News Tidbits 10/10/15: Meeting With the Stakeholders

10 10 2015

1.There is nothing wrong with a little speculation. In a follow-up of sorts to the Voice piece about parking capacity in Downtown Ithaca, the Times’ Josh Brokaw did an interview of his own with city of Ithaca parking director Frank Nagy. Nagy believes that the 248-car estimate used by State Street Triangle is “way high”, but given that one of the refrains is that there’s not enough parking, they’d rather be safe than sorry.

More importantly, Nagy believes that the Cayuga Garage only has about 10 years of life before a new garage will need to be built (the Cayuga garage was built in 1972). The structural situation at Green Street is severe enough that the city may have to remove the end pieces and build up the middle section, which was renovated several years ago. The property is being reviewed, and with Tompkins Trust vacating office space on its ground floor as part of the move to its new HQ, the assessment is well-timed.

If the Green Street garage decides to go up rather than out, that leaves two very valuable properties that the city could sell to its benefit (financial, affordable housing, or otherwise). Both ends of the Green Street garage are zoned CBD-140, which offhand is the densest zoning in the entire city, 140 feet maximum height with no parking requirement. A zealous councilperson might try and change that post-SST, but as is, a rebuild of Green Street a few years from now could yield a lot of possibilities for downtown development. Put that in the notebooks for 2020 or so.


2. Speaking of future plans, we have the bike debate currently raging in the streets. Now, this is only tangential to my usual work, and I am not versed in the topic, so it’s nice to go in without preconceptions.

The city just finished work on Board of Public Works (BPW)-approved bike lanes on North Cayuga Street, specifically an unprotected bike lane on the east side (protected lanes were considered, but not approved). Although meetings gave due public notice, there were no letters sent to Cayuga Street residents informing them of the change, and a number of folks were caught off guard, including members of the city’s Common Council.

In the one corner, you have folks angry about the loss of parking, the inconvenience, and the danger it poses to the elderly. Unfortunately, you also have council members describing biking-proponents in the same tone would describe Albany lobbyists, if not the Mafia. The mayor has come out in favor of the N. Cayuga Street bike lane, although according to the Times, he’s not a fan of “resident-driven infrastructure”. It’s really a fascinating read from a planning perspective. – Times coverage here, Journal here.


For what it’s worth, bike lanes are a major part of walkable communities and reduced ecological impacts (carbon footprints). I feel like I’ve seen this type of argument play out from the perspective of development quite a bit – every new Collegetown or downtown building gets the “Ithaca shouldn’t allow big buildings/they’re ruining Ithaca/where are they going to park” argument, and the “Ithaca is not a small town/it promotes walkable communities/suburban sprawl is destroying Tompkins green space” counter-argument. The key problem here seems to be a lack of communication between the BPW and Common Council (and residents by extension). Luckily, the planning board doesn’t have this problem – everything they vote on gets publicized, on this blog if not elsewhere.


3. The last hurdle for John Novarr’s 215 Dryden Road project has been cleared. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved variances from the Collegetown Form Guidelines – the corner isn’t chamfered or set back enough and the building only has one main entrance (the form-based code mandates an entrance every 60 feet of non-residential space). The owner of the house across Linden from the corner was the lone opposition speaker, but the BZA vote was 4-1, with Marilyn Tebor Shaw opposed. No reason for Shaw’s decision was provided in the article, although Shaw is one of the likelier board members to cast dissent.

With all the approvals tucked away, all that’s needed is for the city to sign off on the building permit. Expect this one to be underway within the next month.

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4. Reader submissions are always welcome. The photos for this week’s “House of the Week” featurette come courtesy of Frost Travis. The house receiving the addition is 416 North Plain Street in Ithaca’s Washington Park neighborhood. The current owners brought the property in October 2014. County records give it a 1900 construction date, which is often a default for old and unsure; it appears on an 1889 map of the area, but was not yet built in the 1866 map.

The rear addition looks like it’s been underway for a while – the exterior has been framed and sheathed with plywood Huber ZIP system roof and wall sheathing, which uses seams and tape to save time vs. traditional sheathing such as Tyvek housewrap. There are some windows fitted into the rough openings, but there’s still plenty of work to do with interior rough-in and exterior. Looking at the original house, the owners appear to be fitting smaller windows in place of the originals, two window cutouts on the north wall have been filled in with sheathing, and a new window has been fitted in a new opening. The front door and adjacent window are gone, one large rough opening in their place. The front roof above the door and window was slanted, but has been dropped to a flat roof as part of the renovation and addition. The exterior will be re-finished as construction progresses. With any luck, this one will be finished before winter comes.


5. What a quick turnaround. The Cornell Daily Sun first made mention of the Ag Quad renovation last week as part of its coverage of the Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting. Now only a week after Cornell shared a glimpse at the cards in its hand, they’re playing them. 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).

Too bad those temp buildings are still there between Kennedy Hall and Plant Science. If the Southern Tier wins that Upstate Redevelopment competition, I have an idea where the new Plant Science Commericialization Building should go.

6. Plans for 416 E. State have evolved since the bar was first proposed. Originally conceived as a general bar/drinking establishment, developer and Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has faced substantial opposition to the project – neighbors are vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department was not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement, which had after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. Although the project doesn’t need planning board approval, it does need BZA approval – area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.


Representatives for Rosenblum and neighbors have met, and the compromise Rosenblum and his associates have proposed involves a lounge-type of establishment they’re calling “The Printing Press”, after one of the previous uses for the late 1940s warehouse. They’ll be going for an industrial/”speakeasy” aesthetic, and targeting the same older, more affluent clientele that patronizes the Bar Argos next door. Signage would be minimal, and exterior work limited largely to an accessory parking lot/handicap access, landscaping and a new coat of paint. Looking at the original plan vs. the revised plan, the bar no longer is in the rear corner, but moved closer to the building center so as to buffer the noise of patrons from disturbing neighbors. Parking will be shared and organized with the Argos Inn’s lot. For more info, cover letter here, renders here, vision statement here.

The new parking arrangement may assuage the county, and the low-key bar located centrally in the interior may be enough to satisfy some of the neighbors. But we’ll have to see what the board’s reaction and what remaining opposition there is before anything is set in stone.



7. The Planning and Development Board has scheduled a Design Review Committee meeting to offer guidance and commentary on the styling of proposed buildings. While State Street Triangle isn’t on the agenda (yet), the Hotel Ithaca addition is. Renders here and here.

I’ve toned down my opinions over the years, but this…well, let’s just so those “sick burns” Nick Reynolds mentioned at the last planning board meeting were pretty well justified. I mean…yikes. The cross-hatched the blank walls, the circular glazing, the “tourist trap” aesthetic. There’s an alternative being shown with small windows in place of the circular glazing, and rectangular facade hatching instead of the cross-hatching, but it’s not a great improvement. Oof. The board’s going to have a lot to say with this proposal.




8. I had hopes that for the first time in three years, a project would go through the boards without complaint or opposition. Hopes dashed. The complainant against the 4-building, 12-unit 215-211 West Spencer Street project cites the loss of the city’s parking lot on the site, the narrow width of S. Cayuga Street (the “rear” road), traffic, and no neighborly interactions because it’s a rental that faces Spencer Street.


The kicker is, this guy lives in an upscale Lansing subdivision. He rents out his 3-unit Cayuga Street property. If you’re going to complain, don’t be a hypocrite. Just saying. By the way, he claims “a house” used to be on the site. It was a run-down multi-story apartment building (shown above in the photo from county records), demolished 12 years ago by the city and turned into an informal parking lot that was never meant to be a long-term use. The land was sold by the city to Ed Cope for $110,000 last March.

I’m willing to entertain legitimate arguments and complaints to projects. But this isn’t one of them.

News Tidbits 9/26/15: Trying to Keep Tabs

26 09 2015

1. It’s rare for a substantial project to go completely under the radar from start to finish. Except that’s pretty much what happened with the following building.

Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) recently finished renovations to two of their dorms on their Dryden campus. Along with the renovation of about 41,000 SF of existing space, the two dorms were connected by a new 3-story, 10,000 SF addition designed by Ithaca’s HOLT Architects. The existing dorms sat at a 90° angle to each other, so the addition by HOLT creates a single, L-shaped structure, with the expansion holding common space and amenities. Binghamton construction firm William H. Lane Inc. handled the build-out. The image above comes courtesy of HOLT’s website.

Technically, it did come up once on the blog, but it was misinterpreted. When William H. Lane announced it was opening an Ithaca office to handle the growth in their Ithaca/Tompkins work, one of the examples given in the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin was a dormitory expansion at TC3. At the time, I had done a search for the project and filed an inquiry with TC3, but there was no response, and my search only turned up renovations underway for the main classroom building. I assumed there was a miscommunication, so…oops.

2. In real estate sales, it looks like a couple of the smaller developers were in buying mode this week. Lansing’s SDM Rentals (Scott Morgan, owner of SDM Landscaping) bought a vacant 2.93 acre parcel at approximately 455 West Dryden Road in the town of Dryden for $21,000 on the 23rd. If past behavior is any indication, Morgan will probably be looking to do rentals, likely a few townhouses on the property. Currently, Morgan is planning 8 duplexes (16 units) at 543 Asbury Road in Dryden, which may or may not have a zoning issue. Morgan is also building out on Bone Plain Road in Dryden, and owns the recently-built Meadowbrook Apartments (14 units in the form of duplex townhouses) at 393 Peruville Road in Lansing.

Meanwhile over in Danby, Chris Petrillose of Petrillose Properties picked up a 2.11 acre parcel along the 400 block of Troy Road for $34,000. Given that that area has seen a lot of scattered small-scale development (1 & 2-family homes) in the past few years, and that Petrillose finished work on duplexes in Ithaca town, a couple rental units seems likely.


3. How well was the Hotel Ithaca received? Let’s quote IJ Reporter Nick Reynolds’ Twitter:

Many sweet, way-over-my-head architecture burns thrown tonight. Let’s just say you guys aren’t getting a Hotel Ithaca update anytime soon.”

The primary complaint focus not on function but on form – according to the IJ follow-up article, materials and a dated design were dinged by board members (and comments about “LEED-certified stucco” and comparisons to the Bellagio didn’t help). NH Architecture’s portfolio tends to be the same general design, which means they’re going to have to go the extra mile on this one, or developer Hart Hotels might need to switch up their approach. Their Belhurst Castle Hotel design isn’t bad, so maybe they can channel some of that creativity into the downtown Ithaca site.

So rest assured, “Cornell PhD”, those cross-hatches aren’t making it off the drawing board anytime soon.



4. A few years ago (spring-summer 2012), the city planning board reviewed and approved a large project for the Ithaca waterfront called “Cascadilla Landing“. The three-phase, 183 unit project called for 6 units in duplexes, 11 townhouses, and the remainder to be built in 5-story apartment buildings designed by Ithaca architect John Snyder (the same gentleman behind the Carey Building addition). The first phase called for two buildings and 92 units, Buildings “C” and “D” (“C” shown above). So the project was approved and then…nothing. Never got off the ground.

However, the impending closure of Johnson’s Boatyard on Pier Road is piquing my curiosity. Now, initially it seemed highly unlikely because I thought Cascadilla Landing had never been fully approved (in fact, it received preliminary approval in September 2012 – thanks Noah). But since it was approved, all an ambitious individual would have to do is simply re-apply for approval if there are no changes to the plan (PB approval is only good for 2 years – part of the reason why Harold’s Square was back before the board last month). It’s still unlikely that the project is moving forward soon, but not impossible. A phone call to Snyder’s office and a call to Pier Road Properties (the developer as represented by accountant Andy LaVigne on the application materials) have so far not been returned.


5. Preliminary, but it’s nice to see work progressing on the Chapter house redevelopment. Voice article here. The key thing to stress here is that there are design studies, and they’ll be subject to the ILPC’s whims. It looks like making the fourth floor of the Chapter House habitable or not is something that’s still being debated, along with the plans for the still-standing 408 Stewart. It’s hard to believe that things will be ready in August 2016, given that there’s no formal application yet, and the languid pace projects like this go through the commission.

Also, it was extraordinarily difficult to get a hold of most of the relevant parties for the article. Neither architect responded, I couldn’t get a hold of city Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken…thankfully, Jerry Dietz was happy to assist, and although I felt a little bad calling ILPC Chair Ed Finegan since he has no formal part in the project itself, he was a big help. Both were keen to stress the preliminary aspect of this project, which hopefully came through in the article.

But I’ve just about had it with responding back to commenters on the Facebook article.



Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 9/2015

8 09 2015

Out in Caroline, work at the Boiceville Cottages siteseems to have switched gears. Since the last update in May, the blue stucco houses with teal trim have been faced with stucco and had interior and exterior finishing completed (and occupied, judging from the 20-something I saw carrying boxes into one of the houses). Work at the site is less concentrated on cottage construction at the moment, and more focused on laying out where the rest of the homes will go as the loop road circles back around to Boiceville Road/ County Rte. 114.

Three concrete slabs indicate where new cottages are likely to be built in the next few months (I feel like the blog or the Voice should do a reader poll on what colors to use next). Scattered along the rest of the undeveloped area are cleared sites with layers of dirt and gravel. These are the sub-slab bases on which future concrete slabs will be poured. Survey work was enlisted to stake out the corners of the future cottages, with poles inserted into the  to indicate the corners of the planned units. In total, there were at least a dozen bases, and over the following months they will become the next dozen or so cottages.

Schickel Construction / Schickel Rentals of Dryden is developing and building out the project. Developer Bruno Schickel’s unusual design was inspired by cottages in a storybook he read to his daughter. The construction cost of the 75-unit addition (total 135 units) is at least $7.654 million – a loan for $5.454 million was given by Tompkins Trust in April 2013, and an additional loan for $2.2 million ($2,098,479 of which goes towards hard construction costs) was granted by Tompkins Trust in April of this year. The loan granted in April funds up to 15 2-bedroom and 16 1-bedroom units, and the legal date on file for completion is May 1, 2017.

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How House Construction Works

News Tidbits 9/5/15: Ithaca the Diva

5 09 2015


1. John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road has been given the green light. The city of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board approved the $12 million project at their August meeting. With approvals in hand, Novarr is free to start construction as soon as he has his construction loans, which should be no problem given that Cornell’s MBA program has agreed to occupy the whole building (though only about 70% of the space will actually be used at initial completion; the MBA program will fill out the building as their needs require). Conveniently, Novarr won’t have to worry about site demolition and asbestos removal because he cleared the site in May.

The 6-story, 73,000 SF building will begin construction in “four months” per the end-of-August Sun article, or November if the Site Plan Review (SPR) paperwork is still accurate. Completion of the building is anticipated for the second quarter of 2017. ikon.5 of Princeton, New Jersey is the project architect.

When filled out, the building will house 250 employees of the university, and 450 students of the Executive MBA program, who only attend classes in Ithaca during traditionally slow periods of the year (winter break and summer break; during the rest of the year, students attend weekend classes in the town of Palisades in Rockland County). To that effect, the project would go a long way in easing the strongly cyclical consumer traffic that makes it hard to do business in the largely-student neighborhood. Students also stay at the Statler while on campus, and staff and students will walk over from Cornell faculty/staff parking to get to the building.

Last month, the Tompkins County IDA approved a 50-year tax abatement for the project, in the form of a PILOT agreement. With the other option of Cornell buying the property and making it tax-exempt, the county has decided that something is better than nothing.

The project joins a slew of mostly residential projects under construction in the Collegetown neighborhood. 205 Dryden, 327 Eddy and 307 College are all underway, and several smaller projects were recently completed. The new investments total over $36 million, and with the exception of Novarr’s project, all the other projects will be taxed at full value.



2. Meanwhile, there have some mild hang-ups with another project. The solar-powered townhomes in Dryden are seeing some resistance, mostly from the nearby Cornell Plantations, and from neighbors opposed to rental housing in Varna. The Ithaca Times piece uses this dandy of a line:

“Resident Cheryl Humerez, whose family and in-laws both own homes that neighbor the proposed project, was disgusted by the thought of a rental development, which might attract college students, becoming her neighbor.”

Going beyond the “disgusted” comment, most of the students that would live this far from Cornell’s campus would be graduate and professional students. Undergrads are less likely to have cars and tend to live in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Cornell’s core (Collegetown, Cornell Heights and parts of East Hill). Graduate and professional students tend to be like any other 20 or 30-something living on modest wages. The chances of a “keggers on Tuesday” kinda place are virtually nil. Also worth pointing out, Dryden’s town supervisor called Humerez out on that comment, saying she was saddened that renters were being described as a problem.

Cornell Plantations, as represented by Todd Bittner, has more legitimate concerns about litter, the driveway location and stormwater drainage; but glancing at the town minutes, it looks like the “I know we need development, just not in this neighborhood” argument also makes an appearance.

The town board (in Dryden, it seems the town board oversees public hearings of the planning board’s agenda) is taking a more level approach; acknowledging that it’s a decent project, community input is important for good development, and by incorporating mitigation measures to assuage worried neighbors, this has the potential to be a worthy community asset. Expect this project to evolve as we go through the next couple of months.

Also noted in the town minutes are plans for a 78,000 SF storage facility next to NYSEG at 1401 Dryden Road. Plans from a Cornell startup named “Storage Squad” call for “high quality, attractive self-storage” with 400 storage units in the first phase. The project will need site plan review.


3. To anyone who’s passed by the vacant lot at 402 South Cayuga Street and wondered when INHS will start those for-sale townhomes: I’ve taken the liberty of checking. INHS director Paul Mazzarella stated in an email that “[t]he project is out to bid for a general contractor. The bids will be due next week. If the numbers are OK, we will start as soon as possible.” So barring any nasty shocks in the bids, the four-unit project (1 3-bedroom, 3 2-bedroom) will start in just a few weeks. As with other INHS projects, the units will be sold to qualified first-time homebuyers with modest incomes (anecdotally, that means the $40k-$50k range…it seems like half the buyers in the past year or so have been teachers in the ICSD).

4. In a rare bit of bad economic news in Ithaca, Ithaca College has announced its intent to slash about 40 staff positions from its workforce. This follows 47 job cuts in academic year 2014-2015, 39 of which were vacancies.

The cuts are part of an effort to bring tuition costs and help the college stabilize enrollment numbers, which have been sliding down lately. No faculty positions will be eliminated as part of the layoffs. IC currently has about 1,070 staff and 730 faculty, about 200 more than they employed a decade ago.


5. The rumor mill said that a reporter from the New York Times was in town last Friday, and apparently they liked what they saw; the piece in the NYT takes a very positive and gracious approach with Ithaca and its recent urban developments. If you haven’t read it already, the link is here.

[What follows is a spark-notes version of the Voice piece – I’ll update with links after the weekend holiday.]

More importantly are some useful details in the piece – one of which is that we now know the revised mix of uses for the 11-story Harold’s Square project calls for 86 apartments, up from 46 when it was first approved in 2013. The apartment units will be a mix of 1-bedroom and 2-bedrooms. Readers may recall that the project dropped two floors of office space in favor of two floors of apartments. The project also includes about 11,000 SF of retail on the Commons.

In a phone conversation with developer David Lubin, the current plan is to start construction of the $38 million project in early 2016:

“Rev will be out at the end of September. We’ll probably begin demolition after the first of the year, after the holiday shopping season, we don’t want to be a nuisance to Christmas shoppers. We’ll have pop-up store space available during the holidays. They’re not solid, but those are out plans. We’ll see how it goes”.

Also, the project will be going back to the planning board.

“The planning board re-approved the current design [last month]. However, there will be changes to the design, as we’ve changed the office space to apartments and they have different needs, window placement, things like that. When we’re ready, we’ll present those to the planning board. Not September and probably not the October meeting, but before the end of the year.”

The project was originally approved in August 2013, with a CIITAP tax abatement package approved two months later. However, putting a financial package together has been a task.

“These things take time,” Lubin stressed. “The Marriott, that needed 3 or 4 years before they started. It can be a slow process.”



6. For those keeping an eye on the Simeon’s reconstruction, expect to see some progress in the next couple of weeks. That’s according to an interview the Sun conducted with Simeon’s co-owner Rich Avery. The timeline has yet to be finalized, but the new restaurant space and luxury apartments are anticipated for completion by late next summer, with the resturant re-opening as early as February.


7. Gosh, it’s nice to have the Sun back in session. Also from the Sun, incoming Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett has formally announced plans for new student housing, among other graduate student initiatives. From the Sun:

“Following her discussion on maintaining and promoting diversity among graduate students, Garrett announced the creation of new graduate student housing.

“My team and I are committed to working with the GPSA to create an inclusive and rewarding [graduate and] professional student living environment,” she said. “Most immediately, I am working now with my team to work on critical housing needs.”

According to Garrett, since the University’s Maplewood Park Apartments — a graduate student housing facility located near the Veterinary School — is closing, the University is currently collaborating with private partners to create new graduate-student housing at the Maplewood site and to develop additional housing in the East Hill Village.”

Heads up folks, East Hill Village isn’t even a thing a yet, it’s just a concept from the master plan. Anyway, this goes along with Ithaca town supervisor Herb Engman’s comments to the county that Cornell is engaging with consultants to bring a plan forward. There’s nothing else known about the plans, and it’ll be a few years before any students start moving in to new Cornell-sponsored digs, but everything has to start somewhere, and Cornell’s created quite a deficit for itself when it comes to providing adequate amounts of graduate housing.

Also, note the “collaborating with private partners” bit – these may or may not be tax-exempt, we shall see what happens.


8. Here’s the latest update on State Street Triangle, courtesy of the Ithaca Times. I have to admit, although I technically compete for eyeballs via the Voice, I like Josh Brokaw’s writing, he tends to be a bit of a wiseass and it’s entertaining.

The big hang-up is massing. Not height, not tenant mix. A couple of ideas floated or suggested include height setbacks or overall reductions, and a redesign of the facade to make it appear more like separate buildings built next to each other.

According to Brokaw’s piece, some landlords are even questioning the need for new units, saying that all these new units could drive prices down.

Captain Obvious just arrived into port. By the way, given the recent growth in general and student populations and corresponding increase in demand for living space, if a landlord is having trouble filling their units right now, it’s probably not the city’s fault.

Campus Advantage has already spent $500,000 on the project, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to throw in the towel just yet. They were probably hoping for an approvals process as easy as their Pittsburgh apartment tower, but…live and learn.


Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 9/2015

2 09 2015

In an attempt to avoid the correct but lengthy word jumble this is, I’m just going to refer to this as the Vet School Expansion. Even then, in terms of physical square footage, expansion is something of a misnomer. The plan calls for the demolition of 68,000 SF of space, the addition of 65,000 SF of space, and the renovation of 33,000 SF. In sum, 3,000 SF less space than which the vet school started with.

However, it’s less about space and more about efficiency. The plans include renovation and expansion of classrooms, teaching laboratories, cafeteria, locker rooms and shower facilities, and a combined Tower Road entrance. In the photos below, the entry plaza and the James Law Auditorium have been torn down. In its place will rise a new three-story addition that will house the vet school’s Flower-Sprecher Library. Parts of Schurman Hall will also be demolished and replaced with a new 2.5 story gallery/courtyard space. Extensive interior renovation will cluster classrooms, labs and service space, improving circulation through the numerous interconnected buildings that comprise the Vet School. The Vet Research Tower will be reclad in lighter, more transparent glass to match the new additions. The design of the expansion is a product of NYC firm Weiss/Manfredi, a Cornell favorite.

Renovations will increase the class size from 102 DVM students to 120 DVM students. Since a DVM degree takes four years, that means an additional 72 students.

Phase one for the vet school expansion is well underway, having a roughly January 2015- January 2016 time frame. The second phase will pick up immediately after the first and run from January 2016 to June 2017.

The budget for both phases is $74.1 million, with funds coming from the SUNY Construction Fund and private sources.

On a humorous note, while going through the project page on the architect’s website, I found an image of a lecture hall with some token presentation slides (last image). The placeholder image is a screenshot I had taken of the Cornell Master Plan back in 2008. Surprise surprise. For the record, I’m totally okay with it (even though I hate the screenshot, dating from the days before I thought to crop images).

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The DeWitt House Senior Apartments

25 08 2015


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).


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.


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.


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.


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

15 08 2015


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.”


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.


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.


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, 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.



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.


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.


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.


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