Belle Sherman Cottages Update, 4/2014

16 04 2014

My last stop, on my out of town. In short order, I mentally debated stopping for photos, missed the turn due to the debating, circled back around, ended up ditching my car in a reserved parking spot at the Coal Yard Apartments complex. Then I ran down the hill, to the development, back up to the hill, and back into my car in the span of five minutes. I’m sure some of the neighbors that were outside Sunday afternoon were a little confused by my behavior.

Since my last time through, work was completed on the bungalow on lot 19 (someone gave it red porch trim; I’m guessing the owner), and the “Victorian farmhouse” on lot 14 is well underway, the modular pieces are assembled and it looks like siding swatches are being tested and installed. I expect this house will be done in just a few weeks. According to their facebook page, Q1 2013 was a stellar three months; five lots were sold: lots 4, 6 and 18 (elevations here), the spec house on lot 1, and one of the planned townhouses. That means 10 of the 19 houses planned have been sold. Considering they sold only six houses in the past two years, this is quite an uptick. Looks like Carina Construction will be busy this spring and summer.

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Two Sides to an Argument

18 03 2014

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I generally try to stay on the sidelines when it comes to promoting or opposing for Ithaca projects. I’m not about to get involved in favor of the West Falls Street proposal, the Stone Quarry proposal, or Cayuga Meadows, or any other local project that neighboring residents want shot down. NIMBYism (NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” , a reference to when people accept a community has a need for a project but they oppose it in their neighborhood) is ever-present, just about every project in the city and town has had some degree of opposition (the only exception I can think of offhand is the convention center/hotel planned for downtown). My own opposition arises when I feel a proposal threatens something of historic value. Regardless, the planning board is good at staying neutral. I may not always agree with the planning board, but I generally respect their judgement.

I’m going to make an exception to my non-partisan stance for 1 Ridgewood, thanks to Walter Hang.

As much as it bothers me to do it, to explain my issues, it is best if I provide a link to the petition and its partially-labelled map of square footages.  A large chunk of those appear to be people who have little or no connection to Ithaca. Token disclaimer: I’m not for or against his fracking work, my concern is focused squarely on this project. In an attempt to keep this project from being railroaded, I decided to examine the petition’s arguments.

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Here’s the area Mr. Hang wants his moratorium, Cornell Heights, split between the city and Cayuga Heights. For the record, the dark grey represents Cornell-affiliated properties, mostly GLOs and a few Co-Ops in the CHHD. Looking at the city section specifically:
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The red X is the Ridgewood apartment parcel, for three buildings between 5578, 5710 and 6662 square feet, with mostly below-grade parking. One of my issues is that some of Mr. Hang’s assertions are misleading. For example:

Due to recent development, the Historic District is clearly transitioning from its original turn-of-the-20th century “residential park” to a densely developed area that bears little resemblance to the community that warranted special historic district protection approximately 25 years ago.”

It’s hardly changed. There have been two three projects built since 1989. A single-family home at 116 Dearborn Place that was built in 2005, the Tudor house of the Bridges Cornell nursing home was built in 2005, and the new apartments currently going up on Thurston. If you want to push the envelope, Alpha Zeta (214 Thurston) replaced half of its original structure in 1992-1993 when it was renovated. A couple buildings (Kappa Delta, and 111 Heights Court) have received renovations, which were approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC).

 

Approval is being sought for an apartment complex proposed for 1 Ridgewood Road. Three buildings would be built on the largest undeveloped property in Cornell Heights, a spectacular forested setting enjoyed by hundreds of local residents who walk along and through it each day.

The proposed buildings would dwarf nearby structures. Figure One illustrates that the buildings would be 300% larger than the adjoining structure on Highland Avenue and at least 200% larger than all the immediately surrounding structures.

Out of a total of more than 200 structures in the Cornell Heights Historic District, only six are bigger than all three proposed buildings. Those six were built before the Historic District designation.

What’s not being told about that “spectacular forested property” is the abandoned swimming pool or dilapidated poolhouse. Also, as seen in at Mr. Hang’s map, the project is shifted to the west (left side) of the parcel, where many its nearby neighbors tend to be larger, ranging from 3000-8600 square feet (Westbourne to the north is a contiguous complex with 10,800 sq ft of space). To call this “dwarfing” is to take it out of its full context.

It concerns me that a petition with emotionally-charged language, gathering signatures from people that are not stakeholders in the Ithaca community, is being pushed by someone who has a history of aggressive tactics. It bothers me that an underutilized parcel with great public transit access in a highly populated area is going to have its zoning changed after the developer has been sensitive to planning board concerns and returned with a proposal within current regulations, which sets a terrible precedent for the community and opens up the possibility of legal action against the city. Lastly, in a period where Cornell continues its enrollment growth, I’m worried that if projects like this will be prohibited, it will only encourage more rental conversations of existing housing, more subpar housing situations, higher rents and increased sprawl.





Route 13 Is Becoming Suburban Hotel Row

26 02 2014

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The best part about this project is, I was totally confused when I first saw it, and thought that someone had changed up the Holiday Inn Express proposed for 371 Elmira Road. But I think I can be forgiven for the error – both projects are 4-story, 54′ tall hotels prepared by Optima Design and Engineering out of Buffalo. However, the two projects diverge from there. Project description here, elevations and lot layout here, project application here. The hotel as proposed for 339 Elmira Road is a small one, 37 rooms, current being described as “independent” (no chain affiliation), which given its size is no big surprise. The 6,468 sq ft building is situated for an empty 0.59 acre lot, what was once home to the Salvation Army store before they moved down the road a few years ago and the building was demolished. Jason over at Ithaca Builds reported that the land sold for $143k last summer.

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The project’s application predicts a time frame of construction from June to December of 2014, and a project construction cost of $1.7 million. What Ithaca gets for that $1.7 million is a typical suburban-style box hotel, a smaller version of what you typically find at highway exits. In a way, that’s what this stretch of Elmira Road/Route 13 is becoming – previously, it was just the Comfort Inn, then the Hampton Inn in 2003, the Fairfield Inn last year, and now this and the Holiday Inn Express are in the proposal stages. That would mean 219 more hotel rooms in this area then there was in 2012.

On a completely unrelated note, the infill project by Heritage Builders at 128 West Falls Street continues their fine tradition of developing underused city/town parcels, even if the designs are a bit ungainly.

 





Making Room(s) at Collegetown Terrace

21 02 2014

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Here’s an interesting concept coming out of Collegetown Terrace: A proposal to exchange some of the interior parking for more housing. This info comes courtesy of the city of Ithaca, which will have to grant a zoning variance in order to let such a change proceed.

The last phase of Collegetown Terrace (phase III)  is slated to begin later this year, with construction complete by summer 2015. Phase III is supposed to focus on the construction on the last building, #7 (formally known as 120 Valentine Place), a long, curving building very similar to  the currently underway #5. The whole complex as-is provides 1177 bedrooms and 699 parking spaces (5 more than legally required). However, the developer (Novarr-Mackesey) has noted that only about 50% of tenants utilize parking, which means about 100 will go unused (guest parking tends to only make up a very small % of lot use). They have put forth a rather unusual proposal where the second floor of parking for building 7 would instead be 80 units of dorm-style housing: all tenants get their own bed and bath, but share kitchens and community spaces. After reconfiguring some two-bedrooms to three-bedrooms, the net gain of units is 69 (from 178 to 247 in Bldg. 7).  The current buildings, #5 (112 Valentine, 167 units) and #6 (113 Valentine, 71 units) would be unchanged. Zoning calls for 703 parking spaces in the new setup, the develop wants to put in only 652, which they claim it would still result in 50 underused spaces. So here we are. I know even the regulated 9 additional spaces for 80 more units seems a little unbalanced, but the unit reconfiguration and the small square footage of those “dorms” allow it to be so. Changes to the exterior are expected to be minimal.

At a glance, this is a nifty idea – the dorm units are expected to rent for about 50-67% the cost of a typical studio or one-bedroom in the complex (which looks to be around $1000, so $500-$670 for these). Since Collegetown Terrace mostly appeals to wealthier echelons, this sort-of mixed-income aspect is appealing, and it gives a different group of landlords increased competition for tenants; also, it makes for a denser parcel, and does a favor to those seeking to buoy business in Collegetown, and avoid more home-to-rental conversions. However, I doubt the neighbors will be amused (some are not fans of having so many college students gathered in one complex), and the parking discussion (which so far is based only off “experience”) will be reviewed with a figurative magnifying glass. I feel like this project could be a major test-bed of the city’s evolving views on parking requirements.





It Pays To Read: The INHS Pipeline

15 02 2014

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I think the biggest thing I learned from Ithaca Builds is the importance of searching for and reading city documents. Since they’re rapidly digitized and made available for public knowledge, it’s not a necessity to stop in city hall anymore. Even better, it has an option to check out the most recent docs, so it’s like one-stop shopping for news. All the extra knowledge is a curse and a blessing. For instance, the latest Common Council agenda, which proposes additional restrictions on an intended rezoning of Cornell Heights, all of which is geared towards keeping the 1 Ridgewood apartment project from happening (I wonder what legal grounds the developer would have in such an event). This isn’t the first time something like this has happened – the vacant lot at 121 Oak Avenue in Collegetown was slated for a 3-story, 6 unit (20 bedroom) building in the late 2000s, but Josh Lower put the kibosh on that project once the city started the endless discussion with the Collegetown rezoning, and the planning board wouldn’t support his project because of the debate. On another note, Josh Lower might have the worst luck of any developer in Tompkins County.

On the other hand, readers get an idea of projects in the pipeline. It’s what allowed me to beat the Daily Sun to the punch on the Gannett Health Center plans. Then there’s all sorts of little projects, like a lot subdivision on Auburn Street that shows the design of the new house, or the proposal for three more houses on West Falls Street. On a larger scale, it also shares big outlines, like what INHS plans to do over the next couple of years, which I’ll discuss here.

The INHS pipeline comes courtesy of this Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency agenda. Most of the stuff is, for the purpose of this blog, “babble”; filings needed to designate INHS with some special privileges. But among this babble is a recently completed and underway projects list, on page 47. In the past year, the 72-unit Poets Landing project in Dryden (a Conifer LLC project they assisted with), Breckenridge Place, and a house purchase/remodel on Hawthorne Place were completed. Go back a little further and you see Holly Creek Phase I and a few small developments, like the duplex on East Falls Street in the lead image. In the future list, for 2014 there are only 14 units – two houses (one a duplex), and Phase II of Holly Creek. A few months ago, I googled the architect of Holly Creek to see her other work, and instead found out her back-story is traumatizing. Congrats to her for surviving it and being able to move on with her life. Anyway, in 2015, INHS has 148 units planned for completion – four townhomes and a house, the Stone Quarry apartments and its 35 units, 62 units in Cayuga Meadows (I guess it dropped from the 68 Jason first reported on IB), and the irksome Greenways project, which has dropped from 67 to 46 units. I have no idea what to make of it anymore. The big projects should all be completed by October 2015, but make of that what you will; Breckenridge came in behind schedule, and non-profit/government building projects are well known for building delays.





A Revised, Resized Plan For Ridgewood

13 02 2014

Things are getting a little complex with the development planned at 1 Ridgewood, a Cornell Heights parcel squished between Ridgewood and Highland Avenues. First, the revised plans for the smaller project. While the original plan had 64 units in one large building, this proposal has shrunk it down to 45 in three buildings. Notably, even with the size change, the overall design is not all too different, materials and massing look to be the same as before. One floor has been removed, giving three floors over an underground parking garage (a small surface lot would also be built on the property).

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The focus is now more on the western side of the property facing Ridgewood, with less attention given to the Highland Avenue side of the property in this updated plan. Since the tendency with student-focused projects is to count the bedrooms, the 45 units contain 114 bedrooms for occupancy.

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One of the complicating factors in this project is the zoning change proposed for the property. Currently, it’s R-U, which is less restrictive than the R-3aa they are proposing to rezone the parcel to. At its best, it’s an attempt to mitigate increasing developer interest in the historic district; at its worst, its a heavy-handed attempt to stunt development. For the record, this and the Thurston Avenue Apartments project seem to be (have been?) the only two underutilized parcels in the affected area. The revised 1 Ridgewood project PDF goes out of its way to note that this project just barely meets the R-3aa requirements, so even with the zoning change, no variance would be required. This is important, because some neighbors are fiercely opposed to any development of the parcel whatsoever. They would be able to shut the project down much easier if it were seeking a variance, but since it doesn’t, it gets a lot harder. We’ll see what happens as this makes it through the bureaucratic rounds.

EDIT: Ha ha, silly me to think they might let this one go. The Common Council is voting on additional restrictions to the R-3aa zone that would effectively kill this project. The proposed language adds a special amendment for historic districts such as Cornell Heights that says that any new building can’t have a footprint more than 120% of the average footprint of the historic structures on a block. Cornell Heights historic structures are mostly mansions in the 1,500-2,000 sq ft footprint range, which these exceed. This amendment seems to be explicitly targeted to keep this project from happening.





The New Gannett Student Health Center

31 01 2014

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Copy of the proposal, including description, renderings, and all the other bells and whistles here. Note that this isn’t a total teardown and replacement, but an addition onto the previous building. Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of a large, curved structure on what is current Gannett’s parking lot. The feeder road to Willard Straight will stay in place, going under the new addition, and the ambulance bays will also be located here.

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Note how it says Levels 1 and 2. The elevation changes allow for a partial below-grade section under the main level that connects with Ho Plaza’s walkway. Above the road will be three levels of offices and exam rooms, with a mechanical penthouse on top of the new structure. So 4/5 floors, depending on your viewpoint.

Although it looks like some of the original structure will be preserved, it gets a major facadectomy. Larger windows and and a more “contemporary” entrance will be built on the Ho Plaza side. About the only similarity to the current structure is the use of Llenroc stone for the outline.

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The current entrance gets replaced with a two-story addition (shown on the right), and the 70s addition also gets a revised facade (but remains mostly intact).

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Probably my biggest complaint is the subtle multi-hued glass panels. It looks cheesy. My armchair critic says to stick with one panel color, ideally the a neutral grey/smoke tone. Other than that, it’s standard Cornell fare for the 2010s – a hypermodern glassy box, with the use of stone to try and harmonize it with the surrounding plaza and structures. The architect of record is local architecture/alumni-filled firm Chiang O’Brien.

As previously noted, the addition will add about 38,000 sq ft to Gannett, for a total of 96,000 sq ft. The projected cost is $55 million, and the target completion date is October 2017.

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The Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove

18 01 2014

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When Cornell celebrated its centennial in 1965, there was a week-long series of lectures, many congratulatory letters, and in proof that some things never change, plenty of solicitations to alumni to donate to the $73.2 million donation campaign (the commemorative Sun issue shows a different angle of the same 1960s era campus plan on page 20 that I featured on the blog a few years ago). Offhand, I’m not aware of anything was built in the name of the anniversary, but I guess for its 150th, Cornell has decided to give itself something for the occasion.

The project is a landscaped area, with the working name being the overly long “Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove”. Taking full advantage of symbolism, the grove is strategically cited directly west and downslope of the statues of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White on the Arts Quad.

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The project itself, which as been briefed previously over at Ithaca Builds,  consists of stone benches inscribed with quotes by famous Cornellians, pavers will with a timeline of significant events in Cornell history, and a sort of mood lighting by rigging fixtures into the trees. The overall size of the installation is about 1,700 sq ft. The architects of this plan are campus favorites Weiss/Manfredi, the same people doing the Co-Location building at the Tech Campus, and the renovations and additions to the vet school. I imagine Cornell would like this project done in time for Alumni Weekend 2015, which would also mark my first true Cornell reunion (5-year).

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A full rundown is available here, but it reads like one long advertisement for the university. On the bright side, at least the university’s landscaped spaces then to look more visually pleasing than its constructions.  I have hogh hopes for this one, it could be a nice place to spend a June evening.





News Tidbits 1/11/2014: Unhappy Faces on Roosevelt Island

11 01 2014
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Image Property of Cornell University

Full disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of the tech campus. I’ve also never been a fan of Morphosis/Thom Mayne’s work.

New York is a different creature when it comes to approvals. This isn’t Ithaca, where many folks feel that Cornell’s large presence makes the local community behooved to approve whatever the university wants to build. Here, people tend to be a lot more vocal, and perhaps a lot more negative. Folks in New York are especially wary of Thom Mayne because of his involvement with the 41 Cooper Square project, a building that has been seen as one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis experienced by local college Cooper Union, which has led to an end of their famous “free tuition” policy.

Last month, Cornell revealed the first phase of the tech campus, which Curbed NY has covered in extensive detail. The first phase has three components; 1) a 150,000 sq ft, 4-story building designed by Thom Mayne (the building lower left; the roof is covered with solar panels, or what Thom Mayne calls a “lily pad”) 2) A six-story, 200,000 sq ft “Colocation Building”, which is designed for corporate and school interaction. This is the building to the right, and is designed by another Cornell favorite, Weiss/Manfredi Architects, and 3) The residential building, represented by the tall featureless box. A design has not been finalized, but is being handled by developer Hudson Companies, in conjunction with Handel Architects. This build will house about 350 units, with larger units for faculty. Construction for the residential tower is proposed for a 2015 start. The campus is wrapped in green space by architect James Corner, who designed a campus without walls and to invite the public to check the school out, and all of this using an Skidmore, Owings and Merrill master plan.

Community groups are difficult to please, however. Although the net zero energy aspect was pleasing, complaints were raised about the large loss of trees, a lack of equipment for the hearing-impaired in the new academic building, and a lack of cohesiveness as the result of so many starchitects trying to compete with each other for attention. Regardless of the complaints, construction is supposed to be underway starting this month. New York and Bloomberg have previously stipulated that the first building must be open by 2017, or Cornell will face major penalties.

On the bright side, Cornell’s getting crap tons of money thrown at its New York investments. Following Chuck Fenney ’56′s $350 million donation to the tech campus, former Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs ’56 gave a $133 million donation last April, and total donations to the tech campus exceed $500 million. Weill Cornell has not been left out by all this tech campus attention; they were the recent recipients of a $75 million donation for cancer research, courtesy of former CEO of Grey Global Group Edward Mayer ’48 and his family.

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Image Property of Cornell University





Stocking and Klarman Hall Progress Photos, 12/2013

7 01 2014

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This photo is probably timed similarly to Jason’s over at Ithaca Builds. Consistent with his analysis, a little bit of scaffolding visible in this image gives indication of the roof work being done to Goldwin Smith, and underground work over east Avenue is closed up, if temporarily. The $61 million dollar token glassy box adds 33,250 sq ft of new usable space.

Note for Cornell visitors – from this Wednesday (Jan 8th) to April 19th, 2015, the southbound lane of East Avenue will be closed to facilitate construction of Klarman Hall. I’d get around to feeling sympathetic, but I had the Thurston Ave. bridge detour my freshman year, and then years of Milstein, so…eh. Deal with it.

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The time difference between photos 1/2 and 3 is about 15 days. I just happened to pass through Ithaca twice in December, for two separate events (the first one though, I was only able to take photos on Cornell campus). I doubt I’ll be as lucky in the next few months.

Stocking Hall phase 2 is underway. Luckily for me, I have a friend that is a food science alum, who sends me all of the email updates. Quoting the one sent this past Thursday:

Phase 2 of the renovation project started several months ago with a focus on getting as much of the slate roof replaced as possible before winter. I think they were able to get about 70% of Stocking re-roofed. Asbestos abatement was the first part of the inside work. Once a floor was abated, Pike [construction company] worked on demolishing all interior walls.  Last Thursday (1/2/14) an independent testing agency certified the air test was safe after the abatement was completed on all floors. We took our first look on Friday.

The basement has been gutted, the first floor has undergone asbestos abatement and will begin demo shortly, the second and fourth floors have been gutted, and the third floor isn’t far along, still in the initial teardown/salvage stage. The renovation of old Stocking is due to be complete in August 2014.








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