Village Solars Construction Update 9/2019

13 09 2019

So there’s been some news regarding the Village Solars buildout. The community center is in flux. The original proposal was for a mixed-use building with ground-level commercial and community amenities, and 20 one-bedroom apartments on the upper levels. Now, it’s an unknown. Per the Lansing Star:

“(T)hey will relocate the community center site to a location more central what will become an enlarged, single development. The lower floor would have amenities like a restaurant, a work-out center, and other features, with apartments on the upper floors. If not, they would build the smaller community center as already accepted by the Town.”

That means that the community center is being moved to another location on the site, and potentially take a different physical form, though programmatically it remains the same (commercial/community use on the ground level, residential above).

When the article says a more central location, it refers to the 96.44 acres of land east of the complex. The Village Solars are owned by Steve Lucente, and the undeveloped land to the east by his father Rocco, who had purchased it in 1960 and was recently planning his own apartment complex (schematic in the early Village Solars site plan below). My understanding is that the two Lucentes didn’t get along at all – I was warned to never bring up Steve when interviewing Rocco. After Rocco passed away about 18 months ago, Steve saw an opportunity to purchase the vacant land to the east from Rocco’s estate, and build a bigger complex in future phases (as yet unapproved). The purchase offer, at least check, is still being reviewed by Rocco’s Executors.

However, this created a problem. Local Law #6 of 2017, the Planned Development Area (PDA, like Ithaca’s PUD it’s D-I-Y zoning) with the town, stipulated that the community center had to be built and open by the end of 2020, and only one more apartment building could be built before it was done. So Steve Lucente and his project team had to make the case to the town of Lansing Planning Board and Town Board give them time to purchase the land and design the new community center, and let them do three more apartment buildings in the meanwhile to keep on pace with their construction plans. If the offer feel through, he’d build the community center starting next summer and finishing in 2021, a year later than initially planned. Generally, of all the communities to have to make such a request, Lansing would be one of the most accommodating.

Officially, only the Town Board really decides PDA amendments. But here, the Town Board was uncomfortable with the request at first, referred it to the Planning Board for guidance, and then after the Planning Board weighed in, it returned to the town board with a recommendation to consider during voting.

This caused some debate, with some of the planning board feeling like their credibility was taking a hint with this latest delay (the community center was delayed at least once, hence why it was explicitly stated in the 2017 PDA revision), and at least one member of the town board feeling as if they were purposely misled since banks would have received the notice of intent to modify the plans several months ago, but Steve Lucente countered that it was not a firm plan and only became firm later in the year when the offer looked like it had a good chance of being accepted. On a 3-1 vote, the town is permitting three more apartment buildings and only two more, and expects a community center to start next year in either the old or the new location.

At this point, the last of the originally permitted buildings, 24-unit 36 Village Circle North (3 three-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms, 3 one-bedrooms and 12 studios) has had its foundation footers poured and is awaiting the concrete slab pour. The tarp and mesh are in place for stability and added strength respectively, and you can see the below-ground utilities poking out, capped for the time being. A surveyor was on site during this visit to make sure everything was level and in good order before the wood frame starts to rise. The three newly permitted buildings are all reconstruction of existing 8-10 unit buildings, into two 18-unit buildings (2 Village Place, 22 Village Place) and one 24-unit building (117 Village Circle North).

Apparently, occupancy rates have been strong. Building “L” (113 Village Circle North) opened in June, and 22 of its 24 units were spoken for, with the other two rented shortly after.

As for the future, it’s not clear. Something will be proposed that may very well require more PDA amendments, but we’ll see. The elder Lucente’s complementary apartment complex was supposed to be around 300 units in size (built over several years), and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Village Solars plan expands by a similar amount.

 





News Tidbits 7/4/19

4 07 2019

1. According to the village of Lansing Code Enforcement office, IJ Construction (the Jonson family) will be starting construction on another “6-plex”, or another six-unit string of for-sale townhomes on the southwest corner of the intersection of Bomax Drive and Nor Way. The units being completed now have sold at a decent clip, with two units sold and a third pending. I believe offhand they have to do streetscape / street lighting improvements before the other three can be sold.

In all probability, while the finishes and details will likely differ as they have in all of the townhome strings at the Heights of Lansing development, these will likely be 3-bedroom, 3.5 bath 2200-2400 SF units intended for sale in the upper 300k – lower 400k range. Previous units have included granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, electric heat pumps and other premium and/or eco-friendly features. Expect these stick-built units to be ready for occupancy sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, the Pizza Hut at 2301 North Triphammer Road is for sale, and the code enforcement officer had heard a rumor a hotelier was looking at it. However, at present, the 3,003 SF 1990s building is still for sale, with a listing price of $995,000. At 1.29 acres, the property could comfortably accommodate a 60-80 room hotel provided it was 3 floors, which is what the village allows. The more recent minutes suggest that the owners are looking for ideas, and that Pizza Hut will be calling it quits regardless.

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2. The proposed downzoning for the 300-500 Blocks of West State Street is being sent back to the Planning and Economic Committee for further revisions. The Common Council voted 8-2 (1st Ward councilors Cynthia Brock and George McGonigal opposed) to explore proposed amendments by councilor and 2nd Ward/State Street Corridor rep Ducson Nguyen. The amendments include maximum facade length, a hard limit on maximum footprint, and a 4 floor setback / 6 floor max vs. the 3 floor setback / 5 floor allowed.

3. Common Council also voted unanimously to support the INHS PUD for the Immaculate Conception Site. While some quibbles were had for more for-sale units and for larger apartment units for families (3 bedroom+ units are historically the hardest units to fill because of the limited number of applicants), the board expressed appreciation for the project on its merits and gave them the green light to go ahead with review by the Planning Board. The $17 million mixed-use project, which will include several thousand square feet of non-profit office space (the exact amount is in flux) and 78 housing units, is aiming for a Q4 2019 – Q1 2022 buildout, pending grant funding.

4. Also unanimous votes – a vote to support City Harbor’s funding application to the state for grants to fund the public proemande to be built at the development; the award of $70,000 in CHDF affordable housing grant funds to the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga Street for-sale townhome project by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS); cleanup of accessory dwelling code language and some law tweaks (not the same as infill), and a resolution to continue looking at a joint city-county police facility.

5. In potentially big news, thanks to a bipartisan effort of Democratic Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and Republican State Senator Tom O’Mara, Tompkins County (and only Tompkins County) is now legally permitted to use county funds to support affordable housing development and preservation.

Here’s why that matters. Some of you might be familiar with the joint city-county-Cornell Community Housing Development Fund, which disburses a few hundred thousand dollars each year towards affordable housing projects, up to $400k for an owner-occupied project, and $300k for a rental, supporting the renovation or construction of 556 units since the program launched in 2009. A year might see $600-800k in grants disbursed.

Now here’s the caveat to the city and county contribution; it’s limited because those are federal and state grant funds. They were never allowed to fund a project directly, another government body was the middleman, and it takes time and effort to get those grant dollars back down the line. That slows down the development of affordable housing, and if the grants aren’t awarded for whatever reason, it could greatly curtail the CHDF, which creates the kind of uncertainty that developers seek to avoid, and less likelt to hash out a plan if they think the fund is ever at risk.

CHDF funds are often seed money; they’re hardly ever large enough to fund the development of an affordable housing project on their own. But the awarding of funds shows the community is interested in a certain project, and that development team can then pursue complementary (and usually much bigger) funding sources with a greater chance of being awarded grants. Typically, the funds aren’t disbursed until the project has all of its funding assured and is ready to go – for example, the county’s $100k portion of the $250k awarded to Lakeview Health Services for their 60-unit West End Heights projects in Round 16, is only being voted on to be disbursed now since the project has finally obtained all the funding it needs.

So what does this change mean? The county is expecting to have several applicants with affordable housing plans over the next few years, seeking up to $2.5 million in CHDF funds. Tompkins County is looking to put together a $3 million Housing Capital Reserve Fund with dollars from the county’s general fund, which could then be used as grant money to support infrastructure, development of affordable housing, studies to examine where it would best be built and make the greatest contribution (i.e. bang for the buck) and so forth. Potentially, this new fund that they are now to legally allowed to set up could assist in the development and preservation of another 400 units of affordable housing across the county.

6. On that note, the latest CHDF funding round appears to be a modest one; $80,000 to Habitat for Humanity for the construction of two new homes (30-60% area median income, or AMI) alongside the property under renovation at 1932 Slaterville Road in Dryden, $38,940 to INHS for the renovation of an existing house at 28 Crystal Drive in Dryden, which will sell to a family making 80% AMI and incorporated into the Community Housing Trust to keep it affordable, and $27,800 for an 80% AMI rental unit to be built in the back yard of 622 West Clinton Street in the city of Ithaca.

Quick update on the soon-to-be-built INHS apartment development at 203-209 Elm Street. They’re calling it “Cayuga Flats”. Sure, British English is hip/cosmopolitan, but there’s a bit of well-deserved eye roll. Also, play on words here, that site is by no means flat. The building two stories in the front, three in the back.

The project replaces 14 housing units of varying age and ownership, four of which were condemned because the foundation was crumbling, with a 12,585 SF, 13-unit apartment building containing ten one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units, in the 30-60% AMI range. The project cost for this development comes in at around $2.76 million and the design is by SWBR Architects of Rochester. Build out will take about 12 months.

On a related note, as INHS grows into a regional affordable housing developer, it will be tackling its second project outside of Tompkins County, a mixed-use project on a large vacant lot in the village of Watkins Glen. The project on Second Street will include 34 apartments for those making 47-80% county AMI, and a 7,341 early childhood education center on the ground level.





News Tidbits 6/23/19

23 06 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

5. Site Plan Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Adjournment 9:30





News Tidbits 5/11/19

12 05 2019

1. The proposed revision (downzoning) along West State / MLK Jr. Street is moving forward with circulation (review by city departments and associated stakeholders), with a couple of major revisions. The zoning would not be CBD-60. It would be CBD-52 for structures with less than 20% affordable housing, and CBD-62 for structures with 20% or more affordable housing. The quirk in the height is due to mandatory floor heights, which will be 12 feet for the first floor, and 10 feet for each floor above – in other words, five floors for projects with a lack of affordable units (=< 80% area median income), six otherwise.

For 510 West State Street, in which all 76 or 77 units are affordable (my unit count is 76, but they typed 77 in a couple sport of the Site Plan Review), the project would remain largely intact. The new setback requirement would push the fifth and maybe a very small portion of the sixth floor back from West State/MLK Jr. Street for the mandatory fifteen feet, so a little square footage would be lost there. The city had initially sought thirty foot setbacks, but the Ithaca Fire Department said that it would not be reachable by their trucks if the fifth floor was that far away from the street face.

Now, some more astute readers might be wondering is this affects Visum’s other West End project at 109 North Corn Street. The answer is no. The setback rule only affects buildings fronting West State / MLK Jr. Street. The downzoning is intended to protect an aesthetically pleasing segment of West State more than anything else. The setback does technically apply to West Seneca Street, but the building height there is 40 feet anyway, which is the same as the setback.

The affected blocks now also include the 300 and 400 Blocks of West State Street. The only publicly known project that would be impacted is INHS’s Salvation Army redevelopment, which was only aiming for five floors on the West State Street side anyway, but could potentially be impacted by the setback rule – the project design is still in the concept stages with no public images.

A speaker during public comment asked to extend the zoning further to Downtown, and some councilors have discussed further downzoning because “the developers can just pursue a PUD”. That thought process ignores the drawbacks. The more areas impacted and the more stringent zoning becomes, the more labor and time intensive it becomes for city staff because it would likely trigger more PUDs, even while resulting in less development in general because a PUD adds months to a project timeline, uncertainty that lenders don’t like, and forces the Common Council to take on the role of a second Planning Board (which some councilors might be fine with, but some definitely would not and raised this as a complaint during the vote on whether to create the PUD overlay to begin with). Also, if the downzoning were to be applied to a property against the owner’s wishes, say the County Annex property for example, it would likely trigger a costly lawsuit. TL;DR, it looks tempting for additional “community benefits”, but could have significant negative impacts and should be used sparingly.

2. Staying in the realm of laws for a moment, there’s an ordinance that should be made aware to residents of Northside and Fall Creek. A proposal from 1st Ward councilor Cynthia Brock would require every rental agreement and every home sales transaction within 1200 feet of the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Facility’s boundaries to provide documentation of the potential issues and hazards of living near the plant – “you should be prepared to accept such inconveniences and discomfort as a normal and necessary aspect of living and operating in proximity to a waste water treatment facility,” as the document states.

The document isn’t ill-intentioned, but this does impact over a hundred existing Northside and Fall Creek homes and apartments, and quite reasonably would have a negative financial impact on them, whether they plan to sell or if they rent out space. There is nothing on record that these residents have been notified of this proposal. City staff don’t even seem comfortable with the proposal as-is, they don’t think Fall Creek residents are substantially impacted and suggested a cutoff at Route 13, but the 1200 square foot radius seems to be the version being considered right now, paying a trip to city attorneys to see if it’s legal to apply it to all rentals, a detail added at the meeting. Honestly, this doesn’t seem well thought out at this time, and poses a burden to existing homeowners who have not been made aware because of the lack of sufficient outreach.

3. Arthaus and Library Place have had their tax abatement requests approved, on 7-0 and 6-1 votes. The former will bring 124 affordable housing units including special needs housing and artist-centric amenities to the city of Ithaca at 130 Cherry Street. The latter will provide 66 senior housing units on the former Library property on the 300 Block of North Cayuga Street. Arthaus is expected to start construction at the end of the year, while Library Place will resume this month, with completions in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

County legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne voted against the Library Place proposal, citing some of the concerns raise over the lack of affordable housing (three units will now be 80% area median income) and general discontent with the site. In my intro post to the project, I mentioned if vaguely that there was a legislator who thought the affordable housing, condominiums, and Travis Hyde projects were all terrible – that was McBean-Clairborne, who has generally favored county offices on the site instead of housing. The county did a study to consider renovating the old library for offices back in 2011, a couple years before the RFP, but the study found it was financially prohibitive because of the building’s unusual interior layout (that soaring 1960s atrium wasn’t a good use of space, and wouldn’t have been cheap to replace).

4. Carpenter Park is also moving forward, in this case with the pursuit of its special PUD zoning. The project is seeking the PUD because of some quirks in yard setbacks, and soil tests showing that they couldn’t place some of the parking underground as initially planned (so now it’s in an above ground garage between the ground-floor retail and the apartments in Buildings B and C). The project would bring about 411,600 SF of new space, including 208 apartments (42 affordable) and an expansion of Cayuga Medical Center’s medical offices, resulting in the creation of 150 jobs. The vote was 4-1, with councilor Brock opposed. The full council will vote on the PUD next month, and then the project can go to the planning board for design review. Keep in mind that the above designs might change somewhat, though the general scale and program mix should stay the same.

5. The Tompkins County Airport has received a $9,999,990 grant, as announced by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer at a press conference earlier this week. The county was strongly hoping these funds would come through. With the state grant, it means the county is only paying about $260,000 of the $24.5 million bill. Click the link here to learn more about the airport expansion project.

6. The Gun Hill Residences appear to be in the process of selling. A real estate trade magazine notes Southeastern U.S. regional bank SunTrust is giving the buyer a $13.3 million acquisition loan for DMG Investments LLC. DMG Investments is an American subsidiary of a Chinese development firm, DoThink Group of Hangzhou. The company has been active in upstate recently. DMG co-owns a new 322-bed student housing apartment in Albany and has projects scattered across the country. The full sales price has not been discolosed, as the deed has yet to be filed. It was noted that the ca. 1989, 94-unit, 273-bed Gun Hill Residences on Lake Street was nearly completely full at the time of closing (late spring, which is reasonable given a couple of kids might have washed out of Cornell or otherwise moved out). The property was previously owned by Rochester’s Morgan Communities, which was raided by the FBI last year. Morgan purchased the property in February 2011 for $6.15 million, and the current county assessment for Gun Hill is $12.65 million.

OLD render

NEW render

7. Some modest revisions to the Immaculate Conception School plans. Old render first, new render second. The design of the renovated school building has changed substantially, though the overall size has remained consistent. The changes could be due to any number of reasons, from cost concerns to utilities placements necessitating design changes. The single-family homes have been replaced with a four-string of townhomes, and the yellow string has been earmarked for for-sale units.

If I may – make one of the olive green townhome strings red or orange like the houses that have been removed. Keeps it from being so “matchy-matchy”, to borrow a JoAnn Cornish term. More renders can be found on INHS’s sparkling new website here.

On that note, on Monday May 13th the City of Ithaca will hold a Public Information Session for the proposed PUD (Planned Unit Development) for the Immaculate Conception School redevelopment. The Public Information Session will begin at 4:00 PM, in the Common Council Chambers in City Hall. In accordance with the requirements of the PUD, the developer and project team will present information about the project and answer questions from the public.

8. Looking at agendas:

The city Project Review Meeting (the run up to Planning Board meetings) will look at signage changes for the new Hilton Canopy on Seneca Way, a Presentation and potential Declaration of Lead Agency for 510 West State Street (now 50-70% area median income, initially it was 80-90% AMI), The 141-bed, 49 unit Overlook student housing at 815 South Aurora (updated, and review of Full Environmental Assessment Forms Part 2 and 3), final site plan approval for Arthaus and consideration of preliminary site plan approval for the Chain Works District (the focus right now is the renovations for phase one, office space, industrial space and 60 apartments). Apparently, the “Ezra” restaurant at the Hilton is now being called “The Strand Cafe”, after the theater that once stood on the site. More information can be found in the May project memo here.

The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Chain Works as well. Their portion of phase one involves the renovation of two manufacturing spaces into industrial and warehouse space (i.e. minimal work, just a sprucing up of the digs). Also your casual reminder that, unlike Dryden, Lansing or really any other sizable community in Tompkins County, the town permitted the construction of not a single new housing unit – again – last month. It looks the next stage of Artist Alley ($150,000 buildout) and Cayuga Med’s radiation vault ($2 million cost) were permitted.

It appears that the Beer family is heading back for another visit to the village of Lansing Planning Board regarding their until-now cancelled senior cottages project. The only thing known at the moment about this latest iteration is that it would fit the village’s cluster zoning, which means 97 units or less, but not in the same configuration as before (the pocket neighborhood-style homes were too close for code). We’ll see what happens.

Nothing much to note in Lansing town. Review of the Osmica event venue and B&B will continue, as will consideration of the Lake Forest Circle subdivision renewal and the 12,000 SF commercial building proposed for North Triphammer Road just north of Franklyn Drive.

– Courtesy of the village of Trumansburg, we have a new working title for 46 South Street, formerly Hamilton Square – now it’s “Crescent Way”. PApar krief, including revised EAFs, supplements and BZA findings here. The final version has some site plan changes on the location of some townhouse string types, but the overall unit count remains the same at 73 units (17 market rate for-sale, 10 affordable for-sale, 46 affordable rentals). Approval is on the horizon, a little more than two years to the date of when the project was first introduced. The project will be built in phases, with completion not expected until 2023.

 





News Tidbits 11/11/17: It’s Back

12 11 2017

1. One of the reasons for the lull in weekly round-ups has been the lack of smaller news items to fill it with. A few larger items made it into Voice articles, but there wasn’t much of a middle ground between “expand into article” and “not newsworthy”. I’m happy to take comments here about Voice articles, although the blog is intended to cover topics that may not be ready for a full write-up.

As noted in the Voice, there isn’t much before the city of Ithaca at the moment. A sketch plan for infill rental housing at 209 Hudson Street is likely dead in the water as a result of the new South Hill Overlay, and a modest infill plan calls for a duplex at 601 South Aurora on the corner with Hillview Place, which can only be an improvement from the informal parking lot currently there. The modular unit design is thoughtful (varied materials, plenty of windows) if unexciting, and the sidewalks are a plus. The units are physically structured as townhouses, but technically they aren’t, since townhouses are defined by International Building Code as strings of units of three or more.

Meanwhile, things are so slow in the town at the moment that they cancelled their last Planning Board meeting. Before that, the only notable item on the agenda was the Cayuga Ridge renovation, which is primarily internal. Their October Building and Codes Department report indicates a single two-family home was approved, in the Cleveland Estates housing subdivision; virtually all of those duplexes have been intended as student housing.

2. If there is one town that is rather busy next week, it would have to be Lansing. The surface facilities for the new Cargill mine shaft are up for final approval at the Planning Board meeting next Tuesday, more discussion is expected about the Milton Meadows affordable housing plan at the town center, and a couple of minor projects (communications tower, illuminated free-standing sign) are up for review and vote. Neither Cargill not Milton Meadows appear to have changed significantly since their last presentations.

Also scheduled is review of public comments regarding the Comprehensive Plan, which cover several topics, with the most frequent being the Bell Station zoning (park vs. lakeshore low density) and some individuals unhappy with the potential for mixed-use or residential development near their homes or farms. Joe Wetmore has a pretty thorough critique, ranging from unrealistic expectations to discomfort with what he calls “segregated housing” based on income and age. Going political for a moment, I suspect if it weren’t for many progressive town and village boards rushing to join the Article 78 on Cargill, with less than careful thought and discussion of Cargill’s blue-collar workers and their family/friends, Wetmore would be an incoming town councilman (and to be fair, he may end up winning when the absentee ballots are counted and tallied next week).

3. Over in Dryden, just about everything is good to go with Modern Living Rentals’ 42-unit rental complex planned for 802 Dryden Road, next to the Cornell arboretum. The November tweaks were for lighting, landscaping and sidewalk details. The designs of the townhouse strings were reworked in October to include three different designs, to be used twice each (six buildings, seven units each, 42 units/108 bedrooms total). While the materials remain the same, the designs differ substantially in roof lines, architectural detailing and fenestration pattern. At this point, no one would mistake for a recycling of 902 Dryden as they started off as; John Snyder and his team have had the chance to express themselves, and the designs are contemporary and visually interesting. It looks like final approval will be coming potentially soon, which will permit a Spring 2018 – Summer 2019 construction time-frame.

Other than that, the town is reviewing another Tiny Timbers subdivision, this one for 1540 Ellis Hollow Drive. Similar to its counterpart just down the street at 1624 Ellis Hollow Drive, the long, narrow lot would be serviced with an internal driveway for five homes with a little over an acre each, and the rear (northern) 5 acres would be granted a conservation easement, to remain natural space and help protect the Fall Creek watershed. The original plan was a deed restriction, but the town’s conservation board is pushing the easement so that future owners of the land can’t just lift the restriction. They also requested an S-shaped driveway because they feel the slope is greater than Dolph states; an S-shape would also throw the plans out of whack, so let’s see what happens.

On a final brief note, review and discussion is ongoing for a pair of solar arrays off of 2243 Dryden Road, one of 1.3 MW and one of 2 MW.

4. Looking at what’s on the market this week, here’s something for the deep-pocketed investor/landlord who wants to start with an all-new, low-maintenance building. 6-unit 707 East Seneca Street is on the market for $2,999,000. The 6,469 SF apartment building was built just two years ago, after developer Todd Fox bought city surplus land that was once a playground for the closed East Hill Elementary, deeded to the city in 1982 and promptly forgotten for decades until potential liability risks convinced the city to put it up for sale. Each unit is three bedrooms, and according to the advertisement, it generates over $220k in revenue each year, which is not shabby.The property is assessed at $1 million.

It’s a bit surprising that Fox would want to part with a nearly-new building with solid rental potential, and it makes me curious if the funds would be used to fund other Visum projects planned or approved. While Fox did take a financial hit from the cancelled 311 College Avenue project, the amount invested was far less than the sale price for 707 here.

5. Also worth noting, though it’s not good news – The Computing Center’s plans to build a new 4,600 SF headquarters appear to be over. The building site and the approved building plans at Lansing’s 987 Warren Road are up for sale. $499,000 gets you 1.57 acres, the plans, and a single-family home on the eastern end of the property that generates $2,000/month. The project had received an $85,084 tax abatement for the $1.394 million project, which was expected to create six new jobs. For the record, any buyer would need to re-apply for an abatement; the one granted will go unused. At least offhand, it looks like they may have added the jobs (retain 14, add 6, and the website shows nineteen plus the retired founder, and two job postings), but it’s uncertain – they acquired a competitor (Sherpa Technologies) in September, which increased staff to 22. Based off the time of the listing, with the acquisition of Sherpa they may have just led TCC to go a different direction with a new headquarters. What will be, will be.

6. According to construction loan documents filed with Tompkins County, the new 11,180 SF Rite Aid being built at 79 North Street carried with it a $2.71 million price tag. Chemung Canal Trust Company, an Elmira-based bank with branches in Tompkins County, is providing the loan to Dryden Group LLC/Ellicott Development. Ellicott, a major developer out in Buffalo, will be using an in-house contractor team to build out the retail space.

A couple of emails came in asking if this would be a Walgreen’s. On paper, that’s a no – everything filed and documented says Rite Aid, and this was confirmed with the town planning staff. However, Walgreen’s is in the process of acquiring 1,932 Rite Aid stores (leaving Rite Aid with 2,600), and closing several hundred stores that are within close proximity to existing Walgreen’s. It’s possible that the existing Dryden Rite Aid is one of those to be “shut down as part of the sale” as the new Rite Aid-turned-Walgreen’s is being built on the north end of the village. Keep an eye on it.

7. Quick little side note – Ithaca Associates LLC, the development team behind the $110 million Green Street Garage project, is apparently in talks with INHS to manage its affordable housing component. That’s according to Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) meeting minutes. So they are serious about meeting the city’s demand for affordable housing with some undetermined percentage of the 365 units. Heck, 60 or 70 units would be a sizable contribution, should it pan out, and it would make the project more palatable since it would clearly have a mixed-income aspect to go with its mixed uses.

8. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be taking up discussion again on the Nines, though they are less than pleased with the recent 5-5 tie vote the Common Council had on the Chacona block, broken by the mayor’s vote against historic designation. For me, the fascinating part was having someone like Cynthia Brock, typically opposed to greater density, speak in favor, while pro-development councilors like Ducson Nguyen and Seph Murtagh voted in favor of historic designation. So, it was an unusual breakdown of votes that I would not have predicted, although I had heard before the meeting that it would likely be a close vote.

There is no doubt that anything Student Agencies submits will be scrutinized extra closely, especially if they try to maximize square footage or incorporate design features that don’t mesh with neighboring structures. It’s fair to say that while they lucked out with being allowed to redevelop, the resentment already stirred up means anything proposed will be starting behind the proverbial eight ball, and they would be wise to really put their best foot forward and not rush plans.

Interestingly, it looks like someone, likely but not confirmed to be the Reach Project social service group, plans to submit concept designs for the carriage house that once stood behind the house at 310 West State Street. This is a historic district, so any designs for the drug treatment and potential safe heroin injection “harm reduction” site would need to be approved by the ILPC.

It’s been amusing and a bit excruciating to see some of the comments on the Voice – some people are all about historic buildings; but it tortures them to see these venerable structures used for what they see as a less-enlightened cause than a high-end B&B or boutique office. If zoning laws (and higher authorities, in this case) okay it, so be it. Many historic buildings have humdrum or low-brow histories as factories, home businesses or tenements, and to say they can’t be used for something permitted just because it seems icky is not only illegal, it denies part of the historical element.

7. Intriguing, though I have questions – the city is looking at expanding the use of PUDs from beyond the few industrial zones to city-wide so long as properties are 2 acres. They’re also looking at expanding CIITAP to allow 1-story industrial and waterfront projects, as well as an affordable housing component of 20% on all residential or mixed-use projects with residential components of 10 units or more.

The PUD plan comes on the heels of the new Waterfront zones, which allow residential uses on a greater number of parcels, and is in fact the recommendation of the Waterfront Working Group (WWG), a 17-member group of staff and public who reviewed planned zoning changes to the Waterfront. The city planning staff are amenable, though they suggest a minimum acreage of 2 acres.

With the proposed CIITAP change, the reasoning makes sense, although its effectiveness is questionable. Industrial construction is locally limited and is usually build-to-suit for a specific client. There’s also a strong preference to less dense areas with easy access with lower land values, like Lansing or Dryden. More power to the city I guess, I just don’t see it being utilized. As for the housing component, the intent is good, but the issue always ends up being an issue of “moreness”. Developers often have to build bigger to re-balance expenses and revenue within mixed-income structures. This can make it tougher for them to get financing since it’s a larger, more costly build-out (a bigger financial risk, all other things being equal). Residents in turn balk at a bigger project with the traffic, aesthetic changes and other impacts it creates, not to mention some still instinctively sneer at affordable housing, mixed-income or not. It’s not an outright deal-breaker, but it is something to keep in mind.

The PUD can be troublesome since it’s a sort of “DIY zoning”, which would make existing rules pointless and a lot of upset voters if allowed without some big stipulations. 2 acres would limit many projects in the core of the city, but if you happen to be, say, a major landowner along the Waterfront or in the vicinity, like Guthrie or Cayuga Medical Center, it’s basically a red carpet invitation, as it allows them to set the bounds for a project. Notably, neither of those two fall within CIITAP’s boundaries, so while they wouldn’t be eligible for the tax abatement, they also don’t have to worry about the affordable housing component if they choose to do something with housing in the mix.

 





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.
  • 201_college_vision_2009
  • 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.

corner_store_2000s

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.





News Tidbits 5/28/16: A Battle Between Neighbors

28 05 2016

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1. It seems the Planning Board had something of a philosophical crisis at their meeting, per the Times’ Josh Brokaw. The cause of the crisis is Neil Golder, Todd Fox and 201 College Avenue. Here’s the backstory.

201 College is a 2.5 story, 12-bedroom house on the corner of College and Bool. Local developer Todd Fox has a proposal on the boards for a 5-story apartment building (shown above). Neil Golder lives next door at 203. He moved into 203 in 1972 when he was a grad student at Cornell, bought the place in the early ’90s, lived there with his partner Kathy until she passed a couple of years ago. He still lives there, and rents out spare bedrooms.

201 and 203 were rezoned as part of the 2014 Collegetown rezoning to MU-1. This came only after years of debate, and Neil was one of the residents who pushed to have the properties rezoned in 2009 with a payment in lieu of parking scheme that upset a lot of the landlords, who mounted a significant legal challenge that prevented the rezoning from happening – more about that can be found in this Voice explainer.

For the record, Golder has never been much of a fan of development in Collegetown. His two big things have been that density is bad (but he seems to have mellowed on this issue since the parking push in 2009), and that Collegetown needed a grocery store. He was supportive of Collegetown Crossing because the developer (the Lowers) live next door at 205 and Greenstar will be opening a grocery store on the ground floor.

So, back to the zoning. There are nine MU-1 properties. The four between Catherine and Cook belong to Novarr – he has not expressed any intent to redevelop them. The other five are 215, 209, 205, 203 and 201 College Avenue. Novarr has expressed intent to redevelop 215 starting in late 2017. 209 is Grandview House, a historic landmark, and pretty much untouchable. 205 is Lower’s house, 203 is Golder, and then you have 201.

201 is the southernmost of the nine, and therefore most likely to stand out. The thing is, zoning consistent, when development happens organically, it means the parcel most likely to stand out isn’t necessarily the last one to get developed, nor will it necessarily be the smallest. In this case, the physical transition is from 2.5-3.5 story houses, to 5-story apartment, to 2.5 story house, and then a 3.5 story house and 5-story boarding house.

As of right, Todd Fox can build up to 5 floors and 70 feet tall as an average height. The site slopes slightly, so the building is shorter on the north side than the south side. The design fits the zoning – but it has to go to the BZA for a couple of minor area variances, one for entrances off of Bool, and the other, the board requested the project incorporate – the building was moved northward slightly to allow for street trees and a wider sidewalk on College Avenue. The May agenda noted that the Board had no concerns with either variance.

Golder has sent letters to the Times and the Voice (directly to my colleagues Mike and Jolene but not to me, interestingly), he has been stopping people on the street to sign his petition, he’s tried the ILPC, Planning Board, Historic Ithaca, friends in city government, even the city forester, everything and everyone he can to try and halt the current plans, but there has yet to be a compelling, objective counter-argument.

Countering some of the claims in his many letters, the individual pine trees at the front are not historic landmarks or city-owned, the city has to review and approve of construction plans anyway, and the traffic issue had already been discussed back during the rezoning. The developer has agreed to push the building back, which will give more visibility to Golder’s driveway, and a curb bump-out at the corner is proposed as part of the project. So that leaves the aesthetic argument of “I don’t like it”, which puts the Planning Board in a really difficult spot because as long as the form districts say the design is fine, that argument won’t stand up to a legal challenge.

There is a strong argument with his solar panels, which have been a part of broader discussion within the city. 201’s height would marginalize Golder’s solar panels, so in that case the project causes non-subjective hardship; this could be mitigated if 201 has solar panels (they are being considered) and shares electric, or by other compensation. Although, it might depend on when the panels went in, before or after rezoning. If people start rushing to put up solar panels as a back-door method to thwart development, the city’s going to step in.

So here’s the essence of the issue – after years of fighting over zoning, and finally settling on a compromise in 2014, the city is faced with a development that is legal, but it’s vehemently opposed by a venerable and high-profile neighbor, where the objections can be effectively mitigated, but not necessarily the way he wants them to be. A planning board member has to find the balance between allowing everyone to have their say, and acknowledging valid issues that should be addressed, without letting individuals exert too much control over their neighbors and infringing on property rights.

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2. Okay, onto other things. The city might be acquiring a couple of sizable West End/Waterfront parcels from the county. The properties, which consist of a pier/boardwalk, informal parking and vacant land, are located at the end of West Court and Cascadilla Streets, and are being seized as a tax foreclosure. The county is looking at selling them to the city in exchange for the $42,844 in back taxes. The larger one is 2 acres, the smaller 0.6 acres, and in total they’re valued at $630,000. The owner, an LLC, picked them up for $156,625 in 1999.

If the city picks them up, they’ll be filed into the IURA’s holdings for potential sale down the line. As it is, the parcels have issues – the railway, accessibility, and soils down here are known for being difficult to build on. But in the long term, there’s potential for water-focused amenities, private development, or a combo of the two. It looks like a good investment given the city’s still-in-the-works plan to encourage redevelopment of the West End and Waterfront, so this is worth keeping an eye on as things move forward.

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3. The IURA reviewed funding proposals for affordable housing earlier this Spring, and the minutes are now online. the duplex at 622 West Clinton, and the affordable unit with the 4-unit 402 South Cayuga project were not funded. The IURA is encouraging 622’s applicant to re-submit for next year, and the minutes note that 402 is likely to still go forward, but without the affordable unit.

It’s also been noted that there is some discontent with INHS because the cost of their projects are coming in high, and that they would like more diversity in applying entities. However, the seven townhomes at 202 Hector and the single-family house at 304 Gector (all for-sale housing) are fully funded. The Habitat for Humanity duplex on the 200 Block of Third Street is also fully funded.

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4. Another piece of news from the IURA – the new occupant for the Rumble Seat Music building. It appears to be a drink bar called “Watershed Union“, serving coffee and juice by day and adult beverages by night. Five or six living wage jobs would be created. There might be some grumbling over the moral evils of alcohol, but the business plan has the support of neighboring businesses and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Also, the Canopy Hilton is still moving forward. But are doing a minor LLC ownership change to allow another Patel family member to be a part of the ownership team.

5. Hitting the market this week, for all those big-potato investors out there – the Belmont Townhouses at 324 Spencer Road. The listing from local realtor Brent Katzmann has the price set at $2,595,000, for a 14-unit complex that opened in 1995. The posting mentions the possibility of a 1031 Exchange, which allows an individual to sell a currently-owned investment property, and buy a new investment property of equal or greater value while avoiding capital gains taxes – continuity of investment locks up the profit gained from sale.

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6. House of the week. This house is on the 100 Block of Campbell Avenue on Ithaca city’s portion of West Hill. This home is being built by Carina Construction, an Ithaca-based modular home specialist. The foundation and garage were poured and the pieces were probably craned on and locked together sometime in the past few weeks – a little bit of siding has started to show up on the front. The process is a lot like the one Carina used to assemble the Belle Sherman Cottages across town.

Color me impressed, the design is unique, and once exterior details like the porch and second-level deck go on, I imagine it’ll look really nice. Tompkins Trust lent $280,000 back in April, and the construction permits were issued not long thereafter (the total project cost is in the $320k range, per the permit filing). The land was created in a lot subdivision last year, and sold for $35,000 last August.