News Tidbits 6/5/17: The Return, Part III

5 06 2017

1. The Ithaca Gun site is almost in the clear, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The state is proposing a “no further action” status for remediation of the Lake Street site along Fall Creek gorge, where the factory maintained a presence from 1885 to 1986. Testing the guns with lead bullets for decades had the unfortunate result of contaminating the gorge with toxic levels of lead and heavy metals, and the area has been under remediation in some form for almost 20 years. The first round of cleanup for the Superfund was from 2002-2004, but insufficient cleaning resulted in a second round of cleaning in 2014. A third round to excavate more contaminated soil along the steep slopes of the gorge was undertaken by the federal EPA over the past couple of years.

To quote: “Based on the results of the investigations at the site, the interim remedial measures and post-IRM screening that have been performed, the NYSDEC is proposing No Further Action as the remedy for the site…Periodic site inspections and reporting, which include additional removals of lead shot as needed, will ensure continued protection for the environment and public health.”

Note that this only impacts the part of the site that was donated to the city as parkland. A separate remediation plan has been crafted by Travis Hyde Properties as part of their plans to build 45 units of housing on the former factory site, the “Ithaca Falls Residences“. The completion of work on the city land would allow THP to put the finishing touches on their plan, and potentially move forward with their long-incubating housing proposal.

2. There was one detail that was initially missed when going over the failed candidacy of Lisa Bonniwell to the village of Lansing Board of Trustees. While her family’s housing development, the “Heights of Lansing”, has been in perpetual stall with only about 22 of the 80 units built since approval in 2005 (and the last townhouses in 2011-12, shown above), they do plan to start work on another “six-plex” string of luxury townhouses this year – Bonniwell cast blame on the gas moratorium for the holdup. Gives them something else to focus on after their lawsuit over the Park Grove Apartments re-zoning down the road, in which the courts decided in the village’s favor.

The existing units are 3 bedrooms, 2,297-2,400 SF and sell for about $350,000-375,000. Expect the next batch to be fairly similar, though with different exterior details – each string’s exterior finishes are unique.

3. Sticking with Lansing, the Cayuga Farms townhouses are planning some modest changes – the buildings will be smaller, which will allow 20% green space and the construction of a community clubhouse. There will still be 102 units with 3 bedrooms each, 1500-1800 SF, in the upper-middle (“premium”) market segment. The plan has been held up for years while trying to find appropriate ways to address wastewater/sewage, initially floating a pricey Orenco modular site-specific plan. However, with the likelihood of a sewer main being routed up North Triphammer Road in the near-future, that would render the sewage treatment issue a moot point and allow the already-approved project to move forward with permit requests.

4. Nothing too exciting with the local planning boards at the moment. The town of Ithaca is reviewing adjustments to the Westview subdivision that would allow homebuilder to have building permits open for more than two houses at any given time, and to allow him to build houses from different project phases (locations) so long as they have road frontage, sewer and water. Apparently the 2004 stipulations have created a headache with his newest home lots.

Meanwhile in Ulysses, the town planning board will be reviewing plans for additions to the Taughannock Inn at 2030 Gorge Road. The rather whimsical structure designed by architect Jason Demarest would add a “gatehouse/stable”, with five guest rooms, a check-in area, a bar and dining space, ice cream parlor, tent space, reflecting pools and whatever else that makes it sort of romantic events center for weddings, banquets and reunions. The 1870s inn will receive a new cupola, and the projects needs several zoning variance and a noise law revisions so that they can create to 90 dB until 1:30 AM.

5. Lansing’s 1020 Craft Road was picked up by an LLC tied to a construction company out of Endicott for $615,000 back in April, so that was was a strong indicator that something was planned. That plan looks like a gut renovation and 4,410 SF in additions, as well as a paved and landscaped parking lot. Pyramid Brokerage is already advertising professional office space in the 10,500 SF building, which was built around 1980 and used for manufacturing (sheet metal fabrication), and it was looking pretty run down by the time it was purchased. The lease is for $18.00/SF, with a minimum available space of 5,250 SF, which would be a pretty good sized office. Depending on the finishes though, it might have appeal for those looking for a suburban location with easy parking – CFCU’s headquarters is next door, and several other firms are housed in neighboring buildings.

6. The county released its report of potential tax foreclosures. The long story short is that if property taxes aren’t paid, the county may seize a property (courtesy says they give a couple warning first), which may then be sold by the county at auction to pay off the back taxes, or it may be given to a municipality if the community wants it, or it may be withheld completely if it is deemed to have special ecologic value (biodiversity, wetland, “Unique Natural Areas”, etc.)

There doesn’t appear to be anything too exciting in this year’s batch. The city almost got some prime waterfront real estate at a bargain price last year, but the owner was able to pay the tax bill before the city could claim it. This year, we see several rural properties that the county would like to put deed restrictions on for stream buffers and conservation options, a pair of industrial properties in Caroline and Dryden, and a handful of single-family homes around the area. Nothing that looks especially tempting to the ambitious, although there are a handful of individuals who scoop these properties up at auction and then market them at a much higher price (with some success).





News Tidbits 3/4/17: Oh Hey, Tax Season

4 03 2017

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1. It’s that time of the year where the Tompkins County Department of Assessment goes through its assessment process in preparation for adjustments to property values for 2017, known as “Annual Equity Maintenance”, or AEM for short. Since there are 35,249 tax parcels in Tompkins County with a total value of $11.9 billion, not all are reassessed every year – most places are reassessed every three years, except for areas of rapid change (for instance, Fall Creek is every two years at present), or individual properties that are being undergoing change, whether it be a new construction, sudden property damage, or a sales transaction. The state has their own system, called Cyclical Reassessment Program (CRP, but the county docs refer to it as CRAP), but the county opts out to do their own valuations.

Some properties are easier than others – for example, a purchaser of a big-box property isn’t buying just the building, but a long-term lease from a tenant like BJ’s in Lansing. Student houses in parts of Collegetown are worth less than the property they sit on, which the tax system cannot accommodate. They provide one example of a $500,000 house sitting on $3 million of land – that’s not something the tax system is designed to handle, so the house is overvalued, but the property as a whole is very undervalued.

The department notes that sales were strong this year. According to their records, average sales are up 4.5% from $228,442 to $238,796, and the median sale is up 2.5%, from $200,000 to $205,000. The document also only notes 677 sales, which would be the lowest since before 1990, and is lower than the 681 sales noted by the Ithaca Board of Realtors (and IBR represents most but not all agencies). Someone is mistaken, it’s just hard to tell who. Assessments are on average about 8% lower (9% median) than home sale prices.

Some of the other takeaways are a modest softening in the student housing market in 2016 (Cornell enrollment in Ithaca did drop slightly from 2015-16, before renewing its upward trajectory in 2017), the city and Dryden’s Ellis Hollow continue to be strong markets but the other suburban neighborhoods are regaining interest, and Groton’s a mixed bag due to the poor state of some village properties. New assessments for 2017 (including parts of Ithaca town, Caroline, Freeville, Enfield, lakeside properties, restaurant properties, and manufacturing facilities) will be publicly available on July 1st.

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2. The redesign of Schwartz Plaza has started the formal review process. Cornell submitted the sketch plan at the February meeting, and hopes to have approvals for the renovation by next month. The properties would lose the walls and open up to the surrounding Collegetown, in what Cornell and Ithaca hope will give the densely-populated neighborhood a needed public gathering space. As reported by the Cornell Daily Sun’s Nick Bogel-Burroughs, project manager David Cutter hopes that the project leads to further public space enhancements near the stone arch bridge and down by Eddygate – this includes additional pedestrian and bike facilities, electronic boards with bus information, and a possible realignment of the Oak/College intersection into a T-configuration.

But for now the focus is on Schwartz Plaza. Cornell intends to have approvals within 1-2 months, start construction in June, and have the new plaza ready by August 2017. Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects is the design firm of record.

Postscript, Novarr’s townhouses at 238 Linden were pulled from the meeting before the sketch plan was due to be presented at the city planning board meeting last Tuesday. As for 301 Eddy, still trying to dig up information.

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3. Nick Reynolds has a very interesting profile and interview of Jason Fane over at the Times. Definitely worth a read about one of Ithaca’s most prominent landlords.

Speaking personally, I’ve got mixed feelings about it, if only because it takes a blog quote I made about 330 College Avenue in 2014, and in the article’s context, I sound like an arthouse snob. Fane has always been serious about building on the property, and that’s great, but I stand by my quote on 330 – after the years of negotiations on the new form district code, there is no way a 12-story building was going to be built on the corner of College and Dryden, even if Jagat Sharma, Fane’s favored architect, brought his A-game. It’s not a matter of economics or taste, it’s a matter of very real opposition from the Belle Sherman and East Hill neighborhoods. Any politician who considers signing off would be voted out of office ASAP. Any city staffer who consents will be shown the door. Look at what happened with State Street Triangle. In a city where people have many gripes about development, this is one project that is truly stopped in its tracks. I think Fane could negotiate 7 or even 8 stories if he gives the city a donation towards affordable housing, or some other community benefit. but not 11 or 12.

I like grand buildings and imposing structures, but I’m also a realist. End rant.

4. Todd Fox’s Visum Development has a couple construction updates on their Facebook page. Exterior stud walls are being installed on the lower floors of 201 College, and two of the three townhouse strings at 902 Dryden Road have been fully framed and sheathed, with siding installation underway. At a glance, it looks like the exterior will look more like the elevations on Modern Living Rentals’ listings page rather than the STREAM Collaborative renders – the renders had horizontal lap siding, the elevations show vertical lap siding as seen above.

If more developer could post updates as Visum and Carina Construction do, that would be swell.

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5. Wrapping up a quiet news week, here’s the agenda for the town of Ithaca planning board next week. A lot subdivision for a new house, a pair of communication towers, and the final approvals for the Sleep Inn proposed by hotelier Pratik Ahir at 635 Elmira Road. True to the sketches presented last fall, the design has that rustic look on all sides of the structure, and all the town’s requests have been met, which should allow for a smooth final approval meeting on Tuesday. The design will be unique among the 320 locations of the Sleep Inn chain. It should be noted that the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals was very split on the height and size variances, approving them with just a 3-2 margin.

In the other towns, the only one with anything new to report is Danby, whose planning board is looking at a special use permit for a property management company’s offices at 1429 Danby Road, and a 3,535 SF expansion to the Ithaca Waldorf School at 20 Nelson Road.