News Tidbits 1/30/2016: A Doozy of a Week For All the Wrong Reasons

30 01 2016

I’m not going to lie – this was a rough week. For those who like old buildings, the city tore down 404 West Green and 327 West State this week. For those who are consider themselves eco-activists, Black Oak wind farm is on life support. State Street Triangle is likely cancelled, the Printing Press Lounge is off the table, Cornell continues to pour most of its attention on its new New York City campus, and a grocery store and a downtown shop are closing their doors and putting people out of work. There have been better weeks for news round-ups.

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1. State Street Triangle isn’t dead per se, but it’s indefinitely stalled. I think the best headline goes to the Ithaca Times since they’re the most accurate. From chatting with planning consultant Scott Whitham, who’s involved with the project, it sounds like the impasse is the result of Campus Advantage wanting to pay less for the site since they can’t build as large of a project, which would decrease their revenue. The contract for the land purchase from Greenstate Properties/Trebloc Development (Rob Colbert) was up for re-negotiation after the December expiration, but neither side wants to budge on what they feel the price should be. So nothing can move forward without a deal between the two parties. I reached out to Colbert Wednesday, but the secretary paused for a minute and then said “he’s, uh, busy in a meeting, care to leave a message?” So he’s probably not going to say anything further.

Could it move forward? Possibly, it could be revived if a deal is made. But as things are, it’s stalled and it’s outside the control of any community group or government authority. It’s definitely a shame from the standpoint of Ithaca’s worsening housing crisis because it’s less that will be entering a market flooded with students, people moving here for work, and wealthy retirees who have apparently decided this is the Asheville of the north. And given the battles of “structural racist gentrification” and “uncivilized crime-producing trouble-making affordable housing“, where everything is accused of being one or the other, I’m not especially hopeful at the moment.

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2. Now for something that is definitely dead in the water – The Printing Press Lounge. Developer Ben Rosenblum had wanted to put a jazz lounge in a 7700 SF industrial warehouse at 416 East State Street, but neighbor objections to noise and traffic proved a little too much for the Board of Zoning Appeals, whose members appeared unlikely to support necessary variances for the vacant facility. So the developer pulled the lounge proposal, but the office space and apartment are still under consideration.

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3. Also from the same phone conversation as State Street and Printing Press – the Canopy revisions were approved, so at least there’s a good chance that will be breaking ground this Spring. The Chain Works review schedule was also approved, although given the couple emails from the Voice article, the public review period is going to be groan-inducing. One of the letters commanded that nothing should be done there and it should be kept as is because it encourages traffic and “its density is ruining Ithaca”. They might have meant size, but density is a buzzword at the moment. Apparently, they also overlooked the fact that it’s already built and won’t be fully cleaned of toxic chemicals until a reuse plan is in place. The development team will have to respond to all of these comments, perceptive or not.

4. In real estate sales, an LLC in suburban Corning picked up the former Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery space on Elmira Road. 0.74 acre 407 Elmira sold for $640,000 on January 22nd. A little research into the rather exotically-named “Armiri LLC” shows that they were previously registered at an address home to an Econo Lodge, and that the owners have about 70 or so other LLCs related to hotels and the hospitality industry. A little more digging, and the owner turns out to be Corning-based Visions Hotels, a developer of suburban chain hotels with location from Albany to Buffalo. So if I were to make a guess, the five-year old Tim Ho’s building won’t be long for this world, and a suburban hotel is likely to rise in its place in a couple years. But we’ll see what happens.

5. Meanwhile, just up the road, Maines will be shutting down their store at 100 Commercial Avenue. The 26,146 SF building was built for the Binghamton-based grocery chain in 2010. February 7th will be the last day. Although there don’t seem to be any figures online, the move will likely put at least a couple dozen people out of work. A phone call and email to Maine’s asking for employee totals and reasons for closure were not returned.

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6. Let’s talk about money. The construction loan docs for Collegetown Terrace Phase III were filed with the county this week. The price? A cool $39.25 million, from PNC Bank. That’s just for 247-unit, 344-bed Building 7. Previously Valentine Vision Associates LLC (John Novarr/Philip Proujansky) received $50 million on 8/22/13, $50 million on 7/1/2014, and $50 million on 11/20/14. Do the math out, and $189.25 million in loans is a lot of money. Then again, this is also a 1,200+ bed project.

The latest loan docs require an opening by fall 2018, but expect it to be about a year sooner than that, August 2017.

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7. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council has approved the Chapter House plans. All that’s needed at this point are the Building Department permits, which are technical and just require that everything will be built up to code. Things are looking good for that February construction start.

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8. Something to look forward to at next month’s Planning Board meeting – further discussion of Cornell’s renovations to Hughes Hall. Planning Board Presentation here, drawings here, Site Plan Review application here. KSS Architects, with offices in Philadelphia and Princeton, will be in charge of design. KSS has been to Cornell’s campus before, having designed some of the Hotel School additions and part of the previous phase of law school renovations. Local firm TG Miller is handling the engineering work. The project is expected to cost $10.2 million and construction would go from June 2016 to July 2017.

Quick refresher, the plan is to renovate 4 floors of what were previously student dorms into academic office, admin and student organization space. Cornell anticipates about 200 construction jobs will be created, but nor more than 80 at any one time, and 20-40 on-site most days. No new permanent jobs, limited visibility, and minimal transportation/ground impacts will limit much of the customary Planning Board debate.

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9. Meanwhile, New York City outlets are reporting on the progress of Cornell’s massive new tech campus in New York City. The Real Deal is reporting Snøhetta, an Oslo/NYC architectural firm, will design the Verizon Executive Education Building. The other three buildings underway are the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, and CornellTECH Residential, which are the work of Morphosis Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, and Handel Architects respectively.  300 students and 200 faculty/staff  will move into the new 26-story dorm by August 2017. Verizon paid $50 million for their naming rights, and billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $100 million, making up a sizable portion of the $590.6 million donated to Cornell over the past year. Once the initial wave of construction is complete, it’ll be worth seeing how donations break down – years ago, MetaEzra noted that Weill Medical received an outsized proportion of charitable giving.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but there are times when Living in Dryden blogger Simon St. Laurent’s thought piece seems uncomfortably relevant.

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10. At the county’s PEDEEQ Committee meeting Friday (PEDEEQ being the acronym for the unnecessarily long Planning, Economic Development, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; agenda here), the county did two things worth mentioning here. One, they awarded the $35,000 airport industrial park feasibility study to the team of Clark Patterson Lee of suburban Albany, and Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates. Two, they passed a resolution calling for “the Timely Development of the Black Oak Wind Farm” project in Enfield.

The Black Oak opposition really seems to have picked up momentum after one the major landowners involved with the project pulled out. Neighbors in the area are actively attacking the project by calling it a danger to human health and a destructive environmental menace financed by wealthy out-of-towners (a shot at Ithaca), and the wind farm’s executive board is struggling to address these accusations in the revised environmental review due to be completed in April. For the local eco-activist crowd, this is an unwelcome and unusual position to be in because more often than not, they’re the ones opposed to development. The county legislature, which has several green activists, is doing what they can by giving verbal support, and a subtle sort of wrist-slap to the opposition. Dunno if it will work, but we’ll see what happens this spring.

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11. Here’s the sketch drawing for Elmira Savings Bank’s new West End Branch at 602 West State Street. It would appear the plans call for a modern addition to the north side of the building, and renovation of the rest of the two-story restaurant into office/service space. Local companies TWMLA and HOLT Architects are handling the design.

According to the Twitter feed of the IJ’s Nick Reynolds, the building plan was received well enough at the Planning Board meeting, but the rest of the plans call for demo of the other buildings, including the affordable housing that had some folks up in arms, for a parking lot. That didn’t go over very well. Demolition of low-cost housing for parking is going to be about as welcome as a Hitler costume at a bar mitzvah. Expect another trip to the board with some revised plans.

12. The Dewitt Park Inn is for sale for $950,000. Owners Tom Seaney and Nancy Medsker are selling the property they purchased for $320k in January 2012 and renovated into a high-end bed and breakfast. The two were vocal advocates for the popular though foregone Franklin/STREAM condo proposal for the Old Library site, although Medsker didn’t do the debate any favors when she decided to trash her rear neighbor, senior services non-profit and Travis Hyde project partner Lifelong in a letter to the Ithaca Journal. The county has the Dewitt Park Inn assessed at $575,000.

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13. Nothing too exciting for the town of Ithaca planning board agenda next week. The town’s planning board will choose whether or not to sign off on the review schedule for Chain Works, and they have to re-approved plans for a smaller parish center at St. Catherine of Siena in Northeast Ithaca. According to the provided docs, the parish center has been reduced from 10,811 SF to 8,878 SF due to rapidly rising construction costs (seems to be a common refrain these days).

 

 





News Tidbits 1/23/2016: A Doozy of A Week Ahead

23 01 2016

1. Over in the town of Ithaca, an update is being considered for the Rodeway Inn budget motel at 654 Elmira Road. Previously, the motel had been approved for renovations that would expand the size of the 25 existing units and provide 2 new inside corner units, along with the associated landscape and site improvements. This proposal was originally approved by the town in December 2013, but then the project never went forward, partially because the Maguire group was looking at buying the property and tearing it down to make way for their artisanal car dealerships and headquarters. With the Maguire’s plan filed away in the circular drawer, the owners of the Rodeway Inn have decided to reconsider the renovation project.

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Along with the room expansion, the new plan also calls for renovating an existing on-site residence into a new office by building an 1146 SF addition, while the existing motel office is renovated into a community room to serve travelers. Variances for side-yard setbacks granted for the previous proposal must also be re-approved, since zoning variances in the town of Ithaca are only valid if construction starts within 18 months of being granted (in other words, the variance expired last June).

Pennsylvania-based HEX 9 Architects is in charge of design, and JAMNA Hospitality is the developer.

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2. From the city of Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council agenda next Tuesday, the latest iteration of the design plans for the Chapter House replacement and its neighbor at 406 Stewart Avenue. The Chapter House looks to be in the last stages of ILPC approval, while the apartment house next door is still in the early design review stage.

Looking at the Chapter house, the zinc roofing tiles have been replaced with asphalt, and two more paint colors will be included on the trim, which has gone from white to dark grey and black. The ILPC is doing what they do best, going over projects with a very fine toothed comb and debating every detail. Meanwhile, the current iteration of 406 Stewart Avenue calls for a 4-story apartment building with design features very similar to the previous 3-story building. That project still has some debates ahead of it, so we’ll see what happens moving forward.

Also on the agenda, discussion with the Planning Board about the DeWitt House/Old Library redevelopment, an update on repairs to 102 East Court Street, and some type of work being done at 210 Stewart Avenue (could be anything from paint color and shingle choices to major work; if it merits a post it’ll be included in a future update).

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3. The Times’ Josh Brokaw wrote a nice summary of developments down at the Ithaca Waterfront, although I wish it hadn’t run when it did (re: HOLT update). Thanks to Josh, we have an idea of what’s going on with the approved but as-yet unbuilt 21-unit 323 Taughannock apartment project:

There was an “unexpected issue” that came up, Flash said, with the project, and so they must take “a sharper look at the engineering” to make the costs work.

I’m going to take a slightly educated guess – the soils were even crappier than anticipated. The high water table and easily-compacted soil in the West End and Waterfront pretty much mandate that multi-story projects have deep, expensive foundations to support the weight of structures. A soil issue was one of the problems that delayed the Lofts @ Six Mile project, and the reason why it’s built tall and narrow; also, since the Bloomfield/Schon has to pay for that deep foundation, it’s one of the reasons why the Lofts are so expensive. From the sounds of the Times article, balancing the deep foundation with adequate parking for the parcel is an issue. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, this project could be a real asset to that area.

Also, pretty sure that Cascadilla Landing still isn’t happening, and the Times has realized that. Anyway, it’s a good piece, and I’m not going to steal all of Josh’s thunder or his Myrick quotes, so spare two minutes and have a read through.

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4. For my moderate griping about timing with Josh’s Inlet Island development piece, I could note that this quote in the IURA Governance Commitee Agenda from city Planning and Economic Development Director JoAnn Cornish ties my article and his together:

“Cornish reported that the Planning and Economic Development Committee identified the Waterfront Neighborhood Plan as the Phase 2 plan of the Comprehensive Plan it would like to move forward with. Funding has been allocated for it. The plan would most likely be a hybrid Waterfront/West End neighborhood plan, in anticipation of significant development interest in that part of the city.”

In good news, affordable housing grants were thankfully saved in the federal budget, meaning that there will be a similar amount heading to NYS in 2016 as in 2015, and those funds would be available to future Ithaca projects should they jump through all the application hoops and be deemed worthy by Albany. The IURA is looking to smooth over any possible shortfalls by offering itself as a housing strategy consultant for the Waterfront/West End and Southside Phase II plans, and in the longer term, sales of parcels at the end of Cherry Street, at 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard, and Fire Station No. 9.

Also, the Argos Inn and Bandwagon Brewery/Restaurant have paid off their IURA loans. Proof that, although there have been failures (Finger Lakes Wine Center), the IURA can properly vet projects and be successful in its mission.

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5. House of the week. 102 Walnut Street, town of Ithaca. the last of Agora Home LLC’s Belle Sherman Cottages is nearly complete, possibly to go on the market as a spec house. The house is a little small than its neighbors since the lot is smaller, but the unique design gives the street some extra diversity. Apart from landscaping, paving and some finish work (on the exterior trim at least, although being a Simplex modular means the inside is probably finishing up as well), the house is just about finished. Nice work Carina Construction.

6. Last but certainly not least, the Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. It’s a big one.

I. Agenda Review
II. Public Comments
III. Special Order of Business – Chain Works District Redevelopment Project – Presentation of Draft Generic Envrionment Impact Statement (DGEIS) and Scheduling.

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It’s finally moving forward. The Chain Works District, which was last presented at a meeting in November 2014, is finally ready to discuss parts of its environmental review and timelines. Per the agenda, “The project is a mixed‐use development consisting of four primary phases: (1) the redevelopment of four existing buildings (21, 24, 33, & 34); (2) the repurposing of the remaining existing buildings; (3) potential future development within areas of the remainder of the site adjacent to the existing buildings/parking areas; and (4) future developments within remaining areas of the site.” This will merit its own piece, but in the interest of time, Ithaca Builds offers a great summary of the previous steps and the proposal itself.

IV. Subdivision Review – 101-107 Morris Avenue. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). This subdivision proposed to reconfigure a pair of vacant North Side lots to allow a duplex to be built by Habitat for Humanity. The two 1400 SF units would be sold to families with modest incomes. There’s a letter of support and the Board has already drafted a recommendation to the BZA giving their thumbs-up.

V. Site Plan Review

A. Cayuga Green Phase II (Lofts @ Six Mile Creek). The applicant proposes to omit a green screen on the parking garage. A letter from the developer asserts that the wall will be adequately masked by trees.

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B. Hilton Canopy Hotel – Project Update, addressing conditions of Site Plan Approval and Requested Changes. Developer Neil Patel (and represented by Scott Whitham) requests to increase the number of hotel rooms from 123 to 131, and increase building size from 74,475 to 77,884 SF. Height would remain the same. Once again, this is something that could be the subject of its own post, but will have to keep it brief for the moment.

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C. State Street Triangle – Project update, no decisions planned. 9 stories, 96′, 180 units, 452 bedrooms, 12,300 SF ground-floor retail, including space for Ithaca Bakery and CTB. See Thursday night’s Voice article for more info. Smaller, shorter, and maybe palatable.

D. 424 Dryden, parking lot rearrangement, Declaration of Lead Agency

E. E-Hub, 409 College Avenue, renovations. While technically it doesn’t require review, Student Agencies and STREAM are asking for thoughtful feedback.

F. Sketch Plan – Elmira Savings Bank, Route 13. Pretty sure this is the one tied up in that PR disaster. WEDZ-1a Zoning allows up to 90% lot coverage, 5 floors and 65′, but given previous statements, the short-term work might just have to do with renovations of the former Pancho Villa restaurant, maybe a drive thru lane or other major exterior work. We’ll see. Background reading on the parcels themselves here.

G. Sketch Plan – Cherry Artspace. Developer: Performance Premises LLC/Samuel Buggeln. Cherry Artspace, a theater company, is located at (where else?) 102 Cherry Street on the city’s southwest side. The building was purchased in August 2015 for $240,000, it had previously housed Renovus Energy before the solar panel company decided to move out to more spacious digs in Ulysses. The theater company, directed by Sam Buggeln (pronounced “bug-ellen”), wishes to renovate the ca. 1980, 1,154 SF building into dedicated performing arts space.

VI. Zoning appeal recs for the Habitat duplex

VII. Planning Board Resolution to the BPW regarding Seneca Street Streetscape work, Cascadilla Street Railing Options, and potential rezoning of a section East State Street/MLK Blvd. from B-4 to the more restrictive and residential-focused R-3a. Glancing at the zoning map, only the north side of the 400 Block is B-4, so the downzoning is probably intended for the houses on the corner of E. State and Schuyler, 420 and 422-24 E.State/MLK, and 108 Schuyler Place.

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Also worth noting, the Travis Hyde Old Library project will be discussed separately with the ILPC. That meeting is at 6 PM at City Hall. The Planning Board meeting at City Hall starts at 6:45 PM.





Collegetown Terrace Construction Update, 1/2016

17 01 2016

Being a 247-unit, 344-bed project means a lot of earth has to be moved before anything starts to rise from the ground. As a result, the project is undergoing the necessary if not exactly glamorous step of excavation for Building 7. All three phases combines have an estimated construction cost in the range of $70 million. The impression I’m getting from here is that when the time comes, foundation forming and pouring will begin from the west side and slowly make its way east, and so the west side of the curvaceous apartment building will be further along the east side at a given time during construction (similar to how it played out with Buildings 5 and 6 during the previous phase). Local development company Novarr-Mackesey plans to have the apartment building ready for tenants by August 2017.

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From December 2015:

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News tidbits 1/16/2016: The Not-So-Best Laid Plans

16 01 2016

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1. It isn’t exactly a shock that Elmira Savings Bank is pursuing plans for the $1.7 million in properties it just acquired on the west 100 block of Meadow Street between West State and West Seneca Streets. That being said, sending out 30-day eviction notices wasn’t a very good idea from a public relations standpoint.

Technically, it’s all above the law – the three tenants affected were on month-to-month leases, according to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal, and one had an expired lease and was in the process of relocating. The bank wasn’t interested in renting out the properties and decided to clear them out. That is plausible, if a little brusque – even if they had put forth a proposal for something at the next Planning Board meeting, approval would take months, in which case they could eased the tenants out of the current property. But instead, they ended up with a petition that, while mostly reading like a speech from the Politburo, does make the valid point that this was conducted poorly. Then it hit the airwaves, and the bank has gone into major damage control mode, giving the tenants until the end of March and reimbursing them $1,000 for the trouble.

Looking at some of the comments on the Voice, there is a lot of outcry against gentrification, but there’s not a whole lot the city can do to prevent that – even if Elmira Savings Bank didn’t build a thing and sold the buildings to someone else, the rapidly rising property values around the city would push the renters out, albeit more subtly, and the city can’t make a law that says someone can’t move in. Plus, as seen during the 210 Hancock, Stone Quarry and Cayuga Ridge debates, there’s a lot of pushback locally against affordable housing. Arguably the best solution going forward is to work an inclusionary zoning ordinance into law so that when Elmira Savings Bank does decide to build (and it’s more of a when than an if), that a few of the units be made available to those on more modest incomes.

Just to touch on that real quick, according to the Journal, the old Pancho Villa building at 602 West State Street will become a bank branch for ESB in the short-term, and plans are being considered for a mixed-use project at some point down the line (two months, two years, who knows). The zoning is WEDZ-1a, allowing for a five story, 65′ building, but there might be tweaks to that depending on the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

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2. Keeping a focus on the west side of the city, the Planning and Economic Development Committee voted to circulate a proposal for a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Urban Development” (TM-PUD) over the waterfront. The reason for this is one part proactive, and one part reactive.

What the TM-PUD does is, for an 18-month period starting the day of Common Council approval, it gives the Common Council the right to oversee and if necessary vote down projects that it thinks will not be appropriate for the waterfront. The study area is currently a mix of zones: Waterfront (WF-1, WF-2), Southwest Mixed-Use (SW-2), Park (P-1) and Industrial (I-1). When the Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2015, it promoted a more walkable, dense, mixed-use waterfront. Therefore, some of the zones are outdated.

The city’s planning department is still in the process of drawing up specifics for how to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s walkable urban waterfront, but in the meanwhile, some of the zones don’t match up with the direction the city wishes to proceed. Take, for example, the industrial space on Cherry Street and Carpenter Circle. By zoning, residential uses aren’t allowed, although the city would like to see mixed-uses with condos and apartments in their vicinity. The planning department needs time to figure out the what and where on zoning so that those uses can be proposed without a developer spending extra months in front of the Planning Board and BZA, which can drive up costs and make construction financing more uncertain.

So that’s the proactive, benign part – the city needs time to plan out the zoning laws for the dense waterfront they want. Now comes the reactive, cynical part.

It’s a not-so-secret secret at this point that the Maguires are looking hard at Carpenter Circle for their car dealership headquarters and multiple sales outlets. Since Carpenter Business Park is zoned industrial, and Ithaca city zoning allows commercial uses in industrial space so long as they’re two floors, there’s a good chance they could build dealerships without the need of the BZA, and it would be an uncomfortable position for the planning board to have to debate a project that is totally legal but is something the city and much of the community doesn’t really want. So as a way to stall for time, the city’s pursuing this TM-PUD and giving the Common Council the authority to shoot down any unwelcome plans should they arise.

For comparison’s sake, there’s a similar scenario that is playing out in Ithaca town. The College Crossings project on South Hill was welcomed under the zoning and previous iterations had been approved, but after the town passed its 2014 Comprehensive Plan and attended the Form Ithaca charettes last summer, the planning board realized that a shopping center with a couple apartments above and in the middle of a large parking lot wasn’t something they really wanted anymore. While the project has been withdrawn, the process and debate has created a lot of discomfort, confusion and uncertainty, which is rather problematic given the area’s housing shortage. The town hopes to have some form-based zoning code ready this year.

So, looking back to the city, the occupants of 108 E. Green Street want things that are still illegal in much of the study area, but they don’t want a full-on moratorium because some spots like the Waterfront zones actually do accommodate what the city and many of its constituents want. The TM-PUD is an attempt to stave off the legal but undesirable projects until the revised West End zoning can go into effect.

Worth pointing out, at the meeting the boundary was changed to midway through the Meadow Street and Fulton Street blocks, rather than along Fulton Street. It may or may not affect Elmira Savings Bank’s parcels as mentioned above, but those long-term plans are in alignment with the city’s, so probably not.

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3. On a related note, the town is holding workshop sessions for those interested in designing a ped-friendly, mixed-use community for South Hill. The meetings are planned for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 26 to 28 at the Country Inn and Suites hotel at 1100 Danby Road in Ithaca. An open office has also been scheduled for 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 27. Form Ithaca will be in attendance at the sessions to help formulate the form-based character code proposed for the neighborhood.

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4. A revision to the cellphone tower law has taken one step closer to becoming reality. The city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to circulate a revised law that would reduce the size of the tower’s fall zone, where construction of any structures is prohibited. A revision to the current city law, which is twice the height of a tower, could potentially allow the 87-unit 815 South Aurora apartment project to proceed with planning board reviews and other BZA variances if necessary. Developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor of local company Modern Living Rentals have been pushing for a fall zone radius of 180 feet for the 170-foot tall tower, rather than the 340 feet as the current law mandates.

From the discussion, it sounds like the concern has less to do with this parcel, and more to do with the possibility of cell phone companies pursuing towers on open land in the northern part of the city where spotty reception has to be weighed against the aesthetics of the lake shore. Anyway, we’ll be hearing more about possible changes to this law in a month, but for back reading, here’s the Voice article from a few months back.

5. In quick news, CBORD’s move to the South Hill Business Campus looks like a go. A $2.45 million construction loan was extended on the 8th by Tompkins Trust Company. CBORD, a software company founded in Ithaca in 1975, will move 245 employees into 41,000 square feet of freshly renovated SHBC space from the Cornell Business Park later this year. The project, which totals $3.7 million, was granted $296,000 worth of sales tax abatements.
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6. From the city’s Project Review Agenda next Tuesday, plans for a facadectomy of the 1980s Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue. Student Agencies, in collaboration with Cornell, plans on dropping $183k on the facade work, as well as the $2.8 million or so for the interior renovations of the second and third floors for the new eHub business incubator space. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the design work, including the 9,660 SF of interior space. The work would go from January to April (the loan is already approved and most of the work is interior).

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If I may play armchair architecture critic, which I have no credentials to do, I think the patio area is great, but I’m opposed to the brise-soleil, the wing like feature that serves as a sunscreen. I feel like that its location above the third floor throws off the rhythm of the block, by being lower than the cornices on adjacent structures. It might be fine over the glass curtain wall alone, but as is it feels a little out-of-place. Just one blogger’s opinion.

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7. House of the week. 228 West Spencer Street in the city of Ithaca. Zero energy new construction, 2-bedrooms, on a rather difficult site. In the above photos from last weekend, the house has been framed and sheathed with Huber ZIP System plywood panels, the roof has been shingled, and doors and windoes have been fitted. The blue material on the concrete basement wall is Dow Styrofoam Tongue and Groove Insulation which protects against moisture and helps keep the heat loss to a minimum. The house should blend in nicely with its neighbors.

Ed Cope of PPM Homes is the developer, and Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

 





News Tidbits 1/9/2016: Better Late Than Never

9 01 2016

Call it the big news round-up. This is what I get for not writing my weekly roundup last week.

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1. We’ll start off with some bad news. The plans for a boutique hotel at 339 Elmira are very likely done and over with. The 37-room, 6,468 SF hotel announced in February 2014 was planned for the 0.59 acre former Salvation Army property on the Southwest side of the city. For whatever their reasons were, the developer, (Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Buffalo, decided put the property up for sale for $395,000. After several months, it finally sold at the discounted price of $300,000 to its next door neighbor, Arizona-based Amerco Real Estate, the parent company of U-Haul. Discounted is a relative term, by the way – Rudra had acquired the vacant property for $143,000 in a land auction in 2013. Back when Salvation Army was still there in 2009, the site sold for $175,000.

So with that sale to Amerco, it’s likely the property will be used for an expanded U-Haul parking lot. It’s unfortunate, but them’s the breaks. For what it’s worth, Rudra has commenced work with the other hotel they had planned, the 79-room Holiday Express at 371 Elmira Road, just down the street.

2. In modest but notable projects, the William George Agency in Dryden received a $2 million construction loan to conduct renovations and roof repairs to its cafeteria area. The non-profit residential treatment center for adolescents had secured building material sales tax abatements from the county to help cover their expenses (the project has originally been planned to start in Q1 2015). The agency, established in the 1890s, employs over 340, making it one of the larger private employers in Tompkins County.

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3. Thanks to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal for reminding readers that not every construction project is private. Noted in his writeup of projects that the city intends to fund this year – $430k in road repair projects, another $407k for parking stations, $1.3 million to replace Cass Park rink’s roof, $214k for design work for the new North Aurora street bridge, and $735k for design work for city dam reconstructions.

Perhaps most interesting to readers here will be the $500k that the city intends to spend on design and planning the new Station No. 9. With the awarding of funding from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the city can formally explore the possibility of a new fire station on a Cornell parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue. Once a new station is complete, the city could then sell the current Station No. 9, nearly 50 years old and in need of major renovations, to a private developer for redevelopment (the developer who expressed interest in the site is still unknown, but given Collegetown’s expensive real estate market, they must have really deep pockets).

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4. More talk of the Biggs Parcel. Jaime Cone at the Ithaca Times provides more details regarding neighbor Roy Luft’s proposal to build for-sale senior housing using the site. Luft is arguing his project is more environmentally friendly than the NRP project, it would take two to three years to come to fruition, that the units would be 700-1,000 SF, and he’s serious about building the senior housing, which is an under-served market. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, which has actively fought any sale, seems to at least be open to the idea, if not necessarily a fan of it.

For the record, since the ICNA doesn’t clarify it in their blog post, the county didn’t develop the NRP project. The county put out a request for proposals (RFP) just like they do with every other large development study or offering. Better Housing for Tompkins County and NRP happened to think they had a good project idea and responded to the RFP. It’s been made clear, multiple times, that the county has approached neighbors, Cayuga Medical, INHS and others for months, shopping the land around, and no one has made offers. To be completely honest, even if this land hit the real estate listings, it’s not as if anyone is clamoring to snatch this up; there’s demand to live in and near Ithaca, but land still takes several months to sell on average, and it’s not a stretch to think that developers would avoid this one after the NRP flaying. The county plans to start the listing process later this month if the ICNA doesn’t make an offer by the 15th.

Just a thought, but if $340,000/25.52 acres = $13,333/acre, and the acreage closest to Dates Road is probably developable, than shouldn’t that allow a ballpark fair-value estimate? I know NRP was to pay $500,000, but that had some transit and pedestrian cotingencies attached. Has the ICNA contacted NRP to ask how extensive the wetlands were, is the information on file with the county?

1317 Trumansburg is 10.17 acres, The Biggs parcel 25.52. Combined, they would be 35.69 acres. From the sound of it, Luft would like to reform the parcel boundaries to let his project, however big it may be, to move forward. The site is zoned low-density residential, which means a cluster subdivision can be 2.3 units/acre at maximum. Each structure can have up to 6 units. Taking a guess here, but Luft may be looking at more than 20 units, because anything less than 20 could be done with a subdivision of his current property. For comparison’s sake, the BHTC/NRP project was 58 units.

There is at least the potential that the county gets additional tax dollars from Luft’s project, and the woods would be protected, and there would be a happy ending to this story. But that’s dependent on both sides’ goodwill. Given the years of acrimony, that’s a big leap of faith.

5. For the restaurant-goers out there – Fine Line Bistro’s old spot at 404 West State has a new tenant called “The Rook” opening this month. Mark Anbinder provides the foodie rundown at 14850.com. Mid-tier American bistro/pub fare.

More importantly to this blog is the economic rundown, provided thanks to their application for a loan courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA). The three co-owners, all local restaurateurs, are seeking a $40,000 loan (3.5% interest, 6 year length) to complement their own dollars and a private loan. 8 hired staff (cooks/servers/dishwasher), but none living wage. With cash flow statements, restaurant plans, the menu, loan filings and resumes of the owners, this looks like a Cornell Hotelie’s senior class project.

It’s the IURA’s decision make, but at least it’s nice to know that good restaurant space in Ithaca is in strong demand.

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6. Out for bid, Cornell’s Ag Quad renovations. The bid filing estimates the budget at $6.6-6.8 million, and a construction timetable of late March 2016 to Summer 2017. Quoting the first write up from October:

“The $9.6 million project will be broken down into two phases, one that focuses on infrastructure, and one phase on landscape improvements (and being that much of the infrastructure is underground utilities, phase one could be described as churning up the ground, and phase two is making the upturned dirt pretty again). The renovations, which are set to start next summer and run through 2017, will include additional emergency phones, a rain garden, and outdoor gathering spaces in front of Mann Library and Roberts Hall (upper right and lower left in the above render).”

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7. Folks love a good rumor, and the Times’ Josh Brokaw had an interesting one to report in his 2016 futurecast regarding State Street Triangle

“Don’t think that the Austin-based developer is abandoning Ithaca, though a look at their previous projects shows this sort of downtown, mixed-use development is a new frontier for a company accustomed to building student housing mostly in green fields in the South and Midwest. CEO Mike Peter was spotted downtown at Mercado in December talking to consultant Scott Whitham; it wouldn’t surprise if the company came back this year with something conceptually similar—lots of rooms, ground-floor retail—but a much different look.”

Brokaw makes a reference to the inclusionary zoning slated for discussion next month, which is rumored to mandate affordable units in return for a larger footprint (rundown of how that works here). I also wonder if it will make reference to the “pillar” that Myrick mentioned previously – a taller, skinnier building, not as massive and perhaps only 3-4 floors over most of the site, and maybe a quarter of the site has a taller tower that’s 12 or 13 floors, whatever is permitted by the inclusionary zoning (strictly hypothetical, just one guess of many). Campus Advantage has plenty of time since they missed their original start date, but maybe later this year in the spring.

8. It’s always a brow-turner when a real estate listing is advertised as “a large corner lot ideal for a multi-unit development. In this case, it’s a 0.2 acre double lot at 404 Wood Street in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. The listing offers the ca. 1938 house and lot for $250,000 (tax rolls say the property is assessed at $125,000; the current owner picked it up for just $34,000 in 1993).

Playing with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.

If one were more brazen and tear down the 1938 house, one gets about 3,485 SF per floor, 13,940 SF at max height. That allows about 14 units using the same figures as above. But that might be tougher for neighbors to swallow. Anyway, if it sells and it looks like there’s a possibility, it’ll get a followup in a future news post.

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9. Nothing to exciting on municipal planning agendas this week. The town of Lansing cancelled their meeting, and all the town of Ithaca had was a cell phone tower on West Hill. The city has a little more interesting. The duplex at 424 Dryden is examining unusual parking arrangements to save trees, and Habitat for Humanity is planning an affordable-housing owner-occupied duplex for vacant lots at 101-107 Morris Avenue in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

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Morris Avenue has always had a focus on worker housing. As described in Ithaca’s Neighborhoods by Carol Sisler (1988), local businessman Morris Moscovitch built 16 nearly identical houses in 1908 to house worker’s families. But, with the effects of urban decay and urban renewal, only one of those 812 SF houses (109 Morris) is still standing today.

What Habitat for Humanity is proposing is to take the vacant lots at 101-105 Morris and 107 Morris (total 0.138 acres), combine them and create two new lots that will face Third Street. The new lots would need a zoning variance since they’re not wide enough (30′ and 30.98′, 35′ required). Being Habitat, these might take a little while to build and they probably won’t wow anyone design-wise, but there’s a lot of value to be placed in their “sweat equity” approach, and affordable owner-occupied housing is in severe need in Ithaca. Planner George Frantz is handling the application.

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10. Lastly, for what is a very long post, the Hotel Ithaca’s revised CIITAP application to the Tompkins County IDA. Now that the project is approved by the city, they can work on a revised tax deal. According to the project memo, the sales, mortgage and property tax abatements will total $1.781 million on the $15 million project. The property tax abatement is the standard 7-year abatement, and will generate almost $1 million in new tax revenue during the abatement period. The project would retain 71 positions and create 21 new jobs, most of which appear to be less than living wage. The application does note, perhaps ominously, that non-approval would result in functional obsolescence – the hotel shuts down. The IDA plans to examine the application at their meeting in the county office building next Thursday.

 





News Tidbits 12/19/15: So New Even the Pavement Shines

19 12 2015

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1. We’ll start off this week with some eye candy. Over in Lansing village, the planning board is hammering out details regarding signage and covenants related to the Cinema Drive senior housing project. But it also gives the project a new name – from C.U. Suites to “Cayuga View Senior Living“. Lo and behold, one types that into Google and up comes the following partially-finished website. The name sounded familiar, and as it turns out there’s a good reason for that – Cayuga View is also the name of a portion of the Linderman Creek apartment complex in the town of Ithaca.

According to the website, the 55+ (“55 and BETTER”, as they tout on the page) apartment building at 50 Cinema Drive will contain 48 2-bedroom units and 12 1-bedroom units with four different four plans. The 4-story apartment building will have retail space on the first floor, “and will offer underground parking and storage, wireless internet, cable, business center, fitness center, rooftop garden, and scenic views. A companion dog or cat under 30 pounds will be allowed.”

No word on the project architect, but the project is being developed by the Thaler family, and Taylor the Builders out of suburban Rochester is the general contractor. The site was originally conceived as an office building several years ago, and then around 2012 it was proposed as a 39-unit mixed-use apartment building with an eye towards graduate students.

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2. Sticking with residential development and fancy renders, here’s the latest render for New Earth Living LLC’s Amabel housing development, courtesy of their Facebook page. Final approval was granted just this week by the town of Ithaca. The 31-unit eco-friendly housing development (consisting of one standing farmhouse and 30 new homes facing inward from a loop road) will be located on undeveloped grass/woodland behind 619 Five Mile Drive. In the project literature, the site is said to be designed around a “pocket neighborhood” concept, with the houses facing towards each other for interaction, and away from the street for privacy. The houses may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but are designed for net-zero efficiency. Houses range from 1-3 bedrooms and 1,200-2,100 SF. No specific prices yet, but expect marketing to begin sometime early next year.

3. For the aspiring developer who wants to get a head start on planning – the 11.71 acre Bella Vista site at 901-999 Cliff Street in the city’s West Hill neighborhood is for sale for $395,000. As the advertisement on Homefinder notes, the project has received approvals for a 44-unit apartment or condo building (what it doesn’t say is that those would have to be renewed via a reaffirming vote by the planning board, since the project was approved more than two years ago). The property is currently assessed for $210,000.

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Primary Developers Inc., a company founded by local businessman Mauro Marinelli, purchased the land for $175,000 in 2002 and received approvals for the 44-unit Bella Vista project in 2007, and the units were marketed by local realtors as condominiums. But as the recession set in, sales foundered and the project never moved forward. Primary Developers Inc. sold the medical office building on the adjacent southern parcel and two other neighboring parcels of land to another local real estate company for $945,000 earlier this year.

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4. Some minor tweaks to the Chapter House project since its November sketch plan presentation to the Ithaca city planning board, which looks to mostly be a slightly lighter brick color and a little more detail on the rear wall. From top to bottom, the Chapter House reconstruction proposes Rheinzink zinc shingles, white trim of unknown material, a Redland Brick Heritage SWB bricks, Inspire Roofing Aldeora Slate Coachman (790) simulated slate shingles over the first floor bump-out, SDL (Simulated Divided Lites) transom windows with LePage Morocco textured glass glazing over the picture windows, Sherwin Williams “Tricorn Black” paint on the Chapter House bar exterior trim, and genuine bluestone not unlike the famous Llenroc bluestone used in many of Ithaca’s historic buildings. As far as they look online, they appear to be attractive, premium finishes.

The owner, Sebastian Mascaro of Florida and represented by Jerry Dietz of CSP Management, hopes to start construction in late January or early February for an August 2016 opening.

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5. Note that there was ever much doubt, but it looks like local developers John Novarr and Philip Proujansky have secured the construction loan(s) needed to build 209-215 Dryden Road in Collegetown, a six-story academic and office building in which Cornell has committed to occupy 100% of the space for use in its Executive MBA program. According to loan documents filed with the county, there were two loans, one for $6,482,295.33 and the other for $9,430,528 (for a total of $15,912,823.33). Wells Fargo Northwest was the lender, and it looks like some of the funds are going through a “pass-through” trust.

The 73,000 SF building will host about 420 Cornell MBA students and staff when it opens in late Spring 2017, later increasing to 600 as Cornell fills out the rest of the square footage. Hayner Hoyt Corporation of Syracuse will be the general contractor. Ikon.5 of Princeton is the project architect.

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6. Going to do a double-feature for house of the week this week, mostly because I have a backlog of images. Here’s number one.

The last house is underway at the Belle Sherman Cottages. After not hearing anything about it, I had presumed they had just decided not to build Lot #9, which is smaller than the other lots and was going to have a unique “cottage” design. Well, color me surprised. The town of Ithaca issued a permit in early November, and by the 5th of this month, the CMU block foundation was excavated and poured. Looking at builder Carina Construction’s facebook page, the modular units have since arrived and have been hoisted onto the foundation, assembled and secured. Custom interior finishes, porch framing, siding, backfilling and landscaping will follow as the house moves towards completion.

No renders for the finished house, unfortunately, although I suppose STREAM Collaborative might have something on file. Agora Home LLC of Skaneateles is the developer of the Belle Sherman Cottages, which includes 18 other single-family homes and 10 townhouses, all of which have been completed and sold.

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7. Now for House of the Week #2. 424 Dryden Road’s subdivision earlier this year turned the rear parking lot into a second lot, and the owners, William and Angie Chen of Lansing, decided to build a duplex on the land, which has been bestowed the address of 319 Oak Avenue.

It seems a little odd that the trim already seems to be applied to the house when the windows haven’t been fitted yet. The standard Huber ZIP System sheathing is being covered with a mahogany-colored vinyl siding. Wooden wall studs can be seen from the rough window openings and there appears to be electrical wiring on the rear of the house, so it’s a fair guess that utilities rough-ins are probably underway.

Local architect Daniel R. Hirtler of Flatfield Designs penned the design, and according to the construction loan agreement on file with the county, Tompkins Trust Company lent the Chens $400,000 to help bring their duplex from the drawing board to reality.

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8. For those hoping for something new and exciting in next week’s Planning Board agenda, it’s going to be a downer month. Here’s what’s planned.

A. Revisions to the internal sidewalk plans at 804 East State Street to allow stripped asphalt vs. concrete.
B. Tweaks to the signage for the downtown Marriott currently under construction.
C. The “Printing Press” bar debate at 416-18 E. State Street, again.
D. Final approval for Tompkins Financial Corporation’s new HQ.

The agenda also includes a couple zoning variance reviews for house additions at 105 First Street in North Side, and 116 West Falls Street in Fall Creek. The board is planning a joint meeting with the ILPC to review and comment on the Travis Hyde plan for the Old Library site, tentatively scheduled for January 12th.





307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 12/2015

10 12 2015

Unlike the other two Collegetown midrises under construction, Josh Lower’s project at 307 College Avenue, Collegetown Crossing, is already starting to make a noticeable dent in the Collegetown skyline. The front concrete stairwell reaches up to the third floor, with the structural steel not far behind. Corrugated decking has been laid into place and sprayed with fireproofing material. Plastic tarp has been put up for weather protection while workers go about the first steps of interior work, including the installation of sprinkler pipes and plumbing, stud walls, and so on.

The $10.5 million Collegetown Crossing project will bring 46 units and 96 bedrooms to market when it opens next august, as well as a 3,200 SF full-service branch of the Greenstar Co-Op grocery store. Two other commercial spaces and an indoor TCAT bus stop are planned. Collegetown favorite Jagat Sharma is the designer, and Hayner Hoyt Corporation out of Syracuse is the general contractor.

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