News Tidbits 3/12/17: Affordable Housing Week 2017

13 03 2017

It’s been a busy week. Let’s start by reviewing some of the entrants for the city’s affordable housing funds.

The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be holding public hearings on March 16th and 23rd as part of the process to determine who will receive money from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants awarded to the city. The 25 applicants, same number as last year, range from jobs training to community services to the development of affordable housing. All summed up, there’s $1.982 million requested, and $1.149 million available; that’s up from $1.85 million requested in 2016, with $1.54 million available (about $273,900 of that came from the returned funding for INHS’s cancelled project at 402 South Cayuga Street). In fact, the amount of money available is the lowest it’s been in a few years – in 2015, $1.78 million was requested out of $1.215 million available, just a little over two-thirds of the total. With the increasing requests, the chances for funding have gone down this year.

Without discounting the value of the other applications, the focus here will be on the real estate development projects. For the record, writing about a project is neither an endorsement or opposition from this blog.

1. The big new proposal coming out this year appears to be Lakeview Health Service’s plan for the corner of North Meadow and West Court Streets on the city’s West End. I expanded on the basics in a Voice article here, but for the blog’s sake, we’ll take a look at the finances.

In terms of leverage, it’s a pretty big project – a request of $250,000 towards a $20,081,186 project. However, keep in mind this project is only eligible for HOME funds and not CDBG (Federal Community Development Block Grants), and the city only has $295,245 in HOME funds to work with after overhead is taken into account – this is a pretty substantial request for something still in the conceptual stages.

The project fills a substantial by providing 50 units of affordable rental housing, all 1-bedroom units, in a 5-story building. Not only that, but half of those units would be set aside for those living with psychiatric disabilities. Ten of the general housing units would be available to those making 50-60% of area median income (AMI, about $27-$32k), with the other 40 going for less than or equal to 50% AMI. Those units will be interspersed with the general affordable housing. The special needs residents will be considered case-by-case; it’s for those who are generally independent, but may need assistance in stressful or difficult times. Lakeview will maintain an office on the first floor that will be staffed 24/7.

Some retail space will also be available on the first floor, which helps to cover the operational expenses, and meets the city’s goal of a more dense and vibrant West End. 17 parking spaces will be provided, so it’s expected the residents will utilize bikes and mass transit. The design will be slab-on-grade, with a deep foundation – soil in this part of the city is poor due to the high water table, so projects either have to be one or two floors with slab foundations, or they have to build enough floors to accommodate the costs of driving piles into the ground, in this case 80 feet down. This is something to keep in mind with the waterfront rezoning, as the soils are pretty similar.

The pro-forma assumes $730,300 in income in the first year after vacancies are noted, and about $313,500 in expenses, leaving a little over $416,800 for debt service. Everything goes up a little bit each subsequent year for inflation. The debt service is scheduled to last for 50 years.

Rochester’s PLAN Architectural Studios is the architect, so expect a modern design not unlike the cancelled concept plan for the Elmira Savings Bank site on West State and Meadow. The preliminary floor plan suggests the retail will face West Court Street rather than the Meadow/13 corridor.

As with many affordable projects, this one has a rather extended schedule due to the need to compete for public grants in tandem with private loans – funding applications are being submitted this year with loan awards during 2018, including the IURA’s. Construction would be from October 2018 to April 2020, with rent-up shortly thereafter. It’s odd to think this likely won’t even show up in the 2020 census, but we’re starting to get that far into the decade.

2. Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity is continuing to move forward with their 4-unit townhouse plan at 402 South Cayuga. The non-profit has agreed to purchase the land from the city for $32,000, a below-market price that the city is fine with accepting, given Habitat’s plans for 4 owner-occupied affordable townhomes for those making 30-60% area median income (AMI). They are requesting $80,000 towards the $270,000 cost. It appears that Habitat’s splitting it into two phases, two units in each – given the small size of their organization, it’s a sensible approach. $540,000 for ~5200 SF of units is also quite a deal, at about $104/SF, about half the cost of an INHS project. Habitat does have volunteer labor that it can utilize.

Habitat is hoping to parlay the Morris Avenue two-family they’re doing later this year into sustained interest and funding for Cayuga Street – attracting donors with one city project, who might be interested in donating time and dollars to the next one. Like with Lakeview, construction is likely on a 2018-2020 timeframe. They’re also only eligible for HOME funds, so either Lakeview or Habitat will not be getting their full request, possibly both.

3. On the economic development side, TCAction is requesting $84,200 towards their $8.25 million childcare center at 661-665 Spencer Road. The project is part of the Amici House plan and was approved by the city concurrently, but technically separate from the 23 units of vulnerable youth housing being provided next door.

Named for a late, long-time TCAction employee Harriet Giannelis, the project helps fund the site acquisition – one of the land parcels is owned by the county, and TCAction has a $184,000 purchase lease-back agreement (the county bought the land from a private owner, and they’re currently leasing it to TCAction), which will be paid off partly with the IURA funds. The new 7,010 SF childcare center will provide daycare and early-education programs (Head Start) to 40 low-income children. Although promising three new jobs in the application, TCAction expects 21 Full-time equivalent positions to be created. It’s easier to provide an employee’s lifetime income documentation for 3 staff vs. 21. Welliver will be the project contractor, so expect local union labor.

Most of the other funds come from county, state and federal grants – another $500,000 comes from a loan with M&T Bank.

4. Also on the economic side is Finger Lakes Re-Use’s expansion plan at 214 Old Elmira Road. the non-profit has refined their plans for a new mixed-use expansion, and plans to start the city’s formal project review process later this month. Some of the numbers have been tweaked a little bit, but the basic components are the same – Finger Lakes ReUse would work with Tompkins Community Action (TCAction) to bring a new 4-story, 26,100 square-foot (SF) building to FLR’s property at 214 Old Elmira Road. The first floor would expand FLR’s retail operation, while the upper floors would provide office space for FLR, and 22 units of transitional housing for formerly homeless individuals. Plans also call for an 8,100 SF warehouse for salvaged lumber/wood, and a 600 SF pavilion. 79 parking spaces are included in the project.

As with TCAction’s Giannelis Center, 9 FTE jobs are expected to be created by the $10 million project, but FLR promises to provide previous income documentation for 3. The monetary request from the CDBG funds is $100,000, and they will also be using Welliver. Welliver seems to be the safe choice when a developer wants subcontracted or direct local union labor.

The application states the $100k is going towards site acquisition, which I’m not fully following since they own the property and it doesn’t appear any new property is to be acquired. Perhaps the site has legal stipulations that have to be bought away? It’s not totally clear.

If I can be an architecture critic for a moment, I like the warm colors, but that largely blank east stairwell is kinda bleak. Maybe use those orange panels on that as well? Or another warm color?

Anyway, we’ll find what the IURA thinks; funding will be determined by the end of April, and formally awarded in June after the city’s Planning Committee signs off on the disbursement.

 

 

 





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.