News Tidbits 3/11/19

12 03 2019

1. The city of Ithaca and The Vecino group have come to a tentative agreement. The two have been negotiating since entering into a 90-day Exclusive Negotiating Agreement at the end of last year. While Vecino is still looking at the financial models for the conference center space, it appears that the city is ready to move forward with a formal agreement to be voted on by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) and the Common Council, and then to have the building plans reviewed by the Planning Board, and then the sale of the property to be brokered by the IURA and agreed to by the Common Council. If approval is granted in good order and state funding is obtained (Vecino is pursuing 4% low income housing tax credits, vs. the more competitive 9% variety), then construction could start on the $95 million mixed-use project by late 2020.

2. GreenStar will be asking the IURA for a $400,000 loan to assist in the construction of their new flagship location at 770 Cascadilla Avenue. It does not seem to be related to their construction woes, as the initial paperwork was filed in January, but it makes for rather awkward timing. The loan is likely to be approved without significant reservation thanks to GreenStar’s reputation and the promise of dozens of living wage jobs, though the IURA is unhappy with what is described as “weak collateral”, and it has some concerns with GreenStar’s ability to fundraise.

Important note – the paperwork mentions one of GreenStar’s funding sources will be the buyer of the current Space A Greenstar at 700 West Buffalo Street, who so happens to be “the owner of the Cascadilla Street property”. This buyer will pay $2 million for the building when GreenStar moves out in early 2020.

At first glance, one might think that’s Guthrie. But Guthrie transferred ownership of the parcel to “Organic Nature LLC” last month. Organic Nature LLC is a company owned by the project team building City Harbor. In short, the City Harbor developers are buying the Space @ Greenstar, and likely have plans for the property.

3. If you’re an urban planner – and I hope this blog is interesting to you if you are – the IURA is issuing a request for qualifications for a parking study. The project will include three major tasks: analysis of the current parking system; determination of possible scenarios of programs and actions for the future direction of the parking system that are financially sustainable; and preparation of a strategy and an implementation plan, with estimated costs and a schedule. TLDR; look at existing operations, describe future directions (ten year period), make parking-related recommendations and implementation recommendations. Knowledge of transportation demand management and experience with designing strategic initiatives to handle parking needs will be a big plus. Submission packets due April 12th to Director of Parking Pete Messmer, more info at the end of the agenda packet here.

4. Quick note – the North Campus housing proposed by Cornell was modified slightly at the request of city boards. The new design adds “break points” in the facade to activate the central wings of the buildings and make the building masses seem less imposing. The general massing and material choices remain unchanged.

5. Mid-sized Collegetown landlords Greg and Mataoula Halkiopoulos (of Matoula’s Houses) have decided to renovate a decrepit 19th century carriage house at the rear of their property at 214 Eddy Street, and turn it into a three-bedroom, 839 SF rental. 214 Eddy is in the East Hill Historic District, so the design, by local architect John Barradas, will need to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission. It looks like a practical renovation, respectful of the carriage house’s form but also with a modern touch. Early Design Guidance will be offered at the March ILPC meeting, and any decisions on a Certificate of Appropriateness are still a few months out.

6. There have been some major changes to the Perdita Flats plan at 402 Wood Street. Previous version here. For one, it now has frontage on Fair Street and will have a Fair Street address. The building and garden have been re-positioned, the footprint reduced slightly (38’x36′ to 36’x36′), larger porch, modified exterior cladding materials, and the driveway has been removed at the Planning Board’s suggestion. The building remains 4 units and 7 bedrooms, and STREAM Collaborative penned the redesign.

The wood shiplap siding and standing-seam black metal siding are a bit of an acquired taste, especially with the wood oiled or left to grey naturally. But the house is still planning to be a net-zero energy showcase of what can be done with environmentally sustainable multifamily housing, and that’s the real statement to developers (Courtney Royal and Umit Sirt) are trying to make. The owners 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.





News Tidbits 3/10/19

11 03 2019

1. Next Tuesday, Tompkins County is planning to present a “progress report” on its study on whether or not to buy 408-412 North Tioga Street and redevelop the site. First, let’s not be coy – Tompkins County isn’t really considering any other sites, and staff and officials are pretty strongly inclined towards purchase of the vacant site.

That doesn’t mean they want to tick off the city in the process. It looks like a few different configurations are being considered, but the plans crafted by HOLT Architects essentially call for a new 3-story, 37,000 square-foot building (10,500 SF floor plates with basement space) to replace the 11,000 SF 1950s office structure on the site, restoration of the 19th century building at 408 North Tioga, at least 27 parking spaces in an internal lot, and the selling of land along Sears Street for the construction of two, two-family homes. The county has been in talks with potential developers for those homes, which are likely to be affordable housing since they’ve been in touch with INHS as well as an undefined “others”.

The county has to make its decision by next month, and while there are no hard plans, chances are looking good that the county will be buying the property. A bit more mild speculation off that, I’d wager HOLT will have an inside track in getting the contract to design of the new office building, because they’ll already have an intimate familiarity with the site. While HOLT tends towards modern design, I’d imagine that an office proposal that borders a historic district, whether from their drawing boards or someone else’s, will be more toned town in an effort to fit into the neighborhood.

2. Although speculating is never a good idea, looking at the features of the Immaculate Conception School Redevelopment, I think INHS is in very good shape for getting a Planned Unit Development zone approved by the Ithaca Common Council. Right now, it’s 75 units of affordable housing, with four of those for-sale (if there are unit changes moving forward, it seems to be for more for-sale units and fewer rentals), ~5% will be enabled for physical handicap, ~15% set aside for a special needs group (previously homeless and units for the developmentally disabled is one idea being floated),  non-profit office space for family and childrens’ social services, protection of the Catholic Charities Building, sale of the school gymnasium to the city for use by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, and changes to design (reduction of a floor and inclusion of a few larger 3-4 bedroom rental units) that demonstrate responsiveness to community concerns as well as transparency with its pre-application community meeting process. Probably the one thing that will remain a sore spot is parking, but this is within several blocks of Downtown Ithaca and close to existing community services, and

Reading down that list, there are a lot of community benefits involved with this plan, and honestly, I think this is exactly what the city hoped to achieve with the PUD Overlay District. The existing zoning would not be amenable to the design as-is, or to the office space alongside the housing. But INHS is putting something out there that appears to make the PUD review process well worth the city’s time and effort.

 

3. Here is the February redesign of the Arthaus Ithaca project by the Vecino Group. This is the 120-unit affordable housing project planned for 130 Cherry Street, a mostly industrial/post-industrial area that’s starting to see some major reinvestment as attention turns towards the waterfront and the new mixed-use zoning that makes projects like this possible.

I’ve already taken to Twitter to vent about this, but this is just a flat-out unattractive design. The windows are a tough reality of affordable housing – larger window areas raise utilities costs and construction costs, so affordable housing tends to have lower wall-to-window ratios. But the paneling, which can easily be swapped out for different colors and patterns, is just downright ugly. I know it’s a light industrial area, but faux-grunge/faux-decay is not a good look for affordable housing, whether “artistically-inclined” or not. Plus, it’s mostly whites and greys, which for anyone who’s been through a long, dreary Ithaca winter, knows that’s a very depressing combination. So, long story short, like the intended use/program, don’t like the “aesthetics”.

4. In the finishing stretch, the Hilton Canopy Hotel and City Centre have submitted sign packages to the city for approval. The Hilton has something called “Ezra”, ostensibly a nod to Ezra Cornell, but unclear from the submission if Ezra is the name of the hotel or something else; pretty sure the restaurant space was omitted late in the approvals process, so I don’t think it’s an eatery of some sort. Correction: per phone call from project representative Scott Whitham, they added a restaurant back into the plans late in the design process, so Ezra is the small in-house restaurant within the hotel.

As for City Centre, its signage for the Ale House, Collegetown Bagels and Chase Bank. Although two of three are cannibalizing other Downtown locations, the move comes with some benefits – it’s an expansion for CTB and the Ale House, and the Ale House is expecting to add 20 jobs, and CTB will likely add a few new positions as well. Chase is totally new, and if the average bank branch is 2,000 SF and 6.5 staff, it seems safe to assume that a 5,357 SF branch/regional office is probably 12-15 staff. Ithaca’s own HOLT Architects is engaged in some minor building design work and Whitham Planning and Design is doing the landscaping (including the heat lamps, string lighting and fire pits), Saxton Sign Corporation of Auburn will make the signage, Trade Design Build of Ithaca and TPG Architecture of New York will flesh out the interiors, and East Hill’s Sedgwick Business Interiors will provide furnishings. Clicking here will allow you to scroll through the interior layouts for the retail spaces.

5. Now for some bad news. The GreenStar project is in bad financial straits because the construction bids came in well over budget. As a result, they’re rebidding the construction contracts, and “value-engineering”, the dreaded “V” word. Deleted farm stand, deleted forklift shed, deleted some windows and awnings, cheaper siding, reduced Electric Vehicle chargers, smaller mezzanine, and reconfigured trees and dumpster areas at NYSEG’s request. These changes will be reviewed by the city Planning Board at this month’s meeting, and are likely to pass without much issue; it’s frustrating but no one wants to see GreenStar’s project fail.

6. A few interesting notes from the IURA’s Neighborhood Investment Committee meeting:

7. Here’s a project that was submitted the IURA for possible grant funding, but later withdrawn: the second coming of 622 West Clinton Street.

The first time around in 2016, applicant Jerame Hawkins applied to build an affordable, modular duplex at the rear of the property, but the plans weren’t fleshed out and secure enough for the IURA to consider funding. Since then, Hawkins has bought the property and is once again considering a partially-affordable duplex, this time an infill addition by local architecture firm Barradas Partners and construction by Rick May Builders. One unit would be 2 BD/1.5 BA and fair-market value (another way to say market-rate), and a 4 BD/1.5 BA targeted at 60% LMI. The request was $37,000 towards a $237,000 project. In my mind, the issue is the same as the old proposal – the LMI unit was officially limited to one year, which means he could make it market-rate afterward. The IURA would want more bang for their buck, and long-term affordability would be necessary for funding. Still something to keep an eye on in case Hawkins pursues it further.

8. The Amabel project is still being worked out, but there is movement. the plan for 31 units of sustainable for-sale housing has been beset with issues. The city of Ithaca is planning to sell land to New Earth Living to let the project move forward, but that sale is contingent on the politically distinct town of Ithaca’s approval. Back in the 1990s, when Southwest Park was designated for development, 26 acres of land was bought in the town of Ithaca as substitute park land. That includes the eastern third of the Amabel property, which was bought with the parcel on the other side of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, but not intended as park space. However, when the deed was written in 1999, it had a restriction saying that all 26 acres could only be used as park space. It now needs to get straightened out, with the town lifting the restriction on the Amabel subsection so that the sale can move forward, and hopefully, Amabel can finally get underway.

 





News Tidbits 12/9/18

9 12 2018

1. Let’s start out in Lansing. Milton Meadows if officially underway. The 72-unit apartment complex, the first development to get off the ground at the Lansing Town Center site off Route 34B, will be targeted at the 50% – 80% area median income range (~31k-~48k for a single person household) and give priority to income-qualified veterans.

The plan is to roll out the $17.1 million project in stages as the buildings are completed next year. 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. Also included are 139 parking spaces, a community garden, sidewalks, playground, and stormwater management facilities. The project will be built to LEED Silver energy standards.

Funding comes from a variety of state and local sources, the largest single grant being $5.1 million courtesy of New York State. The first units should be ready by late spring, and the last units will come online next fall.

2. In the next round of county/city/Cornell affordable Housing Development Fund recommendations, breakdown above. Habitat gets some funds towards one of its home builds and to buy two other sites, INHS gets additional funds towards their citywide renovation project, and Visum’s 327 West Seneca Street gets $200,000 (this project was carried over from the last round, because they wanted to make sure Visum knew what it was doing). Perhaps the most interesting component here is the NRP Ithaca Townhomes project on West Hill near Cayuga Medical Center, which has received approval, but with a lack of high-value state funds, it has languished in post-approval funding hell. The original breakdown was 66 units in phase one and 39 in phase two, so the 69 here suggests something was modified a little bit.

Unit sizes will range from $850/month, 745 square-foot 1-bedroom units to $1500/month, 1,344 square-foot 3-bedroom units, with most units being two or three bedrooms. The infrastructure improvements (streets, lighting) will be privately built and maintained by the developer. Seven units (2 1-BR, 3 2-BR, 2 3-BR) will be set aside for the mobility impaired, three units for those with hearing or vision impairment (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), and three units for those with special needs (1 1-BR, 1 2-BR, 1 3-BR), defined in this case as recovering victims of domestic violence situations.

The original plan was to start construction last spring, and frankly, the project probably still needs a sizable state grant before funding can go ahead. But with this funding, it’s another piece of the puzzle. If it has some dedicated funds already, and the state doesn’t have to fork over as much, then the state is more inclined to support the project because on its end, it gets more bang for the buck. So keep your fingers crossed.

3. The rumor mill says that Vecino is falling for Ithaca like a teenage girl for a boy band crush. The multi-state firm specializes in two types of housing – affordable housing (under names like Asteri, Mosaic, Libertad and Intrada) and student housing (Muse), which makes Ithaca a good fit. Rather conveniently, Vecino projects identify segments of their target market in the building name. Asteris, like the one proposed for the Green Street Garage in Ithaca, provide not just affordable housing, but several specialized units for those with developmental disabilities. Intradas, like the 157-unit Intrada going up in Saratoga Springs, provide affordable housing with a handful of units set aside for youth aging out of foster care. So, kinda just a neat little quirk there.

Arthaus, as one might guess, is the artist-focused affordable housing – the only other one I’m aware is in a converted warehouse in Troy (which all my Albany colleagues call ‘hipster central’ or ‘Williamsburg North’, the downtown far removed from its days as ‘Troilet’). The sort of tough part to make clear is that this is not limited to artists. It just has amenities geared towards creative types, like a woodshop and storage space and gallery space run by an outside non-profit. Of course, the Voice commenters hated this with a passion because artists = leftists liberal dirty hippie types = evil incarnate. I’ve learned that the softer reactions tend to be with affordable senior and affordable veterans housing, which I cynically suspect is because the most vocal complainers tend to be more politically conservative in their views, and seniors and vets tend to be more politically conservative than the general population – so rather than engaging in circular fire, some, but definitely not all, will hold their tongue.

But, while the commenters didn’t like it, the city planning board did. It’s 120 units (40 studio, 60 1-bedroom, 20 2-bedroom) of affordable housing (50-80% are median income, just like Milton Meadows in item 1), which is a hefty amount and critically needed. A number of units will be set aside for specialized needs and administered by Tompkins Community Action, which will be offered office space in the building. The project is also seeking to get arts groups involved in the design. The city was looking to start off on the right foot with the upzoned waterfront, and this is exactly the kind of creative, affordable project they were hoping for.

4. My only regret is that because the working title of 116 Catherine was 114 Catherine, readers will be confused for years to come. Jagat Sharma designed a tasteful three-story infill building in Collegetown to the rear of 116 Catherine and the Mission Apartments – these would join the rest of the Lambrou properties that comprise Eddygate Park. Also like 116 Catherine, it’s three units – two six-bedroom units, one five-bedroom unit, about as student-oriented as a project can be. Still, infill is much more preferable to a parking lot in Collegetown. Every bit of housing helps, and it’s a couple million dollars of assessed property to help fill local coffers. If the Lambrous choose to pursue this one, which is smaller than what the CR-4 zoning allows and is tucked away from the street, the planning board is unlikely to give them much trouble.

As for the Sharma-designed building that would potentially built in the foreground of this project, 301B Eddy, the last I heard was that it was not an active pursuit, if not totally off the table.

5. Here we have a do and a don’t. Do: hire a seasoned architect like Jagat Sharma, who knows his way around city staff and boards. Don’t: design anything without checking to see if the rules and regulations changed. In this case, they did, quite a bit.

The problem here with 312 East Seneca Street isn’t the development plan, which calls for ground-floor retail and studios and 2-bedroom apartments on the floors above. That’s all fine and dandy. But the city has really been focused on increasing the quality of building designs submitted for review in Ithaca, and that was codified into the Downtown Ithaca Design Guidelines, which were enacted as law earlier this year. If this were 2013, Sharma and developer Stavros Stavropoulos would probably be okay. As of now, they are not. The only part of this design that’s acceptable is the first three feet facing East Seneca Street. The exposed CMU walls on the sides? Not allowed. And according to the Times’ Matt Butler, the planning director seemed a bit insulted by the design.

Potential design options that would be compatible include additional interior facade visual elements, facade articulation and alternative side materials (brick, stone, metal panel, fiber cement, and for the sides only, synthetic stucco/EIFS) and possibly a step down in height at the rear, since the site is on the edge of its zoning.

Consider for comparison, the new Tompkins Financial building. It’s an interior block site, and while it builds very close to the boundary line and they have (and could have) bigger neighbors, the sides and rear have windows, facade variation and articulation, brick and metal panels, and design elements like sunshades and a small top floor setback. That’s very much in the mindset of what the city is looking for in the design of a downtown project. In any case, if the Stavropoli want to do something here, the sketch plan design will need to be substantially modified before there’s any hope of approval, and some meetings with city staff couldn’t hurt.

6. There have been some potential issues that have sprung up with the Emmy’s Organics project at the end of Cherry Street. The soils may be in such poor shape on the site that they’re unable to reasonably support the concrete slab for a single-story industrial building. If that’s the case, the project may not move forward, which may also result in Emmy’s moving itself and its jobs out of the city. The IURA will vote on Thursday to authorize $5,000 to hire an engineering firm to do an analysis of the geotechnical reports to see what special requirements a foundation would need, and if those requirements make the project infeasible.

7. Quick little note here – Lansing Meadows was delayed this past summer because developer Eric Goetzmann “was not able to secure contractors – too much other construction going on”, according to an email from TCAD’s Heather McDaniel. With TCAD and the village blessing, the construction start has been pushed back to Spring 2019.

8. It’s been a while since 46 South Street (formerly Hamilton Square) has updated their website, but to wrap up this post, here’s some good news for affordable housing advocates – the 73-unit, mixed-income, mixed rental and for-sale proposal by Claudia Brenner and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has passed the Trumansburg planning board’s SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review). That means that the environmental impacts are effectively mitigated by the project team. Site plan approval has yet to be issued, and is likely to be hotly debated with neighbors who have been opposed to the project since the proposal was introduced in May 2017. Review began about a year ago, and likely has a few months more yet ahead of it – certainly one of the longer review processes as of late.

On a happier note, color renderings! Nice variation in materials and style. For those so inclined, the 2 hour audio from the planning board can be found on the village website here.