News Tidbits 4/30/16: Sticking to the Plan

30 04 2016

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1. So, let’s start off with the bad news. Chapter House might not be happening. Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times had the scoop, though not for a lack of trying on the Voice’s part – rumors had arrived in the inbox well before the Collegetown construction roundup article. I’ve reached out to Jerry Dietz, the building manager for the Chapter House project, four times over the past couple of weeks, without response. One of those was an in-person visit that went un-received. My Voice editor and colleague Jolene Almendarez has also been trying to do her share of contacting relevant parties, to no avail.

Anyway, personal discontent aside, The co-proprietor of the Chapter House (and the only one willing to say anything on record) says that he believes a sale of the 400-404 Stewart Avenue property is imminent, with the potential buyer being the next door neighbor of the also-destroyed 406 Stewart Avenue. The claim is that a more cost-efficient plan would be put forth, which could eliminate the Chapter House from its plans.

One thing to keep in mind is that the property is on the edge of the East Hill historic district – the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission can control just about every aspect of the exterior, but they don’t have say over use any more than zoning permits. They can stipulate the extra expense of appropriate material and image, but they can’t stipulate a bar (and a lot of commission members would be uncomfortable with that anyway). Dunno how much the insurance money was, but the finances just may not work. It would be unfortunate, but as they do in golf, they’ll play the ball where it lies.

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2. Noting, briefly. Evan Monkemeyer, the developer behind the cancelled College Crossing project, might be partnering with another developer to create and put forward a plan for the corner of Route 96 and East King Road. This is according to the town of Ithaca’s planning staff. Monkemeyer has not hidden his discontent after his suburban-style mixed-use project became the subject of heavy debate because the site plan, originally approved in 2007, no longer meshed with the town’s interests, which had evolved to more New Urbanist formats put forth by the 2014 Comprehensive Plan and the Form Ithaca charrettes. Monkemeyer owns about 64 acres on the northeast side of the intersection, and more than 15 acres as part of Springwood on the southeast side of the corner. In other words, virtually all the divvied up land and conceptual buildings on the lower right side of the charrette image. This could be something to keep in eye on over the coming months.

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3. Here’s the latest iteration of the Maplewood Park site plan. A lot of changes from the previous version. To sum up the changes, the apartment buildings, 3-4 stories, have been pulled back from existing homes, the townhouses and stacked flats have are more centralized and closely clustered, and mixed-use retail/apartment planned for the city is now in the town, all the city has in its portion is green space and perhaps a small service area/ bus shelter.

Also note the secondary road that terminates right at the edge of the Maple Hill property. Chances are very good that would feed into a phase II that redevelops the Maple Hill property.

The large parking lot in the southeast corner doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of the plan, previous versions had the parking more dispersed. Since Cornell has an idea of the number of residents it wants for the project to be feasible to build and affordable on grad student stipends (850-975, centering around 925 beds in 500 units), if housing is decreased in one part of the parcel, they’re going to have their development team make up for it somewhere else. One of the bigger points of contention seems to be Cornell trying to avoid drawing traffic in by keeping larger buildings further out, while neighbors from various angles try and push the units as far away from them as possible.

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Maplewood has a website up sharing meeting notes and presentation materials here. Future meeting information will also be posted to the Maplewood website. The project will be filling out an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) not unlike Chain Works, because of the project size and potential for adverse impacts (and therefore the need for proper mitigation before plans can be approved). The scoping document for the EIS, which is an outline that says what will be written about where, is on the town’s website here.

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Just for the record, the print version of a recent Maplewood write-up on the Times claimed to have a quote from me. It was not. The online version of the piece has the corrections. The quote wasn’t even something I would say, because I don’t think Cornell attempting to house a greater number of its graduate and professional students is an “unsustainable development goal”. Quite the opposite, it’s crucial they do that to relieve some of the pressure on the rest of the local housing market.

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4. Looks like some of the IURA’s recommended funding Action Plan is out. Habitat for Humanity gets the full $75,000 request, as does INHS with the $100,000 requested for their new single-family build at 304 Hector Street. Most of the 202 Hancock project, the seven for-sale townhouses, was recommended for funding – $530,000 of $567,000, ~93.5% of the request.

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5. At the Common Council meeting next Wednesday, the city is set to vote on reducing the fall-zone radius for cell phone towers, from double the tower’s height (200% of tower height), to 120% of the tower’s height. The move will potentially allow an iteration of Modern Living Rentals’s 815 South Aurora project to move forward with further planning and review. The 87-unit project was planned on the assumption of 100% tower height plus ten feet, so in the case of the 170-foot South Hill cell tower in question, the law would call for a 204 ft. radius, not 180 ft. as the developer hoped. But still, it’s a lot less than the 340 ft. it currently is. The developer may seek a smaller project, build taller, a greatly-revised footprint, or other options. We’ll see how it plays out.

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5. House of the week. Back in March, it wasn’t certain whether 201 West Clinton’s “sawn-and-batten wood” would be left unpainted, or painted yellow. Looks like the former is correct, based on the east face of the 1-bedroom carriage house. The ZIP panels were still exposed on the other faces when I shot these photos, but based off what could be seen through the windows, interior work is progressing nicely, and the garage door has been attached. Local architect Zac Boggs and partner Isabel Fernรกndez are building the 520 SF addition atop an existing 1960s garage.

 





209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 04/2016

25 04 2016

The overview came as part of the Ithaca Voice roundup last week, but the number of photos that can be included is rather limited for two reasons. One, the labyrinthine picture portfolio in the Voice’s storage eats up space, and two, the general readers of the Voice mostly only care to see a couple of photos per location.

Work is well into the excavation phase of construction. The building’s basement (“lower level”) will hold a 90-space large group instruction classroom, a commons area for dining and mingling, some business offices, utilities and storage space. The large atrium area is meant to give some feeling of connectivity and openness with the upper six floors.

Side note, looks like Collegetown’s graffiti artists have had a field day with the fencing.

Because of the tight situation, construction staging is taking place on land that used to be a boarding house at 238 Linden, and into the public right of way on Linden Avenue and Dryden Road. After the building is completed in 2017, don’t be surprised if 238 receives a housing replacement consistent with CR-4 zoning.

Local businessmen John Novarr and Philip Proujansky are spearheading the project, with Cornell as sold tenant. Syracuse’s Hayner Hoyt is the general contractor.

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News Tidbits 4/9/16: A Slippery Situation

9 04 2016

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1. The town of Ithaca had their first substantive meeting about Cornell’s Maplewood Park Redevelopment, and later this month, the city of Ithaca will have their take on the 4.5% that sits within their boundaries (picture a line up Vine Street – that’s the city line). According to documents filed with the city, approvals from them will only be needed for one building. Application/SPR here, cover memo from Whitham Planning and Design here, Part I of the Full Environmental Assessment Form here, and narrative/drawings here.

From the SPR, the schedule as already been shifted slightly to an August 2018 completion rather than July – they also threw out a $3.67 million construction cost that doesn’t make much sense offhand. Edit: It looks like it’s just a basic estimate of 4.5% of the total project cost of $80 million.

The biggest change so far is a revision of the site plan. In response to community meetings, Cornell shifted smaller 2-3 story stacked flats and townhouses closer to the Belle Sherman Cottages, pulled back a couple of the larger apartment buildings, and added a new large apartment building to the southeast flank. Cornell has its goal of housing at least 850 in the redevelopment, so all design decisions revolve around accommodating those students with their families, while coming up with a design the community can live with.

The city will vote at its April meeting to defer Lead Agency to the Town of Ithaca, which will leave them with the ability to provide input, but the town board will be the ones voting on it.

2. It’s not often that a project gets undone by a single public commenter at a meeting. But the Journal’s Nick Reynolds got to experience such a momentous occasion at the town of Ithaca’s planning board meeting. He documents it on his Twitter account.

Someone that I didn’t cover because it wasn’t especially news-worthy is Cornell’s plan to replace the Peterson Parking Lot at the intersection of Tower and Judd Falls Roads with a cutting-edge 100% porous paved lot and a Cornell-created soil designed to promote rapid growth of trees in high traffic areas (a new island would be built in the middle of the lot). Basically, an eco-friendly, less-invasive parking lot, if there ever could be a thing.

Then Bruce Brittain, the Forest Home community historian, completely undid the plan with a contour map. Generations ago, the property was filled with debris and garbage, even old construction trucks. And while there may be a parking lot on it now, a porous lot, which would be heavier when watered, is liable to collapse right onto the Plantations below. Meaning, no porous lot, no green showcase. Back to the drawing board Cornell.

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3. Here’s a little more information on the 5-story, 44-unit/76-bedroom apartment proposal for 201 College Avenue. SPR Application here, FEAF here, project narrative here, BZA worksheet here, drawings here , letter of discontent from Neil Golder here. Looking at the drawings, there have been some slight revisions, mostly with the College Avenue entrance and the materials and fenestration at street level. The SPR gives us a $6 million construction cost, and a proposed construction time frame of July 2016 – August 2017. Units will be a mix of 1 to 4 bedrooms (24 1-BD, 12 2-BD, 4 3-BD, 4 4-BD). While the project falls into the Collegetown Form District, an area variance will be required for a front yard setback from College Avenue, which the board feels will help the street be more like a boulevard.

The city planning board is expected to Declare itself Lead Agency for environmental review at the April meeting. Developer Todd Fox hopes to have approval by the end of the June meeting. STREAM Collaborative is the project architect.

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4. This week’s eye candy comes courtesy of Noah Demarest and Todd Fox (yes, they seem to be getting a lot of mentions this week). It had occurred to me that while an image of the revised 902 Dryden townhouses had been presented at the meeting where it was approved, the town never uploaded the copy. Noah and Todd were kind enough to send me a copy of the image presented at the meeting, and gave their permission to share it here. 8 new units, 26 new bedrooms. The duplex building in the middle already exists, but two new units will be built opposite a shared wall. Two three-unit clusters will be built on the east side of the parcel.

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5. It’s official as of March 28th. Construction permits have been issued for Conifer LLC’s 68-unit Cayuga Meadows project on West Hill in the town of Ithaca. Expect the first construction update, and a synopsis, when the first construction update comes around, which won’t be until mid-to-late May since West Hill projects get visits during odd-numbered months.

6. Just a couple minor city subdivisions to pass along. One, an application in outer Collegetown at 513-15 Dryden Road to separate the land into two parcels (513 and 515). The lot owner will then build himself a new house on the vacant lot. CR-1 Collegetown Form District, and it looks like no variances will be needed.

The other subdivision is on the city’s portion of West Hill. The property is a vacant lot that borders Westwood Knoll, Taylor Place and Campbell Avenue. The property owners, who live next door on Westwood, want to divide the vacant lot into two vacant lots to sell for single-family home construction. Once again, it looks like no zoning variances will be needed, just regulatory PB approval.

With the consolidation and realignment of 312-314 Spencer Road mentioned last week, this makes three subdivisions scheduled this month. That’s pretty unusual, as the city typically sees only one every 2 or 3 months on average.

7. Looks like someone made a tidy profit. Local landlord Ed Cope picked up 310 and 312 E. Buffalo Street for $885,000 on the 6th. 310 E. Buffalo is a 6-unit apartment building, 312 is a parking lot. The previous owner, a Philadelphia-based company, picked up the properties for $800,000 back in October 2014. So, $85,000 (+10.6%) for 18 months of ownership. The properties are part of the East Hill Historic District, where the Philly-based firm recently had a hell of an experience because the owners before them replaced the windows without notifying the city, and that was a big no-no as far as historic districts and the ILPC are concerned. They mandated the windows all be replaced with more historically-appropriate fittings. Hopefully that came up during the sales negotiations.

For what it’s worth, the parking lot is zoned R-3a – a 4 story building with 35% lot coverage. Since it’s in a historic district, a hypothetical proposal would likely look a lot like its neighbors.

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8. And another big sale this week, on Friday – the house at 210 Thurston sold for $2.5 million to the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. The house had been on the market since last November for $2.75 million. This actually sold relatively quick, given its large size and fairly unique nature. The seller purchased the property for $677,500 in December 2011, and renovated the property for use by the Cornell wrestling team.

Alpha Chi Omega has occupied the house at 509 Wyckoff Road for a number of years, but did not own the property – the owner, who picked up the property in 1971, is a business partner of Kimball Real Estate.

 





News Tidbits 4/2/16: The Walls Come Tumbling Down

2 04 2016

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1. Demolition and site prep work has begun for the Hotel Ithaca’s new 5-story addition. The work appears to be right on schedule, since a March construction start had been planned. The $9.5 million, 90-room project replaces a two-story wing of rooms built in the early 1970s. Hart Hotels of Buffalo hopes to have the new wing open for guests this fall. NH Architecture of Rochester is the firm designing the project, which received some “sweet burns” when it was first presented with cross-hatched panels and “LEED-certified stucco”. Eventually, the planning board and developer settled on a design after review, and the project was approved late last year.

For those who like to see walls a-tumblin’, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds has a short video of the demolition on his Twitter feed here.

2. Looks like there’s a little more information about the 16-unit “small house” subdivision planned in Varna. A Dryden town board document refers to the document as “Tiny Timbers”. Which is a name that has come up before – in STREAM Collaborative’s twitter feed.

Making an educated guess here, STREAM is working with landowner and businessman Nick Bellisario to develop the parcel. It would also explain the huge mounds of material that had been on the site as of late – compressing the very poor soil so that something could be build onto it, even if they’re merely “tiny timbers”. It doesn’t look like these are more than one or two rooms, with an open floor plan on the first floor and either a room or loft space above.

At first impression, these are a great idea – relatively modest sizes tend to be more environmentally sensitive, and with the subdivision, it’s likely they would be for-sale units with a comparatively modest price tag. On the other hand, tiny houses are something that a lot of local zoning laws don’t accommodate well (minimum lot size, minimum house size, septic), so that would be something to be mindful of as the project is fleshed out more and starts heading through the town’s approval processes.

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3. Here’s some good news – the initial reception to Visum’s 201 College Avenue project was favorable. Josh Brokaw at the Times is reporting that apart from debates over a more distinctive roofline and setbacks from the street (which is more ZBA than Planning Board), the board was supportive of the project.

Meanwhile, as for something they were not in support of, the possibility of removing the aesthetic parts of site plan review as a benefit to affordable housing incentive zoning was not something that sat well with them. One thing that does get missed in the article, though, is that that benefit would only be in areas with form zoning guidelines for building appearance and siting (right now, that’s only Collegetown).

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4. Never a fan of being scooped, but the Journal’s Nick Reynolds broke the news of a 3-story, 39,500 SF outpatient medical facility planned for Community Corners in Cayuga Heights. Owner/developer Tim Ciaschi (who also did the Lehigh Valley Condos on Inlet Island) will build-to-suit for Cayuga Medical Associates, with design work by HOLT Architects.

In most towns, this would be fairly cut and dry. But this is Cayuga Heights, which probably has the most stringent board in the county. The village routinely says no to anything that could draw students in (mostly housing, but historically it also included taverns and restaurants), and people prepare multi-page tirades against two-lot subdivisions, let alone what happens when a sorority tries to move in. In the project’s favor are its distance from homes and its modest densification of Community Corners, which the village has been slowly migrating towards in the past few years. The board’s raised concerns with not enough parking, so a traffic study was included with the March materials. We’ll see how this all plays out, a medical office building might work well with Cayuga Heights’ older population.

5. The city decided to take action on the owner of the Dennis-Newton House by fining him $5,000 for building code violations. Steven Centeno, who picked up the property from the Newtons in 1982, was initially charged with over 11,000 violations, and pleaded guilty to 35 counts. According to the city, Centeno was ordered to make repairs in 2012, and got the building permits, but never commenced with repair work. If he fails to bring the property up to compliance within six months, a further fine of $42,000 will be levied. This is not unlike the case last April where the city fined lawyer Aaron Pichel $5,000 for code violations on 102 East Court Street, the “Judd House”. Work on that property is underway.

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6. Likely to be some bureaucratic progress on the Maplewood Park redevelopment next week. The town of Ithaca will be looking at declaring itself Lead Agency for environmental review of the 500-600 unit project. designs and exact plans are still in the formative phases, so no new news on those quite yet. In order to build the new urbanist, form-based project as intended, Cornell will be seeking a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which will give them flexibility in how they can lay out the site. The portion in the city of Ithaca, the two buildings towards the northwest corner (boundary line goes down Vine Street), will be built as-of-right, and it looks like a sketch plan will be presented for the city’s portion during their April Planning Board meeting.

A FEAF is included in the meeting agenda, but since the project will have to undergo a Environmental Impact Statement (much more detailed than a FEAF), it’s not very descriptive.

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7. Ugh. I give credit to the town of Ithaca’s planning board for trying to accommodate a solution where the 170-year old house could at least be moved to a different site. I’m disappointed in both the town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee (members of the town board) and the Iacovellis, neither of which seem to be devoting much thought to an amenable solution. The town’s planning committee chair is hell-bent on keeping students out, and the Iacovellis are now trying to rush the demo permit since they feel their livelihood is threatened. This is an unnecessary loss due to intransigence.





Cornell Veterinary School Expansion Construction Update, 3/2016

30 03 2016

A generalized summary can be found on the Voice here. The concrete frame for the Veterinary School expansion is up to the third and final floor of what will be the new Flower-Sprecher library. As build-out continues, the existing building behind (east) of the new construction will come down and be replaced with new program space; the second floor will sit above an entry court and pedestrian walkway that leads to an indoor gallery space and central courtyard. The open space on the right (south) side of the structure will be a two-story atrium space. The addition will have a glass curtain wall, and the academic spaces that face the gallery will be faced with wood panels.

Cornell and general contractor Welliver will be looking to bring the project to completion by June 2017. Weiss/Manfredi is the project architect.

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Upson Hall Construction Update, 3/2016

28 03 2016

This one’s short and sweet for the moment due to time constraints. A generalized description of the latest progress can be found on the Voice here, and Cornell’s bi-weekly progress report is here. A more thorough rundown was given in January’s update here.

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Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 3/2016

27 03 2016

Most of the curtain walls are complete, only the stud walls on the northwest face are still exposed. Sunshades have been installed on the outside of each floor. The bluestone and limestone veneers will be apply to the base columns and walls at some point later this year. From the outside looking in, it looks like good progress is being made on finishing-out the interior of the new wing. A write-up can be found as a part of last week’s Voice article here.

Chiang O’Brien of Ithaca is the architect for the two-phase, $55 million project, and the general contractor is The Pike Company of Syracuse. The new wing will open late this summer, and the second phase, which is primarily renovations of the existing wings, will run from this summer to late summer 2017.
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