News Tidbits 8/18/18

18 08 2018

1. Here’s the latest update to “The Village at Varna” the Trinitas proposal for the hamlet of Varna. The project had originally started with 224 units and 663 beds, and this latest iteration is down to 219 units and 602 beds. The most notable changes in this new layout are the incorporation of a three-story parking garage to conserve green space, and a larger retail area fronting Dryden Road – there’s nothing in the filing, but at a glance it’s about double the previous size, so from 800 to something around 1600 SF.

With the inclusion of a garage, that frees up more green space – at 55% of the site, it’s now only 4% lower than the requirement (59%, the site is a mix of Varna Hamlet zone types). 541 parking spaces are provided, vs. the 549 required by zoning, and there are some setback variances requested for setbacks from the property line buffers (the buffers themselves are the required 20′ width).

One thing that stands out to me as a potential issue isn’t shape or scale, but unit mix. Of those 219 units, 110 are four-bedroom units. Beyond the argument that four-bedroom units are clearly student oriented (the demand simply isn’t there within the general market), I’m doubtful the demand for 110 four-bedroom units exists outside of Collegetown. Most grad students who take a shine to Varna also opt for smaller spaces, and the undergraduates who fill 4 bedroom+ units generally aren’t interested in living this far out. What modest demand there is for four-bedroom units, is identified and met – projects like 802 Dryden have already incorporated a number of four-bedroom units in their plans. I understand that from a cost per square foot perspective, it’s more efficient to do four-bedroom units (one four-bedroom doesn’t need two kitchens, living rooms and bathrooms like two two-bedroom units would). But it would likely be tougher sell than Trinitas realizes, especially with Cornell planning to expand their campus offerings in the next few years.

To be frank, I’m firmly in the camp that Trinitas could do something good here, but I’m not sure this is it.

2. Let’s just throw another piece of bad news out there – even with the project redesign, PPM Homes cannot make the Ithaca Glass redevelopment work financially. That’s unfortunate not just because of the ten units of infill housing that may not be built, but it and the Wyllie Dry Cleaner redevelopment had received a $500,000 RESTORE NY grant. While that money is untouched, it doesn’t look good to the state that a project that the city vetted and advocated over competing projects has stalled out. To be fair, apparently not even Ed Cope knew of the structural issues at the time of application. The later revision for the Ithaca Glass site removed Wyllie’s from the grant award, and the status of that project isn’t clear. The IURA notes that Cope has talked with INHS about possibly selling them the site so they could go through with the original smaller and modern-looking overbuild, but the issue was that the overbuild wasn’t structurally feasible without a huge investment, and INHS has a lot of coals in the fire at the moment (offhand there’s the Salvation Army site, 209-213 Elm Street, 402 South Cayuga, the Green Street Garage, and Hamilton Square). It’s not looking good at the moment.

3. Speaking of which, quick update on the Salvation Army rebuild and expansion – it’s still in the works between them and INHS, but going slower than first anticipated. The project probably won’t be applying for construction funding this fall, but instead it’s expected to be reviewed by the city, approved and seeking affordable housing funds sometime next year.

 

4. At least the airport expansion project seems to be moving along. According to airport staff, the state has a heavy hand in it, and there have been weekly meetings to source fund to fill the $8 million gap needed to bring the $22 million project forward. Bids have already opened on phase one, the construction of the new main terminal, and the bidding period will close by the end of the month. Phase two, the geothermal power and new concourse, will be bid in early 2019, as will the third phase, the new solar array and U.S. customs facility.

5. Some good news on the affordable housing front, the county is set to disburse joint Cornell-Ithaca-Tompkins Community Housing Development funds funds to help Cornerstone Group’s Milton Meadows proposal move forward in Lansing, eventually totaling $256,875 towards the 72-unit apartment project. Milton Meadows would serve 14 households at up to 50% AMI (area median income, 100% = $59,000/year for a single person), 42 at 60% AMI, and 16 at 80% AMI.

In the next round of funding to be awarded this fall, it looks like the county will award two grants – one to INHS, $140,000 from the CHDF to help pay for two of the four for-sale townhouses at 402 South Cayuga Street (the 80% AMI ones, as the two 100% AMI middle-income units aren’t eligible), and $300,000 to Visum for the twelve units of affordable housing planned at 327 West Seneca Street. The Visum project is conditional since the administrative committee for the funds is awaiting additional details, and the project needs to be approved by the city. Perhaps PPM Homes should reach out for a discussion about whether an application could make its West Seneca project (item #2) work.

6. Developer Scott Morgan’s 16-unit Cayuga Vista Townhomes aren’t in formal review yet, but the land has exchanged hands – $139,500 on the 15th, every penny the sellers wanted. This makes it considerably more likely that the rental project (2 one-bedroom, 12 two-bedroom, 2 three-bedroom) will be coming forward to the town of Lansing planning board over the next few months.

7. For those who dream of owning a B&B, the William Henry Miller Inn is for sale. The building dates from 1878 and served as the private residence of the Osborn family from 1914 to 1996. In 1998, innkeeper Lynette Scofield purchased the property and renovated it into the Inn, which opened the following year. The Inn has enjoyed rave reviews on travel advising websites.

For $1.499 million, you too can be an innkeeper – the sale includes all furnishings, future bookings and  “infinite good will”. It definitely reads as if a very strong preference will be given to those who maintain the inn and its high standards vs. other uses. The inn has nine beds and eleven bathrooms, with an accessory owner’s cottage with one bed and bath. It’s something to fill out your daydreams this weekend.





News Tidbits 7/14/2018

14 07 2018

1. We’ll start of in Dryden with some revisions to the Trinitas project. This project has slowly but steadily been winnowed down in size. The original proposal in late May was 224 units and 663 beds. The June revisions dropped that figure to 22 units and 649 beds. Now with the latest set of revisions, the unit and bed count has fallen to 220 units and 610 beds. In other words, capacity has dropped by about 8% so far. A copy of the presentation Trinitas gave to the town board last month can be found in their minutes on the town website here.

From a site plan perspective, you can see a number of substantial changes – some townhouse buildings were lengthened in the southern corner, other strings shortened or broken up, the clubhouse/community building is now a mixed-use structure, and a couple of townhouse strings were deleted outright. About the only portion that was unchanged was the trio of structures closest to Dryden Road.

The early working name for this project was “Fall Creek Village”, which while referencing Fall Creek just to its north, may not have been a wise choice given the neighborhood of Fall Creek in Ithaca, which has been the epicenter for Ithaca’s gentrification. It was suggested they change the name, ideally to something with “Varna” in it. There’s about a hundred other pros, cons and general thoughts shared during the meeting, which can be read here. The project team would like to have approvals by the end of the fall, for a Spring 2019 – August 2020 construction period. As all the paperwork is filed, reviewed and discussed, expect more revisions to the project before any final approval is considered and granted.

2. Tompkins Financial may have relocated all its operations to its new headquarters, but that doesn’t mean its the end of the road for its old properties. 1051 Craft Road, formerly home to the Tompkins Insurance Agency, was sold to Ithaca Dermatology Associates of Ithaca on June 5th for $1.2 million. The 7,541 SF building was built in 1995 and assessed at $990,000, so Tompkins Trust did okay with the sale price – they purchased the building for $965,000 in 2007.

The new chapter is, as you might’ve already guessed, medical office and service space. With the assistance of a $1.5 million construction loan from Tompkins Trust, the Ithaca Dermatology is renovating the building for its new clinic. The hard cost of the renovations (materials/labor) is $1.025 million, and the spruced up facilities are expected to be open by January. Local architecture firm Chiang O’Brien, who have a specialty in medical facilities (they did Cornell Health’s new building and Planned Parenthood’s new regional HQ) is designing the renovated space, and Hammond Heating and Plumbing is the contractor.

3. If you’re looking for something interesting in local planning board agenda, there isn’t much to see at the moment. The town of Ithaca’s PB will be looking at a vacant lot subdivision between 721 and 817 Elmira Road (no future plans stated), and a lot subdivision on Enfield Falls Road to create three home lots and a large wooded parcel to be conveyed to the state as a conserved natural area. Over in Lansing, they’ll be looking at a plan for five micro-sized rental cottages at 16 Hillcrest Road.

4. The near-waterfront office building at 798 Cascadilla Street has been sold. 798 Cascadilla LLC made a deal with the too-similarly named Cascadilla 798 LLC for $2.55 million on Thursday the 12th.  As reported when then building went on sale, the 18,271 SF office building is home to Palisade Corporation, a software firm specializing in decision making/risk analysis tools. 798 Cascadilla LLC is the managing company for Palisade co-founder Sam McLafferty, who recently passed away. Cascadilla 798 LLC is a bit of a question mark – they were created in May and registered to this address, so maybe someone else associated with Palisade is buying it. The asking price for 798 Cascadilla was $2.7 million, and the tax assessment is for $2 million. Pyramid Brokerage’s David Huckle conducted the sale.

5. Maybe something the infill folks in the city want to watch – 622 West Clinton Street just sold to Jerame Hawkins, who two years ago wanted to do an affordable duplex (60% Area Median Income) to replace the old barn (yes, barn) at the rear of the property, as well as keep the existing house locked in as affordable housing. Carina would have supplied the modular units for the three-bedroom townhomes, and Finger Lakes ReUse would have salvaged the barn. Hawkins had applied for $135k in IURA federal grant funds, but the proposal was not funded. However, his purchase of the property now makes a potential affordable infill project somewhat more likely, though we’ll have to wait and see.

6. Color me intrigued – does Pat Kraft have a tenant lined up for the ground level of his Dryden South building at 205 Dryden Road? I have yet to see paperwork, but we’ll see.

7. It appears the Stavropoulos family, local landlords who have undertaken several smaller-scale projects in recent years, are about to add to their holdings. It would appear they are buying out Jagat Sharma’s properties as the well-known Collegetown architect heads into retirement (since he’s almost 80, I can’t blame him). The Stavropoulos purchased a four-unit house at 208-210 Prospect Street from Sharma this week (for $480k, well above the $350k assessed), and an LLC notice was posted recently for 312 East Seneca LLC, which is registered to the Stavropouloses’ home address. 312 East Seneca is also the office of Sharma Architecture (and the cat cafe), and was eyed as a potential Visum acquisition for its Seneca Flats mixed-use plan at 201 North Aurora Street (Visum has conceptual plans for versions with and without Sharma’s lot, so this sale doesn’t kill their plans, though not having the property shrinks it somewhat).

Slowly but steadily, the Stavropoulos are buying and building their way to significantly-sized landlords. Current projects include the 11-unit building finishing up at 107 North Albany Street, and the infill duplex planned for 209 Hudson Street. Last year, they developed four units at 1001 North Aurora Street, and they have a dozen other properties throughout the city under the business name “Renting Ithaca“.

8. We’ll leave this off with some thoughts from the Tompkins County Housing Committee, with four initiatives it will be pursuing to help address the lack of affordable housing in Ithaca and its surrounding environs:

I. Solicit the state attorney general for ways it might be able to legally expand or enhance its Community Housing Development Fund with Cornell and the city of Ithaca. The CHDF is the only way the county can fund housing development since it can’t legally fund housing development directly, but CHDF is relatively limited in its scale and abilities.

II. Develop a proposal for a municipal matching fund to help with grant writing for affordable housing, zoning improvement and infrastructure to serve affordable housing.

III. Planning staff will conduct an infill site analysis in development focus areas (Downtown, State Street Corridor). This would potentially find opportunities in surplus or underused county property that may be developed as affordable housing through an RFP process.

IV. Planning Staff will participate in the Policy Lab Study (“Jennifer and George’s Study”) to provide data and help inform the client committee. I honestly have no idea what this refers to.

 

 

 





News Tidbits 6/23/2018

23 06 2018

1. The Town of Dryden has rejected the Planning Board’s suggestion for a Varna moratorium. The vote was 3-1, with one absent. This means that Trinitas may continue with the project review process – it does not mean Trinitas will automatically be able to build their proposal as currently drawn up, since planning board review, town board approval (Special Use Permit) and zoning board approval are still required.

Unfortunately no members of the press were present at the meeting – I found out through reader email. Most were covering the Democratic Party NY-23 candidate forum, and the first mention of the moratorium vote online was in the uploaded board agenda that went up just a day earlier.

Image courtesy of the Lansing Star

2. When I first broke the Lansing Senior Cottages story for the Voice, there was something I was concerned would happen, but didn’t include in the write-up, because speculating gets me in trouble. But these are homes looking at middle-class seniors, placed next to $500,000-$700,000 homes. The residents of those luxury homes aren’t happy, as reported by Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star.

They’re angry, which is fair in the perspective that when the property was plated, there was no sewer available here, and the plan was to keep it all high-end 2500+ square-foot homes. But the owner/developer of the land is selling off the future phases without any of the old covenants in place, meaning it’s subject to standard village zoning. 800-1200 SF cottages for seniors, some of which may potentially be for sale, is a welcome proposal to the eyes of the county. It seems unlikely this is going to hurt their home values; this is mid-market senior housing, not college student apartments (the only beer on the front lawn you’re going to see is if developer Beer Properties puts up signage). Plus, if you’re going to poll public opinion on this one, wealthy homeowners vs. middle-class seniors is not going to engender support for the homeowners. They could try a lawsuit against the landowner, but I’m doubtful it’s much of a case unless their covenants explicitly said what the undeveloped land would be used for.

The project is currently 107 units over multiple phases, about twenty more than allowed by zoning as-of-right, so it will need to go through a PDA with the village Board of Trustees’ consent, and Planning Board approval.

3. The Crossroads Life Center planned for the 100 Block of Lansing’s Graham Road is no longer alive. The project, which called for a meeting and retreat space to be owned and maintained by the Cornell International Christian Fellowship, fell through, and the land it was proposed for is once again up for sale. The 9.35 acre property (about 3-4 acres were to have been subdivided for the project) is for sale for $239,000. A couple half-acre home lots could be easily subdivided off along Dart Drive, but further development would have to address an old family cemetery towards the rear of the property. Zoning is medium density residential. Maximum buildout without special planned development area (PDA) rules is about 20 units under the village’s Medium Density Residential zoning.

4. Speaking of land for sale in Lansing, Cornell is actively marketing the remaining vacant parcels in its Business Park. Most of the park was built out in the 1980s and 1990s, with only a few building additions in recent years. A 5-acre parcel is available between 20 and 33 Thornwood (foreground in the aerial) for $63,000, and a 22-acre parcel is available for $276,000 (it may be subdivided further), and a 6.89 acre parcel next to airport is available for $86,500.  Lansing zoning doesn’t allow housing here, and so a commercial or industrial project will need to deal with the gas moratorium. A run-of-the-mill office building might be able to make the finances work, but an industrial or lab building with high energy needs is probably is out of the question until some gas is freed up (i.e. the airport renovation), or energy alternatives become more cost efficient.  The county is working on financing a Business Energy Navigator Program to help interested businesses determine their needs and options. Should something happen up here, look for an update.

5. The town of Ithaca is looking at expanding their Public Works Facility at 106 Seven Mile Drive “to better accommodate [their] growing employee base”, and is doing a feasiblity study to see how much and what costs they can expect. The study would be conducted by HOLT Architects with several engineering and landscaping partners (the usual retinue of T. G. Miller (Civil Engineering), Elwyn Palmer (Structural Engineering), TWMLA Landscape Architects, and a mechanical/electrical engineering firm, Sack Associates), and is projected to cost about $21k for all parties. The town board will vote to authorize the study next Tuesday.

6. The good news for the county was that the state gave Milton Meadows a big grant to move forward. The bad news is, they were hoping for three grants, the others for NRP’s Ithaca Townhouses and Lakeview’s West End Heights (709-713 West Court Street). The county is trying to find other funding streams with which to get these affordable housing projects to move forward this year.

The Ithaca Townhomes would add 106 units in two phases near Cayuga Medical Center. West End Heights would add 60 units, including units for those with special mental health needs, and units for those currently experiencing homelessness.

7. Not a big city planning board agenda meeting this month, but still some interesting details. Here’s the rundown.

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01

3. Subdivision Review

A. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:15
Location: 508-512 Edgewood Place
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Potential Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision at the end of a private street in the East Hill neighborhood would re-subdivide a double lot that had been consolidated after the original house burnt down in the late 1930s. Any news structure on the newly created .326 acre lot would be subject to Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission design review. No specific plans are on file.

B. Project: Minor Subdivision 6:30
Location: 101 Pier Road
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Potential consideration of Preliminary and Final Approval

This subdivision is to partition out the square of land Guthrie Clinic would be using for their new medical office building as part of the City Harbor development – they want to own their own building and parcel.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project: Major Subdivision (3 Lots), Two Duplexes, One Single Family Home & Site Improvements 6:45
Location: 128 West Falls Street
Applicant: Ron Ronsvalle
Actions: PUBLIC HEARING – Consideration of Preliminary Subdivision Approval – Recommendation to BZA

This project came up earlier this month in a previous news roundup – a five-unit infill project in Fall Creek, originally approved in February 2015, and revived now that the developer has found a way to continue working after a debilitating accident. Don’t foresee any issues here.

B. Project: GreenStar Cooperative Market 7:15
Location: 750-770 Cascadilla Street
Applicant: Noah Demarest for the Guthrie Clinic (Guthrie owns the land)
Actions: Consideration of Preliminary and Final Site Plan Approval

Since the last round, plantings were added, the lighting and front entrance was revised, and the project team is in discussions with the gas station next door to add planting and landscaping there as well.

C. Project: Apartments (60 units) 7:35
Location: 232-236 Dryden Road
Applicant: STREAM Collaborative for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Approval of Revised Transportation Demand Management Plan

“The applicant has revised the site plan such that the previously proposed off-site parking is no longer included in the project and has updated the TDMP narrative to reflect this.”
D. 327 W Seneca St- Housing 7:45
The new shiny. 327 West Seneca is a B-2d-zoned property on the edge of the State Street Corridor – B-2d allows multi-family housing up to 4 floors and 40 feet with 75% lot coverage. It is currently a nondescript 3-unit apartment building, that’s been for-sale for almost a year now (asking price $264,900).
A cursory search of LLC filings finds 327 W. Seneca LLC was recently registered in Tompkins County, and the address it is registered to, is the business office of Todd Fox, CEO of Visum Development Group. This may be the project alluded to in the New York Main Street grant to be written by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, which talks about a 12-unit project by Visum planned somewhere in the State Street Corridor. No guarantees, but this seems likely to be that project.
5. Zoning Appeals 8:10
#3099, 314 Taylor St, Special Permit
#3100, 128 Falls St., Area Variance
#3101, 437 N Aurora St, Area Variance




News Tidbits 6/9/2018

9 06 2018

1. Let’s start off with some eye candy. Behold, the latest and probably last major revisions to Modern Living Rental’s planned apartment complex at 802 Dryden Road. We also have a name for the 42-unit apartment complex to be built there – “Ivy Ridge“. This latest design received a little bit of STREAM’s touch to complement the work previously undertaken by John Snyder Architects. The six building are generally but not exactly the same – the gables are mirrored, some additional trim piece are used on the gables for the Dryden Road pair, and they alternate between a dark blue vertical fiber cement panel (probably HardieBoard), and a dark green panel (it’s a little sad they reworked the profiles and did away with the visually interesting mix of hipped and gabled roofs). Units were downsized about 35 square-feet per unit per floor, and overall the town planner thought the buildings looked “a lot more friendly”. Some more renders can be found here. Units are a mix of 24 2-bedrooms, 12 3-bedrooms and six 4-bedrooms, for a total of 108 bedrooms.

There’s a little bit of pre-building infrastructure work that needs to take place, because this is a sort of no man’s land between the settled parts of the town of Ithaca and the town of Dryden where no municipal water service was available. The public water main will be extended to service the project, and the main will be deeded over to the town. This will go under Dryden Road, so the DOT is in the loop. The planned buildout is August 2018 – August 2019.

2. Staying in Dryden for the moment, a bit eastward to Varna – I have not spoken to a single person who thought highly of Trinitas first swing at the Lucente property on Dryden and Mount Pleasant Roads. The building scale seems okay for Varna’s core, and the Varna Plan actually okays this kind of layout and says the community was comfortable with it on arguably a smaller overall project scale, something that caught me by surprise when I did my writeup for the Voice. The issue is that it’s a lot to see at once, and it makes me wonder if Trinitas really had its eyes open and ears listening and just went forward anyway, or if they were caught off guard. After swings and misses in Ann Arbor and Ames, I’d hope Trinitas would be a little more cautious.

This is asking a lot of Dryden, 224 units with 663 beds at the moment. However, I’m doubtful a moratorium is the answer. I think there is potential to have more conversations if both sides are willing to talk, and Trinitas should be firmly aware that this plan is not likely to go through as currently proposed. I don’t know what the financial statement looks like here, but elsewhere Trinitas has tried (if unsuccessfully) with incorporating affordable housing with its market-rate units, and they also do have projects that seem more like the Varna Plan’s thoughts for that parcel, like their Pullman project, which is a combination of townhouse strings and duplex buildings. The town of Ithaca and EdR agreed to have EdR fund local road improvements as part of the Maplewood project, so that’s another idea.

One of the reasons cited for a potential moratorium in Dryden is the need to balance the rental development with for-sale housing. It is very tough to effectively encourage owner-occupied housing at a price range affordable to middle-income households. For one, no tax breaks – state law says it is illegal for the IDA to give tax abatements to owner-occupied developments (for-sale homes, condos). Building codes and complicated condo rules drive up housing costs and make existing state subsidies for affordable for-sale ineffective, and for-sale housing is seen with greater uncertainty by lenders (there are more people able and willing to rent than to buy, especially in a college-centric community). It’s difficult! That’s why the county’s Housing Committee is keenly focused on trying to come up with solutions. There’s a fantastic senior research project by newly-minted Cornell graduate Adam Bronfin that looks at the condo problem in excellent detail, and a PDF of that study can be found here.

The other suggestion, making rental housing more difficult to do, comes with its own perils – namely, by cutting off the supply while demand continues to grow, you force out lower-income households in an attempt of trying to limit the student rentals. There is conceptual discussion of affordable for-sale and rental mixes (similar to Trumansburg’s Hamilton Square) being talked about east of Varna, and it would be really unfortunate if a town law gets drafted up that inadvertently but effectively prevents those kind of projects from happening.

Another risk is that strictly limiting development in Varna only encourages it on rural parcels to the east, or even in Cortland County, promoting sprawl and its detrimental environmental impacts (tax burden of new infrastructure, traffic, additional commuter burden on the Freese Road Bridge, loss of farms and natural space to low-density housing, etc). One can push laws that prohibit students either through zoning, but smaller mom-and-pop landlords may feel the pain and it might get argued in court as an illegal attempt at “spot zoning”.

The TL;DR is that there is no easy answer, but the county is trying. Since it’s so difficult on the brand new side, the county is looking at incentives to encourage renovation of existing rental housing into for-sale units, which would need state approval.

Lastly, I don’t really understand the argument that tacitly advocates for capping Varna’s population. The sewer is a limit, but more capacity could be negotiated if necessary or prudent. The argument over Varna should be focused on quality of new additions, not an argument that the Sierra Club rejected because of its association with racial and income-based eugenics.

3. Surprise, surprise. An infill project in Fall Creek has been revived three and a half years after it was approved. The project calls for five rental buildings, three single-family homes and a duplex. The developer is Heritage Homes, led by Ron Ronsvalle; Ronsvalle was badly injured in an accident, and the injuries left him paralyzed and unable to use his limbs; he is reliant on assistance and voice commands. It was a shame as the project been heralded as a successful example of meeting with neighbors and redesigning a plan to address their concerns; didn’t win over everyone, but a lot of them were satisfied with the approved February 2015 plan. As the letter from project architect/engineer Larry Fabbroni states, “certain life events prevented the owner from resuming full business activities until a support system was running smoothly.”

With a support system in place, Ronsvalle intends to move forward with the approved plan. The project does have to go back before the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Approvals because approvals expire after two years (i.e. February 2017). With nothing changed, the project is likely to sail through re-approval.

The revised SPR states $665,000 in hard costs with a construction period of August 2018 to August 2020 – basically, a couple homes in year one, and a couple in year two.

4. This is rather odd, but in Northside, there seems to be a push for a moratorium because they’re unhappy with the possibility of multiple primary structures on a single lot, which is what local developer David Barken is proposing with the lot consolidation and addition of a two-family home at the rear of 207 and 209 First Street. The concerns cited are similar to South Hill’s, loss of character and increases in density, and came up during the marathon public comment period at the last Common Council meeting.

This seems…baffling? South Hill’s made sense because of the high number of student rentals being built, which was leading to major quality of life issues. Northside doesn’t have that issue, it’s too far from the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. For evidence, here’s the Cornell map of where students live, taken from their 2016 housing study. A handful of grad students live near the creek, but otherwise not much, and undergrads are virtually non-existent. It and West End and West Hill just tend to be too far away for students’ convenience.

To be honest, 207-209 First Street actually seems like a thoughtful project – similar to the Aurora Street pocket neighborhood by New Earth Living. The infill is scaled appropriately, it has features like the raised beds that enhance residents’ quality of life, and it doesn’t tear down existing housing. To my knowledge, there isn’t anything on the radar for Northside unless one counts Immaculate Conception in adjacent Washington Park being converted to housing at some point. It’s not clear what a moratorium or a South Hill-like overlay would achieve here. If anything, students aren’t the risk for Northside – the risk is gentrification spilling over from Fall Creek. This would encourage that, so…this is counterproductive.

5. With the contentious 309 College Avenue / No. 9 fire station debate having met its dramatic conclusion, this render of a proposed redevelopment has been released by its owners. It would appear that the plaza and newer west (front) wing has its exterior walls retained while the rest of the structure is removed, a facadectomy. One could argue this is better than Visum’s plans because it saves large portions of the original structure, vs. the complete removal in Visum’s first version, and emulation of elements in the second. This iteration has decorative roof elements, arched windows in the shape of the fire engine bay doors, and a dumbbell shape characteristic of New York City “Old Law Tenement” buildings built in the late 1800s. The armchair architecture critic typing here would ask for elements of visual interest in the blank walls of the addition, but overall this looks like a good first swing. This is probably intended as first-floor commercial restaurant/retail with apartments above. No architect is listed with the sketch.





News Tidbits 5/14/18

15 05 2018

1. Let’s start off with the new entrant to the Ithaca development scene – Trinitas Ventures. The Indiana-based firm is scouting out Varna for a potentially large rental project geared towards students (but, to be clear, open to anyone).

I’ve already filed my report, and unfortunately will not be at the open house this Monday (there was initial confusion over what say it was, so I’m honestly not sure any reporter made it). Trinitas appears to do everything from multi-story mixed-use urban living to more suburban duplexes and townhouse strings. To be frank, for Varna, they’d be better off going with the latter for size and scale. There’s this running joke among Ithaca developers that Varna is the next frontier for development, but only recently has there been much movement in that direction, and even then, it’s a ‘tread with caution’ approach. Recall the struggles of Varna II and 902 Dryden.

According to the town of Dryden planning board minutes posted after my article, the Lucentes’ vacant Varna II lands are the proposed site for Trinitas project (and which they likely already have a purchasing option on). From their portfolio, their independently-developed project appear to be in the ballpark of 600-700 beds in 150-300 units. Even the more suburban properties look to be on 20 acres or less. A rough estimate of the old Varna II plan is 15+ acres. Most of it is Varna Hamlet Residential, with small amounts of Varna Hamlet Traditional Zoning and Varna Hamlet Mixed-Use. VHRD is 6 duplexes, 4 apartments or 11 townhouses per acre, with potential density bonuses for green energy or redevelopment. This means that if they do mixed-use retail/apartments along 366, and townhouses in the rear along Mount Pleasant Road, they’ve got the space they need for one of their projects. Through the off-record chatter I’m hearing 225 units, mid-600s for total number of beds.

On the bright side, at least they’re being transparent with the open house approach – Trinitas seems to have some awareness of community concerns (maybe after their Ann Arbor debacle), so we’ll see what they propose in a formal submission.

2. Moving to something smaller, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission is providing early guidance for a new apartment house at 204 Williams Street, on the west edge of Collegetown in the East Hill Historic District. Beyond the massing concepts (hipped vs gambrel roof), it looks like 14 bedrooms and perhaps four units, ostensibly geared towards students. Mid-sized Collegetown landlord Pam Johnston has owned the property since 2002, and she’s more of renovator than a developer, but this is unique – the original house burnt down in the 2000s, and the space has been an informal parking lot ever since. With rising land values, redevelopment looks like a better financial prospect. Historic design specialist Jason K. Demarest is in charge of design for the small infill project.

3. Caution light turned on. The Tompkins Center for History and Culture requested and received an extra $445,100 in appropriations, raising the county’s investment to $3,345,100. The extra cost is attributed to bids coming in over projections and additional design costs. The vote was 12-1 with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voting no, but this is probably about as much as the county legislature and general public will be willing to accede without significant backlash or denial of funds.

The Legislature unanimously awarded construction contracts for the Tompkins Center improvement project to Marchuska Brothers Construction, LLC, of Endicott, for the General Work Contract ($561,000); Johnson Controls, Inc., of Rochester, for the Mechanical Contract ($502,638); and Richardson Brothers Electrical Contractors, Inc., of Ithaca, for the Electrical Contract $135,550). Marchuska is a fairly recent addition to the Ithaca area, and is finishing up a gut renovation of a manufacturing facility into medical offices in Lansing village.

4. Whether or not one approaches this with some election year political cynicism, the proposed $22 million expansion of the airport, largely funded by the state;s recently-announced $14.25 million grant, has significant potential to bolster the local economy. Given Ithaca’s relative isolation and definite distate for new highways, an expanded airport, sometime pushed by airlines rather than quixotic bureaucratic dreams, can help retain existing business and grow the leisure/hospitality trade. The announced move of the NYS DOT from its prime waterfront property to a vacant parcel next to the airport is an added bonus, because once they move, the space will be turned over to the county to do as it wishes – which in this case means an RFP for mixed-use development that could create over $40 million in new private investment, according to the 2015 study.

Plans call for the expansion to start construction this fall and open a year later, which sounds a bit ambitious. The expansion would likely have its environmental review conducted by the village of Lansing, which is not known for its haste or ease of process. Renders of the project (all interior) can be found here.

5. Going back to Varna – 1061 Dryden is for sale, blueprints and all. The asking price is a fairly optimistic $2 million – Gary Sloan, the current owner/developer paid $285,000 for the property in October 2015, which contains an existing home. To quote the ad:

“Shovel ready development site within 1.7 miles or 3 minutes from Cornell University Vet College! Very rare opportunity in the Ithaca area and already approved to build 36 Townhouses. Unit configuration; A Unit (12) 3 bedroom 2.5 baths One car garage. B unit (24) 2 Bedroom 2.5 Baths One car garage. Financial analysis are available to Qualified developers indicating a CAP rate of 7! Confidentially agreement required to obtain financial information on the development.”

CAP rate, or capitalization rate, is a measure to evaluate the potential return on investor for a real estate developer. It’s basically Net Operating Income / Property Asset Value. So if I make 50,000 a year in net operating income on a $1 million property, my cap rate is 5%. In general terms, higher cap rates mean high potential return, but are generally seen as indices of higher risk projects as well.

However, because different markets have different risks and amounts of risks, what is an acceptable cap rate in one area may not work in another. For office space for example, a cap rate of 3-4% in Los Angeles or New York would be sufficient, but for Phoenix it’s 6%, and Memphis 8%, because the stability and growth of the market isn’t as great. Also, CAP rates for multi-family properties are generally among the lowest in asset classes because they’re often the most stable. So CAP rate is a valuable indicator, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I hadn’t heard of any issues before this hit the market, and all the approvals are there. The town of Dryden was told not to expect construction to start on this 36-unit property for at least a year. Whether it actually happens is anyone’s guess.

6. Also new to the market this week, a commercial building with redevelopment potential. 622 Cascadilla Street is a one-story, 4.896 SF commercial building occupied by the upscale Zaza’s Cucina restaurant. It also sits in WEDZ-1b zoning, West End Mixed-Use, allowing for a second floor and 90% lot coverage.Nearby, several major projects are approved or in the concept stages, including West End Heights, City Harbor, and the Carpenter Business Park (Cayuga Med) development.

The property is assessed at $875,000, and its current owner, a Massachusetts-based businessman who has been controversial, has been steadily offloading his properties. Should the buyer look like something or someone interesting, expect a follow-up.

7. This is running rather late, but longtime local developer Rocco Lucente passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. The patriarch of the Lucente family of developers (Lucente Homes, later Lifestyle Properties), Lucente started in 1950 as a builder of modest homes and apartments – not ostentatious, but well-suited for Ithaca’s growing middle-class. While it may not have been as profitable per unit, it allowed Lucente to survive the local market crash of the late 1960s, when many of his competitors did not. Lucente also pioneered the idea of renting his newest houses out for a few years before selling them at higher prices thanks to tight supply and value appreciation. With over 700 homes and apartments to his name, much of Cayuga Heights and Northeast Ithaca exists because of Lucente Homes – the town dedicated a section of Briarwood Drive “Rocco Lucente Way” in 2014.

Lucente was not without his controversies, however – the last of his Northeast Ithaca subdivisions, the 47-lot Briarwood II, which was halted by the town over stormwater drainage concerns in the late 2000s, first via moratorium in 2006-07, and then in 2014 by SEQRA concerns and changes to best practices, which led to a lawsuit from Lucente that he lost. This is the forested space between Sapsucker Woods Road and Briarwood Drive.

I had a chance to speak with Rocco a couple of times in my work with the Voice (it started with the Village Solars), and I always found him to be engaged and animated, more than I’d expect for a gentleman of his age. He’d often extol the features of his properties, which I would respond with a polite laugh, because it wasn’t my place to sell them, but he was a businessman through and through. But generally, I found talking with him to be a pleasure. Rocco was a capable developer, working up until the end not out of need but for a love of the work. He will be missed.





News Tidbits 4/21/2018

21 04 2018

1. Just a few things since there isn’t much on the table at the moment…a look at next week’s planing board agenda.

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III. A. City Centre, 301 East State Street – Consideration of Project Changes and Conditions 6:20

The blog has touched on this previously, and it can also be seen by hawk-eyed passerby or webcam visitors. While the general massing and materials are staying the same, there are some pretty substantial changes to interior and exterior details, including significant revisions to site layout, landscaping and fenestration. New materials are also being deployed, though these are designed to look similar to the initially-approved materials.

B. Hilton Canopy Hotel, 115 Seneca Way – Consideration of Materials Color Change 6:40

Another project seeking revisions, though these can’t be ascribed to “value engineering”. According to project representative Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design, the manufacturer of the metal panels switched from Cem5 with Swiss Pearl paints to Nichiha Panels using PPG Paints, which will create some subtle color differences.

The second change is that Hilton decided they didn’t like the yellowish fiber cement panels (“Applesauce Cake”) as an accent color, so they’ve been replaced with a dark grey-brown color, “Dark Ash”. I think it’s a little more foreboding to have a group of colors that look like the embodiment of an Ithaca winter, but hey, I’m just an armchair critic. Not mentioned, but it looks like based on the elevations that some trim pieces were deleted as well, as well as a glass entry on the north elevation.

C. Retail Expansion, 744 South Meadow Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing 7:00

Doubt there will be too many speakers during this public hearing. Benderson’s 3,200 SF is moving along. Corrugated aluminum and a “Brazilian rain screen” on the front, Brick pier for an accent, and the usual CMU and EIFS (aka masonry and synthetic stucco) on the back half. No named tenant. From experience, Benderson doesn’t say if they have tenants. They will not respond, period, if I ask no one is lined up, but if someone is, I usually get a call back. I prefer rival DLC Management Corporation’s method of monthly press releases, to be honest.

D. Duplex, 207-209 First Street, Declaration of Lead Agency 7:20

No modifications for this small infill project on the North Side by local businessman David Barken. Should be a fairly cut-and-dry affair. More on the project here.

E. GreenStar Co-operative Market, 750/770 Cascadilla Street, Declaration and Reviews of Parts 2 and 3 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form, 7:40

Not many changes with this plan. They’ve spoken with city engineers about their traffic study, and the city would like a few more bicycle and pedestrian features, as well as a few parking spaces designated for a car-share service like Ithaca CarShare. They also want a firm plan for traffic management while construction is underway, since it’s right next to Route 13. Other than that, looks like smooth sailing.

On an additional note, GreenStar has initiated the Tompkins County IDA tax abatement request process. This was stated in the plans early on, so it’s an expected action. The City of Ithaca announced in an email that a public information session that will be held Monday, April 30 at 5:30 p.m. However, they didn’t provide any supplemental information or links in the email, and nothing appears to be in the city’s document database. Nothing on the IDA’s website yet, either.

F. The Lux, 232-236 Dryden Road, Request to omit rooftop mechanical screen.

STREAM Collaborative, the architects of the project, are requesting on behalf of the developer, Visum Development Group, to delete sections of the fiber cement screen up top. This is often met with a stern “no”, but in this case they’re trying to show through sight-line diagrams that the effect will be minimal, though I suppose from farther vantage points that can see the roof, it would still be less attractive. The board’s objective is to figure out what suffices. Not sure whether this deletion is financially motivated, or if there safety/equipment concerns with the screen.

Not to be cynical, because it’s not my money and many people work hard to make these projects happen, but it does look like there are up to three projects previously approved that are coming back before the board this month wholly or in part for value engineering, which is not a great message to send. A member of the board isn’t likely to shoot anything down regardless of its negative aesthetic or neighborhood impacts because no one wants a half-finished building. But this may lead to much longer stipulations for approval, and a more stringent Planning Board that lengthens the initial approval process.

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks District FGEIS – Special Meeting in May
B. Planning Board comments on the proposal to allow the Planning Board to grant Special Permits

2. For all the Varna/Dryden readers – a developer is proposing a multi-family project in Varna, and would like to host an open house and community meeting at the Varna Community Association building Monday May 14th. Chances are, it they’re going to this much effort, it’s a sizable project. Give them (whoever it is) some benefit of the doubt. They’re not surprising people with a planning board submission, they want input first.





News Tidbits 2/26/2018: One, Two, Many Tweaks

26 02 2018

1. Let’s start off with some bad news. Than Lansing Star is reporting that developer Eric Goetzmann is in serious trouble. The village of Lansing Planning Board rejected his latest request for the Lansing Meadows senior housing component, which was to build twelve units on a fraction of the lot, and leave the rest vacant. Frankly, they liked the units, but the vacant and potentially saleable lot was too much for them to overlook. To be honest, they and the village Board of Trustees have been fairly accommodating to his other requests, but this seems to be the last straw, and they let him know it.

They will consider the latest revision, but only as a major revision, not as the minor change Goetzmann had hoped for. That means it will take months to go through the procedural review and vote. Meanwhile, the IDA has initiated legal action because Goetzmann failed to hold up his end of the deal they agreed to when he received his abatement back in 2011.

Some projects are successes. Some break even, some don’t turn out as well as hoped. But as Lansing Meadows goes, this is neigh close to a disaster.

2. On a more positive note, Lansing will be considering, coincidentally, another 12-unit townhouse project. Called “Triphammer Row”, the market-rate units are planned for the vacant rear portion of a Cornell-owned parcel at 2248 North Triphammer. This blog reported on the parcel in a news roundup back in July 2016, when it went up for sale:

“Hitting the market this week is a potential opportunity for the deep-pocketed investor/developer. The property is 2248 North Triphammer Road in the village of Lansing. The sale consists of two parcels totaling 3.42 acres – a 1.53 acre parcel with a 2,728 SF M&T Bank branch built in 1992 and holding a long-term triple-net (NNN) lease; the other, an undeveloped 1.89 acre parcel to the rear that the listing notes could be developed out into 13 housing units. The price for the pair is $2,125,000.”

The plan calls for roughly 1,350 SF units with ground-floor garages. They’re intended to be marketed towards seniors looking to downsize, and young families. The developer is Robert Poprawski, who runs a small hotel group (Snooze Hotels) in metro Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Poprawski is a 2005 Cornell graduate, so there’s the likely local connection.

The planning board is supportive, but the big issue will be the driveway – they would prefer the townhomes share Sevanna Park’s driveway. That’s tricky because Sevanna Park’s road is privately owned. Not impossible to make a deal, and it would likely have the village’s benediction, but it’ll take a little while to see if a deal can be made between Sevanna Park’s HOA and Poprawski (all things considered, given that a much larger retail/office building and parking lot could be built on the combined lots, 12 more homeowners doesn’t sound like a bad option).

The village is also reporting there are development plans for the balance of the Millcroft property (the 32-acre remainder of the parcel, once intended for luxury single-family homes, has been for sale for a while), and vacant 4.56-acre 9 Dart Drive. The Ramada Inn (correction: the new extended-stay hotel proposed behind the Ramada) and Target are the only businesses interested in buying their properties from the mall’s owner, and Bon-Ton’s on deathwatch. The town’s code and planning officer notes that if it weren’t for Namdar Realty buying the mall, it would have failed, which would have forced the remaining tenants out and turned the mall into a vacant husk, to say nothing of the property tax implications.

3. Let’s shift over to Dryden. It’s been rumored for a little while that 1061 Dryden, aka the “Evergreen Townhouses”, would be trying to shift towards a smaller footprint – here’s the plan. The approved proposal calls for 36 3-bedroom units, six strings of six units. The reduced size plan still has six strings of six units, but the middle four have been reduced to two-bedroom units. The total occupancy goes from 108 to 84, and the footprints have shrunk as bit. Old render at top, new renders at middle, new site plan at bottom with new footprints in red. HOLT Architects’ design is generally the same, though I have an armchair critique with the rear flanks of the strings – a window opening would do a lot for aesthetics, if the floor plans permit.

(You can check the town’s website for docs, but some webpages have been hacked and replaced with a phishing scam, so use caution).

According to Dryden town planner Ray Burger, the developer, Lansing businessman Gary Sloan, would like to start construction this summer. That would put these units on track for an opening in time for the 2019-2020 academic year (in other words, about 12-14 month constriction timeline).

4. Another project moving forward – 118 College Avenue in Collegetown. This is a Visum proposal to replace a five-bedroom house with a 5-unit, 28-bedroom apartment building. The project was approved by the city early last year. According to the advertisements on Zillow, rents are expected to be $1,200/person, plus utilities.

I asked Visum’s Patrick Braga to confirm, and he replied that building permits would be approved “any day now”, so they’re probably looking at an August 2018 opening. With regards to a follow-up inquiry about its near-identical twin planned for 126 College Avenue, Braga replied they he does not “have any information on the status” for that project.

5. The new Greenstar West End store. Maybe coming soon. According to the news release, if the membership approves the move, the new store would be open at 750 Cascadilla Street by November 2019. The expansion would more than double their floor space, and add sixty living-wage jobs. Membership will vote on the plan next month.

The above render is courtesy of STREAM Collaborative – even without their logo, their software relies on the same pack of white Priuses, Volvos, and Touraegs to fill parking spaces (my family of mechanics would be proud I use vehicle models as a telltale attribute). The design is attractive for a big box – it has shed roofs and exposed wood trusses that give it a warmer, less industrial appearance. For the record, STREAM also did 118 College Avenue in the previous tidbit.

6. Honda of Ithaca has been sold to the Maguires for $3.5 million. The sale was recorded with the county clerk on the 20th. The acquisition means that Maguire represents just about every major vehicle make in the Ithaca area. It also drew some impassioned responses regarding customer service experiences, which given Maguire’s very visible presence, is not to be unexpected.

According to county records, the 27,558 SF dealership was built in 1985 as Cutting Motors Buick-Pontiac-GMC, and sold for $1.8 million in 2009. It was renovated and expanded in 2012; the portion closest to Elmira Road is the expansion space.

7. The Lambrou family’s latest project is coming along. Being built at 123 Eddy is a contextually-sensitive two-family home at 123 Eddy Street. While modular, the home was designed to have features respectful to its location in the East Hill Historic District – this includes a double-decker porch, roof brackets, shake siding and decorative columns and railings. The new three-bedroom units should be ready in time for the 2018-19 academic year.

8. Quick note – building permits for both the Amici House residential and head start/daycare buildings have been filed and granted by the city. The Harriet Giannellis Childcare Center’s hard costs are estimated at $1,267,479, while the 23-unit residential portion’s hard costs are estimated at $3,627,333. Welliver will be the general contractor.

9. Looks like a pretty quite planning board agenda for this month. A pair of new projects, but they’re small ones. Let’s have a look:

I. Agenda Review 6:00

II. Privilege of the Floor 6:05

III.A. Stewart Park Inclusive Playground 6:15

B. College Townhouses – Modified Site Plan approval 6:35

C. Proposed U-Haul Self-Storage Project – Sketch Plan 7:10

Although vague, this is like for the former Salvation Army property at 339 Elmira Road. U-Haul purchased the lot in January 2016 from the development group that planned and cancelled a hotel for the property. As noted on the Voice recently, there’s been a building boom in self-storage facilities lately.

The most plausible guess for this corporate-owned property is that this will likely take after the chain’s default design for self-storage facilities, with maybe some modest aesthetic differences. Not especially pretty, but the city would probably prefer that over a parking lot for U-Haul trucks.

D. Proposed duplex and parking – 207 and 209 First Street 7:30

207 and 209 are a pair of run-down rental two-family homes in Ithaca’s Northside. After the previous owner passed away, they were sold to local businessman David Barken in June 2017. Barken previously caused a stir in Fall Creek when he bought, renovated and sold a Utica Street home for a much higher price (he said on the list-serve it wasn’t intended to be a flip, it was intended for a family member who decided to live elsewhere). Barken purchased the home for $160,000 in September 2016, and it sold for $399,500 in June 2017. He also rents out a couple other units in Fall Creek.

EDIT 3/8: Rather than a tear-down and replacement, the scope of the project appears to be that the homes would be renovated, and a new duplex would be built towards the rear of the lots. Per email after the meeting from David Barken:

“While in its beginning phases and still taking shape, I have no intention to tear down the existing homes. Instead, I plan to steadily improve these properties, working on both the exteriors and interiors as the planning phases for any future project moves forward.

Rather than de-densification, my aim is to add more fair market rate, non-student housing to the downtown market and add to urban density in our city’s core. I am designing the site for a total of 6 apartments, with an emphasis toward communal interaction, landscaping, and urban gardening. I envision a pocket community for renters, complete with the 4 renovated units in the front of the lot and an additional duplex placed in the rear of the parcel.”

IV. Old/New Business 8:00

A. Chainworks FGEIS

B. Planning Board Report Regarding the Proposed Local Historic Landmark Designation of 311 College Avenue – The Number Nine Fire Station

6. Reports 8:20

7. Approval of Minutes (1/23 and 1/30) 8:40

8. Adjournment