News Tidbits 7/7/2018

7 07 2018

1. The infill project at 209 Hudson has been revised and reduced in size. The new plan from the Stavropoulos family of developers calls for just one new duplex at this time, on the existing lawn and swimming pool of the extra-large lot. The rear duplex was eliminated in the revised plan. A small zoning variance is still required for the subdivision (side yard deficiency), but it’s less likely to catch the ire of BZA members this time around because more mature trees are preserved in this reduced-size iteration. Modest bay window projections, fiber cement panels and wood trim will help create a higher quality product.

The duplex would be a quick build since it’s modular, but it’s not going to be ready in time for fall semester – spring (January) would be feasible, if the individual units are assembled before the snow flies. The Planning Board will make their recommendation this month, and the BZA will have their vote in early August, with potential final approval in late August. Quick note, as this has fallen under the threshold for the Ithaca project map (3 units or more), it has been removed.

Also due for review this month are final approvals for 128 West Falls Street (above) and a 3,200 SF endcap addition at South Meadow Square, and approval of a subdivision at 508-512 Edgewood Place.

2. Recently, Visum Development posted photos on their Facebook/Instagram taken during setup for an interview with Park Productions, and Ithaca College student media group. Normally, that’s not something to write about, but this caught my attention:

327 West Seneca is the new all-affordable project they introduced at last month’s planning board meeting. As for the others, I don’t have much of a clue. Ithaca does not have a Main Street, so that’s likely another community. 409 State may refer to an older building at 409 West State or 409 East State, but 409 East State is Travis Hyde’s Gateway Center property (and who at last check had no plans to sell).

As for the others, it looks like the first number was erased. Also of note, there is no East Cayuga, it’s just North and South. So I dunno quite what to make of it – hints of projects with some red herrings, it seems. Worth a look, but it’s not much to work with just yet.

3. Time for a little more speculation. A vacant lot east of 404 Wood Street in the city of Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood sold for $70,000 on June 26th. The buyers were a husband-and-wife pair who also happen to work for Taitem Engineering, a prominent local consulting engineering firm with specialties in structural engineering and associated branches in the context of green/sustainable building operation. The pair previously did a LEED Platinum, net-zero energy home in Ulysses two years ago. The likely guess here is that they’ll be building their next net-zero energy residence on this lot.

As previously noted when the property went up for sale in January 2016 (it was later subdivided from 404 Wood, which was sold a while ago), “(p)laying with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.”

TL;DR – if they want to do a small infill net-zero apartment building, they can. If they want to do a sizable single-family residence, they can do that as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

4. On the policy side, the Ithaca Common Council voted Wednesday night to move forward with a CIITAP stipulation stating projects pursuing the tax abatement must have a mandatory affordable housing component of 20%, available to those making 75% Area Median Income, affected all residential projects with ten units or more.The extension of CIITAP applicable properties along the Waterfront was also approved.

The policy comes forth after considerable debate over the right percentage and right income to apply. It’s the Goldilocks principle – too little and you don’t add an appreciable amount of affordable housing and may even decrease the amount once redevelopment occurs in lower-income blocks, too much and developers just won’t build (the Portland problem), and those who stick around will renovate existing buildings instead, meaning less supply overall, fewer existing lower-income units and accelerated gentrification. Among things discussed Wednesday night, a proposal to modify the mandatory size requirement of affordable units from a minimum of 80% the square-footage of the market-rate to 100% failed 5-4 (needed six), the % of affordable units went from 10% to 25% (the 25% was the First Ward’s George McGonigal, who has a history of being opposed to new market-rate and affordable housing, and did not get a second to open discussion).

It’s too early to say if this is too much or not enough – the City Harbor folks were in attendance for the discussion (they were at the meeting for a different topic), but didn’t raise concerns to 20%, so it seems likely their project is able to continue. The county IDA is the grantee of abatements with the city in an advisory role only, so they’ll have the final say on the application of the new law.

5. Tompkins Cortland Community College’s Childcare Center has the funds it needs to move forward. The project, first proposed in February 2016, calls for an 8,000 SF, $4 million building, plus a $1.5 million endowment for operating costs. State funds support much of the cost, as well as a $2 million donation from Ithaca CEO and major TC3 donor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the center will be named.

According to Jamie Swinnerton over at Tompkins Weekly, the project includes six classrooms with two infant rooms, three playgrounds, and be, in part, staffed by students studying to be teachers and childcare providers. 12 jobs will be created, and since it’s for faculty, students and staff, those jobs are expected to be full-time and all year-round. The building is expected to be partially opened by the start of the Spring semester, and fully occupied by the Fall 2019 semester.

Design-wise, the latest design in Tompkins Weekly shows smaller windows and the loss of some hipped roof bumpouts at the rear of the building (older version here). Value engineering noted, but the goal of helping students with children stay in school, and get the degrees they want to build their professional foundations on outweighs any shade thrown at the design changes.

6. Also finally moving forward – Lansing Meadows. There was an 11th-hour holdup for the 20-unit senior housing project when the village expressed discomfort with accepting future ownership of Lansing Meadows Drive, feeling the turns were too sharp and posed a liability. Developer Eric Goetzmann relented and agreed to maintain the road as a private road, and the village board approved the project 3-2; there are still a lot of sore feelings about the often-delayed and arguably underwhelming final proposal. Goetzmann has until July 31st to obtain permits to begin construction, or else the county IDA will recommence seeking clawback reparations from abated taxes, most of which went toward the BJ’s that was built in 2011-12.

7. Let’s slay some inbox rumors. East Hill Village is not cancelled. Nor is Trinitas’ Dryden Townhomes project. I checked with the project teams – both are still active projects. However, East Hill Village is waiting on the town of Ithaca to finish updating its zoning to a more form-based code, and the project will not move forward until that happens.

8. For fun: here’s a Google Docs spreadsheet on how the Ithaca metropolitan area lines up with other metros on new home construction permits since 1980. Key takeways – Ithaca/Tompkins County was in the top 10% of metros in 2017 for multi-family housing permits per capita (30th of 381), but it lags quite a bit in the construction of single-family homes, so its overall rank is only the 64th percentile (137th of 381). Even then, it’s still one of the fastest growing housing markets per capita in the Northeastern United States. 2016 and 2017 have been strong years, while 2015 and earlier were generally well below the national average.

The multi-family number per capita is arguably skewed higher than a typical year thanks to large projects like 441-unit/872-bed Maplewood, but the message seems to be that the community is seeing real results from its push for housing. However, with a lack of single-family being built, Ithaca and Tompkins County need to figure out ways to compensate for what single-family provides (i.e. home ownership). It’s not necessarily “we should build more single-family homes” although that is part of the answer. It’s also encouraging suitable single-home substitutes (condos) in desirable areas while maintaining a strong, steady flow of new units as the local economy continues to grow.

 





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 1/2018

26 01 2018

Not much to add here beyond the blurb in the Voice roundup. The Ithaka Terraces are likely to be finished this spring. There is nothing public regarding any sales figures for the ten 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom units. I’m not sure if another visit is necessary, though maybe if they set up a model unit and don’t mind a nosy blogger, there will be one last photo set.

There’s a lot to like here. As condominiums, they provide an opportunity for home ownership in a city increasing occupied by rentals. With any hope, they’ll be a sales success and encourage other projects to follow suit with their own plans. It’s infill on an fire-destroyed vacant lot, it’s an attractive design, the net-zero energy arrangement is highly appealing from a sustainability perspective, and it’s a few million dollars of property back on the tax rolls (the destroyed property was repossessed by the county, transferred to the city and sold in a competitive bidding process; the first call for proposals attempted to earmark as affordable housing only, but no one submitted bids).

If there any criticism to levy here, it’s not necessarily an issue with just this project, but I’ve had emails calling it gentrification and ‘luxury housing that Ithaca doesn’t need’. But if people are buying here, then they aren’t buying another city property and potentially outbidding someone with fewer dollars to spend. A little additional supply to take pressure taken off the market is welcome. As noted above, the city tried to sell the lot for affordable housing, but it didn’t pan out (not unlike the issues with 402 South Cayuga Street a block away). Additionally, this project is fully taxed, the project team did not seek abatements.

The condos are the work of PPM Homes (Ed Cope), with technical assistance from T.G. Miller P.C. and Taitem Engineering, architectural design work curtesy of STREAM Collaborative, and off-site solar panel installation courtesy of Renovus Solar.

 





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 11/2017

23 11 2017

These are turning out quite nice. Building “A” is practically complete from the outside. The plant boxes outside the windows have even been stocked with small ornamentals. About the only thing left are the exterior finishes on the front facade columns. Building “C”, the smaller building to its east, is also nearly finished from the outside. I suspect the wiring coming out of Building “C” just above the parking area is for electric car charging stations.

Building “B”, the other large condo structure, is fully encased in plastic sheeting and wood ribbing. Stucco generally needs to be applied in dry, temperate weather conditions, above 40 F at a minimum. Given Ithaca Novembers, that means McPherson Builder has basically turned the building into a dry, heated bubble so that can apply the stucco properly. Building “D” is still being roofed, and is just getting its windows fitted. It looks like the scratch coat for the stucco is being applied over the water barrier, and the brown coat and the finish coat will come later, meaning that “D” will eventually be bubbled in as well.

Most of the concrete curbs and steps have been formed, poured and cured at this point. The grand staircase will make for a nice shortcut from South Cayuga Street to West Spencer Street.

The marketing material appears to be using the phrase “Arriving here is what you are destined for“. Tje website doesn’t indicate how many of the twelve units are spoken for (if any; the project is in the soft marketing stage, where they’re accepting inquiries but there aren’t any formal real estate listings). The two-bedroom and three-bedroom units go for $299-$434k, depending on size and location.





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 11/11/17: It’s Back

12 11 2017

1. One of the reasons for the lull in weekly round-ups has been the lack of smaller news items to fill it with. A few larger items made it into Voice articles, but there wasn’t much of a middle ground between “expand into article” and “not newsworthy”. I’m happy to take comments here about Voice articles, although the blog is intended to cover topics that may not be ready for a full write-up.

As noted in the Voice, there isn’t much before the city of Ithaca at the moment. A sketch plan for infill rental housing at 209 Hudson Street is likely dead in the water as a result of the new South Hill Overlay, and a modest infill plan calls for a duplex at 601 South Aurora on the corner with Hillview Place, which can only be an improvement from the informal parking lot currently there. The modular unit design is thoughtful (varied materials, plenty of windows) if unexciting, and the sidewalks are a plus. The units are physically structured as townhouses, but technically they aren’t, since townhouses are defined by International Building Code as strings of units of three or more.

Meanwhile, things are so slow in the town at the moment that they cancelled their last Planning Board meeting. Before that, the only notable item on the agenda was the Cayuga Ridge renovation, which is primarily internal. Their October Building and Codes Department report indicates a single two-family home was approved, in the Cleveland Estates housing subdivision; virtually all of those duplexes have been intended as student housing.

2. If there is one town that is rather busy next week, it would have to be Lansing. The surface facilities for the new Cargill mine shaft are up for final approval at the Planning Board meeting next Tuesday, more discussion is expected about the Milton Meadows affordable housing plan at the town center, and a couple of minor projects (communications tower, illuminated free-standing sign) are up for review and vote. Neither Cargill not Milton Meadows appear to have changed significantly since their last presentations.

Also scheduled is review of public comments regarding the Comprehensive Plan, which cover several topics, with the most frequent being the Bell Station zoning (park vs. lakeshore low density) and some individuals unhappy with the potential for mixed-use or residential development near their homes or farms. Joe Wetmore has a pretty thorough critique, ranging from unrealistic expectations to discomfort with what he calls “segregated housing” based on income and age. Going political for a moment, I suspect if it weren’t for many progressive town and village boards rushing to join the Article 78 on Cargill, with less than careful thought and discussion of Cargill’s blue-collar workers and their family/friends, Wetmore would be an incoming town councilman (and to be fair, he may end up winning when the absentee ballots are counted and tallied next week).

3. Over in Dryden, just about everything is good to go with Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit rental complex planned for 802 Dryden Road, next to the Cornell arboretum. The November tweaks were for lighting, landscaping and sidewalk details. The designs of the townhouse strings were reworked in October to include three different designs, to be used twice each (six buildings, seven units each, 42 units/108 bedrooms total). While the materials remain the same, the designs differ substantially in roof lines, architectural detailing and fenestration pattern. At this point, no one would mistake for a recycling of 902 Dryden as they started off as; John Snyder and his team have had the chance to express themselves, and the designs are contemporary and visually interesting. It looks like final approval will be coming potentially soon, which will permit a Spring 2018 – Summer 2019 construction time-frame.

Other than that, the town is reviewing another Tiny Timbers subdivision, this one for 1540 Ellis Hollow Drive. Similar to its counterpart just down the street at 1624 Ellis Hollow Drive, the long, narrow lot would be serviced with an internal driveway for five homes with a little over an acre each, and the rear (northern) 5 acres would be granted a conservation easement, to remain natural space and help protect the Fall Creek watershed. The original plan was a deed restriction, but the town’s conservation board is pushing the easement so that future owners of the land can’t just lift the restriction. They also requested an S-shaped driveway because they feel the slope is greater than Dolph states; an S-shape would also throw the plans out of whack, so let’s see what happens.

On a final brief note, review and discussion is ongoing for a pair of solar arrays off of 2243 Dryden Road, one of 1.3 MW and one of 2 MW.

4. Looking at what’s on the market this week, here’s something for the deep-pocketed investor/landlord who wants to start with an all-new, low-maintenance building. 6-unit 707 East Seneca Street is on the market for $2,999,000. The 6,469 SF apartment building was built just two years ago, after developer Todd Fox bought city surplus land that was once a playground for the closed East Hill Elementary, deeded to the city in 1982 and promptly forgotten for decades until potential liability risks convinced the city to put it up for sale. Each unit is three bedrooms, and according to the advertisement, it generates over $220k in revenue each year, which is not shabby.The property is assessed at $1 million.

It’s a bit surprising that Fox would want to part with a nearly-new building with solid rental potential, and it makes me curious if the funds would be used to fund other Visum projects planned or approved. While Fox did take a financial hit from the cancelled 311 College Avenue project, the amount invested was far less than the sale price for 707 here.

5. Also worth noting, though it’s not good news – The Computing Center’s plans to build a new 4,600 SF headquarters appear to be over. The building site and the approved building plans at Lansing’s 987 Warren Road are up for sale. $499,000 gets you 1.57 acres, the plans, and a single-family home on the eastern end of the property that generates $2,000/month. The project had received an $85,084 tax abatement for the $1.394 million project, which was expected to create six new jobs. For the record, any buyer would need to re-apply for an abatement; the one granted will go unused. At least offhand, it looks like they may have added the jobs (retain 14, add 6, and the website shows nineteen plus the retired founder, and two job postings), but it’s uncertain – they acquired a competitor (Sherpa Technologies) in September, which increased staff to 22. Based off the time of the listing, with the acquisition of Sherpa they may have just led TCC to go a different direction with a new headquarters. What will be, will be.

6. According to construction loan documents filed with Tompkins County, the new 11,180 SF Rite Aid being built at 79 North Street carried with it a $2.71 million price tag. Chemung Canal Trust Company, an Elmira-based bank with branches in Tompkins County, is providing the loan to Dryden Group LLC/Ellicott Development. Ellicott, a major developer out in Buffalo, will be using an in-house contractor team to build out the retail space.

A couple of emails came in asking if this would be a Walgreen’s. On paper, that’s a no – everything filed and documented says Rite Aid, and this was confirmed with the town planning staff. However, Walgreen’s is in the process of acquiring 1,932 Rite Aid stores (leaving Rite Aid with 2,600), and closing several hundred stores that are within close proximity to existing Walgreen’s. It’s possible that the existing Dryden Rite Aid is one of those to be “shut down as part of the sale” as the new Rite Aid-turned-Walgreen’s is being built on the north end of the village. Keep an eye on it.

7. Quick little side note – Ithaca Associates LLC, the development team behind the $110 million Green Street Garage project, is apparently in talks with INHS to manage its affordable housing component. That’s according to Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) meeting minutes. So they are serious about meeting the city’s demand for affordable housing with some undetermined percentage of the 365 units. Heck, 60 or 70 units would be a sizable contribution, should it pan out, and it would make the project more palatable since it would clearly have a mixed-income aspect to go with its mixed uses.

8. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be taking up discussion again on the Nines, though they are less than pleased with the recent 5-5 tie vote the Common Council had on the Chacona block, broken by the mayor’s vote against historic designation. For me, the fascinating part was having someone like Cynthia Brock, typically opposed to greater density, speak in favor, while pro-development councilors like Ducson Nguyen and Seph Murtagh voted in favor of historic designation. So, it was an unusual breakdown of votes that I would not have predicted, although I had heard before the meeting that it would likely be a close vote.

There is no doubt that anything Student Agencies submits will be scrutinized extra closely, especially if they try to maximize square footage or incorporate design features that don’t mesh with neighboring structures. It’s fair to say that while they lucked out with being allowed to redevelop, the resentment already stirred up means anything proposed will be starting behind the proverbial eight ball, and they would be wise to really put their best foot forward and not rush plans.

Interestingly, it looks like someone, likely but not confirmed to be the Reach Project social service group, plans to submit concept designs for the carriage house that once stood behind the house at 310 West State Street. This is a historic district, so any designs for the drug treatment and potential safe heroin injection “harm reduction” site would need to be approved by the ILPC.

It’s been amusing and a bit excruciating to see some of the comments on the Voice – some people are all about historic buildings; but it tortures them to see these venerable structures used for what they see as a less-enlightened cause than a high-end B&B or boutique office. If zoning laws (and higher authorities, in this case) okay it, so be it. Many historic buildings have humdrum or low-brow histories as factories, home businesses or tenements, and to say they can’t be used for something permitted just because it seems icky is not only illegal, it denies part of the historical element.

7. Intriguing, though I have questions – the city is looking at expanding the use of PUDs from beyond the few industrial zones to city-wide so long as properties are 2 acres. They’re also looking at expanding CIITAP to allow 1-story industrial and waterfront projects, as well as an affordable housing component of 20% on all residential or mixed-use projects with residential components of 10 units or more.

The PUD plan comes on the heels of the new Waterfront zones, which allow residential uses on a greater number of parcels, and is in fact the recommendation of the Waterfront Working Group (WWG), a 17-member group of staff and public who reviewed planned zoning changes to the Waterfront. The city planning staff are amenable, though they suggest a minimum acreage of 2 acres.

With the proposed CIITAP change, the reasoning makes sense, although its effectiveness is questionable. Industrial construction is locally limited and is usually build-to-suit for a specific client. There’s also a strong preference to less dense areas with easy access with lower land values, like Lansing or Dryden. More power to the city I guess, I just don’t see it being utilized. As for the housing component, the intent is good, but the issue always ends up being an issue of “moreness”. Developers often have to build bigger to re-balance expenses and revenue within mixed-income structures. This can make it tougher for them to get financing since it’s a larger, more costly build-out (a bigger financial risk, all other things being equal). Residents in turn balk at a bigger project with the traffic, aesthetic changes and other impacts it creates, not to mention some still instinctively sneer at affordable housing, mixed-income or not. It’s not an outright deal-breaker, but it is something to keep in mind.

The PUD can be troublesome since it’s a sort of “DIY zoning”, which would make existing rules pointless and a lot of upset voters if allowed without some big stipulations. 2 acres would limit many projects in the core of the city, but if you happen to be, say, a major landowner along the Waterfront or in the vicinity, like Guthrie or Cayuga Medical Center, it’s basically a red carpet invitation, as it allows them to set the bounds for a project. Notably, neither of those two fall within CIITAP’s boundaries, so while they wouldn’t be eligible for the tax abatement, they also don’t have to worry about the affordable housing component if they choose to do something with housing in the mix.

 





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 9/2017

3 10 2017

So we have a rule at the Voice not to publish the press releases of private for-profit entities unless they add something to an article. They don’t get published as standalones, if at all. From a pragmatic standpoint, giving a for-profit free advertising at our expense doesn’t make good financial sense, and it leads to questions about our integrity.

But, they still come in, filed away in case they come in handy at some point. That was the case here for the press release sent along by Brous Consulting’s Kevin Doubleday for the Ithaka Terraces project back on September 11th:

***

For Immediate Release: September 11th, 2017

Contact: Kyle Waller at 607-272-1765 or office@ppmhomes.com.

ITHAKA TERRACES CONDOMINIUM PROJECT GAINS APPROVALS NEEDED TO PROVIDE FIRST CONDOS AND FIRST NET-ZERO PROPERTY IN DOWNTOWN ITHACA

Ithaka Terraces is a new sustainable luxury condominium complex in downtown Ithaca, currently under construction at 215 West Spencer Street. Scheduled to open in Fall 2017, the Terraces are destined to be the region’s first net-zero condominium complex. The property is currently undergoing last-stage developments with units now available for sale through locally owned and operated PPM Homes. The project is also one of only a few condominium projects to be built in the area since the most recent recession.

The twelve unique units, inspired by colorful Greek cliffside architecture, thus the Ithaka name, range in size from a single story, 1005 square feet flat up to a two-story townhouse, 1520 square feet and boast high-end amenities including hardwood and tile flooring, luxury finishes, and a host of energy-saving appliances. Units start at $299,000.

Combining cutting edge green technology with a walkable location, a car-free or car-light lifestyle is easily attainable. The motivation to build Ithaka Terraces came from the developer’s desire to provide the maximum possible state-of-the-art sustainable living with the highest emphasis on achieving net-zero energy. Hence, no costs were spared to find and take advantage of opportunities in the design and building process to incorporate the most advanced sustainable techniques. The potential for reduced energy use is in place in these condominiums, making the inhabitants able to maintain one of the lowest environmental impacts and costs possible anywhere with a fantastic and active quality of life.

Ithaka Terraces strives to incorporate the most sustainable construction methods and living technology. This includes the use of air-source heat pumps, conduction ranges, LED lighting, electric water heaters, Low-E windows, super-insulated walls and roofs, smart temperature monitoring devices, and other energy-saving devices.

Further green features are available for even greater sustainable living at the Terraces, including charging stations for electric vehicles and at least six Ithaca Carshare vehicles stationed within walking distance. Transportation for the average household is likely to use more energy than the home itself. The Terrace’s convenient location makes it simple to reduce transportation energy use significantly by allowing cars to be an option rather than a necessity for the vast majority of trips.

Because of recent net-metering laws passed by New York State, off-site solar power can be provided to homes in cities from solar arrays outside the city, which makes net-zero living possible. All the energy used at Ithaka Terraces will be provided by solar power from PPM Homes’ 225 kw (835 panels) solar farm about 15 miles east of Ithaca.

Ed Cope, owner of PPM Homes and team leader of the Ithaka Terraces team, has been active in environmental and sustainability causes for forty years.  He started an environmental center in Indiana 25 years ago and he and his family live off grid, using power only from renewable energy (solar panels and some wind).  He started Energy Independent Caroline as part of his early efforts to switch the Caroline town government to renewable energy for its power use.  

One of his apartment buildings on South Hill was the first commercial roof-top solar installation in Ithaca. Ed has strived to build housing units so energy efficient that their entire energy use can come from his small solar farm outside Ithaca; truly net-zero energy. Additional team members include Stream Collaborative, Taitem Engineering, Renovus Solar, and TG Miller and Associates. The project is being managed by Kyle Waller at PPM homes.

For more information on Ithaka Terraces, you can visit: www.ithakaterraces.com or contact Kyle Waller at 272-1765 or office@pphomes.com.

END.

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It looks like they might be doing soft marketing of the units, with a brochure up and inquiries allowed, but no formal listings up yet. The Ithaka Terraces website states that prices will be in the $299,000-$434,000 range, a ~10% jump from previous estimates. Units range in size from 1,005 SF to 1,520 SF. Ten are two-bedroom units, two are three-bedroom units.

Buildings A and C look like they’re getting the scratch coat for its stucco finish, while B is still ZIP panels and waterproofed covers. Framing is still underway for Building D, which started much later than the other three.offhand, I think the shingles are from one of Certaineed’s designer series, here in Cottage Red. The formwork along the east side/upper slope may be for a concrete retaining wall that will hold the hill back from the parking area.





607 South Aurora Street Construction Update, 9/2017

2 10 2017

Landscaped, occupied, done. Modern Living Rentals’ infill project at 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill adds another 25 beds to the market, in four new two-family homes and a renovated existing home.

Strictly looking at the project, it’s pretty unassuming. This armchair critic thinks these turned out nicer than the ones on Elmira Road, though a greater splash of color on the siding would have been nice. The brackets and full-length porch are welcome additions on the Aurora Street structure.

If someone had told me 217 Columbia’s two-family infill would cause such a stir, I would have been surprised, since it’s a small project, and this and the Elmira Road pair didn’t create much a stir during the review process. But sometimes, after multiple projects of similar format, all it takes is one more to stir up enough consternation to snowball into a full-blown controversy.

I’m not going to fault anyone there. MLR’s Charlie O’Connor saw an opportunity and went for it. He is arguably one of the most reticent developers in Ithaca, preferring unobtrusive projects that he hopes will create as little debate as possible. It’s kinda funny in a way, because although he’s a business partner with Todd Fox (Visum’s property management is handled by MLR), the two of them are near-opposites in that regard. He paid a fair sum for 217 Columbia Street, so he doesn’t want to walk away from the investment, but he’ll do whatever it takes to make the neighbors happy short of cancelling the project. At last check, there was a proposal to stipulate the two three-bedroom units would not be permitted to student renters, and that the building would be stick-built and designed to better fit with the older structures of the neighborhood.

On the other side, permanent residents have a right to be annoyed if the perceived balance between students and non-students starts to shift and harm their quality of life. The neighborhood, like many of Ithaca’s more walkable parts, has experienced significant upward pressure on housing prices, and rental infill units can be a double-edged sword because the individual property is priced out of reach for homeowners (for-sale infill would be a different story). Even with the owner-occupied properties, there’s a strong whiff of gentrification, turning what was once a blue-collar neighborhood serving downtown shoppers and Morse Chain into a hodgepodge of increasing number of student rentals, and more white-collar, deep-pocketed households.

Somewhat incongruous to all this is that Ithaca College’s student population has declined almost 10% since 2010, which would suggest less pressure for student rentals; however, many of the college dorms date from the 1960s, and the utilities systems need replacement – some are already on their last legs, and that may limit occupancy as they sputter into obsolescenceThe college and students are aware of the discord and are trying to address it gently; more extreme measures like curtailing the ability or capping the number of students who can live off-campus might create major blowback, something the college may be actively trying to avoid after last year’s turmoil. A new dorm or two would help, but even modular temporary dorms can cost a fair sum, and there is nothing planned in the short-term. A long-term question mark is the impact of the Chain Works District, but that’s a few years out at best.

Landlords should at least be cognizant of this tension (and the ones on South Hill tend to be a mixed bag, to be honest), because if things turn south and the college does take drastic measures, units are going to become much harder to fill at current monthly rates. Town officials and voters were unhappy with the quality and appearance of new housing built in the Birdseye View development and in the Pennsylvania-Kendall Avenue corridor, and that contributed to the push to curtail student housing in the town’s portion of South Hill.

The local community is not easygoing or forgiving. If you do crap work, crap will hit the fan sooner or later. Even if you do good work like 607 South Aurora here, it pays to be attentive and flexible.

While legal language is being prepared for an overlay that would prevent more than one primary structure on South Hill properties until a new neighborhood plan is developed (2-3 years minimum), 217 Columbia had already started review before that was considered, so in effect it’s grandfathered in, even if it hasn’t started construction before the overlay likely gets passed by PEDC this month and Common Council in November.