News Tidbits 1/30/2016: A Doozy of a Week For All the Wrong Reasons

30 01 2016

I’m not going to lie – this was a rough week. For those who like old buildings, the city tore down 404 West Green and 327 West State this week. For those who are consider themselves eco-activists, Black Oak wind farm is on life support. State Street Triangle is likely cancelled, the Printing Press Lounge is off the table, Cornell continues to pour most of its attention on its new New York City campus, and a grocery store and a downtown shop are closing their doors and putting people out of work. There have been better weeks for news round-ups.

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1. State Street Triangle isn’t dead per se, but it’s indefinitely stalled. I think the best headline goes to the Ithaca Times since they’re the most accurate. From chatting with planning consultant Scott Whitham, who’s involved with the project, it sounds like the impasse is the result of Campus Advantage wanting to pay less for the site since they can’t build as large of a project, which would decrease their revenue. The contract for the land purchase from Greenstate Properties/Trebloc Development (Rob Colbert) was up for re-negotiation after the December expiration, but neither side wants to budge on what they feel the price should be. So nothing can move forward without a deal between the two parties. I reached out to Colbert Wednesday, but the secretary paused for a minute and then said “he’s, uh, busy in a meeting, care to leave a message?” So he’s probably not going to say anything further.

Could it move forward? Possibly, it could be revived if a deal is made. But as things are, it’s stalled and it’s outside the control of any community group or government authority. It’s definitely a shame from the standpoint of Ithaca’s worsening housing crisis because it’s less that will be entering a market flooded with students, people moving here for work, and wealthy retirees who have apparently decided this is the Asheville of the north. And given the battles of “structural racist gentrification” and “uncivilized crime-producing trouble-making affordable housing“, where everything is accused of being one or the other, I’m not especially hopeful at the moment.

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2. Now for something that is definitely dead in the water – The Printing Press Lounge. Developer Ben Rosenblum had wanted to put a jazz lounge in a 7700 SF industrial warehouse at 416 East State Street, but neighbor objections to noise and traffic proved a little too much for the Board of Zoning Appeals, whose members appeared unlikely to support necessary variances for the vacant facility. So the developer pulled the lounge proposal, but the office space and apartment are still under consideration.

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3. Also from the same phone conversation as State Street and Printing Press – the Canopy revisions were approved, so at least there’s a good chance that will be breaking ground this Spring. The Chain Works review schedule was also approved, although given the couple emails from the Voice article, the public review period is going to be groan-inducing. One of the letters commanded that nothing should be done there and it should be kept as is because it encourages traffic and “its density is ruining Ithaca”. They might have meant size, but density is a buzzword at the moment. Apparently, they also overlooked the fact that it’s already built and won’t be fully cleaned of toxic chemicals until a reuse plan is in place. The development team will have to respond to all of these comments, perceptive or not.

4. In real estate sales, an LLC in suburban Corning picked up the former Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery space on Elmira Road. 0.74 acre 407 Elmira sold for $640,000 on January 22nd. A little research into the rather exotically-named “Armiri LLC” shows that they were previously registered at an address home to an Econo Lodge, and that the owners have about 70 or so other LLCs related to hotels and the hospitality industry. A little more digging, and the owner turns out to be Corning-based Visions Hotels, a developer of suburban chain hotels with locations from Albany to Buffalo. So if I were to make a guess, the five-year old Tim Ho’s building won’t be long for this world, and a suburban hotel is likely to rise in its place in a couple years. But we’ll see what happens.

5. Meanwhile, just up the road, Maines will be shutting down their store at 100 Commercial Avenue. The 26,146 SF building was built for the Binghamton-based grocery chain in 2010. February 7th will be the last day. Although there don’t seem to be any figures online, the move will likely put at least a couple dozen people out of work. A phone call and email to Maine’s asking for employee totals and reasons for closure were not returned.

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6. Let’s talk about money. The construction loan docs for Collegetown Terrace Phase III were filed with the county this week. The price? A cool $39.25 million, from PNC Bank. That’s just for 247-unit, 344-bed Building 7. Previously Valentine Vision Associates LLC (John Novarr/Philip Proujansky) received $50 million on 8/22/13, $50 million on 7/1/2014, and $50 million on 11/20/14. Do the math out, and $189.25 million in loans is a lot of money. Then again, this is also a 1,200+ bed project.

The latest loan docs require an opening by fall 2018, but expect it to be about a year sooner than that, August 2017.

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7. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council has approved the Chapter House plans. All that’s needed at this point are the Building Department permits, which are technical and just require that everything will be built up to code. Things are looking good for that February construction start.

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8. Something to look forward to at next month’s Planning Board meeting – further discussion of Cornell’s renovations to Hughes Hall. Planning Board Presentation here, drawings here, Site Plan Review application here. KSS Architects, with offices in Philadelphia and Princeton, will be in charge of design. KSS has been to Cornell’s campus before, having designed some of the Hotel School additions and part of the previous phase of law school renovations. Local firm TG Miller is handling the engineering work. The project is expected to cost $10.2 million and construction would go from June 2016 to July 2017.

Quick refresher, the plan is to renovate 4 floors of what were previously student dorms into academic office, admin and student organization space. Cornell anticipates about 200 construction jobs will be created, but nor more than 80 at any one time, and 20-40 on-site most days. No new permanent jobs, limited visibility, and minimal transportation/ground impacts will limit much of the customary Planning Board debate.

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9. Meanwhile, New York City outlets are reporting on the progress of Cornell’s massive new tech campus in New York City. The Real Deal is reporting Snøhetta, an Oslo/NYC architectural firm, will design the Verizon Executive Education Building. The other three buildings underway are the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, and CornellTECH Residential, which are the work of Morphosis Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, and Handel Architects respectively.  300 students and 200 faculty/staff  will move into the new 26-story dorm by August 2017. Verizon paid $50 million for their naming rights, and billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $100 million, making up a sizable portion of the $590.6 million donated to Cornell over the past year. Once the initial wave of construction is complete, it’ll be worth seeing how donations break down – years ago, MetaEzra noted that Weill Medical received an outsized proportion of charitable giving.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but there are times when Living in Dryden blogger Simon St. Laurent’s thought piece seems uncomfortably relevant.

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10. At the county’s PEDEEQ Committee meeting Friday (PEDEEQ being the acronym for the unnecessarily long Planning, Economic Development, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; agenda here), the county did two things worth mentioning here. One, they awarded the $35,000 airport industrial park feasibility study to the team of Clark Patterson Lee of suburban Albany, and Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates. Two, they passed a resolution calling for “the Timely Development of the Black Oak Wind Farm” project in Enfield.

The Black Oak opposition really seems to have picked up momentum after one the major landowners involved with the project pulled out. Neighbors in the area are actively attacking the project by calling it a danger to human health and a destructive environmental menace financed by wealthy out-of-towners (a shot at Ithaca), and the wind farm’s executive board is struggling to address these accusations in the revised environmental review due to be completed in April. For the local eco-activist crowd, this is an unwelcome and unusual position to be in because more often than not, they’re the ones opposed to development. The county legislature, which has several green activists, is doing what they can by giving verbal support, and a subtle sort of wrist-slap to the opposition. Dunno if it will work, but we’ll see what happens this spring.

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11. Here’s the sketch drawing for Elmira Savings Bank’s new West End Branch at 602 West State Street. It would appear the plans call for a modern addition to the north side of the building, and renovation of the rest of the two-story restaurant into office/service space. Local companies TWMLA and HOLT Architects are handling the design.

According to the Twitter feed of the IJ’s Nick Reynolds, the building plan was received well enough at the Planning Board meeting, but the rest of the plans call for demo of the other buildings, including the affordable housing that had some folks up in arms, for a parking lot. That didn’t go over very well. Demolition of low-cost housing for parking is going to be about as welcome as a Hitler costume at a bar mitzvah. Expect another trip to the board with some revised plans.

12. The Dewitt Park Inn is for sale for $950,000. Owners Tom Seaney and Nancy Medsker are selling the property they purchased for $320k in January 2012 and renovated into a high-end bed and breakfast. The two were vocal advocates for the popular though foregone Franklin/STREAM condo proposal for the Old Library site, although Medsker didn’t do the debate any favors when she decided to trash her rear neighbor, senior services non-profit and Travis Hyde project partner Lifelong in a letter to the Ithaca Journal. The county has the Dewitt Park Inn assessed at $575,000.

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13. Nothing too exciting for the town of Ithaca planning board agenda next week. The town’s planning board will choose whether or not to sign off on the review schedule for Chain Works, and they have to re-approved plans for a smaller parish center at St. Catherine of Siena in Northeast Ithaca. According to the provided docs, the parish center has been reduced from 10,811 SF to 8,878 SF due to rapidly rising construction costs (seems to be a common refrain these days).

 

 





News Tidbits 1/23/2016: A Doozy of A Week Ahead

23 01 2016

1. Over in the town of Ithaca, an update is being considered for the Rodeway Inn budget motel at 654 Elmira Road. Previously, the motel had been approved for renovations that would expand the size of the 25 existing units and provide 2 new inside corner units, along with the associated landscape and site improvements. This proposal was originally approved by the town in December 2013, but then the project never went forward, partially because the Maguire group was looking at buying the property and tearing it down to make way for their artisanal car dealerships and headquarters. With the Maguire’s plan filed away in the circular drawer, the owners of the Rodeway Inn have decided to reconsider the renovation project.

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Along with the room expansion, the new plan also calls for renovating an existing on-site residence into a new office by building an 1146 SF addition, while the existing motel office is renovated into a community room to serve travelers. Variances for side-yard setbacks granted for the previous proposal must also be re-approved, since zoning variances in the town of Ithaca are only valid if construction starts within 18 months of being granted (in other words, the variance expired last June).

Pennsylvania-based HEX 9 Architects is in charge of design, and JAMNA Hospitality is the developer.

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2. From the city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council agenda next Tuesday, the latest iteration of the design plans for the Chapter House replacement and its neighbor at 406 Stewart Avenue. The Chapter House looks to be in the last stages of ILPC approval, while the apartment house next door is still in the early design review stage.

Looking at the Chapter house, the zinc roofing tiles have been replaced with asphalt, and two more paint colors will be included on the trim, which has gone from white to dark grey and black. The ILPC is doing what they do best, going over projects with a very fine toothed comb and debating every detail. Meanwhile, the current iteration of 406 Stewart Avenue calls for a 4-story apartment building with design features very similar to the previous 3-story building. That project still has some debates ahead of it, so we’ll see what happens moving forward.

Also on the agenda, discussion with the Planning Board about the DeWitt House/Old Library redevelopment, an update on repairs to 102 East Court Street, and some type of work being done at 210 Stewart Avenue (could be anything from paint color and shingle choices to major work; if it merits a post it’ll be included in a future update).

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3. The Times’ Josh Brokaw wrote a nice summary of developments down at the Ithaca Waterfront, although I wish it hadn’t run when it did (re: HOLT update). Thanks to Josh, we have an idea of what’s going on with the approved but as-yet unbuilt 21-unit 323 Taughannock apartment project:

There was an “unexpected issue” that came up, Flash said, with the project, and so they must take “a sharper look at the engineering” to make the costs work.

I’m going to take a slightly educated guess – the soils were even crappier than anticipated. The high water table and easily-compacted soil in the West End and Waterfront pretty much mandate that multi-story projects have deep, expensive foundations to support the weight of structures. A soil issue was one of the problems that delayed the Lofts @ Six Mile project, and the reason why it’s built tall and narrow; also, since the Bloomfield/Schon has to pay for that deep foundation, it’s one of the reasons why the Lofts are so expensive. From the sounds of the Times article, balancing the deep foundation with adequate parking for the parcel is an issue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, this project could be a real asset to that area.

Also, pretty sure that Cascadilla Landing still isn’t happening, and the Times has realized that. Anyway, it’s a good piece, and I’m not going to steal all of Josh’s thunder or his Myrick quotes, so spare two minutes and have a read through.

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4. For my moderate griping about timing with Josh’s Inlet Island development piece, I could note that this quote in the IURA Governance Commitee Agenda from city Planning and Economic Development Director JoAnn Cornish ties my article and his together:

“Cornish reported that the Planning and Economic Development Committee identified the Waterfront Neighborhood Plan as the Phase 2 plan of the Comprehensive Plan it would like to move forward with. Funding has been allocated for it. The plan would most likely be a hybrid Waterfront/West End neighborhood plan, in anticipation of significant development interest in that part of the city.”

In good news, affordable housing grants were thankfully saved in the federal budget, meaning that there will be a similar amount heading to NYS in 2016 as in 2015, and those funds would be available to future Ithaca projects should they jump through all the application hoops and be deemed worthy by Albany. The IURA is looking to smooth over any possible shortfalls by offering itself as a housing strategy consultant for the Waterfront/West End and Southside Phase II plans, and in the longer term, sales of parcels at the end of Cherry Street, at 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard, and Fire Station No. 9.

Also, the Argos Inn and Bandwagon Brewery/Restaurant have paid off their IURA loans. Proof that, although there have been failures (Finger Lakes Wine Center), the IURA can properly vet projects and be successful in its mission.

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5. House of the week. 102 Walnut Street, town of Ithaca. the last of Agora Home LLC’s Belle Sherman Cottages is nearly complete, possibly to go on the market as a spec house. The house is a little small than its neighbors since the lot is smaller, but the unique design gives the street some extra diversity. Apart from landscaping, paving and some finish work (on the exterior trim at least, although being a Simplex modular means the inside is probably finishing up as well), the house is just about finished. Nice work Carina Construction.

6. Last but certainly not least, the Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. It’s a big one.

I. Agenda Review
II. Public Comments
III. Special Order of Business – Chain Works District Redevelopment Project – Presentation of Draft Generic Envrionment Impact Statement (DGEIS) and Scheduling.

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It’s finally moving forward. The Chain Works District, which was last presented at a meeting in November 2014, is finally ready to discuss parts of its environmental review and timelines. Per the agenda, “The project is a mixed‐use development consisting of four primary phases: (1) the redevelopment of four existing buildings (21, 24, 33, & 34); (2) the repurposing of the remaining existing buildings; (3) potential future development within areas of the remainder of the site adjacent to the existing buildings/parking areas; and (4) future developments within remaining areas of the site.” This will merit its own piece, but in the interest of time, Ithaca Builds offers a great summary of the previous steps and the proposal itself.

IV. Subdivision Review – 101-107 Morris Avenue. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). This subdivision proposed to reconfigure a pair of vacant North Side lots to allow a duplex to be built by Habitat for Humanity. The two 1400 SF units would be sold to families with modest incomes. There’s a letter of support and the Board has already drafted a recommendation to the BZA giving their thumbs-up.

V. Site Plan Review

A. Cayuga Green Phase II (Lofts @ Six Mile Creek). The applicant proposes to omit a green screen on the parking garage. A letter from the developer asserts that the wall will be adequately masked by trees.

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B. Hilton Canopy Hotel – Project Update, addressing conditions of Site Plan Approval and Requested Changes. Developer Neil Patel (and represented by Scott Whitham) requests to increase the number of hotel rooms from 123 to 131, and increase building size from 74,475 to 77,884 SF. Height would remain the same. Once again, this is something that could be the subject of its own post, but will have to keep it brief for the moment.

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C. State Street Triangle – Project update, no decisions planned. 9 stories, 96′, 180 units, 452 bedrooms, 12,300 SF ground-floor retail, including space for Ithaca Bakery and CTB. See Thursday night’s Voice article for more info. Smaller, shorter, and maybe palatable.

D. 424 Dryden, parking lot rearrangement, Declaration of Lead Agency

E. E-Hub, 409 College Avenue, renovations. While technically it doesn’t require review, Student Agencies and STREAM are asking for thoughtful feedback.

F. Sketch Plan – Elmira Savings Bank, Route 13. Pretty sure this is the one tied up in that PR disaster. WEDZ-1a Zoning allows up to 90% lot coverage, 5 floors and 65′, but given previous statements, the short-term work might just have to do with renovations of the former Pancho Villa restaurant, maybe a drive thru lane or other major exterior work. We’ll see. Background reading on the parcels themselves here.

G. Sketch Plan – Cherry Artspace. Developer: Performance Premises LLC/Samuel Buggeln. Cherry Artspace, a theater company, is located at (where else?) 102 Cherry Street on the city’s southwest side. The building was purchased in August 2015 for $240,000, it had previously housed Renovus Energy before the solar panel company decided to move out to more spacious digs in Ulysses. The theater company, directed by Sam Buggeln (pronounced “bug-ellen”), wishes to renovate the ca. 1980, 1,154 SF building into dedicated performing arts space.

VI. Zoning appeal recs for the Habitat duplex

VII. Planning Board Resolution to the BPW regarding Seneca Street Streetscape work, Cascadilla Street Railing Options, and potential rezoning of a section East State Street/MLK Blvd. from B-4 to the more restrictive and residential-focused R-3a. Glancing at the zoning map, only the north side of the 400 Block is B-4, so the downzoning is probably intended for the houses on the corner of E. State and Schuyler, 420 and 422-24 E.State/MLK, and 108 Schuyler Place.

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Also worth noting, the Travis Hyde Old Library project will be discussed separately with the ILPC. That meeting is at 6 PM at City Hall. The Planning Board meeting at City Hall starts at 6:45 PM.





News Tidbits 10/31/15: The word of the week is “No”

31 10 2015

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1.  We’ll start off with about the only affirmative news this week, that of the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board Meeting last Tuesday. The tweaks to the now 79-room Holiday Inn proposal at 371 Elmira Road were approved, and the project expects to have building permits in hand next week, according to the Times‘ Josh Brokaw. When I spoke to the development company’s president, he said “the project is already underway”, but it seems he meant demolition permits for the existing buildings, rather than construction permits. Expect a construction update sometime next month.

Also approved was the new north wing for the Hotel Ithaca at 222 South Cayuga Street in downtown. A tweak of the facade, glazing and balconies was enough to placate the board into approving the revisions for the $9.5 million, 90-room project, which replaces a two-story wing dating from 1972. The north wing will have the potential for another three floors, and on the other two-story wing, the long-awaited Conference Center may come to be if financing plays in developer Hart Hotels’ favor. The Buffalo-based company hopes to start construction early next year and have the new wing ready for its first guests in Fall 2016.

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Meanwhile, in the strike column is the proposed jazz bar at 416 East State Street just east of downtown. According to the Cornell Daily Sun, a decision is being deferred until updated, more thorough information is provided regarding sound attenuation of bar patrons gathering outside the building while getting their fresh air or nicotine fix. Neighbors have mounted substantial opposition to the project for being out of character and for parking concerns, but the planning board has played neutral, receptive but cautious. The project is a legal use and will not change the square footage of the one-story warehouse/office building, but will need zoning variances.

2. The county had discussion, but made no judgements on the Biggs Parcel next to Cayuga Medical Center. The county is mulling plans to sell the parcel on the open market after years-long and heavily-fought plans to sell it to affordable housing developers NRP and BHTC fell through on the discovery of extensive wetlands on-site in 2014. As written about in the Voice this week, the county wants the 25.52 acres of land (previously valued at $340k) back on the tax rolls, while the neighbors and some other West Hill residents, under the umbrella of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, want the county to hold it as “public woodland”. The county has countered (time and again) the land has no use for the public.

Depending on which account one chooses to follow (ICNA’s or the county’s, the two vary on the details), the county’s Government Operations Committee is giving the neighbors one month to come up with a viable alternative for the land. The ICNA wanted an RFP for land preservation, but the county’s planning commissioner, Ed Marx, says the county doesn’t have time to write-up another RFP. They also pushed for subdivision of the land, which the planning department is also discouraging. The county has wanted the ICNA, Cayuga Medical or BHTC to buy the land, but no one’s made offers.

To this semi-trained eye, the only “happy” solution would be for the ICNA or someone sharing its interests to buy the property for the re-assessed value and arrange to donate it to an organization like the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The county gets their tax money, and the neighbors get to keep the land undeveloped. Outside of that option though, either the neighbors are going to feel shorted, or the county’s tax watchdogs will be up in arms.

EDIT: And now I’ve been informed that the land would be tax-exempt if given to the land trust. So there’s no happy solution unless a private landowner buys it agrees to not develop it. Which, given the property tax, is not very likely.

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3. Farm Pond Circle is still for sale. Only now, it’s on the market for $125,000, $30,000 less than the original listing. As previously written here back in March:

“The second phase of Lansing’s 21-lot Farm Pond Circle development is up for sale. Jack Jensen, the original developer, passed away last fall. Of the ten lots in phase two, four have already been reserved; there are also two lots left in phase one. The second phase is being offered for $155,000.

The Farm Pond Circle development is fairly stringent. Current deed restrictions limit the size of each housing unit to 2600 sq ft, vinyl or aluminum siding isn’t allowed, and only very specific subsections of the lots can be developed. Buyers aren’t limited to green energy, but there is a strong push in that direction. Also, at least four of the lots are earmarked for affordable housing (single-family or duplexes, buyers muse make less than 80% of median county income of $53k)). The affordable units, at least two of which have already been built, are being developed in partnership with Jack Jensen’s non-profit, Community Building Works!.”

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4. Mayor Myrick made some thought-provoking comments (or provocative, depending on your view) in a phone interview with the Times’ Josh Brokaw about State Street Triangle. For one, the inclusionary zoning topic has come up again, something likely to make an appearance in his second term. And for two, calling for a distinctive “pillar” with fewer units, and smaller units sizes to appeal to a wider, non-student part of the market. As previously stated, the 11-story height isn’t the issue.

I wrote about inclusionary zoning as part of an interview with Community Planner Lynn Truame in the Voice – it can be done one of two ways, either saying a builder/developer can’t build anything without having units or paying into a fund, or by giving them an extra incentive, like reduced permit fees, being able to build one floor higher or a reduction in parking requirements if they include affordable housing. Most opt for the latter approach.

The pros are an integration of affordable units into market-rate developments and a supply of affordable housing. The cons are that, if handled the wrong way, it can stop all development, affordable and market-rate, and on the other end of the spectrum, if the benefits are too generous than it can reduce the supply the affordable housing by tearing down older, lower-cost buildings in favor of new higher-cost ones with a small number of affordable units. In sum, nothing in an inclusive zoning ordinance can be taken lightly.

An inclusionary zoning program requires the support of neighboring communities so that developers don’t just skip to the next town over to escape the burden, and the program must be designed to encourage developers to build while ensuring there’s plenty of affordable units on the market. For example, here’s Burlington, Vermont’s ordinance:

“The program applies to all new market-rate developments of 5 or more homes and to any converted non-residential structures that result in at least 10 homes.  The affordable housing set aside is 15 to 25% of the units, depending on the average price of the market-rate homes – with the higher percentage placed on the most expensive developments.  The ordinance does not allow fee in-lieu payments or land donations, but will allow developers to provide the affordable housing off-site at 125% of the on-site obligation.  The ordinance provides a range of incentives including fee waivers and a 15-25% density and lot coverage bonus. Affordable homes are targeted to households earning 75% or less area median income (AMI) and rented at 65% or less AMI.  Developers can sale or rent the homes for more as long as the average of affordable homes sold or rented are at or below the target household income.  Affordable homes are price controlled for 99 years.

Burlington partners with a nonprofit – the Champlain Housing Trust – in the administration of its program and is able to minimize in-house administrative staff time for the program (committing only 10% of one full time employee). However, more funds are needed to support the monitoring and enforcement of affordable homes.”

So if this were Ithaca for the sake of equivalent example, let’s say a developer downtown is thinking of a 40-unit market-rate non-luxury apartment building, that maxes out the lot area and height of a currently-existing (hypothetical) zone. They would be able to build 46 units/15% larger as a bonus, but 6 units would have to be affordable housing. They could also build 46 market-rate units on-site, and build 8 affordable units off-site at a location okayed by the city.

The affordable units would be targeted at individuals making 65% or less of AMI, which in Tompkins is 65% of about $53k, or $34,500/year. Some units could be more or less affordable, as long as they average to 65% AMI. It stays that way for 99 years. The units would be managed by an organization like INHS.

Or, the developer could build a hotel, office, or non-residential building without giving up money or space for affordable housing, but they also get no zoning bonus. Burlington’s law isn’t designed to be a barrier for development, it’s designed to be an incentive to include affordable housing in new projects. However, there are definitely opponents to inclusionary zoning even among affordable housing advocates, who say that a revised and expanded Section 8 program would be more effective.

Note that Burlington’s law is just one example. No one ordinance fits all municipalities, and each community has its own aspects to address  – in Ithaca’s case, that means tailoring the inclusionary zoning for each neighborhood, determining what size and types of projects have to pay into the fund (because Cornell will probably file a lawsuit if it affects their projects), establishing affordability guidelines that encompass both poor and middle-income families, and whether fees can be paid into a housing fund in lieu of housing. What works in Downtown probably won’t work in Belle Sherman, and what works in Fall Creek wouldn’t be effective in Collegetown. It’s going to be an intensive design process.

So, back to the original question – is Campus Advantage willing to play? It’s not one that anyone can answer just yet. The Austin-based company is still determining their next move. The Times, as well as commenters on this blog, have raised the possibility that this might be the mayor playing politics to stave off his write-in opponent and the anti-development crowd that supports many of the independent candidacies. But, barring some left-field shocker on Tuesday, expect Myrick to be sharing more of his and his staff’s zoning ideas in the next couple years.

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5. Speaking of zoning, the city is mulling over a zoning tweak to make buildings on the Commons have mandatory active street-level uses. A copy of the memo is here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, county memo here,  copy of code revision here. It seems like an easy sell from both the angle of developers and the city, but the steps to codify it are only now underway.

It will be similar to inner Collegetown’s MU-2 zoning. Permitted are stores, restaurants, banks, entertainment venues, public assembly areas, libraries, fire stations, and anything approved by the Planning Board on a case-by-case basis. The last part comes into play because the Finger Lakes School of Massage proposes a student-staffed massage parlor on the first floor of the Rothschild’s Building. Not included – schools, certain office lobbies and apartment/condo lobbies. But most building owners moved to active-use on the Commons a long time ago. The public hearing will be November 19th.

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6. Looks like there are still some hang ups with the Storage Squad and 902 Dryden projects out in Dryden, according to the town’s latest meeting. For the Storage Squad project, it has to do with their concerns with a stream that showed up on a DEC map in 1940 but hasn’t appeared since (they have to prove doesn’t exist, and proving it requires DEC acknowledgement). The business owners were also concerned about spending $30k on a Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan, with the possibility that the town may have them redo it at no small price.

Now, the Dryden town board is feeling a little heat right now because there have been accusations the town isn’t doing enough to help small businesses, allegations the “rainy day” fund’s depleted, and there’s a 13% tax levy increase planned, none of which sit well with voters. Plus. lest anyone forget, elections are coming up. So it’s perhaps with those things in mind that the town board is making an effort to try and help the owners of the Storage Squad before they throw in the towel. They invited them to the town’s meeting on the 29th to discuss the SWPPP further, and we’ll find out if it was fruitful.

Also, the 13-unit, 36-bedroom (15 units/42 bedrooms if you count the existing duplex) 902 Dryden project was berated by its potential neighbors once again. There are a couple comments attacking the potential students that would live there, but most seem to be against the location and concerns about flooding. Then you have the guy who called it a cancer.

One speaker says that residential development is a tax burden on the town, but really that depends on the type of housing – infill lots and denser acreage can be cost-efficient. New, low-density “greenfield” housing requires more pipes, power lines, new roads…infill has much of that already in place, and less acreage per unit can yield greater cost efficiencies. Plus, the commercial development the speaker touts also requires police and fire, and indirectly schools for its employees’ families. Yet, he didn’t offer a single word of support for the Storage Squad proposal.

Then the talk turns to taxes, and a guy references how we took land from Native Americans, Socialism will cause our nation’s collapse, and how Muslims are trying to institute Sharia Law. Now, how does one type those town board minutes and keep a straight face?

7. One last no for the week, this one for the Phi Mu sorority from Cornell. I still have a soft spot for the histories and houses of Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs), although I’ve happily aged out of college life.

The sorority (technically a fraternity), which arrived to Cornell’s campus last year, had intended to buy the $725,000 house at 520 Wyckoff Road, but the village board shot down the change of use required. Noise, traffic and “detriment of character” were cited as reasons not to let the ca. 1924, 3,473 SF home be used for group housing.

The Ithaca Journals’ Nick Reynolds offers this passage in his write-up:

Following the decision, the board broke protocol and began a philosophical dialogue between its members and the public.

Board member Sean Cunningham suggested the village has become anti-change and anti-sorority, and was at risk of “burying their heads their heads in the sand” to the point where the village wouldn’t be able to maintain its quality of life from an unwillingness to change.

Jeff Sauer, of 107 Overlook Road, offered the residents’ stance:

“The issues brought up tonight were the right issues,” Sauer said. “It’s not that we’re opposed to change; we’re for managing change.”

Historically, the neighborhood of Cornell Heights, split between the city and the village, has been fiercely opposed to any change of uses, let alone new buildings. Cornell sued residents in the 1980s, and won, over a similar issue. The university had planned to move its 15-member “Modern Indonesia” research program and literature collection from 102 West Avenue to a house on Fall Creek Drive, but neighbors convinced the city of Ithaca that it would greatly damage the neighborhood’s character. The state supreme court disagreed.

Cornell Heights and Cayuga Heights have been used as a textbook study in Blake Gumprecht – The former, for which this blog is named after, was founded as an elite faculty and businessmans’ enclave. But after the Alpha Zeta fraternity was donated a house in 1906 (for which the developer threatened legal action to no avail), and Cornell built the all-ladies Risley Hall in 1912, the local elite turned their noses and mostly turned tail for Cayuga Heights, selling out to Greek organizations but making deed restrictions in their new community to keep them from moving in. Cayuga Heights refused annexation in Ithaca by 1954 in part because they didn’t wish to attract students, and even prohibited a restaurant from opening for fear it would attract students as well. While the village isn’t as virulent as it once was, the sorority never really stood much of a chance. One long-term problem may be that if the existing GLOs do ever sell their properties, it’ll be to Cornell and Cornell only, where the use will be maintained, but the taxes won’t.

Well ladies, better luck next time around. You could always ask Cornell about those houses on University Avenue.

9. PSA? Sure.

Vote. Local elections matter. Your vote on Tuesday could make the difference for a lot of things –  for another 210 Hancock, waterfront development plans, zoning changes, or if a future downtown project gets an abatement. It will play a role in whether Ithaca, the county and other govs make an effort on affordable housing. Tuesday’s decisions will affect the city and county’s decisions.

Polling sites here, sample ballots here.





News Tidbits 10/17/15: Pressing the Issue

17 10 2015

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1. It looks like the Amabel housing development has another site plan. New pedestrian paths, a relocated community garden, and some substantial tweaks to the layout of the house, including a small access road for three homes near the southern termination of the loop road with Five Mile Drive (older plans here).

Marketing for the project hasn’t officially started, but New Earth Living LLC’s (Susan Cosentini’s) website does have interior renders for one of the proposed house styles, as well as an informational PDF. Plans call for Net-Zero energy efficiency homes, meaning that the amount of energy generated on site will power all the project’s energy needs. Example homes included in the PDF range from 1,184 SF to 2,083 SF – it looks like there will be four home models with alternate configuration options. Prices have yet to be announced.

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The Amabel project, proposed for 619 Five Mile Drive just southwest of the city of Ithaca’s boundary line, has been in the works for the past couple of years, a sort of grand follow-up to New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood in Fall Creek. The project will have about 30 single-family homes at full build-out.

I know some of the more pessimistic readers here may call this suburban sprawl with a green sheen, but it’s a lot better than a cul-de-sac.

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2. The village of Lansing sent off their updated Comprehensive Plan to the county planning department this week for review and approval. Now, planning should be the village’s forte, since the village of Lansing was founded in the 1970s as a backlash against the construction of commercial and residential properties along Triphammer and Route 13, including what’s now The Shops at Ithaca Mall. The plan was last updated in 2005, and draft of the new plan can be found here.

The village seems to note with some distress that although population growth has slowed, traffic has continued to increase (due in large part to significant growth in Lansing town; many town residents pass through the village to get to employment centers in Ithaca). North Triphammer Road has already been widened, but there are concerns about the ability of infrastructure to handle further traffic increases. The village also notes a strong rise in the 55+ population, as well as the same affordable housing issues that plague Ithaca and much of the county; in Lansing’s case, the median household income can afford a $171,000 home by their estimate (2.5 x $54,721 = $136,800 qualifying mortgage, + 20% down-payment), but the average house in Lansing costs $258,000 (affordable to a household making ~$82,500; note all the numbers are 2010 values). The plan also shows that fair market rent in Lansing increased 64.1% from 2005-2015, meaning that unless a renter had an annual wage increase of 5.8%, they paid more of their income towards housing year after year.  29.4% of homeowners and 39.1% of renters pay above the HUD’s 30% of total income threshold for affordability. The village is concerned it will price aged residents right out of their homes.

In an effort to combat the growing problem, the village wants to focus new housing along main thoroughfares with easy bus access and bike infrastructure, and is aiming for smaller homes and apartments geared towards aging-in-place and senior communities. The village notes that 500 to 600 units of housing could potentially be developed over the next few decades (note Lansing averages ~10 units per year), mostly on the large, low-density home lots near the lake. These would almost certainly be geared towards the highest income brackets, but the benefit of greater supply might relieve pressure on other homes.

On the business end, the village would also like to encourage Cornell to relocate back-office and research operations to village sites. There’s also a push for senior-oriented businesses and a possible rethinking of the malls, not an uncommon thought in this age where malls are struggling and dying off.

There are arguably two senior developments planned that already fit their “want” category – the 12 senior units planned for the Lansing Meadows PDA (the ones planned next to BJ’s on Oakcrest Road), and 62 senior units for the CU Suites site on Cinema Drive (photo from last week above). Other residential growth will be fairly “organic”, with new homes built at the whim of owners and mom-and-pop builders. A new commercial medium-traffic zone along Hickory Hollow Drive might open some more business opportunities; as for Cornell, they seem to be more focused on their East Hill Village plans, but research park tenants are always a possibility.

The village plans to update its comprehensive plan again by 2025.

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3. On the topic of plans, here’s a progress report just released by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency regarding its five-year plan.

If you wanted another reason why housing in Ithaca is so expensive, the plan alludes to it here:

“A spike in local construction costs has delayed the start of construction on a planned four-unit first-time homebuyer project and a public facilities project that will improve a public recreational area. We anticipate these projects moving forward once they have been able to close their funding gaps.”

The four-unit homebuyer project is the townhouse project planned by INHS for 402 South Cayuga Street (shown above). INHS director Paul Mazzarella said the project was due to receive bids last month, and if they were within INHS’s budget, it would start construction. It hasn’t started.

Ithaca’s a small labor pool, so you either truck in labor from elsewhere and incur the wrath of construction unions, or you go local and pay a premium. But even then, with the relative burst in activity as of late, the local pool is getting tapped out and that’s driving prices up. Non-profits like INHS don’t have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets, and city government just won’t build if they can’t get affordable bids for infrastructure work. It also impacts programs that provide low-cost home repairs to those with low and fixed-incomes, because those low-cost repairs are no longer low-cost, and fewer people are able to be served.

One could one look at this as either a reason to limit approvals (which the construction trade unions are opposed to) or introducing more out-of-town labor to the market (which the trade unions are also opposed to). Stuck between two metaphorical rocks.

So long story short, in a region where the cost of housing is climbing dangerously fast, the city has a lot of work left to do meeting its affordability goals, with many actions/programs falling well short of annual numbers needed to meet the 5-year goal statistics. Hopefully some progress will be made in the upcoming year.

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4. The mayor has dealt State Street Triangle a serious blow by announcing his opposition to the State Street Triangle, first reported on his facebook page and picked up by every news outlet in town, Svante Myrick cited the student housing focus and massing concerns for his opposition (he explicitly stated the height, 11 stories and 116 feet, was appropriate for its location, the 300 block of East State Street in the heart of downtown Ithaca). This is a big setback because apart from his social influence, the mayor sits on the county IDA, which is the governing body that votes on tax abatements.

A couple of the outlets have reached out to Campus Advantage, which is busy trying to formulate a response. They’ve hired a PR firm for whenever they’re ready. It could be the end of the project, it could still go on, it could be drastically altered. The chips have been tossed into the air, let them fall where they may.

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5. House of the week. This week, a trip out to Maple Ridge in Dryden. Maple Ridge is a housing development within the village that had the unfortunate luck of launching right before the Great Recession. After struggling, it’s been picking up in the past couple of years with five houses built since 2013. This modular home is the “Cayuga Lake” model offered by American Homes in Dryden. The pieces have been assembled and fastened together on top of the poured foundation, and some finish work has started. The uncapped foundation section is most likely a future garage. Modular homes tend to move through construction pretty quick, and this one will likely be finished in time for the holidays.

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6. The county and city hosted a meeting discussing possible waterfront re-development plans for the NYS DOT site on Thursday night. Three plans were presented, two mixed-use commercial and residential, and a third that the Journal describes as just being “hotel”, but given the 7.66 acres on site, is probably mixed-use with a hotel component.

The third option is a little bit of a throwback because the city long-saw the waterfront as prime for a hotel. But the market has shifted towards downtown and Route 13, and with the market adding new hotels at a pretty good clip over the next few years (Marriott, Canopy, Holiday Inn Express), a hotel in that area is pretty unlikely. Local lawyer/developer Steve Flash proposed a five-story hotel on Inlet Island in 2007, but in the days before the waterfront zoning allowed five floors, the project was opposed and shelved.

An initial cost of the move is being pegged at $14 million, but it isn’t clear if a potential buyer would pay that directly, or the county/city, who then get reimbursed by a buyer. $14 million is quite an amount, but given the site’s potential, it’s feasible (but don’t expect any outside-the-box thinking; a developer will want to minimize risk since they have to make such a huge initial investment).

If anything is clear, it’s that, contrary to the opinion of at least one speaker at the meeting, most folks would like the snow plows and road salt stored somewhere else.

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6. I don’t comment on politics. I don’t comment on candidates. But I will comment on issues. And, probably no surprise to readers here, I find it worrisome when anti-development candidates come forward.

By and large, development in Ithaca isn’t happening “for the sake of development” like in the 1990s, when the local economy was mired in recession. It’s happening because the Ithaca area has added 6,000 jobs in ten years, mostly in healthcare and education. Cayuga Medical Center has added over 500 positions in 10 years, and while Cornell’s direct employment hasn’t changed much, the university has added nearly 2,500 students. That has created demand for thousands of units, but when combined with the slow pace of development within the county over the past decade, the result has been a critical housing deficit.

This is one of the major reasons behind the current affordable housing crisis – high demand, plus insufficient increases in supply, have resulted in very low vacancy rates and have made it a seller’s paradise when it comes to housing.

If you plan on selling your house or rental property and retiring to Florida in the next couple of years, you’re in for serious bank! Everyone else, whether through rents or increased tax assessments, ends up with a much greater burden. Housing costs are a big player in how Ithaca became the 8th most expensive city in the country.

If there are thousands of people coming here for work or retirement, and new housing isn’t there to absorb them, the wealthier folks moving in will simply pay a premium on what exists, and price out the existing working and middle class who can’t afford those premiums. Which some people are okay with.

Ithaca doesn’t need to “slow down” development, because that’s one of reasons why the affordability crisis is as bad as it is. What Ithaca needs is to be proactive about development, and generally it has been under Mayor Myrick. The city has actively worked to reformulate general guidelines like the Comprehensive Plan (first all-new plan since 1971!) and is starting work on part II, working on neighborhood-specific themes. Myrick’s government has also identified and maintained targeted development areas, like Collegetown’s Form Zoning and downtown density. The mayor has even come to bat for the $30k-$50k/year working class folks that “breed trouble” and need affordable housing, like with INHS’ 210 Hancock project.

Affordability is a long-term effort and a multi-pronged approach, by keeping vulnerable families in their homes, and providing new homes to accommodate the growing economy and population.

There’s still a lot of work to do, but hell, it’s a start. Sticking fingers in ones’ ears isn’t going to make the housing crisis go away.





News Tidbits 10/3/15: Lying in Wait

3 10 2015

1.We’ll start with a news piece out of the ‘burbs. Over in Lansing town, wealthy homeowners are accusing the town board and the town planning board of disenfranchising and ignoring them over concerns about the proposed Novalane housing development. Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star gives a very thorough rundown here.

Quick summary, Novalane is a 19-lot high-end housing development slated for farmland between two other high end housing developments, the mostly-built Lakewatch and Eastlake subdivisions, the first phase of which is comprised of seven lots on the west side of the parcel. The sticking point has to do with access roads for the new homes. The developer proposes to connect the two developments via the Smuggler’s Path cul-de-sac, which would extend down through an undeveloped lot in Eastlake and connect with Eastlake Road.

According to the town, the intent has always been to connect the two developments – but apparently, no one ever had a good idea where. Neighbors on Reach Run are incensed because they’re afraid of additional traffic on their road if the connector isn’t extended all the way, but if connected, Eastlake residents are opposed to cross-traffic they suspect will cut through to get to East Shore Drive. Aside from that conundrum, some neighbors have suggested being okay with the road if it went all the way from Smuggler’s Path to form an intersection with Waterwagon Road, but that doesn’t seem possible given the property lines of the Rec Club. At the very least, it would be a big burden in the development costs.

So on the one hand, here is a town that has struggled with planning issues. On the other, you have wealthy residents angry about construction vehicles accessing the one house currently under construction in Lakewatch, and prepared to sue the town over the potential of seven more houses. There’s also this gem of a line:

“We’re large taxpayers.  It’s an autocracy.  To be treated like that by our own representatives is incorrect and not acceptable.  Who are they working for?”

Maybe all taxpayers and not just the large ones? Just saying.

2. Switching over to another ‘burb, the proprietors of Storage Squad made their pitch to the town of Dryden, per the Ithaca Times. Storage Squad, a Cornell startup that has expanded to twenty cities, seems to have a rather unique take on the appearance of self-storage. For their facility planned at 1401 Dryden Road, the company wants to build 79,600 SF of space, 70,000 SF of which would be in five buildings consisting of 400 storage units. 315 units may join 3-4 years down the line. According to the presentation, there would be a Cornell-inspired clock tower, brick and ivy growing on the side walls. Paved entries, gated, and split-face concrete masonry units. Apparently, it was enough to win the town supervisor over. A special zoning permit will be required, but approval is expected later this fall. No word on whether they’ll keep the 150-year old house on-site.

3.  Must be a good week for Dryden. The eyesore at 76 West Main Street has been sold and has a construction loan approved to finish renovations. The Ithaca Voice article I did on the reno is here. I toyed with the idea of calling Dryden mayor Reba Taylor for a quote, but I figured I’d get a very generic statement it any at all, and in the interest of time the idea was shelved. I might get a response to one-third of the calls I make regarding development/real estate stuff, which can be frustrating but I’ve gotten used to it.

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4. The Times’ Josh Brokaw brings out an update on the latest State Street Triangle news. The important details:

– CTB has agreed to take one of the commercial spaces. No word on how that would affect the North Aurora Street location a couple blocks away.

– The planning board didn’t have many words; One member suggested the curve portion was “too flat” and an arcade on the first floor (not the video game kind, but the archways over a walkway kind). A second brought up affordable housing, which the developers have given consideration, but isn’t in the current plan.

– In favor: the director of Cinemapolis, other developers, CTB’s owner and students. Not in favor – the head of Historic Ithaca, and councilman George McGonigal – who opposed the Stone Quarry Apartments, the waterfront rezoning, 210 Hancock and thinks the city can make Cornell build dorms. The Times has called him out as “anti-urban”. If a councilperson outside the first ward speaks out, it’ll get a lot more credence on this blog.

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5. The city and Cornell gave an interesting presentation about development to the Collegetown Neighborhood Council this week. City planning director JoAnn Cornish gave a rundown of what’s planned, included the 102 apartments 302-306 College Avenue (phases one and two shown above). This one might still be in the hopper, but don’t expect it to move forward anytime soon – the developers (the Avramis family) have rented out the houses to be demolished through May 2017. It also seems like that one building would be in the 2017-2018 time frame, the second 2018-2019. So these two mid-rises are quite a ways out, assuming they’re still in the works. Also, Fane’s 12-story proposal for 330 College is still dead, but something more modest may come forward someday.

On another interesting note, Cornell’s lead planner, Leslie Schill, said the university may be looking into turning Eddy Gate and the Sheldon Court plaza into green spaces to offset the lack of parks in the neighborhood. Cornell might also renovate the Ag Quad into a richer pedestrian experience.

6. The Carpenter Business Park purchaser continues to intrigue. A company called Carpenter Business Park LLC, using a P.O. Box ties to the Miller Mayer law firm, has bought two more parcels after buying the four unused land parcels in the Carpenter Business Park for $2.4 million last August. This time around, the LLC purchased a nondescript one-story commercial building at 742 Cascadilla Street, and a nearby tiny silver of land between the Palisades Corporation and Cornell U. Press buildings for $304,000. It’s not clear what the buyer is intended to do with all these properties (we know it’s not a big box store), but it’s definitely curious. If something comes up, it’ll be shared here.

 





News Tidbits 9/19/15: It’s A Numbers Game

19 09 2015

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1. Readers might have noticed that there was no Monday night (Tuesday) piece this week. The piece that was originally scheduled evolved into the building permits analysis that was a featured article on the Voice (link here). The initial intent was to run a mirror of the piece on the same day, but things got a little delayed, and eventually I just scrapped running it as the topic-of-the-week.

The reaction was generally favorable (if maybe less traffic than hoped; math-y pieces typically aren’t big traffic generators), but there’s a couple of quick criticisms that came in that I want to address. Namely that I didn’t include proposed projects, and that I left out non-residential construction.

Truthfully, there is no reliable long-term record of non-residential construction. HUD doesn’t break it down in their SOCDS database, and the county doesn’t have complete data on non-residential construction (for their reports, they also rely on the HUD SOCDS database). Related to that, HUD data for 2015 is very preliminary, relying on imputed values. Finalized and corrected 2015 data won’t be available for use until March 2016.

That being said, residential permits are an effective gauge for a few reasons – one, residential is the largest individual construction sector nationwide; two most recent local construction is residential or institutional, and three, many of the projects built in Ithaca are “mixed-use” meaning they have commercial and residential components. although the commercial components aren’t kept in track, the residential construction permits are available, and are showing up in the city’s SOCDS data.

For proposed projects, it’s not prudent to “count your chickens before they’ve hatched”. This passage was originally in the piece, but was pulled before the final version was published:

“As mentioned earlier, news sources like us here the Voice are guilty are promoting the misconceptions. We try and keep tabs on all the big projects – when they get proposed, approved and underway. The thing is, not all projects go from proposed to built. Some never receive approvals. Some get approved, but wait years to get construction financing, if ever. So it seems like there’s more than there is.”

Without having hard evidence in front of me, I’d argue that if one were to somehow include office and retail, the area still isn’t booming if we’re looking in a historical timeframe – you’d have large spikes in retail during the mid 1970s when the mall was built, and from about 1997-2004 in Southwest Ithaca and Lansing for big box retail. For office space, there would be a peak in the late 1980s/early 1990s for the Cornell business park by the airport; there’s circumstantial evidence that the office market today is pretty weak, TFC’s HQ being the odd project out. Industrial space would have peaked with Borgwarner’s construction in the early 1980s, but in recent years it’s been minimal or even negative growth (due to the Emerson shutdown). Hotels might be the only category that shows a “boom” at present.

The point of the article remains that

1. If we look at available building permit data, Tompkins has seen an uptick in construction, but not a construction “boom”, and
2. It feels like a boom because the region’s coming off of a very low period of activity, and there’s more construction in the highly visible urban areas of Ithaca city, vs. the suburban and rural development that has been more prevalent in previous years.

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2. It’s time for a semi-regular house-of-the-week feature. I’ve been meaning to update on this for a while, but I keep missing the turn off Route 79. Local developer Chris Petrillose of Petrillose Properties (possibly related to Bob Petrillose, the founder of the Hot Truck) recently finished his second and third duplex  off of Wiedmeier Court in the town of Ithaca. Like the first duplex that was finished last year, each building consists of a 4-bedroom unit and 2-bedroom unit.

According to county records, the Wiedmeiers began to develop the land in the mid-2000s, building 2 duplexes of their own before deciding to sell the other lots (Petrillose bought the lots for the duplexes in 2012). The rest of the land, 12.34 acres, is currently for sale, so perhaps this won’t be the last visit.

3. Previously reported here and on the Voice, the city is studying whether or not to sell fire station No. 9, located in the heart of Collegetown at 309 College Avenue, to an interested private developer. We now know the consultant the city hired to perform the study.

Kingsbury Architecture, a small local firm, is investigating whether it would be worth the city’s investment to build a new station elsewhere on East Hill and sell the aging station, or invest in repairs and long-term maintenance for the current 1968 structure. Kingsbury has little presence online, but in an example of how small of a world this is, they were the initial firm used to plan St. Catherine of Siena’s new parish center, the project discussed in last week’s news update. However, according to church newsletter, the congregation amicably ended the partnership because of cost issues. The church staff went architect shopping, and that’s how Richard McElhiney Architects came into the project. Some of Kingsbury’s work can be found on the church’s webpage here. Kingsbury also appears to have done some interior renovation work at Cornell, and roof replacement at the Cascadilla Boathouse.

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4. New documents from Campus Advantage give insights on the tenant mix and parking situation in downtown Ithaca.

First, my personal disclaimer – Even though part of their market research cites work I’ve written for the Voice about the housing crisis, my work was done impartially.

The new information comes as part of Campus Advantage’s official response to the city planning board’s request for more specific values on resident population, parking utilization and bus capacity, among other details. The documents are provided as part of the planning board’s materials here.

Updated figures indicate the proposed building has gone on a diet – the number of bedrooms has dropped from 620 to 582, the number of units from 240 to 232, and the square footage from 288,845 SF to 216,434 SF, a 25% reduction in mass. The maximum height remains the same at 11 stories at 116 feet. The slimming down comes in response to unfavorable review of the previous design as “too massive”, especially on the side facing East State Street.

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According to an internal study by Campus Advantage, the Texas developer forecasts that, of the 582 tenants when at full capacity, 77.8% (431) will be students, and 22.2% (123) non-students. Of those students, 78.4% (338) will be undergraduates. Cornell students would comprise 64% (276) of the student population, Ithaca College 32% (138), and TC3 4% (17). A quick glance at the details behind these projections shows that CA assumes 95% occupancy, studios and other smaller units will be half or majority non-student, and that undergrads will be more inclined towards shared 4-bedrooms and 5-bedroom units. CA conducted online surveys with student groups to gather information for their study.

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The parking demand from residents is predicted to be 191-219 spaces, taken from a study conducted by third-party traffic engineering firm SRF Associates. A further 64 parking spaces will be required for commercial retail tenants on the first floor (57 customer spaces, 7 employee spaces), for a grand total of 283 parking spaces. The 2012 Randall/West Collegetown parking study used as reference looked at student and non-student vehicle ownership in the Collegetown neighborhood, and the higher end (or “more conservative”, as SRF calls it) 219-space figure comes from a calculation the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit urban planning think-tank. Given that Randall/west focused on Collegetown, the more conservative figure is the safer bet.

It’s not clear whether the parking garage study above is CA’s or the city’s, but the application itself states that the city’s Parking Director, Frank Nagy, has confirmed that enough parking is available, and a letter from TCAT’s Doug Swarts states that TCAT has the capacity for State Street Triangle’s potential tenants. Looking at the above study, though, it appears that if built, and if all the other approved and likely projects (i.e. don’t include 130 East Clinton) are built, the parking garages will be nearly full.

Since the new drawings were presented at the public open house on September 10th, there do not appear to have been revisions – what was shown then will be shown at the planning board meeting next Tuesday (links to those drawings here). However, the planning board will be looking to schedule a design review committee meeting, where board members provide suggestions and guidance on design features for the new building. In other words, this probably isn’t the building’s final design.

Also included in the attachment are two opposition letters – one from Historic Ithaca saying the building’s still too tall and massive, the other from former planning board and councilwoman Jane Marcham, who takes the unusual if debatable tact by saying that students living downtown deprives the colleges of campus life. Students comprise 40% of the market-rate downtown rental market, so there’s a few to interview for opinions should anyone be interested.

As always, the project is likely to inspire some debate at the planning board meeting. We’ll see if the changes are to the board’s liking.

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5. Wrapping up this short but informative week, here’s a look at the Planning Board agenda for next week:

A. State Street Triangle – Public Hearing, City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) discussion, and scheduling a Design Review Committee meeting. CEQR is they city’s more in-depth take on SEQR, where a project’s environmental impacts are considered, and a negative declaration (acceptance) is given only when adverse factors have been mitigated in a way the board sees fit. Design Review Committee pretty much is as it sounds – the board makes suggestions on the building design as a quality control / quality assurance measure.

B. 215-221 Spencer Street, Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – the board has decided to recommend approval of the parking variance (parking within the rear yard setback), given the site’s steep topography.

C. Site improvements, 416-418 East State Street416-418 East State Street is currently home to an underused 7,600 SF office and a connected manufacturing/storage building. The house dates from the 19th century, with various additions as recent as the 1970s. According to plans filed with the city, an LLC linked to Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has plans to convert the old manufacturing space into a bar and storage space, with renovated offices and a 2 bedroom apartment in the original house. The project will include an accessory parking lot, revised landscaping and handicap access. Area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance, but a parking variance won’t be required because the bar will have after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.

There have been substantial concerns expressed about this project – neighbors are vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department is not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement. The city will need to examine this project carefully.

Scott Whitham is serving as a consultant, and local architect Jason Demarest is designing the renovation.

D. Hotel Ithaca – Amended declaration of environmental significance. Backstory and plans here.

E. “Sketch Plan – 815 South Aurora Street, 87 unit housing project” – See conceptual design above, full backstory here. To recapitulate the salient details, local developer Todd Fox of Modern Living Rentals would like to build apartments on vacant land at 815 South Aurora Street, but can’t because the vast majority of the property is within the “fall zone” of a cell tower, which the city defines as twice the height of the tower. The 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel virtually undevelopable. Fox had two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting) analyze the case, and they determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox tried to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development. But when Fox and project architect Noah Demarest approached the BZA, they said they wouldn’t consider the 815 South Aurora Street application unless the law was amended, or Fox and Demarest go through the sketch plan and review process, and submit a formal application for a zoning variance.  So now we’re at the point of having a sketch plan to present. Regardless of design, the project will need an area variance issued by the BZA for the cell phone tower issue. At 87 units, this will be a pretty sizable project, and given Fox’s previous work (he’s been rather busy lately), it will likely be rentals, perhaps with Ithaca College students as the target market.

3 of the 5 projects above (SST, 215-221 West Spencer, and 815 South Aurora) have Noah Demarest/STREAM Collaborative as a lead or consulting architect. None of them have the same developer. Talk about having your fingers in many pots.





News Tidbits 9/12/15: Some Projects Lose Mass, and Some Hold Mass

12 09 2015

1. We’ll start this week off with a little bit of economic development news. According to paperwork filed with the Tompkins County IDA, CBORD, a Lansing-based software company, wants to move out of its digs in the Cornell office park by the airport, and into a new larger facility in renovated space in the South Hill Business Campus next to Ithaca College. CBORD would lease 41,000 SF of space with five year options to renew. All 245 local employees would be moved into the renovated space, which would be finished by the end of May 2016 and designed by local architect John Snyder.

The project is expected to cost about $3.7 million. No new jobs are stated in the application.

Assuming SHBC’s website is up-to-date, no contiguous spaces are currently large enough for the tenant, so either the internal space will be split up, or some other tenants will be jostled around to make room for CBORD.

As for the abatement itself, CBORD is requesting a sales tax abatement, one year in length, with a value of $296,000, about 8% of the project cost. It doesn’t appear to have made any waves at Thursday night’s meeting, so what;s likely to be a low-key public hearing and approval vote will be coming in the pipeline.

Also at the IDA meeting, final approvals were granted for tax abatements on the 209-215 Dryden project by John Novarr in conjunction with Cornell. and for INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development in the city’s Northside neighborhood.

2. Another small infill project seeks approval from the city’s planning board and the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). 525 West Green Street, located on the edge of the South Side neighborhood, is currently home to a 4-unit apartment house. Local developer Todd Fox of Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is seeking to build a 4-unit, 4-bedroom apartment house at the rear of the property, where a clapped-out garage currently stands. The units would be rentals, but this far from Cornell and Ithaca College, the target market is likely to be permanent Ithaca residents – single professionals would be a good guess.

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Plans drawn up by prolific local firm STREAM Collaborative call for a 2-story, 2,360 SF “carriage house” building designed to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, although quite honestly no one would be able to see the new building unless one were looking down the driveway. A landscaped rear parking area for 8 vehicles would replace the current 4-car lot behind the existing building.

According to Site Plan Review documents, construction cost is estimated at $300,000, and construction would take place from November 2015 to July 2016. Area variances are required from the BZA since this building partially occupied space reserved for the rear setback, but according to the SPR the variance has already been granted.

Readers might recall that MLR has been a very busy company as of late – although relatively new to the Ithaca scene (MLR was established in 2010 by then-recent college graduates Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox), the company has developed the 6-unit 707 East Seneca apartment building, a duplex at 605 South Aurora, and is currently going through the approvals process for solar-powered townhomes out in Varna. The duo also partnered with local real estate businessman Bryan Warren to purchase the Collegetown Bagels at 201-207 North Aurora Street.

As for the project itself, 525 West Green Street is perhaps the largest example of the carriage house trend Ithaca has been seeing lately, where old garages or unused rear lot spaces are being developed into small, detached apartments, typically no more than studio or 1-bedroom size. Other examples include 201 West Clinton, 607 Utica,  and new this month, a studio apartment proposed for a former workshop/garage at 701 North Aurora. Arguably, one could throw New Earth Living/Sue Cosentini’s Aurora Street pocket neighborhood in there as well.

Given that these properties are modestly-sized, rarely visible from the street, and provide rental income to property owners who in most cases live on the same lot, they seem like an appropriate way to increase density without upsetting Ithaca’s character balance.

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3. Briefly in blurbs – according to the agenda for Ithaca town’s Public Works Committee (PWC), the town will be looking at sanitary sewer access for a potential development along Troy Road. Now, before anyone gets their blood pressure raised, this most likely has nothing to do with the 130-unit project that was mothballed a few months ago. But, there have been rumors of smaller-scale plans for one of the parcels that comprised the now-subdivided property. The development radar has been turned on, and if anything shows up, you’ll see it shared here.

4. Staying in Ithaca town for the time being, the town’s planning board has but one project on their agenda for next Tuesday – a new parish center for St. Catherine of Siena Church in the Northeast Ithaca neighborhood.

Yes, even in Ithaca, one of the least religious metros in the country, famously home to a school that pastors derided in fiery philippics 150 years ago for daring to not affiliate itself with a Christian denomination or enforce mandatory church attendance, churches can hold their own.

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Plans call for a new 10,811 SF parish center at 302 St. Catherine Circle, on what is currently part of the church parking lot. Once built, the current parish center, a one-story, 10,275 SF jumble of boxes and corridors, would be demolished and replaced with parking spaces. Richard McElhiney Architects of NYC is the project architect, and a bit of an unusual choice since the firm doesn’t have a presence or previous work up here.

In an assessment by Ithaca town planner Christine Balestra, concerns were noted about a phased parking plan for the church while construction is underway, and minor requests for landscaping details (plans call for two fountains). Other than that, it doesn’t look like this is going to make any waves during the approvals process.

5. Over in the town of Danby, plans are underway to convert a former clothing design and warehouse facility into a mixed-tenant business center. Docs filed by STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest on behalf of owner David Hall call for modifications of a Planned Development Zone for the property at 297-303 Gunderman Road. Danby’s PDZ is not unlike the city’s PUD and town of Ithaca’s PDZ, where the form and layout is regulated rather than the use. The original PDZ for the property dates from the mid-1990s.

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The “Summit Enterprise Center” would be anchored by National Book Auctions currently on Danby Road, Blue Sky Center for Learning (a company that provides support and therapy for autistic individuals and their families), and New Moon Harvest, a food and beverage maker. Additional office, warehouse and industrial/food production space would be available to potential tenants. The existing 21,000 SF building and landscape would not be significantly changed, although future plans for a 4,147 SF addition and parking lot are noted.

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6. Speaking of PDZs and PUDs, I did take the opportunity when I spoke to David Lubin last week to ask how things were going with the Chain Works District development. Here’s what he said:

“Chain Works District is continuing. We’re working with the state and Emerson, investigating the site and making sure all the remediation plans are readied and approved. There will be public hearings. It’s a slow process. We will need DEC approval for the residential uses. We hope to obtain city approvals [for the draft environmental impact statement] this year.”

There’s no doubt the project will take time. With complicated topography, environmental issues, 800,000 SF of planned development space and two municipalities, it’s arguably the most complicated tax parcel in all of the county, if not the region. Readers may stretch their memories back and remember that the first phase will consist of the renovation of buildings 21, 24, 33 and 34 into mixed-use and manufacturing space. Ithaca Builds (come back Jason, Ithacans need someone with your knowledge) provides a detailed run-down here.

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7. Courtesy of Maria Livingston at HOLT Architects, here’s a render of the renovation HOLT is undertaking for its new headquarters at 619 West State Street. Gone are the rather dated-looking decorative parapets, and in comes a clean, modern design with a mix of wood, brick and steel facade materials. HOLT’s 30 employees will occupy most of the new space in the  net-zero energy structure, but there will be space for two other tenants (one of which has already been claimed).

HOLT is spending about $900k on the renovation, which is due to be complete next March. Tompkins Trust Company is providing the financing, and local company McPherson Builders is in charge of general construction.

A copy of the official press release, and an interior render, can be found on HOLT’s blog here.

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8. We’ll wrap up this work with a topic at the tip of everyone’s tongue – State Street Triangle. Architects Kelly Grossman of Austin, Texas and Noah Demarest of STREAM have worked to redesign the project so that its massing is less imposing and its design a little more varied. Specifically, it now looks more like several buildings built next to each other with varying setbacks and heights, rather than one continuous mass – the change is especially prominent on the 300 Block of East State, where the most concern was raised.

The developers held a community meeting Thursday night (pro tip for Campus Advantage – next time, give more than 30 hours’ notice), which has been covered by the Journal here and the Voice here. That the developers scheduled their own community meeting outside of the confines of city hall is laudable.

As part of the redesign, the number of bedrooms has been reduced from 620 to 582. Recent estimates have now priced the project at $70 million. The developer has expressed interest in designated some of the units as affordable housing, in what would be an example of the inclusive zoning that some city staff are currently looking into.

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The project is seeking a tax abatement, though the formal details have yet to be released. Rents would be between $980-$1,600 per month per person, and would include utilities, gym and other “all-inclusive services”. I suspect that a parking space in the Cayuga Garage is an added cost.

Speaking strictly for myself, the design is an improvement, though I have subjective quibbles – for instance, would a lighter color material make the north wall of 11-story middle section less visible from a distance, and would it be possible to give the blank walls more character. Balancing pros and cons, I also think the design of the Commons-facing corner looks tasteful and classy. The prospect of affordable units in the building is intriguing. If I was a planning board member, I’d ask to see material samples to make sure the building doesn’t end up looking cheap.

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Additional images of the updated design can be found on the city’s website here, and a written summary of the changes from project consultant Scott Whitham of can be found here.