News Tidbits 1/27/18: The Shutterbug

28 01 2018

1. Let’s do some houses of the week. Above, the four new homes Tiny Timber has constructed at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road in Dryden. Each home lot is a little over an acre. The subdivision was approved last spring for the wooded parcel a couple miles east of Ithaca, and since then, Tiny Timbers has been busy selling units and lots to buyers. Two were sold in August, one in September, and the last in December. Therefore, this is 100% built out, since the last lot is a conservation lot at the rear (north) end of the property, designed to protect Cascadilla Creek. The units utilize a shared driveway, with spurs for each home. If you want to look at the homes more closely, click to enlarge the photos.

A similar plan is underway just up the road at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road, where Tiny Timbers will take a long, narrow undeveloped property and subdivide the land into five home lots and a rear (north) lot protected by a conservation easement. These homes will also be served by a common driveway. This proposal is still going through the review process, and when approved, the time frame for build-out will probably be similar. The home designs are the work of local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative.

2. Over in the village of Lansing, work has started on the next six-unit (hexplex?) at the Heights of Lansing property off of Bomax Drive. It appears that the foundation slab and footers have been formed, poured and insulated with foam boards. This is the first new townhouse string to be built in the development in six years.

Several reasons have been given for the long pause. The developers have said that the natural gas moratorium disrupted and delayed build-out plans. Secondly, the patriarch of Forest City Realty/IJ Construction, Ivar Jonson, passed away in 2014. More recently, the Jonson family (his wife Janet and daughter Lisa Bonniwell) were embroiled in a lawsuit to prevent a zoning change that would allow a market-rate apartment complex to be built down the road. Bonniwell was incensed enough to run for mayor in 2017 in an effort to stop the proposal, but did not win the election. The zoning change has been approved and the apartments were approved in October, but the Park Grove project has yet to move forward.

The townhouses were approved along with the last single-family home permit; there were some rather testy exchanges regarding sewer line easements and the installation of street lighting in conjunction with those permits. The lighting has to be in by March 2019.

Assuming these are like the other townhouses, expect them to be 3-bedroom units, low 2000s SF with garages, and to go for $350-$450k when they’re finished several months from now.

3. Dryden’s new Rite Aid is coming along. Fully framed, and the plastic in the window openings is likely intended to allow construction crews to work indoors without exposure to the fierce winter elements. The curbing and paving is complete in the parking lot, and it looks like they install metal bollards all around the lot’s perimeter to keep the less-than-attentive from driving into the wall (something that happened to the Nice N’ Easy in my hometown no less than three times before they finally put some in). It is still planned to open in March.

4. Over in Fall Creek, it appears a small apartment building is in line for some major renovations. 1002 North Aurora, a four-unit building built in 1898, had been on the market for $395,000. The seller had owned the property for 24 years, and the price was only slightly above the assessed value of $375,000.

On Friday, the property sold for $400,000 to an LLC associated with local developer Modern Living Rentals (Charlie O’Connor et al.). The same day, a building loan agreement was filed from Tioga State Bank to the LLC for $712,000. A lot of that was going towards the land acquisition, and once soft costs are deducted as well, the loan is $287,000.

MLR tends to be very transparent about their plans, and a glance at their recently updated website shows the purchase and a ‘information on this project coming soon’. However, they already uploaded the interior renovation plans from STREAM Collaborative. It’s a very thorough interior renovation, and it appears to complete change interior floor plans, with new bedrooms (net gain of one?) as well as new kitchens, bathrooms, and fire rated ceilings. Exterior changes appear to include a renovated fire escape staircase, a couple new windows on the third (top) floor), and a new skylight. While old, this apartment building is a hodge-podge of additions from decades past, so let’s see what a renovation can do to clean things up. It’s plausible the renovations would be complete by August, so they can appeal to students as well as the general market.

Quick aside, MLR has a few other “future developments” posted, though none that readers here aren’t already aware of – the 42 townhouse units at 802 Dryden, the proposed 201 North Aurora / Seneca Flats that isn’t moving forward for a while yet, and 217 Columbia, the duplex that unintentionally set South Hill into an uproar. 217 Columbia should be completed this year, and 802 Dryden in summer 2019.

5. It looks like Amici House is finally moving forward. The project, located at 661-701 Spencer Road, received a $3,732,469 loan from the New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Corporation. The money was announced back in April, and appears to be getting disbursed now.

The five-story, 20,710 SF (square-foot) project, approved by the city of Ithaca last January, calls for 23 studio housing units for homeless or vulnerable young individuals in the 18-25 age range. Along with the units and office/function space for local social services non-profit TCAction, the plan also calls for a 7,010 SF early heard start facility, called the “Harriet Gianellis Childcare Center”, that will house five classrooms, kitchen and restrooms, and an outdoor play area. The childcare facility will serve 48 low-to-moderate income families and create up to 21 jobs.

Recently, the HGCC applied for a low-interest loan from the IURA, $90,690 to help cover unanticipated moving expenses associated with the project. TCAction thought they could stay on-site during construction, but the contractor said otherwise, so they’ll be 609 W. Clinton while the new Amici House is built. The loan says it will generate three jobs, but that’s more a technical stipulation than an actual figure associated with the project. The funding for the childcare appears to be separate, $1,325,000 already approved by the state, $603,000 from M&T Bank, and $84,200 from a standing IURA loan. It is fully funded, although it is not completely clear if it will be built concurrently with the housing (the likely answer is yes).





News Tidbits 4/29/17: Happy Birthday Mom

29 04 2017

1. The Times’ Matt Butler has written a great summary of almost everything you wanted to know about the Ithaca development approvals process (formally called entitlements). Basically, Ithaca’s high standards and arduous review process come with pros and cons. On a positive note, the city is more likely to get a nice product, the drawback is that it scares developers off. For those who do give the city a spin, the city is a desirable investment for a number of reasons (affluent residents, steadily growing economy), but the lengthy process generates uncertainties (bad for financing) and requires more money (bad for affordability).

There’s nothing wrong with high standards, but it really helps if the city gives developers a set of guidelines for what they’re looking for in a design, rather than forcing them to rely on antiquated zoning. Design guidelines were recently approved for Downtown and Collegetown, which should help, although an overhaul of the zoning would be much welcomed. However, in a city famous for its activism, even the most well-orchestrated plans can be broadsided by NIMBY grassroots, so even with these heavily-structured guidelines, building in Ithaca is likely to have uncertainties and challenges into the foreseeable future.

2. A couple of grants worth noting – Tompkins Community Action was awarded $3.7 million by the state to go towards construction of their Amici House project at 661-701 Spencer Road in Ithaca. The funds will cover about 45% of the $8.25 million construction cost. Work is supposed to begin this summer on the mixed-use project, which includes 23 studio units for vulnerable or previously homeless youth, and a 7,010 SF daycare/early education facility.

In other news,the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County was awarded $500,000 by the Care Compass Network Innovation Fund to use towards the establishment and operation of a 20-24 bed detox facility, much needed resource as the heroin epidemic continues to grip the nation. CCN is a non-profit consortium funded by Southern Tier health centers like Guthrie, Cayuga Med and Binghamton General. ADC-TC is a non-profit that focuses on substance abuse education, prevention and outpatient treatment. No facility was named in the announcement.

On a third note, the sale of 626 West Buffalo Street was completed. Tompkins County Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR) intends to renovate the house into five beds of transitional housing for those getting out of jail and trying to get back on their feet. The intent is to provide, safe, secure housing to better help with the transition process, which can include education, job training and mental health and/or addiction treatment. The house was purchased for $95,000, and an additional $60,000 would be spent on renovations. The county voted to provide $100,000 in a one-time allotment – the rest of the money ($55,000) comes from grants, donations and a mortgage. Ultimately, the goal is to provide decent housing that helps reduce the recidivism rate (convicted persons committing more crimes), ideally saving the county on future court and incarceration costs, as well as what they hope pans out to a lower crime rate.

3. Tiny Timbers seems to be to a good start. The fledging modular timber-frame company run by the Dolph Family has added several members to its construction crew, and they will build the frame components out their newly-adapted warehouse-mill on Hall Road in Dryden. The house in Hector is nearly complete, two more are being prepared (both big cubes), and the gravel road is being constructed for their just-approved five-lot subdivision at 1624 Ellis Hollow Road. Going off the wording of their last blog post, it looks like three of those lots are already reserved or purchased (one lot is a conservation area).

4. Let’s not beat around the bush – you’re coming here for a bit of inside information, not just a news round-up. One of the reasons Dryden and Tompkins County have each committed $1,750 to an infrastructure study of the Route 13 corridor is that there is a concept proposal on the table from INHS for a mixed-use development with retail and 250 affordable housing units, on approximately 50 acres of a 100 acre parcel – half of it is north of the rail trail and would be conserved, possibly through Finger Lakes Land Trust. At 5 units/acre, it’s below Varna’s highest densities, but it’s about the rural threshold of about 2 units/acre.

As it so happens, a quick check of the county’s property tax map shows a 100.44 acre parcel of vacant farmland across the street from 1477 Dryden Road, outlined in blue above. The back half is Fall Creek, so given buffers and general environment concerns, it’s good sense to leave it alone. The land has been owned by the Leonardo Family (the ones who ran The Palms) since 1942.

I asked Dryden Town Planning Director Ray Burger about it, and he knew only what the county said. But it’s something to keep an eye on as the town figures out whether or not to extend sewer to that parcel.

5. It seems like there’s quite the tempest going on in Lansing. Let’s review. All this comes courtesy of the Lansing Star (not for lack of trying on my part. Almost all Lansing staff and officials ignore my phone calls and emails, except zoning officer Marty Moseley. Thanks Marty.).

I. Over in the village, the “Preservation Party” lost the village election by a large margin to the incumbent Community Party by a roughly 75/25 split (240 votes vs 80 votes). This result should settle the Bomax Drive rezoning from commercial tech space to residential once and for all.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

II. Lansing town has inked an MOU with Cayuga Heights and Lansing village to install a sewer line up Triphammer Road to create a small sewer district. However, it’s impacts would be substantial – it would have three primary users – the 102-unit Cayuga Farms project, the 117-unit English Village project, and the RINK, which is expanding its facility. The developers want the sewer so much, they’re paying for it in what town supervisor Ed LaVigne is calling a “public/private partnership”. Properties that do not hook up would not be hit with an increased assessment, according to LaVigne and county assessor Jay Franklin.

A back of the envelope estimate suggests $50-$60 million in increased land assessment, and $1.5 million+ in property taxes. Perfect for offsetting a rapidly devaluing power plant that was once your town’s biggest taxpayer. The village boards still need to sign off on the MOU, but Lansing town is desperate to make a deal.

III. The Lansing Meadows senior housing seems to be worked out, and it includes the  small community-focused food retail component desired by developer Eric Goetzmann. The public hearing is on the 1st; if approved next month, the construction bids will be posted shortly thereafter with an intended summer start on the 20-unit mixed-use project.

IV. Just…wow. On the one hand, LaVigne et al. have a right to be upset. Their town’s biggest taxpayer is faltering, they’re trying encourage as much development as they can to offset the plunge in property taxes, and with debates like the West Dryden pipeline, they have a right to be frustrated. But to say the county’s sabotaging your town is a whole different ball game. To say “[r]ight now The County is on the sh** list as far as I’m concerned,” well…

He deserves sympathy. There’s a lot of BS mixed in with the good of Tompkins County, and his town and its schools are in a real bind. Poo pooing them isn’t helping anybody. But…he can’t magically change how people in Dryden or Ithaca think. Ask solar companies if they’d be interested in town properties, find a way to make residential heat pumps and renewables work. Hell, work with TCAD, talk with Heather McDaniel and the green groups and come up with ideas. I had a professor in grad school tell me that “you lure more flies with honey than vinegar”. LaVigne has a right to be upset, but this isn’t a good look.

6. Now that a few people at INHS and County Planning have been annoyed (sorry guys), back to the news. The Journal is reporting that the town of Ulysses has acquired three Jacksonville properties from Exxon Mobil, in what they hope is the next step in closing a disastrous chapter in the town’s history. Back in the 1970s, the former Mobil gas station at the corner of Jacksonville Road and Route 96 leaked enormous amounts of gasoline and poisoned the hamlet’s groundwater – one report says a person passed out from noxious fumes when they turned on their shower.

The state DEC became involved and ordered Exxon Mobil to clean up the mess, which was carried out from 1984 to 1988, and the multinational gas company purchased most of the affected properties and demolished them – an 1827 church was left intact. The DEC’s case file was finally closed in 2005 after the test levels had receded to more acceptable readings, but Exxon Mobil has continued to own the property, letting the church fall into disrepair.

The town is buying the church at 5020 Jacksonville Road, a 0.275 acre vacant lot at 5036 Jacksonville Road, and a 0.656 acre vacant lot at 1853 Trumansburg Road for $5,001 (the trio’s total assessed value is $84,700). The plan is to install a septic for the church at 5036, renovate the church just enough to keep it from rotting out, and once the building is stable, the plan is to resell to someone looking for a unique fixer-upper. If no buyer is found, the town plans to eventually restore the church on their own. The larger lot on Trumansburg Road is being considered for resale towards private development, or use as a TCAT park-and-ride.

7. Is the Canopy Hilton underway or isn’t it underway? Still kinda hard to tell.

8. On the other hand, it looks like the new medical office building planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights, is starting demo work. The stone is being stripped from the existing buildings, to be reused on other structures. The Cayuga Medical Associates plan calls for a $5.6 million medical office building at 903-909 Hanshaw Road, 2 floors and 28,000 SF (square-feet), of which 23,200 SF will be lease-able space.

9. Nothing too exciting from the planning board agendas around the county – Lansing has nothing up, Cayuga Heights has nothing of note. Over in the town of Ithaca, Cornell plans to try again with its Peterson Parking Lot replacement (after the disastrous first try last April), the 15-lot Monkemeyer subdivision on East King Road continues review, and a 2-lot modification is up for consideration. In Dryden, the advisory planning board will continue review for the Tiny Timbers Ellis Hollow subdivision mentioned earlier, and a 7-lot subdivision of the former Dryden Lake golf course; there will also be some solar panel discussion, and possibly some info on the ~20 unit Pineridge Cottages project planned for Mineah Road.