South Meadow Square Construction Update, 6/2018

18 06 2018

The new endcap spaces on the former KMart (now Hobby Lobby) Plaza at 742-744 South Meadow Street. The first set of photos are the northern endcap with 7,315 SF of retail space, next to PetSmart. The southern endcap is a 14,744 SF space being built where K-Mart’s garden center used to be, which I think explains the huge chunks of concrete slab piled out in front.

With no tenants formally announced, these spaces will not be completely finished on the inside – all utilities will be in as well as structural supports and insulation, but the space will be fitted out to the needs of the tenants, so things like flooring, fixtures and interior finishes will wait until someone has signed a lease with Benderson Development. I did not see anything on file for a fit-out in the city of Ithaca’s building permits paperwork (however, I did see last week that Elmira Savings Bank landed an unnamed tenant for its second floor office space at 602 West State Street).

Oftentimes you’ll see retail real estate managers try to find tenants that complement each other, say a salon and a cafe, or a sporting goods store with a women’s clothing store (the somewhat sexist argument there is that the ladies go to one while their male partners go to the other). Increasingly, entertainment and recreation options are becoming tenants – take for instance the announcement that a live theatre company will be taking 12,000 SF of space in the Shops at Ithaca Mall. That can help existing tenants by drawing in unique customer traffic that may choose to browse, shop and dine at other mall venues.

Back to the site at hand, the decorative facade appears to be initially shaped with plywood over steel stud walls, with a layer of fireproof gypsum laid over the top of that (except toe cornices, which appear to have no plywood layer, only gypsum). The bases are concrete masonry walls. The textured stone veneers and fiber cement panels will come later.





News Tidbits 4/28/2018

28 04 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 





News Tidbits 4/21/2018

21 04 2018

1. Just a few things since there isn’t much on the table at the moment…a look at next week’s planing board agenda.

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III. A. City Centre, 301 East State Street – Consideration of Project Changes and Conditions 6:20

The blog has touched on this previously, and it can also be seen by hawk-eyed passerby or webcam visitors. While the general massing and materials are staying the same, there are some pretty substantial changes to interior and exterior details, including significant revisions to site layout, landscaping and fenestration. New materials are also being deployed, though these are designed to look similar to the initially-approved materials.

B. Hilton Canopy Hotel, 115 Seneca Way – Consideration of Materials Color Change 6:40

Another project seeking revisions, though these can’t be ascribed to “value engineering”. According to project representative Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design, the manufacturer of the metal panels switched from Cem5 with Swiss Pearl paints to Nichiha Panels using PPG Paints, which will create some subtle color differences.

The second change is that Hilton decided they didn’t like the yellowish fiber cement panels (“Applesauce Cake”) as an accent color, so they’ve been replaced with a dark grey-brown color, “Dark Ash”. I think it’s a little more foreboding to have a group of colors that look like the embodiment of an Ithaca winter, but hey, I’m just an armchair critic. Not mentioned, but it looks like based on the elevations that some trim pieces were deleted as well, as well as a glass entry on the north elevation.

C. Retail Expansion, 744 South Meadow Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing 7:00

Doubt there will be too many speakers during this public hearing. Benderson’s 3,200 SF is moving along. Corrugated aluminum and a “Brazilian rain screen” on the front, Brick pier for an accent, and the usual CMU and EIFS (aka masonry and synthetic stucco) on the back half. No named tenant. From experience, Benderson doesn’t say if they have tenants. They will not respond, period, if I ask no one is lined up, but if someone is, I usually get a call back. I prefer rival DLC Management Corporation’s method of monthly press releases, to be honest.

D. Duplex, 207-209 First Street, Declaration of Lead Agency 7:20

No modifications for this small infill project on the North Side by local businessman David Barken. Should be a fairly cut-and-dry affair. More on the project here.

E. GreenStar Co-operative Market, 750/770 Cascadilla Street, Declaration and Reviews of Parts 2 and 3 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form, 7:40

Not many changes with this plan. They’ve spoken with city engineers about their traffic study, and the city would like a few more bicycle and pedestrian features, as well as a few parking spaces designated for a car-share service like Ithaca CarShare. They also want a firm plan for traffic management while construction is underway, since it’s right next to Route 13. Other than that, looks like smooth sailing.

On an additional note, GreenStar has initiated the Tompkins County IDA tax abatement request process. This was stated in the plans early on, so it’s an expected action. The City of Ithaca announced in an email that a public information session that will be held Monday, April 30 at 5:30 p.m. However, they didn’t provide any supplemental information or links in the email, and nothing appears to be in the city’s document database. Nothing on the IDA’s website yet, either.

F. The Lux, 232-236 Dryden Road, Request to omit rooftop mechanical screen.

STREAM Collaborative, the architects of the project, are requesting on behalf of the developer, Visum Development Group, to delete sections of the fiber cement screen up top. This is often met with a stern “no”, but in this case they’re trying to show through sight-line diagrams that the effect will be minimal, though I suppose from farther vantage points that can see the roof, it would still be less attractive. The board’s objective is to figure out what suffices. Not sure whether this deletion is financially motivated, or if there safety/equipment concerns with the screen.

Not to be cynical, because it’s not my money and many people work hard to make these projects happen, but it does look like there are up to three projects previously approved that are coming back before the board this month wholly or in part for value engineering, which is not a great message to send. A member of the board isn’t likely to shoot anything down regardless of its negative aesthetic or neighborhood impacts because no one wants a half-finished building. But this may lead to much longer stipulations for approval, and a more stringent Planning Board that lengthens the initial approval process.

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks District FGEIS – Special Meeting in May
B. Planning Board comments on the proposal to allow the Planning Board to grant Special Permits

2. For all the Varna/Dryden readers – a developer is proposing a multi-family project in Varna, and would like to host an open house and community meeting at the Varna Community Association building Monday May 14th. Chances are, it they’re going to this much effort, it’s a sizable project. Give them (whoever it is) some benefit of the doubt. They’re not surprising people with a planning board submission, they want input first.





News Tidbits 4/7/18: A Day Late and A Dollar Short

7 04 2018

1. It appears the Sleep Inn hotel is moving forward. Building permits for the 37,000 SF, 70 room hotel at 635 Elmira Road were issued by the town of Ithaca on March 23rd. According to the town’s documentation, the project cost is $4.1 million, though it’s not 100% clear if that’s hard costs (materials/labor) and soft costs (legal/engineering/design work), or just hard costs alone.

The Sleep Inn project was first introduced in Spring 2016, and underwent substantial aesthetic revisions to a more detail, rustic appearance. Even then, the project was barely approved by the Planning Board, which had concerns about its height, relatively small lot size and proximity to the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so although the Sleep Inn brand is new to the area (and uncommon in upstate New York), it’s not as unusual as it seems. Given the size, a 12-month buildout seems reasonable. Look for updates as the project gets underway.

2. In a similar vein, the gut renovation and expansion at 1020 Craft Road now has a building loan on file – $1.88 million as of April 3rd, courtesy of Elmira Savings Bank. The existing 10,500 SF industrial building has been gutted down to the support beams, and will be fully rebuilt with an additional 4,400 SF of space. The project is being developed and built by Marchuska Brothers Construction of Binghamton. According to the village of Lansing and the developer, the project will be occupied by multiple medical tenants.

3. The problem with tight publishing deadlines is that if a quote doesn’t arrive in time, you can either put it in afterward as an updated statement, or it gets left out. So on the heels of the report that Visum Development Group is upstate New York’s fastest growing company in terms of revenue (Inc.com’s guidelines were three-year period 2014-16 and at least $100,000 in revenue to start), I wanted to share this for those who might have missed the article update. The statement comes courtesy of Todd Fox, who was asked for comment and responded the following day.

“I would love to acknowledge the Visum team because without them I would never be able to accomplish what I am doing. I’m blessed to have the most passionate and talented people I have ever met. Chris Petrillose is my longest running team member and is the backbone of operations. I also want to acknowledge Patrick Braga, Matt Tallarico, Marissa Vivenzio, and Piotr Nowakowski. They are all rock stars and deserve so much of the credit for our success!

We are currently looking to expand into several new markets, which are as far south as Sarasota Florida and as far west as Boise Idaho. For the Ithaca market, we are essentially hitting the breaks on student housing for Cornell, as we beginning to experience some softening in the market. Our new focus is on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals. We actually have multiple properties under contract and plan to bring about 1,000 to 2,000 new beds online over the next several years.”
Note the last parts. The market for student housing if softening. Visum will focus on for-sale condos and moderate-affordable rentals, things Ithaca could use more of, and 1,000 to 2,000 beds would certainly make a dent in the housing deficit. Of course, proof is in the pudding, so we’ll see what happens over the next several years.

4. The town of Ithaca was less than pleased about Maplewood’s request to extend indoor working hours until 10:30 PM. Labor, weather and building supply (wood frame) issues were cited as reasons for the needed extension. The Ithaca Times’ Matt Butler, who was at the meeting, provided this quote:

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Yikes. The “happy medium” the board finally gave in to was construction until 9 PM on buildings interior to the project site, away from the main roads. The tradeoff is that EdR and Cornell now expect to not have some of the later structures ready until August 20th, practically move-in day for all of Cornell’s on-campus undergrads.

5. Readers of the Voice and Times will know that the county is pursuing some of the $3.3 billion in federal dollars earmarked but not yet disbursed for opioid crisis treatment. While a temporary addiction facility is being prepared, there are plans in the works to open a detox and stabilization facility in Tompkins County. Unfortunately, it needs much more funding to move forward. The new facility will cost $11 million to build and make operational, and so far about $1 million has been received so far in grants.

For the purpose of this blog, I asked about the design beside Angela Sullivan and Senator Schumer – it is a conceptual design for demonstrative purposes, and a location for a new facility has not yet been fully determined. However, they intend to send a press release once a site has been selected.

By the way, the green logo at lower right is a giveaway on the architect – that would be Ithaca’s HOLT Architects, who are specialists in healthcare facilities.

6. New to the market this week, “Clockworks Plaza” at 402 Third Street in the city of Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood. The 12,821 SF building was one of the few sizable buildings built in Ithaca in the 1990s (1993, to be exact), and is on the market for $2.6 million. The current owner, masked by an LLC, bought the property for $1.5 million in April 2016, the same value for which it is assessed.

That came up on the blog here. The buyer was Steven Wells of suburban Boston, who purchased the property in a buying spree that also included 508 West State Street (former Felicia’s, empty at the time) and 622 Cascadilla Street. 508 West State is now rented by Franco’s Pizzeria. Zaza’s still occupies 622 Cascadilla.

As I wrote at the time of sale:

“They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.”

The reason why the public relations game was ‘behind the eight ball’? He was the guy who sold 602 West State Street and adjacent low-income housing properties to Elmira Savings Bank. There were accusations that the transaction between Wells and the bank was poorly handled, with claims that the lease terms of existing tenants were changed improperly, and tenants not being told their homes were being sold. It’s not clear it that’s accurate, because no one would share their documents to prove their claims. But what is clear is that this created a nightmare situation.

 

7. It looks likely fewer people will be living in City Centre than first intended. The initial 192-unit mix was 61 studios, 78 one-bedrooms and 53 two-bedrooms. The newly-proposed mix is 33 studios, 120 one-bedrooms, and 39 two-bedrooms. It also appears the retail space has been reconfigured from four spaces to three, though the overall square footage appears to be about the same. There are some minor exterior changes proposed as well; paver colors, lighting, the types of metal panel used (Alucoil to Overly Dimension XP and Larson ACM panels), landscaping, and exterior vents. Assuming the PDF is accurate, the panel change is slight, but gives the building a slightly darker grey facade. Some of these changes are in response to code and safety discussions, others are likely value engineering.

8. From the city’s project memo, we see Greenstar’s new store (which is going into the Voice) and a pair of new if small projects.

The first is that it appears Benderson is expanding South Meadow Square again. Along with the pair of endcap additions underway, the Buffalo-based retail giant is looking to add a 3,200 SF addition to the west endcap of one of its smaller retail strings. The addition is on the Chipotle/CoreLife strip, next to Firehouse Subs. The dumpster enclosure currently on-site will be relocated to the Panera strip across the road to make room for the building, which will be flush to the sidewalk with…a blank wall. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity there. The 35′ x 92′ addition has no announced tenant, though 3,200 SF is reasonable for a smaller restaurant or retail space (Chipotle is 2,400 SF, for instance, and Panera 4,100 SF; the stores in this particular retail strip, which includes a vitamin store, tanning salon and barber shop, are in the range of 1,380-4,089 SF). The total project cost is only $132,000, and no construction period is given in the Site Plan Review document.

The second is a “pocket neighborhood” in Northside. Barken Family Realty of Ithaca is planning to renovate two existing homes at 207 and 209 First Street, and add a new 2,566 SF two-family home behind the properties. They would be set up as a “pocket neighborhood”, consolidated into a single tax parcel with a common area, picnic tables and raised plant beds. The fence would be repaired and the gravel driveways improved. No demolition is planned, but five mature trees would come down to make way for the new home (6-8 new trees will be planted).

Hamel Architects of Aurora designed the new duplex, which is intended to quietly fit into the neighborhood context. Each unit will be two bedrooms. The $265,000 project would be built from October 2018 to March 2019.

9. We’ll finish this week with a potential new build. The above project was first showcased on STREAM Collaborative’s Instagram at an early stage. It is a 3.5 story, 11,526 SF building with 10 units (6 one-bedroom, 4 two-bedroom), and the two one-bedrooms on the first floor are live-work spaces – the front entrances are workspaces for home businesses. It is proposed along West Seneca Street, and only the south side of West Seneca allowed for mixed-uses like live/work spaces. Materials look to be Hardie Board fiber cement lap siding and trim. The design is influenced by other structures along West Seneca, and a bit from STREAM architect Noah Demarest’s time with Union Studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where he worked before setting up his own practice back in Ithaca – there are similarities between here and Union Studio’s Capitol Square mixed-use design in Providence.

The project actually was sent with its name and title, but fingers crossed, it will be part of a bigger article.

 

 

 





South Meadow Square Construction Update, 3/2018

23 03 2018

One doesn’t have to look far to see retail is taking in on the chin. Wikipedia has a well-sourced listicle of events in the “retail apocalypse“, as it’s been branded by the national media outlets. Several factors play into the spike in retail chain bankruptcies and closures across the country – the rise of Internet shopping (Amazon) and easy, cheap distribution, Wal-Mart and other megachains exerting economies of scale on other retailers can’t afford to sell as cheaply, younger generations buy less “stuff”, the United States simply has too much retail space.

For now, some retailers are more immune than others – those who focus on convenience and budget necessities (dollar stores), those who sell goods that are hard to ship (home improvement stores, wholesale clubs), and those who focus on experiences rather than items. However, even sectors that were once seen as safe as starting to feel the pinch – pharmacies and grocery stores, for instance.

With all that in mind, it seems a bit odd to be building new suburban “big-box” retail space, but Buffalo-based Benderson Development is doing just that at South Meadow Square at 742-744 South Meadow Street on the city’s southwest side. Benderson purchased the retail strip from the original developers (the Visnyei family) in 2009.

Development of Ithaca’s big-box corridor has always been contentious. Long ago, the area consisted of a few small auto-centric businesses and the county fairgrounds (hence Fairgrounds Memorial Parkway). During the mid and late 20th century, big box retail slowly made its way into the southwest part of the city – what’s now Finger Lake Reuse on Old Elmira Road was built as a grocery store in the 1970s, and parts of Ithaca Plaza next door date to 1950. Wegmans opened a store in the 1980s, and replaced with newer, larger store in 1997.

The 1990s was when big-box development pressure seemed to come to a head. Wal-Mart was stymied for years thanks to neighborhood opposition, and Target eventually gave up its plans and moved to Lansing. But, much to the city’s chagrin, the 1990s were difficult times economically – the tax base was in decline, state aid was in decline, and the local economy was mired in a deep recession. Somewhat begrudgingly, the Nichols (1989-1995) but especially the Cohen administration (1995-2003) began permitting large-scale retail development in the hopes of propping up the tax base and stemming the flow of dollars to suburban outlets in the suburbs, as well as Elmira and Cortland.

Many of the  city’s big boxes are result of that late 1990s/early 2000s wave. Wal-Mart (2005, expanded to a Supercenter in 2011), Home Depot (2003), the Tops Placa (2002). Some were all-new, others were extensive renovations and rebuilds. This particular retail strip at 742-744 is one of the latter – it had actually opened as a rather large 87,000 SF K-Mart in the 1970s (the 22,000 SF supermarket it shared a lobby with later became Staples), and was extensively renovated and in the mid-1980s and in more recent years. The K-Mart looked pretty dated when it closed in October 2011. Hobby Lobby filled some of the old K-Mart space in 2013, and in fall of that year, plans were drawn up for a pair of endcap expansions.

One was on the north end – 7,315 SF of retail space, next to the early 2000s 19,000 SF PetSmart. The other was a 14,744 SF south endcap that would be built were K-Mart’s garden center used to be. These plans were approved in November 2013, but then updates and revisions were proposed in 2014, when TJ Maxx and Five Below were announced to fill the remaining vacant space (21,770 SF and 8,209 SF respectively). At that time, the southern addition became 16,200 SF.

For one reason or another, Benderson decided to go back to the original plan (probably a potential tenant backed out) early last year, and asked for re-approval of the November 2013 additions – city approval is only good for two years. Unlike most parts of the city, the lack of nearby residents and general apathy towards big-box retail makes variances somewhat easier to receive; plus, a re-approval is typically a small matter – re-approval was granted in May. City zoning (SW-2, and PUDOD) is generous down here because the city keeps hoping someone will do walkable mixed-use, but the waterlogged soils make that difficult – you either build shallow, or quite deep, and quite deep requires a lot of height and square footage above ground to make up those construction costs.

Construction is going to be fairly standard – concrete slab foundation, steel frame, masonry walls, and probably some decorative entry bays and facade work. At the moment, excavation is underway for the footers of the foundation on the southern end, while the footers have already been poured and strengthened with rebar on the northern end. The Dryvit and brick veneer on the wall of Pet-Smart has been removed, and I think that’s mineral wool insulation underneath. Expect both of these to be finished towards the end of the year. I don’t have a project value offhand, but the existing plaza (128,582 SF) is $6.5 million, so 22,059 SF of new space is probably worth about $1 million or so.

As for tenants, your guess is as good as mine. We’ll see if Benderson can make it work in the age of the retail apocalypse. Benderson’s proffered choice of designers, Buffalo’s Carmina Wood Morris D.P.C., is the architect.

November 2017

January 2018

March 2018





News Tidbits 1/6/18: Extra Ketchup/Catch-Up

6 01 2018

1. It looks like plans for a new historically-inspired group housing facility are moving along. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) will review the plans for a new “converted barn” at 310 West State Street at their meeting next week. The project is still in the “Early Design Review” stage, meaning it has a few meetings yet ahead of it.

The developers, David Halpert and Teresa Halpert Deschanes, plan to restore the existing ca. 1880 house, and build the second house as a matter of historic correctness and financial feasibility (the money generated by the new carriage house/barn helps to pay for the expensive renovations needed to the existing home, which is in a poor condition due to previous ownership). The new build’s design won’t be as architecturally unique as they one that was condemned and torn down several years ago, but will reuse a couple of design elements. The previous had an irregular shape, brick finish and mansard roof; the replacement will have a rectangular footprint with Hardie Board (fiber cement) siding and a gable roof, similar to barns from the late 1800s time period it is taking its cues from. The project also comes with new landscaping, fencing and 36 solar panels on the new build’s roof.

The plan is that each house will be its own co-op; a unique attribute for this area. I can imagine some Voice commenters would deride it as an “adult dorm”, but there is a niche market for these adult co-ops as seen with companies like WeLive in New York and San Francisco. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), which is helping the project paply for state grants, has separately noted that the ILPC has already given indications that the plans would likely be accepted.

2. As part of the RFP for the Green Street Garage development, a few developers took part in a tour of the property conducted by the IURA. According to Josh Brokaw at Truthsayers, Visum Development, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Purcell Construction of Watertown/Virginia and Missouri-based Vecino Group were on the tour. Visum has previously commented on site interest, but complained that the RFP parameters were of insufficient length to put an application together – the RFP was modified later in December from 60 to 90 days, short of the six months Visum suggested. INHS may have been there on Rimland/Peak’s behalf, as they’ve been in talk to manage the affordable housing component of that project. Purcell Construction is the firm building City Centre on behalf of Newman Development Group, and Vecino Group (Spanish for “neighbor”, by the way) is a national developer with interests in affordable, supportive and student housing.

It’ll be spring before we find out who submitted what, but it looks like there will likely be a few contenders with Rimland/Peak, even if they have a clear advantage.

3. According to a press release sent to the Times (dunno if anyone at the Voice received it), New Roots Charter School is planning to expand its service by adding 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to its grades 9-12 program. The move would lead to the enrollment of another sixty students into the school.

It is not clear whether the school plans to stay in the Clinton House downtown or move to another location in the city; should they move, there is a potential opportunity a few blocks away at the former Immaculate Conception School, if the Catholic diocese is willing to entertain the idea.

4. Marketing has officially launches for Tiny Timbers’ Varna project, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”. The layout of the houses is the same from the initial rendering, but the selected models changed quite a bit. That means something here because, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, this is a case where you buy the lot and house and Tiny Timbers builds that specific house, it’s not a “bring your own plan” setup. The website appears to be down for maintenance at the moment (linking anyway), but realtor Brent Katzmann via Zillow is showing homes ranging from an 812 SF 2 bd/1 ba for $192,900, to a 2,175 SF 3 bd/2 ba for $272,900. The prices are in a sweet spot right in the middle of Tompkins County’s housing market, and lower than most new builds thanks to the pre-fabricated approach Tiny Timbers utilizes. All the home designs were penned up by STREAM Collaborative.

5. Probably worth a quick mention for those who like trying new restaurants – Bol is open at the former Titus Gallery at 222 East State Street on the Commons. Created by the same guys behind Simeon’s, the 1,200 SF restaurant recently opened and is serving up ramens, salads, curries and broths. As you can guess, the theme is bowl-based dishes. Yelp reviews appear to be mixed, but don’t let stop you from giving it a try.

6. In Mayor Myrick’s state of the city speech, a couple of things to watch for in the coming months – movement on a public facilities master plan, and Waterfront development. I and Mike Smith covered this somewhat at the Voice, as has Nick Reynolds at the Times, but the potential to move and consolidate police, fire and city hall could very substantially reshape Downtown Ithaca, as could consolidation of water/sewer and streets in Southwest Ithaca.

Meanwhile, the West End and Waterfront are seen as the potential major development opportunities even with their physical and environmental obstacles, if simply because the number of choice parcels in Downtown and Collegetown is running low, and most other neighborhoods would put up enormous resistance with concerns of quality-of-life impacts. Waterfront development would involve a push to relocate the DEC and DOT facilities, something that the county is also keen on. Residents can also expect some movement on the Green Street Garage redevelopment, while the city does a parking study to determine how much parking is needed with future growth. This is all happening in a good economic but challenging political environment, so 2018 should be an interesting year. Of course, the phrase “may you live in interesting times” is often a damning one.

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7. Click the link above for a video of Cornell/EdR’s Maplewood advertising itself. The most interesting thing to my eyes is the apparent redesign of the community center, from an edgier modern design to a more traditional style with a gable roof. It looks like it will contain a lounge, exercise room, and perhaps small group meeting rooms (though that might actually just be apartment building study space). The EIS likely does not require any re-review since it looks to be mostly aesthetic changes, with little to any change to program space.

8. Someone’s lovin’ it – the new McDonald’s is open at 372 Elmira Road. Pardon me while I move that one into the “complete” column on the project map. I had in my notes that the store was renovated in 1972, and 14850.com has a photo of the truly original McDonald’s that stood on the site in the 1960s – check out those golden arches.

9. Eye candy for the week – here is the first published render for the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, aka the Heritage Center. As part of the state’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, the project received $1.365 million in grant funds – one, a $1.06 million arts and culture grant, the other a $305,000 economic development grant (the project is intended as a tourism generator and tourist information center). The plan is to have the $1.8 million project open in early 2019.

10. West End Heights (709 West Court Street) is now more likely to move forward this year thanks to $250,000 in Community Housing Development Fund grants from the county and city of Ithaca. The county is giving $100,000, and the city $150,000. The project will bring 60 units of affordable housing, with 30 units reserved for vulnerable individuals getting mental health support, and six for formerly homeless individuals who may have HIV/AIDS. The goal is to start construction this year, with a late 2019 or early 2020 completion.

At its January meeting, the city of Ithaca Common Council also awarded $100,000 to Amici House for its expansion and 23 units of housing for formerly homeless or vulnerable young adults.





News Tidbits 11/25/17: Not Going to Plan

27 11 2017

1. It looks like the Lambrous have started work on the new duplex they’ve long planned at 123 Eddy Street in Collegetown. Foundation work is underway for the two-unit, six-bedroom home, which utilized Superior Foundation Walls and modular units. The building sits on the edge of the East Hill Historic District, so to make the building compliant with the ILPC’s wishes, it features Hardie Board siding, simulated shakes, scuplted brackets and an attic vent, and detailed railings and porches. The design went through a couple iterations, with the first being historically appropriate but expensive stick-built design, and the second a modular scheme that was non-compliant with the ILPC. The Lambrous plan to have the new three-bedroom units available for rent by August.

2. Lansing’s Milton Meadows affordable housing project is up for final approval next Monday, and it looks like the first 72-unit phase will be the only phase. According to documentation filed with the town, the presence of poorer soils and more wetlands than anticipated means that Cornerstone will not be undertaking a second phase. It does raise further questions regarding adjacent parcels and the amount of money the town of Lansing can reasonable gain since this sounds like a recent discovery. The final site plans here show no indication of Cornerstone Development Group buying the remaining 8.9 acres that were intended for phase two.

There are no huge obstacles to prevent approval, although some town officials are unhappy that they didn’t apply a stronger hand to the town center development plan (i.e. laying the roads and infrastructure as they wanted, and charging a higher price for the parcels). While most of the darts have been levied towards Cornerstone (some perhaps unfairly due to it being affordable housing), the town planning chair has also targeted Tiny Timbers for using Conlon Road as its primary ingress/egress in their sketch plan. But with sales already negotiated and approved, the town’s legal options are limited, and since they already dropped the ball on the town center once, the optics aren’t pretty. Any work Cornerstone does is dependent on state and federal grants that are highly competitive and awarded only a few times per year, so don’t expect much for at least a year or two after approval.

3. It looks like the land for the proposed extension of South Meadow Square has been fenced off. A query to the folks in PetSmart next door didn’t turn up much, although they said there had been some water and sewer work to prep for the new 7,315 SF addition approved earlier this year. I did not see what the current conditions are for the approved 14,744 SF addition on the south end.

4. The county and the city have competing views of the NYS DOT’s future in Tompkins County. The county has reiterated its hope that the DOT relocates to a location next to the county airport. The city would prefer a location in Southwest Park behind Wal-Mart and the proposed Maguire dealership campus. The request for state grant dollars depends on the airport proposal, and the DOT has stated preference for a site near the airport.

However, if grants are not awarded, the airport is still considering a plan to build a $1-2 million customs facility that would allow to become an international airport, servicing passenger jets from Canadian hubs (Toronto, Montreal). In the short-term, work is underway to add service to Chicago, which has an on-time percentage comparable to Detroit (80%), and better than Newark (60%) and Philadelphia (70%). Cornell is actively assisting, trying to persuade airlines as part of its “Global Cornell” initiative.

5. So here’s the city of Ithaca’s parks master plan. There’s a few interesting things of note in terms of acquisitions and de-classifications (sale).

First, a quick note – the city is legally required to replace any park land it sells off with newly acquired park land. So with that in mind, the city looked at its parks and found five that are “vastly underutilized” – Columbia Street Park (0.25 acres), Dryden Road Park (0.08 acres), Hillview Park (0.74 acres), Maple Grove Park (0.47 acres), and Strawberry Fields (9.16 acres).

The city would like to sell off the first four on that list, and replace them with a new acquisition somewhere in the city that has at least 1.54 acres, but the city is looking for up to 12 acres. Proximity to population centers, arterial roads, pedestrian access and minimal site prep are some of the big deciding factors in that acquisition process. Meanwhile, Strawberry Fields would be held for either designation as a “school park” to be managed in conjunction with the ICSD, or as a “teaching preserve” for practice field research and instruction.

If the city did opt to sell those four parks, well, there’s some development potential, though they wouldn’t be prime. Maple Grove is a Belle Sherman cul-de-sac surrounded by single-family homes. Dryden Road Park is a small triangle next to the parking garage, and while technically an MU-2 zone for six floors, it’s just as likely Cornell would pick it up amd add it to its tax-exempt rolls since it’s next to Cascadilla Hall. Hillview and Columbia Street on South Hill (R-2a zone) could potentially become a few home lots or a small apartment complex, but the land’s sale would be a political challenge.The city procedure would be an advertised sale offering through the IURA, followed by a grading system of applicants that meet the city’s specified price, as they did with foreclosed lots that became the Ithaka Terraces and 203 Third Street.

Not too keen to get in the weeds on this, since this would be controversial with neighborhood groups, but it’s really just a thought exercise at this point – any potential land sale would be on a long-term, 5 year+ time scale, and the city would need to have new land ready to be acquired for recreational uses. Even thatcould cause problems when neighbors complain that an untouched property becomes a public park that attracts people (this has been an issue with proposed extensions of the South Hill Rec Trail). There is plenty of time to debate the merits and drawbacks of long-term property assets. Right now, the focus is repair and renovating existing facilities in city parks.

6. Looking at the city’s planning board agenda for next week, it’s a short one. The duplex at 601 South Aurora and the Brindley Street Bridge are up for final approval, and a pair of new sketch plans will be reviewed – one is likely to be small, and the other a revision, potentially a downsizing. I’ve heard through the grapevine that several rental developers are holding off or even cancelling plans because they’re concerned about the impacts of Cornell’s 2,000 new beds for their North Campus – although right now there’s nothing formal apart from a statement of intent. Ideally, Cornell puts some concept forth soon, with plans not long thereafter; otherwise, there’s the risk that the local housing situation gets worse. Perhaps the reasonable worst case scenario is that, with recent federal attacks on higher education, Cornell is forced to trim its budget and cancels the housing plans, while still adding students to compensate for financial losses – basically, a sudden large growth in demand without growth in supply.

First, 209 Hudson. This was previously mentioned in a Voice article, it’s potentially a small-scale infill project by frequent infill developer Stavros Stavropoulos. The early plan for two of three rental buildings was shelved due to the South Hill overlay, and its possible that, given the relatively large lot, Stavropoulos may be planning a subdivision to build an additional two-family rental unit. Dunno if he can legally pull off more than that, however. R-2a with overlay allows a 1-2 family structure as a primary, with an accessory apartment in a secondary structure.

The second is 119-123 College Avenue. This is unusual in that this was the site for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project, a 67-unit, multi-building plan for rentals geared towards visiting Cornell faculty and staff. However, the recent NYSEG power line issue has proven problematic, and the last I checked, the project team was supposed to go before a state building codes board in Syracuse this month to get a variance to allow construction, on the basis that the power lines will soon be buried. The minutes are not online, so it’s not clear what the ruling was. While CR-4 zoning allows 45 feet as the plan is currently designed, a variance denial by the state would limit structural height to 30 feet, and would substantially impact the project’s feasibility in pricey Collegetown, as well as alter the design. For the record, 119-123 does not imply a smaller project; 123 College Avenue never existed, the three homes removed for this project were 119, 121 and 125. We’ll see what the revised plans look like next week.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the floor (3-minute maximum per person) 6:05
3. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Duplex 6:15
Location: 601 S Aurora Street
Applicant: David Putnam
Actions: Public Hearing, Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a duplex on the .186 acre (8,114 SF) vacant lot. Site development includes parking for two cars, walkways, landscaping, a continuous sidewalk along the property frontage, drainage improvements and a trash enclosure. The applicant has designed curbing and on-street parking on Hillview Place in cooperation with the City Engineering Division. The project is in the R-2a Zoning district. This is a Type II Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-5. (C.)(8) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.5 (c)(9) and is not subject to environmental review.

B. Project: Brindley Street Bridge Rebuild and Relocation 6:35
Location: Intersection of W State Street and Taughannock Blvd
Applicant: Addisu Gebre for the City of Ithaca
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval
Project Description:
The project will relocate current Brindley Street Bridge to align with W. State St./Taughannock
Blvd. intersection through the construction of a new single span extending Taughannock Blvd. over
the Cayuga Inlet to Taber Street. The project will retain existing Brindley Street Bridge and south approach road for pedestrian and bike use. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) for which the Board of Public Works, acting as Lead Agency made a Negative Determination of Environmental Significance in 2016.

C. 209 Hudson Street – Subdivision & Site Plan Review – Sketch Plan 7:05

D. 119-123 College Avenue – Sketch Plan 7:35

4. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Collegetown Design Guidelines – Megan Wilson
B. Parks Master Plan – Megan Wilson

5. Reports 8:40
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison (verbal)