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 “M”, 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 “M” 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.





News Tidbits 1/20/2019

21 01 2019

Now to start digging into the odds and ends:

1. For those interested in learning more about the Carpenter Business Park proposal, Northside United, the neighborhood group that represents the Northside Neighborhood, will be hosting the development team for a presentation and Q&A on Monday, February 4th 6pm at the Quaker Meeting House on 120 Third Street. Here’s the project breakdown as provided in email by Northside United:

Affordable Housing. A 4-story building with 42 one and two-bedroom units of working family housing will be sited near Farmer’s Market and 3rd Street and targeted at those in the 50-60% of area median income ($30,000-$35,000 household income range). The affordable units are in a separate 4-story building from the market rate units, they say due to federal/state requirements for low-income housing tax credits. Park Grove Realty (with staff formerly associated with Conifer) will manage the affordable units.

Market Rate Housing. In addition to the building affordable housing, two other 4-6 story buildings in the development will be targeted at market rate rents (and also include commercial/retail).  Maybe 150 or so units of market rate housing.

CMC Medical Office Building. This 4-story building, at the east end of site near Cascadilla Street, is slated to be mostly medical/specialist offices and a still to be defined “healthcare location,” but not a “convenient-care” type facility.

Commercial Space. Tentatively there will also be approximately 20,000 feet of commercial space in the development.

Neighborhood Design and Features. They talk about this being a small “new neighborhood” of its own, but knitted together with our existing Northside neighborhood.

Community Gardens. Ithaca Community Garden retains its current size (following a land swap) and becomes permanent (pending agreement with Gardens and City). As this is being negotiated with the Gardens and City, NU probably does not need to spend time on it.

Opening Fifth Street to Rt. 13 is being considered.  

Northside United participants have asked the development team consider an urgent care or dental clinic on-site, screening the parking from the rode, better pedestrian and bike access (with reference to Form Ithaca’s boulevard concept), consider townhomes vs. multistory buildings, making the Fifth Street access pedestrian/bike only, well-designed green space, include a local committee of officials, residents and developers to guide the design process, and satisfaction with the affordable component, though they’d like it mixed with other buildings. That last one is always tough, because state-administered affordable housing grants don’t allow this out of concern the market-rate section goes bankrupt; so if they were in the same building, they would still have to be one contiguous entity within the building, as with Visum’s Green Street proposal.

Kind word of advice – if you want to attend but are not a Northside resident, be as respectful like you’re a guest invited to someone else’s house. In the 210 Hancock debate, Fall Creek was strongly negative to the affordable housing proposal, which was in neighboring Northside and better received in Northside. But Fall Creekers had a habit of steering the conversation, which created tensions with Northside United.

2. Dryden’s Tiny Timber Homes has been keeping busy. The firm is rolling out a new line of smaller homes in an effort to better meet the needs of the middle-income housing market. The first home shown above is their first truly tiny timber – a 330 SF home that sells for about $75,000 fully finished. The second example is a U-shaped ranch home being built on Landon Road in the town of Caroline; that 2-bedroom, 856 SF home on 1.2 acres is selling for $199,000, which is practically the maximum buying power of the median family income in Tompkins County (3.4 * $59,000 = $200.6k). The new line of homes will include designs ranging from the 330 SF example, to 1,100 SF, which can be built for $150-$200/SF depending on the home model, location and features.

Tiny Timbers has also rolled out its next cluster development, a 20-home development on 6 acres on a vacant West Hill at the dead end of Campbell Avenue. Plans call for screened parking, a community garden and a multi-use trail. As reported by my Voice colleague Devon Magliozzi, the Planning Board was enthusiastic but cautioned that West Hill was generally averse to any new development. I dunno if that is totally true in this case; I had a conversation with George McGonigal a few years ago when Tiny Timbers bought the property, and he was cautiously optimistic for owner-occupied housing as long as they weren’t “packed like sardines”; dunno if ~3 units/acre passes the test. This would be their second such development, following the Tiny Timbers Varna plan, “The Cottages at Fall Creek Crossing”, which has sold at least four of its fifteen lots (the website shows three sold, but it’s not clear when the webpage was last updated) and is undergoing site prep for the new homes. The homes here would likely be similarly priced, in the $200k-$275k range, and 850 SF – 2,000 SF.

3. Here’s a look at the New York State Department of Transportation’s plan for a new regional facility on Warren Road in the town of Lansing. Here’s a description of the plan as reported by the Lansing Star, per DOT representatives at the meetings to the county and town last week:

“Buildings on the site will include a 30,000 square foot ‘sub-residency’ maintenance building, a 5,000 square foot Cold Storage, a 8,200 square foot 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 including a fueling station, parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. The project will require construction of an access drive from Warren Road and the extension of utilities.”

As is often the case with high-priority state projects, the construction time frame is fast – the governor’s office wants the site built and fully operational by the end of the year. Also, much to the chagrin of some very unhappy neighbors who don’t want a DOT facility nearby, the town of Lansing is not Lead Agency in environmental review – the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is, given proximity to the airport (the county sold the 15.5 acres of land to the airport last September). Public resource projects by the state, like state-owned office buildings, state maintenance facilities and labs, are generally excluded from local zoning codes and do not have nearly as lengthy of an approval process. The nearly 1,000 page Environmental Site Assessment report can be found on the DOT website here. CHA Companies (formerly  Clough Harbor and Associates) of Albany, a prominent state contractor, did the assessment on behalf of the state.

There’s always going to be a bit of limitation in where the state can go with a project like this. The state wants out of the waterfront, not just because the county wants the land to be redeveloped, but because the salt and vehicle fluids could pose risks to the water quality of the inlet and lake (and DOT doesn’t want to be on the hook for that), access to 13 is more difficult due to urban traffic, the location isn’t efficient to where the state plows state roads previously handled by the town, and lastly, the state has simply outgrown the waterfront site -it needs more land, and taking the railroad’s or the Farmers Market’s is not a viable option. The state did originally plan using a site in Dryden on Ellis Drive, but the state determined that response time to urban areas was too long, and since some of the land was federally designated as wetland, the site was too small.

4. In the county’s deed filings, one of the more common recordings is the easements filed by NYSEG, often for new line connections to the power grid. Once in a blue moon, they turn up something interesting. The above site sketch comes courtesy of one of those filings. Scott Morgan owns 543 Asbury Road, and in 2015 he had proposed eight duplexes on the property, but the town had issues with that much density on a rural lot, so Morgan shelved the plan and the town amended the code to prevent such density on rural parcels. In turn, it appears that Morgan subdivided the 5-acre lot into four parcels, and is building a duplex on each. If they’re like his Lansing rentals, expect them to be ranch-style units with two bedrooms each.