Boiceville Cottages Update, 9/2014

8 09 2014

Out in Caroline, local company Schickel Construction’s Boiceville Cottages development continues to expand. Since the last pass through in late June, the two 5-unit gatehouses were completed and occupied, and construction has begun on at least four more units. The parchment exterior and blue trim make for an attractive pairing. The foundation being poured southeast of the gatehouses (fourth photo from too) seems too large to be a cottage unit and isn’t their usual triangular layout, and I’m not sure what else it could be offhand (the project design no longer matches the 2012 site plan from the town website). The more typical three-unit cottage pairing seems to be underway with the poured foundations on the other side of the street.

Boiceville has been built in phases – the initial 24 houses in 1996/1997, and another 36 in the late 2000s. The current ongoing phase allows for another 75 units, for a total of 135 on the properties. Arguably, that would make it the densest large parcel in the 3,300-person town.

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News Tidbits 8/30/14: There Never Seems To Be Enough Housing

30 08 2014

1. In a glance at the economy, some good news: over in Lansing, a new research building is under construction, and expected to add jobs. the new “Northeast Dairy and Food Testing Center” is a 50-50 collaboration between local firm Dairy one Cooperative Inc., and Chestnut Labs of Springfield, Missouri. The new 17,000 sq ft building at 720 Warren Road is a $3.5 million investment and will add 11 jobs at the outset, 3 through Dairy One and 8 through Chestnut Labs. 4 more jobs would be added over the following two years if all goes to plan.

According to the TCIDA report, Chestnut opted for Ithaca as its first satellite office because of a desire to expand into the Northeast and its proximity to Cornell. Although construction was supposed to begin last fall, it looks like we can expect construction to be completed this spring. I have yet to see a rendering, but the design is supposed to be by Syracuse-based Dalpos Architects.

2. Revised renders for 327 Eddy. The 28-unit, 64-bedroom Collegetown project looks nearly the same, except for one crucial detail – the east courtyard and stairwell have been transposed (mirrored), with the east courtyard on the south face and the stairwell on the north face. A few more windows were placed in the west courtyard as well. This is a smart suggestion, whoever’s it was; the 100 Block of Dryden obscures the blank faces of the side wall and stairwell, making it less prominent. The side with more windows faces down the hill, and given the relatively historic building next door, the views are likely to be more protected, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing from most vantage points.

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3. As reported by the IJ last Wednesday, the much-anticipated Harold’s Square project will be getting another revision. The building was originally supposed to be one floor of retail, three floors of office space, and six floors of apartments, with a penthouse level consisting of conference, mechanical and exercise rooms. Now, the top two floors of office space will be apartments instead. Currently, the building has 46 apartments approved, and any changes will likely need to be approved by the planning board. The article also notes that high construction costs in the growing economy are forcing businesses to rethink their development strategies, although the exact same thing happened during the recession due to the tight bank loan market. There’s always a reason.

I really can’t say this change-up in use really surprises me. Ithaca’s office market is not that great. The biggest employers here are colleges (who house offices on or very near campus), research/labs (who need specialized spaces), and tourism (hotels). It’s extremely tough to build office space in the Ithaca market because there’s so little demand for it. Seneca Place downtown was able to be built in 2004-05 partially because they secured Cornell as a tenant. But I’ve heard through the rumor mill that Cornell doesn’t fully use their space post-recession, and the university keeps renting it out as flex space and as a gesture to the community. On the other hand, apartments go like hotcakes, since the residential supply is much less than demand, and the success of recent projects indicates apartments are a safe investment in downtown.

Here’s what I expect – the building will be a little shorter, since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling ratios than office spaces. The exterior will be revised, mostly the low-rise section facing the Commons. The massing may change up, but given that there were 46 apartments on six floors initially, at a minimum I think another 20 apartments to be proposed.

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4. The Stone Quarry Apartment project by INHS has been approved. It wasn’t a pretty process, but it’s been greenlighted for construction, which is expected to begin this fall with an intended completion in October 2015.

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5. On the topic of affordable housing, another protested project is coming up for review, the 58-unit Biggs parcel project near Cayuga Medical Center. The project needs an approved SEQR from the town of Ithaca before it can move forward; the sketch plan is to be discussed at the September 2nd meeting, there will be no vote at that time. The working name of the project has gone from Cayuga Ridge to Cayuga Trails; I’m just going to keep calling it the Biggs parcel. There’s only a tenuous little overlap between the opposed parties here and those against Stone Quarry, but if the Ithaca West list-serve is any indication, the argument against the project is one part logic, one part bluster. There have already been allegations thrown around from both sides with this project, which is co-sponsored by the rural equivalent of INHS, Better Housing of Tompkins County, in a partnership with project developer NRP Group of Cleveland. While this Jerry Springer-type showdown continues to unfold, here are some updated renders of the project, courtesy of RDL Architects of suburban Cleveland:

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Nothing to write home about, simple and colorful. But there’s a good chance these never leave the drawing board. If it does somehow get approved, construction will start in Spring 2015 and last 12-14 months.

6. In other West Hill developments, EcoVillage is building their 15-unit apartment building/common house in their third neighborhood, TREE. Article from the Ithaca Journal here, and photo gallery here. I only reach EcoVillage once in a blue moon because it’s so far out of the way from other developments; my last photos are from spring 2013. At that time, the first set of houses were going up for the 40-unit neighborhood. According to the EcoVillage website, the first TREE residents, with homes designed by Jerry Weisburd, moved in last December. When all is complete by next spring, EcoVillage will actually be a fairly sizable village, with virtually 100% occupancy and a population around 240. Unlike many West Hill developments, EcoVillage has had comparatively weak opposition from West Hill residents. Lest they change their mind, EcoVillage adds a neighborhood about once a decade, so they have probably have nothing to worry about until the 2020’s.

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News Tidbits 8/2/14: It’s Gotta Go Somewhere

2 08 2014

Here’s the semi weekly digest for your mid-summer doldrums…

1. Yet another round of Carey Building design tweaks. Updated renders and more here. At least now the renders include the proposed Hampton Inn to its north, which shows just how dense this corner will be (not unlike its historical precedent, when the massive Strand Theatre occupied much of the block). Better yet, that blank wall on the west face has windows and will be home to a “art wall” for a mural. The roof and facade have been tweaked since the last update, and I think it’s fair to say that this is a substantial improvement over the initial proposal.

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2. I had the updated PDF of the 323 Taughannock Boulevard proposal stored away for the next news update, but Jason at IB wrote an in-depth article about the development in the meanwhile, which is much better than a blurb on this blog. Most notably this time around is the inclusion of color renders, which is just as much a hodgepodge of influences as the design itself. The 20-unit, 23,000 sq ft, $3.5 million waterfront development would be under construction in the first half of 2015, if approved. Replacing a run-down waterfront bar, it has the potential to pioneer development of Ithaca’s waterfront, where controversial zoning was passed in 2011 to allow for larger projects such as this.

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3. Now for something different. The project on Troy Road in the town of Ithaca is trapped in the red tape. At last check, the developers, the perhaps disingenuously-named Rural Preservation Housing Associates, were trying to figure out where to go, as they’re having difficulties gathering enough support from the town board for a Planned Development Zone. This PDZ is required because the project proposes 166 units; the max under cluster zoning, which doesn’t require a Town Board-approved PDZ, is either 153 or 154. According to a recent town Planning Committee meeting, the alternative to the 154 or so clustered units is up to 104 units of even more sprawling single-family housing (52 lots with two units each), which is within zoning and could be rented out if they have trouble selling. The developers have been considering community meetings to quell public dissent and to learn what would get the PDZ apartment development passed. For the record, they’ve said they are open to prohibiting undergrads from renting and occupying units, which is possible since students are not a protected class under the law.

TL;DR – it’s a mess. I’ll add that in with the Biggs parcel issue, and the (weakening) opposition to INHS’s Greenways in East Ithaca, that the town has achieved the trifecta of development battles on all of its hills.

There was an interesting housing study that I came across for the Troy Road parcel, created by some Cornell City and Regional Planning (CRP) students for a course. The first phase as designed by the students would have 14 affordable (owners making 80% of county median income) housing units with 11 1180 sq ft. 2-bedroom and 3, 1355 sq ft. 3-bedroom homes, utilizing state tax credits to keep sale costs between $140k and 155k. Their proposal would have require changing the current zone from low density to medium density, which would have made such a project a non-starter.

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4. Meanwhile in Lansing, they’re weighing in on 102 townhomes. If Ithaca were an island, anti-development could be great. But since other towns are building housing and adding residents that will travel through the town to get to the employment centers in the city, then the residents of the town of Ithaca had better figure out a more effective strategy to managing growth other than knee-jerk no’s.

5. Some members of Ithaca’s West Hill community listserve is engaged in a thought exercise – seceding from the town and making their own village to specifically oppose any development proposed in their community. This isn’t without precedent; the village of Lansing was founded in 1974 due to fears stirred up by the construction of Pyramid Mall. West Hill, in turn, fears housing, especially low-income housing, due to the negative influence from low-income, high crime apartment complexes such as West Village. The “Minority Report” that they gave to the town planners was described as “a polemic of the proposed [Comprehensive] Plan as a whole, and offers few comments on any specific goals and recommendations“, and the town spent six pages excoriating the bombastic report. It’s another TL;DR for most, but the gist of the West Hill Minority Report is that the town encourages sprawl and ghettos and should only allow very small areas for development, even deconstructing some currently-built areas due to an increasingly unsustainable environment. I understand their angry reaction due to the high crime in southwest Ithaca, but all this is the administrative equivalent of over-correcting a car in a skid.

6. And then there were 5 – Since INHS is focusing on the Neighborhood Pride site, the non-profit is withdrawing from old library competition. Looks like John Schroeder can add DeWitt House to his entries in his “Unbuilt Ithaca” book draft. But don’t worry, they’ve already starting working towards redevelopment of the old grocery store, by issuing a request for qualifications (RFQ) for those interested and capable of designing their new infill project.

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7. At a glance, this call for bids on this parcel of city land at Five Mile Drive would seem to be wide open…except a local green housing developer has been targeting this plot for quite a while. It’s a bit like advertising a job when you already have someone lined up for the position. Oddly enough, I have yet to hear opposition this one; maybe it’s too far south for West Hill to care.

8. Lansing village is getting a mosque, according to the Star. The project, to be built at 112 Graham Road by the Al-Huda Islamic Center of the Finger Lakes, will result in a 4,828 sq ft mosque, with a small minaret if money provides.

Rendering courtesy of Lansing Star

Rendering courtesy of Lansing Star





News Tidbits 7/17/14: It’s All About the Materials

17 07 2014

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Given the rate of development exposition and modification, this is becoming a sort of weekly digest. I’m perfectly okay with that.

1. First up, the omnipresent Carey Building addition by Travis-Hyde Properties. This one has been tweaked at least twice already (not counting the initial massing model), and here we have another update, though it looks to be mostly in the materials that the addition would be composed with. revised plans here. Depending on your definition of structural height, the addition would bring the Carey Building to 77’10” to the penthouse roof, 82’10” to the parapet, or 87’10” to the mechanical rooftop. To highlight some of the other changes, the roof-lines were tweaked, as were the windows on the east face. The west face is still blank, though the lighter color does make it seem a little less overbearing in the renders.

Also, contrary to the recent Times article, not all five additional floors are residential. The first floor of the addition (third floor from street level) is additional office space for the business incubator.

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2. Next up is 327 Eddy, owned by Stephen Fontana and designed by local firm Sharma Architecture. Cover letter here, application here, and drawings here. I remember thinking the sketch render looked a little weird with the brick above the courtyard, and the design has been tweaked as this proposal materializes out of the aether. We now have some dates and figures. This one would be starting in May 2015 and completed in August 2016. The estimated cost of construction is $5 million (like the other two Sharma applications for 205 Dryden and 307 College…they may just be making up a nice, round, semi-believable number). It will build up 68′ from the sidewalk of Eddy Street, and 60′ from the rear portion (the building steps up as it extends back into its steep lot). Still 28 units and 64 bedrooms, and it has 1,800 sq ft of ground-floor retail space.

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3. Greenways, the INHS affordable townhouse development off of Honness Lane (site shown in the lead photo), has been approved. Good.

4. Cayuga Ridge, the Biggs Property proposal out on West Hill, is not so lucky. This one has been tied up for a while due to neighbors’ opposition to the site’s development – it’s also turned into a veritable sh*tshow, with those against the development using the standard traffic and sprawl arguments (the latter being a little weird since it’s right next to the hospital and across the street from the Overlook complex), while some of those for the project have played the race card. A neighbors group sued to have the county’s land sale stopped for not following SEQR environmental regulations, and the ruling was upheld. While not dead, the sale of the property to developer NRP/Better Housing for Tompkins County is on hold while the town of Ithaca reviews the project and the SEQR is conducted, with the county as an involved party. It’s not the best location, but on the other hand, the affordable housing issue is rearing its ugly head. On a side note, unlike its city counterpart (INHS), Better Housing has some of the worst luck of any non-profit developer in the county. The Lansing Preserve failure from a few years back comes to mind.

4. Residential tax assessments are up 6.17% (about $1.27 million in revenue) in the county year-over-year, about triple the usual 2% rate. The cost of housing is rising much faster than anticipated, which is contributing to the area’s affordability issues. Construction projects such as Collegetown Terrace also help; for instance, that project’s value went up from $19.1 to $26.64 million, which results in an additional $275,000 in tax revenue (the tax revenue at $19.1 million was about $700,000). Don’t expect taxes on existing homes to go down with the increased revenue though, because rising healthcare costs eat away most of the gains.

 





Odds and Ends Construction Updates, June 2014

6 07 2014

Random odds and ends. First off are the Lehigh Valley House condos, which will take the century-old Lehigh Valley House and renovate it into ground-floor commercial space and six condominium units on the upper floors. The project is being developed by Tim Ciaschi; the Ciaschi family has a long history of work in Ithaca. I note that my photo is a few days before IB’s latest update, given the progress of the siding installation.

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A couple blocks away on 13 is Magnolia House, a $2.7 million project that provides a 14-person shelter for homeless women. It took a while to open, but it looks like that it’s occupied, if the furniture in the second photo is any clue. I liked this better when the copper was fresh.

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Here’s a project that’s flown under the radar. Downtown at 144 the Commons (Mockingbird Paperie/Ithacards building), local developer Jim Merod is building seven apartments into renovated space on the second and third floors, three each on the second and third floors and a new penthouse suite in an expansion of the top floor. This one will probably be available for renting by late fall.

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I figured I could use a couple photos of the completed Breckenridge Place. The affordable housing project by INHS brings 50 units of moderate-income units to downtown, and as Jason has covered, the lack of affordable housing in Ithaca is a major, major issue. Recently, there’s been some drama with the Old Library site since the projects have been more focused on apartments rather than condos. Condos would be nice, but from the county’s perspective, there’s a problem – condos require someone to have considerably greater financial assets than an apartment; you buy a condo, you rent an apartment. This pushes a project out of the affordable range, and the DPI proposal has already said it’s geared towards middle-to-high end incomes. I’m sure a project like that would be financially profitable (see the Danter study for evidence), but that’s not the point. If the county gets to choose the developer, and is seeking affordable housing as a way to provide the greatest community benefit with its assets, why would they choose a project that benefits only the wealthier portions of the community? I realize I might be stepping into s–t on this one, but this has been nagging me for a while. Condos are a great idea, but these are the wrong circumstances.

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The site of College Crossings, just south of Ithaca College. The land is cleared and some construction equipment is on site, but it’s hard to tell if this is one is actually under construction. A friend who lives nearby explained that in her perspective, “they spend all day in the bulldozer pushing dirt back and forth, but not actually doing anything”. This project has dragged for years, so I wouldn’t be surprised. The website claims two of the six retail spaces are rented and a third space is pending, and the sign on the property indicated a Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts were future tenants. The upper floor will have two apartments with four and five bedrooms respectively.

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Boiceville Cottages Update, June 2014

30 06 2014

Decided to pay these a visit while on my way to a Sage Chapel wedding. Also, to prove to myself that I could take pleasant-looking photos of this complex.

Several buildings were underway, and two were a new style – five-unit gatehouse structures. They appear similar to the three-unit gatehouse structures already built, but the first hint that these were different comes from the dormers being positioned further out. My guess would be they they are one-bedroom units on the end and studios in the middle three units. A set of three houses, the ones with the orange trim below, appeared to be in the last stages of construction. The pink-trimmed and blue-trimmed homes next to them have only just received landscaping, and appear to have tenants.

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In the Long Run: The Chain Works District

8 06 2014

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This blog is due to celebrate its sixth anniversary in about a week (which will gets its own post, per tradition). This means that it’s seen, and written about a lot. When this blog, started, Emerson Power Transmission was still in business in Ithaca. But, it was already on its way out; in April 2007, the headquarters shifted from Ithaca to suburban Cincinnati, taking about 55 jobs with it. At the time, about 400 people were still employed at their South Hill facility.

That wasn’t to last long. I dunno, maybe it was bound to happen – Emerson ended up bleeding 25,000 jobs worldwide during the recession, nearly 20% of its workforce. But for the 228 employees who were at the Ithaca facility in August 2009, it was no less unpleasant when the closure was announced. The last folks closed up shop in 2011, but the facility’s polluted legacy lives on.

It was about 16 months ago when it was announced that the property, which has been for sale for $3.9 million, found a buyer. A lot of things were hush-hush, but it was seen as auspicious.

Fast forward a year – we have a name and a firm – David Lubin, the developer of the Harold’s Square mixed-use tower approved for downtown, and his LLC, the amusingly named “UnChained Properties”. A cadre of architecture, planning and environmental firms are also involved. Lubin et al. is currently asking the town to make the 95-acre parcel a PDZ, Planned Development Zone (likewise, they’re requesting the city make their portion its zoning equivalent, PUD, for Planned Urban Development), which is fairly generous in its uses and form (i.e. conveneient for mixed-use projects). Both city and town portions are zoned industrial. The development firm received money (forfeited by Emerson for failing to meet their IDA tax incentives) to conduct a feasibility study for reanalysis of the site.

The redeveloped property would be a mixed-use neighborhood called the “Chain Works District“. A lot of big numbers are being tossed around. 800,000 sq ft of redeveloped space. $100 million invested. 1,000 permanent jobs on site. 10 to 15 years for build-out. By any Ithaca-centric measurement, this is a huge undertaking. UnChained Properties hosted a public meeting in April (attended by Jason at IB), with a second planned during this summer. A copy of the April presentation can be found here.

10 to 15 years seems like a long time. It is. But the current Emerson site is a hodge-podge of decades of random additions.

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Not all of these additions will be making their way into the final product. Most of the post-war additions will be removed, save for a section on the southwest side that will be reserved as a future manufacturing facility.

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The site calls for office space, artists studios, workshops, a healthy dose of residential loft-style units, and a generous smattering of open-spaces in the form of courtyards and terraces, created by the removal of some of the newer factory additions. The Gateway Trail will run through the site, and it will host some amenities, like event/concert space and a cafe. According to the details submitted to the town, the developer is shooting for LEED certification as the phases are built-out.

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Perhaps just as interesting is that they aren’t solely seeking to build within the perimeter of the old factory spaces. The submission to the town shows multiple sites considered for new construction, with “T4″ and “T5″ PDZ zoning that would allow for 4-story and 6-story mixed use structures respectively.

Does seem all very pie-in-the-sky-ish? Perhaps. It’s a lot of big dreams and it’s going to take a lot of time, money and manpower to make it come to fruition. But I’ll be interested in watching it all evolve as it slowly moves towards reality.

Photo property of UnChained Properties LLC

Photo property of UnChained Properties LLC

 

 

 








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