News Tidbits 4/28/2018

28 04 2018


1. Let’s start with a quick summary of the Planning Board meeting. Generally, it was no big deal. As the Times’ Matt Butler and the Journal’s Matt Steecker relay, the revised City Centre plans were generally acceptable, though in light of the recent Toronto vehicular mass causality event, some concern was expressed about having outdoor spaces without protective bollards in place. Gee, and we all thought runaway trucks were bad enough. It seems the board was also not happy about the “Dark Ash” color on the Hilton, whose revised color palette I called “the embodiment of an Ithaca winter” in last week’s post. Everything else pretty much moved forward to next steps in the approval process with only minor commentary.

I have it on good word next month’s meeting will be more interesting, but let’s see if I eat those words in a few weeks.

2. A pair of news notes courtesy of the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport. For one, the airport is being pressured by airlines to lengthen the Jetways to accommodate larger planes (sorry to thefolks to the email blast, I initially wrote runways). That’s actually a good problem to have in that most airport opt to expand in an effort to lure traffic, they don’t usually have airlines asking them to please expand so they can bring more passengers in and out. Longer Jetways, or jet bridges (apparently Jetway is trademarked the way Kleenex is) allow larger aircraft to be serviced at the terminal.

The other bit is kinda related – Ithaca is a destination for national and international travel, thanks to the colleges (researchers, students and their families) and tourism. The county is also one of the very few east of the Mississippi whose largest minority group identifies as Asian descent, and over 9,000 students at the local higher ed institutions identify as Asian. The county is hoping to grow its share of Asian and especially Chinese international visitors, since they spend an average of $15,000 when visiting the United States, and local businesses would like to encourage their local patronage.  A welcoming event is planned for May 9th, as well as cultural welcoming training and events.

The initiative is being paid for with a $30,000 grant from the local tourism board, as well as money from other organizations like the airport. The airport benefits not just from the travel inbound and outbound, but airlines base their needs on the entire travel route – the more international an airport’s clientele, the more lucrative it is per seat for an airline. That’s a big reason why airlines tend to favor Ithaca-Tompkins for retention and expansion over Elmira-Corning and Binghamton’s more domestic clientele.

3. Let’s take a look at what went on the market this week. For the potential homebuilder, the 9.75-acre “Brian Lane” subdivision in the Eastern Heights neighborhood in the town of Ithaca. To quote the listing from Howard Hanna RE (courtesy post from First Tioga Realty’s Roger Katchuk):

“Prime Development opportunity in one of the great sub divisions in the Ithaca market, Eastern Heights. Area of nice homes. Minutes to Cornell & Ithaca Colleges. Minutes to down town Ithaca. Preliminary approval and document work done by developer with the Town of Ithaca.”

The back story behind this is that it was the larger half of a single-family housing development that never got off the drawing board. The Frandsens, who developed much of Eastern Heights, have owned the land since the 1960s, and developed it out in phases, with John Street being the last major addition. The unapproved plan back in 2007, and then the approved version in August 2012, was to develop this parcel out into sixteen lots, a stormwater lot and a street (called “Brian Lane”, which is a “paper road”. Although originally approved in July 1986 with John Street, a good chunk of Eastern Heights was never built out as intended, but the proposed roads are still shown on maps). The other half was “Edwin Lane”, a six-lot subdivision which also never got off the ground. A neighbor actually did what pro-development folks say neighbors should do if they don’t like a project – make an offer to buy the land. They did, it was accepted, and the land was reconfigured and sold to the town for use as a future park, hence the thin red lot reconfiguration lines in the tax assessor’s map above. There were concerns about the steepness of Brian Lane and the length of the cul-de-sac, though nothing that was insurmountable.

For context, while there has not been any recent attempt to develop the land to the east, the land to the south of the property has been for sale for a few years, and marketed for development potential – in fact, the 26-unit concept sketch shows single-family home lots on Brian Lane. In theory, a very proactive developer could buy both.

However, while the 9.2 acre Slaterville parcel comes with a house (1564 Slaterville Road) and is going for $949,000, the listing price here is only $295,000. For reference, the 2018 Assessment value is $121,100.

By the way, random fact of the week – although she now lives in Penn Yan, NY-23 congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano served for ten years in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the town of Ithaca Planning Board.

4. Now for the other notable new listing of the week. 501-507 South Meadow Street in the city of Ithaca is back on the market. This would be the second time it shows up on the blog. The first was when CFCU bought the 0.63 acre parcel for $1,555,550 back in March 2015. At the time, CFCU planned to eventually redevelop it for its own needs, likely a new headquarters. However, that plan was cancelled when they decided to renovate and move into Bank Tower on the Commons instead. Being excess property they no longer have use for, they’re putting it on the market for $2.49 million, a hefty markup from what they paid. The tax assessment is not so lofty – only $1.2 million.

The one-story, 9,203 SF of strip-style commercial space has housed offices and restaurants, and is in the city’s flexible SW-2 zoning. Mixed-uses allowed, with pp to 5 floors/60 feet, 60% lot coverage, and the only required setbacks are rear yard (10-20 feet depending on parcel). It definitely has potential for something interesting. We’ll see what happens.

5. Let’s take a look on the flip side of the sales coin- actual sales. Visum Development Group’s Todd Fox sold the first building he ever built this week, a duplex on South Hill. Click the link to Visum’s Facebook account for one of those “bootstraps” kinda stories about how he had little money and little idea if it would pan out.

Fox definitely got his money’s worth. 644 Hudson Street and 211 Columbia Street to rental investor Suzanne Roberts for $835,000 – substantially more than the combined assessment of $700,000, but the sale takes into account rental income potential, especially 644 Hudson, which is a stone’s throw from Ithaca College. Being newer buildings (2010 and 2012) also helps, since there’s no long-term deferred maintenance to speak of.

Flash forward to the present, and Fox’s company Visum, by one measure the fastest growing business by revenue in upstate NY, has construction valued in the tens of millions underway, with much grander plans. No doubt the money from this sale would help pay the upfront costs to carry some of the incubating projects through the design, engineering and legal/project review phases.

6. Here’s a quick rundown of planning board items from around the county. The town of Ithaca’s PB will be reviewing a plan to create three new home lots on Orchard Hill Road on West Hill, and a “reaffirmation of SEQR determination” for the Sleep Inn just getting underway at 635 Elmira Road. The reaffirmation is because the zoning variance expires in a couple of months, and that was a close vote they’d rather not repeat. Nothing has changed with the project itself.

Over in Dryden, a few minor projects will be up for review. The United Auto Workers wants to purchase 1495 Dryden Road and do a pair of small office space additions totaling 816 SF that would require board approval. A concept plan will be shown for a “development idea” for 44 acres next to 1502 Ellis Hollow Road that would create an ~10 building, 5-7 dwelling “small-scale intentional community within an ecological paradise“. Some market-rate some affordable at 80% area median income, passive solar timber frame/straw bale homes, micro-enterprise (farm stand) options with minimal land disturbance. The question to be discussed at the meeting is whether for-sale lots under conservation zoning or leased space works better. A contractor yard wishes to expand with a new pole barn and parking at 1756 Hanshaw Road (to be reviewed in May) and Camp Earth Connection at 63 and 129 Hammond Hill Road would like to build a 600 SF cabin for bunking, and potentially 6-8 more small cabins and a small lodge over the next several years. Camp Earth Connection is a hybrid of a campground, a retreat center and passive recreation facility.

Ulysses and Danby have some minor lot subdivisions, and Ulysses also has review of zoning language for an outdoor boating sales and storage operation.

 

 





News Tidbits 12/9/17: Not Enough Time in the World

9 12 2017

1. The good news is, Maplewood is progressing. The bad news is, it is not progressing fast enough. A combination of bad weather (rain-outs), and staffing issues. The weather delays had been so bad (with rain 2.5x monthly normals in October) that some subcontractors walked away to take other jobs – while the ~200 Maplewood construction jobs are quality union labor, it’s been difficult to get a full week’s work in. It’s a Monday-Friday job; with a rain-out, they lose a day in the week. That means they also lose out on a day’s pay. Over the past year, 37 days have been partially or fully rained out. A provision in the subcontractors’ contracts allows them to leave for other jobs id the issue becomes too severe, so some have done just that. Not hard feelings, just a tough situation for everyone.

Now about 25 days behind a very tight schedule, EdR and LeChase are asking to be allowed to regularly work 8 AM – 4 PM Saturdays. The town is open to this, but wants more documentation before signing off. So, expect a six-day workweek during the winter and spring. The goal is still to deliver the $80 million, 872-bed project by July.

2. The Seneca Street Garage is “showing its age”. As the garage is now about 45 years old and is designed to last about 50 years, some components are starting to deteriorate. The city has constructed some shoring posts to keep the concrete pillars relatively stable. They are not at risk of collapse, but the tension cables, which are used in combination with rebar to provide for a heavy-duty concrete structure with fewer columns, are starting to wear out. Decades of salt, water and corrosion will do that.

The city will lose about 20 parking spaces from the life-extension measures. The Times is reporting that the city hopes to get another ten to fifteen years out of the garage, and hope to have a plan for replacement parking in place within ten years. That could be a demo and rebuild of the garage, or it could be something more substantial, like the Green Street Garage project. It’s something to mull over now, but there are no big decisions planned anytime soon. Perhaps a Seneca Street rebuild with mixed uses ends up being one of the big urban developments of the late 2020s.

3. A development site on West Hill has exchanged hands. As covered previously, Bella Vista was a planned 44-unit condominium project on Cliff Street that was approved in 2007, and never came to fruition. The site it was proposed for, an 11.71 acre property at 901-999 Cliff Street, was put up for sale in December 2015 for $395,000. Finally, it has been sold.

The developer, Mauro Marinelli as Primary Developers Inc., sold the land to American Blue Sky Holdings LLC for $330,000 on the 5th. The LLC is owned by local businessman Greg Mezey, who previously bought the 12,000 SF medical office building next door at 821 Cliff Street for $945,000 in February 2015. Since then, he and realtor Ryan Mitchell have undertaken some modest building and site improvements. As Red Door Rentals, they own and manage a few apartment houses with a total of about 25 bedrooms.

So what does that portend here? Good question. Watch and wait, for now. The Bella Vista project could still be built, but it must be re-approved by the city of Ithaca, since project approval is only good for two years. Zoning is R-3a, primarily residential uses with up to 4 floors and 35% lot coverage. Parkin is one space per unit or three bedrooms (whichever produces more), and small-scale commercial is allowed with a special permit. The site’s topography is a challenge, but the size of it and its proximity to downtown and the West End make it an interesting opportunity.

4. It looks like the first phase of Dryden’s Maple Ridge subdivision has just about filled out. For owner/developer Paul Simonet, it’s been a long time coming – the development launched right before the recession in 2008, and development didn’t really take off until the economy recovered. In 2013, there were three houses. By November 2014, only four houses had been built, with a duplex underway. Now, there are ten homes, and just about all one of the home lots have been sold. Some of the lots in phase one were combined by buyers.

Interesting, many of the homes built in Maple Ridge are modulars – I half-jokingly suggest that Carina Construction take prospective buyers through here to show them the variety of options one can pursue with modulars. It looks like this latest build on Applewood Lane will also be a modular – the foundation is built (note the dark Bituthene membrane for moisture protection), and the pieces will be trucked over and craned and assembled shortly, if they haven’t been already.

Ultimately, Maple Ridge is supposed to be three phases and 50 lots, and phase two will have about 29 lots, and since these are larger, they’re less likely to consolidated as phase one’s were. Given the need for a new road and infrastructure, sales seem unlikely until well into next year. The village minutes (the few they upload) does show that Simonet is actively pursuing the second phase.

It also answers a question from last week – the Elm Street office/warehouse complex will be the new home of the Ithaca Ice company, after some modest renovations.

5. The Lakeview affordable housing plan for the 700 Block of West Court Street, now called “West End Heights” was selected to receive a $100,000 grant from the inter-municipal and Cornell affordable housing fund (CHDF), but the funds will be delayed a little bit because they need to be moved into the 2018 budget, as the check will be going out in 2018.

6. The latest phase of the Village Solars (the reconstruction of 102 and 116 Village Circle) is being built with a $6 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust Company. The agreement was uploaded to the county’s records on the 7th. The contractor is “Actual Contractors LLC” with an address at Stephen Lucente’s home on the lake – it’s their in-house construction crew. Albanese Plumbing will be rigging sprinklers, heating and water pipes, T.U. Electric will be doing electrical and fan installations, and Bomak Contractors of Pennsylvania is the subcontractor for excavation, bedding and foundation work. Apparently Larry Fabbroni, the consulting architect, charges $90/hour for design work, while engineering/surveying is $107.50/hour.

102 and 116 comprise 42 units (24 and 18 units respectively), but if you’ve been reading the construction updates for the project, then you already knew that. The loan says both buildings have to be completed by August 15th, 2018.

7. Not a whole lot going on at the moment. Lansing town will be hosting a Planning Board to look at a telecommunications tower, and three new 1-acre home lots to be carved from a larger lot off East Shore Circle. The city’s project review meeting is so slim, they didn’t need to attach any files – just the old business with the Sophia House addition on the Knoll, and that’s it. The city Board of Public Works will be looking at plans for a new inclusive playground at Stewart Park.





News Tidbits 11/18/2017: Fears and Hopes for the Future

18 11 2017

1. Here’s an interesting sale – a 62.1 acre parcel on Troy Road sold for $380,000 on the 13th, less than half the original asking price. The buyer, “Troy Heights LLC”, is registered to the same address as Giora and Limor Fix, a semi-retired husband and wife couple who have acquired a number of rental properties around the area over the past decade, with 43 or so units worth something in the ballpark of several million dollars (units are marketed by the Fixes under the name “Homes-for-you Rental Properties”).

The Troy Road property is intriguing because there was a development proposal floated there a few years ago. Rural Housing Preservation Associates LLC had proposed a 130-unit combination of middle-market single family homes, townhouses and small apartment buildings for the site back in 2014; it started as 206 units, the town and neighbors complained it was too big, the project was whittled down to 130, and then the proposal was cancelled by September 2015. Using cluster zoning, the project could have built out 145 units in the low-density residential (LDR) zone, since the town’s cluster zoning allows 2.3 units/acre. STREAM was in charge of the project design, and some of the renders of the never-built apartments can be found here on their website.

So here is a log lot, bought by folks involved in local real estate and with significant assets, under the name “Troy Heights”, which sounds like a project title if anything. I reached out to Giora Fix, and he was kind enough to respond:

“[C]urrently we do not have any concrete plans to develop Troy Road. Once we have them I will be happy to share with you.”

So something to keep an eye on, though it might be a while.

2. Here’s a piece of news from the Times’ Nick Reynolds. With regards to the police consolidation debate, the city wants to have the headquarters downtown on Green Street (likely in that proposed centralized government facility floated for the Central Fire Station site), while the towns would prefer something near the current BPW on the north end of the Northside neighborhood, which offers easy access to Route 13. Consolidation is still a rather unlikely prospect at this time, and there’s little enthusiasm from the more rural parts of the county. But it sounds like the sheriff is keen on killing the city’s ideas before they take off.

3. Bad jobs month for the state, good for Ithaca. The Ithaca metro (Tompkins County) added 1,800 jobs (all private sector) from October 2016 to October 2017, bringing the total to 67,800. The 3.2% increase was the largest gain by percentage in the state over the time period. Unfortunately, the state as a whole lost 11,900 jobs last month, which falls even more to 14,600 jobs when taking away those added by the public sector (government jobs). A study from the Federal Reserve Bank last month notes that upstate economic growth in general has been losing steam over the past year, with exceptions for Ithaca and Albany. New York City is performing reasonably well.

While it’s well and good that Ithaca is doing well, I have concerns about the recent tax reform bill going through Congress. With the potential hit to SALT deductions and the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers, I could see significant negative impacts on the local economy. Given that most communities have property taxes in the range of $2500-$4000/$100,000, a cap of $10,000 as proposed by the House would hit many middle-class and upscale neighborhoods hard. A typical home in Ithaca city is worth about $230,000-$270,000 range at this point, and with about $3779 per $100,000 in property taxes, that means that homeowners with properties valued over $265,000 will take a financial hit, close to half of the homes sold. The Senate’s version removes the SALT deduction completely, affecting all local home buyers. Either case would be a severe blow to the home buying market.

Another concern is the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers as proposed by the House plan. Speaking from experience, I had a waiver that saved me about $14,000/year at the public university where I did my master’s. In my case, seeing that taxes would have cost an extra couple thousand in theory, though the doubling of the standard deduction might have limited its impact on me. A Cornell graduate student is looking at $20,800-$29,500, and could see a tax bill larger than any savings from the standard deduction increase. The Senate version does not tax tuition waivers. Another, lesser factor to consider is that the student loan interest deduction for borrowers on-time with their payments would be eliminated.

On a final note, Cornell’s endowment would be taxed an extra 1.4% under the House bill, as would any college whose endowment is worth more than $250,000 per full-time student. Cornell’s endowment is $6.8 billion, and the school has 23,016 students across all campuses as of Fall 2017. That is over the allowed cap of $5.75 billion as calculated by the bill’s guidelines.

The long story short is that Cornell recruitment takes a hit, as does its endowment, and that could impact current employment as well as future hiring. Politics aside, these “reform” bills are definitely a cause for concern from Ithaca and Tompkins’ economic standpoint.

4. A separate note not so much economic, but something many Ithacans care about – the House bill takes away the historic building rehabilitation tax credit. The renovation of 310 West State Street that I reported in the Voice earlier this week would be off the table without them, and the building will likely be demolished if the credits are eliminated. So the impacts aren’t just economic, but perhaps aesthetic as well.

5. This is looking to be a very quiet late November. For the first time in over a year, the town of Ithaca has cancelled two planning board meetings in a row. Meanwhile, in the city, the only “old business” reviews are final site plan approval for the 601 South Aurora duplex, and final approval for the Brindley Street Bridge replacement.

6. So technically, the Request for Proposals went out for the Green Street Garage site. A site tour for interested applicants is scheduled for December 4th, applications are due by January 23, 2018, and no timetable is given for the selection of the preferred developer. The applications are to include a cover letter, application form, description of project team members with relevant experience, proof of ability operate in NYS, good reputation, financial status, marketing plan, tenant management plan, conceptual designs, financing plan and demonstrated capacity to obtain financing, purchase price, project schedule, community impact benefits statement, schedule, and specific concerns (acknowledgement of site issues and plan to resolve them). A $500 application fee is also required.

Obviously, Ithaca Associates LLC has a huge leg up on the competition, since they not only have a plan fleshed out, they own the ground lease under the eastern end of the garage that everyone else would have to negotiate to obtain. About the only legitimate opening to another developer would be for the western and central portions of the garage, though the city’s requests make it such that anyone else interested had better be thinking big with housing, parking, and other site uses. Saying you’d leave things as-is would be an immediate disqualifier. Unless Fox or Lubin are dreaming up multi-story apartment buildings, it isn’t likely many developers will entertain this RFP. This really feels like it’s just the city stalling for time so they can fully absorb the immensity of the 365-unit, $118 million “Village on the Green” proposal.





News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





News Tidbits 8/21/17: Insert Eclipse Pun Here

21 08 2017

1. Quite the sight in the latest Tiny Timbers update. The nascent kit-based homebuilder plans to roll out several new designs, many of which will be incorporated into the 15-unit Varna project on the corner of Dryden and Freese Roads. That brings their total number of home design options up to about 21 or so, in several general styles from four-square to prairie-style to bungalow. It is not clear if the layout will be pre-set at is was with the Belle Sherman Cottages (relatable because STREAM Collaborative designed both), or if it will be left to the buyers.

Tiny Timbers is a bit of a misnomer because the designs are a modest but still sizable 1,000-1,500 square feet, with two or three bedrooms. Prices will be in the mid 100s to low 200s, depending on unit and features. I’d be more inclined to compare them to the starter homes of the 1950s in terms of market appeal and affordability.

Tiny Timbers has yet to get permission to start marketing for the community (the state needs to sign off on all new Home Owner Associations), but marketing has started for some scattered site development on Hector Street in Ithaca’s West Hill, and there is work underway on a few custom builds for landowners in other parts of the county.

2. Last week was not a good showing for the Inn at Taughannock. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals denied the lot variances, the heights variances and even the sign variances. The only one they outright permitted was the height variance to allow a rooftop cupola on the existing inn. The sign variance is kinda weird, because it sounds like they were okay with some individual signs, but not the sum of parts, so they’re doing another meeting.

While this isn’t what owner/developer Carl Mazzocone was hoping for, there were alternative plans drafted that did present an alternative design that, while the same style, fit within the zoning parameters. So this is a setback, but this project isn’t off the table yet.

3. Sure, most readers outside the Cornell bubble avoid Collegetown like the plague, but it’s worth noting when new businesses are coming in. Old Mexico, the restaurant that replaced Manos Diner in Southwest Ithaca, will be opening a modest to-go operation at 119 Dryden Road (Collegetown Plaza) in what used to be a barbershop (at least in my time in the late 2000s). Meanwhile, where the Collegetown tobacco shop used to be at 221 Dryden (Collegetown Center), will now be a “Chinese street food” restaurant called Beijing Jianbing. Best of luck to both. At least restaurants aren’t being driven out of business by the internet anytime soon.

4. In the same vein, it was noted a few weeks ago that a $415,000 construction loan was filed for Hancock Plaza, the strip retail plaza at the corner of Hancock and Third Streets in Ithaca’s Northside. A quick check showed an interior renovation underway with new metal stud walls and sheet-rock going in, and the somewhat uncertain workers said that the storefront next to Istanbul restaurant would be a “medical service facility”.

5. Earlier this month, it was mentioned that a 4.5 acre parcel at 452 Floral Avenue in Ithaca was sold to a local homebuilder for $100,000. Now he’s trying to flip it. The asking price is $239,000. The tax assessment is $68,400.

The real estate ad notes the potential of an R-3a zone, which allows for homes, townhouses, small apartments and small-scale commercial with a special permit. The zoning permits four floors and 35% lot coverage, with a minimum of 5,000 SF per lot for a home, plus incremental increases for additional units.

On a side note, with thanks to the city for uploading about 470 documents from the IURA’s microfilm stash, here’s what the 1992 affordable for-sale proposal looked like for that same property. There appear to be 27 home lots, but a few may have been designed for accessory or two-family units. This gives an idea of what could reasonably be done under the existing zoning, but there are many possibilities.

Side note, I found this by chance. If anyone has time to pick through 470 documents from the 1960s to 2000, more power to you.

6. Also for sale, to the deep-pocketed investor looking for a safe investment – multiple East Hill apartment houses. 5-unit 119 Stewart Avenue for $995,000, a two-family home at 208 Stewart Avenue for $695,000, and $2.25 million for a 23-bed (20 SRO, 1 studio, 1 2-bedroom) property at 717 East Buffalo Street. The Stewart Avenue properties are owned by a Long Island-based LLC representing a higher ed professional now located in Massachusetts, and were purchased just a few years ago – 119 for $625k in 2014, and 208 for $513k in 2012. 717 East Buffalo was purchased by a Brooklyn investment group in 2003, and is taxed at $1.05 million. The positive is that they’re close enough to Cornell to easily take advantage of the student market. The negative is that they are all in the East Hill Historic District, which means redevelopment is off the table, and exterior renovations have to go through the ILPC.

7. Pretty slow month for the Planning Board. Finger Lakes ReUse is seeking preliminary approval for their expansion project and final approval for the warehouse portion. 709 West Court Street, the 60-unit affordable project from Lakeview, will have its DEIS finalized, potentially allowing for city approval in September. There are no new projects though, unless one counts the six-bedroom duplex at 217 Columbia, which is so minor from the state’s perspective that it only qualifies for city review. The Times is reporting that O’Connor is willing to prohibit student tenants, but permanent residents are still opposed to new student housing in their neighborhood.

There could be some interesting discussion at the meeting, not only with South Hill development, but with historic preservation matters. For instance, Student Agencies is upset that they city is likely to landmark its building at 413-415 College Avenue, which it says it had intent on redeveloping. Unfortunately, timing is everything. Likewise, the shoe is on the other foot with the Nines at 307 College Avenue, for which there has been an unpublished sketch plan of a redevelopment project. The ILPC is expressing frustration that it wasn’t landmarked already, but with the development plans already presented, the city would be acting reactively instead of proactively as it’s doing on College Avenue, and that could make the difference if a legal situation were to arise. So while the Chacona Block is likely safe and soon to be under ILPC purview, the Nines will not be protected for as long as the redevelopment plan is active, and the best the ILPC can do is recommendations.

Here’s tomorrow’s agenda:

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

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

A. Project: Mixed Use Apartments – Finger Lakes ReUse Commercial Expansion and Supportive Apartment 6:10

Location: 214 Elmira Road

Applicant: Finger Lakes ReUse

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary Approval Overall & Final Site Plan Approval for Phase 1

Project Description:

The applicant proposes to expand the existing office and retail center with a new +/- 26,100sf
attached 4-story mixed-use building to include retail, office, and 22 units of transitional housing fronting Elmira Road. A 7,435 SF covered outdoor inventory building and a 600 SF pavilion are also proposed. The new parking and loading layout will reduce the number of curb cuts on Elmira road from 5 to 2 and provide 70 parking spaces. An improved sidewalk will be constructed to provide a safer link between the existing pedestrian bridge that connects the Titus Tower property to Elmira Road. The building will have landscaped entrances facing Elmira Road and these will be connected to the new building entrances giving residents and patrons arriving on foot direct access to the street. The project site is in the B-5 Zoning District and has received the required area variance. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (I), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.
Ed. note – the first phase is the warehouse addition for lumber storage. Phase 2 is the supportive apartments.

B. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:30

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:

The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 10,860 SF
and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will contain sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ-1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1) (k) and (n), and the State
Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: Duplex 6:50

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Public Hearing

 

 

Project Description:

The applicant is proposing to install a modular duplex with one 3-bedroom apartment on each floor. The new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5 C.(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (C)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

 

 

  1. Zoning Appeals 7:20
  2. Old/New Business 7:30
    1. A. 412 East State Street – review and sign off on Argos Inn shared parking agreement with 418 East State Street.
    2. B. PB Report on Proposed Local Landmark Designation of 403 College Avenue and 411-415 College Avenue . There will be a short presentation by Scott Whitham regarding 411-413 College Avenue.
    3. C. Development Patterns of South Hill – Discussion
  1. Reports from PB Chair, Director of Planning and Development, and BPW Liaison 8:00
  2. Approval of previous minutes
  3. Adjournment




News Tidbits 7/22/17: Throwing Darts

22 07 2017

1. Let’s start off the week with a little intrigue. A vacant 12.34 acre property on Wiedmeier Court in Ithaca town sold for $65,000 earlier this week – given that it was on the market for five years and marketed for development potential, the sale merited a closer look.

At first glance, it seemed to merit a shrug. The buyer was an LLC that could be traced back to a CPA in the San Francisco area, a woman of retirement age. The profile fits the deep-pocketed subset who might buy a sizable slice of land near Ithaca, and build a home for their retirement enjoyment. Not uncommon in Tompkins County.

Then on Wednesday, the same buyer purchased 114 and 122 Birdseye View Drive from the Cleveland family for $485,000. 122 is a 4-bedroom single-family, and 114 a 3-bedroom single-family. Both are next to IC, nearly new houses in a development otherwise filled with small-scale student housing. So, things just got more interesting. We’ll see if anything comes of the Wiedmeier property.

2. Just briefly touching on Hamilton Square this week – one of the questions I previously held off on addressing was the possibility of the abatement. Although the county has said they’re open to considering affordable housing tax abatements or PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) as part of their housing strategy, housing itself usually isn’t enough to merit a visit to the IDA. But with the addition of the nursery/daycare, it bared similarities to 210 Hancock, which cited its planned daycare center and the new jobs at the center in its PILOT request.

So, I asked what the plan was. Here’s the response from INHS’s Real Estate Development Director, Joe Bowes:

“We are not seeking an abatement from the IDA for the project.  If the day care is a non-profit then it would be tax exempt without the need for an IDA abatement.  The housing does not need the abatement in this case so it will be assessed and will pay property taxes.  210 had other reasons for requesting an abatement.”

Emphasis his. In the documentation on Hancock, the abatement was partially driven by the acquisition cost of the property and the need for a deep pile foundation. The buildings are much smaller at 46 South Street, so a slab/shallow foundation is suitable, and it helps that Trumansburg’s soil is less water-logged and more stable than Northside’s. This results in a lower development cost per square foot, so although they arguably could (and upset the neighbors even more), INHS isn’t pursuing a PILOT or abatement. The only tax savings will be for the eleven affordable owner-occupied units, which will be assessed for what they can sell for within the Community Housing Trust, rather than a market-rate value. This has the county’s support, because taxing a townhouse for double the value of what the lower-middle class homeowner could sell it for undermines its affordability.

3. Here’s an interesting note from Lansing regarding the Cornerstone land purchase. The first phase on 13.5 acres would be 68-72 units. The second phase on the remaining 8.9 acres would potentially host another 72 units. All of these would be affordable. This might cause a backlash as too much, but if one of the phases was general affordable housing, and the other affordable senior housing, then that might negate most of the blowback. Anyway, something to watch for.

On another note, the modified PDA for the Village Solars has a stipulation that the community center/mixed-use building (“F”, green dot) has to be completed by the end of 2020, and only 4 of the 9 other buildings will be approved before the community center is complete. Everything north of Circle North will not be allowed to start construction until the community center is open. This suggests a build-out of #116/#102, 2017-18, #2/#22, 2018-19, Community Center 2019-2020, #117/#36 2020-21, and K, L and M would be built in 2021-22.


4. Laurels and darts. Here’s a dart. The town of Ithaca is seeking to, once again, extend its moratorium on two-family properties. When the law was enacted in early May 2016, it was supposed to be for 270 days, meaning an early February expiration. Then it was extended to the end of July. Now they want to extend it to the end of October, which given the seasonal nature of construction, effectively stops all new two-family properties through the winter of 2017/18.

I’ll be frank. This is not a good look. There were a number of concerns from property owners when the law was proposed for a length of one year, was unfairly long, and the town has not only realized their concerns, it’s exceeded them. The town is establishing a bad faith precedent through what property owners will complain as either being ill will, or incompetence. Part of me is concerned that anyone fighting the town on something, be it zoning, development, conservation or anything, will use this as an example of how the town “can’t be trusted”. I’ve never been a fan of moratoriums, because they end up seeking extensions. Not impressed to have another example to file away.

5. And on that note, the town of Groton just slapped a six-month moratorium on all solar arrays designed to power more than one house or one agricultural farm. No commercial solar, no community solar. Technically, the law also stops wind turbines and gas pipelines, but the Times’ quotes make it clear this was all about solar.

6. The county legislature finally approved a name to the Heritage Center this week. The “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was approved 10-2. The previous vote failed due to a number of absent legislators and pushback for not having enough to consider the name. Legislator Chock D-3rd) initially wanted it named for late legislator Stu Stein, but naming buildings after people has been against county policy since the early 2000s. Legislator McBean-Clairborne (D-1st) voted against it because she felt the word “county” should be in there. This has not been a month where local government engenders confidence.

7. Short but interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting meeting up. The only thing up for final approval is the McDonald’s rebuild at 372 Elmira Road, while INHS’s Elm Street and Lakeview’s West End project are set to begin formal environmental review. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3.Site Plan Review

A. Project: Commercial Rebuild (McDonalds) 6:10
Location: 372 Elmira Road
Applicant:McDonalds USA LLC
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant proposes to replace the existing 4,800 SF restaurant facility with a new 4,400 SF building, construct a side-by-side drive-thru, install new landscaping, a dining patio, lighting, signage and a masonry landscape wall, as well as reconfigure the parking layout. The project is in the SW-2 Zoning District and requires an area variance. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.

B.Project: Elm St Apartments (Rebuild) 6:25

Location: 203-209 Elm Street
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The proposed project consist of the demolition of two single family homes and one
multiple dwelling and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act(“SEQRA”)§ 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: 709 West Court Street (Housing) 6:50
Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709–713 W Court Street
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels LLP for Lakeview Health Services Inc.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprintof 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will containing sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ- 1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(k) and (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

D. 105 Dearborn –Sketch Plan 7:10

This is Bridges Cornell Heights new 16-bedroom independent living building for seniors. If it’s at the Planning Board, that means the ILPC has signed off on the building and site design.

E. 311 College Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This is…curious. 311 College Avenue is The Nines restaurant and bar, and was built in 1905 as fire station No. 9 before the new station opened next door in the late 1960s. The old station was sold off and became the Nines in the early 1970s, and has been under its current ownership since 1980. The top two floors are used for storage, according to county records.

At a glance, it’s a valuable piece of land with a lot of posibilities – MU-2 zoning allows six floors and 100% lot coverage. On the other hand, this is a relative historic property in Collegetown, and development perceived as insensitive will likely see significant opposition. There had been talk by ILPC staff of giving the building historic designation back in February 2016 out of concerns over development pressure, but it seems no formal application was made. So there are options here, but the developer should proceed with caution.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50
#3066, 214 Elmira Road, Area Variance
#3079, 413 Titus Ave, Area Variance

5. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Planning Board Recommendation to Council Regarding Proposed Waterfront Rezoning
B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 403 College
Ave
C. Downtown Wayfinding

6.Reports 8:30
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison





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

15 07 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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