News Tidbits 10/1/16: Sketchy Details

1 10 2016

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1. Over in Lansing, it looks like Park Grove Realty is having a rough time getting their plans rolling. Legions of angry homeowners turned out at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting to protest a requested zoning change for a 20-acre Bomax Drive property that Park Grove seeks to build 140 apartments upon. The meeting wasn’t about the project, which will follow the zoning change once approved. For the record, the meeting was only about the zoning change, which is currently zoned for office park business/technology and has been owned by Cornell since 2008.

The unusual thing is that the primary opponent seems to be the Jonson family, of development company IthacaHome, formerly known as Forest City Realty. They built some of Lansing’s 1990s subdivisions and the Heights of Lansing project at the end of Bomax Drive, which is stalled out due to a lack of interest and Ivar Jonson’s passing. The claim from Janet Jonson is that if left commercial office/tech, then maybe an office building would be built and executives would build homes on some of their vacant lots. Even Larry Fabbroni was there to say an office building would generate less traffic than housing would. The meeting was very heated, according to the Lansing Star’s Dan Veaner.

The village planning board was there to listen, but not especially sympathetic. For one, there’s plenty of undeveloped commercially-zoned land; but there is a housing shortage. For two, although some complained “transients” would lower their housing values, these units will be going for $1,400-$1,900/month. The board’s not focused on the project just yet, that will come in due course. Meanwhile, the trustees moved to schedule public review for the zoning change, with that meeting planned for October 17th.

A couple miles away, Park Grove has also been getting flack for taking down willow trees as part of a plan to reduce root damage and mold issues, and to expand parking and add a 425 SF rental office on the Triphammer Apartments (former Chateau Claire) property. The heavy-handed approach was not well received. In short, Park Grove’s principals are the village pariahs at the moment, though they have brought some of it on themselves.

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2. Just a brief check-up on the Maplewood Park redevelopment. The project team has been busy over the past month making revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of its determination of adequacy, and the DEIS was just accepted for public review as of the town of Ithaca planning board meeting on the 20th.

A digital copy of the revised DEIS can be found on the town’s website here. A public hearing will also take place on October 18th. The SEQR review period is 45 days from acceptance, so public comment will be accepted on the document up to 4 PM on Halloween.

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3. As part of their campus housing study, Cornell launched an extensive survey of their students. A summary and a link to the full results can be found on their webpage here. The university also held public forums this past week on campus to hear opinions from the community and explain what happens next (what needs work, how much campus housing is needed, where on campus, what student segments, strategies for the next 25 years, and so on).

Among the grad and professional (MBA/JD/MPH/etc) students, more anticipated living on campus when they arrived, than actually did – 32% vs. 18% of respondents. On average, G/P students felt they should pay about 7% less than they do. They want Wi-Fi, private bathrooms, on-site laundry and package/mail delivery. Outside, they want wider sidewalks and more frequent bus stops/service, and parking fees should be bundled in rent if parking is offered.

Those off campus preferred Downtown (26%) and Collegetown (24%). Grads and domestic students preferred Downtown, professional and international students preferred Collegetown. Grad students tended to be more satisfied with their housing than undergrads.

Similarly, more undergrad respondents want(ed) to live on campus – 56% do or have, 78% want/wanted to. That stat’s a little weird, since freshmen are required to live on campus. Only about 45% describe an apartment as ideal housing, vs 88% for grad/prof students. They also want Wi-Fi and laundry, as well as study areas and dining nearby. 49% selected Collegetown as their preferred housing choice, with another 36% preferring an on-campus location if available.

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At the public forums, the university presented a few potential building sites for new campus housing. The goal was to have sites away from full-time residential areas (less hassle), easy to prepare (less physical hassle), accommodate 300-500 students (scale efficiencies) and be near existing facilities (quality of life and infrastructure). Three north campus locations were presented – CC parking lot, the side lot at RPCC, and the fields next to Appel Commons. The RPCC and CC locations show up on the 2008 Master Plan as well, 3-6 floors and up to 200,000 SF of space. So it seems those two locations have a more sustained interest. The city of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights have a boundary line that straddles those sites, a latitudinal line just south of Jessup Road. If something were proposed, most of the land is in the city, but the village would have to vote to defer decision-making to the city. That is a potential complication that Cornell has to keep in mind.

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4. The Evergreen Townhouses project in Dryden will be the subject of a special meeting of the town planning board on Wednesday October 5th at 7 PM at the Varna Community Center. The full suite of documents, including county review, planning board notes for the town board (recall that in Dryden, the town board votes to approve projects instead of the planning board), sewer capacity report and concept plan description can be found here. SEQR has been reviewed and a traffic study has been completed. The project will need a PUD approval, since 36 units exceeds what the zoning allows (28). If the PUD is approved, land will be deeded to the town for its recreational rail trail. Like the Park Grove project in Lansing, this rental proposal has seen a fair amount of opposition, due to traffic and concerns about renters, and the possibility of encouraging suburban sprawl east of Varna. Oddly enough, for being this far along in the process, there still haven’t been any detailed renders of the townhouses released to the public.

5. Here are a few details about the 607 South Aurora project. Readers might recall the sketch plan was presented at the August Planning Board meeting.

As I discovered this week, sketch plans are actually off the record. Meaning that a developer doesn’t have to give it to the city for publication if they don’t want to. Apparently, John Novarr is going this route – although images for his townhouse project on the 100 Block of College Avenue were presented last week, the city has no official record of them, and he said he has no intent to share plans until he’s ready for the city to declare itself lead agency. For what it’s worth, the project, geared towards Cornell faculty and staff, was well received by the Planning Board.

On the one hand, not sharing the sketch plan limits public exposure and the risk brought by exposure, and it allows the board to eliminate the most controversial aspects before the public can see them. On the other hand, it’s less transparent, and makes me an unhappy camper.

Back to the topic at hand, 607 South Aurora as initially conceived calls for 4, 2-family, 2-story houses on the property, while retaining the existing house. That’s a total of 8 units, and 24 bedrooms total. Parking would be in two sections tucked back from the street. The project is not unlike the one approved for 312-314 Old Elmira Road in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. Although STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest presented the project at the August meeting, STREAM is not in charge of this proposal. The project is being designed by Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma for local developer Charlie O’Connor.

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Charlie O’Connor is a part of Modern Living Rentals, and regardless of how one might actually feel about their work, it is probably the most transparent development/rental company in the local market. True to form, a quick check of their website turned up images of 607 S. Aurora. It looks like the same general design will be used for each building, and each unit will be 3 bedrooms and about 1,122 feet. I hope they change up the exterior colors for variety’s sake. The board and planning department was fine with the buildings, but suggested revisions to the site plan, so the next iteration will likely have a different site layout.

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6. Sorry, didn’t realize the lens was smudged. This very subtle duplex is underway in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, behind an existing duplex at 512-14 West Green Street. Because it fits in all the setbacks (it’s a very large, deep lot for an inner city parcel) and the rear of the property falls into the State Street Corridor’s CBD-60 zoning (i.e. no parking required), this project never needed more than staff-level approval from the city. Honestly, were it not for a small disturbed area at the curb-cut from construction vehicles moving in and out, one would never know this duplex was under construction.

The property is owned by the Ciaschi family, and appears to have been passed between family members since at least the 1960s. A building loan filed on June 17th indicates that Tompkins Trust lent $330,000 towards the project. As with many smaller builds, this a modular by Ithaca’s Carina Construction. Carina is supplied by Simplex Homes, and it looks like this 3-bedroom/2-unit is based off Simplex’s “Elkton IV” plan (but that could be wrong). Give how far along the outside is, it would not be a surprise if renters move in by the start of October.

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7. The near-death Black Oak Wind Farm could actually happen, if they pay Enfield the money they want for FOIL costs. Using the original EIS, they’ve reverted to the initial plan, including use of the landowners’ properties who tried to pull out in the face of the project’s rancorous opposition. The BOWF project team had been attempting to move two of the turbines to accommodate property owners who changed their mind about being associated with the project, but the Supplemental EIS had been caught in legal red tape with the town of Enfield and the town of Newfield to its south, where one of the alternative sites was planned. So the new plan is to just go forward with the original signed contracts and build what was proposed before the 2015 SEIS. The project team has requested final approval, but the town has said they want to be paid $19,000 for the cost of handling all the FOIL (Freedom of Information Laws) requests, of which they’re not sure who’s actually required to cover the cost.

This project and its manager, Marguerite Wells, have probably been put through a greater Hell than any other proposal in this county, which is really, really saying something. Let’s recall, apart from the opposition that has demonized the project manager and the investors (successfully, one could unfortunately argue), that when they considered the alternative site, Newfield’s town board rewrote their wind farm law to implicitly but effectively ban wind turbines from the town. The BOWF project has been incubating for nine or ten years.

According to Marguerite Wells, if they can’t get approval at the Enfield town board’s October 12th meeting, the wind farm proposal dies. And with it, pretty much any commercial wind turbine plans for Tompkins County (looking at Newfield, maybe single-family turbine plans as well – the way the 2016 revision is written, a homeowner can’t even hook up a little one to their roof, as it’s too close to an occupied structure).

8. Here’s a little kick in the pants to end the week. It was reported in Bloomberg of the five Ivies that have released results so far, Cornell’s endowment did the worst in the past year, with a -3.3% loss (which comes out to a drop of about $200 million). The university is taking reactive measures, including moving its investment offices to New York City. “The investment committee believes over the long term the relocation to New York City gives us even better access to potential staff who might not be willing to move to Ithaca,” said Cornell CFO Joanne DeStefano. That’s a bit deflating.

 





Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 9/2016

30 09 2016

With the new wing of “Cornell Health” open, work has begun on a gut renovation and partial demolition/reconstruction of the 1957 and 1979 structures. What had been the three-story wing with the second-floor Ho Plaza entrance, part of the original 1950s buildout, is now rubble. The 3-story south wing and 3-story northwest wing are still standing, but are being reworked down to their frames as part of their renovations. A new 3-story wing will be built in place of the one that was torn down, and a new entrance from Ho Plaza will be built as part of the renovations. The new wing will be finished with limestone to blend in with both the 1979 wing. It seems like they’ll reuse the foundation of the demolished wing, and the new structural steel should rise fairly quickly.

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From July, for reference:

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Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 9/2016

29 09 2016

Novarr-Mackesey‘s curvilinear Collegetown Terrace is one of those projects that’s so big, we can see multiple steps of the construction process at once. In general, the further west one goes, the further along the building is. On the east end, the stairwell and elevator shaft stand high above the framing underway. Steel exterior stud walls are being sheathed with plywood with rough openings for windows. Some of the interior steel stud wall framing can be seen as well. In the next section further west, the framing and sheathing are further along, but still a few floors short of the stairwell/shaft. Some structural steel, which separates groups of units, is present as well. The westernmost third is fully framed and mostly sheathed, enough that the maroon-colored waterproof barrier has been applied to the plywood in most places, and windows have been fitted into many of the rough openings.

Continuing west, we come across the “fish scales” – yes, for better or worse, they’re going on Building 7, likely topped by the aluminum metal walls previously seen in Phase II. The side facing thr gorge has the same linear earth-tone facade that is present on Building 5. The westernmost end of the building is not a little further behind, possibly for ease of materials transport, or because of different architectural details that they have yet to bring to the site (based on the rough openings and the sheathed steel, both are plausible). It looks like the southwest corner will host a glass curtain wall section setback from the primary walls, based off of the steel framing.  An early render suggests the common spaces will be clustered along the west end of Building 7. Note that parking will be on the lowermost two floors, with dorm style units on the third floor, and regular apartment units on the upper three floors. The wood forms next to the western stairwell/shaft look to be for a new concrete staircase that will run alongside the west wall.

Montour Falls-based Welliver is in charge of the build-out, and CTT7 should be complete and ready for occupancy by August 2017. Princeton’s ikon.5 Architects are the building designers, and Baltimore’s Floura Teeter the landscape architect. Big league commercial real estate financial lender Walter & Dunlop Inc. provided the $70 million bridge loan.

A quick google search turns up a surprising number of AirBnB hits.

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Cornell Ag Quad Rehabilitation Construction Update, 9/2016

28 09 2016

Kinda outside the normal coverage, but an important project nevertheless. Cornell is currently undertaking a major rehabilitation of the CALS Quadrangle, better known as the “Ag Quad”. The $9.6 million “Ag Quad Utility Infrastructure Upgrades and Landscape Revitalization Project” (originally $7.8 million) began during the summer, and is scheduled for a completion before the 2017-18 academic year. Most of the construction is planned during the summer months of 2016 and 2017, when the ground is easier to work with and impact on campus activities is at a minimum.

According to university landscape architect David Cutter, the work has planned for at least a decade, but was a lower priority vs. other projects such as the Mann Library and Warren Hall renovations, which used the quad as a staging area. With the bulk of building renovations complete (a new academic building on the south side of the quad, but it’s just a hazy concept at this time), and with infrastructure approaching 100 years old, the university decided now was as good a time as any to get the rehab underway. Plans were approved by the Ithaca city Planning Board in February.

The first phase is what’s underway now. That involves the replacement of underground utilities infrastructure. In that catch-all are water pipes, sewer pipes, steam pipes, and a new ductbank (electrical conduit grouping) for telecommunications from the CIT Building. Several walkways have been excavated to make way for new or improved underground utilities corridors. The second phase is refreshed landscaping. Along with new permeable pavement walkways and entrance plazas in front of Roberts Hall and Mann Library come 54 new tree plantings, a rain garden, and upgraded lighting (from two poles to twenty). The plazas will come with movable tables and chairs, traditional benches and concrete slab benches (rough-hewn sides, cut/thermally-finished tops). For additional safety, the rehabbed quad will host collapsible bollards, an increased number of blue light security phones, and a new emergency vehicle path. Primary walkways will be 12′ wide, and secondary walkways 8′ wide. Some of the new garden spaces and landscaping will be done by students in various CALS programs.

The project has been the subject of relatively little controversy compared to most. Some consternation was expressed that four Cornellian cherry trees next to the west side of the Plant Science Building would be cut down for “infrastructure changes”, but other than that, there wasn’t much else in the way of concern or opposition. Eleven other trees are also or are being removed, so the net gain is 39.

The $9.6 million is coming mostly out of the university’s budget (CALS and Utilities), with some private funds. MKW & Associates LLC of New Jersey is the lead landscape architect, Over & Under Piping Contractors Inc. of Auburn is the GC, and Albany-based CHA Consulting Inc. is providing civil engineering expertise.

In the photos below, the new sanitary and steam pipes are being fed through a protective concrete threader, and new cobbled pavers being paid out in front of Mann. The rebar sticking out of the curved concrete in front of Mann is part of a bi-level concrete stairwall that will be capped with cut stone – my guess is the rebar is there to strengthen the concrete, and will be trimmed down once the concrete is fully cured and the project team is ready to move on to the next step. The metal tool on the left side of the last photo is a portable trench shield used for pipe installation.

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Brookdale Ithaca Crossings Construction Update, 9/2016

25 09 2016

There’s only a few months left in Brookdale Ithaca’s construction timeline, and the new Crossings facility is starting to look a lot like the anticipated final product. In the past few months, the rough openings have been mostly fitted out with windows, and the exterior walls have been sheathed in housewrap and are in the process of being sided. The installation of A/C units is also underway. Most of the roof appears to be done, although in some sections the tar paper has yet to be shingled. Exterior trim panels and details like the decorative shutters will be attached after the roof and primary walls are finished. The excavated hill to the southwest (right side in the images) will be held back with a 10′ retaining wall, yet to be assembled.

Note that these photos are the living spaces and the bulk of the new 23,200 SF, 32-bed facility, but the front entrance is actually a diagonal (northeastward) extension between the two existing facilities and out towards the front circle. You can see a little bit of  the front entrance gable in the second-to-last photo. More details on the project can be found on the blog here and on the Voice here.

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News Tidbits 9/24/16: The Implicit and the Explicit

24 09 2016

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1. Over in the town of Dryden, it looks like Buzz Dolph and STREAM Collaborative’s Tiny Timbers project is up for preliminary approval. The site plan hasn’t changed much, just slight modifications for a dumpster/recycling enclosure and a bus pull-off. However, the home options have been expanded a bit. There will be five options, ranging from a 1-story 525 SF home starting at $99,500, to a 1,050 SF model priced at $184,500. Design specs (flooring, finishes, HVAC) can be found here.

Along with Tiny Timbers, Dolph is planning a similar, smaller project near his house on Quarry Road in Dryden town. That $800,000 project, called “Quarry Ridge Cooperative“, consists of two duplexes (four units), all owner-occupied. The homes will be connected to a shared driveway and carport through breezeways. Back of the envelope calculations suggest these units will be around 1,000 SF each. The 2.26 acres will be collectively owned by the four homeowners.

2. On a related note, another sister project to Tiny Timbers is being prepped for a site on the city’s portion of West Hill. Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.

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3. I dunno if I’ve ever seen such strenuous contention between the planning board and the city’s planning department. The planning board’s objected to Zoning Director Phyllis Radke’s determination that the project is legal per the Form District MU-1 Zoning.

The document put forth by John Schroeder and approved by the board rests on the following interpretations:
-in cases where the zoning isn’t explicitly stated in denser zones, it should rely on what is stated in less dense codes, and interpretations of the introductory “purpose and intent” section of the code, which qualifies similarities of form and scale if the numbers and dimensions for facade length aren’t explicitly stated.

-The argument also draws debate towards the unstated but implied interpretation of street facade, which refers to the building’s primary face, vs. building facades facing both streets. The board’s filing argues that the Bool Street facade was intended as a primary facade early on.

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-Unlabeled parts of the diagram, such as MU-1’s, have no meaning. Even if they could give the impression of longer facades, it’s not the intent of the code.

The document goes on to say that Radke “invented claims unsupported by the text”, uses “tortured logic” and “silly conclusions”. Ouch.  Since interpretation is not a cut-and-dry matter of clear definitions, so we end up with an argument from both sides that relies on an interpretation of ambiguities, something more akin to a court room. A curious result of this discussion is that the Planning Board had to send out a letter to neighbors saying they would be arguing zoning determinations, which are going to be far out of most readers’ expertise, as the precise details and intent of the 2014 zoning will be the primary driver of this debate.

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4. The Ithacan is reporting a mid-to-late October opening for the Marriott, the Journal is reporting November. Presumably, one of them is correct. The delay from the original August opening is attributed to a labor shortage. Hiring is currently underway for the 159-room hotel and its restaurant, which according to the IJ, are expected to employ 50 to 60 in total. About 75% will be full-time, and wages are expected to run from $10/hr + tips for wait staff, to $18-$19/hour, with the hope that a premium paycheck compared to similar positions at other local hotels will translate to a premium experience for guests.

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5. It looks like TC3’s Childcare facility is well on its way to reality. At least $4.5 million has been secured for the $5.5 million project and its scholarship endowment for students with children. $2.5 million for that was recently received in a set of state grant and funds, according to WHCU. Another $2 million comes from benefactor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the new facility will be named.

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6. It’s been a while since I’ve done house of the week. So, here’s a new house underway on the 200 Block of Pearl Street in the city’s Bryant Park neighborhood. Ithaca’s Carina Construction is doing their modular magic here, the pieces have been assembled and most of the siding and roof trim has been attached. Not 100% sure if there will be a porch, the lack of siding above the door suggests it’s a possibility.

To be honest, when I was going through my list of single-families underway, I was mostly finding that Carina dominated the list. Since Avalon Homes went under, and most stick-builds are beaucoup bucks due to higher labor and materials costs, Carina’s offerings have broad appeal in Ithaca’s isolated, tight home market.

The lot was created four years ago by a subdivision of 222 Miller across the street. Since then, it exchanged hands a few times before a local realtor sold the property for $130,000 in July to a family who relocated to the area from Texas.

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7. The Planning Board Agenda is up, and it’s the shortest in ages, thanks to that special meeting last week. Here’s the rundown:

1.  Agenda Review                                                      6:00
2.  Privilege of the Floor                                              6:01

 3.  Subdivision Review

A. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                      6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency  – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Recommendation to BZA

A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                          6:30
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance
Touched on this one last week. Deconstruction of an existing single-family home for two two-family homes, each on its lot.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  Two Duplexes                                              6:45
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Applicant: Dan Hirtler for Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

B. SKETCH PLAN:  Townhomes & Apartments at 119-121 & 125 College Ave.        7:00

I’ve spilled some electronic ink on this project before – Novarr’s $10 million project for faculty townhomes and apartments. Rumor mill says “modern-looking” and “glassy”, which given Novarr’s fondness for ikon.5 architects (his guest house is on the main page of their portfolio), that isn’t a surprise. The three parcels are CR-4 zoning, so 4 stories and 50% lot coverage allowed. Previous estimates were for 50-60 units. I’d say the biggest uncertainty in approvals comes from the existing apartment houses, which haven’t been declared historic, but former councilwoman Mary Tomlan and the Planning Board’s John Schroeder recommended for consideration in 2009 (only 15 of the 31 suggestions were considered, and only 2 received historic designation, Snaith House and Grandview House). Novarr’s been amenable to compromises before (see Collegetown Terrace), so we’ll see what happens here.

5. Zoning Appeals
• #3044, Area Variance, 170 Pearsall Pl.
• #3046, Area Variance, 404 Wood St.
• #3048, Appeal of Zoning Determination, 201 College Ave.                                 7:30

 





Cayuga Meadows Construction Update, 9/2016

22 09 2016

LeChase Construction is making good progress on Conifer LLC’s 68-unit Cayuga Meadows apartment project off of West Hill Drive in the town of Ithaca. The wood frame is topped out on the north side of the L-shaped building, where they’re starting to nail plywood (the decking) to the roof trusses – later they’ll be covered over with tar paper or a similar material, followed by the shingles. It also looks like they’ve started attaching a little Tyvek housewrap to the second floor of the structure. As you go southward, framing is only up to the second floor, with rough openings in the plywood for doors and windows. At the rear of the property, a trench has been dug for a new water main, which is being routed below what will be the building’s parking lot.

The apartment units, which are intended for seniors with limited incomes, are expect to be ready for occupancy next fall. More information about the project can be found here.

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