewable) energy sources in building projects. Putting that knowledge to use, the couple recently built a net-zero energy home for their family in Ulysses — net-zero meaning that all energy produced comes from on-site or nearby renewable resources.

To give a rough timeline, Royal and Sirt bought the land for $70,000 in June 2018. The Perdita Flats project was first proposed in February 2019 and approved in April. The project sought and received a zoning variance on parking, two spaces instead of the four required, to allow for the garden space, and a reduction in the rear year setback from 20 feet to 10 feet, to better accommodate the garden and solar panels. To those fretting about the parking deficiency, on-site bicycle storage is provided as part of the project, and the Fair Street location has easy access to both stores on Meadow Street, and to Downtown Ithaca. Apart from the occasional Carshare use, life without a car here would be plausible.

The site plan review document estimated the development costs at $520,000. NYSERDA, the state’s energy sustainability agency, awarded the project $70,560 as part of its Buildings of Excellence program. Instead of the traditional hazardous refrigerants used for the internal circulation within electric heat pumps, Perdita Flats will use a more advanced carbon dioxide-based system (yes, CO2 isn’t good in large quantities, but it’s much less harmful ounce-for-ounce than refrigerant). To quote the application, “(i)n virtually every way, this building will be an example of what is possible for new construction in terms of reduced energy use and a complete lack of reliance on fossil fuels.”

Royal and Sirt’s colleagues at Taitem Engineering helped with the mechanical and plumbing design. The construction manager will be Mike Carpenter, along with the developers themselves. In case you’re wondering, Perdita is “a mythological child who brought a love of the natural world to humans”, according to the project’s website. (At this time, the website is mostly bare except for the landing page.)

At the site, not much has happened yet, though it looks like some trees were cleared. A project of this modest scale should take a half year or less once ground is broken.

 





Maguire Ford-Lincoln Construction Update, 1/2020

18 01 2020

The new exterior cladding is going up on the renovated and expanded Maguire Ford-Lincoln at 504 South Meadow Street. Generally speaking, the materials consist of Alcoa ribbed aluminum panels on the back and sides, Alpolic aluminum panels on the front, and painted panels on the old service wing being retained and incorporated into the renovation. For automakers, aluminum panels are often the desired finish of choice because it projects a clean, modern image, and automotive sales are all about pushing the latest and greatest technologically-advanced four-wheeled machines out onto the roads. You can see on the rear wall how rails are attached to the exterior wall, and the panels are attached to the rails above the sheathing. (The reason why the facade wasn’t finished out in that section is because they’ll be installing an awning atop the ribbed panels.)

Many of the windows have yet to be fitted, and the old service wing is still sheathed in Tyvek housewrap while it waits for its exterior panels given the way it was flapping in the breeze, the contractor might want to use more fasteners). The curved “airfoil” feature with the Ford blue oval has yet to be installed at the front entrance, but there are spaces on either side of the entrance that suggest where it will be attached to the main structure. The Lincoln logo will go above 2×3 black aluminum swatch on the northeast corner next to the entrance, as requested by Ford corporate design guidelines. Initially, the plan was to have an exposed concrete masonry base, but late in the review process they upgraded to stone veneer, which lends a more upscale and aesthetically pleasing appearance to the structure. It does look like some windows were changed or deleted when compared to the last set of drawings from review, but minor fenestration alterations are typically a minor enough change that re-review isn’t warranted.

According to a filing with the Tompkins County clerk on January 13th, CFCU Community Credit Union is lending the Maguire Family of Dealerships $5,362,500 to fund the renovation and expansion. This is unusually high; the Site Plan Review estimated the cost of the project at $1.5 million. The loan notes that fees and other expenses mostly related to the mortgage total $1.788 million, which still lends a very substantial $3.574 million towards the construction project itself, to be paid out in six payments, and all except about $12,000 of that going to the general contractor, G.M. Crisalli & Associates of Syracuse. The terms of the agreement stipulate a completion no later than July 1st.

Background information and project details can be found here.





Library Place Construction Update, 1/2020

17 01 2020

Library Place is making progress over at 105 West Court Street (the new mailing address; guess we should stop saying 314 North Cayuga Street now). The concrete masonry unit (CMU) northeast elevator/stair tower has topped off, and it looks like part of the northwest tower is being assembled now. The square holes above the lower levels of the tower are most likely slots for structural steel. If I’m reading the floor plans right, a third stair tower will be constructed along the south wall of the building. The concrete foundation footers have been poured, and a CMU foundation wall is being assembled; the pink materials along the outside of the wall are lightweight polystyrene insulation boards, Owens Corning Foamular from the looks of it. I see a work truck on site for subcontractor Gorick Construction of Binghamton, but rather surprisingly there’s no signage around for general contractor LeChase Construction.

Signs along the perimeter fence advertise a Spring 2021 opening for the four-story, 86,700 SF building. Prices for the 66 senior housing units are not yet available. Amenities will include a restaurant, à la carte home health services from an on-site agency, community room, courtyard gardens, workout facilities, warming pool, and underground parking. Senior services non-profit Lifelong will provide on-site activities and programs.

More information about the history of the project and its stats can be found here. The project website is here.





Cayuga Flats Construction Update, 12/2019

31 12 2019

Apologies for the blurry pics, near sunset and rain are a tough combination to work with.

Non-profit housing developer Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s (INHS’s) next major construction project to get underway in the city of Ithaca isn’t so much a new development as it is a replacement for existing housing. The $9.2 million INHS Scattered Site Preservation Phase 2 project involves the renovation or redevelopment of 29 existing rental units at 203-209 Elm St., 111 W. Clinton St., 406 S. Plain St., 227 S. Geneva St., and 502 W. State St., including six units of housing for special needs households. Most of the projects are renovations, except for the 203-209 Elm Street project at the base of West Hill, which will replace the existing structures on-site with a new 13-unit apartment building. Most of the units will serve households making 30-60% of area median income.

The Elm Street properties have been under INHS ownership since the mid-1980s, and INHS more recently purchased the single-family home at 205 Elm Street (which is tucked back from the street). Plans for the new housing were announced in April 2016, with the advertisement of an open house for West Hill residents.

As quoted at the time, the older four-unit building at 203 Elm Street had already been vacated. “203 has had serious structural issues for the past five years. 203 is settling too much, and we decided it wasn’t safe to rent . It would also be very expensive to fix, we could build a much higher quality new building for the same amount of money,” said INHS Senior Developer Joe Bowes. My understanding is that the issue stemmed from critical flaws with the settling of the foundation. 207-209 Elm Street is a 9-unit apartment building that had been renovated in the 1990s but was in need of further work, and INHS’s cost-analysis found that a new construction would cost about the same in the short-term, and less over the longer-period since it would have new utility systems and a stabilized slope.

The new build here would be a 12,585 SF, 13-unit apartment building, two stories from the front (northwest) and three from the back (southeast), further downslope. Now, you might notice that 13-units of housing is less than the 14 units already present on the three properties. That’s intentional, and was done to minimize potential blowback from neighbors.

Of the 13 units, ten will be one-bedroom units, and three will be two-bedroom units. The building’s design, penned by Rochester firm SWBR Architects, is a fairly modern look with fiber cement siding with wood-like fiber cement and masonry accents. I’ve never been sure which render I have on file is accurate since INHS uses one dated from April 2016 on their website and the project was only 12 1-bedroom units at the time, and a 13th unit and a few more bedrooms were added during review. I suspect the elevation drawing I have below is the more accurate one.

Engineering-wise, the project will be built on a 5″ concrete slab resting on a vapor barrier and compacted stone base, with concrete masonry unit (CMU) or poured concrete walls and footings. This foundation wall will also serve as a retaining wall. The floord above will be a traditional lightweight wood frame common in low-rise multifamily construction. Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing systems were designed by Fuegel Engineering of Syracuse. T.G. Miller P.C. of Ithaca did the civil engineering, and Seeler Engineering P.C. or suburban Rochester did the Environmental Site Assessment.

The project was approved in October 2017. Located in R-3a zoning (less-dense multifamily), two zoning variances were sought and granted for the Elm Street housing – one for six parking spaces vs the required thirteen, and another for a rear yard setback so that INHS can build a two-tiered retaining wall instead of one very tall retaining wall.

As with most affordable housing, funding for the project is a rather complicated mix of federal and private funds. Unlike market-rate housing where construction costs are typically covered by the developer and a commercial lender, the low return on investment for lenders leads affordable and supportive housing to seek alternative funding to cover the financial gap so that construction can begin. Affordable housing financing is like a puzzle, to be put together from a variety of public and private funding sources, from bank loans to tax-exempt bonds to tax credits, and all these different sources have to fit together in a certain way for maximum financial leverage. Funding for Cayuga Flats includes $5,364,532 in Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs, you can read about how those work here), $1,639,911 from the NYS Housing Trust Fund Corporation, $100,000 from Tompkins County Community Housing Development Fund, awarded in 2018, $194,014 from a NeighborWorks grant, $228,662 from the City of Ithaca’s federal HUD HOME and CDBG 2019 Allocations, and INHS is providing funding in the form of a Seller’s Note for $1,340,000, and deferred developer fee for $14,774. The project is fully taxable.

At present, interior demolition and the first stages are site prep are underway. Exterior demolition will follow once any asbestos has been abated and the buildings are safe to come down (I think this is a demolition and not a deconstruction). Build out will take about 12 months.

 

 





Ithaca Tompkins International Airport Construction Update, 12/2019

29 12 2019

With the new Customs and Border Patrol station opening this spring, the airport will be able to receive charter flights from Canada, so that makes it an “international” airport. The other news outlets popped in for opening day, and these photos are from a couple of days before, which gives an idea of the mad dash construction crews were doing to have everything ready in time. Give a hand to Streeter Associates and their subcontractors for getting the job done.

The $34.8 million expansion and modernization includes a larger terminal, six new passenger gates and three new boarding bridges (for a total of four), upgraded dining, seating and amenity spaces, tech improvements, a solar canopy system in the parking lot, and a 5,000 square-foot customs facility outside the main terminal. The expansion creates about sixteen new permanent jobs and is expected to provide a boost in tourism and general business revenue. When your community is “centrally isolated” from the main highways, it helps to have a top-notch airport.

The sources of funding for the $34.8 million project include $14.2 million in state funding, $10 million in federal funding and $10.6 million from Tompkins County. The total is well above the $24.7 million initially estimated, so the additional costs are being covered by the feds and as the Ithaca Times reports, a small fee on all tickets through the airport.





3105 North Triphammer Construction Update, 12/2019

28 12 2019

S.E.E. Associates/Andy Sciarabba’s new office building at 3095 North Triphammer Road was approve for construction last spring and started construction this past fall. What’s there right now is the basic frame of the building, a fairly utilitarian clear span one-story wood-framed design with a large gable roof atop an insulated concrete slab. A projection of the front eave will give space for porch columns and smaller gables advertising five of the seven tenant spaces being built in the 9,600 square-foot building, and the exterior will be finished out in vinyl siding and cast stone veneer. Also included are landscaping improvements, stormwater facilities and parking for 48 vehicles. Alternative/renewable energy sources, likely air-source electric heat pumps, are being explored for the project.

The commercial spaces are intended for either office or commercial retail tenants. The $500,000 project is expected to be completed by next spring. Per an email from Sciarabba that came in after the Voice article:

“We have signed 1 (unnamed) office tenant already, 1300 sf and have a verbal commitment from another tenant, a primary and acute care physician. We can accommodate up to 7 tenants and we are using air source heat pumps. The shell should be ready for tenant fit up in January with first occupancy about March. Our goal is to bring services to this part of Lansing which currently do not exist. We are very flexible as to tenant sf size since the bldg is clear span.”

Local architect George Breuhaus is the creator of the design, and Lansing construction firm D Squared (Doug Dake and Doug Boles), who just wrapped up the construction of the Boathouse Landing project, are in charge of the buildout.

 





Arthaus Ithaca Construction Update, 12/2019

23 12 2019

For Vecino Group of Springfield, Missouri, Ithaca is a match made in heaven. It’s a nationally-known firm with two specialties – affordable housing and student housing, two things that a college town struggling with affordability issues would seem to be a perfect fit for.

Vecino has made a concerted effort to break into the Northeastern United States in the past few years. Among the developments it has pursued are Asteri Utica, Mosaic Village in the Capital Region city of Cohoes (“Kuh-hos”, as living in the Albany area has taught me), Intrada Saratoga, Libertad in Elmira and the 444 River Lofts and Hudson Arthaus in Troy. Perhaps the most well known proposal to Ithacans would be the 218-unit Asteri Ithaca planned for East Green Street Downtown.

There is a logic to the naming. Vecino projects identify segments of their target market through the project names. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. Muse is the student housing, Talia provides housing and services for those recovering from domestic violence, and Libertads offer housing to formerly homeless veterans. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing. The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. The housing will be available to anyone who meets the income requirements. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. 130 Cherry Street, where the project is located, was developed for commercial use in the late 1970s, according to documents filed with the planning board, and operated as an automotive repair facility for the last 20 years, AJ Foreign Auto.

The city planning board were on board with it from the start. Plans call for a five-story, 97,500 square-foot building. Among the features are support service office space, a community room, a gallery/studio (in partnership with the Cherry Arts, according to state docs from October) and a fitness room. It’s about 123 units (48 studio, 55 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing, 50-80% of area median income, plus a one-bedroom unit for the property manager for 124 total. A breakdown of units and rents is at the end of this post and on the NYS HCR website here. Forty units (the ESSHI grant units in the rental breakdown table) will be set aside for young adults aged 19-26 for formerly foster care and homeless youth, and administered by Tompkins Community Action.

Along with the housing, the building would include parking for about 36 vehicles within and outside the building ,and 7,748 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. Also included is space for 52 bikes and 4 motorcycles, and access to Ithaca CarShare. The exterior will be finished out in light grey, medium grey and red fiber cement panels, with the internal courtyard areas having white stucco finishes. The ground level will have dark grey fiber cement panels and dark grey masonry.

A public promenade will run along the west side of the property next to the waterfront, pending approval from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The project was designed by Vecino’s in-house team, BW Architects and Engineers (remember, they’re a big firm that can afford to have their own architecture team). The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design, to give it a unique local flair. The project will be built to state (NYSERDA) “Performance Path for Energy Star” standards for sustainable housing (Tier II, >25% energy savings above code). The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

The project pursued and has been awarded a PILOT agreement from the Tompkins County IDA. The PILOT request included a one-time sales tax exemption request on building materials, a one-time mortgage tax exemption on the mortgage recording fee, and a non-standard property tax abatement request. In lieu of the typical seven-year or enhanced ten-year abatement, Vecino asked for and received a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement that would save them about $3.54 million off the lifetime of the tax deal. With the sales and mortgage tax exemptions, the total tax savings comes to $4.54 million, with Arthaus still generating an additional $3.73 million in new tax revenue over the life of the PILOT (note that the $3.73 million figure does not include existing tax payments, and is calculated using the current property taxes as a baseline; the PILOT would not eliminate existing property tax revenue, it reduces the rate of new tax revenue growth). The total project cost is $31,948,378. The PILOT approach has been used previously, with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

Neighbors to the site were generally supportive of the plan, while the council members who represent the site (George McGonigal and Cynthia Brock of the First Ward) were not, deeming it too big and too much of a concentration of affordable housing. The Arthaus project was approved by the city in April 2019.

NYS Homes and Community Renewal docs say $14,078,249 is being provided in a HCR Supportive Housing Opportunity Program (SHOP) subsidy loan, and $10,871,535 from Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Vecino is only pursuing 4% credits vs. the more lucrative and harder to get 9% credits, which made obtaining financing easier – it pays to be big and be able to leverage cost efficiencies elsewhere. The tax credit and loan package was approved by the state in October.

Alongside Vecino on the project team are Fagan Engineers of Elmira doing the civil engineering work, local firm Taitem Engineering as energy consultants, and Ithaca’s Whitham Planning and Design for landscape architecture and community outreach. CRM Property Management of Rome (Oneida County) will manage the property on Vecino’s behalf.

With the fence and dust guard up, it seems plausible that this project’s in site prep, taking apart the old body shop and readying the site for excavation and foundation work. December was the approximate date given for a construction start back when it was approved, and the plan is to open for occupancy in late summer or early fall of 2021. 150 construction jobs and four permanent jobs will be created by the Arthaus project.