News Tidbits 7/22/17: Throwing Darts

22 07 2017

1. Let’s start off the week with a little intrigue. A vacant 12.34 acre property on Wiedmeier Court in Ithaca town sold for $65,000 earlier this week – given that it was on the market for five years and marketed for development potential, the sale merited a closer look.

At first glance, it seemed to merit a shrug. The buyer was an LLC that could be traced back to a CPA in the San Francisco area, a woman of retirement age. The profile fits the deep-pocketed subset who might buy a sizable slice of land near Ithaca, and build a home for their retirement enjoyment. Not uncommon in Tompkins County.

Then on Wednesday, the same buyer purchased 114 and 122 Birdseye View Drive from the Cleveland family for $485,000. 122 is a 4-bedroom single-family, and 114 a 3-bedroom single-family. Both are next to IC, nearly new houses in a development otherwise filled with small-scale student housing. So, things just got more interesting. We’ll see if anything comes of the Wiedmeier property.

2. Just briefly touching on Hamilton Square this week – one of the questions I previously held off on addressing was the possibility of the abatement. Although the county has said they’re open to considering affordable housing tax abatements or PILOTs (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) as part of their housing strategy, housing itself usually isn’t enough to merit a visit to the IDA. But with the addition of the nursery/daycare, it bared similarities to 210 Hancock, which cited its planned daycare center and the new jobs at the center in its PILOT request.

So, I asked what the plan was. Here’s the response from INHS’s Real Estate Development Director, Joe Bowes:

“We are not seeking an abatement from the IDA for the project.  If the day care is a non-profit then it would be tax exempt without the need for an IDA abatement.  The housing does not need the abatement in this case so it will be assessed and will pay property taxes.  210 had other reasons for requesting an abatement.”

Emphasis his. In the documentation on Hancock, the abatement was partially driven by the acquisition cost of the property and the need for a deep pile foundation. The buildings are much smaller at 46 South Street, so a slab/shallow foundation is suitable, and it helps that Trumansburg’s soil is less water-logged and more stable than Northside’s. This results in a lower development cost per square foot, so although they arguably could (and upset the neighbors even more), INHS isn’t pursuing a PILOT or abatement. The only tax savings will be for the eleven affordable owner-occupied units, which will be assessed for what they can sell for within the Community Housing Trust, rather than a market-rate value. This has the county’s support, because taxing a townhouse for double the value of what the lower-middle class homeowner could sell it for undermines its affordability.

3. Here’s an interesting note from Lansing regarding the Cornerstone land purchase. The first phase on 13.5 acres would be 68-72 units. The second phase on the remaining 8.9 acres would potentially host another 72 units. All of these would be affordable. This might cause a backlash as too much, but if one of the phases was general affordable housing, and the other affordable senior housing, then that might negate most of the blowback. Anyway, something to watch for.

On another note, the modified PDA for the Village Solars has a stipulation that the community center/mixed-use building (“F”, green dot) has to be completed by the end of 2020, and only 4 of the 9 other buildings will be approved before the community center is complete. Everything north of Circle North will not be allowed to start construction until the community center is open. This suggests a build-out of #116/#102, 2017-18, #2/#22, 2018-19, Community Center 2019-2020, #117/#36 2020-21, and K, L and M would be built in 2021-22.


4. Laurels and darts. Here’s a dart. The town of Ithaca is seeking to, once again, extend its moratorium on two-family properties. When the law was enacted in early May 2016, it was supposed to be for 270 days, meaning an early February expiration. Then it was extended to the end of July. Now they want to extend it to the end of October, which given the seasonal nature of construction, effectively stops all new two-family properties through the winter of 2017/18.

I’ll be frank. This is not a good look. There were a number of concerns from property owners when the law was proposed for a length of one year, was unfairly long, and the town has not only realized their concerns, it’s exceeded them. The town is establishing a bad faith precedent through what property owners will complain as either being ill will, or incompetence. Part of me is concerned that anyone fighting the town on something, be it zoning, development, conservation or anything, will use this as an example of how the town “can’t be trusted”. I’ve never been a fan of moratoriums, because they end up seeking extensions. Not impressed to have another example to file away.

5. And on that note, the town of Groton just slapped a six-month moratorium on all solar arrays designed to power more than one house or one agricultural farm. No commercial solar, no community solar. Technically, the law also stops wind turbines and gas pipelines, but the Times’ quotes make it clear this was all about solar.

6. The county legislature finally approved a name to the Heritage Center this week. The “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was approved 10-2. The previous vote failed due to a number of absent legislators and pushback for not having enough to consider the name. Legislator Chock D-3rd) initially wanted it named for late legislator Stu Stein, but naming buildings after people has been against county policy since the early 2000s. Legislator McBean-Clairborne (D-1st) voted against it because she felt the word “county” should be in there. This has not been a month where local government engenders confidence.

7. Short but interesting city of Ithaca Planning Board meeting meeting up. The only thing up for final approval is the McDonald’s rebuild at 372 Elmira Road, while INHS’s Elm Street and Lakeview’s West End project are set to begin formal environmental review. Here’s the agenda:

1. Agenda Review 6:00

2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3.Site Plan Review

A. Project: Commercial Rebuild (McDonalds) 6:10
Location: 372 Elmira Road
Applicant:McDonalds USA LLC
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
Project Description: The applicant proposes to replace the existing 4,800 SF restaurant facility with a new 4,400 SF building, construct a side-by-side drive-thru, install new landscaping, a dining patio, lighting, signage and a masonry landscape wall, as well as reconfigure the parking layout. The project is in the SW-2 Zoning District and requires an area variance. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), for which the Planning Board as Lead Agency made a Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance on June 27, 2017.

B.Project: Elm St Apartments (Rebuild) 6:25

Location: 203-209 Elm Street
Applicant: Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The proposed project consist of the demolition of two single family homes and one
multiple dwelling and the construction of a single 12,585 SF apartment building with 13 dwelling units, parking for six vehicles, and other associated site improvements. Due to the slope of the site, the building will have 2 stories facing Elm Street and three stories in the rear. The project requires the consolidation of three tax parcels. The project is in the R-3a Zoning district and is seeking two area variances for relief from rear yard setback and parking requirements. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(h)[3], and the State Environmental Quality Review Act(“SEQRA”)§ 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

C. Project: 709 West Court Street (Housing) 6:50
Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709–713 W Court Street
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels LLP for Lakeview Health Services Inc.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3
Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprintof 10,860 SF and GFA of 62,700 SF on the .81 acre project site comprising four tax parcels (to be consolidated). The building will containing sixty (60) one-bedroom apartments plus associated shared common space (community room, laundry facilities, lounges, and exterior courtyard), support staff offices, program spaces, conference room, utility rooms, and storage. The siting of the building allows for a small landscaped front yard, a south-facing exterior courtyard, and a 16 space surface parking lot in the rear of the site. Site development will require the removal of five structures and associated site elements. The project is in the WEDZ- 1 Zoning District. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”)§176-4 (1)(k) and (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (11) and is subject to environmental review.

D. 105 Dearborn –Sketch Plan 7:10

This is Bridges Cornell Heights new 16-bedroom independent living building for seniors. If it’s at the Planning Board, that means the ILPC has signed off on the building and site design.

E. 311 College Ave – Sketch Plan 7:30

This is…curious. 311 College Avenue is The Nines restaurant and bar, and was built in 1905 as fire station No. 9 before the new station opened next door in the late 1960s. The old station was sold off and became the Nines in the early 1970s, and has been under its current ownership since 1980. The top two floors are used for storage, according to county records.

At a glance, it’s a valuable piece of land with a lot of posibilities – MU-2 zoning allows six floors and 100% lot coverage. On the other hand, this is a relative historic property in Collegetown, and development perceived as insensitive will likely see significant opposition. There had been talk by ILPC staff of giving the building historic designation back in February 2016 out of concerns over development pressure, but it seems no formal application was made. So there are options here, but the developer should proceed with caution.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50
#3066, 214 Elmira Road, Area Variance
#3079, 413 Titus Ave, Area Variance

5. Old/New Business 8:00
A. Planning Board Recommendation to Council Regarding Proposed Waterfront Rezoning
B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 403 College
Ave
C. Downtown Wayfinding

6.Reports 8:30
A. Planning Board Chair (verbal)
B. Director of Planning & Development (verbal)
C. Board of Public Works Liaison





News Tidbits 4/8/17: Please Don’t Document-Dump on Fridays

8 04 2017

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. The town of Dryden planning board did not take too kindly to the Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden Road outside Varna. The board denied recommendation for approval unless some stipulations are met first; some might be easier, like a vegetative buffer with the neighbors and a shared driveway. Others will be trickier – the board recommended removing all the solar panels and replacing them with electric heat pumps, and board members strongly encouraged reducing the number of units.

Not to downplay the value of heat pumps since they’ve become the preferred sustainable feature for projects going before local boards these days, but there is a substantial initial cost involved for their installation, and it takes a few decades for the energy savings to pay off. Some of the cost for the pumps can be balanced out through density of units, because some flat development costs (for example, the cost of land acquisition) can be distributed out; but fewer units with a more expensive feature is the classic “do more with less money” conundrum.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. Disclaimer, these are ballpark figures and every project has its nuances or other factors to consider, like tax rates, contractor bids and logistical costs.

The Village Solars heat pumps are a $50,000-$60,000 cost, $4,000-$5,000 per unit. Phase 1 didn’t have the heat pumps, but the later phases do, and those later phases are about $2 million-$3 million per 15,000-20,000 square-foot building, with 12-22 units depending on configuration. In the case of 1061 Dryden, each 6-unit string is about 10,800 SF (1800 SF per unit, no common areas), and given the $4.5 million total cost, we’re talking a ballpark estimate of around $750,000 per townhome string. If one assumes proportional costs for the heat pumps based off square footage, that’s $30,000-$40,000 per 6-unit string. So it is a higher incremental cost per string, and more of a burden per tenant. The Village Solars rent for $1600-$1650 for a three-bedroom, and the going rate for new units in Varna is about $1950 for a 3-bedroom, if the new townhomes at 902 Dryden is any indicator. The rent increase for the Village Solars was about $50/unit, but those units are smaller, so you’re probably looking at a larger amount, conservatively $75/unit, for the Evergreen units.

Going off those numbers, it looks like heat pumps are possible, although the units will likely be somewhat less affordable as a result. It isn’t clear if that disables the proposal, because it depends on imputed vacancy rates at different income levels, and whatever the required income is to make the necessary Return on Investment. However, the project would become less feasible if there are substantially fewer units and the construction cost per unit shoots up – because of the combination of flat vs. incremental expenses, taking away six units won’t drop the cost $750,000, it’ll be less. The cost of the solar panels is also an unknown, as are the costs of doing these revisions to please the board. The development team was not at the meeting, which is unfortunate; we’ll have to wait and see how this moves forward.

2. Speaking of the Village Solars, according to the latest minutes from the Lansing Town Board, Lifestyle Properties is exploring taking down some of the old Village Circle Apartments, and replacing them with new buildings. These older, 8,000-12,000 SF structures date from the early 1970s through the early 1980s, and have 8-10 units per building. Since the newer buildings are about 15,000-20,000 SF and tend to have 18-22 units, that could explain where the 423 units statistic came from last month – some of it comes from buildings on new sites, some are replacement buildings for existing structures.

3. The city Common Council held their monthly meeting, and signed off on the IURA sale of 402 South Cayuga to Habitat for Humanity with little debate, and while the TM-PUD for 323 Taughannock was a bit problematic due to some confusion with the minutes from the public hearing, the approval was carried unanimously. The project is now free to go before the Planning Board for State/City Envrionmental Quality Review, and the Design Review is considered complete.

Side note, the city’s four fire stations were renumbered. The old numbers hailed from the days before the stations consolidated in the 1960s and 1980s, and were confusing for many. Fire Station No. 9 (309 College Avenue in Collegetown) is now No. 2, insert joke here. Central Station (310 West Green Street) becomes Station 1- Central, Station 5 (965 Danby Road) becomes Station 3- South Hill, and Station 6 (1240 Trumansburg Road) becomes Station 4- West Hill.

4. Bucket list objective achieved – an interview with Jagat Sharma. Some will be in the Voice, maybe Friday afternoon of Monday morning; but rather than leave the excess on the proverbial cutting room floor, here were some portions left out of the piece for the sake of brevity, or because they’re too technical for the general audience:

Q: So, what’s your thought process when designing a building? Apart from necessities like zoning and client requirements, do you take cue from surrounding buildings, the environment…what are you thinking about as you sketch the first concepts of a new building?

JS: For infill projects, the sites are very narrow. My project at 409 Eddy, if I recall correctly, is a very narrow site. My clients had never hired an architect before, and it was a challenge to convince them. Most of them, they think how many rooms they can rent, so you give them a number, and you work it out, and you figure out the design from the surrounding context, how the buildings line up, how the window patterns line up, symmetry, scale. You lay out a plan for how the windows would fall, how would it match with the existing window lines on surrounding buildings. Frankly, back then (409 Eddy was built in the mid-1980s) there was not much context, many buildings were in poor condition, you had some brick buildings, but otherwise not much. You try to relate it to what you’ve done before, the streetscape, you try to change up things with color, bay windows, you play with that, organize everything in a symmetrical way. Later on, my later buildings in the past 10-12 years, I’ve begun to take more liberty, play with them [the designs] more, 3-D effects, projections, penthouses, balconies, corner windows and more glass. And at the street level, they’re more urban, they have colonnades, like 309 Eddy, it looks very nice. But all of them…if you’re the only actor on the stage, you’re playing your own thing. If you look at Collegetown, Eddy Street and up, 309, 303, 301, some are angled, they’re different materials – if you’re in the middle of those, you feel like you’re in a hill town, it’s a good feeling.

Q: And how would you describe your experience with working with the city and its various interests?

JS: You earn respect from them by being honest and sincere. I deliver what I say I do, we don’t change things at the last minute. The city is happy with that. I have a good relationship with the Planning Board, what they are looking for, they want good materials, detailing. The building department wants to make sure you meet the codes; we sit down and meet if we have different interpretations on how the code reads – but you have to work on it from day one. It takes time, building inspectors, commissioners come and go and you have to earn their respect each time by doing the right thing, don’t hide anything.

5. According to Matt Butler over at the Times, Lakeview Ithaca might be a little larger than initially anticipated. In a report on homelessness, he mentions a meeting attended by Lakeview’s CEO, who said the new building would have 56 affordable units (vs. the 50 previously reported in the IURA application), with 28 reserved for those with mental disability. A time frame of fall 2018 – fall 2019 is given for construction, somewhat slower than the April 2018 start reported in the IURA application.

6. A couple of interesting things to note from the ILPC Agenda for next Tuesday, apart from the usual stairs, porches and windows. One, 123 Eddy got a revamp in accordance with the commission’s design guidance – gone is the porch, and more detail was strongly encouraged. I still prefer the previously-approved design, but this is an improvement from the Craigslist ad.

Meanwhile, downstate businessman Fei Qi is finally heading back to the board with a plan for the historically significant but structurally deficient 310 West State/MLK Street. Previously, he wanted to do 3,800 SF of office space in a renovation partially financed by state tax credits, but it wasn’t funded and the office market is a bit lackluster in Ithaca anyway. At the time, residential was ruled out due to fire safety issues.

However, this new plan is a residential project. It’s a proposed 12-bedroom “co-op” living arrangement (Co-op? SRO [Single Room Occupancy]? Neither one is a terrible idea, although SROs have negative connotations). JSC Architects of suburban NYC (Fresh Meadows) would remove a rear chimney, put in new shingles, add a wheelchair ramp and skylights, along with the to-the-studs internal renovation. It’s an interesting plan, though the ILPC might be iffy on some of the details. We’ll see how it goes over.

7. If you all could pardon me on this, the city document-dumped Friday morning, and I don’t have the time at the moment for a full write-up. But the projects memo is one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. Here’s the brief summary:

A. McDonald’s would replace their existing 4,800 SF restaurant at 372 Elmira Road with a new 4,400 SF building.

B. Benderson Development wishes to renew approvals for a 14,744 SF addition to their shopping plaza at 744 South Meadow Street (this would be on the south end next to Hobby Lobby, where KMart’s garden center was years ago), and build a new 7,313 SF addition at the north end of the strip. Apparently, Ithaca’s a safe harbor in the ongoing “retail apocalypse”.

C. 323 Taughannock as noted above

D. DeWitt House is moving forward. With ILPC Design Approval (Certificate of Appropriateness) in hand, envrionmental review still needs to be conducted. Site plan review docs note it’s a $17 million project with a December 2017 – March 2019 construction timeframe.

E. Novarr/Proujansky’s 24-unit 238 Linden apartment project

F. 118 College Avenue, carried over from the previous month, and

G. Finger Lakes Re-Use, carried over from the previous month.

 

 





News Tidbits 10/22/16: Seal of Approval

22 10 2016

201_college_v4_1

1. In yet another twist in the 201 College Avenue saga, the project will be moving forward. The Board of Zoning Appeals sided 3-1 with the city Zoning Director and denied the Planning Board’s consideration that the building be considered illegal due to facade length. According to a report from former Times reporter Josh Brokaw (now operating as an indy journalist),  the board was swayed by arguments of time and ambiguity in the code. Brokaw’s reading makes it sound like there’s still some raw feelings between staff and board. The way to solve the most pressing issue would be to clarify the code based on the facade debate, and have the common council ratify those changes over the next few months. All in all, the Form District code works pretty well, and a number of projects have been presented without big discussions over semantics. But in the case of 201, it’s clear that the CAFD wording and imagery could use further refinement, so that everyone is on the same page. With 201 resolved, now is a good time to do that.

Dunno what the completion date will be offhand (August 2017 would be a breakneck pace, but we’ll see). Neighbor Neil Golder has refiled his lawsuit, but the case isn’t especially strong.

elmira_savings_v2

2. Also getting underway this week is the renovation of the former Pancho Villa restaurant at 602 West State Street into the West End branch of Elmira Savings Bank. This is quite a bit earlier than initially planned – Site Plan Review docs suggested a July-December 2017 construction/renovation. Edger Enterprises of Elmira will be the general contractor for the 6,600 SF, $1 million project, which is expected to be completed in March 2017.

evergreen_dryden_1

3. The Dryden town board has approved 4-1 the concept of the Evergreen Townhouses plan for 1061 Dryden Road just east of Varna. This means that they accept a PUD can be appropriately applied for the site, but the project will need to submit a formal, more detailed development plan before any final approvals will be considered. One of the major changes that is being requested is a 15-foot setback between the property line and the units at the southeast side of the parcel (25-36), so expect those to get a little trim off of the rear side (the dissenting vote, Councilwoman Linda Lavine, was because she preferred a 25-foot setback). If the setback and the other stipulations are accommodated, its chances of approval are pretty good. Developer and local businessman Gary Sloan has 270 days to submit detailed plans for review.

Meanwhile, Tiny Timbers will be up for Dryden Zoning Board of Appeals review in early November. Since an internal road will be used to access some of the home lots, the town board will be viewing the site as an “Open Development Area” (ODA), which by Dryden’s definition is development with no direct road access. The town board will hold their public meeting on the 20th to approve the ODA, the planning board’s acceptance on the 27th. The ZBA is the last or second-to-last step in the approvals process (not sure offhand if the town will need to vote again to give a final approval).

lansing_meadows_old

4. The senior housing next to the BJ’s in Lansing might finally be moving forward this spring. Dan Veaner has the full story here at the Lansing Star. The issue stems from working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what parts of the land can and cannot be developed – delineating the wetlands, basically. Apparently, the wetlands were created by an overflowing culvert back when the mall was built in the 1970s. But regardless of how they were created, the USACE deems they have to be protected, especially since it developed into a rare wetland environment called an “inland salt marsh”. Since then, it’s been back-and-forth on units – I’ve heard as few as 9 and as many as 18. A portion of the wetlands would still need to be relocated. The PDA boundaries were changed slightly by the board at the request of developer Eric Goetzmann earlier this month to accommodate the USACE determination. The tax break Goetzmann received to build BJ’s is contingent on the senior housing getting built, though at this point, one has to wonder just how much this wetlands tangle has cost him. Hope it was worth it.

maplewood_v7_3

5. From the sound of it, the Maplewood Park DEIS public hearing was fairly positive. Many of the neighbors are pleased with the changes, although some are still opposed to the density or have concerns about traffic. In response, it’s worth pointing out that the commute of Maplewood’s residents will almost entirely be bus, bike and foot during normal business/school hours, and its convenience to bus routes and services will also help minimize overall traffic impacts. As for density, well, if you want Cornell to house its students and reduce the burden on the open market, promoting density on the existing Maplewood site may result in a more sustainable, more cost efficient project if planned properly, with less of a neighborhood impact than building several hundred beds on an undeveloped parcel elsewhere (since the Maplewood site has been inhabited in some form since the 1940s, the growth in density would not be as prominent – about 490 beds, vs. 872 beds).

Should readers feel inclined, comments are still being accepted by town planners up until October 31st. The materials and submission email can be found here.

6. It looks like there were a couple big sales in the local real estate market this week. The first one was the Tops Plaza in big box land, just south of Wegmans. National retail developer DDR Corp. sold the property to another large firm, NYC-based DRA Advisors LLC, for $20 million on the 18th. The sale included three addresses – 710-734 South Meadow, 614 South Meadow, and 702 South Meadow – The Tops Plaza, The smaller strip to its south (called Threshold Plaza), and the pad parcels like Chili’s and Elmira Savings Bank. Perhaps the most notable part of this sale is that it’s slightly below the total assessed value of $20,941,000. However, DRA picked up the property as part of a bundle sale of 15 shopping centers in Western and Central New York, so maybe it was a bulk discount, or compensating for weaker properties.

The other big sale was between a long-time local landlord and a newer, rapidly growing one. The Lucente family (as Lucente Homes) sold 108, 116, 202 and 218 Sapsucker Woods Road to Viridius LLC for $1.276 million on the 18th. According to county records, each is a 4-unit building built in the 1970s and worth about $275k – meaning, Viridius just acquired 16 units for a little above the $1.1 million assessed. Viridius’s M.O. is to buy existing properties, do energy audits to determine what needs to be done where to maximize energy efficiency, disconnect them from fossil fuel heating and energy sources, install pellet stoves, heat pumps and the like, renovate/modernize the properties, and connect the more efficient house to a solar grid or other renewable energy sources. If Sustainable Tompkins were a developer, they’d look like Viridius.


7. This last one isn’t so much a big sale, but worth noting for future reference – 126 College Avenue sold for $510,000 on the 19th. The buyer was an LLC at an address owned by Visum Development’s Todd Fox.

126 College is a 2-story, 6-bedroom house that might have been attractive long ago, but someone’s beaten it with an ugly stick and paved much of the front lawn (growing up near Syracuse, we called paved front lawns “Italian lawns”, with my uncle one of the many offenders). The purchase price is a little below the asking price of $529k, but more than double the assessment. Zoning at the property is CR-4 – up to 50% lot coverage, 25% green space, up to 4 floors and 45 feet in height, a choice of pitched or flat roofs, and required front porches, stoops or recessed entries. This is the lowest-density zone for which no parking is required. The city describes the zoning as “an essential bridge” between higher and lower density, geared towards townhouses, small apartment buildings and apartment houses.

Granted, not everything Visum/MLR does is new, some of their work focuses on renovation. But given the location, and given that frequent design collaborator STREAM had “conceptual” CR-4 designs on display during the design crawl earlier this month, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination.

city_centre_v3_2

8. Interesting agenda for the city planning board next week, if nothing new. Here’s the schedule:

AGENDA ITEM                 APPROX. START-TIME

1. Agenda Review                6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor         6:01

3. Subdivision Review
A. Project:  Minor Subdivision           6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision             6:25
Location: 123 & 125 Eddy St.
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou is planning subdivision of a double lot to build a new 2-unit, 6-bedroom house designed to be compatible with the East Hill Historic District. CEQR has been given neg dec (meaning, all’s mitigated and good to proceed), and zoning variances for deficient off-street parking have been granted.
C. Project:  Minor Subdivision                6:35
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions:  Consideration of Final Subdivision Approval
One of those small infill builds, this proposal in Fall Creek takes down an existing single-family home for two two-family homes on a subdivided lot. The design has been tweaked, with more windows, a belly band, more varied exterior materials, and additional gables to provide visual interest.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  City Centre — Mixed Use Project (Housing & Retail)           6:45
Location: 301 E. State/M.L.K., Jr. St.
Applicant: Jeff Smetana for Newman Development Group, LLC
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Part 2

The 8-story mixed-use proposal for the Trebloc site. Comes with one letter of support, and a letter of opposition from Historic Ithaca, who have previously stated they will oppose anything greater than four floors on State Street, and six floors overall.
B. Project:  Amici House & Childcare Center            7:15
Location: 661-701 Spencer Rd.
Applicant: Tom Schickel for Tompkins Community Action (“TCAction”)
Actions: No Action — Review of Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF), Parts 2 & 3
C. Project:  Four Duplexes                               7:30
Location: 607 S. Aurora St.
Applicant: Charles O’Connor
Actions:  Declaration of Lead Agency  │ PUBLIC HEARING  │ Review of FEAF, Part 2
MLR’s four-building, 8-unit plan for South Hill. Comes with a letter of neighbor support saying the scale is appropriate.
D. 371 Elmira Rd. (Holiday Inn Express) — Approval of Project Changes      7:45
The debate over the Spencer Road staircase and rip-rap continues.
E. 312-314 Spencer Rd. — Satisfaction of Conditions: Building Materials   7:55
F. 119, 121, & 125 College Ave. (College Townhouse Project) — Update        8:05
Novarr’s 67-unit townhouse project geared towards Cornell faculty. No decisions planned, just an update on the project. Keeps your fingers crossed for some renders.
G. Maplewood Redevelopment Project — Planning Board Comments on Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DGEIS)     8:20
The city’s deferred judgement to the town, but the board can still have their say. The comments will be recorded and addressed as part of the EIS review process.
5. Zoning Appeals                          8:35
• #3047, Area Variance, 123 Heights Court




Holiday Inn Express Construction Update, 9/2016

21 09 2016

When I paid a visit to the Holiday Inn Express site at 371 Elmira Road, I had figured the hotel would be complete and open by now. Unfortunately for them, it is not, which means not only did they miss the cash cow of student move-ins, they’re also missing the early fall, when the tourism trade is still strong and there’s plenty of business activity spurred on by the new academic session. Winters tend to be rough for Ithaca’s hospitality industry due to the seasonal drop in occupancy, and it looks like this hotel will have to suffer through that during its first few months of service.

That noted, it does look like the 79-room hotel will open by late fall. The porte cochere has been assembled and the HIE brand signage has been attached to the facade. The only remaining exterior work on the building seems to be applying the EPDM synthetic rubber coating to the roof, and the rear stairwell. They might be waiting until the interiors are far enough along (i.e. most of the materials have been moved in) before closing up the building, installing the rest of the insulation boards and applying the moisture barrier coats before finishing out the EIFS with the rest of the south face.

Outside the building, curbing has been laid (if you’ve never watched a curbing machine in action, it’s actually really cool – video here) and the lighting has been installed, but landscaping and paving have yet to be completed.

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DiBella’s Construction Update, 9/2016

19 09 2016

From the outside, the Dibella’s pad building is just about done. All that’s left is signage and accessory installations such as bike racks. The open paved space south of the building will be a patio for outdoor dining, which would be a nice spot on a day like this.

The inside is still being finished out – looks like the some interior walls are still waiting for their drywall to be hung, and in other spots, the drywall has been primed but trim and paint have yet to be applied. Allowing a few weeks for trimming and painting and equipment installation, it looks like the sub shop could open by Halloween.

Marx Realty might have switched contractors when work shifted from the building itself to the outfitting of the interior. A&E Construction handled the construction of the building (the “shell space”), but Marco Contractors Inc. of suburban Pittsburgh is handling the interior fit-out. More infp about the DiBella’s project can be found here.

Perhaps because of its high visibility, by a wide margin more emails come in asking about what’s being built here than any other project in the county.

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News Tidbits 7/30/16: The Unfortunate Surprise

30 07 2016

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1. Pretty much everyone was caught off guard by the planning board’s decision to send 201 College Avenue to the Board of Zoning Appeals on a previously-undiscussed zoning technicality. The issue has to deal with facade height in connection to the length of a continuous wall – the argument being pushed by board member John Schroeder is that, since there are primary walls on College Avenue and Bool Street, the H-shaped proposal isn’t technically valid and the deep indentation actually has to be two separate buildings, one slightly shorter than the other since the site is on a slope. This was the subject of a prolonged and heated debate, since the code’s pretty ambiguous in that regard, and (as shown below) the design elements shown in the form district booklet demonstrate buildings with architectural indents/setbacks.

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If recollection serves correctly, something similar came up in a previous discussion two years ago with 327 Eddy Street. The project fills the entirety of a sloped lot, but there was a hazy interpretation regarding one’s definition of floors and height where one could have called it 8 floors, so it had to be clarified and it became the average proposed height for cases with a sloped parcel. In this instance, there was one primary wall, on Eddy Street, which is why there’s just enough wiggle room left that a clarification request, however targeted it may be, is legally valid. The board agreed 4-3 to let the BZA issue a determination on 201 College, which could come anywhere from August 23rd to September 6th. That means a late September approval is maybe the best bet. That’s probably too late for an August 2017 opening, so whether or not the project would move forward (which could be immediately or in summer 2017 for a 2018 opening) if given approval is another question.

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There is one other thing that is worrying from an impartiality standpoint. John Schroeder and Neil Golder served together as Collegetown’s Common Council reps in the 1990s. Although Schroeder’s not the biggest fan of Collegetown development, he hasn’t raised this much of a concern over other projects, and Neil has been very, very active in his outreach. There could be an argument that he should have recused himself from the decision-making process, or at least have formally acknowledged his longstanding professional relationship with the project’s primary opponent.

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2. Also from the Planning Board meeting, further discussion of the Trebloc project. Those following the IJ’s Nick Reynolds’ Twitter know that there was some talk about big changes with a lot of wonk talk, and this is what it has to do with. My thanks to my colleague Mike Smith for his notes.

Basically, Newman Development is floating a few different approaches to the site layout. One calls for a plaza area on State Street (the “accordion” approach”), one calls for green space (the “courtyard” approach), and the third actually breaks it up into two separate buildings. In these theoretical layouts, the square footage and number of units is kept roughly equal. All three also keep at least some emphasis on the corner facing the Commons, because that’s where the concentration of activity is, and that’s what’s going to appeal the most to first-floor retail/commercial tenants.

Each approach comes with pros and cons. The “accordion” approach opens up the sidewalk, but it opens away from the Commons (i.e. not appealing to pedestrians or retailers) and makes unit design tricky. The “courtyard” approach has public-ish green space, but it would be in unappealing, constant shadow – even if the building were just a few floors, the low angle of the sun in the cooler part of the year would keep light from reaching the courtyard. The two building approach offers an alley that could be interesting, but would likely not see much use since there’s very little activity towards that block of Green Street. Given the flaws in each, the inclination is to stay with the current “fish hook” shape, but the developers wanted to hear the planning board’s thought before committing to a layout.

Planning Board responses ran the gamut. A few members supported the State courtyard option, or stepping back the portion on State Street but building taller portions on Green if there’s a need to compensate (zoning’s 120 feet, so there’s perhaps two floors they could feasibly do that with, like an 11-story/9-story/7-story step down, without having to make a trip to the BZA and throwing additional, funding-jeopardizing uncertainty in there). One board member asked about a courtyard on the roof. The project will be pursuing tax abatements, with the hope that with those, density and smaller units, they can appeal to the middle of the rental market.

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3. Thanks to Dan Veaner over at the Lansing Star, here’s a render and a site plan for the proposed Lansing Apartments / Parkgrove Apartments project for Bomax Drive in the village. The 19.46-acre property is currently owned by Cornell and is zoned to be part of its office/tech park. James Fahy Design Associates of Rochester is doing the design for the proposed 14-building, 140 unit project, and Park Grove LLC of Rochester is the developer, in tandem with retired Cornell Real Estate director and Lansing resident Tom Livigne.

According to the Star, “1,000 square foot one-bedroom apartments are anticipated to rent in the $1,300 to $1,400 range,  1,350 to 1,400 square foot two-bedroom apartments at around $1,600 to $1,700, and three-bedroom apartments up to 1,400 square feet would rent between $1,800 and $1,900.” The village of Lansing has to approve a zoning change from business to high-density residential in order for the project to move forward.

It’s a very auto-centric, premium-middle market project. For an area concerned about affordability and trying to move towards walkability and traditional neighborhoods, this really doesn’t seem like the most appropriate plan. It’s nothing against Livigne and Park Grove LLC, but I’m very critical of these kind of projects for just those reasons.

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4. It’s been a while since it’s last been discussed, but the 31-unit Amabel Project by New Earth Living’s Sue Cosentini has been approved by the state attorney general to start marketing units. According to a December presentation, the net-zero homes will range from 1600-2100 SF and market in the $385,000-$425,000 range. While that is a rather high price range, some of that cost would be paid off via energy savings, which could be up to a few thousand dollars per year compared to comparably-sized and priced older homes on the market, and other possible savings exist with water recycling and low-maintenance exterior materials. So the sales pitch becomes something of acknowledging the high up-front costs, but explaining the long-term savings.


5. The first of two state funding grants to not this week. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has received a $1 million grant for a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus, which if these notes are correct, is actually two facilities, and this new one will be built adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created.

Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

6. Also in state grants, Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport received $619,935 to build a flight academy building for the East Hill Flying Club. The new facility is expected to be built in the next 2 to 3 years. When the EHFC has moved in to their new digs, the existing hangar will be offered up to rent to other tenants. The new building will offer more instructional space, the ability to engage in training for twin-engine aircraft, and what the flying academy née club hopes will include state-of-the-art flying simulators.





News Tidbits 7/23/16: Movers, Makers, Shakers, and Breakers

23 07 2016

1. Hitting the market late last week – a small office building with potential. 416 Elmira Road is located on the southern edge of the big box district, right next to the “bridge to nowhere” and a little before Buttermilk Falls. Built in 1988, it’s a one-story 4,000 SF building on 0.32 acres, inoffensive to the eye but fairly humdrum with a CMU exterior. The current owner is a spinal surgeon in Delaware who picked it up in 2009 for $500k. Previously, the building served as the local office for a state agency.

One could pick the building up if they wanted offices in a high-traffic area, although a few options present themselves. The zoning is SW-3 = SW (SouthWest Area) is a sort of catch-all for business types allowed under Ithaca zoning, with SW-3 geared towards smaller suburban box retail. That is a possibility here, although there wouldn’t be much parking on-site. Housing is an option here as well, although perhaps not appealing since the zoning is capped at two floors with 60% lot coverage. The list price is $585k, we’ll see what happens.

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2. …and item number two, hitting the market this past Wednesday, and probably the far more interesting of the two listings in this week’s update. Cornell has put their West End printing facility and warehouse up for sale. The Big Red seems to be trying to rid itself of excess properties in the past few weeks, having recently listed partially-developed land it has off Triphammer as well. The 37,422 SF Cornell U. Press facility at 750 Cascadilla Street was acquired by the university in 1993, and is valued at $1.6 million by the county. The other warehouse, 30,000 SF 770 Cascadilla Street, is leased by a storage company from Cornell, who purchased the building in 2000, and is valued at $1.2 million. The listing is $2.7 million, so these two properties and the 3.12 acres they sit on are being marketed below assessment.

This part of the city has attracted quite a bit of attention as of late. The Maguires are quietly working on their plans for a new set of dealerships to the north and east. Form Ithaca has envisioned keeping the warehouse properties intact, but reusing and renovating them into “maker spaces” as part of an “Innovation District” for food processors, technology firms and light manufacturing. The land itself is zoned industrial, but the city’s comprehensive plan calls for waterfront-focused mixed-use, so in practice the zoning is obsolete, due to be updated as the city continues with neighborhood-specific comprehensive plans over the next 12 months. That sort of creates a grey area where, if a potential buyer has a plan in mind, they’d probably be better off pitching it to City Hall and JoAnn Cornish first, and gauging reactions.

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3. Well, this was pretty quick. Local developer Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals has secured funding for his 2-building, 4-unit project at 312-314 West Spencer Road, on vacant land subdivided from two existing houses. The two two-story duplexes received a $250,000 construction loan from Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate on Friday the 15th. Noah Demarest designed the two stacked flat-type apartments, three bedrooms per units. SPR documents stated an August 2017 opening, but with this funding in hand, it might be sooner.

4. Also receiving a construction loan – $450,000 at 322-24 Smith Road in Groton town, the site of a “canine events center“. The Bank of Groton is the lender. The 17,320 SF facility was built last year, so either this is some other site improvement, or the filing is really late. Also, canine event centers are a thing. The more you know.

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5. This could be called a “scorched earth” approach. Neil Golder has a lawsuit against Todd Fox and the city of Ithaca Planning Board over the 44-unit, 74-bed 201 College project, saying the decision was capricious and that the project should require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The court’s ruling will be released August 8th.

I’ll be frank – while this project matters a lot to Neil, as proposals go it’s a fairly routine midsize ($5 million -$15 million) project, like any of the other Collegetown buildings underway, like Hancock and Stone Quarry, like the Old Library site, the Carey addition or the Hotel Ithaca addition. The board declares lead agency for SEQR/CEQR review, they identify issues, and it’s the applicants responsibility to resolve them to the board’s satisfaction. If that has been done, a negative declaration is issued, and approval can be considered, as is the case here. An EIS only comes into play for projects that pose truly significant detrimental impacts to a large population if the issues aren’t effectively mitigated – hence why Maplewood Park, Cornell’s 880-bed housing development, and the multi-million square-foot Chain Works District are the only two active projects required to complete an EIS. Past precedent suggests Neil doesn’t have much of a case.

We’ll file this with the Times’ write-up about the fight over the Old Library, and the fight over Maplewood. Short summary, everyone’s on the warpath this week.

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6. This week was focused on doing write-ups about the county housing study for the Voice, but that was before the county pulled nearly all the materials offline. Boo, Tompkins. Anyway – here’s a few details from the special needs interviews that I had planned sharing in this update – Catholic Charities has procured a 4-bedroom house, INHS’s Paul Mazzarella says his organization is looking at introducing a new project in 2017, and TCAction has early plans for a second, 15-bed facility, separate from their Amici House project.

7. The town of Ithaca is planning to put out a “request for qualifications for professional services” to conduct an economic feasibility study of the Elmira Road / Inlet Valley corridor southwest of the city.  The official vote to move forward will be at the Tuesday meeting, with bids due by some point in September. The $60,000 study (half town, half NYS ESD) will be an economic feasibility study and development plan designed “to enhance its distinct characteristics by fostering and building on the assets that currently exist, rather than enabling expansion of the city’s urban and regional development”. In other words, the town would like to expand on its idea from the Comprehensive Plan – artisanal and cottage industries, “maker spaces”, some lodging and light industrial. We’ll see what they come up with, which will have to relate to the new form-based code the town is planning to implement.

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8. Fairly light agenda for the city planning board next week – not a whole lot of decision making expected.

1.        Agenda Review     6:00
2.        Privilege of the Floor    6:01
3.        Site Plan Review

A. Rooftop telecommuncation facility on top of Island Fitness – Declaration of Lead Agency, public hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
B. 201 College – “No Action — Applicant’s Response to Site Plan Review Issues”. Originally this was supposed to be final site plan approval, which may or may not be impacted by the whole lawsuit spiel.
C. City Centre (shown above) – “No Action — Applicant Response to Planning Board Comments”
D. SKETCH PLAN: Amici House — Tompkins Community Action Expansion at 661-711 Spencer Rd – I had heard this one might be four floors, and INHS has a hand in it. We’ve seen the site plan for a while now, so this isn’t going to make a big splash.