The Maplewood Redevelopment, Part I: History and Planning

28 08 2017

Being as large and complex as it is, it was hard to figure out a way to present the Maplewood project clearly and coherently. After some thinking, it seems the best combination of clarity and detail will be to split it into three sections. This section, Part I, will be an overview of the site history and project planning. Part II will examine and break down the site plan with all of its contributing structures. Part III will be the regular construction update, which will be bi-monthly just like all the others.

Quick primer note – Maplewood Park was the name of the old complex. The new one is just called “Maplewood”. With the shorthand for Maplewood Park being Maplewood, it can get confusing.

Let’s start with the background. Love it or not, Cornell University is one of the major defining organizations of the Ithaca area. It employs nearly 10,000 people and brings billions of dollars in investment into the Southern Tier, Tompkins County and Ithaca. That investment includes the students upon which the university was founded to educate.

Traditionally, neither founder Ezra Cornell nor first university president Andrew Dickson White were fans of institutional housing. Their preference was towards boarding houses in the city, or autonomous student housing (clubs, Greek Letter Orgs, etc), where it was felt students would learn to be more independent. This mentality has often underlain Cornell’s approach to housing – it’s not a part of their primary mission, so they only build campus housing if they feel it helps them meet academic and institutional goals. If many potential students are opting for other schools because of housing concerns, or the university is under financial strain because it has to subsidize high housing costs in their scholarships, then Cornell is motivated to build housing in an effort to improve its situation and/or become more competitive with peer institutions.

With that in mind, being one of the top-ranked schools in the world means that, in the historical context of the university’s goals and plans, new housing is rarely a concern. Cornell will update housing in an effort to be more inclusive and to improve student well-being, but with labs, classrooms and faculty offices taking precedence, building new housing is rarely an objective. Only about 46% of undergrads live on campus, and just 350 of over 7,500 graduate and professional students.

From 2002 to present, Cornell has added 2,744 students, with a net increase in Ithaca of about 1900. The net increase in beds on Cornell’s Ithaca campus during that same time period is zero. While Cornell did build new dorms on its West Campus, they replaced the University “Class of” Halls. 1,800 beds were replaced with 1,800 beds. In fact, the amount of undergraduate and graduate housing on campus had actually decreased as units at Maplewood Park and the law school Hughes Hall dorm were taken offline, either due to maintenance issues, or for conversion to office/academic space. When the announcement for further decreases came in Fall 2015, I wrote a rare Ithaca Voice editorial, and even rarer, it brought Cornell out to the proverbial woodshed for poor planning and irresponsibility.

To be fair, while Cornell was the guilty body, removing housing isn’t a problem on its own. It’s when the local housing market can’t grow fast enough to support that, that it becomes a problem. The Tompkins County market is slow to react, for reasons that can be improved (cumbersome approvals process) and some that can’t (Ithaca’s small size and relative isolation poses investment and logistical hurdles). In the early and mid 2000s housing was added at a decent clip, so the impacts were more limited. But housing starts tumbled during and after the recession, and it was unable to keep up. As Cornell continued to add students in substantial quantities, it became a concern, both for students and permanent residents.

By the mid-2010s, Cornell was faced with financial strains, student unhappiness and worsening town-gown relations, all related to the housing issue. As a result, the past couple years have become one of those rare times where housing makes it close to the top of Cornell’s list of priorities.

In weighing its options, one of the long-term plans was to redevelop the 17-acre Maplewood Park property. The property was originally the holdings of an Ellis Hollow tavern keeper and the Pew family before becoming the farmstead of James and Lena (sometimes Lyna) Clabine Mitchell in the early 1800s. In 1802, James was passing through from New Jersey to Canada with plans to move across the border, but stopped in the area, liked it, and bought land from the Pews, then moving the rest of his family up to Ithaca. Apparently there’s a legend of Lena Mitchell attacking and killing a bear with a pitchfork for eating her piglets. Many of the home lots in Belle Sherman were platted in the 1890s from foreclosed Mitchell property.

Like many of the Mitchell lands, it looks like the property was sold off around 1900 – a Sanborn map from 1910 shows a brick-making plant on the property along the railroad (now the East Ithaca Rec Way) and not much else for what was then the city’s hinterland. It’s not clear when Cornell acquired property, but by 1946, Cornell had cleared the land to make way for one of their “Vetsburgs”, also known as Cornell Quarters. The 52 pre-fabricated two-family homes were for veterans with families, who swelled Cornell’s enrollment after World War II thanks to the GI Bill. Once the GIs had come and gone, Cornell Quarters became unfurnished graduate housing, geared towards students with families, and international students.

The Cornell Quarters were meant to be temporary, and so was their replacement. In 1988-89, the university built the modular Maplewood Park Housing, with 390 units/484 beds for graduate and professional students, and an expected lifespan of 25 years. The intent was to replace them with something nicer after several years, but given Cornell’s priorities, and housing typically not among them, it fell to the back burner. As temporary units with marginal construction quality and upkeep, poor-condition units were closed off in later years, and capacity had fallen to about 356 beds when the complex’s closure was announced in May 2015 for the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

Cornell had long harbored plans to redevelop the Maplewood site – a concept schematic was shown in the 2008 university Master Plan. After weighing a renovation versus a rebuild with a few possible partners, the university entered into an agreement with national student housing developer EdR Trust to submit a redevelopment proposal. The partnership was announced in February 2016, along with the first site plan.

The core components of the project were actually fairly consistent throughout the review process. The project would have 850-975 beds, and it would be a mix of townhouse strings and 3-4 apartment buildings, with a 5,000 SF community center to serve it all. The project adheres to New Urbanist neighborhood planning, which emphasizes walk-ability and bike-ability, with interconnected and narrow streets, and parking behind buildings rather than in front of them. Energy-efficient LEED Certification was in the plans from the start.

 

However, the overall site plan did evolve a fair amount, mostly in response to neighbor concerns raised through the review process. Many residents on or near Mitchell Road were uncomfortable with multi-story buildings near them, so these were pulled further back into the complex, and late in the process the remaining Mitchell Street multi-story buildings were replaced with very-traditional looking townhomes with a smaller scale and footprint. More traditional designs were also rolled out for the pair of townhouse strings closest to Worth Street, since neighbors noted they would be highly visible and wanted them to fit in. The building planned in the city’s side was also pulled inward into the parcel early on due to neighbor concerns – it became an open plaza and bus stop. The university was fairly responsive to most concerns, although the most adamant opposition didn’t want any multi-story units at all, and really preferred as few students and as few families as possible.

For the record, that is every site plan I have on file. Go clockwise from top left for the chronology. So from beginning to end, there were at least five versions made public. The final product settled on 442 units with 872 bedrooms, with units ranging from studios to 4-bedrooms.

It’s also worth pointing out that the town of Ithaca, in which the majority of the property lies (the city deferred the major decision-making to the town), had a lot of leverage in the details. The town’s decades-old zoning code isn’t friendly to New Urbanism, so the property had to be declared a Planned Development Zone, a form of developer DIY zoning that the town would have to review and sign off on. Eventually, the town hopes to catch up and have form-based code that’s more amenable to New Urbanism. The town also asked for an Environmental Impact Statement, a very long but encompassing document that one could describe as a super-SEQR, reviewing all impacts and all mitigation measures in great detail. The several hundred pages of EIS docs are on the town website here, but a more modest summary is here. If you want the hundreds of pages of emailed comments and the responses from the project team, there are links in the article here.

Some details were easier to hammer out than others. The trade unions were insistent on union labor, which Cornell is pretty good about, having a select group of contractors it works with to ensure a union-backed construction workforce. Also, at the insistence of environmental groups, and as heat pumps have become more efficient and cost-effective, the project was switched from natural gas heat to electric heat pumps, with 100% of the electricity to come from renewables (mostly off-site solar arrays).

Taxes were a bit more delicate, but ended up being a boon when it was decided to pay full value on the $80 million project. It was a borderline case of tax-exemption because Cornell would own the land and EdR would own the structures, and lease the land for 50 years; but Maplewood Park was exempt, so it could have been a real debate. Instead, EdR said okay to 100% taxation, which means $2.4 million generated in property taxes on a parcel that previously paid none. Some folks were also concerned if the schools could handle the young child influx, but since Maplewood Park only sent about 4 kids to the elementary school on average, and the new plan would send 10 students when the school has capacity for another 26, so that was deemed adequate.

On the tougher end, traffic is a perennial concern, and Cornell wasn’t about to tell graduate and professional students and their families to go without a car. Streetscape mitigations include raised crosswalks, curbing, and landscaping, EdR is giving the town $30,000 for traffic calming measures (speed humps and signage) to keep the influx of residents orderly and low-speed. A new 600,000 gallon water tank also has to be built (planned for Hungerford Hill Road).

One of the thorniest issues were the accusations of segmentation, meaning that Cornell was falsely breaking their development plans up into smaller chunks and hiding their future plans to make the impacts seem smaller. This has come in the context of the Ithaca East Apartments next door, and the East Hill Village Cornell is considering at East Hill Plaza. However, neither were concrete plans at the time, and still aren’t – to my understanding, Cornell had some informal discussions about Ithaca East but decided against it early on in the process. And they only just selected a development team for EHV.

In the end, many of the concerned neighbors and interest groups were satisfied with the changes, and actually lauded Cornell and EdR for being responsive. The EIS was formally requested in May 2016. The Draft EIS was accepted in August 2016, public meetings on it were held in October, and the Final EIS was submitted at the end of October. After some more back-and-forth on the details (stormwater management plan, or SWPPP), the Final EIS was approved right before Christmas and the project was approved in February 2017, starting work shortly thereafter for an intended August 2018 completion. With the wet summer, the project managers asked for a two-hour daily extension on construction (8 am-6 pm became 7 am -7 pm) to meet the hard deadline, which the town okayed with a noise stipulation of less than 85 decibels.

Rents for the project, which include utilities, wireless and pre-furnished units, are looking to range from $790-$1147 per bed per month, depending on the specific unit. Back of the envelope calculations suggest affordability at 30% rent and 10% utilities, for 40% of income. Cornell stipends currently range from $25,152-$28,998, which translates to $838-$967/month.

On the project team apart from Cornell and Memphis-based EdR are Torti Gallas and Partners of Maryland, New Urbanist specialists who did the overall site plan and architecture. Local firms T.G. Miller P.C. and Whitham Planning and Design are contributing to the project as structural engineer and public relations representative respectively. SRF & Associates did the traffic study. Although not mentioned as often, STREAM Collaborative did the landscape architecture for the project. The general contractor is LeChase Construction of Rochester.

So that’s part one. Part two will look at the structures and site plan itself. And then with part three, we’ll have the site photos.





News Tidbits 6/10/17: In High Demand

10 06 2017

1. Start off this week with some eye candy. Here are the latest renders for Visum Development’s 191-bed, 60-unit project at 232-236 Dryden Road. The biggest change here is the Dryden Road facade – revised fenestration, and the addition of shingle-style balconies. STREAM Collaborative’s intent is to give the south building a little more historical sensitivity – when the Cascadilla school still had a dorm in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it included a 4-story shingle-style dormitory complete with dining room and gym. The balconies are throwbacks to the dormitory’s balconies.

However, given that this building will date open in 2018 and not 1898, instead of wood shingle, the balconies will use Allura “Redwood” fiber cement shinglewood pulp mixed with sand and cement, shaped for a wood-like appearance, but with the durability of concrete. Fiber cement is also more expensive to buy and install vs. materials like vinyl, which is why only more expensive or visible structures tend to use it. Other planned materials include Endicott manganese ironspot velour brick veneer, fiber cement panels with LP smart trim painted in Sherwin-Williams Pure White and Anonymous (actual name), lap siding in SW Pure White and Marigold, granite grey stucco (*real* stucco, not DryVit), a metal canopy and Andersen windows.

2. Business is good for STREAM Collaborative. So good that they’re expanding both in staff and space. The young, prolific architecture firm led by Noah Demarest will be moving out from its location in the City Hall Annex at 123 Sough Cayuga Street, and into a larger downtown space in the ca. 1872 Gregg Block at 108-112 West State Street, across from the State Theatre. The new digs are being renovated now, and are expected to be ready for occupancy by July 1st.

On another note, the owner of the city hall annex has taken to advertising the office space on Cragislist, which seems like the wrong choice to me. An apartment, sure. A house for sale or offices to rent? My impression is that folks prefer a more professional medium than what Craigslist offers. Kinda the same with jobs – servers or dog-sitters, sure. Accountants or architects? Ehh.

Maybe I’m just behind the times. Here’s the posting for the former Hal’s Deli on the 100 Block North Aurora Street. $5500/month.

3. WHCU is reporting that INHS has had no shortage of applicants for the 210 Hancock rentals. After receiving over 200 applications, they set up a lottery in which 122 “made it through” , and then selected the top 60 (there are 59 rental units though…might be a just in case there’s a drop-out, or it could just be conversational rounding). If it’s anything like New York City’s lottery, what happens is that each application is validated, sorted for requested unit type, and is assigned a randomized log number – those who get 1-48 for the one-bedroom subset, and 1-11 for the two-bedrooms subset, are awarded dibs on a unit, so long as they pass the income check and background check. Unit occupancy is expected late this summer, and marketing for the seven for-sale units will start…

4. …pretty much now. The three units in the first image are 204, 206 and 208 Hancock Street, the four for-sales in image two are from L to R, 406, 408, 410 and 412 Lake Street. 206 Hancock, 408 Lake and 410 Lake will be 910 SF 2 bedroom, 1.5 bath units that will sell for $112,000 to qualified buyers. 406 Lake and 412 are 1088 SF, 2 bed 1.5 bath units priced at $129,000. The largest units, 204 Hancock and 208 Hancock, are 1300 SF, 3 bed 1.5 bath units that will sell for $145,000. The plan is to have buyers lined up for all seven units by the end of the year.

5. The county legislature has approved the Heritage Center acquisition. The county will pay $2 million for the 18,500 SF property, about $400,000 below assessment. Tompkins Financial Corporation is parting with its former offices next spring as it moves into a new HQ a block away. The plan is to have the heritage center, which will host tourism and history-focused non-profits, open for occupancy by the end of 2018, just as The History Center’s lease at 406 E. State runs out.

6. Seems like Lakeview is serious about their West End mixed-use project. The mental health services organization just purchased three properties on Thursday the 8th – 326 North Meadow for $150,000, 711-13 West Court Street for $525,000, and 329 North Meadow and 709 West Court (same owner) for $550,000.

Lakeview is planning a mixed-use 5-story building with a small amount of first-floor retail and 50 apartment units, all of which would be affordable, and half of which would be set aside for those with mental health ailments who are generally independent, but will have Lakeview staff to turn to in times of need. The project team requested $250,000 from the city IURA to help finance the $20.1 million project, but were only awarded $50,000 since it’s still at a relatively stage without detailed plans. The project team expects to submit their project for review later this year, with a 2018 construction start.

7. Tiny Timbers is doing well. In an update to their website, they note the completion of their first house, a “lofted L” model just over the county line in Hector, and a new house planned in Enfield (given that Enfield permitted just one new house last year, there’s probably a joke in there somewhere). There is another home just getting underway in Lansing’s Farm Pond Circle development, and a fourth will start soon on Grandview Drive in the city of Ithaca’s portion of South Hill. All the new units will be “big cubes” like the render shown above.

8. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s planning department memo this month, there’s nothing new to note for June. Smaller projects tend to show up in the memo, since the sketch plan for feedback isn’t as big of a deal for a small proposal, like a new store or a modest apartment building. Finger Lakes ReUse’s 22 studio units for vulnerable/formerly homeless populations will have its public hearing and Determination of Environmental Significant (step before prelim approval), the McDonald’s rebuild will have Declaration of Lead Agency, public hearing, BZA recs and DoES, 232-236 Dryden will have its DoES vote, and the Old Library redevelopment and 238 Linden will be up for approval.

9. Finishing off this week with a word of approval – the Dryden town board gave approval to Gary Sloan’s 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses at 1061 Dryden Road, per Cassie Negley at the Ithaca Times. At the boards’ (both planning and town) encouragement, the solar panels were replaced with electric heat pumps, which could utilize off-site solar and open up the possibility of a more environmentally sustainable project overall, given the proliferation of solar arrays underway in Tompkins and the region (my off the cuff estimate has at least enough solar arrays planned in Tompkins in the next 18 months to power over 10,000 homes). A play structure and 11 more parking spaces were also added.





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 5/2017

1 06 2017

Taking a look at the Ithaka Terraces site at 215-221 West Spencer Street, one question immediately comes to mind – is Building “D” still happening? The other three are far along, and yet there appears to be no sign of Building “D”, a mirror of Building “C”, starting construction. It could be cost concerns or pre-sales worries, or simply a matter of timing. The website doesn’t look like it’s been updated recently, and marketing for the condo units doesn’t seem to have started yet.

Apart from the completion of the roofing, not much additional work has occurred on the exterior of Building “A”. Its twin, Building “B”, has finished framing, sheathing, windows are being fitted and the roofing is well underway, sheathed and covered in Certainteed DiamondDeck and WinterGuard underlayments, but not yet shingled. Building “C” has had its multi-story porch erected and it looks like the R39 cellulose insulation is underway. New to this update are the Bituthene sheets on the concrete foundation walls of “C” – Grace Bituthene Membrane is a two-component system, the first is a sticky, liquid rubberized asphalt compound, the second a laminated HDPE film, and together they’re used for weather and moisture protection, handy when your walls will be exposed to moist soil uphill and several feet deep. The white walls facing the future grand staircase are water-resistive barriers to protect the plywood ZIP panels from the mositure-absorbing stucco finish.

Local eco-builder AquaZephyr LLC (run by Kendall and Mike Carpenter) is the general contractor, Taitem’s doing the structural engineering, T.G. Miller is in charge of civil engineering, STREAM’s the architect, and Ed Cope (PPM Homes) is the developer. Side note, I dropped by the Wyllie site and didn’t see work on the renovation underway, although it’s not clear if the state grant funding has been disbursed yet. It and the PPM’s Ithaca Glass Apartments are expected to get underway this spring.

Also, let’s not forget the ’80s hair metal blasting over the stereo on-site. I guess nothing gets the work done like Whitesnake and Twisted Sister.

UPDATE: From the architect, Noah Demarest, on the status of Building “D”: “It’s a logistic issue. Couldn’t get all the foundations in at the same time. Should be starting soon.”





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

6 05 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Previews and Reviews From the AIA Design Crawl

10 10 2016

Last Friday, several Ithaca-area architecture and engineering firms banded together to co-host an open house night at their locations across the city. Here are some of the latest and greatest plans are from some of the local designers.

The first stop was John Snyder Architects in Ithaca’s West End. On display were the Carey Building plans and other recent works, like the internal renovation of the South Hill Business Campus for CBORD.

The second location on the list was HOLT Architects at 619 West State, which was probably the most family-friendly of the hosts, based off of the pizza bar and the children’s play-room. HOLT had several new and in-progress projects they shared with the public that evening.

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The Computing Center is looking to move out of the Cornell Business Park and into a new property to be built at 987 Warren Drive in the town of Lansing. The property is currently a two-story farmhouse and includes a vacant lot on the corner of Warren Road and Warren Drive, purchased by its current owner (an LLC) in December 2014. The new building appears to be a one-story structure.
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HOLT is arguably the local specialist for medical facilities and lab structures. Here’s a pair of projects recently completed at Cayuga Medical Center. The Surgical Services Renovation is a renovation and addition that includes space next to the front entrance, creating a new “face” for the complex. The Behavioral Health Unit is an addition on the northwest side of the building, and isn’t visible from most nearby roads and structures.

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The online version of these will be showing up in the Voice soon enough, but here are the latest design plans for the Old Library site. The indoor parking was eliminated so that the fourth floor could be set further back, and the entire building has been pulled away from West Court Street. The building still has 57 apartment units for the 55+ crowd.

The next stops were at Taitem Engineering and SPEC Consulting. Taitem (which stands for “Technology As If The Earth Mattered”) serves as structural engineering for many local projects, focusing heavily on renewable energy sourcing and energy efficiency. The focus of their open house was a tour of their LEED Platinum, 120-year old building at 110 South Albany Street, which they said was only the fourth renovation of its kind to achieve Platinum designation. I snapped a photo of Taitem’s staff, but that was taken for the IV Twitter account.

SPEC Consulting had on display a couple of home renovations they have underway, a mixed-use building in Johnson City, as well as rehab of a vacant commercial building in downtown Binghamton into a 70-unit mixed use building. To be honest, I was more focused on the personal than professional when I was at SPEC – I ran into someone I knew from undergrad whom I hadn’t seen in nine years, who apparently settled in the area and married a SPEC architect.

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At STREAM, several projects were on display – 201 College Avenue, State Street Triangle concept drawings, and a room showcasing Tiny Timbers. According to Noah Demarest, this was the first time they had shown all the home plan designs together. Also there was Buzz Dolph, the entrepreneur behind Tiny Timbers.

Not shown here but on display were a pair of attractive design concepts for CR-4 zoning in Collegetown. They might become more than concepts at some point.

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This is the latest Maplewood site plan, courtesy of Whitham Design and Planning. Here are the two big changes (previous site plan here) –

1. The Maple Avenue building has been broken up into two separate buildings.
2. Townhouses sit on Mitchell at the southwest corner of the site, replacing the multi-story apartment building previously planned.

The number of beds, previously 887, has probably decreased a little bit as a result.

I did not make it to Chiang O’Brien Architects, unfortunately. It looks like from their website they have a new project underway at SUNY Oneonta.





News Tidbits 6/11/16: Summer’s Heated Discussion

11 06 2016

Image Property of HOLT Architects

1. We’ll start this off out in Lansing. The 153 acres of land for the Lansing town center is once again in the news. The Lansing Star is reporting that the town is once again serious about selling the land.

So begins yet another chapter in the 20-year saga of the town center land. The town bought the land from the state in 1993 for $100,000, and at the time the land was deed-restricted to recreational use. In 2012, the town paid an additional $294,800 to remove the recreational deed restriction. An article about it was published here in August 2012 (original map below; dunno where why offhand it says 156 acres vs. the 153 reported now). HOLT Architects and TWMLA were hired to draw up some overarching design themes, a Request for Proposals was issued, and three developers responded.

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Calamar Enterprises’ Buffalo office submitted a proposal for a $17.4 million, 110-unit market-rate senior apartment building on 13.5 acres, and Cleveland-based NRP Group submitted plans for 80 one-story patio homes on about 15.5 acres. Calamar later re-sited their project at the town’s wish to the northern part of the land, and increased the number of units to 124. Green Square, led by David Taub and HOLT Principal Graham Gillespie, proposed 60 units of housing and 23,000 square feet of retail in 2-3 story arrangements, and civic and recreational space. Altogether, the value of the three would have approached $50 million.

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However, all of this was contingent on a sewer being built, which did not happen. The developers agreed to do a package plant that would service just the town center, there was discussion of an IDA-backed tax incentive zone, and the town stood to make a hefty return on investment, but…to quote the Star, “However, the deals fell through.  Actually it seemed more like they just faded away. At least one of the developers had signed paperwork saying they intended to purchase acreage from the Town.  The Town didn’t seem in any hurry to sell the land, even with clearly interested developers.  When the developers disappeared there was no reported effort by the town to pursue the deals.”

Since then, the town continues to get a steady stream of interest, but no real idea on how they want to move forward. Like Ithaca city and town, they’re looking at the possibility of Form-Based zoning for the site, and the town hopes to issue a more specific RFP than before, incorporating revised assessment values. The most intensive approach involved the Form-Based Code and a specific RFP, the least specific is just putting up a for-sale sign ans seeing what happens. Whatever the case, the lax approach the town has taken the past few years may no longer be feasible, with the ticking tax time time bomb of the possible power plant closure looming over the town and schools’ budgets.

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2. Speaking of long processes, the Old Library project has formally filed paperwork here to begin the application process for the Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. The meeting is scheduled for city hall at 5:30 Tuesday the 14th. Although it says early design review, a lot of the legwork has already been done at this point, since the Planning Board and ILPC have been conducting joint meetings with the project team over the past several months to create a design that they’re all comfortable with. However, the ILPC is likely to refine some details moving forward.

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At this point, the unit mix consists of 22 1-bedroom units with about 700 SF each, 25 2-bedrooms with about 900 SF each, and 10 2-bedrooms with 1200 SF each, the extra space intended as a den or home office. The building also includes a 1,800 SF community room to be administered by Lifelong, and 3,750 SF of first floor commercial space. The total facility size comes out to about 85,600 SF, and parking for 25 cars and at least 12 bikes, and another 34 bike spaces for the community room. Exterior materials include brick, limestone, and a couple forms of fiber cement, including wood-textured fiber cement.

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3. The STREAM Collaborative House at 228 West Spencer is up for sale. The house has its own website here. The 1,152 SF, 2-bedroom net-zero energy house is listed at a price of $305,000. For more info on the house, Noah Demarest was kind enough to give a construction tour of the house while it was underway, and the blog post I wrote up afterwards can be found here.

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4. It’s pretty clear at this point that the Evergreen Townhouses project at 1061 Dryden is evolving into the next hot-button development issue out in Varna. The Times has their interview with the angry neighbor here, and more info can be found in the town of Dryden’s April planning board meeting minutes here. So far, the only image of the townhouses themselves has been a perspective that only shows massing – 2 stories, gabled roofs.

Also of note is the town of Dryden Planning Department’s recommendation to the town board (and the planning board’s approval) for an increase in density in certain areas. The change in code affects parcels zoned rural residential, with municipal water and sewer access. The density would be increased from 2 units per acre to 6 per acre. Looking at the zoning map and the sewer map, that would primarily affect the corridor from Varna to the 13/366 intersection, and a rural swath just north of Dryden village near TC3. What this would do is allow 1061 Dryden Rd to withdraw PUD application, and apply for a special use permit (SUP), which are generally easier to obtain.

On a side note, googling Tiny Timbers brings up a Times editorial, written by the Times, that argues against Tiny Timbers for not fitting in with the appearance of Varna. Actually, it kinda takes everyone to task, from developers to town government to residents. But, to make one counter-point regarding mixed-use, commercial services need a certain amount of traffic (not necessarily vehicular) to thrive. If the population base within a certain radius isn’t there, the risk is too great for someone to put their money on the line and hope that they can somehow draw in customers. If Varna wants a mixed-use center with shops and cafes, they’re going to need the population to support it. Some think that will include 1061, some (probably more) think Tiny Timbers, but if there’s no “push”, the ball won’t be rolling.

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5. A couple of minor things to note in sales. The 4,200 SF former “Imperial Buffet” property next to the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall has sold to a Syracuse-bsed LLC (Watersprite LLC, established 2004) for $590,000 on Friday the 10th. I personally will always remember this place as being the only place my mother was comfortable with eating in Ithaca because she hates eating out, and felt everything else was “snobby and expensive”.

Meanwhile, the 12-bedroom, 2,837 SF house at 201 College Avenue, the property subject to a heated debate between Neil Golder and Todd Fox, sold for $2.65 million on Friday the 10th, which seems outrageous except that it’s becoming the norm for inner Collegetown transactions – Novarr picked up 5,500 SF 215 College for $5.3 million last year. There will be no delving into that debate again this week, but the city uploaded 580 pages of documentation here, and my colleague Mike Smith is preparing a story for the Voice.

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6. Houses of the week. This pair of duplexes are being built on Birdseye View Drive near Ithaca College. Each house has a 4-bedroom unit and a 2-bedroom unit; recent advertisements on Craigslist (since expired, so no link, sorry!) have them $750/bedroom. The developer is the owner of Mahogany Grill downtown, who also happens to be a part of the business team renovating the former Lucatelli’s into a new restaurant, a Tapas and pasta restaurant called Mix Social Dining after the chef’s wife.

These photos are a couple weeks old now, but the one on the right looks nearly complete, while the one on the left was still in the (wood) framing and sheathing stage. Based off the rough window and door openings, they are not exactly the same, but expect them to look similar.





News Tidbits 4/9/16: A Slippery Situation

9 04 2016

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1. The town of Ithaca had their first substantive meeting about Cornell’s Maplewood Park Redevelopment, and later this month, the city of Ithaca will have their take on the 4.5% that sits within their boundaries (picture a line up Vine Street – that’s the city line). According to documents filed with the city, approvals from them will only be needed for one building. Application/SPR here, cover memo from Whitham Planning and Design here, Part I of the Full Environmental Assessment Form here, and narrative/drawings here.

From the SPR, the schedule as already been shifted slightly to an August 2018 completion rather than July – they also threw out a $3.67 million construction cost that doesn’t make much sense offhand. Edit: It looks like it’s just a basic estimate of 4.5% of the total project cost of $80 million.

The biggest change so far is a revision of the site plan. In response to community meetings, Cornell shifted smaller 2-3 story stacked flats and townhouses closer to the Belle Sherman Cottages, pulled back a couple of the larger apartment buildings, and added a new large apartment building to the southeast flank. Cornell has its goal of housing at least 850 in the redevelopment, so all design decisions revolve around accommodating those students with their families, while coming up with a design the community can live with.

The city will vote at its April meeting to defer Lead Agency to the Town of Ithaca, which will leave them with the ability to provide input, but the town board will be the ones voting on it.

2. It’s not often that a project gets undone by a single public commenter at a meeting. But the Journal’s Nick Reynolds got to experience such a momentous occasion at the town of Ithaca’s planning board meeting. He documents it on his Twitter account.

Someone that I didn’t cover because it wasn’t especially news-worthy is Cornell’s plan to replace the Peterson Parking Lot at the intersection of Tower and Judd Falls Roads with a cutting-edge 100% porous paved lot and a Cornell-created soil designed to promote rapid growth of trees in high traffic areas (a new island would be built in the middle of the lot). Basically, an eco-friendly, less-invasive parking lot, if there ever could be a thing.

Then Bruce Brittain, the Forest Home community historian, completely undid the plan with a contour map. Generations ago, the property was filled with debris and garbage, even old construction trucks. And while there may be a parking lot on it now, a porous lot, which would be heavier when watered, is liable to collapse right onto the Plantations below. Meaning, no porous lot, no green showcase. Back to the drawing board Cornell.

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3. Here’s a little more information on the 5-story, 44-unit/76-bedroom apartment proposal for 201 College Avenue. SPR Application here, FEAF here, project narrative here, BZA worksheet here, drawings here , letter of discontent from Neil Golder here. Looking at the drawings, there have been some slight revisions, mostly with the College Avenue entrance and the materials and fenestration at street level. The SPR gives us a $6 million construction cost, and a proposed construction time frame of July 2016 – August 2017. Units will be a mix of 1 to 4 bedrooms (24 1-BD, 12 2-BD, 4 3-BD, 4 4-BD). While the project falls into the Collegetown Form District, an area variance will be required for a front yard setback from College Avenue, which the board feels will help the street be more like a boulevard.

The city planning board is expected to Declare itself Lead Agency for environmental review at the April meeting. Developer Todd Fox hopes to have approval by the end of the June meeting. STREAM Collaborative is the project architect.

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4. This week’s eye candy comes courtesy of Noah Demarest and Todd Fox (yes, they seem to be getting a lot of mentions this week). It had occurred to me that while an image of the revised 902 Dryden townhouses had been presented at the meeting where it was approved, the town never uploaded the copy. Noah and Todd were kind enough to send me a copy of the image presented at the meeting, and gave their permission to share it here. 8 new units, 26 new bedrooms. The duplex building in the middle already exists, but two new units will be built opposite a shared wall. Two three-unit clusters will be built on the east side of the parcel.

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5. It’s official as of March 28th. Construction permits have been issued for Conifer LLC’s 68-unit Cayuga Meadows project on West Hill in the town of Ithaca. Expect the first construction update, and a synopsis, when the first construction update comes around, which won’t be until mid-to-late May since West Hill projects get visits during odd-numbered months.

6. Just a couple minor city subdivisions to pass along. One, an application in outer Collegetown at 513-15 Dryden Road to separate the land into two parcels (513 and 515). The lot owner will then build himself a new house on the vacant lot. CR-1 Collegetown Form District, and it looks like no variances will be needed.

The other subdivision is on the city’s portion of West Hill. The property is a vacant lot that borders Westwood Knoll, Taylor Place and Campbell Avenue. The property owners, who live next door on Westwood, want to divide the vacant lot into two vacant lots to sell for single-family home construction. Once again, it looks like no zoning variances will be needed, just regulatory PB approval.

With the consolidation and realignment of 312-314 Spencer Road mentioned last week, this makes three subdivisions scheduled this month. That’s pretty unusual, as the city typically sees only one every 2 or 3 months on average.

7. Looks like someone made a tidy profit. Local landlord Ed Cope picked up 310 and 312 E. Buffalo Street for $885,000 on the 6th. 310 E. Buffalo is a 6-unit apartment building, 312 is a parking lot. The previous owner, a Philadelphia-based company, picked up the properties for $800,000 back in October 2014. So, $85,000 (+10.6%) for 18 months of ownership. The properties are part of the East Hill Historic District, where the Philly-based firm recently had a hell of an experience because the owners before them replaced the windows without notifying the city, and that was a big no-no as far as historic districts and the ILPC are concerned. They mandated the windows all be replaced with more historically-appropriate fittings. Hopefully that came up during the sales negotiations.

For what it’s worth, the parking lot is zoned R-3a – a 4 story building with 35% lot coverage. Since it’s in a historic district, a hypothetical proposal would likely look a lot like its neighbors.

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8. And another big sale this week, on Friday – the house at 210 Thurston sold for $2.5 million to the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. The house had been on the market since last November for $2.75 million. This actually sold relatively quick, given its large size and fairly unique nature. The seller purchased the property for $677,500 in December 2011, and renovated the property for use by the Cornell wrestling team.

Alpha Chi Omega has occupied the house at 509 Wyckoff Road for a number of years, but did not own the property – the owner, who picked up the property in 1971, is a business partner of Kimball Real Estate.