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

7 04 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I wrote at the time of sale:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 





News Tidbits 2/26/2018: One, Two, Many Tweaks

26 02 2018

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. Than Lansing Star is reporting that developer Eric Goetzmann is in serious trouble. The village of Lansing Planning Board rejected his latest request for the Lansing Meadows senior housing component, which was to build twelve units on a fraction of the lot, and leave the rest vacant. Frankly, they liked the units, but the vacant and potentially saleable lot was too much for them to overlook. To be honest, they and the village Board of Trustees have been fairly accommodating to his other requests, but this seems to be the last straw, and they let him know it.

They will consider the latest revision, but only as a major revision, not as the minor change Goetzmann had hoped for. That means it will take months to go through the procedural review and vote. Meanwhile, the IDA has initiated legal action because Goetzmann failed to hold up his end of the deal they agreed to when he received his abatement back in 2011.

Some projects are successes. Some break even, some don’t turn out as well as hoped. But as Lansing Meadows goes, this is neigh close to a disaster.

2. On a more positive note, Lansing will be considering, coincidentally, another 12-unit townhouse project. Called “Triphammer Row”, the market-rate units are planned for the vacant rear portion of a Cornell-owned parcel at 2248 North Triphammer. This blog reported on the parcel in a news roundup back in July 2016, when it went up for sale:

“Hitting the market this week is a potential opportunity for the deep-pocketed investor/developer. The property is 2248 North Triphammer Road in the village of Lansing. The sale consists of two parcels totaling 3.42 acres – a 1.53 acre parcel with a 2,728 SF M&T Bank branch built in 1992 and holding a long-term triple-net (NNN) lease; the other, an undeveloped 1.89 acre parcel to the rear that the listing notes could be developed out into 13 housing units. The price for the pair is $2,125,000.”

The plan calls for roughly 1,350 SF units with ground-floor garages. They’re intended to be marketed towards seniors looking to downsize, and young families. The developer is Robert Poprawski, who runs a small hotel group (Snooze Hotels) in metro Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Poprawski is a 2005 Cornell graduate, so there’s the likely local connection.

The planning board is supportive, but the big issue will be the driveway – they would prefer the townhomes share Sevanna Park’s driveway. That’s tricky because Sevanna Park’s road is privately owned. Not impossible to make a deal, and it would likely have the village’s benediction, but it’ll take a little while to see if a deal can be made between Sevanna Park’s HOA and Poprawski (all things considered, given that a much larger retail/office building and parking lot could be built on the combined lots, 12 more homeowners doesn’t sound like a bad option).

The village is also reporting there are development plans for the balance of the Millcroft property (the 32-acre remainder of the parcel, once intended for luxury single-family homes, has been for sale for a while), and vacant 4.56-acre 9 Dart Drive. The Ramada Inn (correction: the new extended-stay hotel proposed behind the Ramada) and Target are the only businesses interested in buying their properties from the mall’s owner, and Bon-Ton’s on deathwatch. The town’s code and planning officer notes that if it weren’t for Namdar Realty buying the mall, it would have failed, which would have forced the remaining tenants out and turned the mall into a vacant husk, to say nothing of the property tax implications.

3. Let’s shift over to Dryden. It’s been rumored for a little while that 1061 Dryden, aka the “Evergreen Townhouses”, would be trying to shift towards a smaller footprint – here’s the plan. The approved proposal calls for 36 3-bedroom units, six strings of six units. The reduced size plan still has six strings of six units, but the middle four have been reduced to two-bedroom units. The total occupancy goes from 108 to 84, and the footprints have shrunk as bit. Old render at top, new renders at middle, new site plan at bottom with new footprints in red. HOLT Architects’ design is generally the same, though I have an armchair critique with the rear flanks of the strings – a window opening would do a lot for aesthetics, if the floor plans permit.

(You can check the town’s website for docs, but some webpages have been hacked and replaced with a phishing scam, so use caution).

According to Dryden town planner Ray Burger, the developer, Lansing businessman Gary Sloan, would like to start construction this summer. That would put these units on track for an opening in time for the 2019-2020 academic year (in other words, about 12-14 month constriction timeline).

4. Another project moving forward – 118 College Avenue in Collegetown. This is a Visum proposal to replace a five-bedroom house with a 5-unit, 28-bedroom apartment building. The project was approved by the city early last year. According to the advertisements on Zillow, rents are expected to be $1,200/person, plus utilities.

I asked Visum’s Patrick Braga to confirm, and he replied that building permits would be approved “any day now”, so they’re probably looking at an August 2018 opening. With regards to a follow-up inquiry about its near-identical twin planned for 126 College Avenue, Braga replied they he does not “have any information on the status” for that project.

5. The new Greenstar West End store. Maybe coming soon. According to the news release, if the membership approves the move, the new store would be open at 750 Cascadilla Street by November 2019. The expansion would more than double their floor space, and add sixty living-wage jobs. Membership will vote on the plan next month.

The above render is courtesy of STREAM Collaborative – even without their logo, their software relies on the same pack of white Priuses, Volvos, and Touraegs to fill parking spaces (my family of mechanics would be proud I use vehicle models as a telltale attribute). The design is attractive for a big box – it has shed roofs and exposed wood trusses that give it a warmer, less industrial appearance. For the record, STREAM also did 118 College Avenue in the previous tidbit.

6. Honda of Ithaca has been sold to the Maguires for $3.5 million. The sale was recorded with the county clerk on the 20th. The acquisition means that Maguire represents just about every major vehicle make in the Ithaca area. It also drew some impassioned responses regarding customer service experiences, which given Maguire’s very visible presence, is not to be unexpected.

According to county records, the 27,558 SF dealership was built in 1985 as Cutting Motors Buick-Pontiac-GMC, and sold for $1.8 million in 2009. It was renovated and expanded in 2012; the portion closest to Elmira Road is the expansion space.

7. The Lambrou family’s latest project is coming along. Being built at 123 Eddy is a contextually-sensitive two-family home at 123 Eddy Street. While modular, the home was designed to have features respectful to its location in the East Hill Historic District – this includes a double-decker porch, roof brackets, shake siding and decorative columns and railings. The new three-bedroom units should be ready in time for the 2018-19 academic year.

8. Quick note – building permits for both the Amici House residential and head start/daycare buildings have been filed and granted by the city. The Harriet Giannellis Childcare Center’s hard costs are estimated at $1,267,479, while the 23-unit residential portion’s hard costs are estimated at $3,627,333. Welliver will be the general contractor.

9. Looks like a pretty quite planning board agenda for this month. A pair of new projects, but they’re small ones. Let’s have a look:

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III.A. Stewart Park Inclusive Playground 6:15

B. College Townhouses – Modified Site Plan approval 6:35

C. Proposed U-Haul Self-Storage Project – Sketch Plan 7:10

Although vague, this is like for the former Salvation Army property at 339 Elmira Road. U-Haul purchased the lot in January 2016 from the development group that planned and cancelled a hotel for the property. As noted on the Voice recently, there’s been a building boom in self-storage facilities lately.

The most plausible guess for this corporate-owned property is that this will likely take after the chain’s default design for self-storage facilities, with maybe some modest aesthetic differences. Not especially pretty, but the city would probably prefer that over a parking lot for U-Haul trucks.

D. Proposed duplex and parking – 207 and 209 First Street 7:30

207 and 209 are a pair of run-down rental two-family homes in Ithaca’s Northside. After the previous owner passed away, they were sold to local businessman David Barken in June 2017. Barken previously caused a stir in Fall Creek when he bought, renovated and sold a Utica Street home for a much higher price (he said on the list-serve it wasn’t intended to be a flip, it was intended for a family member who decided to live elsewhere). Barken purchased the home for $160,000 in September 2016, and it sold for $399,500 in June 2017. He also rents out a couple other units in Fall Creek.

EDIT 3/8: Rather than a tear-down and replacement, the scope of the project appears to be that the homes would be renovated, and a new duplex would be built towards the rear of the lots. Per email after the meeting from David Barken:

“While in its beginning phases and still taking shape, I have no intention to tear down the existing homes. Instead, I plan to steadily improve these properties, working on both the exteriors and interiors as the planning phases for any future project moves forward.

Rather than de-densification, my aim is to add more fair market rate, non-student housing to the downtown market and add to urban density in our city’s core. I am designing the site for a total of 6 apartments, with an emphasis toward communal interaction, landscaping, and urban gardening. I envision a pocket community for renters, complete with the 4 renovated units in the front of the lot and an additional duplex placed in the rear of the parcel.”

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks FGEIS

B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 311 College Avenue – The Number Nine Fire Station

6. Reports 8:20

7. Approval of Minutes (1/23 and 1/30) 8:40

8. Adjournment





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 1/2018

26 01 2018

Not much to add here beyond the blurb in the Voice roundup. The Ithaka Terraces are likely to be finished this spring. There is nothing public regarding any sales figures for the ten 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom units. I’m not sure if another visit is necessary, though maybe if they set up a model unit and don’t mind a nosy blogger, there will be one last photo set.

There’s a lot to like here. As condominiums, they provide an opportunity for home ownership in a city increasing occupied by rentals. With any hope, they’ll be a sales success and encourage other projects to follow suit with their own plans. It’s infill on an fire-destroyed vacant lot, it’s an attractive design, the net-zero energy arrangement is highly appealing from a sustainability perspective, and it’s a few million dollars of property back on the tax rolls (the destroyed property was repossessed by the county, transferred to the city and sold in a competitive bidding process; the first call for proposals attempted to earmark as affordable housing only, but no one submitted bids).

If there any criticism to levy here, it’s not necessarily an issue with just this project, but I’ve had emails calling it gentrification and ‘luxury housing that Ithaca doesn’t need’. But if people are buying here, then they aren’t buying another city property and potentially outbidding someone with fewer dollars to spend. A little additional supply to take pressure taken off the market is welcome. As noted above, the city tried to sell the lot for affordable housing, but it didn’t pan out (not unlike the issues with 402 South Cayuga Street a block away). Additionally, this project is fully taxed, the project team did not seek abatements.

The condos are the work of PPM Homes (Ed Cope), with technical assistance from T.G. Miller P.C. and Taitem Engineering, architectural design work curtesy of STREAM Collaborative, and off-site solar panel installation courtesy of Renovus Solar.

 





Ithaka Terraces Construction Update, 11/2017

23 11 2017

These are turning out quite nice. Building “A” is practically complete from the outside. The plant boxes outside the windows have even been stocked with small ornamentals. About the only thing left are the exterior finishes on the front facade columns. Building “C”, the smaller building to its east, is also nearly finished from the outside. I suspect the wiring coming out of Building “C” just above the parking area is for electric car charging stations.

Building “B”, the other large condo structure, is fully encased in plastic sheeting and wood ribbing. Stucco generally needs to be applied in dry, temperate weather conditions, above 40 F at a minimum. Given Ithaca Novembers, that means McPherson Builder has basically turned the building into a dry, heated bubble so that can apply the stucco properly. Building “D” is still being roofed, and is just getting its windows fitted. It looks like the scratch coat for the stucco is being applied over the water barrier, and the brown coat and the finish coat will come later, meaning that “D” will eventually be bubbled in as well.

Most of the concrete curbs and steps have been formed, poured and cured at this point. The grand staircase will make for a nice shortcut from South Cayuga Street to West Spencer Street.

The marketing material appears to be using the phrase “Arriving here is what you are destined for“. Tje website doesn’t indicate how many of the twelve units are spoken for (if any; the project is in the soft marketing stage, where they’re accepting inquiries but there aren’t any formal real estate listings). The two-bedroom and three-bedroom units go for $299-$434k, depending on size and location.





News Tidbits 10/7/17: Opportunities Come and Go

7 10 2017

1. The Inn at Taughannock expansion is no longer. The project, which called for a 2-story addition containing dining facilities, five guest rooms and facilities to support a 200-person capacity event center, was opposed by neighbors in Ulysses for being too large, the potential for noise, traffic, and for being out of character with the area. The strong disapproval played a big role in the town of Ulysses Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision to reject two of three building variances sought for the project, the exception being a cupola on the existing building. The board also permitted four of the six proposed signs.

With denials noted, the plan at this point is mostly landscaping – clean fill (soil) to level out the south lawn for gatherings, construction of a stone fence wall and retaining wall, re-configuring a stairway and patio area, lawn seeding and stormwater facilities.

2. One door is closed, another potentially opens. For sale, a trio of parcels – 526 West Seneca Street, 528 West Seneca Street, and 209 North Meadow Street – are up for sale on the city’s West End. The listing from Pyramid Brokerage’s August Monkemeyer is short and to the point:

“Rare opportunity on prime signalized intersection in Ithaca’s commercial corridor. Corner location with excellent exposure, road frontage and heavy traffic 32,000 plus ADDT. Redevelopment site for multiple commercial uses.”

For the record, ADDT is a typo. It’s AADT – “Average Annual Daily Traffic”. The brochure is a little more in-depth, and says 39,000 AADT. The listing price for the collection is $1.5 million.

528 West Seneca is a recently renovated early 1900s 4-unit apartment house purchased by current owner Shawn Gillespie in 2003 and it has an assessed value of $200,000. 528 West Seneca is an early 1900s house converted into an office building. It was renovated in the 2000s, purchased by Gillespie in 2012 and is assessed at $220,000. 209 North Meadow, an 1880s single-family home, has seen better days. It was co-purchased by Gillespie in 2015 and is assessed at $50,000 due to its poor condition. All of the buildings are designed in the older vernacular style common to the Ithaca area (“urban farmhouses”), so they’re old, but the designs were cookie cutter for their time, and their overall historic value is limited.

Zoning is a mixed bag. The two with frontage on Meadow are WEDZ-1b, while 526 West Seneca is R-3b. R-3b allows 4-story buildings with up to 40% lot coverage, has parking requirements that vary depending on the type of residence, and is geared towards small apartment buildings. WEDZ-1b is one of the city rarer codes, general retail and office uses that allows 100% lot coverage on parcel with less than 50 feet frontage (209 Meadow in this case), and 90% otherwise. However, the maximum floor height is only two floors, and one story buildings have to have pitched roofs. Unlike its WEDZ-1a counterpart across the street, parking is required. Looking at the code, it seems like a recipe for suburban box retail in the heart of the West End, with the R-3b a possible site for additional parking. That doesn’t seem to mesh with the urban mixed-use direction the city’s been moving towards. Should it sell, and it looks noteworthy, there will be a follow-up.

3. The construction loan for Nick Stavropoulos’ 107 South Albany Street project has been filed. Tompkins Trust will be able to watch their latest loan agreement from just a few blocks away. The total loan amount is $1,110,346.75. A small local company, Northeast Renovation Inc., will be the general contractor for the 11-unit apartment building.

Subcontractors on file include Frank Belentsof of Bestway Lumber (Excavation), Brian Kehoe of Kehoe’s Concrete Concepts for foundation work, Albanese Plumbing LLC for plumbing/HVAC/sprinklers, Weydman Electric, Goodale Sprayfoam for insulation, Joe Alpert of Drywall Interiors for sheetrock hanging. Fabbroni Engineers is doing the structural engineering in partnership with architect Daniel R. Hirtler.

4. The city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board was less than enthused about 311 College Avenue, aka Visum Development’s mixed-use Nines replacement. From the sound of it, the board’s John Schroeder was liable to go apoplectic. At the least, it seems the board wants a feasibility study for the cost of moving the firehouse-turned-restaurant to another site. From a design perspective, the board would like for either the design to pay homage to the Nines, or to reuse some of its building materials.

In contrast, it was fairly smooth sailing for the other projects under review. The duplex at 217 Columbia and Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive/affordable housing project were approved, and INHS’s 13-unit affordable housing proposal for the 200 Block of Elm Street progressed despite West Hill neighborhood opposition.

5. To touch on that topic a little more, the Times’ Nick Reynolds did an in-depth piece looking at the “crisis point” in Collegetown. It’s worth a read. I don’t agree with some of the insinuations (Student Agencies’ renovation of ca. 1985 409 College Avenue is not an aesthetic threat to the block), but it’s worth a read.

The document that Schroeder and Tomlan wrote of buildings they wanted preserved was uploaded as a PDF, but it is no longer online. The only copy of the list is from this blog, in a post eight years ago, and an article from the June 16, 2009 Ithaca Journal. The list and the response highlighted in the Journal shows there was a real disconnection, and I doubt most readers agreed completely with either Tomlan or the property owners. Since the PDF was published and reviewed by city staff and board appointees, two of 31 structures, the Snaith House (140 College) and Grandview House (209 College), were historically designated, and rightfully so, as exemplary architecture of their period. The Larkin was just designated as well, and the Chacona Block (Student Agencies) will be before the end of the year. Both of them are attractive older structures that provide a positive aesthetic complement to the neighborhood.

The Palms dive bar was not high design or even mediocre design, nor was it much of a desired neighborhood attribute, at least to permanent residents; nostalgic perhaps, but not historic. Pushing a structure on nostalgia alone will likely not clear the Planning Committee, as Steve Smith and Cynthia Brock nearly demonstrated with the Larkin Building. Mary Tomlan wanted to preserve a bar when the owner wanted to retire and sell it to whoever would give him the most. Sounds familiar.

However, the difference between the Palms and the Nines is that the Nines has a more substantial history, the structure has historic significance as the original home of Fire Station No .9. With its outdoor patio, it adds an aesthetic quality by being setback from the street yet maintaining active use frontage. That is not economically feasible in Collegetown and hasn’t been for decades, but it made sense for a fire station that served the community for generations. If there’s a balance between giving way to the new and preserving the old, the Nines and Palms fall on different sides.

The Times article references a “stopgap” measure that is basically an indefinite moratorium. That’s not the answer either. Most Collegetown structures offer little historic value. The Nines is a rare case otherwise. Without protective regulations, it was always a potential development target. Or rather, it was more like a landmine waiting to be triggered.

6. Courtesy of STREAM Collaborative’s biannual newsletter, the Varna Tiny Timbers project has a name and website. “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, as the 15-unit single-family development will be known, has website at http://www.cottagesatfallcreek.com. It’s bare bones at the moment and the lots have not yet begun marketing and sales. The pocket neighborhood of for-sale 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom homes will be built on the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads, the potential walkable, mixed-use center of the hamlet should a traditionally-designed Varna ever come to fruition. According to the newsletter, STREAM collaborated with Tiny Timber owner Buzz Dolph on the branding, logo and website, as well as on the design of the buildings and landscape.

7. It pains me a bit to admit this, but the Times is killing it in local meeting coverage. Even worse, the Voice has been short-staffed this week due to illness. At the Common Council meeting last night, members voted to give the IURA the necessary permission to handle the Green Street redevelopment project, including the RFP and submission review, sales terms and environmental review. Vicki Taylor Brous, public relations representative for developer Dave Lubin and his Harold’s Square project next door, spoke against the plans and said the project may be illegal, but until proven as such, review and discussion of the Ithaca Associates plan and any other submissions will move forward.

On another note, landmarking of the Larkin Building at 403 College Avenue was approved 8-2, with Cynthia Brock (D-1st) and Steve Smith (D-4th) opposed. Also, in what can only help Lansing Republicans, the city voted to join in on the Article 78 to halt the Cargill project until an Environment Impact Statement is conducted. The DEC deemed it unncecessary, and the lawsuit argues Cargill got special treatment. The dicey part is that a long, expensive study puts 200 blue-collar jobs at risk, and the debate has become a successful rallying cry for local conservatives.

I’m not a political consultant, but I think if outspoken Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) loses next month, it’ll be because of the national environment and the ability of progressive groups to tap into that at the local level. And if he wins, it’ll be because he channeled and won over the blue-collar Cargill households and their supporters who feel overlooked or kicked around in this debate.

8. One of the the perks of development – the latest Ithaca city budget calls for no tax increase for the 95% of homeowners whose assessment did not go up this year (not because of the market, but because the assessment office cycles through different parts of the county on 2-3 year intervals). The city will bring in an extra $621,508 (2.8%) through property taxes, mostly from new development “closing” on assessments as they’re completed and occupied. From 2012 to 2016, the budget increased 5.2%, while taxes, notoriously high thanks to the large percentage of tax-exempt property, fell 1%. In his budget presentation (copy on the Times webpage here), Myrick stated that without the $131 million in development since 2011, taxes would be 6.9% higher.

One thing that is not made clear in the article is that Collegetown Terrace, one of those big contributors, doesn’t have a tax abatement or PILOT. That’s taxed at 100% value. According to assessor Jay Franklin, assessments for a given year are calculated for the state of a property on March 1st, and in Terrace’s case, Building 7 wasn’t finished. Now that it is, it can be assessed at full value for 2018, which will be an additional $20-$25 million in taxable property (using $22.5 million, it equates to $270,900 in city taxes, given $12.04 per $1,000 assessed).

That might be the biggest addition, but other recent completions are not inconsequential. Back of the envelope estimates here, but when the Breazzano Center and INHS 210 Hancock PILOTs first show up in 2018, they will generate an additional $52,000. Even with its abatement, the Hotel Ithaca will add about $21,600 in year one if its $15 million price tag is close to assessment, and that will increase to $216,000/year after seven years (the downtown Business Improvement District tax rate is $14.40/$1,000). Several other recently-completed downtown projects will also pay more as their abatements taper towards full property value. For example, just the 10% increase for the Marriott in 2018 equates to about $29,000. Smaller projects like 607 South Aurora, 1001 North Aurora, 602 West State, 215-221 West Spencer and 123-129 Elmira stand to add another $70,000 or so in tax revenue. So all these projects not only make a dent in the housing deficit or provide jobs, they also provide a buffer to challenging times with declining state assistance. While development does increase demand for services, projects that are close to municipal services and able to easily tap into existing infrastructure generally provide a net positive financial benefit to the community.

Meanwhile, the town of Ithaca is looking at a miniscule tax increase this year of 0.21 percent (1.57 cents per $1,000), and will benefit from the Maplewood project, which at $80 million and $6.66/1,000, will pay in the ballpark of $532,000 towards the town, its highway department and the inter-municipal fire department (the city also gets a small share, only 1-2%).

9. A couple of sales of note. A 28.07 parcel of land along Oakcrest Road in Lansing, which was touted for potential suburban housing development, was sold for $610,000 to a well-known Cornell professor and his wife. The price was a little over 90% of ask, not bad for land. From a close mutual friend, real estate development is not one of the buyer’s interests. So, less likely to be a development, but maybe a grand estate.

Meanwhile, south of the Shannon Park development, and on the southern edge of the image above, an LLC paid $480,000, slightly below assessment, for 731 Cayuga Heights Road, a well-maintained 1820 farmhouse on 12.55 acres. The LLC’s address is the same as the Pyramid Companies, owners (or recent sellers?) of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall, which the land abuts to its east. Something to keep an eye on, for sure.

 

10. Looking like a slow week and month ahead. The city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is reviewing a roofing project. Nothing new in the city project’s memo, though some supplemental documents were added for Bridges Cornell Heights’ 16-bedroom mansion proposed at 105 Dearborn Place. It and INHS’s 203-209 Elm Street plan are up for final approval at the end of the month, potentially leaving no projects for review before the city (311 College will be discussed, but not reviewed this month, and its future progress is uncertain). The town’s planning board meeting was cancelled.





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.