News Tidbits 8/29/15: Stirring Pots and Stewing Minds

29 08 2015

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Short set this week. Things are relatively quiet for this week’s round-up.

1. Leading off this week, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ (INHS) 210 Hancock development has finally received initial approvals, after a months-long, contentious debate. With the zoning variances granted, it was up to the planning board to issue preliminary approval, and compared to previous meetings, the discussion and decision was brief and uncontested. The plan is to have the project start construction in its phase (the commercial space, 53 apartments and the five rental townhouses) next May, wrapping up the following year. Initially, the time-frame was next fall, but getting approvals now has allowed INHS to move up the time-frame a few months. The seven for-sale townhouses will be built at a later date, with funding separate from the rental units.

The project isn’t necessarily a 100% sealed deal (and really, no project is until it’s complete). INHS has to submit an application for low-income tax credits as part of its financing package, and those are due in by October 6th. Only about 30% of applications receive funding (recipients will be announced in January 2016), but INHS has a pretty strong track record to go on.

After the feud over the Stone Quarry Apartments, INHS made an effort to be transparent about the planning process with the Hancock project and openly engage with the community. Unfortunately, it backfired. It’s looking like INHS’s next major proposal will end up out in Freeville, so apart from one or two houses that may end up in the pipeline over the next year or so, INHS isn’t likely to propose any further affordable housing development in Ithaca for a while.

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2. One controversy subsides, another heats up. The Planning Board was not amused with State Street Triangle at the latest meeting. Now, given the wide spectrum of opinions that runs through the area, the folks that serve on the board tend to be fair and even-keeled. Not gung-ho about all projects, but definitely not a part of the “I oppose anything that makes Ithaca look different” commentary that comes out of some quarters. So this week’s comments tend to be about as harsh as it gets without saying no outright.

I personally don’t like the “It doesn’t look like Ithaca” comment used for the Ithaca Voice headline, because a city isn’t a static object – buildings are built or replaced, homes are painted and renovated, and retailers change. The Ithaca of 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, isn’t like the Ithaca of today or 20 years from now. Subjective comments are prone to pitfalls.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the size of this proposal makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The building can be built as-of-right (but board approval is still required before permits can be issued), but there might be a substantial benefit if Campus Advantage were accommodating of the concerns, especially with the tax abatement being pursued. For the sake of example, INHS was very receptive to incorporating suggestions in its 210 Hancock project, which really helped during the approvals process. A little more flexibility on CA’s part could make all the difference, assuming they can still make a decent return on investment. I’ve heard that there are further design revisions underway (whether they’re minor tweaks or major changes is not clear), and hopefully those will be put forth for review sometime soon.

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3. Here’s a detail worth noting from the County’s last Legislature meeting – the following is a line from Herb Engman, the town supervisor of Ithaca, addressing the legilslature as he announced his intent to retire at the end of the year:

“Cornell is moving on its consultant to plan the first phase of redevelopment of the East Hill area”.

The wording is a little odd, but my impression is that the consultant is moving forward with planning the first phase of the “East Hill Village“, or whatever Cornell’s planning staff are calling it these days. Actual plans are probably still several months or a year out, not to mention the months of trying to get approval, and then financing/construction. But given the rapid rise in enrollment at the university, any movement towards accommodating more students and reducing the strain on municipalities is welcome.

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4. There will be a full-fledged article on this in the Voice next week, but for those looking to kill time, here’s a “family budget calculator” from the Economic Policy Institute think-tank. There are several ways to calculate affordable housing, but many don’t take childcare into account, so it’s worth seeing just how much affordability changes when children enter the picture.

Word to the wise though – EPI’s data has some flaws. If you compare this to AFCU’s living wage calculation for adults with and without children, you’ll find some sizable differences.

 

 





Urban Renewal Part I: Ithaca’s “Project One”

18 08 2015

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It was called “Project One”.

The year was 1964. The tax base of Ithaca, and especially downtown Ithaca, had been eroding for over a decade. Suburban big-box stores started to appear on the south side of the city in 1950, and up towards Lansing, plans were already underway for a new suburban supermarket and department store (the Shops at Ithaca Mall wouldn’t come along for another twelve years). New neighborhoods were sprouting in northeast Ithaca and Eastern Heights, and cul-de-sacs were paving their way onto West Hill and South Hill. Ithaca College was moving its staff and students to a sprawling campus just beyond the city line. From 1954 to 1960, 48 offices and retail stores closed or moved out of downtown Ithaca, a drop of 18%. The city councilmen were concerned.

So how were they to draw people and tax dollars back into the city? The city officials looked around. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was trendy to have that rambling ranch house set back far from the street, it was fashionable to attend indoor shopping centers away from the rain and the cold.

Image courtesy of Tom Morgan

Image courtesy of Tom Morgan

But most importantly, the trendsetters agreed, was that one could not live the high life, one couldn’t even dream of being a part of the jet set, without a big, luxurious car at their command. Two tons of chrome and steel, heralding you’ve made it in this world, and your car will take you anywhere and everywhere you want to be. And if a place wasn’t accommodating for your stylish set of wheels, then it wasn’t a place worth visiting.

The councilmen and the city officials were taking note of all those chrome-trimmed Bel Airs and Galaxies, with their bright colors and sculpted fenders. Following the results of a study conducted in 1959 and finalized in 1962, they came to the conclusion that in order to revive downtown, they had to catch up with the times, to bring downtown into the mid-20th century future with a swagger and a swing.

The plans were grand. In place of the nearly century-old Hotel Ithaca, a new hotel a block long, designed in the finest of modern taste. Out would go the decaying buildings of 60, 80, 100 years yore, in would come wider roads, ample parking, modern buildings and ideally, an influx of cash. Ithaca hoped it would bring new residents back into the city, while Cornell U., happy to give some money towards the effort, hoped it would bring in more industry and research organizations.

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Project One was to be the first of three steps in Ithaca’s Urban Renewal plans. Plans in Project One called for the demolition of the Hotel Ithaca block and the buildings on the south side of the “tuning fork”, already built by that time (and taking out a number of buildings in the process). In their place, the new hotel would go, and a new bank office on the south side of the fork. In the model above, you can see what was once the Strand Theater (demo’d 1993), Restaurant Row and the old Rothschild’s Building (also gone now) still intact. There would be new auto dealerships, new department stores, traffic generators and tax generators.

Image from Cornell Daily Sun, 10/20/1966.

Image from Cornell Daily Sun, 10/20/1966.

The rest of Project One targeted about 26 acres of land bounded by State Street, Cayuga Street, and Six Mile Creek. Essentially, everything south of the Commons, and everything east of the present Hotel Ithaca/former Holiday Inn. Much of the area between Six Mile Creek and Cayuga Street was auto repair shops, dealerships and other car-oriented enterprises. Pritchard Automotive, a block further south, could be seen as the last vestige of when South Cayuga Street was “Automobile Row”.

The plans moved forward in fits and starts. Survey and planning work was brought to a stop in 1962 by Ithaca mayor John Ryan, who vetoed the plan. But following the election of Hunna Johns in 1964, the grand revitalization schemes moved forward again. The Common Council approved the federal application for Project One in June 1964.

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After six months of delays, federal funding came through in December of that year. Cornell had already given funding to the tune of $500,000 (about $3.85 million today) to help pay for the projects, but the federal government would be the primary source of funds, which would pay 75% of the $6 million initial cost. Ithaca and the state of New York would each fund about $750,000. The city reasoned that it would bear the expense now for increased tax revenues in the future.

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Of course, not everything worked out as planned. Nowhere close, really. That will be covered in Part II.





News Tidbits 7/25/15: To Reuse and Rejuvenate

25 07 2015

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1. Let’s just outright say it – the Tompkins County Legisltaure’s Old Library decision is a complete mess at this point. As covered last week, there were three separate individual resolutions – one from legislator Mike Lane for the Travis Hyde proposal (first image), and one each from legislators Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne for the Franklin proposal (second image).

They all failed. 8 yes’s are required. The Travis Hyde proposal failed with 5 yes and 7 no’s. The Franklin proposal failed with 5 yes and 7 no’s on Kiefer’s resolution, and 4 yes and 8 no’s on McBean-Clairborne’s resolution. Martha Robertson, a supporter of the Travis Hyde proposal, recused herself because she had received donations from Frost Travis during her failed congressional campaign in 2014. Legislator Glenn Morey, also a supporter of the Travis Hyde proposal, was absent from the meeting.

I don’t see any way this will ever get the eight votes required. Kathy Luz Herrera voted against the proposals because the resolution has a ground lease (meaning the county still owns the land but leases the property), and Dooley Kiefer has stated she refuses to support any of the projects unless they have a ground lease – in other words, these two have mutually exclusive votes. By voting against McBean-Clairborne, Kiefer’s made it clear she will vote against the Franklin project unless it meets her exact specifications. Shinagawa voted against Travis Hyde for not being what the community wanted, but won’t vote for the Franklin proposal unless they guarantee Lifelong’s involved. And Stein has come out in favor of the Travis Hyde proposal. There’s no solution on the horizon.

So now it heads back to the Old Library Committee. Sale to the highest bidder and demolition of the library are real options on the table.

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2. Turning to Lansing town, the planning board there has approved plans for the 102-unit Cayuga Farms townhouse project for a 31.4 acre parcel off of North Triphammer Road near Horvath Drive. First reported last Friday by the Lansing Star, the project received negative SEQR determination (meaning that, following the state’s environmental review guidelines, that the planning board decided the project will have no serious detrimental impact on the community) and issued preliminary site plan approval.

However, one issue still remains to be resolved before any shovels hit the dirt – sewer. The project currently has a modular package sewer treatment proposal that would work in place of the voter-defeated municipal sewer, and allow for denser development than the town’s rule on septic tanks. But the DEC’s interest in that type of treatment has been mixed. It could be a while before the situation gets sorted out.

Readers might remember this project because it’s one of the few I’ve openly derided. The 102 units are townhouse-style apartments marketed towards the upper end of the market. They would be built in phases over a period of several years.

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3. Now for some eye candy. Included with this week’s planning board project review committee agenda are additional renderings for John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road. Doing a quick visual cross-check with the initial renderings, there don’t appear to be any substantial design changes, and the colorful metal cladding appears to retain the same pattern as before. Getting a little poetic here, the cascading metal bars are reminiscent of water running down a wall.

The city’s Full Environmental Assessment Form doesn’t express many worries about the project; some concerns have been raised about too many pedestrians on the street (the building would add 420 people to Collegetown’s sidewalks at the outset, 600 when fully occupied), but that seems to be about it for now.

The $12 million project is moving right along in an effort to start construction this fall. Declaration of Lead Agency and some CEQR discussion (the city’s more stringent version of SEQR, State Environmental Quality Review) are expected at the July planning board meeting. Plans call for 76,200 SF building with three floors of classrooms and three floors of offices for Cornell’s Johnson School Executive MBA program. The building would be ready for the Big Red’s B-students in April 2017. The property would remain on the tax rolls.

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4. A couple of interesting news notes courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) Agenda:

First, popular downtown restaurant Madeline’s is looking to obtain an agency loan as part of a renovation project. The $470,000 project would add three jobs, only one of which pays living wage. The restaurant on the first floor of the Rothschild Building (the two-story building in the above photo) hopes to take advantage of the new hotels going up, and law firm Miller Mayer moving its 60 employees into the Rothschild Building. Previously the firm was in the Chemung Canal Trust Company building further up the Commons.

Second, the Finger Lakes School of Massage has applied for an agency loan to facilitate a move from West Hill to downtown. The school would move its ~34 staff and 75-95 students into 10,804 SF of leased space on the Rothschild Building’s second floor, with a further 1,700 SF on the ground level for a retail store and alumni massage clinic. The space would be renovated at a cost of about $194,300.

Although both projects come with risks (Madeline’s being a restaurant, FLSM having some worrying financial statements), both projects have been recommended for loan approval. The FLSM and Miller Mayer news suggest that most of the office space in the old Rothschild Building, left vacant when Tetra Tech moved to Cornell’s office park in 2010, has now been refilled.

The new window cut out built recently into the Rothschild Building’s east facade is part of the space where FLSM is moving into.

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5. And now another reuse project – at 416-418 East State Street, currently home to an underused 7,600 SF office and a connected manufacturing/storage building. The house dates from the 19th century, with various additions as recent as the 1970s. According to plans filed with the city, an LLC linked to Argos Inn architect Ben Rosenblum has plans to convert the old manufacturing space into a bar and storage space, with renovated offices and a 2 bedroom apartment in the original house. The project will include an accessory parking lot, revised landscaping and handicap access. Area and setback deficiencies have resulted in the need for a zoning variance, but a parking variances won’t be required because the bar will have after hours parking across the street at Gateway Plaza. The building itself won’t change dimensions, but the change in use triggers the city zoning laws.

There have been some concerns expressed about this project – at least one neighbor is vociferously opposed to a bar, citing noise problems and concerns about smokers, and the county planning department is not a fan of the traffic and parking arrangement. Offhand, I think a bar is legal in B-4 zoning, but the noise impacts will merit further scrutiny.

The project is definitely something of interest to the Voice’s audience, but in an email, Rosenblum said that details are still being worked out and that he’d prefer to discuss the plan at a later date.

Scott Whitham is serving as a consultant, and local architect Jason Demarest is designing the renovation.

state_st_triangle_v3_1 state_st_triangle_v3_2 state_st_triangle_v3_3

6. Some very substantial changes are in store for Campus Advantage’s $40 million, 240-unit State Street Triangle project at 301 East State Street in downtown Ithaca.

The Texas-based developer has recruited the assistance of Ithaca architecture firm STREAM Collaborative to help redesign the 240-unit project. And there’s clearly been a lot of work since the previous planning board rendition.

In this revision, a much greater emphasis has been placed on the street interaction and active street uses. Gone is the soaring corner, and in its place is a design with a greater use of horizontal elements (like the decorative belt above the third floor) in order to give the building a more human scale – crucial when you’re planning one of the largest buildings in Ithaca.

The developer is also seeking to remove the northbound turning lane from Aurora onto State Street, and replacing it with a pedestrian area with widened sidewalks, outdoor seating and dining spaces. The land would have to be procured from the city, or some other type of collaboration would have to take place with city officials and engineers.

In documents provided in the city’s planning board agenda for next Tuesday, the developer notes that the project remains student-oriented, but in order to play down comments of it being a massive dorm, 10 4-bedroom units were reconfigured into 40 studio apartments that the developer hopes will be appealing to non-student tenants looking for a less expensive, modestly-sized space.

The State Street Triangle project is also exploring LEED certification.

The project still has a lot of details to be addressed – city transportation engineer Tim Logue has expressed concerns that the traffic study underestimates the number of car trips, and has asked for a revised study. The project is also under closer analysis because the potential addition of 600 residents into downtown Ithaca would put a greater stress on utilities and infrastructure.

These and other questions are likely to be topics of discussion at next Tuesday’s meeting.

The State Street Triangle may be pursuing a CIITAP tax abatement (so much for my theory a couple weeks ago), but the city has not uploaded the application at the time of this writing.
7. Looks like a busy meeting next week for the Ithaca city planning board. In order:

1. A subdivision at 106-108 Madison Street on the Northside. The applicant wishes to create a new lot on the east side of the existing lot, for the purpose of building a new-single-family home.

2. A. Declaration of Environmental Significance and BZA recommendation for the Dibella’s sub shop proposed at 222 Elmira Road

B. Declaration of Environmental Significance, BZA recommendation and potential approval for the 1,100 SF addition to the Maguire Chrsyler/Fiat dealership in Southwest Ithaca

C. Declaration of Environmental Significance, and potential approval for the two duplexes proposed at 112 Blair/804 East State Street

D. Site-plan approval for the first phase of the Tompkins Financial HQ (the new drive-through in the current HQ’s parking lot)

E. CEQR (the city’s version of SEQR) discussion for 215-221 W. Spencer Street

F. Declaration of Lead Agency and CEQR discussion on 209-215 Dryden (the Novarr project noted above)

G. Declaration of Lead Agency and CEQR discussion on State Street Triangle (

noted above)

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H. Sketch Plan – Hotel Ithaca Expansion. Readers might remember a 9-story addition and convention center were approved for the Hotel Ithaca almost two years ago (shown above). Nothing has happened with the expansion plans, for reasons which had been attributed to financing. Dunno what we can expect this time around, but we’ll find out next week.





News Tidbits 6/27/15: A Bad week for YIMBYs

27 06 2015

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1. Starting this off with least controversial news-maker this week – John Novarr’s 209-215 Dryden Road project, which I wrote about for the Voice here and with site plan details and SPR/render links here. The first article’s a little helter-skelter as a write-up because there was a lot of frantic 11:30 PM fact-checking going on in an effort to get the news out.

The $12 million, 12,000 sq ft proposal is smaller than Collegetown Dryden, but more importantly, the project isn’t residential; it’s classroom and office space for Cornell’s MBA program, three floors for each of those uses. That definitely brings something different to Collegetown and its mostly residential focus. With assurances given that the property will be kept on the tax rolls, the initial opposition appears to mostly be related to the design, which to be honest, is rather avant-garde and an acquired taste (not one I’ve acquired, to be honest). However, bringing 200 staff and a few hundred professional students into Collegetown would be a real asset for businesses struggling to stay open amid the neighborhood’s 32/36-week profit window.

209-215 Dryden Road is within the MU-2 zoning from the looks of it, so a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seems unlikely at the moment. We’ll see what happens moving forward, this one could be a fairly smooth approvals process.

2. For a smaller developer, Ithaca-based Modern Living Rentals has been pretty busy this year. Along with 707 East Seneca Street and 902 Dryden, they have a modular duplex (3 bedrooms each, 6 total) currently under construction at 605 South Aurora Street in Ithaca city. A construction permit was issued back in 2014, according to the city planning report. The orientation is a little odd in that the new duplex is being built in front of the old home on the property, since the house is longitudinally centered but set back on its lot. Taking a guess, the intended market is likely IC students. The new units look like they’ll be ready for occupancy in time for the fall semester.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the Tompkins County Government Operations Committee – plans to sell a vacant lot to non-profit housing developer INHS. In its May minutes, the committee announced intent to sell a vacant, foreclosed parcel in Freeville for affordable housing. The property is described as a 1.72 acre parcel on Cook Street in the village, which through a little deductive searching, turns up the lot in the map above, just north of the Lehigh Crossing Senior Apartments. The minutes state that INHS is in the process of drafting up an acquisition offer for the county attorney.

Freeville is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This might be the first new rural project post-merger. The Lehigh Crossing Apartments have 24 units on 2.3 acres, so if INHS were to build at the same density, this site would be looking at something around 18 units. Not big, but not inconsequential, especially for a 520-person village.

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4. A decision to decrease sewer hookup costs in Lansing village also shares some details about a senior housing project in the works. The news comes from the Lansing Star, where the village voted to decrease its sewer hookup fee from $2,350 per unit to $1,000 for the first unit and $500 for each additional unit. Apparently the high fee was the result of the lack of a permitting process in the 1990s.

The article notes that the developer of a mixed-use request had requested a fee waiver because it would have cost $138,650 for their “59 units of senior housing”. Now it will be $30,000. Not as good as a waiver, but still pretty good. Lansing village only has one project that meets the description provided, the 87,500 sq ft Cinema Drive project covered here previously. The semi-educated guess back in May was 51 units, so the ballpark estimate wasn’t too shabby.

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5. It’s official, 327 Eddy is under construction. Asbestos removal has been completed and the Club Sudz building is coming down. The Fontanas hope to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by next August. In replacement of Club Sudz’ and Pixel’s 7 units and 2,500 sq ft of commercial space, the new 5-story building will bring 1,800 of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall the building was originally going to be six floors, but a floor was lopped off since it was approved.

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6. Updated renders for 215-221 West Spencer Street, coming right up. A little more detail on the facades, some window updates from the last version, and…well, honest personal opinion…it’s a very attractive design. Materials could underwhelm it, but as presented, it appears to be a lovely addition to South Hill. Good work STREAM Collaborative.

The 12-unit, 26-bed project plans to start construction next year. The project replaces an informal (dirt) parking lot.

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7. Touching on the Old Library decision briefly, a public meeting on the two proposals will be held Monday June 29th at 6:308:30pm at Greenstar’s “The Space” (700 West Buffalo Street). Douglas Sutherland will represent Franklin Properties (first image) and Frost Travis will be presenting for Travis Hyde. Should the County Legislature decide to take another vote to see if the stalemate will be broken, the next chance will be at their July 7th meeting.

EDIT: The public meeting scheduled for the 29th has been cancelled .

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8. Onto the thornier topics – Not sure what was worse this week, the reaction to the State Street Triangle project, or the INHS Hancock Street opposition. The objective, non-partisan write-up about the State Street project is on the Voice here. This and news piece #9 are opinion pieces, feel free to ignore them.

At least the State Street objections (latest renders here), I can understand the initial shock and recoil; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jive with that. Regardless, by Ithaca standards it is massive, 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms; if this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).

But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site. Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit”.

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, than a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely. Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:
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to this:

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Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

9. Now for 210 Hancock. Here is a project that’s been transparent, incredibly transparent, throughout their whole planning process. At first, there was little opposition. Now, it threatens the proposal, apartments, townhomes and all.

A wise man once told me in when I was preparing a piece, “There’s no point in talking about this with you, the public’s going to have issues with it either way”. At this point, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve read the petition, and I’ve read the facebook comments. It’s regrettable, to say the least.

A lot of the comments just seem to be misinformed. People saw the petition, thought that INHS was only building the apartments, and signed it. The petition was worded with charged and selective language. I’d like to take a few minutes out to refute and argue some of the commentary.

“there must be a safe place for children to play…”

“People need access to green space, yards and the ability to get outside directly from their living space.”

“I want my 3 year old to grow up in a neighborhood where he can safely ride a bike, play sports and walk his dog.”

You’re right. That’s why the project, as proposed by INHS and tweaked by the city Planning Board, builds a playground that blends into Conley Park without the threat of vehicular traffic (shown in the plan below). Adams Street and Lake Avenue would be removed, allowing kids living in the apartments and townhomes to go the playground without crossing any street.

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“I’m a lifelong resident, and I’m frankly getting tired of seeing all these areas getting bulldozed and developed…especially when we have dozens of empty/condemned houses and buildings just sitting around!”

The rental vacancy rate is 0.5%. A healthy market is 3-5%. Further to that, if there are dozens of homes, even if they were for sale, it’s still not enough to handle the demand, which is in the few thousands.

“inadequate parking planned.”

“The parking issue is already a problem. This will only make it worse.”

“I am a Fall Creek resident and do not want this area in our neighborhood to resemble Collegetown in density or difficulty in parking.”

84 parking spaces are required by zoning, 64 are proposed. However, only 22 spaces are expected to be used by the 53 apartments. In the parking study of INHS tenants, 41% of apartment tenants have 1 car, 12% of those have two. One of the reasons why INHS’s parking utilization is so low is that many of its apartments are rented by seniors – for example, Breckenridge Place is 60% seniors on fixed incomes. With limited mobility and/or income, many don’t maintain personal cars.

In a sense, although the Cornerstone project for affordable senior housing wasn’t selected by the Old Library site, the INHS project on Hancock Street may serve in some ways as a reasonable alternative.

“We don’t owe any developer a profit on their development.”

INHS is a non-profit community developer. The townhouses sold at Holly Creek over the past year were in the $105-$120k range. For comparison’s sake, the townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages sold for double that, and those aren’t even considered high-end (high-end would be the $410,000 townhomes in Lansing’s Woodland Park).

The reason why construction won’t start until Fall 2016/Fall 2017, with the apartments finishing up in Fall 2017/Fall 2018, is that they are completely reliant on government grants and donations from community supporters. The townhouses won’t start for a couple of years (their time frame is 2018-2020) because funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. Just like with the condominium debate, the government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. As for the rent-to-own option suggested by the petition writer, it’s speculative, complicated, and NYS/federal HUD will not provide grants for that type of property acquisition. INHS couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

“[need]assurance mixed income will be there”

It will. As I wrote in March:

“210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.”

“A 54 apartment high-rise is not the appropriate place for children to grow up, low income or not.”

“It is too dense and not suited to Fall Creek or Northside.”

“I moved to Ithaca and settled in Fall Creek to live in a small town.”

For starters, it’s harder to make housing affordable if there are fewer units on the a plot of land. Secondly, because the INHS project takes lead on the city’s right-of-way (ROW) on Lake Avenue and Adams Street, the calculated density per acre is 23.6 units per acre. Cascadilla Green, one block to the north, is 20 units per acre. Also note that units are 1 and 2 bedrooms per unit; most of the houses on blocks in Northside and Fall Creek are 3 bedrooms per unit.

What probably bothers me the most are some of the comments in the online petition for INHS.

“Shame on you “Ithaca Neighborhood Housing” for even thinking of creating something that will breed trouble…”

“This is an uncivilized proposal…”

“if all on welfare, this will invite crime…”

One of the reasons I harp on affordable housing is that I grew up in affordable housing. This 147-unit mixed-income complex in suburban Syracuse. Apartment 28E. I shared a bed with one of my brothers until I was 10, and even after my mother was finally able to buy a small ranch house, we shared a bedroom until he graduated and went to college two years before I did (by that point, we had moved on up to bunk beds). My mother did what she could. We were never more than working class, but she worked hard (still does) and made sure her kids worked hard.

At least some of the comments are kind enough to be “I want affordable housing but”. Others really make it sound like that those in need of affordable housing are a contamination of the community. Those statements aren’t worth debating. They’re just hurtful.

Anyway, this might be the longest news update I’ve done, so I’m going to wrap this up and detach from the computer for a while. There may or may not be a photo update Monday night, we’ll see.





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

20 06 2015

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

According to an article in the New York Times –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. An update on DiBella’s as described above

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

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

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

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

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





News Tidbits 6/6/15: I Give This Week A Frowny Face

6 06 2015

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1. I’m thinking there is a genuine lull in the pipeline at the moment. The city’s projects memo, which is the document that city departments receive and comment on before the actual Planning Board meeting, doesn’t have much for consideration for this upcoming month. The one projects that is being “newly” considered is the 12-unit, 26-bedroom PPM Homes proposal at 215-221 W. Spencer Street. That project is expected to receive declaration of lead agency (in other words, the planning board formally agrees to review it) at the June meeting. Being carried over from the previous months are the two duplexes for 804 E. State Street, the Tompkins Financial HQ, INHS’s 210 Hancock project and the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler expansion. None of those are up for final approval.

Smaller projects and subdivisions will often first show up in the memo ahead of the meeting, but not this month. What will be, will be.

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2. On the other end of the scale, this looks to be a busy month for the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council. Most of their agenda focuses on window repairs and other minor details, but they will be reviewing the Tompkins Financial HQ and the new drive-thru across the street. Although neither is within a historic district, I suppose it’s being reviewed for the sake of feedback and the possibility of a visual impact on the skyline as seen from historic districts.

Cayuga-Meadows-Shot

3. In Old Library news, a decision was expected last Tuesday…but, the decision was postponed. After committee members started sharing their differences in opinion. Pardon my cynicism, but that’s a perfect microcosm of those whole process. Frequently delayed and bound to infuriate someone come decision time.

In a perfect world, all three of those would be built in the city, because they all address different housing needs in Ithaca, and they would all likely be successful. But of course, there can only be one. We’ll find out next Tuesday morning.

4. The Ithaca town Planning Committee is verifying two things already noted in previous news round-ups. One, the 68-unit Cayuga Meadows project hopes to begin construction in the very near future, and two, the Troy Road housing project is dead.

The committee also brought up the possibility of a moratorium for certain parts of town – two areas described as having significant student populations. One is almost certainly the area of South Hill next to IC, the other is not stated (but likely has to do with Cornell). This is part of a larger conversation to keep IC students from living off-campus in student rentals. Students aren’t a protected class, so whatever extra bureaucracy or laws the town wants to adopt are technically fair game. I would imagine, however, it would much easier to do that to IC’s undergrads than the professional and doctoral students attending Cornell. Looking at the numbers, one has been increasing much more than the other, and it’s not the undergrads. This, I suspect, is where potential laws become problematic.

Anyway, the moratorium is seen as a last-ditch effort. But the possibility of it should be enough to raise eyebrows.

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5. Time for some more unhappy – the city Board of Zoning Appeals isn’t touching the 815 South Aurora Street application.  To recapitulate the salient details, local developer Todd Fox would like to build apartments on the land but can’t because the vast majority of the property is within the “fall zone” of a cell tower, which the city defines as twice the height of the tower. At 815 South Aurora, a 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel virtually undevelopable. Fox had two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting) analysis the case and they determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development.

The BZA said it was acting on the city attorney’s advice that the committee can’t override a council-approved law. Which means that Noah Demarest, the architect appearing on behalf of Todd Fox, will either have to go to the Council to have the law amended, or he and Fox will have to go through a full sketch plan and review process, and apply for an area variance for whatever firm plans they have proposed. Meeting with the BZA was seen as way to avoid having to shell out all that time and money and risk still being rejected because of the cell tower issue. There’s a risk with moving forward at this point, and it’ll depend on just how much risk the developer is willing to take on this potential project.

6. We’ll wrap up with something positive – FormIthaca, the citizen group advocating for form-based zoning, is doing their design charettes this week. I’m writing this on Thursday night since I will be doing 5-year Cornell reunion stuff on Friday, but I do plan on being in attendance Friday afternoon meeting and am looking forward to seeing/hearing what ideas the presenters have to share.

I can assure a certain town of Ithaca board member that I have a personal preference to small street setbacks, and it sure as hell isn’t because they’re “hipper”.

 

 





News Tidbits 5/30/15: Slow Week

30 05 2015

twit_aurora_st_1906

Not much of a news roundup this week. Nothing new to report from the city except that the Texas Roadhouse was approved, and the only item on the town of Ithaca’s planning board agenda for next week will be the review of a subdivision to create a new home lot off of Hanshaw Road. With the lack of news acknowledged, there were at least a few things I wrote up for the Ithaca Voice this past week that will happily fulfill your reading time if you haven’t glanced over them already.

1. Maplewood Park Closure, Replacement Likely – To loyal reader “CS PhD”, I honestly had no idea what you were referring to in your comment on the Boiceville post until a Cornell press release reached by inbox a couple hours later. I did reach out to Ithaca East (old Maple Hill) manager Bruce Abbott, who told me that Cornell has a two-year notice in case of closure, which gets renewed by June 30th. In practice, that means that the 81-unit Ithaca East apartment complex won’t close until June 30th 2017 at the earliest, but Cornell has until the end of next month to decide whether or not to extend that to at least 2018. As Abbott mentioned in his email, “Currently, I have 70% Cornell graduate students [in the tenant mix], so I may be considered a resource to them [Cornell] while they are replacing Maplewood.  Otherwise, I have about 35 days before I know what the future holds.” And we shall see what happens; Ithaca East with its couple hundred bedrooms likely won’t be closed until that much replacement housing has been built and opened at the Maplewood Park site. 480 bedrooms will be tough enough for the market to absorb as it is.

Edit: In a follow-up email, Bruce Abbott corrected the dates – Cornell has to notify him by June 1st and a theoretical closing would be May 30th, 2017 at the earliest.

2. National chain Smashburger plans to open Ithaca franchise – Although no locations were given, a casual check suggests that it’ll be in a suburban location in an already-built space, although urban spots aren’t completely out of the question. A typical Smashburger is a little over 2,000 sq ft, and they don’t have drive-thrus. For example, the one in suburban Albany reuses what was once a Friendly’s. Smashburger locations typically employ about 25, and franchising requires a net worth of $1.5 million, including $500k in liquid assets.

No surprise, the Voice readers have been spirited in their assessment…it definitely didn’t help Fine Line Bistro’s closing was published this morning. The reaction isn’t quite as controversial as Texas Roadhouse, probably because not as many people are familiar with Smashburger. I look both forward and dread the day I write about Sonic (which is looking to come into the market), Trader Joe’s (of which I’ve heard nothing), or any other very high profile chain makes their move into the area.

3. Which Tompkins County towns are growing fastest? – Most towns reported growth year-over-year, and the census revised the 2013 numbers upward. Ithaca city now stands at an estimated 30,720, an increase of 706 since the 2010 census. Ithaca town, for which the Census Bureau includes Cayuga Heights, stands at 20,515, an increase of 585.

Now comes my gut check – I think the city numbers and town numbers a little high. I base that off of building permits. If I count the number of annual permits given in the federal HUD SOCDS database, I get 127 units (75 single-family homes and 52 multi-unit) for 2010-2014, and just 14 units, 10 single-family homes and two duplexes, in all of 2014. If one assumes 3-bedroom house and 2-bedroom apartments for statistics’ sake, then one gets 329 residents. Cayuga Heights add 27 units – 24 1-bedrooms in the current Kendal expansion, one two-unit (most likely the rear addition to 207 Kelvin Place), and one new home since 2010. I think that equates to about 33. So 362 total, only ~62% of 585. As for the city, there were 259 new units, of which only 12 were single-family homes. Using the same math as before gives 530 residents in new units, 75% of total. I’m not sure how things like renovations or reuse projects are handled, so the city might be within the margin of error on my back-of-the-envelope calculation. But for the town, probably not.

Long story short, take the population estimates with a healthy dose of skepticism.








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