News Tidbits 6/23/19

23 06 2019

1. The good news in Lansing is that there’s a future for the power plant, though not as a power plant. The former coal plant would be reconfigured into a data center powered by renewable energy. Data centers use a lot of energy and have heavy energy loads, so old power plants are surprisingly suitable choices. The center’s computing power would demand about 100 megawatts at full capacity, according to reports, roughly equivalent to the power demand of 75,000 homes. They also produce large amounts of heat, so having a cold water intake from the lake comes in handy for supplying cooling systems. 15 megawatts would be produced on site, and the rest from off-site solar arrays. According to the Cayuga Operating Company’s memo, the conversion would provide $100 million in capital investments, 30 to 40 full-time jobs in the $40-60,000 range, as well as about 100 construction jobs.

In an interesting twist, the other plant slated to become a data center, in the town of Somerset in Niagara County, was the “Plan B” plant built after years or local protests and stonewalling shelved plans for a nuclear power plant in the town of Lansing near the Cayuga plant. The discovery of an ancient fault line near the Somerset site led to the operating company switching out its nuclear plans for coal. Suffice it to say, this data center plans also nullifies the plan to convert the power plant to a natural gas-fired facility.

While it’s a lower number of permanent jobs than the power plant (which was around 70 staff in 2016), it does provide a viable future for the town of Lansing’s biggest taxpayer, and comes as something of a relief in that regard. The county supports the proposal but the town is tabling support at the moment at the insistence of its Democratic bloc, which wants to ask questions at an informational meeting Wednesday before offering a voice of support. The state is not likely to support the plan unless the town has voiced support, so the vote is a rather urgent matter. It’s a bit tricky due to public notice guidelines, but the town board will hold a special meeting right after the presentation to vote on whether or not to support the plan.

For the record, the informational meeting is open to the general public – Lansing Town Hall at 29 Auburn Road, 6 PM Wednesday 6/26.

2. The bad news in Lansing is that the Lansing Meadows senior housing is in limbo. Unsurprisingly, the requested change from 20 to 30 units was considered a major change to the Planned Development Area. Developer Eric Goetzmann’s argument is that the 20-unit proposal proved too costly to build, and is seeking 30 units on roughly similar footprints. No dice, the IDA and village planning board would have to reopen their process to approve the changes, and the project is legally bound to be completed by the end of next July; another few months of review would cause it to miss that deadline.

Then came the latest proposal. Twelve units (four triplexes), just as originally intended when first proposed nine years ago. But the plan is clearly designed to be filled out with more units, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits that required years to obtain have been left to expire. This too, would be a major change to the PDA, which is 20 units in 10 duplexes. A minor change would be shifting garages or marginal adjustments to building footprints. This is not minor.

This project has been before the planning board 57 times over the years and nine iterations. The village and the IDA have been very accommodating, from the unusual retail-building abatement for BJ’s, to the commercial space on the eastern end of the parcel, and all the residential changes over the years. I will be the first to acknowledge that some of the communities, Lansing village included, can be bureaucratically burdensome. But it’s time to point out that this developer is acting in bad faith. The village and the IDA have tried to make this work, bending over backwards to accommodate Goetzmann. He did not hesitate to get BJ’s built, which he sold in 2015 for a healthy $16.8 million. But the housing and the wetlands protection have always been afterthoughts, boxes checked in an effort to get that BJ’s abatement. It’s time that the village and IDA put their feet down and demand he either start building, or start making plans to pay back his tax abatement. The years of dickering have gone on long enough.

The concern is that by pursuing a clawback, the housing may never happen. But honestly, nine years on, is there an expectation that it will ever get done?

 

3. Sticking with bad faith for the moment – the IAWWTF proposal creates some uncomfortable questions. The first proposal was everything within a 1200 foot radius of the plant. The new one is everything west of Route 13 within that 1200 foot radius.

That doesn’t logically make sense. the prevailing wind direction for the offensive odors that the disclosure ordinance seeks to inform buyers and renters about? It’s NW-SE, due to a combination of storm tracks and the local topography, the hills create a channeling effect. Most of the areas covered under the new bounds aren’t in the downstream path of the winds, and odors carried by those winds.

Why were the established neighborhoods to the southeast of the plant left out, even if they are in one of the more prone locations? Officially, “because they’re already aware of the risks”, according to the explanation provided by the councilor spearheading the ordinance proposal, West Hill’s Cynthia Brock. That explanation neglects the fact that over time, tenants move and homeowners sell. As proposed, the cutoff is an excuse because existing homeowners in Fall Creek and Northside would have likely seen their home values and rental prices take a hit from her mandatory disclosure document, which another councilor described as “terrifying”. It would quickly lead to a lawsuit and the perception that Common Council is actively undermining the home equity and financial well-being of working class Northsiders and politically active Creekers. No other councilor on the committee would likely support the proposal in those circumstances.

So what does the IAWWTF disclosure ordinance impact as currently proposed? The revised version targets the Carpenter Park property, City Harbor, the NYS DOT site the county wants to have developed, the Farmer’s Market and a few other waterfront and near-waterfront properties. In general, mixed-use developments or potential developments that councilor Brock has regularly spoken out against.

This is being carried out on the auspices of health and welfare concerns, but as designed, the IAWWTF disclosure ordinance doesn’t adequately protect health and welfare, and appears to explicitly target waterfront projects councilor Brock dislikes. How would this withstand  the inevitable lawsuit filed by either the City Harbor developers, the Carpenter Park development group, or the county?

Literally and figuratively, this doesn’t pass the smell test.

4. Here’s a look at the Planning and Development Board agenda for next Tuesday. Apart from a one-lot subdivision for a new home at 243 Cliff Street, everything else is a familiar item:

AGENDA ITEM
1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:05
3. Approval of Minutes: May 28, 2019 6:20
4. Subdivision Review


Project: Minor Subdivision and Construction of a Single Family Home 6:25

Location: 243 Cliff Street
Applicant: Laurel Hart & Dave Nutter
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance

Project Description: The applicant proposes to subdivide the .36 acre site into two parcels and build one single family home. The subdivision will result in Parcel A measuring .152 acres (6,638 SF) with 66 feet of frontage on Cliff Street and containing an existing single family home and garage, and Parcel B measuring .218 acres (9,484 SF) with 97 feet of frontage on Park Road. The property is in the R-3a Zoning District, which has the following minimum requirements: 5,000 SF lot size and 40 feet of street frontage for single-family homes, 10-foot front yard, and 10- and five foot side yards and a rear yard of 20% or 50 feet, but not less than 20 feet. Access to the proposed home on Parcel B will be via a new access drive connecting to Park Road. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website:
https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1028 (Site Plan Review)
https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1030 (Subdivision)

The property owners want to build a new home that will allow them to age in place; their current century-old home isn’t adaptable for the wheelchair accessibility they seek, but they want to stay in their neighborhood, so the plan is to work with local homebuilder Carina Construction to build a new modular unit (2 floors + partially built-out basement, 26’x28′ footprint) on a subdivided piece of their land. It’s a multistory home, but the upstairs can be converted into a unit for a live-in caretaker, and all their living needs can be handled on one floor. The home will be solar-powered. The new home, downslope from the existing house, will be accessed from Park Road.

5. Site Plan Review

A. Project: North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE) 6:45
Location: Cornell University Campus
Applicant: Trowbridge Wolf Michaels for Cornell University
Actions: Consideration of Final Site Plan Approval

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct two residential complexes (one for sophomores and the other for freshmen) on two sites on North Campus. The sophomore site will have four residential buildings with 800 new beds and associated program space totaling 299,900 SF and a 1,200-seat, 66,300 SF dining facility. The sophomore site is mainly in the City of Ithaca with a small portion in the Village of Cayuga Heights; however, all buildings are in the City. The freshman site will have three new residential buildings (each spanning the City and Town line) with a total of 401,200 SF and 1,200 new beds and associated program space – 223,400 of which is in the City, and 177,800 of which is in the Town. The buildings will be between two and six stories using a modern aesthetic. The project is in three zoning districts: the U-I zoning district in the City in which the proposed five stories and 55 feet are allowed; the Low Density Residential District (LDR) in the Town which allows for the proposed two-story residence halls (with a special permit); and the Multiple Housing District within Cayuga Heights in which no buildings are proposed. This has been determined to be a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance (“CEQRO”) §176-4 B.(1)(b), (h) 4, (i) and (n) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4 (b)(5)(iii) for which the Lead Agency issued a Negative Declaration on December 18, 2018 and granted Preliminary Site Plan Approval to the project on March 26, 2019.

Project materials are available for download from the City website: http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/811

Cornell’s 2,079-bed North Campus Residential Expansion looks ready for final approval. Apart from some details regarding the planting plan and rooftop fans, there are no changes to report. Cornell would start construction shortly after approval is granted, with the first phase (sophomore housing, west/left) ready by August 2020, and the second phase (freshman housing, east/right) complete by August 2021.

B. Project: Arthaus on Cherry Street 7:05
Location: 130 Cherry Street
Applicant: Whitham Planning & Design

Actions: Consideration of Amended Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance, Potential Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

Project Description: The applicant proposes an as-of-right five-story building approximately 63 feet of height with gallery, office and affordable residential space at 130 Cherry Street, on the east side of the Cayuga Inlet. The site is currently the location of AJ Foreign Auto. The program includes ground floor covered parking for approximately 52 vehicles, plus 7,000 SF of potential retail/office and amenity space geared towards artists’ needs. Building levels two through five will house approximately 120 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom residential units. The total building square footage is 97,500 SF. All residential rental units will be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income. The north edge of the property will include a publicly-accessible path leading to an inlet overlook. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance § 176-4B(1)(k), (h)[2], (n), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) § 617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/946

Project approval was delayed by a month because the city wanted to make sure that the Weitsman scrap metal facility wouldn’t pose any air quality risks. In a letter to the city, the firm doing the environmental work says the did some outreach to Ben Weitsman, and the Ithaca facility doesn’t do many of the processing, it just collects, sorts and transports the scrap metal out to other sites. Also, Weitsman states the facility will be be closing soon – it’s been rumored for a while that another mixed-use project in the works for the Weitsman site.

C. Project: Student Housing 7:25
Location: 815 S. Aurora Street
Applicant: Stream Collaborative, Noah Demarest for Project Sponsors Todd Fox & Charlie O’Connor
Actions: Project Updates, Review of FEAF Part 3

Project Description: The project applicant proposes a new 49-unit student housing complex (16,700 SF footprint) comprised of three buildings constructed on a hillside on the east side of Route 96B, overlooking the proposed Chain Works District. The proposed buildings will contain (2) efficiency units, (3) one-bedroom units, (10) two-bedroom units, (20) three-bedroom units and (14) four-bedroom units. Amenities will include a gym and media room, with access to an outdoor amenity space on the first floor of Building B, and a roof terrace and lounge on the fourth floor of Building B. The project site shares the 2.85 acre site with an existing cell tower facility, garages, an office and a one-bedroom apartment. Site improvements will include walkways and curb cuts to be tied into a public sidewalk proposed by the Town of Ithaca. Fire truck access is proposed at the existing site entry at the south end of the property, with a new fire lane to be constructed in front of the ends of buildings A & B at the northern end of the site. The project will include 68 parking spaces, as required by zoning. The property located in the R-3b zoning district. A variance will likely be required for a rear yard setback deficiency. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(1)(k), (n), (B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/982

At the last meeting, the board and the city planning director had issues with the facade materials and that given the small size of the units, the project was “too focused on profit” (generally it’s not a good idea to make these comments because of their subjective nature, but here they were qualified with the concerns over facade material and unit size). In the updated submission document, the design stays the same, and it’s not clear if the materials were updated. It does not appear the unit sizes were changed.

D. Project: Commercial Building – 3,450 SF 7:45
Location: 410 Elmira Road
Applicant: PW Campbell for Visions Credit Union
Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency

Project Description: The applicant proposes to construct a 3,450 SF commercial building with a drive-through, parking area for 20 cars, a 940 SF amphitheater, and associated site improvements on the 1.56 acre project site. The site is currently vacant. The project site is in the SW-3 Zoning district and will likely require an area variance. The project is subject to the Southwest Area Design Guidelines. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(2), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1019

This is the Visions Federal Credit Union branch proposal. Generally, the public reaction has been favorable to the plan, which includes an amphitheater for outdoor shows and events. The Voice article about the project is here.

E. Project: Immaculate Conception Redevelopment Project (Mixed Use Housing) 8:00
Location: 320 W Buffalo Street
Applicant: Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency

Project Description: The project involves the renovation/conversion of the existing two-story former school building into a mixed-use building with a two-story addition along North Plain Street, a new four-story apartment building, (2) three-unit townhome buildings, (1) four-unit townhome building, the renovation/conversion of a single family home into a two-family home, and the renovation of the “Catholic Charities” Building. The overall project will contain 78 dwelling units with 127 bedrooms. Total increase in square footage on the site will be 49,389 SF, from 62,358 to 111,747 SF. 9,274 SF of new and existing space in the former school will be commercial use. Site development will require demolition of one wing of the existing school building and one single-family home. The project also includes greenspace areas, 45 surface parking spaces, and other site amenities. The property is located in the R-2b zoning district; however the applicant has applied to Common Council for a Planned Unit Development (PUD). This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §176-4(B)(1)(k), (n), (B)(6), and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1016

INHS’s $25.3 million redevelopment of the Immaculate Conception School has had some design tweaks, but the general site program remains the same. The Planning Board will be seeking answers regarding energy use/sources, pile driving, and aesthetic impacts on the neighborhood/consistency with neighborhood architectural character.

 

F. Project: Carpenter Circle Project 8:20
Location: Carpenter Park Road
Applicant: Andrew Bodewes for Park Grove Realty LLC
Actions: Project Presentation, Declaration of Lead Agency

Project Description: The project seeks to develop the existing 8.7-acre vacant parcel located adjacent to Route 13 and off of Third Street. The proposal includes a 64,000 SF medical office; two mixed-use buildings, which will include ground-level retail/restaurant/commercial uses of 23,810 SF, interior parking, 166 market-rate apartment units, and 4,652 SF of amenity space; and a residential building offering +/-42 residential units for residents earning 50-60% AMI. Site amenities will include public spaces for residents and visitors, bike parking, transit access for TCAT, open green space, a playground, and access to the Ithaca Community Gardens. The project includes 400 surface parking spaces and an internal road network with sidewalks and street trees. The project sponsor is seeking a Break in Access from NYS DOT to install an access road off of Rte 13. The property is located in the Market District; however, the applicant has applied to Common Council for a Planned Unit Development (PUD). The project will require subdivision to separate each program element. This has been determined to be a Type 1 Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance §1764(B)(1)(d), (i), (k), and (B)(6) and (8)(a) and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) §617.4(b)(11).

Project materials are available for download from the City website: https://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/Index/1014

Interesting note from Part 1 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) – the phased buildout. Phase one is Cayuga Medical Center’s new office building. It would start construction in the fall and be completed in Spring 2021. The mixed-use building would begin construction the winter of 2019-20 and take about 20 months complete (so, a summer/fall 2021 timeframe). The affordable housing is phase three, and contigent on an affordable housing grant from the state. Once awarded, it would take about a year to build out.

The updated site plan indicates more tree plantings throughout the site, and the addition of a playground and plaza next to the affordable housing structure on the northern end of the site.

5. Old/New Business: July PRC, PRC Meeting start time 9:00
6. Reports 9:10
A. Planning Board Chair
B. BPW Liaison
C. Director of Planning & Development

7 Adjournment 9:30





Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport Construction Update, 5/2019

27 05 2019

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer dropped by earlier this month to make the formal announcement that the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport a $9,999,990 grant toward the airport renovation and expansion project. This money was not unexpected, though never a given; along with the $14.4 million New York State grant, the county’s portion of the bill is expected to only be about $260,000 (out of $24.7 million) assuming costs remain stable.

Now underway is Phase 2 of the project, which involves renovation and expansion of the passenger screening checkpoint of the departure lounge and the terminal’s gate area. Gone is the airport entrance canopy, and coming soon are a new concourse for arrivals and departures, and new jet bridges to contribute to the 6 gates that will operate at ITH. (Want more details? Click here). Streeter Associates of Elmira, who built Phase 1, will also be in charge of the buildout of Phase 2. The airport project is expected to be finished before the end of the year.

Oof. Hope you have a jack kit in the trunk.





Village Solars Construction Update 5/2019

25 05 2019

From the Voice, with light editing:

“Quietly plodding along off the 1000 Block of Warren Road, Lifestyle Properties’ Village Solars Apartments continues its steady buildout. This is one of the largest projects in Tompkins County, with 277 apartments approved, with potentially more in the works on the adjacent property to the east. So why doesn’t it get much attention? They build a couple of apartment buildings each year, they don’t have tax abatements or any high-profile review process because they were approved by the town as a Planned Development Area (flexible “D-I-Y” zoning), and they’re in a less-trafficked part of the county north of the airport. They’re low profile, physically and programmatically.

Under construction right now are Buildings “K” (113 Village Circle) and “L” (40 Village Place), which make the 11th and 12th buildings to have been built in the past five years. The 24-unit Building “K” is mostly complete from the outside, and likely to open for occupancy later this spring, adding another 3 three-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms, 3 one-bedrooms and 12 studios to the market. 24-unit Building “L”, just to its east, isn’t as far along. It’s framed, sheathed and has had its windows and doors fitted, but the fiber cement siding is only partially finished, and exposed interior stud walls are visible through the windows. If you’re wondering what the rat’s nest of white cables are, those are connections for the air-source electric heat pumps – the units are installed towards the bottom, and the cables are framed in by a bump-out for aesthetic purposes.

The latest two buildings are being funded courtesy of a $5.6 million construction loan extended by Elmira Savings Bank. According to the loan filing, both buildings are expected to be completed and ready for their first tenants by the end of September. But more realistically, given that the local rental market revolves around the academic cycle and that some graduate and professional students make their homes here, expect the new apartments to be ready for occupancy no later than mid-August.”

***

I must have missed the part when “Equinox Way”, the new through road was named. Still waiting a construction start on Building “F”, as seen below the site is just grass at the moment. Offhand, Lifestyle Properties can start one more building before they have to build the mixed-use community building, and regardless, the community center must be complete by the end of 2020.

The timeline and plans for each phase is out of whack because the redevelopment of the existing apartment 1970s buildings was expected before new sites were to get underway. I’d venture a guess the 2019-2020 phase would be 18-unit Building “M” and the Community Center, for an August 2020 completion.

Giving credit where credit is due – the in-house construction crew is moving fast with these. Building “L” hardly had its site cleared and wood foundation forms in back in February. Years of practice pays off, perhaps. Interior walls and insulation is in, but drywall has yet to be hung, so completion is still a couple of months away.





Milton Meadows Construction Update, 5/2019

25 05 2019

From the Voice:

At the site of the future Lansing Town Center, the Milton Meadows affordable housing apartment complex is well underway. Cornerstone Development Group of Rochester is developing the 72-unit, $17.3 million project, which consists of 10 buildings, nine eight-unit apartment buildings, and a community center. The project is being built by Taylor the Builders and was designed by SWBR Architects, both of Rochester.

Gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $680 to $1,400 a month, with 64 units for households with incomes 50 to 80 percent of the area median income ($29,500-$47,200/year for a single person, $33,700-$53,900 for a two-person household). The remaining seven units are expected to rent at market rate, with the final one reserved for the live-in property manager. Along with military service veterans’ preference (first dibs) on all available units, five apartments will be set aside for service veterans with physical disabilities. More specifically, expected rent ranges are $680 to $750 for one bedroom units, $835 to $850 for two bedroom apartments, and about $950 to $1,100 for three bedrooms. Market rate units will max out at about $1,400 for a three bedroom unit.

Construction on the property launched last November and is moving along at a fast pace. The community center building is framed, sheathed and has been faced with siding and white trim boards. Two of the apartment buildings are framed and sheathed with windows fitted and Tyvek wrapped, two more buildings are being framed, and foundation work was underway on at least one more building. The unfinished Louise Bement Lane is the only road close to the project site and offers just a limited line of sight, so more apartment buildings could be undergoing excavation or foundation pours.

Cornerstone and Taylor have deployed this design in other towns, so they have a familiarity with it, and that allows for a more efficient deployment of labor, a quicker construction timeline, and a higher fit and finish because they know the design’s quirks and where they’ve had issues in the past. Expect the apartments to start hitting the market this summer, and for completion of the project before the end of the year.

***

Perhaps to add a little more, the building in the foreground with the blue water-resistive barrier is all one-bedrooms, and the one to its north is all two-bedrooms. There are three separate building layouts, one with 8 one-bedroom units, one with 8 two-bedroom units, and one with 8 three-bedroom units (the first of which is being framed to the west/middle of photo four). There will be three of each design here, and you can see what the finished examples look like at the webpage for the practically-identical Frances Apartments in the town of Sweden here.

Note that Woodsedge Drive has yet to be realigned to make a proper four-way intersection with Louise Bement Lane. It’s on the to-do list for this summer. I do not know what the grid of embedded steel pipes on the roadway is used for, as the site plan doesn’t indicate anything unusual here. Maybe it’s where underground utilities diverge from Bement Lane and into the project site.

More information about the Milton Meadows project, including site plan details and project history can be found here.





News Tidbits 4/27/19

27 04 2019

1. Matt Butler at the Times is providing an in-depth check-up on the mall this week. This was a story the Voice had laid groundwork for as well, so it’s nice that one of the local news orgs was able to make hay of it. The mall, like many middle-class local malls across the country has been struggling in the age of Amazon and the retail meltdown. The overall economy might be humming along, but retail closures continue to spike nationwide, with over 6,100 closures planned this year alone, more than the 5,900 announced in all of 2018. With planned new store openings numbering 2,100, it’s practically two stores closing for every one that opens. Retail mega-landlord Cushman and Wakefield estimates 9,000 stores will close in 2019, and over 12,000 in 2020. In the Ithaca Mall, Gertrude Hawk is gone, American Eagle closed up last year, Ultimate Athletics shut its doors, the Bon-Ton closed as part of the shutdown of the whole chain, and the Sears Hometown store is kaput. The mall’s manager cited a variety of reasons, including chain downsizing, poor performance, and some just stopped paying rent.

This has major economic impacts; the mall’s property value has declined by over 60% since the start of the decade, and the village, the county and the schools have to make up those hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue somewhere (and the county and schools have). County legislator Deborah Dawson, who represents the mall’s district, suggested doing something similar to the DeWitt Mall downtown, a mix of local businesses, but the mall is a much bigger space to fill (622,500 SF vs. 117,500 SF in the DeWitt Mall), and DeWitt Mall is mixed-use (retail and 45 apartments). Local businesses and experiential outlets can be part of the solution as Running 2 Places is showing with their 18,000 SF theater this spring, but it’s one component of a solution. Residential could be a component, but some legal and logistic issues would need to be sorted out, which owner Namdar Realty has never shown much interest in; the village has also been lukewarm to the idea. About 40 apartment units were floated for a section of the parking lot (west/on the backside of the mall if I remember right), but that idea died during the Great Recession.

There is so silver bullet here. The owner needs to be more proactive then holding a proverbial gun to its’ tenants heads in order to get them to stay. Local governing bodies also have to keep an open mind for redevelopment ideas – if parts of the mall were torn down and replaced with residential, for example. As it is, the only plans on the horizon are an unnamed tenant for the former Bon-Ton space, and the extended stay hotel planned for the parking lot behind (west) of the Ramada Inn. The future of the mall is hazy; like a species faced with a steadily changing habitat, it’s either adapt and evolve, or perish.

2. Courtesy of their Facebook page, here’s a sketch render of what Salt Point Brewing Compant’s new brewery and taproom would look like. It’s a fairly unobtrusive one-story structure with a gable roof and two wings, presumably the taller one for the brewing tanks and the smaller one for service functions. On the outside are wood accents and a two-story deck for outdoor drinking and possibly dining, if the restaurant option is pursued.

The building, as well as associated landscaping and parking improvements, would be located on about three of the five acres sold as Parcel “D” in the Lansing Town Center development. The remaining two acres are wetlands and would be left undisturbed. Salt Point paid $75,000 for the land, and will bring its project forth to the town planning board in the coming months. No word on any job creation figures yet.

3. The NYS DOT county facility plans are moving forward. The state bought its 15 acres from Tompkins County for $840,000 according to a deed filed on April 24th. The building is classified as a sub-residency facility, a step below a primary regional facility (the main office for Region 3 is in Syracuse).

To review, the plans consist of the 30,000 SF sub-residency maintenance building, a 5,000 SF Cold Storage unit, an 8,200 SF salt barn, and a 2,500 square foot hopper building (covered lean-to). The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features include parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. A new access drive will be constructed from Warren Road.

The town has been less than pleased with the project, which is not bound to zoning code because it’s a public resource facility owned and operated by a government entity. Rather than voice approval, the planning board voted to acknowledge that they simply had no authority to control the project. Some modifications were made to the plans at the town’s request, such as the fueling station being moved onto airport property across Warren Road, but neighbors are still unhappy that snowplows and heavy-duty maintenance vehicles are about to be their next door neighbors.

The facility is expected to be open by the end of the end of the year. Once all staff and equipment have been moved in, the county may pursue a request for proposals/request for expression of interest for the current DOT property on the shores of the inlet near the Farmer’s Market. A 2015 feasibility analysis found that the site could conceivably host a $40+ million mixed-use project, and the site has became more amenable towards redevelopment with the enhanced density and use provisions made to the city’s waterfront zoning in 2017.

4. The Ithaca city planning board granted a negative declaration of environmental review to the 124-unit Arthaus affordable housing project at 130 Cherry Street. According to my editor Kelsey O’Connor, the latest revisions propose a five-story building that would include a gallery, office and affordable rental space. It would include parking for about 36 vehicles and 7,600 square feet of potential retail or office and amenity space geared toward artists. All of the units would be restricted to renters earning 50 to 80% of the area median income, or about $30,000 to $45,000. The north end of the property will also include a publicly accessible path leading to the inlet.

Speaking in favor of the project were neighborhood business owners and non-profits, and in opposition was councilman George McGonigal, who said both in a letter and in person that it was too big for the site and threatened the industrial character of the neighborhood. They have bigger concerns than housing nearby. Cherry Street is difficult to access with large trucks and commercial vehicles, the Brindley Street and Cecil Malone Drive bridges are small and in poor shape. Secondly, Cherry Street doesn’t provide much room for operations to expand, so that hinders their long-term operational planning. It’s not just lot size, but also the soil – the Emmy’s Organics project fell through because of poor soil not amenable for warehouse and other light industrial functions that rely on a concrete slab. Thirdly, the city’s strict environmental laws, fees and higher property taxes make an urban site less appealing. They can get more land with a lighter tax burden in Lansing, Dryden, or any of the other outlying towns. With these issues in mind, many of the industrial businesses down there now aren’t looking to stick around. Several have already sold or made purchase options with developers as they seek areas with lower taxes, easier access to highways and less strict environmental ordinances.

The unanimous approval by the city planning board allows the project to move forward with consideration for preliminary approval. The goal is to gain approval at next month’s meeting, and once affordable housing funds have been secured, to start construction of the project, likely in December of this year.

5. The Chain Works District presented plans for phase one at the Planning Board meeting. There are four buildings in phase one, of which two are in the city. 43,400 SF Building 21 would be renovated into a commercial office building. The work here is limited to replacing walled-up window openings with new windows, exterior cleaning and painting, and new signage and entrance canopies. Building 24 is a combination of renovation and expansion. The partially built-out basement and first floor would be renovated for commercial office space, the second and third story would be residential, and a new fourth floor would be built for residential uses, for a total of 135,450 SF across 4.5 floors. As with Building 21, new windows would be installed, and the exterior cleaned and painted. New landscaping, sidewalk and parking areas are also planned.

At a glance, the residential in the first phase would host 60 market-rate rental units. Each floor will have one studio unit, nine one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units, and one four-bedroom unit. According to the Site Plan Review document, the project would begin renovation in October, and be open by August 2020. The other two building in phase one are renovations of industrial and manufacturing spaces in the town, Buildings 33 and 34. These will retain industrial uses.

This meeting was only for the purpose of sharing and discussing plans, with no voting at this time. According to Edwin Viera at the Times, the board was reluctant to approve any plans without more information about who will be occupying them. That seems a bit odd, because projects are analyzed for their physical impacts, not the tenants, but the Times article says parking and landscaping may change slightly depending on the tenant. According to project representative Jamie Gensel, the USDA is considering renting out some of the office space. The USDA maintains a research facility inside the Holley Center on Cornell’s campus, and there were plans in the late 2000s to build an addition, which were later shelved during the Great Recession. It’s not clear how much space they’re seeking. Not sure what to make of that writeup, honestly, or being told to move the buildings into a different phase (personally, I’d like to be renovations before any new builds happen).

6. 815 South Aurora Street, aka “Overlook”, also continued its review at the planning board meeting. There were some minor design tweaks, seen in the before image (above) and after image (below). Changes in exterior colors, panels, ground-level entrances and fenestration, particularly on the side facing South Aurora Street. The fire trucks are  to indicate that emergency vehicles will be able to safely pull in and out from the road. Overall, project size remains at 49 units and 141 bedrooms.

There’s been some pushback from neighbors regarding size and neighborhood character. There’s an argument that these are dependent on Chain Works, but that argument doesn’t pass the smell test – if Chain Works didn’t happen, fewer units on the South Hill market would make the project even more appealing to Visum Development and Modern Living Rentals. The planning department wants more geotechnical information and bedrock to be removed, details about the new planting and landscaping, and energy systems. Documents submitted indicate the all-residential development will use electric heat pumps. The board has requested a shadow study and flesh out the environmental impacts, which is a common request for larger developments.

7. At least one project is fully approved. Although it seems at least one planning board member asked for affordable housing, the four-unit market-rate Perdita Flats infill at 224 Fair Street was granted preliminary site plan approval. The project is intended to be a sustainable building showcase of eco-friendly features, a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing. The owner/developers, Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt, will be applying for incentives from the NYSERDA Low-Rise Residential New Construction Program and are hoping to attain the Zero Carbon Petal of the Living Building Challenge.





Village Solars Construction Update, 2/2019

3 03 2019

It was with some surprise that the latest trip to the never-ending Village Solars construction site yielded significant progress on only one apartment building, instead of the usual two or three. The 24-unit Building “L” is mostly complete from the outside, and likely to open for occupancy this spring, adding another 3 three-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms, 3 one-bedrooms and 12 studios to the market. 24-unit Building “K”, just to its east (right, in the photos), appears to have not made much progress; excavation was completed, and it looks like there are wood forms for the foundation on site, though with the snow and active work underway, it was hard to tell if the concrete slab had been poured – judging from the dirt piles, that’s a no.

Local Law #6 (2017) of the Village Solars PDA permitted three additional buildings to be built before Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente Property) was legally obligated to build the community center building (Building “F”), which is to contain a small amount of commercial space (restaurant), service space (gym, laundry, rental office) and up to twenty one-bedroom units. If “L” and “K” are completed this year, that will allow one more building to receive a building permit before the community center must be built and receive a certificate of occupancy (i.e. habitable and practically complete). Until then, no additional building permits are allowed. The law also stipulates that the community center has to be completed, regardless of the status of other apartment buildings, by the end of 2020.  Like other apartments, it won’t be subject to site plan review, bu any potential commercial applicant would have to undergo site plan review.





Milton Meadows Construction Update, 2/2019

24 02 2019

Out to Lansing for this latest addition to Tompkins County’s deeply underserved affordable housing market.

Here are the spark notes: Milton Meadows, a project by Cornerstone Development Group of Rochester, is a 72-unit, $17.3 million affordable housing complex in the Lansing Town Center consisting of ten buildings, nine eight-unit apartment buildings and a community center. 71 of the units will be set aside for individuals making 50-80% of area median income, and the last unit is for a live-in property manager. Veterans who meet the income guidelines will get preference in the application process. The project will use electric heat pumps and be built to LEED Silver standards.

Now for the in-depth. This apartment project, to be built on 13.5 acres, is the first development to get underway at the 156-acre Lansing Town Center, across from the town hall and near the intersection of Triphammer Road and Route 34B. This location comes with its pros and cons – the pro is, the town’s pretty keen on getting the land developed into a tax-generating, mixed-use environment, and has been generally supportive of development in this area, even though it dropped the ball with the first attempt several years ago. The con is that Milton Meadows is the only project underway, and looks to be the only project underway for some time yet. That means there is not much nearby- the Lansing Market the town library, a gas station, and a few other homes and small businesses.

This puts up in the affordable housing conundrum. It’s easier to get approval in rural areas where there are fewer neighbors, but it also isolates residents from needed goods and services, and often forces them to own and maintain a car, which makes living in these developments on the suburban fringe that much less affordable. However, when your alternatives are Trumansburg residents advocating the village seize land through eminent domain to prevent affordable housing, or going through the wringer down in Ithaca, one can understand why something this far out in Lansing might have some appeal.

This project is a little hard to follow through Google, because its name changed three times. It debuted as Lansing Commons in August 2017, changed to Lansing Trails in September, and then to Milton Meadows a few months later. 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 Commons” is the name of the housing development at the end of Woodsedge Drive, and “Lansing Meadows” is already taken.

For the sake of pointing it out, there was plenty of opposition here. 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 affordable apartment complex The reasoning was a fear that its lower-income occupants would create more crime. More appropriate commentary was made about taxes and increases in student enrollment. The chairman recused himself from further discussions after that outburst. Town supervisor Ed LaVigne has spoken in favor of the project as needed workforce housing by a responsible developer and property manager, and the project was approved last November.

Substantial funds were awarded by the state in May, and Cornerstone paid the town $337,500 for 22 acres at the end of October (for the approved phase and potential second phase). Construction work began in December.

Plans for a second phase of 56 units were shelved during the review process; Cornerstone can always revive it later, but it will be a second approvals process if/when that time comes. The reason for this was to provide space for the on-site sewage treatment field. The project will eventually hook into the town sewer when built, which will allows plans for the second phase to move ahead, expected in 3-5 years.

Gross rents (rent plus utilities) will range from $680 to $1,400 a month, with 64 units for households with incomes 50 to 80 percent of the area median income ($29,500-$47,200/year for a single person, $33,700-$53,900 for a two-person household). The remaining units are expected to rent at market rate. Along with veteran’s preference on all available units, five apartments will be set aside for veterans with physical disabilities. More specifically, expected rent ranges are $680 to $750 for one bedroom units, $835 to $850 for two bedroom apartments, and about $950 to $1,100 for three bedrooms. Market rate units may rent as high as $1,400 for a three bedroom unit.

Nine of the structures will be apartment buildings ranging from 6,600-10,200 square feet (SF), with 8 apartment units apiece. The buildings are designed so that all the units in a structure are the same size range, so all one-bedroom buildings (4), all two-bedroom buildings (3), and all three-bedroom buildings (2). The last building would be a 3,100 SF community center with a computer room, laundry room and gym. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. SWBR Architects of Rochester is the architect. Cornerstone and its general contractor, Taylor the Builders of Rochester, have deployed this design in other towns, so they have a familiarity with the design, which allows for more efficient deployment of labor and a higher fit and finish because they know the design’s quirks, and where they’ve had issues in the past. Passero Associates served as project engineer.

As it often is for affordable housing, the financing comes from a variety of public and private sources. The project is supported by a NYS Homes and Community Renewal award of federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) that generated about $9.9 million (from $5.1 million in credits; quick rehash, LIHTCs are sold to banks and similar financial institutions so that they get the tax credit, and the affordable housing developer gets the money they need to move forward with a project), and a $4.05 million loan from the Housing Trust Fund. The Community Preservation Corporation is providing a $2 million permanent loan through its funding agreement with the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Additionally, the Tompkins County Community Housing Development Fund is providing $256,875; NYSERDA is providing $63,200; and private firm Column Financial is providing a loan of $850,000.

Separately, Woodsedge Road, just to the south of the project, will be reconfigured to make a four-way intersection with the development. This is a $75,000 grant with in-kind labor from the town.

Site grading and prep work is currently underway at the project site. The access road is crushed stone for now, the asphalt planned are closed for the winter season. It will be paved in the spring, and christened “Louise Bement Lane” after the longtime town historian. The access road will be built by Cornerstone to town standards, and deeded over to the town for public use after the apartments have been finished. The internal road for the apartments will be Robin’s Way, after Robin Rubado, Cornerstone’s Vice-President of Housing. The prep for the interior roads is underway, but it will not be paved until most of the buildings are built. The first buildings will be opened by the end of June, with full occupancy by the end of September 2019.

The Frances Apartments in the town of Sweden, a nearly identical design.