News Tidbits 4/18/15: Where Will Ithaca Grow From Here

18 04 2015

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1. Leading off this week’s news round-up, here’s a thorough piece by the Ithaca Journal’s David Hill looking at the boom in local construction. Many developers had good things to say about the city’s even hand on the market, but then there’s this gem from Jason Fane:

The new Collegetown zoning isn’t universally praised in all aspects. Major Collegetown and downtown landlord and developer Jason Fane welcomed the removal of parking-space minimums from much of the neighborhood. But he said the rezoning added other rules that run up costs, such as requirements for high ceilings and adding “further retail space to a market that already has too much retail space.”

Hmm. Too much retail space, or a notoriously poor landlord to retail tenants?

From the IJ article, we also learned that Jason Fane’s 12-story 330 College project has been mothballed, Travis Hyde’s Ithaca Gun redevelopment will be called “Falls Park”, and Frost Travis himself isn’t optimistic about condos in Ithaca:

No owner-occupied units are in the plans for the gun-factory site. It’s a challenging site, Travis said. “I have not found a way to support condominiums in Ithaca yet,” Travis said. “But I’m not going to stop trying.”

Mayor Myrick expresses optimism that some of the more far-flung outer Collegetown housing might revert back to family housing, but with Cornell’s rapidly growing student population, don’t count on it.

2. Following up my January post, it looks like Cornell’s AAP school is releasing the first rendering of the new Fine Arts Library. At a glance, it looks like the form of Rand Hall will be kept the same as it is now, although there’s no real indication at this point what the exterior will look like after the new library is built.

The architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. Herr Tschapeller has made some pretty wild looking staircases before (definitely not for the faint-of-heart), so this avant-garde design seems well within his normal repertoire.

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One concern I have is that Rand’s windows are reduced to single panes in the rendering. It may be an intention of the design or it might be because the windows aren’t the focus of the render, but I always thought one of the charms of Rand Hall was the many-paned windows are a characteristic of the early 20th “daylight factory” industrial style that Rand (built 1911) is representative of. I am surprised that Rand Hall is not a part of the Arts Quad Historic District as designated by the city, but at this point I wish it was.

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3. On a brighter note for historic structures, some work is finally getting done on the forlorn house at 102 East Court Street, just north of downtown Ithaca. Unfortunately, it’s not because the owner suddenly had a change of heart about the decaying 187-year old house, which sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. It’s because the city finally had enough of this crap and fined the owner, Ithaca lawyer Aaron Pichel, $5,000 last month, with threats to fine him another $15,000 if he didn’t bring the house up to code within six months.

I first wrote about this house in April 2012. Quoting that entry:

“Historically, the house is the “Judd House“. The house was built in 1828 – the same year Ezra Cornell had arrived in the budding town of Ithaca, which has hardly twenty years old. An estimate establishes the house as having about 3,100 sq ft, 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. Furthermore, the assessed value of the house is $190,000, although given its condition the land it sits on is probably worth more then the physical plant itself.

A casual online search reveals a photo from Cornell’s A.D. White Collection, which shows the house in a much better state of affairs in what the vehicle to the left suggests is the 1920s. Furthering searching indicates the house was most likely designed by Ira Tillotson, the same architect for the Clinton House, which is a contemporary to this home. The once-stately residence was built for Capt. Charles Humphrey, a veteran of the War of 1812, on what was then the corner of Cayuga and Mill Streets. The house and a long-removed barn were constructed for a cost of $2,105.56, which places the cost of construction likely somewhere in the upper six digits to $1 million-plus today. The name Judd House comes from long-time owners of the house in the 1900s, who apparently took great pains to keep the house in good shape. Sadly, that is not the case today.”

Plans filed with the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) by local company McPherson Builders indicate plans to restore the front porch to an “acceptable condition”, with new roofing and rafters, cornice reconstruction, replacement of the semicircle window above the porch columns, porch column stabilization and repaint, and restoration the northwest chimney to its original configuration (full length with capping, as seen with the other two chimneys in the above photo).

Yes, please and thank you. It’s a shame it had to come to this to get the needed repairs addressed, but at least the historic home won’t be at risk of destruction. The plans underwent review at the ILPC’s April 14th meeting.

4. Touching real quick on this week’s Chapter House disaster – it’s hard to say what will happen with the site moving forward. It and 406 Stewart Avenue were contributing members to the East Hill Historic District. Probably the best solution at this point would be a sympathetic new build, like the one happening with 202 Eddy Street a few blocks away. But there’s no guarantee that will occur.

Notably, the two buildings exchanged hands only a couple weeks ago. On April 2nd, two sales for $615k and $835k were recorded for two tax parcels consisting of the Chapter House and the apartment buildings on either side (the tax parcel for the Chapter House building is combined with 406 Stewart, the apartment building that burned down). An LLC in suburban Orlando sold them to an LLC in suburban Philadelphia. I doubt there’s anything nefarious here, but the new owner is probably feeling a bit shell-shocked at the moment.

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5. Nothing big going on at Ithaca College, but there will be a small project to keep an eye on this summer: a small addition to house an elevator between Textor Hall and Friends Hall. Being a small project without significant impacts, the town is prepared to waive certain requirements for preliminary and site plan approval – this should be a pretty quick approvals process.The planning board will review the project next Tuesday the 21st. Comments on the project can be made here.

 





News Tidbits 4/11/15: Not Feasible As Presented

11 04 2015

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1. If my inbox has been any clue over this past week, there are some folks who are pretty unhappy with the results of the county’s Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Old Library site. One more applicant has dropped out of the process – DPI chose not to respond to the RFP. DPI had proposed 76 condos and 8 apartments for the site, a move that was cheered by some residents who spoke passionately about the new for purchasable housing in the city. That leaves three contenders of the original six:

-The Syracuse-based Franklin Properties project, now called the West Court Lofts and Wellness Collective, would renovate the existing building and include 22 residential condominium units (down from 32 units in the RFEI), medical offices, a café, and community room.

-The Rochester-based Cornerstone Group project, known as the Dewitt Senior Apartments, would build 63 residential units of senior housing (down from 70-80 units in the RFEI), and include community space for nutrition education by Cooperative Extension.

-The Ithaca-based Travis-Hyde Properties project would build 60 residential senior-focused units (up from 48 units in the RFEI), and would include space for Lifelong, professional office, and a community room.

There have been no renderings published as of yet, but there will be a stand-alone post when they show up on the county’s website. The three proposals will be judged against each other over the course of the next couple months. A quick glance at the judgement criteria can be found in the Old Library meeting notes here.

The next meeting of the Old Library committee is scheduled for Thursday, April 30th at 9 AM. 5 PM Meetings will be set up during May for developer presentations to the public. Comments on the proposal can be emailed to Ed Marx, the County Planning Commissioner, at emarx@tompkins-co.org with the subject title “Old Library Property”.

2. Local credit union CFCU (Cornell-Fingerlakes Credit Union) is making some moves by buying a retail commercial strip with an eye towards redevelopment. The property, 501-507 S. Meadow Street, sold for $1,555,550 on March 30th, well above its assessed value of $950,000. According to a statement taken by the Ithaca Journal, “the current intention is to ultimately use the site for credit union-related purposes”.

The one-story, 9,203 sq ft strip buildings date from 1980 and 1990 and previously housed a Thai restaurant and offices for Lama Real Estate, the business of previous owner Robert Lama. The site is currently zoned the suburb-friendly SW-2, but like much of big box land, it has been targeted for urban mixed-use in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. CFCU is currently headquartered in about 30,000 sq ft of office space in two 1990s office buildings at 1030 and 1050 Craft Road in Lansing.

In short, nothing immediate going on here, but definitely a property worth keeping an eye on.

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3. The proposal for a Texas Roadhouse on in Southwest Ithaca is getting a couple minor revisions. According to a cover letter from the restaurant chain, plantings have been revised to break up the expanse of blank walls, handicap ramps are now present in the new elevations, and signage has been tweaked. All in all, not a big change from the previously-shown drawings. It doesn’t look like this one will have too many issues moving forward.

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4. At the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) meeting on the 8th, the city voted to approve the sale of land at 320-324 E. State Street to Lighthouse Hotels LLC for construction of the new Hilton Canopy Hotel. Also up for discussion was the removal of 30′ setbacks on all sides of the special MH-1 zoning at the Nate’s Floral Estates mobile home park on the west side of the city. With the 30′ rear yard setbacks already in place and vegetative buffers installed by the big boxes to the south, it was felt by the city economic developer planner that the additional setback was redundant. The removal would facilitate setbacks reduced to 10′ on one side and 5′ on the other side, if I’m reading this right. According to the notes, the mobile home park has a waiting list of tenants. The proposal looks like it will allow a few more units in the park, though it looks pretty tightly packed as-is.

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5. According to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) notes from the April 2nd meeting agenda, the board was not impressed with the Flatiron proposal. On page 6, it gives the project low pritority, with the description “not feasible as presented“. On the other hand, the INHS Hancock Street project was well received and given high priority.

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6. Looking at the March Planning and Development Board meeting minutes, 402 S. Cayuga Street has been approved, pending BZA approval of the variance (which was granted this week, if I have my notes right). The 4-unit, 9-bedroom project may be small, but it’s thoughtful infill and will help bring some affordable owner-occupied housing back into the city.

Approvals were also granted for the city project to replace the Lake Street this summer and fall, and refurbish the pocket park to its southeast. 210 Hancock was discussed without any voting, and sketch plans were presented for the TFC HQ downtown, and the 215 West Spencer Street apartment project, which have been written about previously. The board also discussed added additional questions to the CEQR (the city’s version of the SEQR used in project impact analysis), and the revised paperwork will be reviewed at a later meeting.

Oh, and on a more personal note, this totally made my day:

D. 2014 Planning Board Annual Report

[Senior city planner Lisa] Nicholas briefly walked through the annual report, observing it was a very busy year with a considerable number of additional housing units built. [Board member Garrick] Blalock asked if the annual report is publicized. Nicholas replied, no. Blalock replied it should at least be sent to the “Ithacating in Cornell Heights” and “IthacaBuilds” web sites. Nicholas agreed to do so.
I’ll be excited to have a copy. This would make scouting locations where construction photo updates are required a lot easier.

7. Wrapping this up with one final news piece, it looks like Dunkin’ Donuts is moving into the old Johnny O’s space at 406 College Avenue in Collegetown. So there will be one corporate coffee shop next to another corporate coffee shop and sharing a wall with a trendy fro-yo place. There’s probably a sociology thesis to be had in studying the changing retail scene of Collegetown.





140 College Avenue Construction Update 4/2015

9 04 2015

Just up the street from 114 Catherine and a couple blocks from 202 Eddy is 140 College Avenue, also known as the John Snaith House. Since last fall, work has been underway on a 3,800 sq ft, 12-bedroom addition to the 1874 structure.

John Snaith was an English builder, stone cutter and architect who came to Ithaca in 1869 to do work on Ezra Cornell’s Llenroc mansion (under construction at the time) and other buildings for the nascent university. Snaith lived in Ithaca for over a decade. He built the original Ithaca High School (destroyed by fire in 1912) and did work on the Sage Mansion, where he was fired by the ever-impatient Henry Sage.

After Snaith moved to Albany, the house was used as a boarding house, a B&B in the 1980s, and a private single-family home. The house was rented out to a landlady and her boarders when it was partially destroyed by fire in 1894. Snaith rebuilt the home shortly before his passing in 1896, but redesigned the top floor with mansard trusses and added dormer windows. Today, it’s student-oriented housing.

The addition is a sympathetic design approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (the house was designated a historic structure in 2011), separated from the original house by a glass “hyphen” connector. In the photos below, lap siding has been installed on the street-facing east wall, and uncovered plywood and house wrap can be seen in the rear. The slight variation in the mansard roof tiles are a nice touch. Windows have been installed, and I’d venture a guess that interior framing is complete and rough-in (plumbing, electrical) is underway in the addition.

The project is designed by local architect Jason Demarest and developed by Po Family Realty, a smaller Collegetown landlord.

None of the larger projects in Collegetown are underway just yet, but that will likely change when their current tenants’ leases are done June 1st. The following year or so should be very hectic in the neighborhood, with 307 College (96 beds), 327 Eddy (64 beds) and 205 Dryden (40 beds) all expected to start this summer, and Collegetown Terrace expected to start construction of its 300+ bed phase III this year. A quick check of the neighborhood showed that construction has not yet started on two other small projects, the 6-bedroom duplex planned behind 424 Dryden and the 18-bed 3-building project at 804 E. State Street.

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114 Catherine Street Construction Update 4/2015

8 04 2015

Work has commenced on the foundation for the new 3-unit, 17 bedroom apartment building at 114 Catherine Street in Collegetown. Plans were approved by the city of Ithaca late last year, and with the worst of winter over (though snow in early April definitely makes one second guess that), construction has been able to proceed on the new building.

The parking lot that once fronted the street is gone. Wooden forms are in place for holding the concrete once it is poured, and rebar criss-crosses the space between the forms. Rebar is used to strengthen and reinforce concrete, the concrete bonds with the steel bars as it hardens. It looks like the east wall of the foundation has already been poured. A blue waterproof membrane can be seen on the concrete in the last photo.

The architect is a Collegetown favorite, local architectural firm Jagat Sharma. The building is being developed by Nick Lambrou of Lambrou Real Estate. Plans call for a 3-story, 4,180 sq ft structure with a 5-bedroom apartment on the first floor and a 6-bedroom apartment on the second floor and on the third floor. If construction stays to schedule, the building should be completed by August in time for the fall semester.

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202 Eddy Street Construction Update 4/2015

7 04 2015

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After being destroyed by a fire last March, reconstruction is underway at the site of 202 Eddy Street in Collegetown. Following the disaster, developer Nick Lambrou vowed to rebuild on the site. Being a part of the East Hill Historic District, any new structure needed to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council. After thorough review, the ILPC approved plans for a new 12-bedroom apartment building that completely replaces the fire-damaged building.

The new structure is a faithful interpretation of the original building, though it’s not an exact copy. An entrance door was repositioned, exterior emergency stairs will be internalized, and a chimney will not be rebuilt, but otherwise, its a close approximation of the original 19th century home. The architect is Ithaca-based Jagat Sharma, who has previous experience from the reconstruction of Sigma Pi’s house when it burnt down in 1995.

In these photos from last Sunday, the concrete foundation has been poured, and the first two floors are framed with plywood and covered in Tyvek house wrap to keep out moisture. Rough framing is underway on the top floor and cupola, and the mansard roof trusses are complete but the roof itself is still in progress. Rough openings in the walls indicate future window locations, although some spots are not as obvious since they’re covered by the house wrap.

Plans call for the new building to be completed and ready for occupancy by August, in time for the fall 2015 semester.

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Design Competition Announced for Collegetown Apartment Building

19 02 2015

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Back in August, I wrote a story about how a student competition was held in the early 1980s to design the mixed-use building currently standing at 409 College Avenue. It appears that someone liked the idea and decided to launch a competition of their own.

According to the Cornell Daily Sun, the competition is to design a replacement for 313-317 College Avenue, a property owned by local developer/landlord Lambrou Real Estate since the late 1970s. Cornellians of my late 2000s vintage will remember this building for housing Dino’s Bar and Grill. In previous years, it’s also held a grocer (1920s), a furniture store (1950s), a record store (1970s), and the Cosmopolitan Restaurant (1990s). Finding the original construction date of the building has been difficult (I’d guess ca. 1910, since it’s missing from this 1906 photo but it’s definitely an older style), and it appears substantial renovations occurred in the mid 1970s, likely the porthole windows on the fourth floor. Because of the heavy alterations borne by the storefronts and top floor over the years, the building has lost much of its historic value.

From a zoning standpoint, the building is in the densest Collegetown zone, MU-2. That entails a mandatory mixed-use component (usually interpreted as commercial space on the first floor), the building can occupy almost all the lot except for a rear setback of 10 feet, and no required parking. The building must be between 4 and 6 floors, and 45′-80′ tall, with a flat roof. 313-317 College already occupies most of its lot footprint, so the area of the new building wouldn’t be a big change, but the addition of a few more floors would make for a greater visual impact. More likely than not, there will be student apartments from floors 2-(4 or 5 or 6).

Speaking specifically about the competition, it’s open to any member of the Cornell community, student, faculty or staff, and has been underway for a couple weeks. Sketch plans were due Wednesday the 18th, final plans/schematics April 7th, and the winner will be announced May 17th. The call for proposals asks for sustainability as a design theme, so an emphasis on “green” features is expected in the submissions. The judges panel will consist of Lambrou Real Estate, AAP professors yet to be chosen, and Ithaca Student Housing, which is also staffed by the Lambrou Family (different branch maybe?). No word yet if there’s a cash prize for the winner.

Just like 409 College over 30 years ago, this is a win-win for everyone involved. The winner gets exposure and a pretty big project to claim on their resume. The Lambrous get a project at a fraction of the design cost of an architectural firm. I hope to see and share some of the proposals as they become available.





News Tidbits 2/7/15: It Snows In Ithaca, But Verizon Makes It Rain In NYC

7 02 2015

1. As relayed by several outlets, Cornell just received a very generous $50 million donation from telecommuncations giant Verizon. I might make more news about this, but this donation is strictly for the shiny new tech campus down in New York City. The “Verizon Executive Education Center”, in the left of the above render, will be part of the first phase of the campus, set to open in 2017. This goes along with a 6-story, 236,000 sq ft building design by Weiss/Manfredi, and a 4-story, 188,600 sq ft building by Morphosis Architects, both of which are already underway. The skyscraper on the right of the render is a 26-story, 500-room dormitory for students and staff designed by Handel Architects; while not yet underway, it is also slated for a 2017 opening. A design for the tall building on the far left has not been released.

I’d like to see a breakdown of what proportion each campus received from Cornell’s $546.1 million in donations.

2. Looks like some Sun writers decided to do some digging regarding the potential Fine Arts library relocation and expansion. There’s not a whole lot more to add since the Ithaca Voice article; just that the timeline and final design haven’t been set, although the renovation is a “key academic priority”. Students of the AAP school also have mixed opinions about the growth of the library and the possible loss of studio space. But don’t fret dear readers, if a render comes out, it and any pertinent info will be shared here.

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3. A subdivision filed with the city of Ithaca indicates plans for a new two-family, 6-bedroom home at the intersection of Oak Avenue and Oneida Place. The house would be built on land that currently serves as a rear parking lot for 424 Dryden Road. Application here, drawings here. The site falls into the CR-2 Zone of the Collegetown Form District, meaning 2-3 floors, and pitched roofs and porches are required. The architect is Daniel Hirtler of Ithaca, and the developers are William and Angie Chen, also of Ithaca. While not particularly notable, it’s an example of how the form-based zoning applied to Collegetown helps maintain the character of the less-dense outer neighborhood, while still allowing for new construction.

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4. As with virtually every other sizable project in downtown Ithaca, the canopy Hotel by Hilton is filing an application requesting a tax abatement through the CIITAP program, making it the sixth applicant since the revised program was put into affect in 2013. Application here, and the notice of  public meeting, set for 5 PM February 9th at City Hall, is here. A refresher/review of CIITAP can be found here.

The applicant, “Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC”, a.k.a. the Patel Family of the Baywood Hotels Inc., notes that the 7-story, 123-room hotel project has an estimate cost of $20.15 million. Although the value of the tax abatement is not recorded in the city’s application (it will be written out, when reviewed by the county IDA), it looks like they’re seeking the standard 7-year abatement, which will save them something in the ballpark of a couple million dollars over those 7 years.

As with the previous Marriott and Hotel Ithaca applications, the applicant will only pay one-third to one-half of its projected employees a living wage, which is probably going to earn them the scorn and opposition of the Tompkins County Worker’s Center. But the city and Downtown Ithaca Alliance have been supporters of the project. Neighboring businesses seem to be have mixed opinions about the project, with some seeing a potential business source, and others mourning the loss of a convenient parking lot.

The 74,475 sq ft project is expecting to start construction during the spring, with completion in Spring 2016. Local firm Whitham Planning and Design is the architect.

For those already planning a stay, expect room rates of $160+/night, according to the Journal.

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5. It’s PSA time again – INHS is planning meeting #4 for its proposed Neighborhood Pride redevelopment at 4:30 PM Wednesday the 11th, inside the vacant Neighborhood Pride grocery store. The one and only final design concept, shaped by community feedback, will be presented at this meeting. Keep an eye on the Voice for an article (and maybe a rerun here) next Thursday or Friday.

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6. Looking at the city’s project memo going out to its departments, it doesn’t look like a whole lot needs to be reviewed this month. Cornell’s Upson hall renovation, the 6-unit building at 707 E. Seneca, and the 4 for-sale townhomes INHS wants to build at 402 S. Cayuga Street are ready for final approval this month. The 3-building, 6-unit project for 804 E. State (112 Blair) still needs to be reviewed by the zoning board, and will be completing environmental review (SEQR determination of significance).

The only new projects of note are the new house at 424 Dryden, and renovations to the Lake Street Bridge. The bridge project consists of rebuilding the current deteriorated bridge with a new deck and refurbished abutments (base supports), as well as scour reinforcements (to protect from creek erosion), a bumpout for viewing Ithaca Falls, some cute light-posts, and a bridge span that isn’t so degraded that it’s liable to collapse into the creek. That project has a $1,000,000 price tag, and is expected to run from June to November of this year.

For those that use this bridge, start prepping for a detour route – the bridge will be closed during construction, to both vehicles and pedestrians. The city estimates the detour will be an extra 1.7 miles for cars, and 0.7 miles for bikes and walkers.








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