News Tidbits 3/21/15: Imagine If It Was Trader Joe’s…

21 03 2015

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1. Yet another chain restaurant entering the Ithaca scene, this time Louisville, Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse. There’s 24 separate documents on the city website, and I’ll link to the most useful ones here – the Building Application here, the elevation drawings here, the Full  Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here and overall site plan here. I wrote about this for the Voice, and I’ll recapitulate the salient details here-

-The site location is 719 South Meadow Street, the northern end of big-box land. The site was previously home to a Cellular One and a 1980s one-story masonry building that was demolished in 2013, leaving the current vacant lot.

-The construction time period is expected to be from September 2015 to Spring 2016. The project will begin the PDC review process in April. The construction cost is pegged at $1.35 million, including landscaping and parking improvements.

-About 30 construction jobs and 40 permanent (albeit food service) jobs will be created, according to the application. Jeff Stein at the Ithaca Voice says that an email from Texas Roadhouse corporate expects 170 permanent jobs, so I’m not sure which figure is correct.

-The 7,163 sq ft store looks to be the standard corporate design theme for the 430-restuarant chain.

One of the things that continues to amaze me is that, here on the blog, news like this is not a big attention-getter, it’s worth a blurb and not much more. On the Voice, where the audience is more general, people go nuts when they hear about new chain places moving into Ithaca. The lovers and the haters, and sometimes even attacking each other in the comments. In the first 24 hours after the Roadhouse article was published, it was shared 300 times on facebook, and had 2600 likes. Any other real estate or business article would be lucky to get 1/20th of those figures. I never cease to be surprised.

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2. Looks like another town of Ithaca project is hitting the dustbin. The 68 acres involved in Rural Housing Preservation Associates Troy Road project have been put up for sale. Originally proposed in February 2014 as a 216-unit project, the original design met with stiff resistance from neighbors and town officials. In November, a smaller, 130-unit plan (shown above) that included on-sire orchards and clustered housing was much better received, and the town planning board declared itself Lead Agency for site plan review, but the project never progressed further. In consideration of other dead mutil-family projects (such as NRP’s Cayuga Trails and Holochuck Homes’ 106-unit townhome development), the town is having a difficult time providing new housing, partly due to developer problems and partly due to local opposition and red tape.

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3. The writers over at the Ithaca Times have an article up this week about the Kendal at Ithaca expansion currently underway. In order to stay on schedule, Kendal had to do their groundbreaking in January, with the intent of finishing in January 2016. Even with the appalling winter we’ve had this year, the director of Kendal claims the project is only three days behind schedule.

The Kendal expansion will add 24 senior apartments and 13 skilled patient care beds to the current 212 apartment and 35 beds on-site. The $29.3 million project is expected to add about 20 jobs when complete. Local architecture firm Chiang O’Brien is handling the design of the building additions.

4. More bad news from Cornell, at least for this blog’s sake. From a Cornell Daily Sun writeup about a town hall-style budget meeting conducted by outgoing President David Skorton:

“Cornell can also cut costs further by reducing campus construction, a step Skorton recommends the University take. 

‘Much of the construction you’ve seen on campus over the last 20 years has been supported by debt,” Skorton said. “We are at the point now, for at least a few years, where we need to very, very seriously reduce construction of new space.'”

I could imagine a couple impacts from this. First off, this probably won’t affect projects with permits in hand and funding in place, like the Gannett addition or Upson Hall’s renovation. But through the rest of the decade, there could be a serious curtailing of new construction. This would hurt the local construction industry, for whom Cornell is a good chunk of their work. Skorton’s explanation also works as a reason to not build any new dorms, and that’s worrisome. The rapidly increasing student population has not only been crunched by tight supply, it’s spreading into adjacent neighborhoods and raising rents for permanent residents, and contributing to strains in town-gown relations.

One thing is clear. The impacts of Cornell’s latest budget issue will be felt throughout the community.

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5. Looking ahead at the agenda for next week’s city Planning and Development Board meeting, here’s what to expect:

A. Final Site Plan Approval for the 4-unit, 9-bedroom INHS affordable housing project at 402 Sough Cayuga Street

B. Public Hearing and possible approval for the Lake Street Bridge Replacement

C. Discussion (no actions expected) on INHS’s 210 Hancock development – some minor tweaks have been worked into the plan, such as moving the new Lake Avenue north of the playground and adding a crosswalk.

D. Sketch Plan for 215 W. Spencer Street by Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative. This should be interesting. Readers of the blog will know I’ve mentioned this site a couple of times – it was a vacant lot that was sold by the IURA to local rental developer PPM Homes a couple weeks ago, and apparently they’re wasting no time with getting their plans in motion.

A 0.47 acre parcel (shown above), 215-221 West Spencer is in an R-3a zone that allows for a 40′ structure with 35% lot coverage. That’s a max theoretical buildout of 28,662 sq ft (which if you give 20,000 sq ft for the housing units, and 1,000 sq ft per unit, we get a hypothetical 20 units), but whatever does get proposed will likely be somewhat smaller. STREAM Collaborative is a local architecture firm with a few other projects under its belt, including the 21-unit 323 Taughannock project on Inlet Island, and the Franklin/O’Shae proposal for the Old Library site (the proposal that reuses the Old Library Building). STREAM Collaborative was also responsible for the design of the Troy Road project mentioned earlier, so at least they won’t be going without work anytime soon. Noah Demarest has done pretty good work previously, so I have high hopes for this project.

Along with these four discussion topics, the PDB will review a minor subdivision to create a new home lot at 104 Campbell Avenue on West Hill, a review of application materials to see if any revisions are desired, and discussion of the Planning Board Annual Report, 2014 Edition.

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6. It’s that time of the year for building new student rentals for 2015/16. Here we have a Craigslist posting for 318-320 Pleasant Street on South Hill. The rear portion (left) is an addition, a duplex with 3 bedrooms each. 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.





News Tibits 3/14/15: A Spring Thaw and A Warming Housing Market

14 03 2015

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1. This past Friday the 6th, the city IURA (Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency) sold off a vacant city-owned property at 215-221 West Spencer Street to Edward Cope for $110,000. The name might not sound familiar, but a quick address check of the sales documents reveals an association with PPM Homes, a local rental company with a few hundred bedrooms in dozens of properties scattered around the city, most of them subdivided homes. Edward Cope also bought a vacant privately-owned lot at nearby 228 West Spencer Street for $15,000 on February 19th. 228 West Spencer, a small, steep site with tight zoning restrictions, was approved last year for one custom house design with 1536 sq ft. of space (the design plans came with the sale). As for 215-221 West Spencer, it was noted in July of last year that the city was selling the parcel (though I was under the impression it had already sold) and the buyer was intending multi-family housing. The 0.47 acre site has the potential for a medium-sized apartment building (20 units), but that’s a simple calculation using the zoning. With topography and neighbor considerations, the reality will be smaller.

In short, keep an eye on these properties, because PPM has the money to make the house and the apartment building happen.

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2. From the March IURA Agenda, a few good notes from the attached February minutes:

A. The Hotel Ithaca conference center is still actively trying to move forward.

B. The IURA received an inquiry about vacant land in the Cherry Street industrial park, from a business seeking to relocate into the city.

C. The city is making progress on taking over the state-owned parcel at 508 Taughannock Boulevard, previously used by the U.S. Coast Guard.

D. The former Ithaca Gun site is virtually entirely cleaned up, which will allow the apartment project proposed for the site to move forward with the planning and approvals process.

All things to keep an eye on in the upcoming months.

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3. Looking at the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee Agenda, there was quite a pushback from locals and the county for the proposed Titus-Wood historic district. The city fire department objected to landmarking their parking lot, the county wrote a letter opposing landmarking 317 W. State (and 315 W. State, which is not a registered address but could be the parking lot) because it was felt neither was historic enough and that it impeded urban infill, and the owner of 110 S. Albany, Ian Shapiro of Taitem Engineering, protested because his previous experience with the ILPC has been very frustrating, and that the ILPC gives applicants a really hard time over energy conservation efforts such as solar panels.

For the record, he’s not wrong about that. Some ILPC members have not been a fan of solar panels (examples here, here, here and here), and it has been at times a months-long process to get installation approval. It boils down to a dispute of alternative energy use vs. historic preservation, both things that Ithacans love, but can conflict with each other in cases like these.

Regardless of the opposition, the PEDC passed the historic district resolution with a unanimous vote, and the resolution now goes on to the Common Council, who will likely approve the new historic district.

4. Over in Lansing, concerned citizens looks like they can put their fears to rest regarding development of the Kingdom Farm property. The 528.1-acre property sold to a Cayuga County dairy farmer on March 10th for the hefty price of $2.8 million (in other words, $5,302/acre). The farm has been in the possession of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (the business branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses) for several decades, and the owners even pitched a 500-unit development for the site in the late 2000s. Back in October when the tax-exempt land went up for sale for $3 million, the Lansing Star reported that some more activist local residents wanted the town to step in and help a farmer buy the land so they could keep the property agricultural. There hasn’t been any news of the town taking that step, and it appears the problem resolved itself without the need of taxpayer dollars. Also, it means the property, assessed at $2.2 million, goes back onto the tax rolls. This might be one of the few cases where everything appears to have been worked out and all can go home happy.

5. 514 Linn Street has come down for a new duplex now under construction. Each apartment unit will have 3 bedrooms and be completed this summer. Although the predecessor building dated from the late 1800s, it was also an early “cookie-cutter” home; 512 Linn was the same design. Fall Creek is mostly developed, but Linn Street is no stranger to new builds – 514 follows a few years after 516 Linn, which was a new home built on a vacant lot.

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6. Lastly, it looks like the town of Ithaca’s planning board finally has a few things to work on, after having no meeting since early January. For their Tuesday meeting, the town will review plans for more luxury tents at La Tourelle, a new municipal water tank near Sapsucker Woods, and revised plans for the Amabel project off of Five Mile Drive. The number of units has been reduced to 28, and since November, two units were added to the far west portion of the parcel bordering Five Mile Drive (and as it turns out, those center units aren’t duplexes). Contrary to the example render, six different home designs will be available. Developer Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living LLC hopes to begin sales this summer.

Get connected:

Have comments or questions about these projects for your local government? Contact info below:

Town of Ithaca Planning Board: Use the form here – http://www.town.ithaca.ny.us/contact-us

Ithaca Common Council: http://www.cityofithaca.org/341/Common-Council – click on your councilperson’s name, their email is on the subsequent page.

 





Klarman Hall Construction Update, 2/2015

17 02 2015

Time to take another look at Cornell’s Klarman Hall for a progress report. It was low 50s F when I stopped by in late December and I thought that was pretty awesome. I completely and totally regret saying anything and will next time reserve to complaining about how cold it is, in an effort to spite Mother Nature.

Anyway, construction firm Welliver has been busy craning the new steel atrium trusses into place, with at least four installed when these photos were taken the weekend before last. My laymen’s mind would call the shape almond-like or a pinched oval, but wikipedia tells me the proper terms are “vesica piscis” or “mandorla”, both of which sound like alien species doing battle with Captain Kirk. One of the site cranes has completed its work and has been removed, while the other will stay in place until all the structural steel has been erected. On the lower floors, fireproofing, mechanical and electrical rough-in (plumbing and wiring) is underway, while concrete pouring is taking place in parts of the upper levels. Some of this work would be visible from the fences, were it not for the plastic sheeting put up to keep the frigid winds at bay.

Over the month of February, construction schedules indicate that fireproofing will wrap up on the south side of the ground level, leading the way for sheetrock installation and exterior and interior wall framing. At the same time, fireproofing will begin on the north side of the ground level, and concrete will continue to be poured for the auditorium space and upper levels.

The 33,250 sq ft building was designed by Koetter | Kim & Associates, and is due to open in December 2015. Construction cost is estimated at $61 million.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 2/2015

16 02 2015

It feels a little surreal to be walking down Walnut Street (fun fact, there was originally a Walnut Street plated for Ithaca’s West Hill in the mid-1800s) and have it fulled out with homes on either side. Yet that is indeed the case. It’ll be easier at this point to count what’s not yet built in the Belle Sherman Cottages development – the townhouses (10 total, 5 due to start this Spring and 5 yet to be marketed), the new cottage design for the not-yet-marketed lot 9, and lots 10, 12 and 13, which are sold and probably awaiting the arrival of warming weather before the foundations are excavated, poured and CMU block is laid. Heck, they might already be poured, but hidden under several inches of snow. So 15 of the 19 houses are built, with a couple of those, like lot 17, undergoing interior finishing and still in need of a little porch/column paint work before being turned over to their new owners. If you’re interested in learning more about the construction process, there’s a little more info in my previous post here, and on Ithaca Builds here.

Every couple of weeks, another sale shows up in the county property records, typically in the range of the low 300s to low 400s. Formal sale isn’t happening until a house is move-in ready (I suspect that while underway, a “sold” lot is actually reserved with a down payment), so following the county’s record of transactions is a useful indicator of progress. According to the Belle Sherman Cottages facebook page, Skaneateles-based Agora Homes and Development intends on completing the 29-unit development in 2015.

Veering into editorial territory here, I’ll admit that I was pessimistic about the project early on, thinking it was too much money for what was provided. But in retrospect, I think this is the right type of single-family housing for more suburban parcels, such as other sites in Ithaca town near the city line. Much of the zoning locally is designed to favor of large lots and large price tags. I wouldn’t call these affordable by any stretch, but they’re somewhat closer to the median value than most other single-family homes going up. Being this close to Cornell also adds a premium on their price tags; perhaps on a site in South Lansing or South Hill, they’d be somewhat less expensive. They’re a good (better?) alternative to the sprawling cul-de-sacs that seem to be the norm for housing developments in suburban Tompkins County. I think that, in the same vein of this project, though with more of a “green” sheen, the Amabel site in southwest Ithaca will be the next single-family development worth watching.

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Lofts @ Six Mile Creek Construction Update, 2/2015

13 02 2015

Even during these chilly days, work continues inside the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek apartment building in downtown Ithaca. Walking up to the building, the first thing that sticks out is that the building looks like it’s trapped in a bubble. The plastic sheeting is there for the simple reason of it’s winter in Ithaca, and its effing cold. The plastic keeps some of the sting of the wind away, and also seems to be convenient as a drawing surface. The plywood covers holes where doors will lead out to exterior balconies. Lower floors will have Juliet balconies, while upper floors and some lower-level side units will have full balconies.

A closer look shows that the first two floors do in fact have bands of Pella windows installed, separated with bands of sheathing that will eventually be covered by the exterior finishing material. According to the project’s facebook page, interior wall construction for the apartment units is currently underway. Plumbing, most electrical rough-in and fireproofing are complete, the metal frames of the apartment walls already erected; now comes hanging sheet-rock, flooring and ceiling finishes. Apartments will consist of studios, 1-bedroom units and 2-bedroom units, with some of the studios and 1 bedroom units having bonus rooms. Square footage per unit will range from 555 to 1202 sq ft. The facebook page notes that tentative rents will be posted in the next couple of weeks.

The 7-story, 49,244 square foot building will contain 45 rental apartment units. The building is being developed by Cincinnati-based Bloomfield/Schon + Partners, with construction by Turnbull-Wahlert Construction. Completion of the apartments is expected during the second quarter (April-June) of this year, wrapping up the last phase of a 15-year project.

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Village Solars Apartments Construction Update, 2/2015

11 02 2015

The first three apartment buildings of the Village Solars apartment project in Lansing are fully framed, sheathed (I’m assuming the red panels are sheathing material), roofed, and windows and doors have been installed in most locations. The light-colored material might be a breathable wrap for weather/moisture resistance. It will be a little while before exterior finishes are applied and balconies are installed. When I visited last Saturday, the site was buzzing with the sounds of construction workers busy with tasks inside (probably rough-ins for things like plumbing and electrical), and ’80s hair metal streaming from a radio somewhere from within. Nothing like installing pipes while rocking out to Twisted Sister.

The Village Solars get their name from what the craigslist sales pitch calls “their passive solar design and energy saving features”. As far as I’m aware, they won’t have solar panels. According to Thomas Bobnick, the rental agent for the apartments, the first phase shown here will consist of 36 units (the final buildout will be close to 300 units). The design of the complex calls for at least eight, maybe ten buildings to surround a new pond that will be dug out of the undeveloped middle of the property – the advertisements call it “waterfront”, which it is, technically.

From the craigslist advertisements, one-bedroom units will rent for $1050-$1145 and be ready for occupancy by June 1st, two-bedroom units will rent for $1235-$1369 and be ready for tenants on May 1st, and three-bedroom units will rent for $1565-$1600 and be available on June 1st. These dates are pushed back a little from initial plans, which called for March and April occupancy; no doubt the severe winter has complicated the schedule. Looking at the photos, the two buildings under construction on the west and east ends look to be one style (balconies in the middle), while the center building is a different layout and design (end balconies). The price range for the two bedrooms is a little above the average two-bedroom unit in Ithaca ($1,165), but after accounting for the premium on new construction, the developer seems to be pricing for the middle tier of the market.

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 one word on the architect. Upstate Contractors of Syracuse appears to be handling the construction work.

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Ithaca Marriott Construction Update, 2/2015

10 02 2015

The land for the new Ithaca Marriott exchanged hands on January 13th, the groundbreaking ceremony was January 22nd. With those events filed away, there appears to be some real site prep going on at the site, located at the intersection of E. State and S. Aurora Streets. The site has very clearly been disturbed, although last Saturday appeared to be a day off for the construction workers. The sidewalk on S. Aurora Street is closed, and excavators and dump trucks are ready and waiting. The first major step in this project will be to clear the asphalt and soil on site and dig deep enough to enable foundation work to take place. Expect that work to take place for the rest of the winter and into the spring.

The $32 million, 10-story, 159-room hotel is slated for an opening in Q3 of 2016 (July-September). This is pushed back from the previously given date of Spring 2016. While this new date misses the lucrative graduation season, it will still be able to take advantage of the summer crowds and back-to-school visitors, if all goes to plan (and we’ll see if it does). The new date also places the opening of the Marriott a couple of months behind the opening of the new 123-room Canopy Hilton a couple blocks away. With 282 more hotel rooms downtown, businesses that cater to tourists and other travelers will welcome the boost in business. Who knows, perhaps the Commons will finally be done with reconstruction by then.

According to a press release from developer Urgo Hotels (or the Ithaca Journal paraphrase), the hotel will include a fitness center, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, and 3,000 sq ft of meeting space. While the hotel is underway, some details are still being ironed out – the hotel signage (which requires a zoning variance) was derided as too generic and bright, and Urgo Hotels withdrew the proposed design. Urgo has a year or so to figure out what kind of signage they and Marriott would like to install, and don’t expect any delays just because of signage.

The hotel has been designed by Atlanta-based Cooper Carry Architecture and development is a joint venture of Urgo Hotels of Bethesda and Ensemble Hotel Partners, a division of Ensemble Investments. Urgo’s portfolio includes at least 32 other hotels totaling 4,500 hotel rooms. Interior design will be handled by Design Continuum, W.H. Lane of Binghamton is the general contractor, and Rimland Development contributed the land to the joint venture and is a partner. Long Island-based Rimland was the original firm that pitched the project in 2008 as the “Hotel Ithaca”, before the old Holiday Inn downtown went independent.

Off the record, have we settled that it’s 159 rooms and not 160? Because this is confusing me to no end.

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