The DeWitt House Senior Apartments

25 08 2015

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Most of the time, writing up initial project pages is mostly background details, along with whatever scant details were included in the sketch plan. It usually makes for an exciting post, though occasionally lacking in details.

Now here we have the total opposite – a project where many of the details have already been gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Here we have the county legislature’s preferred development for the Old Library site at 310 North Cayuga Street, the DeWitt House Senior Apartments. It has a website, a completed Site Plan Review (SPR) application (here), and the county is heavily involved with the approvals process.

I’m not going into the debate between this and the Franklin proposal with this piece. It’s intended more as a project summary.

Plans call for a mixed-use, 4-story, 72,500 SF building. On the upper three floors are 39 1-bedroom and 21 2 -bedroom apartments aiming for the middle of the rental market, and serving renters aged 50 and older. Approximately 40 parking spaces will be provided, as well as CarShare and a shuttle. Along with the apartments, there will be community space on the southeast corner of the first floor (2,000 SF), new digs for senior services non-profit Lifelong on the west side (6,500 SF), and office/retail space facing Court Street (4,000 SF).

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The building will deconstruct the old library, and there are plans to reuse much of the foundation, steel, and possibly the brick from the 1967 structure. The one-story Lifelong building at 119 West Court Street, which dates from the 1950s, would also be taken down. The Lifelong annex building at 121 West Court Street, which dates from the late 1800s, would be renovated into a guest house for those visiting friends and family living in the apartments.

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HOLT Architects, which is among a few local firms to have accepted the Architecture 2030 Challenge, has designed the building to be carbon-neutral. Solar panels, rainwater collection from the roof, and a Combined Heat and Power system (CHP) are some of the green features.

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The project is being developer by local developer Travis Hyde Properties, and the design is the work of local design firm HOLT Architects. Contact info for both is provided here. TWMLA Landscape Architects, Esther Greenhouse, T.G. Miller Surveyors & Civil Engineers, Elwyn & Palmer Structural Engineers, and Delta Engineering are also providing services.

The SPR application indicates that the $14,000,000 building is aiming to launch construction in June 2016, and finishing up 12 months later. However, the timeline in the SPR says construction wouldn’t start until February or March of 2017, with completion in summer 2018. The renovation of the Lifelong Annex would be completed by the end of 2018.

The DeWitt House project will need not only approvals from the city Planning and Development Board, but also the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC), since the land is a part of the DeWitt Park Historic District.

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News Tidbits 8/15/15: Big Houses and Little Houses

15 08 2015

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1. In good news, INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development was granted all the necessary zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The vote was 3-0 in favor; one board member abstained after expressing her distaste for the project. Variances were needed for the height (46.5 feet vs. the 40 feet legally permitted), the parking requirement (84 required, 64 planned) and loading zones for the three commercial spaces, which was granted at the previous BZA meeting. The project now moves on to the Planning Board again for preliminary approval.

210 Hancock also applied for $3.9 million in tax abatements from the Tompkins County IDA, and these were granted at last night’s meeting. According to the application, the tax abatement was requested because the commercial spaces and the pedestrian walkways along Lake Avenue and Adams Street can’t be covered by affordable housing grants. The foundation and high acquisition cost of the former grocery store were also cited as factors in the application.

Unfortunately, documents filed with the city indicate that the townhouses will no longer be for sale, they will only be rental units. INHS says that they received updated, detailed construction costs and the result is that it would be “infeasible to build and sell the townhouses affordably“. If there’s any silver lining to that, it’s that all the townhouse units will now be handicapped-accessible, and that they will be built at the same time as the apartment building (no need for subdivision or owner-occupied grant money, which is harder to get). Construction will be May 2016 to July 2017, rather than 2016-2019.

EDIT: INHS Executive Director Paul Maazarella sent an email this morning saying that the plans have been re-revised, and now 5 of the 12 units will be rentals. 7 of the units, all 2-bedrooms, will still be for sale. Quoting the email –

“This aspect of the project has many unknowns that still remain to be resolved, so we decided to take a cautious approach with the Planning Board and announce that they will all be rentals. Some of the challenges that we have for for-sale units on this site are:  very high land cost; the demo cost for the existing building; uncertainty about the availability of development subsidies; the type and cost of the ownership structure (condo, coop or HOA); the impact of high property taxes on affordability; and the overall development cost in relation to producing a unit at an affordable purchase price.  Since then, we’ve reviewed the numbers and reconsidered our earlier decision.

We have now firmed up a plan to keep 7 of the 12 units as for-sale units and make 5 of them rental units.  All 5 of the rental units will be 3-bedroom homes (the only 3-BRs in the project) and one of them will be fully accessible.
The 5 rental units will be clustered at the end nearest to Adams St.  The for-sale units will be closer to Hancock St.
The rental units will be built at the same time as the multifamily building.  We don’t yet know the timeline for the for-sale units.”

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On that note, here’s an updated render of the townhouses. Quoting the memo from Trowbridge Wolf,

“The townhomes at 210 Hancock will utilize architectural details in the porches and roof lines as well as a mix of materials and colors to provide architectural diversity. Architectural precedent will include homes built in the late 19th/early 20th century and characterized as “tudor”, “arts and crafts”, “American four square” etc. The goal is to design the 12 townhomes as if they were built over time with some unifying features that make them feel part of the larger 210 Hancock community.”

2. From townhouses to big houses. Here’s an attractive proposal for a renovation at 109 Dearborn Place in Cornell Heights. 109 Dearborn is currently a 3,800 SF storage building with an attached apartment unit, and has been since the 1960s; previously it was an office building for the Paleontological Research Institute, and built specifically for PRI in the early 1930s. The building was purchased from Cornell by Dr. J. Lee Ambrose (M.D., so he can get away with using ‘Dr.’ outside of his field without sounding pretentious) for $177k in 2012. Bero Architects of Rochester and Ellis Construction of Lansing are in charge of the design and build respectively.

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The proposal involves new roofing, dormers, roof extensions, and a gut interior renovation to be done in phases over the next few years. Being in the Cornell Heights Historic District, the project needs Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) approval. Since the building is considered non-contributing to the historic district (the age is right but being a purpose-built office building isn’t), ILPC may be a little less stringent with this project.

3. Staying on the theme of grand houses, a lakeshore homesite has received a multi-million dollar loan. The property at 1325/1327 Taughannock in Ulysses is right on the lake, and two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The loan, for $2.25 million, was filed on the 13th, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust.

The owner is a senior investment banker from New York with connections to Cornell. In other words, the type of person a lot of Ithacans love to hate. Looking on the bright side, this is an extra couple million for Ulysses’s tax rolls (my anecdotal finding is to tack on about 30% to hard construction costs to get the assessed value, and the hard costs here are $1.87 million…so $2.43 million). Single-family projects of this magnitude in Tompkins County are quite rare, they could be counted on two hands. It’ll definitely be worth a trip to see what this lakeside manse looks like as it moves towards its May 2016 completion.

4. Also in sales, the Carpenter Business Park was purchased by “Carpenter Business Park LLC” for $2.4 million from the lender that repo’d it from the owner earlier this year. Four parcels were purchased – all the land along Northside’s Carpenter Circle except for the community gardens and the building supply company. The LLC is registered to the same P.O. Box as Ithaca’s Miller Mayer law firm, and there’s no indication if there are plans for this site. But you’ll see something here if plans arise.

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5. The State Street Triangle public relations campaign begins in earnest – the CEO of Campus Advantage recently submitted an editorial in the Journal, and the Texas-based company has also launched a website, Ithacaliving.com. It’s as one would expect, it touts the economic impacts and the addition of housing to the underserved Ithaca market. For those who are more neutral, the site’s worth a look for some new perspective shots, courtesy of the folks at STREAM Collaborative. CA’s effort to assuage the concerns of city officials and the public has been lackluster so far, so we’ll see if this is a sign they’re willing to be more active and engaging.

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6. Over in Ithaca town, the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) is still underway for College Crossings. Only this time, the town acknowledges that plopping a building in the middle of a large parking lot doesn’t mesh with their comprehensive plan. The building is acceptable, but the site plan layout needs work seems to be the gist of the town planner’s review.

7. From the city of Ithaca Planning Board Project Review meeting next week, the phrase of the week will be “carriage house”. Specifically, two proposals in the city for accessory apartments in the style of carriage houses.

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Carriage houses were essentially garages for horse-and-buggies. The first proposal, at 201 West Clinton Street, is highly reminiscent of those long-gone days, and it needs to be since it’s in Henry St. John Historic District (more talk about the meticulous restoration of the main house here). The proposal is going up to the planning board for recommendations for a zoning property line setback variance at the next BZA meeting. The 650 SF, 1 bedroom garage/carriage house would replace a non-contributing garage from the 1960s. The architect isn’t stated in the documents.

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The other proposal is for 607 Utica Street in Fall Creek. The applicant is seeking demolish a rear garage in favor of a one-bedroom, 510 SF unit. In the zoning appeal application (one again for property line setbacks), the homeowner states “My goal has never been to become a landlord…I am hoping to do this only because the income from this would allow me to remain in the community”. Once again, the affordability problem is making itself known. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is responsible for 607 Utica’s “tiny house”.

As a matter of opinion, I think these are a great idea. These add to the housing stock, contribute income to homeowner-landlords living only feet away, they’re not obtrusive, and their small size lends well to modest, sustainable living. I hope they go forward.





News Tidbits 8/8/15: A Shocker on Cayuga Street

8 08 2015

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1. As reported by several news outlets, the Tompkins County Legislature came to the surprise conclusion last Tuesday to give preference to the Travis Hyde proposal for the Old Library site at the corner of West Court and North Cayuga Streets. The final vote was 8-5.

I’ll be honest, I was shocked. I figured the county legislature would just never come to a resolution, or that on the off-chance that it did, it was going to be in favor of the Franklin Properties proposal, which had by far the most vocal support of the three proposals (the third being the unloved Cornerstone proposal for affordable senior housing). If this has been the city’s site to sell, the decision would have gone to Franklin, so I think this ordeal highlights the somewhat differing interests of the city and county. Regardless, I feel either proposal would have been successful for the Old Library site, and I am pleased to see something moving forward.

From here, the project is to move into an SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) assessment coordinated with the city of Ithaca. The project also needs to go forward to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) for a certificate of appropriateness. It is quite possible that the design will be changed during those reviews. Once those are approved, a sales agreement will be drawn up late this fall, the county authorizes sale around Christmas, and the actual sale of the property to Travis Hyde would happen in January 2016. If the Travis Hyde project can’t move forward and the sale hasn’t happened, then the county can authorize the Franklin proposal, which would also have to negotiate the same processes to arrive at the selling stage. In sum, a big hurdle has been jumped, but there’s a lot more that needs to happen before any shovels hit the dirt.

2. For all you would-be developers out there, here’s this week’s opportunity – since the folks that own Felicia’s Atomic Lounge have decided to focus on a new restaurant in Trumansburg, their Ithaca site is closing and the property is for sale. On the surface, you get a 1-story, 1,500 SF building at 508 West State Street for about $350,000. Dig deeper and zoning permits a 60′ tall building with no parking required. The city and county have designated the West State corridor as the place where they would like to focus denser development, and the zoning was revised in 2013 to reflect those desires. If/when the property sells, if it merits further attention you’ll see a news update here.

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3. Demolition of the Chapter House’s fire-damaged walls is taking longer than expected because the owner had to apply for a certificate of appropriateness from the ILPC to approve demolition. For those that are interested in reading about how water and fire damage have structurally comprised the structure, the application bundle can be found here. Apart from the usual applications like window and roof treatments, the ILPC is also set to begin discussion of 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue, where a new apartment building is likely to be built to replace the one totally destroyed by the Chapter House (and which I wrote about here on the Voice). For those interested in attending, the meeting is at 5:30 PM in the 2nd floor conference room at Ithaca City Hall.

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4. Looking at the city’s planning board projects memo for the month, August is going to have a lot og big decisions in store. Novarr’s academic building at 209-215 Dryden in Collegetown is up for preliminary approval, as is Tompkins Financial Corporation’s HQ (shown above) and the Dibella’s sub shop in southwest Ithaca. If INHS’s 210 Hancock gets zoning approvals at the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting next Tuesday, it will be up for final approval at the August planning board meeting as well. The 12-unit “pocket neighborhood” at 215-221 West Sepncer will complete environmental review and possibly granted permission to face the BZA, and the massive State Street Triangle project will have more public discussion and review, with no decisions expected. A very busy month that will hopefully pane out to a busy construction season in 2016.

5. Looks like there’s a potential site being weighed for a new Collegetown fire station. In minutes from the Board of Fire Commissioners, the location is described as being towards Maple Avenue, on land that would either be donated or bought outright. That would place it up by the Fairview Apartments and Cornell facilities, assuming it’s not further out in Ithaca town (services are shared if I remember right). An unidentified consultant has been chosen to review the costs of selling the land in Inner Collegetown and building a new station vs. renovating the current 47 year-old property.

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5. Random house of the week turns back to 203 Pearl Street in Ithaca’s Bryant Park/Belle Sherman neighborhood. I spy with my little eye, a large garage opening, a rough-in for a door to its left, a couple of rough window spaces, and lots of roof trusses. It’s supposed to be a 1,276 SF house, but one could be forgiven for thinking the owners are just building a nice garage. The lot was separate when the neighborhood was first plated, but decades ago 201 Pearl bought the land and used it for an in-ground pool. The pool was eventually filled up, and the land subdivided once again this past spring.





News Tidbits 7/18/15: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

18 07 2015

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1. The Old Library conundrum continues. At last Friday’s meeting, the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. As it also turns out, absent legislators Peter Stein and Kathy Luz Herrera can no longer re-introduce the preferred developer vote because absent legislators can  only re-introduce a resolution for the subsequent county meeting – in other words, they didn’t put it up for a re-vote on the 7th, so that option is no longer available. Stein didn’t make a resolution, and Luz Herrera was once again absent from the meeting.

Now things get a little more haphazard. Individual legislators can introduce resolutions for a preferred developer, which Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne are doing for the Franklin/STREAM proposal (the 22 condos and medical office space, first image), and Mike Lane for Travis Hyde (the 60 apartments with space for Lifelong, second image). Either one would require eight votes in favor. Martha Robertson’s recusal makes the Travis Hyde proposal a little less likely to hit that magic number, but unless anyone’s had a change of heart, if Kathy Luz Herrera and Peter Stein don’t both vote in favor of the Franklin proposal, nothing moves forward. The county gets left with a building they can’t make a decision on and don’t want to keep.

The building needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations at this point, not to mention routine maintenance; the lack of a decision could be a weight on any legislator’s re-election prospects. If there is no decision, what happens next is anyone’s guess; spending money to mothball the building, demolition, or even selling the property on the open market. whatever the case, this is definitely not a comfortable position for the county to be in.

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2. Looks like the Amabel housing development in Ithaca town is undergoing some site plan changes once again. Quoting the web page, “[w]e recently came to the conclusion that it is far better to park the cars at each house then to have car parks within the common space, allowing 2 cars per house if needed. This also allowed for more guest parking spaces.” Rather than having a road go through the middle of the housing development, the development is now encircled by the road coming in and out of Five Mile Drive. I asked developer Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living LLC if those were garages facing the driveways, and the reply was “no, [but] they may be carports though.” As a result of the revised site plan, the project would need to go back in front of the Ithaca planning board for re-approvals.

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3. Recently, Finger Lakes ReUse has been working on plans to open a new “downtown” branch and HQ at the site of the former BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road on the edge of big-box land. The plans for the gut renovation of the ca. 1950 building (Ithaca’s first big-box supermarket) have been in the works for a while, and grants have been awarded to fund the project.

One thing that appears to be a recent addition, though, is a three-story, 20,000 SF office building. The building, described as the “Main Headquarters”, is strictly a conceptual proposal. The grant announced in December funds two new buildings,  the renovation and what could be either be the proposed 5,000 SF warehouse to the west of the existing building, or the “tenant space” occupied by Boris Garage at 210 Elmira.

The office building is an interesting idea, adding density to the often-underutilized Southwest Corridor and showing what future plans might be in store for the non-profit.

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4. It seems like there was an unpleasant surprise at this month’s IDA meeting – the motion from committee member Will Burbank to put a moratorium on all tax abatements until a county CIITAP is in place for local labor/construction unions and prevailing wage policy. For those unfamiliar, a moratorium is in this case a temporary prohibition of all new tax abatements. After considerable debate and a split opinion from committee members, the motion was rescinded until next month.

Speaking as a matter of opinion, it might seem like a good idea on the surface, but an all-out moratorium sounds more like a case of “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” as one of my professors used to say. Generally, the policy for businesses to hire the contractor with the best price and a strong record for quality, on-time work. Sometimes that’s a local business with local labor; sometimes it’s a company in Binghamton, Syracuse or Rochester. Hence the debate.

The problem with a moratorium is that it stops everything applying for a tax abatement, including projects that already have plans to use local labor. And to be frank, local governments have a terrible track record with moratoriums, frequently extending them because of bureaucratic red tape. I think the unions support the CIITAP idea, but a moratorium that could place even larger numbers of their membership out of work for 12 or 18 months is undesirable and politically damaging. Local labor is important, but a moratorium isn’t the best approach.

On another note, the IDA did unanimously approve the tax abatement for the Tompkins Financial Headquarters project.The 7-story, 110,000 SF building proposed for 118 East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca will likely start construction later this year.

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5. In economic news, Ithaca Beer had its informal groundbreaking Thursday the 16th for its expansion. The 23,800 SF addition by HOLT Architects will triple brewing capacity when it is completed in approximately eight months. The expansion at their site in Ithaca town is expected to create 22 new jobs.

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6. Also in Ithaca town, a senior living facility is looking to receive final approval on its expansion. Brookdale Senior Living is looking to obtain final site plan approvals for its 32-unit Clare Bridge Crossings expansion at 101 Bundy Drive on West Hill. Brookdale is planning to start construction of the one-story 23,200 SF addition this October, with the first tenants moving in around October 2016. There’s no mention of job creation in the application, but there is a letter of opposition from a Cornell professor concerned that new construction will be detrimental to current residents.

Noted previously here back in May, the Brookdale site is a PDZ that consists of two facilities at the moment – Sterling House is a 48-unit assisted living facility, while Claire Bridge Cottage is a 32-unit facility specializing in memory care (Alzheimer’s and dementia). The new building, “Clare Bridge Crossings”, is designed to bridge the gap between the two – patients who might be in early stages of illness and experiencing mild symptoms, but otherwise still capable of some degree of personal independence. The whole complex is in the process of being renamed to Brookdale of Ithaca.

The new building will be tucked between the other two structures, so it won’t be visible from the street. Along with the new building, there will be updates to parking, landscaping stormwater facilities, and the addition of a couple of courtyards between the buildings. The architect is PDC Midwest, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in memory care facilities.

7. Let’s end off this week on a high note. Chances of a Chapter House rebuild are looking good. The owner’s looking into reusing the walls that remain standing, and even what’s left of the floorplates. The idea is to have the building look like it did before (though perhaps with a modern fire suppression system, one imagines). Looking forward to sharing renderings as they become available.





News Tidbits 7/11/15: Trying to Make A Dent in the Housing Deficit

11 07 2015

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1. We’ll start this off with a brief data map, courtesy of Curbed NY. The Urban Institute, a DC think tank, quantifies the country’s affordable housing problem with a detailed study that lays out, county by county across the whole United States just how many units are affordable to what it labels “extremely low-income” (ELI) households, who make 30% or less of county median income. In Tompkins County, this means families of four making $23,200 or less during 2013, the latest year for which data is available. The full report comes with an interactive map.

Nationwide, the numbers aren’t very good – in 2013, only 28 of every 100 ELI families could find affordable housing, down from 37 out of every 100 in 2000. In Tompkins County, the situation is even worse – it’s gone from affordable housing being available for 19 out of every 100 ELI households in 2000, to 16 out of every 100 ELI households in 2013. There was only two other counties in the northeast that fared worse – Centre County, PA, home to State College and Penn State, and Monroe County, PA, a far-flung NYC commuter county.

While much of the talk about affordability focuses on the middle class getting priced out, it’s worth noting that the tight housing market and college-centric rental market have had a continued negative impact on what little housing there is for the poorest tiers.

2. Staying on the topic of affordability,  the county is all set to sell a foreclosed vacant lot in Freeville to INHS for the express purpose of affordable housing. This was first mentioned on the blog a couple of weeks ago. The 1.7 acres of land off of Cook Street in Freeville is assessed at $25,000, but the county is generously selling the land to INHS for the low price of $7,320, which is the amount owed on back taxes and “required maintenance”. This project would be next to Freeville’s other affordable housing complex, the 24-unit Lehigh Crossing senior apartments south of the parcel. Those were built in 1991 and are managed by a for-profit developer out of Buffalo (Belmont Management).

As noted previously, the village of Freeville (population 520) is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This is likely to be the first new rural project post-merger, and the first new affordable housing development outside of Ithaca in several years. BHTC had a string of failures prior to the merger. For INHS, after the controversy with Stone Quarry and 210 Hancock, taking on a development site that’s likely to have less opposition will be a welcome change of pace.

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3. No full decisions from the Board of Zoning Appeals on the 210 Hancock project, but there was plenty of acrimony. Of the three requested variances (height, parking and commercial loading), only the commercial loading variance was granted at Tuesday’s meeting, with the height and parking up in the air until additional information is received about pile driving impacts and winter odd-even parking. INHS has just over two months to submit the additional information.

The same vitriolic sentiment could be applied for the Old Library proposals, where legislator Martha Robertson has been called out for a possible ethics violation, and emails on the Fall Creek Neighborhood Association listserve have turned unpleasant. All in all, it’s been a pretty harsh week for anything related to development in or near Fall Creek.

Some of the 210 opposition is upset that they’re being perceived as “classist”, but when the gentleman leading the opposition posts tweets like this to the #twithaca page for all to see, a negative reaction shouldn’t be a surprise. As for the old library debate, the legislature’s Old Library Committee met on the morning of the 10th, but no endorsements were made.

4. A couple of details worth noting for ILPC’s meeting next Tuesday – “early design guidance” for work planned at 201 W. Clinton Street, and “discussion” about 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue in Collegetown.

201 West Clinton, also known as the Hardy House, was built around 1835, and was previously the home of the local Red Cross chapter from about 1922-2011. After the ARC moved out, it was restored and converted back to a private residence. The house was more recently reviewed/approved for solar panels, and I dunno what’s in store for this next round.

As for 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue, those would be the addresses for the historic (ca. 1898) three-story red-shingled apartment house destroyed during the Chapter House fire last Spring, and the fire-damaged but still-standing apartment house to its north. They are/were operated by CSP Management, the same folks tending to the Simeon’s project. So let’s keep hopes up for a possible rebuild faithful to the original 406.

If you still need your weekly dose of crazy, here’s a rather paranoid screed submitted as part of an application to the ILPC. I can only imagine the committee’s initial reaction to this.

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5. Time to move another Collegetown project into the “under construction” column – 307 College Avenue, a.k.a. Collegetown Crossing, will hold a formal groundbreaking on Monday at 10 AM. The 46-unit, 96-bedroom project was approved last September after a years-long debate over parking; the project was only able to move forward when the new Collegetown zoning went into effect last year. Expect a 12-month construction period, with occupancy likely in August 2016. Collegetown Crossing, which also includes a 4,000 sq ft Greenstar grocery store branch, a pocket park and a TCAT transit hub, is being developed by the Lower family and their company Urban Ithaca.

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6. Looks like we’re on to another iteration of the proposed pair of duplexes at 112 Blair / 804 East State Street in outer Collegetown. Updated file here, previous plans here. It kinda feels like there’s a disconnect going on – the neighbors basically don’t like the houses for being boring pre-fab duplexes; the developer, Demos/Johnny LLC (Costas Nestopoulos), doesn’t want to change that, but is willing to adjust the site layout and invest in extensive landscaping in an effort to hide them. The two sides have met and they seem close to a compromise.

Rather unusually, the 12-bedroom project (4 units with 3 bedrooms each) will open to student tenants in January 2016, after a construction period of September-December 2015. Being a small project, there will probably be enough intersession shuffling to make it work.

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7. Here’s another small project getting a revision – the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler addition down in bog box land. Still adding 20 display spaces, but the addition has grown from 1,165 SF in the last version to 1,435 SF, include a small 418 SF second story intended as a lunch room. This project, which will need an area variance, is also looking at September-December 2015 buildout.





News Tidbits 6/20/15: Big and Far, Small and Near

20 06 2015

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1. In something not Ithaca but Ithaca-related, it seems like Cornell’s New York City-based Tech school is having quite a good week. Cornell announced that construction began earlier this month on a $115 million residential building at the Cornell Tech campus. the 26-story, 270′ tower is being built to passive house standards, the largest passive house building in the world.

According to an article in the New York Times –

“That means the building is able to maintain a comfortable interior climate without active heating or cooling systems, through the use of, among other things, an airtight envelope and a ventilator system that exchanges indoor and outdoor air. In climates like that of New York, however, standards allow small heating and cooling systems.

Making the Roosevelt Island tower airtight — creating what is essentially a giant thermos — was one of the biggest challenges, said Blake Middleton, the principal in charge and partner at Handel Architects, the building’s designer.”

The 350-unit, 530-bed building will house mostly graduate students, with some research staff and faculty also living in the tower. The apartments, designed by Handel Architects of NYC, are due to be completed sometime in 2017.

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As noted at Curbed, to celebrate the groundbreaking, partner/developer Forest City Ratner released new renders of “The Bridge“, the tech incubator building on the right that looks like and ice cube cleaved into two pieces. As one might imagine, the new renders come with token florid language and eye-rolling descriptions (“an ecosystem of companies”). The Bridge, designed by New-York based Cornell alums Weiss/Manfredi, is being designed to LEED Silver standards, which is still better than about 99.5% of Ithaca. Construction permits were filed in January.

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Last but not least, the $100 million Bloomberg donation, to name the first building “The Bloomberg Center”. The Bloomberg Center, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects, will also open in 2017. To date (i.e. about three years since inception), philanthropy to the tech campus has totaled $685 million – and absolutely none of them care where you think the money would be better spent. Cornell hopes to raise $ 1 billion ($1,000,000,000) for the school by 2021.

For comparison’s sake, all of Cornell, Ithaca campus, Weill and Tech, raised $546.1 million in donations in 2014, and $474.9 million in 2013.

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2. Now to go from something big and far away to something small and local.  It’s been a while since we’ve heard about DiBella’s, the Rochester-based sub sandwich chain that had been eying Ithaca last November. They’re back, and the proposal has has some pretty substantial tweaks.

The building itself is still about the same size (~3,400 sq ft), but the design of the building has been reworked to a brick facade with an asymmetrical door/window configuration. The building is now contiguous with the main shopping strip, no longer isolated from the rest of the stores by a driveway. No decisions are expected to be made at the June Planning Board meeting, it’s more of an update for the board as to what’s going on, and to solicit input.

Marx Realty of NYC is developing the pad property, and local architect Jason Demarest (brother of STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest) is handling the design.

3. Shifting out to Dryden now; I don’t tend to write much about Dryden, since a lot of the local development is limited to single-family homes in semi-rural areas (and separately, bad things happen when I write about Dryden).

First, Dryden village. The village has seen quite a jump in population in the past couple of years thanks to the opening of the 72-unit Poet’s Landing affordable housing complex (affordable here meaning that it’s income restricted and rents range from the $600s/month for a 1-bedroom to about $900/month for a 3-bedroom). At least as far back as 2010, a second phase, at the time a 72-unit senior apartment building, was planned by Rochester-based developer Conifer LLC.

Glancing at the village’s outdated webpage, there were meetings in October about phase II. A little searching online shows the negative SEQR determination (meaning no major adverse impacts expected) was issued in February of this year. The determination announcement says that 48 more apartment units are planned for the land directly west of the current complex. The Poet’s Landing facebook page says that funding wasn’t allocated for the expansion this year, but they are hopeful for 2016.

It’s not the best location; affordable housing developments often vie for land outside of developed areas simply because the land is cheaper, but the trade-off is that residents are often isolated, especially if they don’t have money to maintain a car. Here at least the village’s main drag is close enough that residents aren’t totally isolated. And any affordable housing in Tompkins County is welcome.

4. Meanwhile, in Dryden town, there are a couple of projects going on. One involves the construction of 8 duplexes (16 units) at a 5 acre parcel on Asbury Road. Working with that piece of information, there was only one parcel that met the provided description – a property just east of the Lansing-Dryden town line that sold for $30k last August to “SDM Rentals”. Scott Morgan is given as the developer in the town documents.

SDM Rentals does have at least one other recently-developed property, the Meadowbrook Apartments, a set of at least 7 duplexes at 393 Peruville Road in Lansing for which he received a $1,000,000 construction loan in 2013 (2 were built in 2010), and rent for $995/month. The ones on Asbury Road will probably look similar.

The town notes that although the SEQR is still being prepared, the site was already being prepped with dirt fill, resulting in not one but two stop work orders. Looking online, it appears Morgan has a history of being a problem for local government, including a case in Lansing town where he was using a broken-down school bus for a pig barn.

5. Now for project two, a multi-unit project at 902 Dryden Road. I’m just going to link to the Ithaca Voice article in an effort to save time. 15 units, (2 renovated, 13 new), 42 beds, and a $1.5 million investment.

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I plan on touching on a couple of other minor Modern Living Rental projects at some point, but we’ll save those for a slower week.

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6. This week’s house of the week feature is 318-320 Pleasant Street on South Hill. The rear portion (foreground) is an addition, a duplex with 3 bedrooms each. Exterior siding is nearly complete, though some housewrap and plywood is still visible on the south (front) wall of the addition. A peek inside the interior showed that the drywall has been hung-up, but final details like carpeting have yet to be installed (several rolls of neutral-colored carpets lay stacked on the floor).  The owners of the 105-year old house are members of the Stavropoulos family, who run the Renting Ithaca rental company and the State Street Diner.

On a side note, the 200 Block of Pleasant Street must be one of the worst hills in the city. Walking it must be terrifying on icy days.

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7. The Old Library vote made quite a splash in this week’s news. With a 6-6 hung vote, everything’s up in the air. This is what I feared would happen.

There’s a couple of options to break this. Two legislators, Kathy Luz Herrera (D- District 2, Ithaca City/Fall Creek and Cornell Heights) and Peter Stein (D-District 11, Ithaca Town/East Ithaca), weren’t in attendance, and could call the measure back up for a vote. Herrera’s District is two blocks from the Old Library site, and Stein’s a retired Cornell professor, so although I shouldn’t be guessing people’s judgement, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine which of the two projects they’ll be swayed by. But if either one of them decides they dislike all three options, or if they split their votes, then everything will be stuck in limbo. At that point, it’s anyone’s guess – the building could be mothballed, or given that its HVAC and utility systems are at the end of their mechanical lives, it could even be demolished as a long-term cost-saving measure.

If the county does decide in favor of one proposal, it’s still a long road ahead – ILPC approval, Ithaca city planning board approval, and a variety of other measures, which could break the winning proposal. Both projects have potential challenges – with Travis Hyde, ILPC or the Planning Board may try and whittle down its units, removing the density lauded by some legislators, and perhaps the project will no longer be financially feasible. With the condos, one starts with a building that’s had asbestos and air quality issues in the past – one bad surprise in the renovation, and the project could be jeopardized, or at least priced well above the quoted $240-$400k. There are a lot of variables in either equation, and since they can’t all be quantified, both will have their risks.

I’m just going to hope that someone is able to bring new life to the site. I don’t want to see two years go to waste.

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8. Almost to the end. Here’s your monthly look at the Planning Board Agenda for next Tuesday:

– No subdivisions this month, but there will be a 15-minute public comment period on the city’s new Comprehensive Plan.

A. 210 Hancock will be giving an update on its plan and up for recommendation for the Board of Zoning Appeals for parking (64 spaces vs. 84 required) and height variances (46.5 feet vs. the legal 40 feet). Quoting the pre-prepared document, “The Board strongly recommends granting the requested variances.”

B. An update on DiBella’s as described above

C. Tompkins Financial Corp’s Headquarters will be open for public comment, determination of environmental significance (SEQR negative/positive), and preliminary approval for both phases

D. 215-221 W. Spencer will be reviewed for Declaration of Lead Agency (Planning Board agrees to conduct of State Environmental Quality Review)

E. “Collegetown Housing Project at Dryden and Linden – Update”. A.k.a. whatever John Novarr’s planning for that five-building stretch of Dryden and Linden he just deconstructed. Readers might remember this site was part of his Collegetown Dryden project proposed last July, but there’s no indication if it’s a revision of that, or a totally different approach. The one thing that is constant is the zoning – MU-2 for the three properties on Dryden and 240 Linden, and CR-4 for 238 Linden. Neither zone requires parking, MU-2 allows six floors and necessitates mixed-use (often interpreted as ground-floor commercial), and CR-4 does not have mixed-use requirements but the height is limited to four floors. Expect an urban-friendly six-story building fronting Dryden with a four-story setback on Linden.

F. “State Street Triangle (Trebloc) Mixed-Use Project – Update” Anything could happen. Height decrease, site redesign, fewer units, major design changes…we’ll just have to wait and see how the 11-story, 600-bedroom tower has evolved given the initial recommendations of the Planning Board.

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9. We’ll end this week on a happy note. Shen Properties LLC plans on launching their Simeon’s rebuild shortly; first and second floor restaurant space for Simeon’s, and five luxury apartments. The exterior will be a near-replica of the original facade of the Griffin Building, but the interior will be renovated to hold an elevator and a sprinkler system. In a quote to the Journal, property manager Jerry Dietz says to look for a reopening in the very late 2015 or early 2016 timeframe.





Village Solars Apartments Construction Update, 6/2015

19 06 2015

Out in Lansing, the first phase of the Village Solars Apartments is starting to allow tenants to move in. Building “A” looks to be substantially complete, with tenant vehicles parked in the gravel lot, and a guy preparing a grill session out back. The unvarnished wood siding was a bit of a surprise, but it goes well with the natural color tones of the siding. Building “B” in the middle is due to receive its first tenants around July 1st, and building “C” on the east end might be planning an August 1st move-in date, based off the dates in the rental advertisements. These dates have been pushed back from the May and June dates that were noted back in the February post, and those had already been a push back from original dates in March and April. Further pushbacks are unlikely, if only because the developers risk losing out on the large and lucrative student market, which revolves around the start of the fall semester in late August.

Building “B” still has some sheathing showing, but is quickly attaching the remaining exterior trim, and building “C”, which is the same configuration as “A”, is still bare sheathing and waterproof wrap, but all of the windows and doors have been fitted. Without looking inside, I’d imagine “B” is polishing up the last interior finishes, while “C” is still installing appliances, flooring and the like. Interior rough-in probably wrapped up during the spring.

Judging from the revised Craigslist postings, Lifestyle Properties has had some success with filling the units, with some of the floor plans sold out. The one-bedroom units will rent for $1050-$1145, two-bedroom unis rent for $1235-$1369, and three-bedroom units will rent for $1565-$1650. Prices vary a little depending on what floor the unit is on, the higher up the more it costs.

Currently, some of the land has been cleared for the next phase (2 and possibly 21, which have 41 units and 10 units respectively). I checked with someone familiar with the project to ask when phase two would begin construction, and they said that there’s been talk of starting the second phase, but he wasn’t sure when it would start.

The Village Solars apartments are a large apartment complex located in the town of Lansing off of Warren Road near the county airport. The complex takes its name from what the Craigslist sales pitch calls “their passive solar design and energy saving features”. The four-phase project calls for an initial build-out of 174 apartment units, with a second addition yet to be approved that would bring the total number of units over 300. With the third phase of Collegetown Terrace yet to start, this is currently the largest residential project under construction in Tompkins County.

The Village Solars are being developed by local company Lifestyle Properties. Lifestyle is run by Steve Lucente of the Lucente family, who have been major builder/developers in Ithaca since the 1950s. No word on the architect. Upstate Contractors of Syracuse appears to be handling the construction work.

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