News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

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4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

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7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





312-314 Spencer Road Construction Update, 3/2017

20 03 2017

Last update for these two-family homes. 125 Elmira Road and 129 Elmira Road are done and at least one of the 3-bedroom units is occupied. Each house uses three different colors of Certrainteed vinyl siding. Each floor has a unique lap siding finish, while the gables have colored shake siding and are roofed with asphalt shingles. Side note, the two older homes at 312 and 314 Spencer Road are being renovated as part of the project.

It’s only now occurring to me that the elevations presented in the initial SPR filing don’t match either structure – the diagram shows a house with bay window projections and two front entrances. 125 Elmira has the dual front entrances but no bay windows, while 129 has a front entrance and a side entrance (and as noted in January, the shake siding does not cover the whole bay projection as originally intended).

It’s not a large or imposing project, but it does give the east end of Old Elmira Road a more residential feel, and thoughtful infill is always welcome. For those interested in the background story, here is the link.

Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals is the developer, and Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative was the architect. Superior Walls did the concrete foundation. I have not seen anything about the general contractor, but if any readers know, please feel free to leave a note in the comments.





News Tidbits 3/12/17: Affordable Housing Week 2017

13 03 2017

It’s been a busy week. Let’s start by reviewing some of the entrants for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 16th and 23rd as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants, same number as last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.982 million requested, and $1.149 million available; that’s up from $1.85 million requested in 2016, with $1.54 million available (about $273,900 of that came from the returned funding for INHS’s cancelled project at 402 South Cayuga Street). In fact, the amount of money available is the lowest it’s been in a few years – in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. With the increasing requests, the chances for funding have gone down this year.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. The big new proposal coming out this year appears to be Lakeview Health Service’s plan for the corner of North Meadow and West Court Streets on the city’s West End. I expanded on the basics in a Voice article here, but for the blog’s sake, we’ll take a look at the finances.

In terms of leverage, it’s a pretty big project – a request of $250,000 towards a $20,081,186 project. However, keep in mind this project is only eligible for HOME funds and not CDBG (Federal Community Development Block Grants), and the city only has $295,245 in HOME funds to work with after overhead is taken into account – this is a pretty substantial request for something still in the conceptual stages.

The project fills a substantial by providing 50 units of affordable rental housing, all 1-bedroom units, in a 5-story building. Not only that, but half of those units would be set aside for those living with psychiatric disabilities. Ten of the general housing units would be available to those making 50-60% of area median income (AMI, about $27-$32k), with the other 40 going for less than or equal to 50% AMI. Those units will be interspersed with the general affordable housing. The special needs residents will be considered case-by-case; it’s for those who are generally independent, but may need assistance in stressful or difficult times. Lakeview will maintain an office on the first floor that will be staffed 24/7.

Some retail space will also be available on the first floor, which helps to cover the operational expenses, and meets the city’s goal of a more dense and vibrant West End. 17 parking spaces will be provided, so it’s expected the residents will utilize bikes and mass transit. The design will be slab-on-grade, with a deep foundation – soil in this part of the city is poor due to the high water table, so projects either have to be one or two floors with slab foundations, or they have to build enough floors to accommodate the costs of driving piles into the ground, in this case 80 feet down. This is something to keep in mind with the waterfront rezoning, as the soils are pretty similar.

The pro-forma assumes $730,300 in income in the first year after vacancies are noted, and about $313,500 in expenses, leaving a little over $416,800 for debt service. Everything goes up a little bit each subsequent year for inflation. The debt service is scheduled to last for 50 years.

Rochester’s PLAN Architectural Studios is the architect, so expect a modern design not unlike the cancelled concept plan for the Elmira Savings Bank site on West State and Meadow. The preliminary floor plan suggests the retail will face West Court Street rather than the Meadow/13 corridor.

As with many affordable projects, this one has a rather extended schedule due to the need to compete for public grants in tandem with private loans – funding applications are being submitted this year with loan awards during 2018, including the IURA’s. Construction would be from October 2018 to April 2020, with rent-up shortly thereafter. It’s odd to think this likely won’t even show up in the 2020 census, but we’re starting to get that far into the decade.

2. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity is continuing to move forward with their 4-unit townhouse plan at 402 South Cayuga. The non-profit has agreed to purchase the land from the city for $32,000, a below-market price that the city is fine with accepting, given Habitat’s plans for 4 owner-occupied affordable townhomes for those making 30-60% area median income (AMI). They are requesting $80,000 towards the $270,000 cost. It appears that Habitat’s splitting it into two phases, two units in each – given the small size of their organization, it’s a sensible approach. $540,000 for ~5200 SF of units is also quite a deal, at about $104/SF, about half the cost of an INHS project. Habitat does have volunteer labor that it can utilize.

Habitat is hoping to parlay the Morris Avenue two-family they’re doing later this year into sustained interest and funding for Cayuga Street – attracting donors with one city project, who might be interested in donating time and dollars to the next one. Like with Lakeview, construction is likely on a 2018-2020 timeframe. They’re also only eligible for HOME funds, so either Lakeview or Habitat will not be getting their full request, possibly both.

3. On the economic development side, TCAction is requesting $84,200 towards their $8.25 million childcare center at 661-665 Spencer Road. The project is part of the Amici House plan and was approved by the city concurrently, but technically separate from the 23 units of vulnerable youth housing being provided next door.

Named for a late, long-time TCAction employee Harriet Giannelis, the project helps fund the site acquisition – one of the land parcels is owned by the county, and TCAction has a $184,000 purchase lease-back agreement (the county bought the land from a private owner, and they’re currently leasing it to TCAction), which will be paid off partly with the IURA funds. The new 7,010 SF childcare center will provide daycare and early-education programs (Head Start) to 40 low-income children. Although promising three new jobs in the application, TCAction expects 21 Full-time equivalent positions to be created. It’s easier to provide an employee’s lifetime income documentation for 3 staff vs. 21. Welliver will be the project contractor, so expect local union labor.

Most of the other funds come from county, state and federal grants – another $500,000 comes from a loan with M&T Bank.

4. Also on the economic side is Finger Lakes Re-Use’s expansion plan at 214 Old Elmira Road. the non-profit has refined their plans for a new mixed-use expansion, and plans to start the city’s formal project review process later this month. Some of the numbers have been tweaked a little bit, but the basic components are the same – Finger Lakes ReUse would work with Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) to bring a new 4-story, 26,100 square-foot (SF) building to FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The first floor would expand FLR’s retail operation, while the upper floors would provide office space for FLR, and 22 units of transitional housing for formerly homeless individuals. Plans also call for an 8,100 SF warehouse for salvaged lumber/wood, and a 600 SF pavilion. 79 parking spaces are included in the project.

As with TCAction’s Giannelis Center, 9 FTE jobs are expected to be created by the $10 million project, but FLR promises to provide previous income documentation for 3. The monetary request from the CDBG funds is $100,000, and they will also be using Welliver. Welliver seems to be the safe choice when a developer wants subcontracted or direct local union labor.

The application states the $100k is going towards site acquisition, which I’m not fully following since they own the property and it doesn’t appear any new property is to be acquired. Perhaps the site has legal stipulations that have to be bought away? It’s not totally clear.

If I can be an architecture critic for a moment, I like the warm colors, but that largely blank east stairwell is kinda bleak. Maybe use those orange panels on that as well? Or another warm color?

Anyway, we’ll find what the IURA thinks; funding will be determined by the end of April, and formally awarded in June after the city’s Planning Committee signs off on the disbursement.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





News Tidbits 7/23/16: Movers, Makers, Shakers, and Breakers

23 07 2016

1. Hitting the market late last week – a small office building with potential. 416 Elmira Road is located on the southern edge of the big box district, right next to the “bridge to nowhere” and a little before Buttermilk Falls. Built in 1988, it’s a one-story 4,000 SF building on 0.32 acres, inoffensive to the eye but fairly humdrum with a CMU exterior. The current owner is a spinal surgeon in Delaware who picked it up in 2009 for $500k. Previously, the building served as the local office for a state agency.

One could pick the building up if they wanted offices in a high-traffic area, although a few options present themselves. The zoning is SW-3 = SW (SouthWest Area) is a sort of catch-all for business types allowed under Ithaca zoning, with SW-3 geared towards smaller suburban box retail. That is a possibility here, although there wouldn’t be much parking on-site. Housing is an option here as well, although perhaps not appealing since the zoning is capped at two floors with 60% lot coverage. The list price is $585k, we’ll see what happens.

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2. …and item number two, hitting the market this past Wednesday, and probably the far more interesting of the two listings in this week’s update. Cornell has put their West End printing facility and warehouse up for sale. The Big Red seems to be trying to rid itself of excess properties in the past few weeks, having recently listed partially-developed land it has off Triphammer as well. The 37,422 SF Cornell U. Press facility at 750 Cascadilla Street was acquired by the university in 1993, and is valued at $1.6 million by the county. The other warehouse, 30,000 SF 770 Cascadilla Street, is leased by a storage company from Cornell, who purchased the building in 2000, and is valued at $1.2 million. The listing is $2.7 million, so these two properties and the 3.12 acres they sit on are being marketed below assessment.

This part of the city has attracted quite a bit of attention as of late. The Maguires are quietly working on their plans for a new set of dealerships to the north and east. Form Ithaca has envisioned keeping the warehouse properties intact, but reusing and renovating them into “maker spaces” as part of an “Innovation District” for food processors, technology firms and light manufacturing. The land itself is zoned industrial, but the city’s comprehensive plan calls for waterfront-focused mixed-use, so in practice the zoning is obsolete, due to be updated as the city continues with neighborhood-specific comprehensive plans over the next 12 months. That sort of creates a grey area where, if a potential buyer has a plan in mind, they’d probably be better off pitching it to City Hall and JoAnn Cornish first, and gauging reactions.

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3. Well, this was pretty quick. Local developer Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals has secured funding for his 2-building, 4-unit project at 312-314 West Spencer Road, on vacant land subdivided from two existing houses. The two two-story duplexes received a $250,000 construction loan from Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate on Friday the 15th. Noah Demarest designed the two stacked flat-type apartments, three bedrooms per units. SPR documents stated an August 2017 opening, but with this funding in hand, it might be sooner.

4. Also receiving a construction loan – $450,000 at 322-24 Smith Road in Groton town, the site of a “canine events center“. The Bank of Groton is the lender. The 17,320 SF facility was built last year, so either this is some other site improvement, or the filing is really late. Also, canine event centers are a thing. The more you know.

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5. This could be called a “scorched earth” approach. Neil Golder has a lawsuit against Todd Fox and the city of Ithaca Planning Board over the 44-unit, 74-bed 201 College project, saying the decision was capricious and that the project should require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The court’s ruling will be released August 8th.

I’ll be frank – while this project matters a lot to Neil, as proposals go it’s a fairly routine midsize ($5 million -$15 million) project, like any of the other Collegetown buildings underway, like Hancock and Stone Quarry, like the Old Library site, the Carey addition or the Hotel Ithaca addition. The board declares lead agency for SEQR/CEQR review, they identify issues, and it’s the applicants responsibility to resolve them to the board’s satisfaction. If that has been done, a negative declaration is issued, and approval can be considered, as is the case here. An EIS only comes into play for projects that pose truly significant detrimental impacts to a large population if the issues aren’t effectively mitigated – hence why Maplewood Park, Cornell’s 880-bed housing development, and the multi-million square-foot Chain Works District are the only two active projects required to complete an EIS. Past precedent suggests Neil doesn’t have much of a case.

We’ll file this with the Times’ write-up about the fight over the Old Library, and the fight over Maplewood. Short summary, everyone’s on the warpath this week.

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6. This week was focused on doing write-ups about the county housing study for the Voice, but that was before the county pulled nearly all the materials offline. Boo, Tompkins. Anyway – here’s a few details from the special needs interviews that I had planned sharing in this update – Catholic Charities has procured a 4-bedroom house, INHS’s Paul Mazzarella says his organization is looking at introducing a new project in 2017, and TCAction has early plans for a second, 15-bed facility, separate from their Amici House project.

7. The town of Ithaca is planning to put out a “request for qualifications for professional services” to conduct an economic feasibility study of the Elmira Road / Inlet Valley corridor southwest of the city.  The official vote to move forward will be at the Tuesday meeting, with bids due by some point in September. The $60,000 study (half town, half NYS ESD) will be an economic feasibility study and development plan designed “to enhance its distinct characteristics by fostering and building on the assets that currently exist, rather than enabling expansion of the city’s urban and regional development”. In other words, the town would like to expand on its idea from the Comprehensive Plan – artisanal and cottage industries, “maker spaces”, some lodging and light industrial. We’ll see what they come up with, which will have to relate to the new form-based code the town is planning to implement.

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8. Fairly light agenda for the city planning board next week – not a whole lot of decision making expected.

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

A. Rooftop telecommuncation facility on top of Island Fitness – Declaration of Lead Agency, public hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
B. 201 College – “No Action — Applicant’s Response to Site Plan Review Issues”. Originally this was supposed to be final site plan approval, which may or may not be impacted by the whole lawsuit spiel.
C. City Centre (shown above) – “No Action — Applicant Response to Planning Board Comments”
D. SKETCH PLAN: Amici House — Tompkins Community Action Expansion at 661-711 Spencer Rd – I had heard this one might be four floors, and INHS has a hand in it. We’ve seen the site plan for a while now, so this isn’t going to make a big splash.





News tidbits 6/26/16: The Odd Time Out

26 06 2016

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1. In what was ostensibly the biggest news of the week, Newman Development Group (NDG) of Vestal announced plans for the Trebloc site in downtown Ithaca. “City Centre” includes nine floors total, with roughly 250 apartments from studios to 2-bedrooms, about 10,000 SF (square feet) of retail space, 3,200 SF of amenities like a business center, and an underground garage of 70 spaces (the site is zoned CBD-120, which has no parking requirement). Readers might recall that Texas-based student housing developer Campus Advantage had proposed the State Street Triangle project, but their purchase option was not renewed by the owner of Trebloc.

Looking at their portfolio, Ithaca is NDG’s odd market out – most of their projects involve suburban retail centers and chain hotels, with shopping plazas from coast to coast. A smaller division, NDG Student Living, focuses on acquiring and building student housing, with their most recent projects in Binghamton and Oneonta. Ithaca seems to be the only metro where they’ve built general housing; earlier this decade, they worked with local businessman Bryan Warren on the Seneca Way mixed-use project on the east end of downtown.

The gut reaction to Newman as a developer is that, although they’re not very accustomed to urban mixed-use, there is one market where they do know what they’re doing, and that would be Ithaca’s.

Let’s just start right off the bat with one big difference between NDG and CA – the way the news was broken. CA was caught off-guard when the Journal’s David Hill broke the news of a 120-foot building a few days before the Planning Board meeting. NDG, working with local consultant Scott Whitham, emailed the same press release to each of the three major news organizations in Ithaca, which gave them the upper hand on the way information was delivered. The Times ran their copy first with almost no additional details, the Voice came a little later in the afternoon with more details such as unit total and retail space, and the Journal’s version came in the evening with even more details, such as the 70-space underground garage, and plans for the project to pursue CIITAP, the city’s property tax abatement program.

We’ll see what happens next week. The garage, not removing the turn lane, the general housing focus as opposed to students, and an initial design by Humphreys and Partners Architects that doesn’t repulse people are all cards that NDG holds that CA didn’t. But, there will still be sizable opposition. Playing your cards correctly is just as important to a winning hand as having them.

2. It looks like Gimme! Coffee is percolating something new out in Trumansburg. Through an LLC, the local coffee chain picked up 25-27 West Main Street for $350,000 on the 20th. The building is the former Independent Order of Odd Fellows Temple, a fraternal organization which established a chapter in Trumansburg in 1839, with ties to an older fraternal organization going further back to 1818. The 19th century temple is now about 1,700 SF of retail space, and 3 apartments totaling 3,300 SF on the upper floors; recent tenants have included Life’s So Sweet Chocolates and a barber shop.

Ithaca also had a location, first in downtown, and then on West Hill from the late 1920s. The older location was demolished to build the county library in the 1960s, while the West Hill location is a mix of uses today, one of which is the Museum of the Earth.

Gimme! has had a 1,200 SF shop at nearby 7 East Main Street since 2002, but they rent the space from Interlaken businessman Ben Guthrie. Logical guess here would be, they like Trumansburg, they wanted to buy a space and stay near where they are now, this opportunity came up down the street and they went for it. The sale price on 25-27 W Main is a substantial climb from the $288,000 it sold for in June 2010; I guess they call Trumansburg “little Ithaca” for a reason.

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3. So, documents filed with the 201 College project this week were quite intriguing. First off, no action was taken at the zoning board meeting, but the developer of 201 College modified the project so that it no longer needs the setback variance or the entryways design variance. The planters were shrunk down in order to keep the sidewalk 12′ wide as requested by the Planning Board. Some additional 3-D drawings were also sent along, and site elevations and utilities plan here.

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One of the images sent along was a “future context” file of potential nearby projects in the next couple of years. This document likely stems from the Planning Board debate of just what is likely to get developed in the vicinity over the next 5 years or so. There are four massings, merely following what zoning allows.

302-306 College Avenue – “Avenue 302”, by the Avramis family. Two buildings, one of six floors, one four, possibly in the 2017-2019 timeframe. Nothing formal has been discussed since the 2014 sketch plan, but the houses currently there are leased through May 2017.

215 College Avenue – A Novarr project. All that is publicly known at this stage is that Novarr wants to start construction in Summer 2017. Zoning allows 5 floors.

202 College Avenue – 202, 204, 206 and 210 College Avenue are all Novarr properties (there is no 208), as is the adjacent 118 Cook Street, which is not included in the massing outline. The College Avenue parcels allow 5 floors, 118 Cook 4. There hasn’t been any news with these properties lately.

119-125 College Avenue – three houses (there is no 123) owned by an Endicott-based landlord. I had to put out some inquiries on these houses, and there may be a sale in the works, although nothing’s on file with the county yet. These are CR-4, allowing 4 floors, but they could be tough to redevelop because these houses are seen as potentially historic resources.

Anyway, a vote on the project’s approvals is set for Tuesday. Neil Golder has created a group called “Save the Soul of Collegetown” to stage a rally in front of city hall that evening and try and halt the plans, but the last I checked on Facebook, three of the five people going were reporters.

 

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4. Going more into briefs now, the Amici House funding plan for building a housing facility for 23 at-risk youth, and a second structure for five head-start classrooms and 42 students, was approved by the county this week. Once the sale is finalized, expect the official plans to be presented to city officials not long thereafter. Once those are approved, additional grant applications can be filed and hopefully, construction will be completed no later than 2018. According to the county’s press release, the Amici plan will create about 25 living wage jobs.

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5. Starting on the 27th, Gannett Health Services will begin to transition over to the new addition, while work begins on renovating the older wings of Cornell’s healthcare facility. This marks the rough completion of phase one, and the halfway point for the $55 million project. The Gannett webpage says the whole facility will be known as “Cornell Health” upon completion.

6. Back in November, Ithaca’s second ward saw a competitive election between candidates Ducson Nguyen and Sean Gannon. One of the big differences between the two was on development – Nguyen advocated for urban development in downtown, and Gannon thought there was too much building going on and it needed to be slowed down. Nguyen won by a hefty margin on election night.

A building loan agreement was inked next week to build a new duplex (two-unit semi-detached house) behind an existing property at 512-514 West Green Street. $330,000, Ithaca’s Carina Construction will be the contractor (expect a Simplex modular duplex). The property is bisected by zoning, with the rear falling into the State Street development corridor, so no parking is required for the new rear duplex. At a glance, it looks like a winning plan – it will be modest-sized, it’s in a walkable area, and it supplies much-needed housing. The Ciaschi family is developing the units.

The property also happens to be next door to Mr. Gannon. I’m sure he will be all kinds of amused.