238 Linden Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

22 07 2018

Might be jumping the gun a bit on this, but the fence encroachment into the street, pile driving equipment and steel/caisson tube liners on site are leading me to believe this one is in site prep.

Consider this project thr second half of a 2-for-1 package deal from developer John Novarr. Novarr and his business partner, Phil Proujansky, own a fairly large and widespread set of local properties, with the massive Collegetown Terrace project being the best known ($190 million investment, 1,250+ beds, 16 acres). Most of the rentals operate under Novarr-Mackesey Property Management. Their latest development was on behalf of Cornell, the 76,000 SF Breazzano Family Center for Business Education, which was dedicated last fall, an imposing six-story building at 209-215 College Avenue in Collegetown.

When Novarr first bought the properties that would be demolished to make way for the Breazzano, he bought a ramshackle six-bedroom house at 238 Linden Avenue for $1.35 million – this was in December 2010, before he had assembled his final, full group of properties (and realized Pat Kraft was flatly not interested in selling to him, later doing his own redevelopment at 205-07 Dryden), so the purchase of 238 Linden could be seen as a secondary purchase to give room for flexibility, and a place for construction staging in the notoriously tight spaces of inner Collegetown. In its last few years, Novarr did not rent out the house, which was in poor shape and torn down in June 2015. A redevelopment was always intended at some point, through it was only as the Breazzano plans were drafted did Novarr and Proujansky settle on a concept.

Inner Collegetown is a captive rental market – regardless of economic recessions, there will always be students willing to pay a premium to live near Cornell’s campus. The Breazzano project presented a unique opportunity – the project will serve up to 420 Executive Education students, who tend to be older, deep-pocketed, and infrequent visitors to campus, coming up for a few weeks of the year.

The new 238 Linden is designed to tap those Executive Education students who might come up more frequently, or prefer to have a second place to call home during their matriculation with the Johnson School. The project is a 13,715 square-foot building with 24 efficiency units (studios). It will be 4 stories with a habitable basement, just under 50% lot coverage, and is fully compatible with the site’s CR-4 zoning.  Each fully above-ground floor will host 5 efficiency units, with four in the partially-exposed basement. While intended for Johnson Executive Education students, it does not appear it would have provisions limiting the units to E-MBAs.

The design intent was to create a townhouse-like appearance, in form if not in function. The exterior includes fiber cement panels to complement the colors of the Breazzano, aluminum windows and a glass curtain wall with energy-efficient glazing. A number of green features are included in the project, such as LED lighting, low-water plumbing fixtures, and a sophisticated VRF high-efficency HVAC system, which uses air-source heat pumps.

Plantings, walkways, steps and retaining walls are planned, with decorative entry stair bridges and little landscaped courtyards to provide a pleasing aesthetic for the basement units. As with all inner Collegetown projects, no parking is required so long as a transportation demand management plan (TDMP) is filed and approved by city planning staff. During Site Plan Review, the project cost was estimated to be about $2 million.

The project had a pretty quick trip through the planning board – it was proposed in March, there were very few suggested aesthetic changes, and since everything conforms with the size and intent of zoning, the board was pretty comfortable with the proposal. However, while it was approved in July 2017, the project was unable to move forward because of a change in state fire codes that essentially made construction along Linden Avenue illegal for any building taller than 30 feet (and 238 Linden is 45 feet tall), because Linden is too narrow. The way around this was to petition the city Board of Public Works to treat the parking space on the street in front as a loading zone, creating a “wider” street since a fire crew would no longer have to worry about parked cars along the street frontage. This made it easier for the project to obtain a fire code variance from the state. Normally, BPW would reject this, but 238 Linden and Visum Development’s 210 Linden had already been approved when the code was changed, so they got a special, rare accommodation. Suffice it to say, any other Linden project would be difficult if not impossible under the revised state fire code.

As with all of his other projects, the architect is ikon.5 of Princeton, with local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architecture serving as the project team representatives, and T.G. Miller P.C. providing the civil engineering work. The modern design may not be to everyone’s taste, but Novarr likes the architecture firm’s work so much, he asked them to design an addition to his property in Cayuga Heights. Beauty is in the eye of the wallet-holder. No word on who the general contractor will be, but Novarr has often turned to Welliver for his construction work. The original buildout period was estimated at ten months, so a plausible occupancy for 238 Linden would be complete by Summer 2019.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 7/2018

16 07 2018

The last of Visum’s trio of Collegetown projects underway is the 5-unit, 28-bedroom building at 118 College Avenue. Officially, one other Visum project has city approvals and is permitted to start construction, a close fraternal twin to 118 College just a few houses up at 126 College Avenue. However, the existing house is rented out for the academic year, so any build-out there (and Visum seems to have deep enough pockets to eventually do it, all things considered) will not begin until June 2019 at the earliest.

As with 210 Linden, Romig General Contractors is in charge of the buildout, and Taitem Engineering is doing the structural engineering – as with Visum’s other projects designed by STREAM Collaborative, the building is built to be net-zero energy capable. Using electric heating and appliances, energy efficient fixtures, low-E windows, double-stud exterior walls and high grade insulation creates a very high degree of energy efficiency that they hope to tie into an off-site solar array, offsetting the carbon footprint of the building and its use.

118 College still has another floor to go before it’s topped out, and the mechanicals will be hidden inside the historically-inspired “Italianate cupola” penthouse. Water and sewer service was installed this past week. I’m uncertain this one will be ready in time for returning Cornell students late next month, though it’s not impossible given that it’s a relatively small wood-frame structure. So far, with the rough window openings I’m seeing one substantial difference from the renders – the windows on the wings of the front facade are smaller than originally planned.





210 Linden Avenue Construction Update 7/2018

13 07 2018

Time to take a look at Visum’s smaller Collegetown projects. 210 Linden is the largest and furthest along; the city allowed them to hook up to water and sewer service this week.

Note there are some clear differences between what was originally approved, and what’s being built. The fenestration is a different layout – the top floor windows originally did not line up with the window arrangement of the other floors. Secondly, the floor-to-ceiling multi-pane treatment on the top floor’s front (east) facade has been eliminated, given a similar if slightly glassier treatment as the other three floors, which had a balcony window reduced in size. The most likely guess is value engineering – save cost, save time, especially the latter since the building needs to be open by mid-August.

The overall shape remains the same, but with these changes it’s a bit of a question mark as to the appearance of the final materials – it’s probably the same as approved, since the vertical wood rails over the sheathing indicate the LP SmartSide fiber cement lap siding is coming at some point. The sheathing is a mix of Huber plywood zip panels with its specialized tape system, and TYPAR housewrap over plywood panels courtesy of North Main Lumber, a regional lumber sales chain. Romig General Contractor is doing the build-out, and their work with Visum is arguably the first multi-family project they’ve tackled in the Ithaca area.

Although 210 Linden is too small to host much in the way of amenities (it has a garbage collection room and bike room in the basement), its 37 residents will have full access to the amenities offered in The Lux just up the street. Connecting the dots, those were probably quartz countertops in the Lux update; seems plausible the same high-end fixtures, cabinetry and appliances would be used in both.

The background info/intro to 210 Linden can be found here.





The Lux (232-236 Dryden Road) Construction Update, 7/2018

12 07 2018

This one is in its home stretch. It’s rather striking how much the front balconies stand out, probably the result of the contrast in materials. The upper levels will use LP SmartSide white and marigold yellow fiber cement lap siding, and the lower levels are a black brick veneer (Endicott Thin Brick colored “Maganese Ironspot” with charcoal-colored mortar). The balconies use white Smart Trim and “Redwood” Allura fiber cement straight edge shingles. The architect, STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest, designed the balconies to be a nod to the original appearance of the previous building on the site, the private Cascadilla School dormitory.

The second and third photos are practically a progression pic, showing that the balconies are framed in wood, walled with sheets of ZIP plywood sheathing, and then faced with the exterior materials. Some exterior finished still need to be attached, the concrete pours are ongoing for the Dryden Road entrance, and it appears the roof membrane has yet to be laid.

As far as the interior goes, the construction crews were using a front loader to lift countertops to units, so it seems likely drywall hanging and painting have been finished, and the floors may be installed but not yet finished out. Fixtures, appliances, doors and trim pieces probably have not been installed yet, though perhaps the lower-level units are further along. It’s a pretty tight deadline to get the buildings complete, with move-in day expected to be August 17th.

Outside of Maplewood, at 207 beds (I’ve presumed net gain at 140-150) this will be the largest non-Cornell project coming onto the Collegetown market this year. Given market concerns about the absorption of Maplewood units as well as the size and the timeline of Cornell’s future North Campus dorms (2000 beds, with two phases opening in 2020 and 2021) it might be the last large Collegetown project for a while. A few midsize 50-100 bed projects will likely come along in the interim, perhaps the Nines replacement, and the rumored replacement for the Chacona Block (411 College Avenue, home of Student Agencies), which is expected to head before the planning some time within the next twelve months. Novarr’s faculty/staff focused apartment buildings at 119-125 College Avenue have yet to begin construction and seem to be a big question mark. It’d be a shame if it still failed to move forward even after the resdesign to accommodate fire code changes.

According to the FAQ on The Lux’s website, units will be furnished and pets are allowed for a $150 fee. The eight parking spaces are available for rent to tenants on a first-come, first-serve basis at $200/month.  Units are $1,200-$1,300/month per bedroom, and includes access to an on-site fitness facility, rooftop terrace and hot tub, security system, sauna, game room and study room (most of those in 232 Dryden, “Lux South”). There’s no beating around the bush, this is high-end student housing, “creme of the creme” as one of my grad school professors would say.

On a final note, quick shoutout and well wishes to Visum Development VP Patrick Braga, who will be leaving his position to do a Master’s in Urban Planning at Harvard. In a world where developers and city planners often run in their own circles, it’ll be good to have someone with strong experience in both.





Maplewood Redevelopment Construction Update, 6/2018

15 06 2018

There was an interesting story going around that Maplewood was in serious trouble due to water pressure issues, to the point where its ability to legally house its residents was at risk (no water pressure would have made for a hazardous fire risk). That would have been a huge story had it panned out, but a little bit of checking with the town of Ithaca codes department and the development team turned up no dire situations unfolding, all is going as planned (a welcome change given all the weather and contractor issues that have plagued the project’s tight work schedule so far). There was some worry about water pressure back when the project was first proposed, which is why a new 600,000 gallon water tower is going up on Hungerford Hill Road.

It’s a little sad to see the French Lavender florist and gift shop is closing down after eleven years. It’s not clear if it’s related to construction, or if the timing was coincidental. Coal Yard Cafe was doing a brisk mid-day business at the opposite end of the Maplewood site. With 872 new residents expected by the end of the summer, the site will have appeal to retailers and service providers.

For project background and planning, click here.

For a site plan breakdown, click here.

For a construction timeline, click here.

Webcam link 1 here (updated ~15 minutes).

Webcam link 2 here (updated ~15 minutes).





News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





118 College Avenue Construction Update, 4/2018

13 05 2018

Finally, clearing out the last of that late April photo stash. Not many here, but a new, small Collegetown project is underway at 118 College Avenue.

This is a Visum project, and probably their lowest profile plan. In fact, this one never even went through the sketch plan part of the city review process, the project team went straight to asking for the city planning to declare itself lead agency for environmental review in March 2017. Approval was a short time later as Ithaca goes, in May 2017. Building permits were issued this past winter.

It wasn’t a rash decision by any means – the project is largely similar to a previously-approved plan a few houses up at 126 College Avenue, and there is very little difference between the two properties in terms of context. They are both CR-4 zones allowing 4 floors and 45′ heights. The original 118 College Avenue was a two-story, early 20th century rental house with six bedrooms and marginal historic value, though I imagine the house was rather pretty before some unfortunate additions threw off its symmetry. The property was purchased by Red Door Rentals (Greg Mezey and Ryan Mitchell) in April 2014, transferred to another Mezey/Mitchell company, “MPB Capital LLC” in October 2017, and then to an LLC associated with Visum on the same day as the MPB Capital transfer. It seems plausible Ryan and Mitchell are project investors, with Visum as developer.

Plans call for a new 4-story, 45′ building on the sloped lot. With that slope, the basement is exposed on the west face, so it has the appearance of five floors from the rear and sides. A back of the envelope calculation says this building is about 9,000 SF. The roof hosts a 6′ architecturally-integrated mechanical screen; hides the mechanicals, but gives the apartment building an Italianate aesthetic. The building uses electric heat pumps and is designed to be net-zero energy compatible. The hard construction cost rings in $1.415 million, according to the SPR filing – it would be assessed at a substantially higher amount. Unabated taxes her, so while people may dislike Collegetown, projects like this help fill the city coffers.

There will be 5 apartment units with 28 bedrooms – 4 six-bedroom units, 1 four-bedroom unit on the basement level. The project comes with five new trees, lush landscaping for its small lot, an outdoor bike rack, screened trash area, and bike storage and mechanical rooms in the basement. Tenants with valid licenses will be given membership in Ithaca Carshare, to try and dissuade them from bringing personal vehicles. Not a surprise here, but college students are the intended market.

Only a couple minor changes occurred from start to finish – the window on the northeast face was replaced with a patterned trimboard to keep visual interest. The rooflines ware adjusted in the render below, but not the building plan, so we’ll see which is correct.

For materials, the basement-level will use stucco mixed with Sherwin-Williams “Sawdust” paint, the first level is a combination of Belden face brick (Belcrest) and S-W “Truepenny” fiber cement clapboards, more fiber cement clapboard on the mid-section in S-W “Overjoy“, trimboards, balcony trim and window casing colored S-W “Svelte Sage”, black window frames, stucco (in S-W “Favorite Tan”) with more fiber cement trim and frieze boards on the top level, and the pyramidal roof caps will be standing seam metal, Pac-Clad “Aged Copper”. Mix of materials, mix of colors – should stand out nicely.

Expect buildout to look similar to 210 Linden and The Lux – Amvic insulated concrete forms at the basement level, double-stud Huber ZIP panel plywood sheathing, scratch coats on the portion to be covered in stucco, perhaps wood furring to raise the exterior clapboard and prevent dampness, and probably Anderson windows. The project is expected to be complete by August – units are going for $950/bedroom, plus utilities. Pricey, but at least they allow large dogs.

Along with Visum and Red Door Rentals for this ride through the development process is STREAM Collaborative as the building and landscape architect. Since they’re GC at 210 Linden Avenue, Romig General Contractors may be the manager of the construction crew here as well.