Cornell Plans Renovation for Hughes Hall

27 11 2015

There is almost never a period without construction at Cornell. Don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

Cornell’s latest construction plans were presented as a sketch proposal at last Tuesday’s Planning and Development Board meeting. The sketch plan is the first step in the process, where an applicant solicits input and first reactions from the board. A copy of the powerpoint presentation can be found on the city’s website here.


The renovation of Hughes Hall is the second phase of a three-phase expansion and renovation of the Cornell Law School. The first phase, which consisted of 40,000 SF of new, partially-subterranean classrooms and a 170-space auditorium, began in Summer 2012 and was completed in Fall 2014 at a cost of $23.8 million. Ann Beha Architects of Boston, and Welliver Construction of Elmira worked on the first phase of the renovation and expansion program. Ithaca Builds offers plenty of interior and exterior images of the first phase here, and a copy of the original Ste Plan Review from 2012 is on the city’s website here.

The first phase was Certified LEED Platinum (the highest LEED designation), which was possible in part because as an underground structure, it was easier to design and pay for maximum energy efficiency. The Hughes Hall renovation will pursue LEED Silver at a minimum.


Initially, Hughes Hall was to be the third phase, with a renovation of Myron Taylor Hall planned as Phase II. However, since the plan was initially conceived several years ago, the second and third phases were switched around.  The total cost of all three phases is pegged at $60 million (2012 estimate).


Externally, the changes to Hughes Hall will be subtle – the current open-air loggia will be enclosed and a new entryway will be built on the east side of Hughes. A glass-enclosed staircase will be built onto into the West facade, and the dining room terrace will be repaired. Although some parts of the Law School are historic (Myron Taylor Hall, which dates from 1932), 62,000 SF Hughes Hall is a later addition, built in 1963/64, that lacks the historical detailing of the older structures.


Internally, administrative and other non-faculty offices will be located on the ground floor, with a dining room, event room and other office/flex space on the floor below (note that the building is built into a hillside, so the Fork & Gavel Cafe, although one level below the ground floor, exits near surface level on the southern side of the building). Although the upper floors aren’t discussed in the sketch plan, the general upper-level plan is for new offices for law school functions and faculty that replace dorm rooms for first-year J.D. students.

With this mostly-interior renovation, the focus of review will probably be on staging and general harmony with surrounding physical environment (buildings and landscape). At first glance, this project doesn’t appear to be stirring any major issues (overlooking the loss of student housing, which is worth criticism but nowhere close to illegal), but will probably create the standard blitz of documents and PDFs that Cornell sends to the city to preemptively answer any questions committee members may have.

Given the timing, Cornell is likely shooting for a Spring construction start, with completion in 2017.



News Tidbits 11/21/15: Building and Rebuilding

21 11 2015

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1. Starting off this week with some eye candy, here are some updates renders of the townhouses proposed for INHS’s 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood. Details and project status here. 210 Hancock has been approved by the Planning Board, and Cornell, the city and county do have dedicated funds ($200,000 total) going towards the affordable housing units, but still needs to be seventeen conditions prior to receiving a construction permit, one of which required revised townhouses to better reflect the neighborhood. The Common Council also need to vote to discontinue using the sections of Lake Avenue and Adams Street on which the new greenways and playground will be constructed, which apart from the time needed and paperwork generated, isn’t expected to encounter any obstacles, with formal conveyance to INHS anticipated by March 2016. INHS is shooting for a May construction start.

The Planning Board will be voting on “satisfaction of site plan approval” at its meeting next Tuesday, which should be a fairly smooth procedure, if the paperwork’s all correct.

Personal opinion, the townhouses, with more color and variation in style, appear to be an improvement over the previous version. These five will be rentals, while the other seven will be for-sale units, and built in a later phase (government funding for affordable rentals is easier to obtain than it is for affordable owner-occupied units, so it could take a year or two for those seven to get the necessary funding). The apartments have not had any substantial design changes since approval.


For what it’s worth, here’s the final site plan. The rental townhomes will be on the north corner of the parcel, furthest from Hancock.

2. Turning attention to the suburbs, someone’s put up some sizable chunks of land for sale in Lansing village. The properties consist of four parcels – 16.87 acres (the western parcel) for $500,000, right next to a previously-listed threesome of 28.07 acres (the eastern parcels) for $650,000. The eastern parcel also comes with a house, which the listing pretty much ignores. Lansing has it zoned as low-density residential, and given the prices (the western parcel is assessed at $397,600, the eastern parcels at $561,100 (1, 2, and 3)) and being surrounded by development on three sides, these seem likely to become suburban housing developments, possibly one big 30-lot development if the parcels are merged. For the suburbanites out there, it’s something to monitor.

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3. House of the week – or in this case, tiny house of the week. The 1-bedroom, 650 SF carriage house underway at 201 West Clinton Street draws inspiration from 19th century carriage houses, which makes sense given that it’s in Henry St. John Historic District. It and the main house are owned by former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández and her partner, TWMLA architect Zac Boggs. The two of them did a major and meticulous restoration of the main house, which used to house the local Red Cross chapter, a couple of years ago (more info on that here).

Anyway, the framing is underway and some ZIP System sheathing has been applied to the exterior plywood. No roof yet and probably not much in the way of interior rough-ins, but give it a couple of months and that 1960s garage will be given a new life as a tiny house.


4. Time to take a look at the Planning and Development Board agenda for next Tuesday. For reference, here’s what a typical project guideline looks like:

PDB (Sketch Plan) -> PDB (Declaration of Lead Agency) -> PDB (Determination of Env’tal Signif., PDB BZA reccomendation if necessary) -> BZA (if necessary) -> PDB (prelim/final approval).

Here’s the meat of the agenda:

A. 210 Hancock – Satisfaction of Conditions of Site Plan Approval (see above)
B. 215-221 Spencer St. – Consideration of Prelim/Final Site Plan Approval  – this one was first presented as sketch plan in March, to give an idea of how long this has been in front of the boards
C. 416-418 East State Street – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – “The Printing Press” jazz bar is a proposed re-use for a former printshop and warehouse that has seen heavy neighbor opposition. The bar has changed its emphasis, redesigned the landscape and moved itself to a more internal location to mitigate concerns, but the opposition is still strong, mostly focusing on noise and traffic. The board has simply and succinctly recommended that the BZA grant a zoning variance.
D. 327 Elmira Road – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – The Herson Wagner Funeral Home project. This one’s had pretty smooth sailing so far, only a couple complaints that Elmira Road isn’t appropriate for a funeral home. The Planning Board, however, applauds the proposal, which replaces a construction equipment storage yard, for better interfacing with the residential neighbors at the back of its property. It has been recommended for BZA approval.
E. Simeon’s on the Commons Rebuild – Presentation & Design Review Meeting – Before anyone throws up their arms, this is only to talk about the materials and design of the reconstruction, and to get the planning board’s comment and recommendations.
F. The Chapter House Rebuild – Sketch Plan – The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) must have come to some kind of acceptance on the proposed rebuild if the Chapter House is finally at the sketch plan stage. the Planning Board will have their own recommendations, which will have to be coordinated to some degree with the ILPC (the ILPC is arguably the much stricter of the two). We’ll see how it looks next week.
G. Hughes Hall Renovations – Sketch Plan – more on that in a moment
H. DeWitt House (Old Library Site) – Sketch Plan – originally slated to be seen a couple months ago, but pulled from the agenda. The 60-unit project is not only subject to Planning Board review, but ILPC review since it’s in the DeWitt Park Historic District.

5. So, Hughes Hall. Hughes Hall, built in 1963, has dorm housing and dining facilities for Cornell students attending the law school, but those 47 students will need to find alternative housing once the hall closes in May 2016 (yes, with Maplewood closing as well, Cornell is putting 527 graduate and professional students out on the open market next year…it’s gonna be rough). However, this has kinda been known for a while. Cornell has intended to renovate Hughes Hall since at least 2011, as Phase III of its law school expansion and renovation. The building was used as swing space while Phase I was underway, and then the phases were flipped and Phase II became Hughes Hall’s renovation, while Phase III became Myron Taylor Hall’s renovation. According to Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, who designed the law school addition (Phase I), the Hughes Hall renovation will “house offices, administrative support spaces, academic programs and meeting spaces.” Well see how the renovated digs look at Tuesday’s meeting.

News Tidbits 11/14/15: To Plan or Not to Plan

14 11 2015

It’s another slow week. There was no PEDC meeting in Ithaca city, and no new projects hit the airwaves. But there might be some interesting things moving forward.

1. The Lansing Star has an insightful interview this week with newly elected Lansing town supervisor Ed LaVigne, who unseated incumbent Kathy Miller for the seat. From a development standpoint, it’s very interesting. From the interview, it sounds as if, given the possible loss of their biggest taxpayer, the $60 million Cayuga Power Plant, he kinda wants to throw the door open to developers in an attempt to soften the blow of its closure. In Lansing, there was a political divide when it came to planning – the Democrats wanted a full-time planner, but the Republicans wanted a part-time planner. The budget item for a full-time planner was eliminated along town board party lines, 3-2, and Lansing is currently served by part-time planner Michael Long.


“That’s why it’s so critical to start moving some dirt, getting things built.  One of the things I’ve already told developers is that Lansing is in business.  How can we make you more prosperous?  We believe in prosperity.  And if you’re prosperous we all will benefit.  I don’t care how much money they make.  I hope they make more money than they ever dreamed of, because if they put their money in Lansing, Lansing wins.”

If I didn’t know where the quote was coming from, I wouldn’t believe it was from an elected official in Tompkins County. Most local officials are very measured in their comments on growth, if they welcome newcomers at all.

Just as a thought exercise, Lansing builds about 25 houses per year per HUD SOCDS, and a variable number of apartments, which right now is a few dozen per year thanks to the Village Solars project off Warren Road. Take about $300k per house, and $6 million for each major phase of the Village Solars, and one gets $13.5 million in new development. Not factoring in additional infrastructure or service costs or taxes from commercial/industrial construction, it would take four and a half years to make up the tax revenue lost from the closure of the power plant.


Of course, development in Lansing is tricky – without sewer, houses have to be on at least one acre of land. After all the busted dreams with the town center proposal, the town will be more likely to stick with conventional suburban development and rural homesteads. On the one hand, Lansing has given a yes to development. On the other hand, the question of “smart” growth is still up in the air, and it’s not looking good.

By the way, the photos, which are a few weeks old, are of homes underway on Lansing’s Oakwood Drive. Cardamone Homes is the builder. The top one is for sale for $670,000.


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2. There’s nothing too exciting in the agenda for the Ithaca town planning board meeting next Tuesday. There’s a couple of legal clarifications required, one for a single-family home subdivision, the other to let Brookdale (formerly Clare Bridge / Sterling House) move forward with their 32-unit expansion project. The town planning board will also be reviewing some solar panels and changes to the sign law. Really, about the only noteworthy thing on the agenda is an open, informal discussion on College Crossings. After have a few months to take a deep breath, the developer, Evan Monkemeyer of Ithaca Estates Realty, would like to discuss what needs to be done in order to make the project fit with the town’s comprehensive plan, while keeping his plans economically feasible. A copy of the letter is below:


This is potentially a major opportunity for the town to show good stewardship. Ideally, the two sides will find a common ground that meets the town’s goal for a less auto-centric, mixed-use South Hill, while allowing the developer to move forward. A tax abatement isn’t going to fly with the IDA let alone the planning board, but there are other options that can be considered – density, height, and setbacks come to mind. The town’s comprehensive plan considers the site “TND [Traditional New Development] High Density” – one of the few high density spots in the town. The plan recommends 8-16 units per acre as an average (it’s a 3.75 acre site, so picture 30-60 units), and 10-20% open space. A project in a TND-HD area should be dense, transit-oriented, porous and walkable. The door is open, not only to the town, but members of the public interested in helping find that common ground (looking at you, Form Ithaca). It should be an interesting chat.


3. Local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative held an open house last Friday, and for those unable to attend, they shared photos online.

Look closely and you’ll find a copy of a conceptual build-out of the Chain Works District, which is still going through environmental site assessment (the ESA document is said to be tens of thousands of pages). The South Hill Business Campus is to the upper right, so the top of the image is directed south. Note that there’s nothing formal, and even the renovation of buildings 21, 24, 33 and 34 has yet to reach the boards (rumor mill says the renovations might start in 2017). But it’s great eye candy.

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4. House of the week. Since I hit this house a couple of times while it was underway, I figured I would include a couple shots of the finished 3-bedroom, 1,276 SF home at 203 Pearl Street in Ithaca’s Belle Sherman neighborhood. Oddly enough, the builders, Gil and Naama Menda of 201 Pearl, used the same exterior trim colors as on the Belle Sherman Cottages a block away.

The lot is the result of a subdivision approved by the city during the spring; 203 Pearl had previously been combined with 201 Pearl and used as an in-ground swimming pool, which was filled in at some point.

Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 11/2015

13 11 2015

A lot of progress has been made with the Gannett Health Center addition on Cornell’s campus. The new addition has been framed up and topped out. Some of the interior walls have been framed with metal stud walls, with more work yet to come. The primary glass curtain wall is still being framed out, but some of the smaller sections to the north and east have some window panels installed. The variety of glass color used in the facade isn’t quite apparent just yet, since many of the panes are still covered with a blue cellophane wrap for protection.The dark blue material on the concrete stairwells is likely a water-resistant barrier, not unlike that used on the Planned Parenthood Building when that was under construction a couple years ago. The addition, which is phase one of Gannett’s three-phase expansion and modernization program, should be open for its first patients and staff next summer.

The Pike Company‘s Syracuse office is serving as general contractor for the $55 million project. Local architecture firm Chiang O’Brien designed the renovation and addition, and Ithaca firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects will be doing the site landscaping.

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News Tidbits 10/24/15: Breckneck Builds and Market Slowdowns

24 10 2015


1. College Crossings is dead. But its passing opens up an interesting conversation.

According to Ithaca town planning board minutes uploaded earlier this week, developer Evan Monkemeyer withdrew his proposal after planning board members weren’t comfortable with approving the environmental assessment and mitigation plan for the proposal (technically called a “negative declaration” by the lead agency on the SEQR). While at least one was bothered by the 3-story, 54′ height, many board members had visions of the Form Ithaca charrette for the property, and this didn’t quite jibe with Monkemeyer’s plans for South Hill’s King Road and Route 96B/Danby Road intersection. Minutes for the July and August meetings can be found here.


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Now, I will gladly admit that I was not a fan of this project, and I too wanted something more along the lines of Form Ithaca. I’m surprised, though, that it was enough to derail approvals of the project.

Now, the problem is, the town’s new comprehensive plan embraces form-based codes and “Smart Growth”, but the zoning is auto-centric, outdated, and doesn’t mesh with the plan. If you’re a developer or builder, big or small, and what’s legal and what the town wants are two very separate things…Houston, we have a problem.

At this point, there’s two questions that come to mind – one, given that the town planning board has cancelled most of its meetings lately due to a lack of proposals, is the disconnect between plan and zoning halting projects, and two, when will revised zoning be ready. For guidance and knowledge, I reached out to town of Ithaca assistant planning director Dan Tasman, because he’s pleasant, responsive and a pretty great guy.

As for question one, here’s his quote: “Seriously, I think it’s … complicated.” His thoughts were that there’s no indication whether the recent slowdown were caused by the planning/zoning disconnect, or natural ebb and flow related to lending and planning on the ends of home-builders and developers.

As for question two, the response was summed up as, “a lot of communities face the same issue after they adopt new comp plans. On the positive side, Ithaca’s not growing that fast, and the pace of development is slow. Still, there’s a sense of urgency.”

He’s right about the town not growing that fast. The permit records show that in September, the only new home-building permit was for a duplex at 214 Pennsylvania Avenue on South Hill (the Iacovellis building more student rentals for IC, probably). The previous month online, June, had four single-family homes, filling out lots in previous-approved subdivisions.


Traditionally, the town of Ithaca has made up a pretty sizable chunk of the new home permits in the county. But if they only issue 30-40 this year (still better than last year’s 14), then it falls on the rest of the communities to try and make up the housing deficit, at least in the short term. Ithaca city’s total, anticipated to be 247 new units to be permitted in 2015, is only about 84 units right now, because John Novarr has yet to start Collegetown Terrace’s Phase III, and Steve Flash’s 323 Taughannock on Inlet Island has yet to start either. To bring down the deficit in a decade, as well as keep up with annual economic growth, the county would need over 600 units per year; it’s not certain if the total will reach even half that in 2015.

On the one hand, the town of Ithaca is trying to be proactive and adopt a new approach to development in quick and good order. On the other hand, it’s not a great situation for trying to make a dent in the housing deficit, with its attendant affordability issues, and there’s the possibility things are going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if there’s a right or a wrong way of going about it, but it’s a stressful setup.

2. On the county level, officials are seeking legislature approval for launching a study into the feasibility of an airport business/industrial park in Lansing. 52 acres of vacant land along Warren and Cherry Roads are being considered for the study, which would include a conceptual site plan of potential buildings and parcels, and an assessment of the needs and characteristics of companies most likely to open in the potential business park. Utilities and green infrastructure will also be looked at in the study. The projected cost is less than $50,000, and being paid for by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA). The feasibility study would be awarded next month, with authorization and approvals on the staff level.


For what it’s worth, folks living up there are used to business traffic – Borg Warner’s 1,300 person plant is adjacent to the study site. The Warren Road Business Park lies a minute’s drive up the road, and the Cornell Business Park is about a minute’s drive south. The land also has municipal sewer, allowing for large-scale projects. A copy of the RFP states two that the two parcels shown above are the primary analysis area, with secondary areas closer to the airport runway and the resident land to the west separate from the park. They aren’t a part of the proposed business park, but the county asks that they be examined for development potential by the study.


3. Details, details – the Holiday Inn Express already under construction in big-box land at 371 Elmira Road will be going in front of the city planning board this month for some slight modifications. The developer, Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Cheektowaga, wants to increase the number of rooms from 76 to 79, and add three parking spaces accordingly. Along with that comes the bevy of supporting docs – technical drawings here, landscape plan here, landscape schedule here, and elevation drawings here. Apart from a palette change on the exterior (the red-brown color is “Decorous Amber“, part of the new official Holiday Inn color scheme per the architects’ cover letter), there are no changes to the design, the 3 additional rooms are just an update to the interior configuration of the hotel, one more room on each of floors 2-4. Apart from tastes in color and making sure the three new parking spaces pose no issues, the board won’t have to debate much here, and the hotel is still very likely to open next summer.


4. In small but notable builds, Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is at it again. The relatively new Ithaca-based rental and development company is planning a triplex (3 units) at 1015 Dryden Road, just east of the hamlet of Varna. According to an email from MLR co-owner Todd Fox, the units, all 2-bedrooms, will start construction in the spring, and it’s a safe wager they’re shooting for an August 2016 completion, just in time for Cornell student renters. Judging from the renders on MLR’s site, each unit will be around 930 SF, so about 2,790 SF total. MLR teamed up once again with local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative for the design.

1015 Dryden is also home to a single-family home built in 1938, and a 4-unit apartment building from about 1980. The apartment building was badly damaged in a fire in 2011, renovated, and the site was sold to MLR for $425,000 in March 2014.

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5. While on the topic of MLR, let’s throw in some eye candy. Along with the plans for 1015 Dryden, additional images for the proposed 87-unit project at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill can be found on their website as well. I’ve included two perspective renderings and an aerial render, but more images can be found here. The 87 units will all be studio apartments. STREAM Collaborative is responsible for this design as well.

A detailed write-up of the project, including the related cell phone tower issue, can be found here.

6. Out in Lansing town, there are two attention-grabbing news pieces from Tuesday’s next planning board meeting. One is a plan for an LP gas / petroleum distribution facility on Town Barn Road (parcel address 3125 N. Triphammer Road). A 30,000 gallon storage tank and gravel drive are planned in the initial phase, with 5 15,000 gallon tanks, a garage/maintenance building, and an office planned in later phases. Now, normally a project like this is not a big deal, but there’s the outside possibility local contingents of the anti-Crestwood, anti-fossil fuel groups will go on the offensive to try and stop it. So the potential for political football is there.

The other detail isn’t up for discussion yet, but the town notes that 15 duplexes (30 units) are being planned by former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney for a site on Peruville Road (the county calls it 428 Scofield Road, but the land has frontage on both roads). The site already houses 4 duplexes built in 2011.


7. Instead of the the usual “House of the Week”, this week is more of a shout-out/advertisement. For those with cable, The DIY Network will be running a new episode of “Breckneck Builds” tonight at 11 PM (additional showings listed here), highlighting a just-finished home on Dryden’s Hollister Road. Quoting the promo write-up:

“Jordyn is ready to leave her rental behind and buy her first home, but what is most important to Jordyn is that her new home is eco friendly, so she is turning to the modular world to build a big house with a small carbon footprint.”

The modular home assembly was the work of local builder Carina Construction, who also tackled the modular units at the Belle Sherman Cottages site. Local builder, local resident, local project, so set your DVRs or TiVo.

8. Last but not least, here’s your Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. Nothing new at this month’s meeting, but here’s the run-down:

A. Review of changes and revised approval for the Holiday Inn Express (see above)

B. Declaration of environmental significance and BZA reccomendations for 215-221 West Spencer Street– Pocket Neighborhood, 12 units w/ 26 bedrooms, Ed Cope/PPM Homes is the developer, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

C. Environmental Review Discussion for the bar/lounge proposed for the renovation of 416 E. State – cover letter here, description here, letters of opposition in the agenda.

D. Public hearing and re-approval, Hotel Ithaca renovations, 222 S. Cayuga – Site Plan Review drawings here, renders here and here. Not sure there’s enough of a difference from the first time around, but at least the cross-catching on the exterior is gone.

E. Herson/Wagner Funeral Home renovation, 327 Elmira – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing – I wrote about that in the Voice here. Fun fact, the original proposed title was “Funeral home hopes to being new life to Elmira Road property”. It was rejected.

Village Solars Construction Update, 10/2015

14 10 2015

With phase one of the Village Solars apartment complex completed and housing its first tenants, work is well underway on phase two. 12-unit Building “D”, which shares the same general design as phase one’s Building “B”, has already been framed, sheathed with a Tyvek-type of housewrap, mostly fitted-out (a couple windows and the balcony doors have not been installed), and even some siding has been installed on the ground level. This seems to be a change-up from the previous phase, which used ZIP System plywood for sheathing. Also, in a departure from Building “B”, Building “D” opts for larger windows in place of the very small juliet balconies on the upper floors.

Across the property to the east (and on the other side of the future pond) is the 18-unit Building “G/H”, a new design. Framing and wood studs are only beginning to arise on the ground floor. Plywood that will be used in future sheathing has been propeed up against the newly-erected wall studs. The concrete slab foundation has been poured and cured, and underground utilities have been installed.

Building “G/H” was created when developer Lifestyle Properties (the Lucente family) was working with NYSEG to lay out the utilities after approvals were granted and the first phase was underway. It was decided to make phase 2 all electric services, due to concerns that Lansing may not be able to provide gas service if the situation with the gas pipeline proposal on West Dryden Road doesn’t go in the town’s favor. One of the results of the utility infrastructure change was a difference in utilities layout, which impacted the site design for walkways, and the Lucentes are sought and received approvals last Spring to revise the PDA (planned development area, similar to the city’s PUD and the town’s PDZ) to change G and H from two separate buildings, to one large building that occupied a smaller footprint.

Lastly is Building “E”. “E” will be an 11-unit apartment building, though it’s not clear if it will be a new design, or simply an interior rearrangement of units. Right now, only the concrete forms for the foundation have been constructed, with what appears to be trenches for utility lines criss-crossing the site. Taking a rough guess, “D” will be completed and for rent before the end of this year, “G/H” by the end of Spring, and “E” will be finished in time for next year’s students, mid-to-late summer 2016.

Building “F” is part of a separate phase, “2A”. It will contain 10 units and a community center. According to Rocco Lucente in an interview last month, work on Building “F” will begin after the other phase two buildings are completed.

The first three buildings in the Village Solars complex, buildings “A”, “B” and “C” with 36 units in total, were completed this summer at a cost of $4.7 million, according to loan documents on file. Rents posted on Craigslist have one-bedroom units listed for $1050-$1145, two-bedroom units for $1235-$1369, and three-bedroom apartments rent for $1565-$1650. Prices vary a little depending on what floor the unit is on – the higher up a unit is, the more it costs.

Phase two will cost about $6 million, according to the construction loan filed with the county. Tompkins Trust Bank is providing financing. Future phases call for upwards of 300 units on site.

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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 Seneca Garage only has about 10 years of life before a new garage will need to be built (the Seneca 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 a council member describing biking-proponents in the same tone one would describe Albany lobbyists. 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 with the bike situation seems to be a lack of communication between the BPW and Common Council (and residents by extension). Luckily, the planning board doesn’t quite 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, and the BZA vote was 4-1, with Marilyn Tebor Shaw opposed. No reason for Shaw’s decision was provided in the article.

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 closing up the exterior and interior utilities rough-in. 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. Presumably, the butter yellow vinyl 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 the BZA’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 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. 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 major 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, the letter-writer lives in an upscale Lansing subdivision. He rents out his 3-unit Cayuga Street property. The “house” that the letter claims used to be on the site is also misleading. 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.


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