News Tidbits 9/9/17: Shopping for Sales

9 09 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 5/6/17: Starting Small and Dreaming Big

6 05 2017

1. The Evergreen Townhouses in Varna was hotly debated at the last town board meeting, per the Times’ Cassie Negley. Linda Lavine, one of the town board members, was particularly fierce in her criticism, calling the solar panels “useless”, and others in attendance expressed concern about appropriate room for amenities.

However, it also seems one of the phrases bandied about was that it wasn’t “family-friendly”. If you’re reading this and one of those folks, do yourself a favor and stop using that term. It’s an enormously baited phrase, historically used to fight affordable housing as a racist/classist euphemism, because people of a certain class or color were apparently less appropriate for families to be around. For an unfortunate example, it was a phrase used with the INHS 210 Hancock affordable housing plan in Ithaca. Think of it as the equivalent of a religious group claiming a TV show isn’t “family-friendly” because it has a same-sex couple, or feminists.

Although this project is market-rate, deciding whether or not something is “family-friendly” is subjective and potentially baited. It gives others the wrong idea on how to discuss the pros and cons of a project, which should be about features, or lack thereof. TL;DR, find a different phrase.

Oh, and on another note – Planning Board member Don Scutt. For someone claiming Dryden is getting an anti-business reputation, your work fighting the solar panels isn’t doing the town any favors. I don’t always (often?) agree with your mirror opposite and board colleague Joe Wilson, but at least I can say he’s consistent in his views.

Anyway, off soapbox. It looks like the public hearing was left open as the project may potentially pursue a modified plan of some form, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

2. The Trebloc property, future home of City Centre, has exchanged hands. 301 East State Street sold for $6,800,000 on April 28th. The seller was “Trebloc Development Company”, the company of developer Rob Colbert. The buyer was “City Centre Associates LLC”, a limited-liability entity created Newman Development. This brings the 8-story, 218,211 SF mixed-use project one step closer to getting underway.

3. A couple of news notes from the Tompkins County PEDEEQ (planning/dev catch-all) Committee meeting:

I. OAR’s transitional housing at 626 West Buffalo Street will be called “Endeavor House”.

II. The county is set to start work on its draft housing strategy. The annual goal figures through 2025 include:

–580 “workforce units” per year, of which 280 are rentals going for 50-100% area median income, and 300 would be for-sale, with 80 of those condos.

–student beds, either dorms or student housing developers, commensurate with enrollment growth

–special needs beds to those making 50% or less of AMI. No quantitative descriptor is given.

–350 units in the urban core, 50-100 in “emerging and established nodes”, 30 in rural centers and 100-150 in “other areas”, which includes suburban Lansing.

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4. 607 South Aurora Street is officially underway. Modern Living Rentals posted an update to their facebook page showing site prep for their infill residential project in the city of Ithaca’s South Hill neighborhood. The four new buildings will be two-family units with three-beds each (24 total), similar to those recently completed at 125 and 139 Old Elmira Road. If the statistics are correct, the existing house will be renovated into a two family house – the banner suggests a 4-bed unit and a 2-bed unit to bring the total to 30 beds. This project will get a full write-up later this month, and its progress will be tracked as it heads for an August completion.

5. Looking at the city of Ithaca’s projects memo, it doesn’t look like anything brand new will be coming up. The formal review process is set to begin on Visum Development’s 232-236 Dryden Road project. I’m kinda confused on STREAM’s project description because it references both 191 bedrooms and 206 bedrooms, and some of the numbers don’t match the parenthetical figures -for example, thirty-seven (42) bike spaces. Going off the FEAF, it looks like the number of beds has in fact been increased to 206. The construction timeframe is August 2017 – August 2018, and it looks like both buildings will comprise one phase. Deep foundation, so apologies in advance to the neighbors who may be hearing a a pile driver this fall. The developer is exploring net-zero energy options.

Also of note, 323 Taughannock received some visual tweaks. Gone are the cute sprial staircases leading to the waterfront, and in their place are more standard treatments. The group of five will now have their balconies on the third floor instead of the second floor. The changes on the front are more subtle, with the window fenestration now centered on each unit, and the front doors rearranged (old version here). Overall, the design is still roughly the same, it’s just a revision of a lot of details. Worth noting, given the crap soils on Inlet Island these will be on a timber pile foundation designed by Taitem Engineering. 238 Linden Avenue, 118 College Avenue and Benderson’s 7,313 SF retail addition are up for final approval this month.

6. Meanwhile, from the ILPC, it looks like there are a couple of density-expanding projects planned in the city’s historic districts. The first will renovate a garage at 339 South Geneva Street in the Henry St. John Historic District (part of Southside) into a one-bedroom carriage house. It’s infill, the garage is non-contributing and the design is an improvement, and it looks like a good if small project.

The other is a renovation of a classic Cornell Heights Mansion at 111 The Knoll into group housing for “Sophia House”, a Cornell Christian organization for women. The men’s equivalent, “Chesterton House”, is next door. The plan calls for renovating the five-bedroom, legal for eight-persons house into a 15-bed home. Part of that would entail demolishing the 1950s garage, which is connected by a breezeway to the ca. 1910 house, and replacing the garage with a four-bed addition, still connected through the breezeway.

Both designs are by STREAM Collaborative, as are 232-236 Dryden and 323 Taughannock. Can’t fault STREAM for being good at what they do – if a developer wants modern like 201 College, they get modern. If one wants traditional like the above examples, Noah Demarest and his team can do that too. They know the market and what works in terms of design. Unlike many local architecture firms, STREAM’s business is almost completely in Tompkins County – they did some concept design work in Rome and Utica, and some of the Tiny Timbers kits have been sold outside the county, but otherwise everything else is in or close to Ithaca. Business is good.

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7. Admittedly, this is beating a dead horse, but Harold’s Square will eventually get underway. It appears the problem right now is that the tax abatement approved by the county is insufficient because of the increase in project costs (up 12% to $42.9 million), so the project team is heading back to the IDA to get the abatement revised (the Hilton Canopy did the same thing a few months ago). The project was previously approved for a 7-year abatement, but this time around they are seeking the 10-year abatement. Combined property, sales and mortgage tax abatement would come out to $5.089 million. New property taxes generated over the 10-year period would be $3.4 million (note that is on top of what’s already paid; IDA abatements use the current taxes as the baseline).

The office space and retail space look higher than previously stated (33k vs 25k, and 16k vs 12k), but it looks like that’s because the Sage Building renovations are included in the IDA numbers. The apartment count remains the same (108), although it looks like one 1-bedroom unit has been replaced with a 2-bedroom unit.

Two reasons are cited for the delay- issues with getting the office and retail space occupied, and a premium price on construction workers as a result of the increased local activity. The pre-development costs are clocking in around $800,000, so if it fails to get approval from the IDA’s board, that will be a pretty big cost to swallow.

Should it be approved, the construction timeline is stated as June 2017 through Q1 2019.

8. Just throwing this in for the sake of throwing this in – mark your calendars for May 17th, when Cornell hosts a forum about the new East Hill Village neighborhood from 5:30-7:30 PM at the East Hill Office Building at 395 Pine Tree Rd. The project website notes that it will start with a 30-minute presentation, followed by breakout groups to brainstorm what people do and don’t want included in the building plans – certain retail uses, housing components, general visions for the site. There will be more meetings over the next several months – the goal is an Autumn 2017 exhibition for the preliminary plans.





News Tidbits 4/15/17: Good and Bad Decisions

15 04 2017

1. It looks like the Lansing Meadows issue is being resolved. Village mayor Don Hartill has issued a sort of mea culpa for not sending the project to the Planning Board before inviting it to the Village board of Trustees, saying the Planning Board was caught off guard and it was his and the village attorney’s fault. So the project will visit the Planning Board with Hartill and developer Eric Gortzmann on hand to answer any questions the planning board might have. A workable solution is possible – the planning board isn’t necessarily opposed, they would prefer more housing but could be willing to hear out a commercial component so long as it’s set back from the road and screened from the homes by foliage. Optimistically, the cafe/diner and twenty senior housing units might be good to go within a month.

2. The Biggs Parcel is up in the air. There have been no offers since going on sale last July, and the contract with realtor CJ DelVecchio has expired. The county has decided not to renew while they weigh options. Options being weighed for the three-month hold include a smaller housing development on eight of the acres on the corner of Indian Creek and Harris B Dates Drive, and/or a solar farm, which may split neighbors between a low-intensity, eco-friendly project, and losing a portion of the woods so that the solar panels could operate. There is no plan for another Cayuga Trails-type project like what NRP proposed before the discovery of more extensive wetlands convinced them to cancell the project in September 2014.

3. The town of Ithaca has selected its firm of choice to conduct the economic development study and strategic plan for its Inlet Valey corridor southwest of the cityConsultEcon, Inc. of Cambridge, in partnership with Behan Planning and Design of Saratoga, was selected from six applications. Behan has previous experience in the area; in fact, they won an award for their work on the 2012 Varna Master Plan over in Dryden. The town will pay $30,000, and the state will pay $30,000 through its Empire State Development division. Although not state in the town agenda, I believe the time frame to perform and submit the study is six months.

According to Ithaca town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan, the goal is to turn Inlet Valley from an auto-centric hodge-podge with no overarching character, to a semi-rural neighborhood with an agribusiness, “artisanal industrial”, and tourism focus, capitalizing on Ithaca Beer and the existing and proposed lodging. The Sleep Inn proposal submitted a potential rustic streetscape that gives an idea of the aesthetic the town seems to be going for.

4. From the PEDC, the Southside housing plan is ongoing, and the IURA has hired their new planner after Lynn Truame left for INHS. There was considerable discussion over the Waterfront rezoning, with general conceptual support, although the First Ward councilors are not fans of mixing housing with light industrial areas, or forcing businesses to compete with housing developers for waterfront sites. Councilwoman Brock (D-1st) was opposed to housing in the Cherry Street Corridor. The proposal was granted by vote the permission to circulate for review and comment, so there’s still time for thoughts and opinions to be contemplated and discussed.

5. On another note, many of the speakers at the PEDC meeting were there to speak out against the City Centre project at 301 East State Street, not because they didn’t like the building (well, most of them), but because it didn’t have affordable units, which they felt should be a requirement for abatements.

I support that to a degree, but I’m also aware that, all other things equal, the revenue loss from the affordable units has to be made up for somewhere, usually by passing the costs on to the other tenants. In that case, the city ends up with a lack of units for those with middle incomes. I like the idea of modestly more generous zoning as a tradeoff to the inclusionary housing component, but as a proposal, that didn’t go over so well – developers didn’t like it (because to build more they need bigger loans, so it hurts smaller developers), anti-development folks didn’t like it (because affordable or not, it’s more of what they don’t like), and there was significant uncertainty on whether it’d be effective.

The county IDA had its vote for the sales/mortgage/property tax abatements the following day, and they decided to grant the abatements 5-1, with legislator Will Burbank opposed. The 192-unit mixed-use project is expected to begin construction with the next couple of months, for an early 2019 completion.

6. Once in a while, you get a project so despised by neighbors, they decide to run for office as single-issue candidates – namely, to stop the project. That’s what happening in Lansing village. Mayor Donald Hartill and two incumbent trustees, Ronny Hardaway and Patricia O’Rourke, are being challenged in the May election by mayoral candidate Lisa Bonniwell and two trustee candidates, Gregory Eells and John LaVine. Their goal is to overturn the rezoning of the Park Grove property on Bomax Drive, which rezoned commercial/tech office space to multi-family, enabling a 140-unit apartment project to move forward with planning board review.

This is not the first time something like this has happened in Lansing. When the Lansing Reserve affordable housing project was proposed in 2011, two residents opposed to the project, Yasamin Miller and Brian Goodell, ran against incumbent trustees on a single-issue platform of stopping the project. They lost by 2:1 margins, but Lansing Reserve never moved forward, and since then the land has been bought by the village for park space.

Although in a Voice capacity I can’t formally take sides, I have big issues with the challenger’s platform. I’m not a big fan of the Park Grove as a project, but the rezoning makes sense. As the county’s airport business park study demonstrated, the demand for new commercial and industrial space is very limited, while from the Denter study, it is clear the demand for housing is quite strong (5,000 units in the next decade). It amazes me that the challengers are saying the project will lower property values in a village with substantial price appreciation and major affordability issues (but as noted by the Star, Bonniwell’s family developed the expensive and still incomplete Heights of Lansing project nearby, so she has a vested interest in limiting housing).

Not only that, in the interview with the Lansing Star, challenger LaVine suggests the village should look at eventually merging with the town of Lansing, which is completely contrary to the village’s formation in 1974 as a reaction to the mall, when residents demanded for stricter zoning that the town didn’t want to accommodate. The town has much looser zoning than the village. If voters think for one moment that the town wouldn’t seek to change zoning in the village to build up the tax base and cope with the likely loss of the power plant, they’re in for a rude surprise.

7. On the agendas, nothing too exciting this week. The town has a couple of telecom towers and a 600,000 gallon water tank for Hungerford Hill Road. Over in the city, it’s project review week, but zoning variances suggest another nicely-detailed garage from STREAM Collaborative (STREAM does really nice garages), a couple of home additions, and a new 1,695 SF house at 412 Worth Street in Belle Sherman designed by Jason Demarest. The property is a flag lot that straddles the city-town line, so it would be neigh impossible to do anything without a variance. Ulysses will just be discussing zoning, and the other towns and village will be doing their regular meetings later in the month.

 





The Cherry Artspace Construction Update, 11/2016

28 11 2016

I don’t mind doing these summary posts – I just wish that several projects didn’t start in the same two month span.

The Cherry Artspace, to be located at 102 Cherry Street in Ithaca city, is a multidisciplinary theatre and arts venue planned by The Cherry Arts, a performing arts non-profit led by Artistic Director Sam Buggeln (Bug-ellen). The building is intended to not only house performances by The Cherry Arts, but other local and traveling theater groups, concerts, poetry and jam sessions, and just about anything else in the name of creative arts and artistic expression. The building will join Ithaca’s active and productive performing arts scene, including venues such as The Hangar Theatre and the State Theatre. College towns like Ithaca love their arts, be they visual, spoken or both.

The plan is for a one-story, 1,900 SF space designed by local architect Claudia Brenner to blend in with the industrial architecture that comprises the Cherry Street corridor. To do this, the building is basically the big brother to the former Renovus Energy building next door – similar colors, similar materials, and a shed roof, which Renovus put on to make the 1,154 SF building more amenable to solar panels. The space on which it is being built previously housed parking spaces and a utility shed, since moved. Buggeln purchased the building and lot in August 2015 for $240,000, and the construction and furnishing costs for the Artspace are estimated at $375,000. The Cherry, which can host up to 180 patrons during performances, has a parking agreement with the business next door to use their parking spaces, and it works out since the two organizations will be busiest at different times of the day.

The approval process was a bit lengthy, all things considered. The city created its TM-PUD zone as a way to legally deter the Maguire car dealership proposal for the waterfront, but the Cherry Artspace fell into the waterfront zoning overlay as well, so it not only had to go through the Planning Board, but the Common Council. The Artspace held its public information meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. One was concerned about noise, the other was kinda out of the blue. The project also had to apply for several zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Construction on the Artspace officially began November 7th. This was a few months later than originally anticipated, and according to Buggeln it was due to contractor delays. I a rather unusual setup, that’s a slab foundation going in, but it’s made of styrofoam blocks – given the waterfront location and high water table, the relatively light building will “float” on top of the blocks.

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News Tidbits 11/5/16: Condemnation and Praise

5 11 2016

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1. The Maguire waterfront plan has been rejected. By an 8-2 vote, the Ithaca city Common Council voted to discontinue consideration of the state-of-the-art Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, with most citing concerns about the project’s marginal or poor fit with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for an urban mixed-use form of development in the Carpenter Circle area where this dealership is proposed. The votes in favor of the proposal, from the third ward’s Donna Fleming and first ward’s George McGonigal, cited ways it could be conceived as fitting with the plan (greener alternative, local business expansion), and challenges the site offers to the city’s urban plan (poor soils, trains, chemical storage, power lines).

Although this shuts down the current proposal, this may not be the last we hear from the Maguires or the Carpenter Business Park site. At the meeting, company President Phil Maguire offered a teaser, saying they may partially liquidate their land holdings to bring in mixed-use development that would share the CBP space with the dealership. Given the heavy alterations that would need to occur, the council decided to vote down the existing proposal and send a message that it doesn’t fit the city’s goals. However, the council said they and the planning department would expedite review of an amended proposal, should it come forth.

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2. If you’ve ever wanted some explicit discussion of the challenges of doing affordable housing in Tompkins County, here’s a great summary courtesy of the the town of Ithaca. Back in August, the town’s Planning Committee (of town board members, similar to the city’s PEDC Committee) met with Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Director Paul Mazzarella for a Q&A. The town is considering regulations for inclusionary housing, and after INHS’s Greenways project fell through, they would like guidance and input on to make an effective code that promotes affordable housing without killing all residential development. Here are some of the highlights:

– Ithaca is a market of smaller builders. Local developers aren’t able or interested in doing huge projects, and most outsiders don’t see Tompkins County as a big enough or profitable enough market to tap into. So that leaves it to smaller builders who don’t have scale efficiencies, and are inclined to build luxury housing because the return on investment is more likely (i.e. less risky). The strong local economy also means that the local construction labor pool is largely tapped out, and additional crews have to be imported.

– Mandated affordable housing tends to work best in expensive, hot markets where the Return on Investment (ROI) for the market-rate units is more likely – your Seattles, San Franciscos and New Yorks. Even there, it is often paired with incentives such as height or square footage. Mazzarella noted he doesn’t think the city’s voluntary program will work very well. One thing to note with mixed-income projects is that the market-rate units will often be higher priced to cover the cost of lower-priced units. Simplified example – say you’re building ten houses for a sale price of $250,000. To meet an affordable mandate you sell two at $200,000, but to still obtain adequate ROI, that $100,000 is going to spread among the other eight – so you have two for sale at at $200,000, and eight at $262,500.

– We talk about modular homes as lower-cost alternatives, and for rural locations they often are, due to materials and labor costs. However, INHS found that in their experience for sites in the city and town, the cost is comparable to stick-built, although at larger scales, cost efficiencies may be achieved (ex. the Belle Sherman Cottages).

Another interesting read is the committee’s September meeting with city historic preservation planner Bryan McCracken and Historic Ithaca’s Christine O’Malley about protecting historical resources. As it turns out, the city cannot designate an individual landmark without the owner’s permission, and historic districts require the approval of 60% of affected property owners.

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3. Seems like Tiny Timbers had a well-attended open house. On their blog, the Dolphs have shared a cross-sectional diagram of an exterior wall – beneath the hemlock siding and copper trim will be ZIP sheathing and polyiso (thermoset plastic foam) insulation. ZIP is everywhere in residential construction, polyiso less common – locally, it was used extensively with the Boiceville Cottages in Caroline. On the inside, one has sheetrock and bamboo flooring. Exposed hemlock posts and ceilings will complement the sheetrock.

Also being rolled out is a fifth home design, a larger two-bedroom, two-bath home with a hipped roof. Variety is the space of life, as the saying goes.

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4. It was exciting to finally see the release of renderings for John Novarr’s College Townhouses project at 119-125 College Avenue. Links to the Site Plan Review document, historical documentation and drawings can be found in the Voice write-up here. There have yet to be images released for the garden apartment building to be built at the rear of the property, but look for the same general design features as the rowhouses. As expected from ikon.5 Architects, the design is modern and glassy, and given the Facebook comments and a couple of emails that came in, some neighbors are less than happy about that. However, this isn’t a historic district, so long as it meets zoning regulations, Novarr is free to hire whoever he darn well pleases. As mentioned in previous write-ups, he had ikon.5 design his guest house, so this isn’t strictly a cost thing, he genuinely likes their work. It was a bit surprising but interesting to see the well-researched history of the three 19th century boarding houses currently on the property, and it makes me wonder if that was a requirement. Novarr’s proven to be accommodating in the past, perhaps he’ll deconstruct rather than demolish, and the salvageable parts can be reused.

The project team will meet with members of the Planning Board on Tuesday afternoon for Design Review – about the only thing that stands out at initial glance is the lack of windows or visual interest with the north face, barely noticeable in the rendering. That probably won’t fly with the board, but we’ll see if it gets changed up as it goes through review. City Centre, the 8-story Trebloc site redevelopment, will also undergo further design review at the meeting.

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5. The Chapter House is going to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) yet again. The changes are subtle and few, but the rules are the rules. A service door will be added to the west (rear) wall, the inset vestibule is being reconfigured a bit, and the third-floor dormer windows are being changed from double-hung to casement – meaning that instead of sliding up and down, they’ll open with a crank. The ILPC will vote on the changes in November, which will probably sail through without much debate, and hopefully, just maybe, quite possibly, the Chapter House project can get underway.

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6. A couple quick updates from the town of Ithaca Planning Board minutes – after some discussion and a bit of praise for the redesign effort, the board opted for timber-trimmed Design “A” for the Sleep Inn proposal on Elmira Road. The minutes from Maplewood’s EIS meeting were also uploaded, and it is rare to see this much positivity in discussion of a project – not to say there weren’t dissenters, but the alternative energy source and efficiency initiative, use of local labor, and softening of the design on Mitchell Street won most of the speaking audience over. Public comment closed on Halloween, and now the project team must respond to all the reasonable comments received as part of the review process.





News Tidbits 10/15/16: Stoops and Stumbles, Growth and Gables

15 10 2016

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1. The Maguire proposal for Carpenter Business Park will be heading to the Common Council next month, but the prognosis isn’t good. The city council’s Planning Committee voted 4-0 to say that the proposal didn’t fit with the city’s Comprehensive Plan for the near-Waterfront property – the plan calls for walkable, urban mixed-uses, preferably with residential components. The discussion wasn’t unanimous in its logic – 2nd Ward Councilmen Nguyen and Murtagh were stronger adherents to the plan, while the 1st Ward’s Cynthia Brock doesn’t think housing is appropriate – but they all disagreed with the multi-brand car dealership plan as-is. Maguire has asked for a delay in vote so that the plan could be tweaked, but the Committee voted to move forward.

Because of the 18-month TMPUD in place, the Common Council has to vote to approve all projects in the waterfront area, so the resolution to decline further review of the project will be voted on at the next non-budget Council meeting. It will not be unanimous – the 3rd Ward’s Donna Fleming wrote a letter of support for the project, and the 1st Ward’s George McGonigal voiced support for the concept though not this particular plan. But the chances of approval are pretty slim at this point.

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2. Judging from the site photos John Novarr’s project team sent along, it looks like environmental remediation has already commenced at the site of his faculty townhouse project at 119-125 College Avenue in Collegetown. 121 College, in particular, is already in the early stages of remediation. It’s a pretty extensive photo documentation, one that might have to do with historic preservation aspects, like determining what can be salvaged and reused. It’s pretty clear that the properties, which were recently acquired from an Endicott-based landlord who held the properties for decades, are in rough shape. Novarr seems to have a preference for prepping sites before plans are approved (ex. 209-215 Dryden), so it’s uncertain how much time these three boarding houses have left.

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3. Courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Neighborhood Investment Committee, we get to see a pretty thorough breakdown of the expenses and revenues of an owner-occupied affordable housing project.

The details come as part of INHS’s application for $314,125 in Federal HUD HOME funds, to be used for the 7 for-sale townhouse units included with the 210 Hancock project, collectively called 202 Hancock. The funds would be used to cover soft costs, like project management, engineering and architecture fees, legal fees, and site inspections.

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The 202 Hancock project construction cost is estimated at $1,754,860, about $344,000 per unit, or about $198/SF. That’s expensive, but not unusual – 203 Third Street was about $190/SF. The cost is high due to rapidly rising construction costs, and due to federal guidelines and lender specifications, INHS is required to hire contractors with extensive insurance. Add in soft costs and it jumps to $2,408.371.

Now let’s consider the sales. The five two-bedroom units are expected to sell for $130,052 to a household making no more than $38,046. The two three-bedrooms will sell for $164,979, to households making $42,428/year or less. Those incomes don’t meet the rule-of-thumb of 3.4x annual income, but HOME funds cover part of the cost ($24,000 for the 2-bedrooms, $36,000 for the three-bedrooms). INHS gets $960,218 in the project sales – and that’s the same amount Tompkins Trust Company is willing to cover with a construction loan. So the initial gap is $1,448,155. Now we’re starting to see why new housing can be so expensive.

INHS gets $7,000 in revenue from Energy Star rebates on appliances, and has up to $351,153 equity they can put towards the project, most of that being the value the of 202 Hancock’s land. The IURA would issue a low-interest bond for $215,875 to be paid back by INHS, and the non-profit has secured $280,000 in grants directly from the state (NYS AHC), and $280,000 in NYS CDBG funds awarded by local governments (this tactic is known as “subsidy layering“). This complicated puzzle of funding sources is why so many developers are not interested in doing affordable housing.

Side note, one of the pre-development costs is market analysis. Might seem silly, but grant reviewers want proof the housing crisis isn’t just bluster, and that these units won’t sit empty. An analysis by Randall/West determined that at a sale price of $136,000 for a 2-bedroom, and $162,000 for a 3-bedroom, qualified buyers would be found and under contract within 4.6 months. The units should be available for occupancy by June 2017.

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Secondly, thanks to a legal settlement between the state and Morgan Stanley, a $4 million affordable housing grant is available for renovations of existing INHS scattered site rentals (98 units in 44 buildings across the city). Most of these units are rented to individuals making 60% or less of the area’s median income (about or less than $32k/yr). The funds would go towards major, long-term renovations, such as new roofs, windows, siding, and energy efficiency improvements. INHS could also use the funds, disbursed via the city, to refinance its portfolio, acquiring some of the properties and paying off $1.8 million in loans on already-purchased properties.

Here’s the short of it – the goal is to buy/pay off the scattered rental sites they manage, renovate and make them energy efficient and comfortable, lock them into the Community Housing Trust so that they become permanently affordable, transfer the land to a wholly-owned Housing Development Fund Corporation, and then sell some of the buildings to an LLC while INHS continues as property manager. The funds from sales would finance new affordable housing. This is all set up as it is to take advantage of legal and tax benefits of different corporate tax structures, while minimizing the drawbacks. Potentially, the Morgan Stanley settlement money could be used to leverage an additional $15 million in tax credits and affordable housing grants from the state.

Correction, per INHS’s Scott Reynolds in the comments section: rentals aren’t in the Community Housing Trust, but affordability would be required for 50 years.

Rochester-based SWBR would be in charge of renovation design plans, and 2+4 Construction will be general contractor. Tenants may need to be relocated as renovations occur, which will be coordinated by INHS staff. The goal is to have the settlement money accepted by the city by the end of the year, financing by April 2017, and renovations completed by the end of 2018.

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4. It’s another one of those special meetings – the city Planning Board will be sitting down next Tuesday to go over comments and sort another batch of public comments regarding the Chain Works DEIS, this time on public health. Once you get past the few pages of “this will never work and don’t bother trying”, there’s actually some interesting back and forth about remediation and what that entails. Also on the agenda are revisions to the Holiday Inn Express down in Southwest Ithaca – namely, they’re trying to avoid building the stairs to Spencer Road, as well as some other landscaping issues. At the second meeting later this month, the board is expected to Declare Lead Agency, open public hearings and review parts of the FEAF for TCAction’s Amici House, 8-unit 607 South Aurora, and the 8-story City Centre project on the Trebloc site downtown.

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5. The plans for Maplewood have been modified yet again, in a change that the project team hopes will please neighbors and the town of Ithaca planning board. In revised plans submitted this past Wednesday, the 4-story apartment building planned for Mitchell Road has been replaced with a few sets of 2.5 and 3.5-story townhouses and stacked flats, and Building B to its north was extended slightly to compensate for the loss of bedrooms. Even so, the accompanying letter from Scott Whitham states that the unit and bed count have decreased slightly, from 473 units and 887 beds, to 442 units and 872 beds.

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Also modified was their appearance – stoops, porches, dormers and gable roofs were added to give them a more harmonious appearance with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s not clear if the rest of the units were aesthetically modified as well.





News Tidbits 9/17/16: Point By Point

17 09 2016

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1. Starting this week off with the Maguires again. Although there was significant vocal opposition from planning committee members to the proposal, they decided to postpone the decision for another month. It would have been more merciful and understanding if they had just declined to continue, but the committee voted 4-1 against making a decision at their Wednesday night meeting, citing to need to process public comment. Most of the comments in favor of the proposal mostly spoke highly of the Maguires as employers and economic drivers (and even some of the opposition did as well), most of the opposition focused on the plan not meshing with visions for what they want the neighborhood to become. The board will consider a resolution against the project next month, but it sounds like the decision has already been made.

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2. This will be something of an unusual month. Along with the typical retinue of meetings, the Planning Board will have a special meeting next week to weigh in on the next round of Chain Works District EIS public comments, approve some slight revisions to 210 Hancock, and zoning determination for 201 College Avenue.

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The changes to 210 Hancock are noticeable but minor. On the landscaping side, the concrete curb around the playground is proposed to be removed as a cost-saving measure, a fence separating the for-sale and for-rent townhouses will be removed and a fire lane put in, and the Lake Avenue paving will be changed up to match the waterfront trail. For the buildings, the 54-unit apartment building would have some windows tweaked or removed to standardize sizes (reduce cost) and fire safety concerns, and some of the yellow metal panels would be replaced with brick for cost and ease of installation. No changes are proposed to the townhouses.

As for 201 College, City Zoning Director Phyllis Radke issued a determination that 201 College is compliant and permitted by MU-1 zoning. She also states a number of concerns with the Planning Board’s handling of the review. Among the reasons cited are:

  • Pre-site plan review in November 2015 by zoning and planning concluded the project met CAFD guidelines.
  • Facade isn’t defined in the CAFD document. Building length and facade length can be interpreted as two separate measurements.
  • Facade length did not come up as a concern until July, four months after meetings began, after design review by the board, and after prelim site approval had been granted.
  • The building meets the conceptual guidelines provided in the zoning. While there are concerns about (yet unwritten) design standards and activation of both street facades, there’s nothing in the code for MU-1 that explicitly limits facade length on any side other than the primary face. There is, however, in MU-2. So secondary street facade length was stated in the code for one zone, but in no others. Even though it’s been argued as an ambiguity, the board did not consider secondary street facade length in its review of a CR-2 zoned duplex at 319 Oak Avenue in early 2015. The activation requirements apply only to the primary face for non MU-2 structures. If the board decided it was still ambiguous, Hess Realty Corp. vs. Town of Rotterdam (1993) says that ambiguities must be resolved in the favor of the property owner.
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  • The 2009 vision guidelines that people keep citing, and Neil uses on the “Save our Soul” facebook page – not only do they suggest taking down Neil’s house, they also have building lengths running the entirety of Bool Street.

With all that noted, even if it’s decided the project is in fact legal and doesn’t need a trip to the BZA, it likely won’t be moving forward this year, if at all. Visum couldn’t start in time for the desired August 2017 completion, and the project and site are for sale. For a potential buyer, though, it would be of significant benefit to have the zoning debate resolved before any sale occurs.

3. Out in the towns, there’s not a whole lot of development discussion in next week’s agendas. The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Maplewood Park (running behind schedule at this point) and issue a couple of lot subdivisions, neither of which are expected to be a big debate.  The town of Dryden received plans for a 10,500 SF self-storage facility for the vacant northeast corner of Freeville Road and Enterprise Drive. The 70′ x 150′ warehouse will house 121 units, and about 7,500 SF will be climate-controlled. The project will cost about $350,000. There also plans for an Open Development Area (ODA) on Dryden’s Scofield Road. ODA means an ROW or easement is required for building permits, and the town has to review the plans – nothing’s been filed yet.

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4. A pair of construction loan agreements worth noting this week. The first is Storage Squad’s facility going up at 1401 Dryden Road east of Varna. According to a filing on the 12th, the company received a construction loan of $1.4 million from Tompkins Trust. That money will be used to finance the build-out of their 79,600 SF storage facility already underway. The second is the Dollar General being built at the corner of Route 34/East Shore Drive and Cayuga Vista Drive in Lansing. Primax Properties (under the name Sea Mountain Ventures II LLC) received a $956,000 loan to build the 9,100 SF retail store, which is also under construction. that loan was also filed on the 12th. The lending institution is BB&T, a major regional bank in the Southeast. Primax is headquartered in Charlotte, and BB&T is headquartered just 90 minutes up the road in Winston-Salem, so in this case, it’s less about a bank being interested in Ithaca, and more about two major companies located near each other and having an established business relationship.

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5. So the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee selected the $3.7 million Seneca/Corn proposal to submit to the state for the Restore NY 4 grant. And I feel a bit embarrassed because the Voice story, comparing the Seneca/Corn proposal and the State Street rehabs, ran after the decision was made, so it comes off as a bit clueless thanks to timing. Anyway, the application will be looked at by the Planning Committee, and submitted in early October. If all goes well, funding could be granted by the beginning of next year, with the renovated Wyllie’s and the Ithaca Glass overbuild ready for tenants by early 2018. Ed Cope is the developer, STREAM Collaborative the architect.

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6. For sale this week, and for the budding entrepreneur – 2,310 SF neighborhood commercial retail at 402-04 West Court Street in the Washington Park neighborhood. Talk about a change. When I started at Cornell ten years ago, this was “The Corner Store”, and it was severely run down. I don’t remember the florist sign, but everything else in the assessment photo below fits my memories from the mid 2000s.

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During the past ten years, the bump-out was renovated, then the building was repainted, and The Corner Store became the “Red and White Cafe“, a highly-regarded neighborhood fish fry and seafood restaurant. According to the listing, the major renovations came about three years ago. County records indicate the property last exchanged hands in 1988. Along with the retail space comes 432 SF of storage.

The listing is asking for $975,000, but that would be for building and business – the building and lot are valued at $120,000, so any potential buyer is going to be much more interested in the cafe than the building.