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 6/4/17: The Return, Part II

4 06 2017

1. The solar revolution is happening. Nothing makes that any clearer than putting up one of upstate’s largest solar arrays on land held as part of the Cayuga coal power point.

Just about every news agency in a fifty mile radius got the press release, but the Lansing Star has in-depth coverage. The $25 million project, to be built on 75 acres of the plant’s 434-acre site in Lansing, would create an 18 MW array that would be able to power 3,100 homes. 150 construction jobs would be created, although the permanent job growth is nearly nil. The site is well-suited because it is easy to hook-up to the existing grid, the zoning is appropriate, and Lansing is very keen on growing its tax base – overall, this seems like the right project at the right time. At a glance, this seems to skirt past the 2 MW rule from NYSDEC that limits each project’s size, as some arrays produce as much a 3.3 MW. However, there are nine arrays producing 18 MW, an average of 2 MW each for each array on the Cayuga plant’s property – so it technically meets regulations. It’s not clear if they have to pursue subdivision to make the panels fully legal.

Two potential debates are touched on in the Star article. For one, the project may pursue a solar tax PILOT, which would save a fair amount – instead of paying the property tax of about $770,625 (25 million on a tax rate of $30.825/1,000), they would pay something like $8,000/year/MW, just $144,000. The flipside is that local taxing authorities would not be enamored with such a deal. The second potential issue is that the Cayuga Operating Company was mum on whether they’ll close the coal plant, which is probably going to keep Town of Lansing officials up at night.

2 Fountain Place (President’s House), image courtesy of Ithaca College

2. Ithaca College is in the hunt for a new president’s house. The house at 2 Fountain Place in the city’s East Hill neighborhood was deemed unsuitable because it’s difficult to maintain (it was built in 1892), it has an awkward interior layout, and there’s not enough space to host events (it’s 9100 SF on 1.06 acres). The property was designed by Ithaca’s famous 19th century architect William Henry Miller for lawyer George Russell Williams, and was purchased by the college in 1938. Although future options are still being considered, if this hits the market, we are talking a multi-million dollar sale, but lest anyone be concerned, given its historic designation the possibility of inappropriate alterations or demolition is remote. The most recent work was in 2013 for ADA accessibility at the rear porch, an ADA-suitable bathroom, and air conditioning. With 7 existing bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, it could make for a cool boutique hotel or B&B, if someone doesn’t want a personal residence with venerable grandeur.

While Ithaca College searches for a new residence (pursumably large, newer and on South Hill), incoming president Shirley Collado and her husband will live in a downtown apartment paid for by the college.

3. Hat tip to Chris Szabla for this one – the Al Huda Islamic Center planned for 112 Graham Road in Lansing village has been redesigned once again. It went from this in 2014:

to this in 2016:

to this now:

Erm…with every due respect, this is a vinyl-sided modular with a poorly-photoshopped dormer and what appears to be a door in place of a garage. The first couple of designs embraced traditional Islamic architectural features, and the second was a great mix of traditional and contemporary design motifs. But this latest version honestly looks like, even if it was done for cost considerations, that every attempt was made to hide its use as a mosque and Islamic center. This image is so poorly done, I’m still not 100% sure if this is some kind of joke, but the floor plan matches up. Oof.

4. Not something one sees all the time – these are photos from last month’s deconstruction of Ithaca’s 107 South Albany Street in preparation for a new three-story, 11-unit apartment building. Developer Nick Stavropoulos hired Finger Lake Re-Use to do the deconstruction, which diverts about 70-90% of materials from the landfill by salvaging the structural components, processing and checking them to make sure they’re in good shape for re-use, and packaged and selling the materials at a low price to interested buyers – for instance, reclaimed lumber could go into bar counters, flooring, or any number of options looking for that well-used look. The cons to this approach are that more work and more time is involved vs. a traditional demolition, which means a greater cost. Also, though no fault of FLR, Historic Ithaca is not pleased (they get bonus shade for arguing in the same article the city should downzone to protect Patterson’s, an auto body shop built in 1983, and keep their “essential service” in downtown Ithaca). The pros are the environmental/sustainable aspect, the creation of “green-collar” jobs, and salvaged materials are tax deductible.

Construction on the new Daniel Hirtler-designed apartment building will begin this summer, with occupancy in about 12-13 months.

5. Skill-building for a good cause – The Second Wind Cottages, a housing complex in Newfield that houses formerly homeless men in 320 SF cottages, has connected with high school students and teachers to help assemble a new unit, cottage #13. Supervised students at a high school in suburban Rochester assembled a 320 SF unit in their school’s back lot as part of a class, then partially disassembled it and reassembled it in Newfield. The construction and transport process was borne out out over two days.

The non-profit project is led by local businessman Carmen Guidi, who hopes to do a second women’s housing plan further up Route 13 as the current 18-unit build-out wraps up.





News Tidbits 4/1/17: High Energy Debates

1 04 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 2/11/17: Cooperation Required

11 02 2017

107_s_albany_rev_1

1. It looks like the plans for 107 South Albany Street are getting a major revision. Readers might recall that previously approved plans called for a rear addition onto an existing house to create a 9-unit, 11-bedroom apartment building. The latest plans are a little more substantial.

For one thing, the existing house would be no more under the new plan. In its place looks to be a 3.5 story, 8,427 SF, 11-unit apartment building, all one-bedroom apartments. Developer Stavros Stavropoulos has once again turned to local architect Daniel Hirtler for design work; for each of them, this is the largest project they’ve worked on to date. Hirtler came up with a design that offer contextual features like a cornice and an orthodox window arrangement, but adds a modern vertical stair element in the middle of the structure to keep the design from being an imitation. Zoning is CBD-60, so no parking is required, 100% lot coverage is allowed, and the 40.5′ proposal is comfortably within the 60-foot height limit.  According to the SPR filing, the construction cost will be about $900k and the construction period will be from September 2017 to June 2018.

As much as I dislike seeing attractive old houses come down, the new design fits well into an older urban context. Plus, if the medical practice on State ever gets redeveloped, 3.5 floors offers a nice transition to the lower-density structures further south. I’m not a super big fan of the blank wall next to the recessed entry, although the intent is to make it interesting with light fixtures, a brick pattern and an iron trellis that will be grown over with vines. Fiber cement will be used on the upper floors, with brick veneer and granite accents at street level.

On another note, it looks like the city will be looking at a one-lot subdivision next month at 109 Dearborn Place in the Cornell Heights Historic District – the owners, a married couple who are renovating the old PRI into a historically appropriate two-family residence, are looking to sell some of the land as part of the “partnership dissolution”. The PRI renovation is expected to continue. The application says a house was previously located on the undeveloped portion of the property (a glance at old maps indicate a schoolhouse was located on-site in the 1920s). It’s worth noting that the wife is also the owner of Bridges Cornell Heights, a high-end senior living facility on the next block. Bridges previously subdivided a Cornell Heights lot in 2005 to build a second residence to serve its deep-pocketed clients. Any new house would need to go through ILPC review.

323_taughannock_townhouses_2

2. Meanwhile, the Ithaca Common Council had their monthly Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting. It looks like the revised 323 Taughannock project has been caught up in the TM-PUD, so it will have to get Common Council approval. Apart from a certain councilor’s general objections to housing near or on the waterfront, this one isn’t likely to stir up much controversy. The construction timeline for Steve Flash’s 8-unit , 16,959 SF owner-occupied townhouse project is June 2017 – January 2018, with an estimated value of $2-$3 million. Potentially, there could be 16 units, since each townhouse comes with a live/work space that could be converted to a separate studio apartment unit.

Also included at the meeting was a session on electric car infrastructure, votes to send laws allowing dogs in Stewart Park and a temporary altar to the Common Council, votes to circulate a zoning amendment to allow brewpubs in business zones, and a discussion of tree plantings. The Maguires also discussed possibly shifting their project to Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart, which is covered on the Voice here.

3. The city of Ithaca has been awarded funding to build a replacement bridge for North Aurora Street over Cascadilla Creek. Continuing the city’s heavy infrastructure investments of the past few years (for instance, the bridges as Lake Street, East Clinton Street, and the work planned for Brindley Street/Taughannock Boulevard), the state is giving $1.178 million towards the replacement span. Engineering work and public meetings will take place in 2017 and early 2018, with construction and completion by 2019.

maplewood_v7_3

4. Over in the town of Ithaca, final approval has been granted to Cornell and EdR’s Maplewood project, meaning that everything is good to go and barring any unforseen circumstances, the 441-unit, 872-bed complex should be open for graduate and professional students by the end of July 2018. The difference between preliminary and final approval is that in preliminary, the concept is greenlighted but there needs to be additional filings completed – tree planting schedules, revised labels on diagrams, construction staging plans, and proof of final approval from the city for their portion. For those who are wondering, the 150-200 workers on-site will be parking at a temporary lot behind the Kinney Drugs at East Hill Plaza, and will be walking the five minutes down Mitchell Street to get to the job site. The first building should start to rise in late Spring of this year, with new structures rising in stages as we go through the rest of 2017.

rodeway_revision_1

The town planning board also reviewed revised plans for the Rodeway Inn at 654 Elmira Road, where the old wings will now be torn down and rebuilt on the same footprint and an enclosed corridor will be built into the new wings. The final result will have a net increase of four motel rooms, to 44 (the previous plan added only two motel rooms). The plan for renovating the single-family home on the property into a community center is unaffected by these changes and moving forward as originally planned.

20160918_151026
5. It’s been behind schedule a few months, but DiBella’s Subs is expected to open at 222 Elmira Road on February 16th.

thecomputingctr_2

thecomputingctr_3

6. It seemed a little odd when The Computing Center stated in their IDA application that their plans had already been approved, and there was nothing on file. Turns out they’re hoping to get approval for their 4,600 SF HQ from the town of Lansing next week.

The full suite of documents can be found on the town of Lansing’s website here. It looks like the farmhouse next door to 987 Warren Drive will be spared from the wrecking ball; although The Computing Center bought the property, it’s being subdivided and the barn-turned-garage is the only building that will be torn down. Lansing has one of the more lenient planning boards, so although this probably won’t be fully approved next week, there’s a good chance this project will receive final approval by the end of March.

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7. Over on West Hill, a large vacant parcel on Bundy Road just exchanged hands. The 66.98 acre parcel has been marketed for the past few years as a development opportunity – it has municipal water and sewer, and it’s a stone’s throw from Cayuga Medical Center, Overlook and the Conifer/Cornell developments off of Route 96/Trumansburg Road. Its previous ownership, a family that has owned it in some form since 1964 (moving between members in 1984 and 1991), had it on the market for $359,900.

The buyers, a husband-and-wife pair of medical doctors who live nearby, paid $305,000 for the deed, according to a filing on the 9th. An online search for future hints doesn’t really give much guidance – the doctors have donated modest amounts to Finger Lakes Land Trust and have signed some anti-fracking petitions, and while they own undeveloped properties around them, this parcel isn’t adjacent to their house. It doesn’t really fit the Land Trust’s ideal land donations either, since it’s been substantially subdivided with medium-density residential, and borders a growing corridor. So, it’s hard to gauge just what exactly is planned here. For the record, the land is currently zoned medium density residential (max 3 floors, up to 2.9 lots/acre), but the town’s new comprehensive plan sees the property as new urbanist medium density (5-8 units/acre small-scale mixed-use), with undeveloped open space towards the southwest corner of the parcel.

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8. Let’s finish this week off with a talk about energy. Good news first – there might be a solution to the West Dryden pipeline issue. Background here, but the nutshell is, Lansing has tapped out their natural gas capacity, and in order to accommodate new development that would need natural gas, NYSEG needs to build a higher capacity pipeline from their current facilities in the town of Dryden. This new pipeline would go along West Dryden Road, but has run into fierce opposition, mostly because Dryden residents are famous for being anti-natural gas – this was the town that took on the fracking companies and won. Keep in mind, these folks aren’t just disdainful of natural gas, they are adamantly opposed. So using their property to accommodate something they don’t like is a bit like asking to build an abortion clinic next to an evangelical church because that just happens to be where the land is cheapest, but they would have to share a driveway.

Unsurprisingly, the town of Dryden enacted a moratorium on large-scale pipeline installation. The town of Lansing is not happy because it stymies their development, and they’re extra-concerned that their biggest property taxpayer, the Cayuga Power Plant, is about to go belly up and leave the town with $100 million less on its tax rolls. The county wants to move away from fossil fuels, but it also wants to encourage development and not leave Lansing in the lurch.

This week, a plan was put forth that might accommodate both needs. A small compressor station would be built to keep pipe pressure from falling too low during times of peak demand, so that guarantees service for existing customers. The second prong is to wean existing development off natural gas and encourage new development to use other means – electric heat pumps, like those to be used in Maplewood and City Centre. This encouragement would be given through subsidies or tax breaks. The compressor station and the incentives would be in effect by late 2018.

It looks promising, but the feasibility studies are still ongoing, and Lansing is not totally on board. Both Lansing Village and Lansing Town feel they were not represented during these discussions with NYSEG, and that heat pumps are a major financial burden to saddle homebuilders with. They also wonder if the electrical grid would be capable of supporting so many heat pumps.

Speaking strictly from my experience, I’ve visited construction projects with heat pumps, and while they are a cost increase, it’s a couple percent more than the same structure with conventional heating – there’s a recently-built single-family house I can think of offhand where the cost of heat pumps was about $5,000 more on the $200,000 construction cost. If it’s incentivized, one could make it financially sensible, at least for residential options if not all. Also, I’m wary of Lansing’s reasoning because they piddled away the three town center projects five years ago – if they had stayed on top of it, they’d have $50 million more in property value and this wouldn’t be such a pressing issue now.

That being said, there are problems with this area’s approach to alternative energy. Newfield is the big culprit here – they’re about to put in a moratorium on commercial solar panel installations, which is worrying since this is the same town that redesigned their wind turbine law to ban them in essence. If municipalities are limiting residents’ abilities to turn to alternative energy sources (many urban areas have to turn to commercial arrays or turbines because there’s not enough room/too much demand on-site), then the community will be unsuccessful in weaning the population off of fossil fuels. But Dryden, which is in the process of changing their laws to accommodate large-scale solar arrays, is at the forefront of this issue – those panels could provide the electricity for the heat pumps and help turn the tide on energy sources. It only works if everyone cooperates.

 

 





News Tidbits 1/7/17: Storage and Storefronts

7 01 2017

1. Like a phoenix, it looks like Wings Over Ithaca is coming back. The franchise, whose Ithaca location was shut down after the owner was charged with 26 counts of tax evasion, will be operated under a new ownership consisting of four young Cornell alumni from the New York City area. However, while the ownership is changing, the management team for the eatery will be largely the same. The new incarnation will also be in a new location – Wings, which called East Hill Plaza its home for fifteen years, will now be located in a 1,743 SF retail storefront at 119-121 Dryden Road in Inner Collegetown. The property, owned by Ithaca Renting, previously held a Greek restaurant and then a tobacco shop, but it’s been more often vacant than occupied over the past ten years. A new kitchen is being installed in the retail space to accommodate. Expect an early Spring opening.

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2. This sounds promising, but I’m not comfortable with the precision of the details. According to Cassie Negley over at the Times, Washington D.C.-based Distributed Sun LLC, a rapidly-expanding solar energy company, wants to build two large-scale solar installations in the town of Dryden. One would be on Cornell land south of Route 366 on Turkey Hill Road, the other near the Willow Glen Cemetery on non-Cornell private land. The company is familiar with the area, as they are Cornell’s partner on the large-scale array recently installed near the county airport. The company also has plans for seven arrays on four parcels in Spencer in Tioga County, and they’re working with Cornell on solar installations for the tech school down on NYC’s Roosevelt Island.

The topic of discussion is whether or not a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) could be reached for the installation – solar installations are already exempt from NYS taxes, but school districts and towns can levy their own. Since the Cornell property doesn’t pay taxes, a lump PILOT that covers both could actually pay more than taxing the non-exempt proposal at full value. The construction timeframe at present is April-October 2017; and, here’s the imprecise part, the arrays would create 200-250 local jobs and another 100 jobs nationwide – and, from the town minutes, that doesn’t appear to be a typo. Presumably, most of that is construction, and a few in maintenance. I’d like to see the numbers for permanent local jobs, because along with the renewable energy growth and reduced electricity costs for nearby residents, the permanent jobs would be one of the big economic selling points. Given the Mettler Toledo news a few months ago, new jobs in Dryden would be welcome.

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3. Time for some sad news – 722 University Avenue is gone. The university demolished the 5,738 SF, 116 year-old house it earlier this week. The property has a storied history as the home to several fraternities and sororities; it’s kind of a shame it wasn’t renovated to provide student housing. The university has no long-term plans to redevelop the lot.

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4. Dryden, the storage capital of Tompkins County. Across the street from the 79,000 SF Storage Squad self-storage facility under construction, 4 Season Storage is busy putting up their own addition. According to a loan filing on the 3rd, 4 Season’s new building is 12,000 SF, and the hard construction costs come in at $481,172. CFCU is the lender. The structure is already framed and is being roofed, the cross trusses already separate the exterior units (not sure if those will be climate-controlled like the interior ones). Storage Squad is further behind, a graded site and a couple of reinforced concrete walls at the moment.

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5. In case you were wondering, here are some of county administrator Joe Mareane’s planning and development goals for 2017 –

– Negotiate the purchase of the Tompkins Trust Building for use by the History Center and Heritage Education Center. Also, develop a “governance”, or operations, plan for how the facility will be managed and maintained; how space will be allocated; how rent will be determined, etc.
– Work with NYS DOT and local agencies (Planning and ITCTC) to secure funding for a Route 13 traffic study.
– Facilitate the development of a realistic business strategy that allows the Airport to continue to
serve the community and be financially self-sufficient.
– With TCAction, put plans in place for a new residential project aimed at providing a meaningful
amount of housing for the chronically homeless.
– Bring alternative plans to re-use the rear portion of the Human Services Annex to the Legislature; implement its recommendation.

There’s a possibility, based on the 2016 notes that follow, that the 24-unit Re-Use project and the housing for the chronically homeless may be two different projects – the Re-Use housing project is described as transitional re-entry housing, while the housing for the chronically homeless is said to be in the property acquisition phase – i.e. still scouting out sites, with the goal of construction within two years. They might be the same, they might not, it’s not 100% clear from the notes. As for the Human Services Annex, there have been talks for additional space for Cayuga Medical Center’s services, or space for courthouse functions, and a decision is expected in Q1 2017.