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

12 08 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 8/5/17: Having the Right Look

5 08 2017

1. Thanks to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, we have the first rough site plan for the proposed Cornerstone and Tiny Timbers projects at the Lansing Town Center site at the intersection of Route 34B and Triphammer Roads. Readers may recall that Tiny Timbers has proposed a development of 60 for-sale single-family homes (ten in the first phase) called “Lansing Community Cottages”, and Cornerstone is proposing up to 144 affordable apartments in two phases for the town center site.

Specifically, Tiny Timbers is looking to sell homes averaging about 1,000-1,200 SF in the $175,000-$225,000 range, which is a critical but tough-to-hit segment in the local housing market. With consultation from planner David West, the homes are designed in a traditional urban layout, with congregated parking spaces instead of garages, and community green spaces. None of the homes are more than 150 feet from the roads and parking areas, a safety requirement to ensure access for emergency vehicles. Ten units would be built in phase one, twenty in phase two, and thirty in phase three. About the only concern town officials have expressed at this point is a second means of ingress/egress to keep the traffic down on Conlon Road.

In contrast to Tiny Timbers’ site plan, the Cornerstone plan is a more conventional suburban layout with parking adjacent to each 8-unit structure. In fact, based on the above design, and the need for affordable developers to save on costs and therefore many reuse designs when they can, it’s likely that some of the Cornerstone apartments look something like the above image, which comes from a recent Cornerstone project near Brockport. The detailing and the colors may differ, but it’s a pretty good bet that’s how some of the finished units will look. Like Conifer, Cornerstone appear to be using a mix of their standard designs, and there are two distinct designs on the site plan, as well as a community center.

2. A redevelopment opportunity in downtown Ithaca has sold, but it looks like there are no plans. 110-112 West Seneca Street is a 538 SF salon with a large rental parking lot, and zoning is B-1a, meaning 4 floors 50% lot coverage, parking requirements in effect of about one space per unit or one space per 250 SF of commercial use. Tompkins Trust (Tompkins Financial Corp.) picked up the property on Friday the 28th for $600,000, below the $800k asking price but still quite substantial for what’s mostly land.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen here. Tompkins Trust had previously rented the 23 parking spaces on site for use by its own employees – whether they’re hedging bets or don’t trust the parking garage situation, they appear to be buying the property to use as parking. Boo. With any luck, after their new HQ opens up next spring and their parking situation settles down, they’ll find better uses or potential partners for the lot. With no historic attributes but proximity to major services and amenities, a parking lot on this property is a waste of potential.

3. The Harold’s Square project team has given their website a overhaul, and with that comes the official timeline. According to the web page, asbestos abatement is now underway, demolition will start in September, construction will last through January 2019, and marketing/lease-up for the commercial spaces and 108 residential units should will start in January 2019.

The project description web page mentions 100 construction jobs, 50 retail jobs and 200 office jobs, which seems accurate for the square footage of each use (12k retail, 25k office). The estimate of 250 residents is way too generous though – the back-of-the-envelope is one person per bedroom, and there are about 144 bedrooms/studio units.

Side note, I reserve the right to grouse that the media links both go to the Times.

4. Dunno what’s going to happen with the Lansing Meadows senior housing up by the mall. Background story on the Voice here. On the one hand, the wetlands were an arduous and expensive undertaking, and Goetzmann did those to Army Corps of Engineers standards. It does make it tougher for the project to be financially viable. On the other hand, the village has a right to be frustrated, and it’s not unreasonable that they’re feeling that they’re being taken for a ride. Goetzmann received an IDA tax deal for what was largely a retail project, largely a no-no because most jobs in retail are low wage. He also received a variance for a community retail component, and multiple extensions from the IDA on fulfilling the housing component.

An increase in density spreads the fixed costs out among a greater number of units, and it’s encouraged by the village and county, so that’s not the issue. The design is what bothers them – while shared walls and utilities is a cost-saving measure, the village has expected smaller, house-like units since the project was first proposed in the late 2000s. Maybe the happy medium between this and the ten duplexes is a site plan with 3-4 unit structures with 20-24 units, with the buildings designed with pitched roofs, dormers, small porches and other home-like features. Let’s see what happens in the next couple of months.

5. Plans for co-op housing on West State Street have been waylaid, perhaps permanently. New York City businessman Fei Qi had previously proposed to renovate the historic 3,800 SF property at 310 West State Street into office space, and more recently a 12-14 person co-op. However, there have been a couple of issues with both plans – the ca. 1880 building is in need of significant structural renovation. Years of deferred maintenance prior to Qi (who bought it from the Salvation Army for $195k last year) has left the building in rough shape, and asbestos and lead need to be removed. For the housing proposal to be permitted, fire suppression systems would also need to be installed. Some city officials have expressed concern that like the carriage house that once existed at the rear of the property, if the building gets mothballed again, its structural integrity may be at risk. Any external changes would need to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. It appears that Qi recently applied to the commission stating economic hardship, saying he was unaware the building was a historic property and was not communicated to him by the seller or real estate agent, and cannot afford to renovate it to ILPC standards. The designation went into effect in April 2015, a year before sale.

Concurrently, Qi has put the property up for sale. For an asking price of $278,000, one gets the building and the architect’s plans. I’ve seen ball-park estimates of $500k for the renovation into office space, but I never saw an estimate for the co-op. As a result of the structural issues, the building’s assessed value plunged from $250,000 in 2016 to $100,000 last year, most of that being the land. Fingers crossed, someone steps up to the plate to save this building before it’s too late.

6. Last month, I speculated that there was a plan for redeveloping 217 Columbia Street on Ithaca’s South Hill. Turns out there is, and it’s really upsetting the neighbors. The plan by Modern Living Rentals is to preserve the existing building, but build an additional two-family home on the property as well. For the neighbors, this is apparently one student-oriented rental too far. Some are calling for a moratorium, and others a zoning change to prevent rentals without an owner living in the property. Most of South Hill’s zoning is R-2 residential, which is one-and-two family homes, and most of the construction in South Hill these past few years has been one and two-family homes. The issue is that they’re upset they’re rentals, many of which appeal to Ithaca College students further up the hill in the town. In theory, you could make it an approval requirement that the renters be non-students, although I’m not sure that would placate the situation. We’ll see how it goes.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 7/2017

21 07 2017

Some more progress on the Ithaka Terraces condo project at 215-221 West Spencer Street. Buildings “A” and “B” have had their porches built out and sheathed, with some of the decorative columns are in place (the architecture, penned by STREAM Collaborative, is supposed to take design curs from traditional Greek/Mediterranean hillside structures). The white coating visible from the uphill photos is the water-resistive barrier over which the stucco will be laid. Building “C” is framed and sheathed, but the roof isn’t fully shingled and many of the windows and doors have yet to be fitted. Long-awaited Building “D” has finally started construction, with excavation underway and some foundation forms in place. The grand central stairway is beginning to take shape. From what I was told by developer Ed Cope (PPM Homes), the model unit should be unveiled in the next few weeks.

The website has been updated to take inquiries, with unit sizes ranging from a 1,005 SF 2-bed, 2-bath, unit, to a 3-bedroom, 3-bath 1520 SF unit (3 bathrooms? For the family that hates sharing sinks and showers?). Nothing on the website states pricing, which was previously estimated in the $265k-$390k range.

Side note, I dropped by 413 West Seneca Street and 109 North Corn Street, a pair of projects Ed Cope is doing in Ithaca’s State Street corridor. Nothing to report yet.





607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 7/2017

19 07 2017

Thanks to the rapid turnaround time for modular units, the the duplexes at 607 South Aurora Street in the city’s South Hill neighborhood are galloping towards their completion date next month.

One thing to keep in mind is that, once the foundation has been built (Superior Walls here) and underground utilities are in place (water/sewer), it’s basically a matter of trucking in the boxes from the supplier and craning them into place. Per Ithaca Builds (the website is down but the pages are archived), they’re already framed, sheathed, utilities are mostly in, the interiors have drywall hung, windows and doors have been fitted, and even cabinetry, bathroom fixtures and countertops are in place. 80% of the construction work for the duplex is completed by craning four boxes into place and locking them together. The pros are better quality control, less waste, and a quicker turn around time. The cons to modular units is that there’s generally a limited set of designs and customization, although that has improved in recent years, particularly if a developer has a somewhat generous budget (see the Belle Sherman Cottages for example).

Once the boxes are craned and secured to the foundation and each other, the inside will undergo painting and finish work, while the outside gets faced with the exterior material of choice and porches, garages or other details are attached. Here, the rear three duplexes use vinyl siding, lap siding on the lower floors and shake siding on the gables, with decorative lap bands and color variations to give the outside some curb appeal. These units will have small porches with lattice skirts. The unit facing Aurora will receive nicer finishes since it’s the unit that will be seen the most by passing traffic. This includes fiber-cement siding, a full-width porch with decorative brackets (seen under construction below), and sculpted roof brackets.

Note that the rear of the existing house at 607 South Aurora has been expanded, its roof raised slightly. The original five-bedroom house is being extensively renovated into two three-bedroom units. The eight new units will each be three-bedrooms, going for about $700 per bedroom. To quote the ad:

“This home has 3 bedrooms with 2 baths and everything is BRAND NEW!

Newly constructed in 2017, this home features stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, LED lighting throughout the home, all oil bronze finishes, with large bedrooms and ample closet space. The home is equipped with its own washer and dryer, and can come fully furnished. This property is conveniently located less than one mile from Ithaca College, with off-street parking available, this unit is a beautiful place to call home! This property is pet friendly with the correct pet and owner. 

Other Features:
-Stainless steel dishwasher, refrigerator, range and hood vent.
-Luxury vinyl flooring throughout
-W/D in unit
-Beautiful tiled bathrooms
-Modern-Contemporary Style
-Bedroom Furnishings: includes bed frame, bed mattress, dresser, desk, and desk chair
-Dining Room/Kitchen Furnishings: offer seating for dinning
-Living Room Furnishings: includes a couch
-All Room Furnishings: includes curtains decorating all windows
-Located right up the street from the heartbeat of Ithaca, the Ithaca Commons! Magnificent place to eat, shop, and have fun in the Ithaca area
-The TCAT bus stops near the development.”

A couple blocks away, Modern Living Rentals picked up 217 Columbia Street, which has the potential for a rear unit, although it’s just as likely MLR will simply spruce up the existing two-family. The fact that the rentals are only until 5/31/2018 kinda leaves the door open for some construction work next summer.





607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 5/2017

2 06 2017

Projects are a bit like politicians in that the higher profile or most controversial ones get the vast majority of attention. 607 South Aurora Street fills neither of those specifications, and as a result, relatively few people are even aware of it.

The South Hill infill apartment project is located on an unusually large 0.73 acre lot. The property consists of an existing 5-bedroom, 2,300 SF home dating from about 1910, and had been in the possession of the Cassaniti family since at least the 1960s, legally split among the six Cassiniti brothers. If you’ve visited the hot dog and soda vendor on the Commons, you’ve met one of the Cassanitis.

Enter Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals (MLR). MLR is a young and ambitious rental company based out of Ithaca, a partnership primarily led by O’Connor and business partner Todd Fox. However, each has had their own ideas on how best to approach development – while Fox likes to think big and aim for high-profile projects, O’Connor is much more low-key and incremental in his approach. The two differ enough that they developer under different entities – Fox under his firm, Visum Development, and O’Connor as MLR. However, regardless of who develops, all their rental units are managed by MLR.

So while Fox is dreaming big with projects such as 201 College Avenue and 232-236 Dryden Road, and potentially sets off heated debates, O’Connor prefers to avoid controversy and take on less risk. His first project, with behind-the-scenes business partner Bryan Warren, was a pair of two-family houses at 312 West Spencer Road about half a mile southwest of 607. A bit of an unusual location, but close enough to urban destinations and Ithaca College that it was potentially viable, and after getting approvals last year, the project moved forward and is at least partially if not fully rented. Two existing houses that shared the original lot are being renovated as part of the project.

With those basically finished, O’Connor and Warren have moved onto MLR’s next project, 607 South Aurora. First proposed in August 2016, the location near downtown and IC makes it an easy sell, and in an area of 1.5-2.5 story owner-occupied and rental homes, four more two-family homes aren’t going to cause a big debate. In fact, in a city that loves giving its input, there were only ever a couple of neighbor comments about the project, and they were generally amenable – ‘better these than a large apartment building’ was the gist of it.

There were a few stipulations and revisions that were required, however. The original plan called for two homes near the street and two in the back of the L-shaped lot, with the renovated existing house in the middle. This was especially well received for aesthetic reasons (the city is still quite sore about the poorly-sited house MLR did two years before on the lot next door), so the site plan was redesigned to have three buildings on the interior side of the “L”, and one on the street to better match the curbside context. An internal driveway and clustered parking were added to help traffic and emergency vehicle circulation.

The building themselves didn’t change much – like 125 and 129 Elmira, they’re modular units on Superior Wall foundations. The unit facing Aurora has fiber cement siding and nicer details like a full lattice porch with railings, columns and brackets on the porch and roof. The rear units have small entry porches and use vinyl lap and shake siding.

With those details noted, the project was approved in November, and through an LLC, O’Connor and Warren bought 607 South Aurora, valued at $220,000 by the county, for $452,776 back in March (rule of thumb – if development is planned, expect a hefty premium).

Each of the eight new rental units will be three bedrooms and about 1,128 SF. The existing house will also be renovated and expanded slightly, raising the rear roof-line to add interior space. Expect occupancy by the start of the new academic semester in August. The apartments are being marketed at $2250/month, which works out to $750/bedroom.

According to county docs, the construction loan from Tioga State Bank was for $1.92 million and filed the day the house was sold. That figure is a combo of hard (materials, labor) and soft costs (acquisition, marketing, legal); by itself, the hard cost for the new construction and the renovation looks to be about $1.04 million.  Rochester’s Taylor the Builders, who will be doing Harold’s Square at some point, is the project’s general contractor.

Looking at the site last month, a new roof is underway, and you can clearly see where the roof was raised in the roof by looking at the trim boards; the new section is housewrapped, and presumably the whole house will receive a new exterior finish at a later date. The windows in the rear are just rough openings for now, new windows will come along shortly. The soil has been excavated for the slab foundation of Building “A”, but due to the angle and slope of the site from the roads, it’s hard to tell how much of the site prep for “B”, “C” and “D” has been completed in the rear, apart from some disturbed soil.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 5/2017

1 06 2017

Taking a look at the Ithaka Terraces site at 215-221 West Spencer Street, one question immediately comes to mind – is Building “D” still happening? The other three are far along, and yet there appears to be no sign of Building “D”, a mirror of Building “C”, starting construction. It could be cost concerns or pre-sales worries, or simply a matter of timing. The website doesn’t look like it’s been updated recently, and marketing for the condo units doesn’t seem to have started yet.

Apart from the completion of the roofing, not much additional work has occurred on the exterior of Building “A”. Its twin, Building “B”, has finished framing, sheathing, windows are being fitted and the roofing is well underway, sheathed and covered in Certainteed DiamondDeck and WinterGuard underlayments, but not yet shingled. Building “C” has had its multi-story porch erected and it looks like the R39 cellulose insulation is underway. New to this update are the Bituthene sheets on the concrete foundation walls of “C” – Grace Bituthene Membrane is a two-component system, the first is a sticky, liquid rubberized asphalt compound, the second a laminated HDPE film, and together they’re used for weather and moisture protection, handy when your walls will be exposed to moist soil uphill and several feet deep. The white walls facing the future grand staircase are water-resistive barriers to protect the plywood ZIP panels from the mositure-absorbing stucco finish.

Local eco-builder AquaZephyr LLC (run by Kendall and Mike Carpenter) is the general contractor, Taitem’s doing the structural engineering, T.G. Miller is in charge of civil engineering, STREAM’s the architect, and Ed Cope (PPM Homes) is the developer. Side note, I dropped by the Wyllie site and didn’t see work on the renovation underway, although it’s not clear if the state grant funding has been disbursed yet. It and the PPM’s Ithaca Glass Apartments are expected to get underway this spring.

Also, let’s not forget the ’80s hair metal blasting over the stereo on-site. I guess nothing gets the work done like Whitesnake and Twisted Sister.

UPDATE: From the architect, Noah Demarest, on the status of Building “D”: “It’s a logistic issue. Couldn’t get all the foundations in at the same time. Should be starting soon.”





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.