News Tidbits 1/21/18: Twice in One Weekend

21 01 2018

1. It appears that 107 South Albany Street has had its exterior design heavily altered, even as the building is just starting framing. The old design’s flat roof and unusual stair column feature have been toned down to a pitched (gable) roof of about the same height and dimensions. According to ads on Zillow, the 1-bedroom units, which will be ready for occupancy by August 1st, will go for about $1,395/month. For the price comes a fully furnished unit with indoor bike storage, high-end appliances, tiled bath, custom cabinets and high-speed internet. Water and snow removal are included in rent, electric is not. Fairly certain Daniel Hirtler is still the architect for Stavros Stavropoulo’s latest residential project.

To be frank, I don’t know how much an exterior design can change without having to go back to the planning board – offhand, I think they can do pretty much whatever changes they like, so long as they don’t violate zoning laws or change the habitable square footage.

2. Ithaca architecture firm HOLT Architects totally revamped their website. Among the snazzy new updates was a video.

Now, there are an embarrassing number of HOLT projects I can think off the top of my head, but while watching the 1’22” film, there was one project I did not recognize at all. Above, we see two 4 or 5 story residential buildings along a waterfront – the perspective renders behind the gentlemen’s shoulder are likely all part of the same design set, and the white vehicles in the concept site plan are parked boats. It also appears TWMLA is involved as the landscape architect.

Blowing up the image gives the name “Lembeck Landing”. At first, I thought it said Lambrou Landing, and had reached out to see if it was part of City Harbor; the response was that this appears to be another project. I tried to analyze the streets, it doesn’t look like an Ithaca map, and one street may be named “Porter”. Probably not Ithaca, but someone’s getting some nice waterfront housing. Watch the video for brief shots showing the inside of CFCU’s new HQ and some selected material finishes.

Update: It’s Watkins Glen. An undeveloped parcel near its Porter Street. Thanks to Keith Eisenman for solving the mystery.

3. Let’s just touch on the waterfront real quick. City Harbor is going to be a very substantial project. The first sketch plan involved two large apartment buildings and medical space for Guthrie Clinic; Guthrie would lease its recently purchased warehouse at 770 Cascadilla Street to Greenstar for a bigger, grander co-op; and a third location that will be presented at this month’s planning board meeting. The apartment buildings will be 4 or 5 floors and had ground-level parking with large amounts of surface parking for Guthrie, something that planning board was not a fan of. The other Cascadilla industrial building, 750 Cascadilla, may come down for more parking.

On the one hand, underground parking is out of the question due to the high water table, and above ground parking structures have to contend with soil issues as well, likely leading to deep foundations and increased costs. But an asphalt sea on the city’s shores is not something that will get the board’s approval.

Still, we are potentially talking hundreds of units, as well as a substantial amount of commercial space (and perhaps jobs) with the Guthrie component and the Greenstar expansion. It may very well be that this and the Green Street Garage plan will be the big development stories for the year.

4. Cornell will not the idea of that glass “hat” die; they’re calling it a “suggestion of a future roof pavilion”. The city’s ILPC probably isn’t comfortable with that suggestion being so close to the historically-designated Arts Quad. Anyway, renovations are underway on Rand Hall into the Mui Ho Fine Arts Library. The $21.6 million project, about half of which is funded by donations, will be ready for students and staff in August 2019.

5. It sounds like the city has had just about enough with the state’s aerial apparatus fire code changes that halted much of Collegetown’s approved development projects. They’re prepared to take steps to eliminate parking on Linden because the new state law says Linden is too narrow as-is to have construction taller than 30 feet. This seems to be in addition to the power line issue. For 210 Linden, whose developer (Visum Dev. Group) specifically applied for some kind of relief, it would just be in front of the building; Todd Fox had already started work when the building codes department were notified and started enforcing the new code, which is not a good scenario.

Ithaca would prefer the state grant a broad variance (the new code has apparently been an issue across the state), and normally removing parking wouldn’t “fix” the underlying problem, but since New York State did not notify municipalities they were changing the law, they’re attempting to compromise on something that they normally would not. It might also explain why activity in Collegetown has been quiet these past few months outside of the inner core, where the streets are wider and the power lines are underground. The city is looking into how to make development work with the fire code if the state refuses to budge on code modifications. To be fair, there is tens of millions in development and its associated tax revenue that the city was expecting and that the state, in the midst of a budget crisis, is (literally?) hosing them on.

Whatever the city decided at its BPW meeting last week, it seems to have made Visum happy. They’ve started marketing 210 Linden’s units again. It’s saying there are 10 4-bedroom units, and 1 1-bedroom unit, while my notes say 9 4-bedroom units. Maybe the basement was reconfigured? Not sure.

Update: According to a Visum Rep, 210 Linden is 9 4-bedroom units and has added a basement 1-bedroom unit. So now it’s 10 units, 37 bedrooms.

 

6. Around the county, not a whole lot else on municipal agendas at the moment; one of the reasons for no update last week. Dryden town’s planning board will be looking at plans for a new warehouse next to 51 Hall Road, as well as a 5-lot subdivision at 1540 Ellis Hollow Road for Tiny Timbers, the Dryden-based modular home builder. Tiny Timbers uses the warehouse at 51 Hall Road, so it wouldn’t be a shock if the new one is purpose-built for Tiny Timber’s growing business. The town of Ithaca planning board cancelled their last meeting.

The city is fairly quiet. The planning board agenda for next week is short and mostly contains smaller submissions – the pair of infill duplexes proposed at 209 Hudson are on the agenda, with some slight design tweaks (the eyebrow windows are an interesting touch on the rear building). To the developer’s (Stavros Stavropoulo’s) credit, the units are design to accommodate families rather than students – the giveaway are the separate dining room areas, vs the eat-in kitchens one typically sees with student rentals. Senior planner Lisa Nicholas also gave written kudos for the quality exterior material choices (Hardie Board fiber cement panels, aesthetic wood timbering, stone retaining walls).

A fly in the ointment, per reader email: none of the bedrooms are legal for 2-person occupancy. They are 115 SF each; the state fire code says double occupancy must be at least 120 SF. So that would be an issue if one considers couples’ bedrooms.

The board is expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms needed before a negative declaration for adverse impacts can be declared. The 4-bedroom addition for Sophia House (111 the Knoll, Cornell Heights) is up for final approval. The proposed playground at Stewart Park is also up for discussion, with the board once again expected to declare itself lead agency, host a public hearing, and begin review of the SEQR forms.BPW is not comfortable accepted the $1.7 million playgrounds, gardens and splash pad unless Friends of Stewart Park creates a $75,000 annual maintenance fund. Lastly, City Harbor will be up for a second round sketch plan, informal discussion to obtain feedback for any future formal submission to consider.

The Nines project (311 College Avenue) is not on the board’s agenda this month. Things are up in the air, as the ILPC has chosen to pursue historic designation, even as there is an active project submission. A little awkward, certainly.

On the 30th, the Planning Board will convene for a special meeting to finalize the form-based code for the Planned Unit Development to be deployed for the Chain Works District.

According to notes from the city Planning Dept, the city approved $130 million in development in 2017. There were 29 projects with 568 housing units, 107 of which are designated affordable for lower & middle income (LMI) households. Also approved was 28,600 SF of new retail & office space. These were from a summary sheet from the planning department, and the detailed write-up will come next month.

7. On a closing note, preliminary estimates suggests that Tompkins County added an average of 1300 jobs over the 2017 calendar year, bringing the average annual job count to 65,300. The gain is just over 2.0%, comfortably above the national average of about 1.5%, but nothing that screams ‘boomtown’. Since 2007, the annual average has increased by 7,700 jobs, +13.8%. The numbers suggest that the gains are slightly better in the fall and spring (7500 – 7700 jobs) than for the summer and winter (7000 jobs), indicating that academic year seasonal jobs are growing slightly faster than the overall market.





News Tidbits 11/18/2017: Fears and Hopes for the Future

18 11 2017

1. Here’s an interesting sale – a 62.1 acre parcel on Troy Road sold for $380,000 on the 13th, less than half the original asking price. The buyer, “Troy Heights LLC”, is registered to the same address as Giora and Limor Fix, a semi-retired husband and wife couple who have acquired a number of rental properties around the area over the past decade, with 43 or so units worth something in the ballpark of several million dollars (units are marketed by the Fixes under the name “Homes-for-you Rental Properties”).

The Troy Road property is intriguing because there was a development proposal floated there a few years ago. Rural Housing Preservation Associates LLC had proposed a 130-unit combination of middle-market single family homes, townhouses and small apartment buildings for the site back in 2014; it started as 206 units, the town and neighbors complained it was too big, the project was whittled down to 130, and then the proposal was cancelled by September 2015. Using cluster zoning, the project could have built out 145 units in the low-density residential (LDR) zone, since the town’s cluster zoning allows 2.3 units/acre. STREAM was in charge of the project design, and some of the renders of the never-built apartments can be found here on their website.

So here is a log lot, bought by folks involved in local real estate and with significant assets, under the name “Troy Heights”, which sounds like a project title if anything. I reached out to Giora Fix, and he was kind enough to respond:

“[C]urrently we do not have any concrete plans to develop Troy Road. Once we have them I will be happy to share with you.”

So something to keep an eye on, though it might be a while.

2. Here’s a piece of news from the Times’ Nick Reynolds. With regards to the police consolidation debate, the city wants to have the headquarters downtown on Green Street (likely in that proposed centralized government facility floated for the Central Fire Station site), while the towns would prefer something near the current BPW on the north end of the Northside neighborhood, which offers easy access to Route 13. Consolidation is still a rather unlikely prospect at this time, and there’s little enthusiasm from the more rural parts of the county. But it sounds like the sheriff is keen on killing the city’s ideas before they take off.

3. Bad jobs month for the state, good for Ithaca. The Ithaca metro (Tompkins County) added 1,800 jobs (all private sector) from October 2016 to October 2017, bringing the total to 67,800. The 3.2% increase was the largest gain by percentage in the state over the time period. Unfortunately, the state as a whole lost 11,900 jobs last month, which falls even more to 14,600 jobs when taking away those added by the public sector (government jobs). A study from the Federal Reserve Bank last month notes that upstate economic growth in general has been losing steam over the past year, with exceptions for Ithaca and Albany. New York City is performing reasonably well.

While it’s well and good that Ithaca is doing well, I have concerns about the recent tax reform bill going through Congress. With the potential hit to SALT deductions and the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers, I could see significant negative impacts on the local economy. Given that most communities have property taxes in the range of $2500-$4000/$100,000, a cap of $10,000 as proposed by the House would hit many middle-class and upscale neighborhoods hard. A typical home in Ithaca city is worth about $230,000-$270,000 range at this point, and with about $3779 per $100,000 in property taxes, that means that homeowners with properties valued over $265,000 will take a financial hit, close to half of the homes sold. The Senate’s version removes the SALT deduction completely, affecting all local home buyers. Either case would be a severe blow to the home buying market.

Another concern is the taxation of graduate student tuition waivers as proposed by the House plan. Speaking from experience, I had a waiver that saved me about $14,000/year at the public university where I did my master’s. In my case, seeing that taxes would have cost an extra couple thousand in theory, though the doubling of the standard deduction might have limited its impact on me. A Cornell graduate student is looking at $20,800-$29,500, and could see a tax bill larger than any savings from the standard deduction increase. The Senate version does not tax tuition waivers. Another, lesser factor to consider is that the student loan interest deduction for borrowers on-time with their payments would be eliminated.

On a final note, Cornell’s endowment would be taxed an extra 1.4% under the House bill, as would any college whose endowment is worth more than $250,000 per full-time student. Cornell’s endowment is $6.8 billion, and the school has 23,016 students across all campuses as of Fall 2017. That is over the allowed cap of $5.75 billion as calculated by the bill’s guidelines.

The long story short is that Cornell recruitment takes a hit, as does its endowment, and that could impact current employment as well as future hiring. Politics aside, these “reform” bills are definitely a cause for concern from Ithaca and Tompkins’ economic standpoint.

4. A separate note not so much economic, but something many Ithacans care about – the House bill takes away the historic building rehabilitation tax credit. The renovation of 310 West State Street that I reported in the Voice earlier this week would be off the table without them, and the building will likely be demolished if the credits are eliminated. So the impacts aren’t just economic, but perhaps aesthetic as well.

5. This is looking to be a very quiet late November. For the first time in over a year, the town of Ithaca has cancelled two planning board meetings in a row. Meanwhile, in the city, the only “old business” reviews are final site plan approval for the 601 South Aurora duplex, and final approval for the Brindley Street Bridge replacement.

6. So technically, the Request for Proposals went out for the Green Street Garage site. A site tour for interested applicants is scheduled for December 4th, applications are due by January 23, 2018, and no timetable is given for the selection of the preferred developer. The applications are to include a cover letter, application form, description of project team members with relevant experience, proof of ability operate in NYS, good reputation, financial status, marketing plan, tenant management plan, conceptual designs, financing plan and demonstrated capacity to obtain financing, purchase price, project schedule, community impact benefits statement, schedule, and specific concerns (acknowledgement of site issues and plan to resolve them). A $500 application fee is also required.

Obviously, Ithaca Associates LLC has a huge leg up on the competition, since they not only have a plan fleshed out, they own the ground lease under the eastern end of the garage that everyone else would have to negotiate to obtain. About the only legitimate opening to another developer would be for the western and central portions of the garage, though the city’s requests make it such that anyone else interested had better be thinking big with housing, parking, and other site uses. Saying you’d leave things as-is would be an immediate disqualifier. Unless Fox or Lubin are dreaming up multi-story apartment buildings, it isn’t likely many developers will entertain this RFP. This really feels like it’s just the city stalling for time so they can fully absorb the immensity of the 365-unit, $118 million “Village on the Green” proposal.





News Tidbits 9/23/17: It’s All In The Hips

23 09 2017

1. Points for being open and blunt, one supposes. The chairman of the town of Lansing Planning Board, typically one of the easiest boards to get approval from in the whole county, voted against the customary declaration of lead agency on the Lansing Trails affordable apartment complex planned for the town center. The reasoning was a fear that its lower-income occupants would create more crime. Rather surprising that it wasn’t veiled behind the usual guise of “concerns about neighborhood character”.

Other PB members did raise more appropriate concerns that the 581-a tax abatement to be pursued by the project may end up offsetting the property tax increase enough to cost the town, mostly through the enrollment of new students in the Lansing school district. A third-party study explained that there would likely be 43 students in the roughly 200-bedroom complex, of whom 14 would be relocations from other parts of town, and 29 who would be new to the district. Reflecting national demographic trends, local school enrollments have been in decline as Millennials are replaced with their less numerous Gen Z peers, so it’s not really a question of capacity since the schools were designed for larger class sizes, but a concern about the tax obligations and avoiding the burdening of other taxpayers. Town supervisor Ed LaVigne has spoken in favor of the project as workforce housing by a responsible developer and property manager.

The Star’s Dan Veaner takes the middle road in his editorial, noting the project fills a need, but worried about the tax impact. I’d argue that’s while it’s a fair question, it’s probably a bit premature. There have been discussions for the other parcels in the town center that just have yet to come forward. Tiny Timbers is potentially 60 units of mid-priced owner-occupied housing (at $200k per home, that would be $12 million without counting site-wide improvements like sidewalks and community greenspace), and there are possibilities for the other parcels that are being drafted up and fleshed out before being made public. We the public don’t know what those are – there could be market-rate senior housing, patio homes and mixed-uses like the projects submitted in 2014. If three or four are affordable housing, sure, be concerned. But the town knows all the proposals, and hopefully its committee selected its choices for each lot with sound logic in mind.

2. Speaking of Lansing Trails, according to the new planning board comments, its name has been changed to “Milton Meadows”. Milton was actually the original name for Lansing, indirectly – Milton was changed to Genoa in 1808, and Lansing was split off from Genoa in 1817, the same year Tompkins County was established. It’s worth noting that “Lansing Meadows” is already taken. This would be name number three, since they had previously changed Lansing Commons to Lansing Trails.

The updated documents note that the second phase and its 56 units aren’t likely to start construction for 3-5 years, depending on external factors such as the availability of affordable housing grants, and how well the local market absorbs phase one.

3. Staying on the topic of affordable housing and taxes, the town of Ithaca will be reviewing a PILOT proposal from NRP Group to offset some of the property taxes with the Ithaca Townhouses project approved for West Hill near the hospital. Readers may recall the Ithaca Townhouses are a 106-unit, two-phase project that will be rented to households making 50-130% of area median income, with an option for renters to purchase units after a 15-year period.NRP Group is asking for the PILOT to offset the higher initial cost of using electric heat pumps in place of conventional gas heating, the difference of which they estimate to be about $300,000 upfront.

The town utilizes a few PILOT agreements, either with some of its 55+ affordable housing (Ellis Hollow Apartments, Conifer Village), the College Circle Apartments that Ithaca College purchased a few years ago, and Ithaca Beer. The combination of a lower assessed value and a PILOT generally seems to take about 25-30% off the total property tax bill.

4. Here’s a little more info on the the proposed Brown Road Pocket Neighborhood in Danby. The above image appears to be the preferred cluster housing that the development team (led by Newfield businessman Mike McLaughlin), but conventional zoning only allows for the layout shown here. Small-scale cluster zoning has found a market in the Ithaca area over the past few years with projects like New Earth Living’s Aurora Street Pocket Neighborhood and the long-planned Amabel project, and Danby’s take on the concept would benefit from lower land costs, which would help keep the overall costs down and make the for-sale homes available to a wider swath of the county’s potential homeowners. The homes, which are modest 1,000 SF one and two-story plans that share a communal parking lot, are designed for residents who wish to age in place.

5. Some revisions have been made to the design of Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit townhouse project at 802 Dryden. To create a little more visual interest, the townhouse strings have been diversified a bit – the rooflines were modified on two of the six strings to create a hipped roof, while the other four remain gable roofs. The fenestration was also updated, and sections of the building faces were bumped-out modestly, distinguishing individual units within the strings. The overall effect gives them a distinct appearance from their counterparts up the road at 902 Dryden, and allows the team at John Snyder Architects to give the recycled design their personal touch. Other documents, like the cover letter, utilities plan, and landscaping plan can be found here.

The public hearing is scheduled for next week, but to be honest, these haven’t generated much attention, let alone controversy. The biggest issue right now is water supply, which relies on the Bolton Point system shared by both Ithaca and parts of Dryden. 802 Dryden can get its water issue remedied by tapping a segment in the town of Ithaca’s jurisdiction, and Ithaca is interested in transfer control and maintenance of the control valve that allows that to Dryden. Given Charlie O’Connor’s South Hill debate currently underway, the relative shrug this project has received from the public might be a welcome relief.

6. Nothing new on the Ithaca City Planning Board agenda next week. That’s not to say there aren’t several projects in the works, they just aren’t ready to submit formal proposals at this time. Lakeview’s special needs and affordable housing is up for approval, as is Charlie O’Connor’s duplex at 217 Columbia (even if the South Hill overlay goes into effect, this project would be grandfathered in because it started review under existing zoning). It looks like Lakeview will use the same kind of vibratory pile-driving used at INHS’s 210 Hancock, subcontracted to Ferraro Pile and Shoring by general contractor Hayner Hoyt.

Speaking of INHS, they will be taking part in the public hearing for their 13-unit Elm Street reconstruction on West Hill, and public hearings are planned for the Nines replacement at 311 College, and Elizabaeth Classen’s ILPC-approved 16-bedroom senior mansion in Cornell Heights. The Nines inspired several letters of protest, and first ward aldermen George McGonigal chimed in his hopes that the affordable housing would be reduced for Lakeview and INHS (the planning board disagrees).

Here’s what the board has to look forward to on Tuesday:

AGENDA ITEM Approx. Start Time

  1. Agenda Review 6:00
  2. Special Order of Business- Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown and Downtown– Megan Wilson 6:01
  3. Privilege of the Floor 6:30
  4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: 709 West Court Street 6:40

Location: 326 & 328 N Meadow St. and 709 – 713 West Court St.

Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Lakeview Health Services Inc.

Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant proposes to construct a five-story L-shaped building with footprint of 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 contain 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.

B. Project: Elm St Apartments 7:10

Location: 203-211 Elm St

Applicant:Lynn Truame for Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (INHS)

Actions: Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description:
The proposed project consists of the demolition of a two single family homes and one duplex 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: Duplex 7:30

Location: 217 Columbia Street

Applicant: Charlie O’Connor for 985 Danby Rd LLC

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Determination of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to install a duplex with one 3- bedroom apartment on each floor. The
new structure is proposed to be sited directly behind the existing duplex on the property. As the project will increase the off-street parking required from two to four spaces, the applicant is proposing to shift the existing curb cut to the east and install an expanded parking area and drive aisle along the eastern property line. The project also includes removing a 30”dbh oak and one street tree, closing the existing curb cut, installing a fence, landscaping and walkways. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District. This is an Unlisted Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Apartments 7:50

Location: 311 College Ave (The Nines)

Applicant: Jagat P Sharma for Todd Fox

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description: The applicant is proposing to construct a six story, 80’ high building plus basement. The first floor will have an approximately 825 SF commercial space and five studio apartments, upper floors will have a combination of 21 studio and 24 loft apartments for a total of 45 dwelling units. The applicant’s intended market is students. Project development will require the removal/ demolition of the existing structure and all associated site features. The existing building incorporates the original Number Nine Fire Station and was identified as a structure worthy of further research in a 2009 study titled Collegetown Historic Resources Worthy or Detailed Research; Icons of Collegetown, Individual Buildings, Architectural Ensembles and Landscape Features. The project is in the MU-2 Collegetown Area Form District (CAFD) and requires Design Review. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca
Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(k) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

Project: Bridges Cornell Heights Residence (Senior Housing) 8:10

Location: 105 Dearborn Place

Applicant: Elizabeth Classen Ambrose

Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Review of FEAF Parts 2 & 3

Project Description:
The applicant is proposing to construct a two story single family residence with 12 bedrooms
to house up to 16 people on the .446 acre lot. The building will have a footprint of approximately 4,150 SF, including porches. Site improvements include a porte couchere, a driveway and parking area for nine cars, three patios, walkways and landscaping plantings. The site is currently vacant. Site development will require the removal of approximately 25 trees of various sizes. The applicant is proposing to use the Landscape Compliance method, which requires Planning Board approval for placement of the parking area. The project is in the R-2a Zoning District and the Cornell Heights Local Historic District and has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC). This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 (1)(h)(4) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(11) and is subject to environmental review.

4. Zoning Appeals 8:30

5. Old/New Business 8:40
A. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 411-415
College Avenue- The Chacona Block
B. Upcoming Planning Board Recommendation to Approve Draft Design Guidelines for Collegetown &
Downtown – discussion





News Tidbits 9/9/17: Shopping for Sales

9 09 2017

1. As Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star reports, the new owners of the Shoppes at Ithaca Mall (aka Pyramid Mall) are planning to roll out new tactics to counter the ongoing, nationwide retail apocalypse currently underway. Instead of leasing locations, the mall owner would like to subdivide retail spaces within the mall under a Planned Development Area (DIY zoning, in essence) so that tenants could potentially own their spaces instead of renting them, under the hope that when they own a store location, they are less likely to close it and will opt for closing rented spaces elsewhere. Because customary use-based (Euclidean) zoning is not suited for this unusual arrangement, a PDA has been suggested, and the village of Lansing seems amenable to the idea.

On a related note, another subdivision of the mall properties would open up a portion of the parking lot behind the Ramada Inn for the development of an extended-stay hotel. This would probably play out over a few years, given the time to design a project, secure a brand and ask for village review/approvals. Market-wise, it’s not implausible, since the other hotels planned, like the Canopy downtown or the Sleep Inn at 635 Elmira Road in Ithaca town, are geared towards the overnight crowd, and the overall market is growing at a sustainable pace. As long as the local economy continues its modest but steady growth, a medium-sized specialty property that opens in two or three years would probably be absorbed by the local hospitality market without too much fuss.

2. Meanwhile, over in the the town of Lansing, a couple of minor notes and some name changes. From the town of Lansing Planning Board agenda, it appears the 102-unit Cayuga Farms development is now going by the name “Cayuga Orchard”. The project, which has been stuck in red tape due to the stringent review of modular sewage treatment systems, is seeking modifications to their plans, which was summarized in the Voice here. The short story is that the project has the same number of units, but the impermeable area has been decreased and the number of bedrooms is down from about 220 to 178. That should help reduce stormwater runoff, and if the town sewer isn’t through yet, it could make the modular system more feasible.

Secondly, Cornerstone’s Lansing Commons Apartments are being rebranded as the “Lansing Trails Apartments”, which makes sense since there aren’t any “Commons” in the town, but the town center property is traversed by numerous recreational foot trails. The town has endorsed Cornerstone’s two-phase, 128-unit development plan for affordable rental housing, though the planning board did express concerns with the impact of dozens of additional school children on a property with 581a property tax breaks, which may result in a 4% increase in school taxes in the default scenario. The number could vary given the number of kids that actually live there – the board ballparked 80 for their back-of-the-envelope analysis, which given 128 units and roughly 208 bedrooms in the project, isn’t unreasonable.

3. On that note, it appears Cornerstone and NRP have applied to the county’s affordable housing funding grant for a bit of financial assistance towards their respective projects. Cornerstone is seeking funds for qualified units within the 72-unit first phase of its Lansing Trails project, and NRP is seeking funding for qualifying units within the 66-unit first phase of its Ithaca Townhomes project on West Hill. Each organization would receive $256,975, mostly in Cornell-donated funds, if approved by the county legislature. The money may be leveraged and with less needed from traditional affordable housing funds, it may make each project more appealing from a federal or state grant perspective, with demonstrated municipal interest and more “bang for the buck” on the grantor’s end.

4. The two-building apartment complex planned at 232-236 Dryden Road is one step closer to construction. According to Tompkins County records, Visum Development bought the two properties on which the project was proposed (114 Summit Avenue and 232-238 Dryden Road) for $7.65 million on Monday the 5th. The properties are only assessed at $2.55 million, but sellers tend to enjoy a hefty premium when developers have intent for their parcels.

The following day, the building loan agreement was filed. The loan, for $16,354,628, was granted by S&T Bank, a regional bank based in Pennsylvania that has no retail banking presence in Ithaca, but has served as the financier for several projects, including the Holiday Inn Express that recently opened on Elmira Road, and Visum’s just-opened 201 College Avenue project.

A breakdown of the costs shows the total project cost is $22,780,334. There’s $13,020,010 in hard costs (materials/labor), $7.65 million for the purchase, $475,000 in soft costs (architect/engineering/legal), $250,000 for the demolition, and the rest is for taxes during construction, interest reserve (interest on the construction loan during construction). $650,000 (5% of the hard cost) is set aside as contingency funds just in case the expenses clock in higher than expected.

Along with the loan, Visum and its investor appear to be putting up $6.325 million in equity. With these hefty sums, one has to be pretty certain of their investment. In Collegetown, they often are.

Visum CEO Todd Fox has previously stated construction is expected to start this month on the 191-bed apartment property, with an eye towards an August 2018 completion.

5. The Old Library property sale is official, on an 11-3 vote. Legislators Kiefer, Chock and McBean-Claiborne voted no, none of which are an big surprise since, as members of the Old Library Committee, they found something to dislike with every proposal back in 2014. If anything, the surprise might have been legislator Kelles, who while not a fan, supported the mixed-use project. Travis Hyde Properties will bring 58 senior apartments, community space administered by Lifelong senior services, and a small amount of commercial space when the building opens in 2019.

6. So this is interesting. Josh Brokaw is reporting over at Truthsayers that Cayuga Medical Center wants to move the Community Gardens off the land. That is a story being covered further by my colleagues at the Voice, but notable to this blog’s purview are two nuggets of information.

One, Guthrie and CMC had *a bidding war* for the property, which explains a couple of things. It explains why CMC paid $10 million for a property the Maguires only paid $2.75 million for, and it offers a clue as to why Guthrie purchased the neighboring Cornell warehouses. They both have had plans for that area, and working together isn’t a part of them.

Two, Park Grove Realty is involved with CMC. They’re a young Rochester-based company generating lots of news in Lansing with a lawsuit-laden 140-unit townhouse project, and they purchased the Chateau Claire apartments and renovated them into the upmarket Triphammer Apartments, which generated its own share of controversy.

Anyway, it makes the commotion down by Carpenter Business Park that much more interesting. Nothing has come public yet, but keep an eye on it.

7. On a related note, it’s not much of a physical change, but Maguire is using some of that cash windfall to officially acquire the former Bill Cooke Chevy-Olds-Caddy dealership on Lansing’s Cinema Drive. The franchise rights were transferred over ten years ago, but the property itself was still under the ownership of the Cooke family. Thursday’s sale was for $2,015,000. The 4 acres and 19,857 SF building was assesses at $1.8 million, so it appears the sale price was a fair deal for both sides.

I would be remiss not to point out that the buyer was “Maguire Family Limited Partnsership”. No LLCs cloaking this purchase like with Carpenter Business Park.

7. Now that the state has okayed the Cargill expansion, the above-ground portion of the project has to go before the Lansing planning board. The surface facilities, expected to cost $6.8 million, consist of a 10,000 SF administration building, a 2,100 SF maintenance building, a 2,600 SF hoist house, parking, landscaping and signage. A hoist house is essentially an industrial-strength engine room for operating the lift that brings people and equipment up and down from the shaft. It’s likely the primary cost contributor in the surface portion of the project.

As seen in the renders above, it’s designed for functionality rather than aesthetics, though Cargill did attempt to make the shaft building barn-like to blend in better with the farms. Construction on the above-ground structures is expected to start next year and run for about 18 months (the mine is being built from the bottom up). Although not shown in the renders, trees will be planted around the developed area to provide a green screen and help dampen noise.





News Tidbits 8/24/17: Early Start

24 08 2017

1. The Old Library redevelopment is creeping forward. The Old Library Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature voted to recommend the sale of the property for the previously stated amount of $925,000 to Travis-Hyde. With that vote, it goes forward to the full legislature for a vote on September 5th, where there are no major challenges expected. The Library Committee vote was 4-1, with legislator Dooley Kiefer (D-Cayuga Heights) opposed. Kiefer has always been opposed to any sale, and has long advocated for a lease of the land – and the only way the lease made any practical sense was by being 50 years in length, so that any investment could have the possibility of being recuperated. Given that she’ll probably vote no again for consistency’s sake, and perhaps a rejection from legislator Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) because she was a long-time proponent of the condo plan, there aren’t likely to be any other opposition votes from the 15-member legislature. Once the sale is okayed, site prep for the 58-unit mixed-use senior facility at 310-314 North Cayuga Street can begin by the end of the year, with a spring 2019 opening expected.

2. So when is an expansion truly an expansion? That’s the question raised by the Times’ recent coverage of a proposed renovation of the county jail, which faces issues with overcrowding, but whose expansion of holding cells is strongly opposed by a number of advocacy groups. The jail is shared with the Sheriff’s Department offices at the moment, and the combined facility at 779 Warren Road is collectively referred to as the Public Safety Building.

The ideal concept as pitched by the Sheriff’s Office would create an additional 13,000 square-foot administrative facility adjacent to the jail that would provide office space, conference space and locker rooms for officers. This would free up programmatic space in the PSB to be used for support functions like classrooms and counseling/meeting rooms, with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, and thus take up space in the jail). So,it’s  not a jail expansion per se, but a support services expansion, which would probably drive debate among advocacy groups. The proposal is strictly conceptual, but the county is prepared to move forward with a formal study from LaBella Associates if requested.

3. At the latest Planning Board meeting, Lakeview’s 60-unit supportive and affordable housing plan was granted the green light to go forward to the next step, though not without reservation and concern from some local business owners and elected officials. Per the Times’ Matt Butler, 1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal spoke in opposition to the current plan, feeling it was too large and unattractive, while nearby business owners were uncomfortable with the population who would live there. 30 units would be set aside for those who are mostly independent but may need some degree of mental health support, 22 units are general affordable housing, and eight are for formerly homeless individuals. All units are one bedrooms. Lakeview will provide office and support space for services on the first floor of the 62,700 SF building.

In other news, the debate over South Hill continued with the airing of grievances against student housing, Finger Lakes ReUse earned approval for its Elmira Road project, and someone must have left early, because the planning board failed to reach quorum (minimum attendance) to vote on recommendation of historic designation for the Chacona Block at 411-415 College Avenue.

4. Here’s an interesting little proposal out of Danby – a 10-unit pocket neighborhood. The project would be located on 2.2 acres at the rural intersection of Brown Road and Short Road, northeast of the hamlet of West Danby. The houses would be modular and modestly-sized with two basic styles, a 1.5-story cape and 1-story ranch. Additionally, they would be designed for aging-in-place, Net Zero Energy (zero net energy consumption), and have a shared common space (courtyard, lawn or similar), parking lot and septic system. The project, which has access to municipal water service, would require a zoning variance. The project is similar to the Amabel and Aurora Street pocket neighborhoods in Ithaca, though it’s a different developer – here, it’s Mike McLaughlin, a business owner from Newfield, and Danby residents Esther and Brooke Greenhouse. Esther was a team member in the condo proposal for the Old Library site.

Although not explicit, these are likely for-sale units, possibly with a push towards seniors. With shared spaces, modular components and modest sizes, the cost for these is likely to be modest as well – they would likely be similar to the Lansing Community Cottages price range of $175k-$225k.

5. After much debate, the Sun8 Dryden solar projects have been approved by the town planning board. The sites include a nearly 11 MW facility at 2150 Dryden Road, and an 18 MW facility along Turkey Hill and Dodge Roads. The projects will produce approximately 28 MW of electricity, which is enough to power the approximately 7,500 households. The project will utilize a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) of $8,000/MW, or about $224,000 in year one of operation, and with built-in inflation, about $8 million over 20 years.

Meanwhile, the town has begun review on a much smaller solar project at 2243 Dryden Road. Delaware River Solar is seeking approval to construct a 2.4 MW array on the interior portion of a farm property just west of the village near Ferguson Road. About 35 acres of the 115 acre parcel would be impacted during construction, with five acres used for the panels themselves.

6. In real estate listings, here’s something unusual for those who dare to be different – a Groton church, already renovated with living space and studio space. Aptly-located 113 Church Street is listed at $174,900 and 9,490 square feet on Zillow, but a check of county records says 9,166 SF – a 1,000 SF apartment, a 1,344 SF office, 4,078 SF “non-contributing space”, and 2,744 SF “cold storage”. The property was built in either 1881 or 1883 (county record) for a Congregational denomination, and after some mergers in the 1960s it became the Groton Community Church. From records and county file photos, it looks like the church building was re-purposed in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Previous tenants include a head start program, massage therapy, and art gallery. The tax assessment is for $100k, which seems to account for the old and somewhat mothballed condition of the property, such as the boarded up windows on the steeple tower. Should one be interested, contact info can be found in the first link.

7. This week’s news round-up is running a little early because I wanted to get the latest Trumansburg Hamilton Square materials out before the planning board meeting Thursday evening. Over the past few weeks, there haven’t too many changes to the project site plan, but the daycare center was moved from inside the loop road to outside, exchanging locations with a string of for-sale market-rate townhomes. The resulting move also seems to have decreased the number of market-rate units (some townhome, some detached single-family) down by one, to 14. 11 affordable for-sale townhomes and 47 affordable rental units are still in the mix.

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A copy of the traffic study from SRF Associates has also been made available on the project website. The traffic study aims to be thorough, and will likely be expanded in response to neighbor concerns about slower traffic like garbage trucks and school busses, snow impacts, and a possible sampling and estimation of school-focused but non-peak hours and a couple other intersections further from the project site (Rabbit Run Road, and Whig/South Streets). The meeting tomorrow will be at 7 PM at the Trumansburg Fire Hall. The actual submission of the project for formal board review is not expected until late next month, after incorporating feedback from the upcoming meeting.

 





News Tidbits 7/8/17: Watching the Fireworks

8 07 2017

1. A pair of major downtown projects are starting to get a move on site-prep and demolition. The Trebloc Building has been torn down to make way for the 187,000 SF, $32.9 million City Centre project.

Photo from C. Hadley Smith Collection

For a bit of historical perspective, the Trebloc Building was a sort of monument to municipal desperation. Up until 1967, the site housed several 2-5 story buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then along came urban renewal. The city had made plans to demolish the buildings and sell the lot to a bank tenant, who would build a new office and help revitalize the city’s run-down downtown. But after demolishing the building, the potential bank tenant never followed through on its original intent, and the city spend years trying to sell the lot, which was used for makeshift parking in the interim. Finally, they found a buyer in the Colbert Family doing business as the Trebloc Development Company. The Trebloc Building was originally planned to have two floors, but financial troubles had reduced it to one before it finally opened for business in 1974.

One could argue that nothing quite represented the nadir of Ithaca’s downtown quite like the struggling, unloved and unlovely Trebloc Building did. There are some buildings worth fighting for, and even some mediocre ones that come down with a bittersweet sentiment. This was neither.

Perhaps unhappily for downtown businesses, City Centre will be under construction for quite some time; adjusting the estimate given to the IDA, late 2019 or even early 2020 is possible.

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks west, Harold’s Square is also gearing up for demolition of 123-135 East State Street. Unlike the Trebloc teardown, Developer David Lubin will be deconstructing the existing structures, so that their components can be re-used (the process will be managed by Finger Lake Re-Use). I’ve always been kinda partial to the green tile on the former Race Office Supply, so hopefully that goes to a good home. 137-139 East State will be renovated as part of the Harold’s Square project. Harold’s Square, a 180,000 SF building with a hard construction cost of $32.6 million, is expected to take about 18 months, opening in Q1 2019. Dunno why City Centre’s construction schedule is a year longer, although with the underground garage, the project is a little larger (211,200 SF), and more structurally complex. It could also just be a very generous estimate.

2. Tompkins County will be hosting a meeting at the Museum of the Earth on July 19th at 7:30 PM to discuss plans for the Biggs Parcel on the town of Ithaca’s portion of West Hill. As covered previously, the 25.5 acre parcel, which has something of a long news history, has been for sale since last summer, but without any firm offers, the county ended its realtor contract and has been trying to figure out with to do with the property. Although there are some streams and wetlands, there are some development possibilities; neighbors have been pushing for it to be a county-owned natural preserve, but the county wants an option that will pay taxes, whether that be a multi-family development, private estate or otherwise.

While the county did not identify this parcel as a high environmental protection priority, they are busy working with Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect a 125-acre property in Caroline, and there are ongoing discussions regarding a 324-acre property in Dryden.

3. As with nearly every sizable project in Tompkins County, the Inn at Taughannock expansion is being met with some resistance from neighbors. As relayed by the Times’ Jamie Swinnerton, arguments cited include traffic, view sheds, size, neighborhood character (which seems a bit weird, given there’s not much of a neighborhood nearby), and most frequently, noise, which the town could help resolve by asking for an acoustical counsultant’s report like what Ben Rosenblum submitted in Ithaca for his cancelled proposal for a jazz bar at 418 East State Street. The addition, which calls for a new restaurant, event space and five guest rooms, would create about 25 jobs if built and opened as planned. The often-joked but actually rarely-seen email calling me a “thoughtless corporatist” arrived in the inbox after the first write-up, which indicates this fireworks show may not be over for a little while.

4. In a bit of a weird hang-up, the Heritage Center project attempted to give itself a formal name, but the name was shot down by the County Legislature. The proposed moniker of “Tompkins Center for History and Culture” was defeated in a 7 yes -3 no vote (8 yes votes required) because a few of the legislators felt there hadn’t been enough time to gauge community reaction. Personally, I thought “Tompkins County Heritage Center” was fine, but to each their own.

5. Thankfully, the county’s endorsement of the Housing Strategy was unanimous. This is but a baby step in solving the county’s housing woes, but it’s an important step. The county now has a sort of guiding document to help address issues in adding and improving the local housing stock.

There are a few key things that the county will need to adhere to when moving forward. First is working with communities to identify suitable areas for development, and making updates to infrastructure and zoning to guide developers towards those properties instead of far-flung, natural areas where acquisition costs are low and there are fewer neighbors to contend with. Second is bridging the affordability gap – some of this can be done by encouraging new housing at market-rate, but the county will need to be constructively engaging and reliable when helping affordable housing plans apply for grants or exploring tax incentives to help make their proposals feasible.

The third, and arguably the most controversial point here, is standing firm in the face of opposition. Many Tompkins residents are averse to new housing (or really, new anything) near them. For example, consider the Tiny Timbers plan recently announced for Lansing Town Center. The plan checks a lot of boxes – at $175-$225k, it’s fairly affordable owner-occupied new housing, with a smaller ecological footprint than many detached single-family homes. Yet, in the Voice comments, it was dumped on as both a glorified trailer park and unaffordable at the same time, and the neighbor who tried and failed to buy the property from the town to prevent development was trying to scare people from small house living (which at 1000-1500 SF, these aren’t really “tiny” houses anyway). The county should listen for the sake of good government, but after weighing the argument, unless a project is truly a detriment to a community’s quality of life, the county and local boards will need a firm backbone in withstanding criticism. It also helps if people who like a project give their two cents in an email or meeting.

So, good first step, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fingers crossed.





The Tompkins County Housing Strategy

18 05 2017

The County’s Housing Strategy draft was originally going to be in the next news roundup, but it’s large enough to do separately, and my colleague Kelsey is tackling this meeting for the Voice. For those who couldn’t attend the Housing Strategy hosted by the county last Wednesday evening, the presentation is here and the outline is here. Comments can be sent to the Planning Department here from now through the end of the month.

First, quantities. This was touched on in the news round-up a couple of weeks ago, but the county would like at least 580 units coming online each year, plus specialty student and senior housing. For comparison’s sake, the county hasn’t exceeded that value since 1994, when Kendal was permitted in Cayuga Heights, and prior to 2016, the last time it exceeded 500 units was in 2000.

In more recent years, the value bounced between 200 and 300 units in a given year; during the recession, it dropped into the mid-100s. The article linked above is older, so it lacks the 2015 values, which were 279 units countywide, consistent with 2012-2014. Then we get to 2016, which was just finalized by HUD. There were 575 units, of which 121 were single-family homes, and 454 were multi-family structures. Let’s present that by community (click on the table to expand):

Cayuga Heights and Freeville didn’t approve a single unit, while the 271 units in Ithaca city is their highest stat since 2000, and the second highest in the 35-year online record. Dryden village’s growth can be attributed to Poet’s Landing Phase II, Ithaca town’s to Cayuga Meadows, and Lansing town’s to the Village Solars.

The point of this is to illustrate that 580 units annually is a lofty figure, but it is an attainable goal.

Then we get to locations. The ideal is to focus the growth in the city of Ithaca – since these stats are non-student housing, the targeted areas in the city include Downtown, the State Street Corridor, West End/Waterfront, and anything they can displace from the big box corridor on the southwest side. If a good opportunity for infill presents itself elsewhere in the city, that’s great, but it’s not the focus.

However, not everyone wants to live in Ithaca. Land in the “nodes” is cheaper and oftentimes the approvals process is easier. The county envisions 50-100 in the villages and growing hamlets like Varna and South Lansing, were a town center concept is in the RFP review process. Rural hamlets would see a handful of units annually (30 or less), and other locations basically just refers to Lansing’s suburban sprawl between the village and South Lansing. The town is hellbent on development any which way it happens, conventional approaches are the easiest to get financed, and the county’s not going to fight them.

The county’s housing strategy is three-pronged: Information/Collaboration, New Units and Existing Units.

  • Information and Collaboration includes a virtual housing office for resources and a collaborative network to formulate and pitch housing solutions. It’s kinda vague in the notes.
  • New unit strategies include support for targeted new development, streamlining zoning and examining potential incentives through the IDA.
    • Targeted new development can include RFQs for government-owned surplus property, early community engagement regarding DFAs (Development Focus Areas) and assistance in producing “shovel-ready” sites through things such as sewer access and energy hookups.
    • Streamlining zoning is to make it easier to get an initial product that will look like the final product – less uncertainty, less money spent on revisions. Inclusionary zoning seems pretty much dead in the water, as the county doesn’t seem to know if the community will support incentives for affordable housing, or if will even be effective. Done wrong, an inclusionary ordinance could actually result in less housing, if the burden is too great for the incentives offered.
    • Additional IDA incentives could include mixed-market or all-affordable rentals being eligible for abatements, and possible an abatement for any neighborhood or community who builds in inclusionary zoning. Looking at you, Trumansburg.
  • Existing unit strategies include the encouragement of rehabs (especially from rentals to owner-occupied), code enforcement and fair housing enforcement. Airbnb is still a tricky issue, so expect some tweaks to regulations on what constitutes rentals, hotels and legal occupancy.

There’s also a strong support/monitoring component in the strategy, which basically is a tracker of all projects underway, what stages, what they consist of, and so on. Beat you to the punch guys.