News Tidbits 7/30/16: The Unfortunate Surprise

30 07 2016

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1. Pretty much everyone was caught off guard by the planning board’s decision to send 201 College Avenue to the Board of Zoning Appeals on a previously-undiscussed zoning technicality. The issue has to deal with facade height in connection to the length of a continuous wall – the argument being pushed by board member John Schroeder is that, since there are primary walls on College Avenue and Bool Street, the H-shaped proposal isn’t technically valid and the deep indentation actually has to be two separate buildings, one slightly shorter than the other since the site is on a slope. This was the subject of a prolonged and heated debate, since the code’s pretty ambiguous in that regard, and (as shown below) the design elements shown in the form district booklet demonstrate buildings with architectural indents/setbacks.

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If recollection serves correctly, something similar came up in a previous discussion two years ago with 327 Eddy Street. The project fills the entirety of a sloped lot, but there was a hazy interpretation regarding one’s definition of floors and height where one could have called it 8 floors, so it had to be clarified and it became the average proposed height for cases with a sloped parcel. In this instance, there was one primary wall, on Eddy Street, which is why there’s just enough wiggle room left that a clarification request, however targeted it may be, is legally valid. The board agreed 4-3 to let the BZA issue a determination on 201 College, which could come anywhere from August 23rd to September 6th. That means a late September approval is maybe the best bet. That’s probably too late for an August 2017 opening, so whether or not the project would move forward (which could be immediately or in summer 2017 for a 2018 opening) if given approval is another question.

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There is one other thing that is worrying from an impartiality standpoint. John Schroeder and Neil Golder served together as Collegetown’s Common Council reps in the 1990s. Although Schroeder’s not the biggest fan of Collegetown development, he hasn’t raised this much of a concern over other projects, and Neil has been very, very active in his outreach. There could be an argument that he should have recused himself from the decision-making process, or at least have formally acknowledged his longstanding professional relationship with the project’s primary opponent.

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2. Also from the Planning Board meeting, further discussion of the Trebloc project. Those following the IJ’s Nick Reynolds’ Twitter know that there was some talk about big changes with a lot of wonk talk, and this is what it has to do with. My thanks to my colleague Mike Smith for his notes.

Basically, Newman Development is floating a few different approaches to the site layout. One calls for a plaza area on State Street (the “accordion” approach”), one calls for green space (the “courtyard” approach), and the third actually breaks it up into two separate buildings. In these theoretical layouts, the square footage and number of units is kept roughly equal. All three also keep at least some emphasis on the corner facing the Commons, because that’s where the concentration of activity is, and that’s what’s going to appeal the most to first-floor retail/commercial tenants.

Each approach comes with pros and cons. The “accordion” approach opens up the sidewalk, but it opens away from the Commons (i.e. not appealing to pedestrians or retailers) and makes unit design tricky. The “courtyard” approach has public-ish green space, but it would be in unappealing, constant shadow – even if the building were just a few floors, the low angle of the sun in the cooler part of the year would keep light from reaching the courtyard. The two building approach offers an alley that could be interesting, but would likely not see much use since there’s very little activity towards that block of Green Street. Given the flaws in each, the inclination is to stay with the current “fish hook” shape, but the developers wanted to hear the planning board’s thought before committing to a layout.

Planning Board responses ran the gamut. A few members supported the State courtyard option, or stepping back the portion on State Street but building taller portions on Green if there’s a need to compensate (zoning’s 120 feet, so there’s perhaps two floors they could feasibly do that with, like an 11-story/9-story/7-story step down, without having to make a trip to the BZA and throwing additional, funding-jeopardizing uncertainty in there). One board member asked about a courtyard on the roof. The project will be pursuing tax abatements, with the hope that with those, density and smaller units, they can appeal to the middle of the rental market.

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3. Thanks to Dan Veaner over at the Lansing Star, here’s a render and a site plan for the proposed Lansing Apartments / Parkgrove Apartments project for Bomax Drive in the village. The 19.46-acre property is currently owned by Cornell and is zoned to be part of its office/tech park. James Fahy Design Associates of Rochester is doing the design for the proposed 14-building, 140 unit project, and Park Grove LLC of Rochester is the developer, in tandem with retired Cornell Real Estate director and Lansing resident Tom Livigne.

According to the Star, “1,000 square foot one-bedroom apartments are anticipated to rent in the $1,300 to $1,400 range,  1,350 to 1,400 square foot two-bedroom apartments at around $1,600 to $1,700, and three-bedroom apartments up to 1,400 square feet would rent between $1,800 and $1,900.” The village of Lansing has to approve a zoning change from business to high-density residential in order for the project to move forward.

It’s a very auto-centric, premium-middle market project. For an area concerned about affordability and trying to move towards walkability and traditional neighborhoods, this really doesn’t seem like the most appropriate plan. It’s nothing against Livigne and Park Grove LLC, but I’m very critical of these kind of projects for just those reasons.

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4. It’s been a while since it’s last been discussed, but the 31-unit Amabel Project by New Earth Living’s Sue Cosentini has been approved by the state attorney general to start marketing units. According to a December presentation, the net-zero homes will range from 1600-2100 SF and market in the $385,000-$425,000 range. While that is a rather high price range, some of that cost would be paid off via energy savings, which could be up to a few thousand dollars per year compared to comparably-sized and priced older homes on the market, and other possible savings exist with water recycling and low-maintenance exterior materials. So the sales pitch becomes something of acknowledging the high up-front costs, but explaining the long-term savings.


5. The first of two state funding grants to not this week. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has received a $1 million grant for a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus, which if these notes are correct, is actually two facilities, and this new one will be built adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created.

Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

6. Also in state grants, Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport received $619,935 to build a flight academy building for the East Hill Flying Club. The new facility is expected to be built in the next 2 to 3 years. When the EHFC has moved in to their new digs, the existing hangar will be offered up to rent to other tenants. The new building will offer more instructional space, the ability to engage in training for twin-engine aircraft, and what the flying academy née club hopes will include state-of-the-art flying simulators.





210 Hancock Construction Update, 7/2016

28 07 2016

At the 210 Hancock property in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood, site prep is taking place. The site is being graded and excavation is now underway for subsurface utilities installation (water and sewer pipes, the teal tubes stacked in the photos). INHS is conducting vibration monitoring while all this goes on, although the pile installation won’t start for another couple weeks, running foe about three weeks, mid-late August to mid September. Contractor Lecesse Construction will be installing 10-15 piles per day with a hydraulic hammer, between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM. If the Voice’s Facebook inbox during the demolition phase this past spring was any indication, some very zealous neighbors will be providing breathless live coverage.

All in all, the contractor issue set INHS back about three months, but the grant funding is accommodating and rental agreements won’t be signed until the project is much closer to completion, late spring or summer 2017. For those who meet the affordable income brackets (breakdowns here), the rental interest form is here. The 54 apartments and the 5 rental townhomes should be ready to go by this time next year.

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Maguire Fiat/Chrysler Addition Construction Update, 7/2016

26 07 2016

So this small project slipped under the radar. Back in April 2015, it was mentioned in a weekly news roundup that the Maguires were planning a 1,836 SF addition to their Fiat/Chrysler dealership on 13. Originally, the $360,000 project was slated to build out from September to December of 2015; and when things didn’t start, the assumption was things weren’t moving forward given their Waterfront plans, and that was that.

Well, the expansion is moving forward, albeit later than originally anticipated. The expansion consists of a 1-story, 1,017 SF entry area and showroom space for the Fiat dealership, and a 2-story, 836 SF addition for sales manager offices and a second-floor lunch room. Along with the building expansion, the parking and display lots are being reconfigured for an additional 20 display spaces, a revised entry drive, new landscaping, walkways and a bike rack. The project needed signage and front yard setback zoning variances, which were granted last summer.

At this point, the addition has been framed and sheathed, some with plywood/Tyvek and some with gypsum, which probably has to do with fire ratings. Windows have been fitted in some parts of the additions, while the future doors are currently occupied by plywood placeholders. The housewrap section will eventually be covered up with dark red aluminum panels and a large FIAT logo, while the rest of the addition will use grey panels.

Welliver is the general contractor for the project, and Schickel Architecture is in charge of design.

Personal aside, I had an uncle who was a Chrysler factory foreman back in the day, so there is a certain fondness attached to the old Pentastar logo. But the many mechanics in my family still have a strong aversion to Fiats, whose build quality in the ’70s and ’80s was less than par.

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Brookdale Ithaca Crossings Construction Update, 7/2016

25 07 2016

Over at the Brookdale site on West Hill, work continues on the new transitional wing for the existing assisted living and specialized memory care facilities. The residential areas of the new wing have been framed out and roofed. Shingles have been attached and plywood has been attached, leaving rough openings for windows, doors and A/C units. Sheathing will follow (you can see a little Tyvek housewrap on the far end), and exterior materials will come along in due course.

The connector to the existing wings is not as far along; some exposed roof trusses can be seen, and some of the roof plywood has been installed but not tar papered and shingled.

The buildout appears to differ from the online plans slightly. The plans show standard rectilinear corners. The new wings have chamfered corners.

The 32-unit, 32-bedroom project is expected to open to new residents in the first quarter of 2017.

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News Tidbits 7/23/16: Movers, Makers, Shakers, and Breakers

23 07 2016

1. Hitting the market late last week – a small office building with potential. 416 Elmira Road is located on the southern edge of the big box district, right next to the “bridge to nowhere” and a little before Buttermilk Falls. Built in 1988, it’s a one-story 4,000 SF building on 0.32 acres, inoffensive to the eye but fairly humdrum with a CMU exterior. The current owner is a spinal surgeon in Delaware who picked it up in 2009 for $500k. Previously, the building served as the local office for a state agency.

One could pick the building up if they wanted offices in a high-traffic area, although a few options present themselves. The zoning is SW-3 = SW (SouthWest Area) is a sort of catch-all for business types allowed under Ithaca zoning, with SW-3 geared towards smaller suburban box retail. That is a possibility here, although there wouldn’t be much parking on-site. Housing is an option here as well, although perhaps not appealing since the zoning is capped at two floors with 60% lot coverage. The list price is $585k, we’ll see what happens.

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2. …and item number two, hitting the market this past Wednesday, and probably the far more interesting of the two listings in this week’s update. Cornell has put their West End printing facility and warehouse up for sale. The Big Red seems to be trying to rid itself of excess properties in the past few weeks, having recently listed partially-developed land it has off Triphammer as well. The 37,422 SF Cornell U. Press facility at 750 Cascadilla Street was acquired by the university in 1993, and is valued at $1.6 million by the county. The other warehouse, 30,000 SF 770 Cascadilla Street, is leased by a storage company from Cornell, who purchased the building in 2000, and is valued at $1.2 million. The listing is $2.7 million, so these two properties and the 3.12 acres they sit on are being marketed below assessment.

This part of the city has attracted quite a bit of attention as of late. The Maguires are quietly working on their plans for a new set of dealerships to the north and east. Form Ithaca has envisioned keeping the warehouse properties intact, but reusing and renovating them into “maker spaces” as part of an “Innovation District” for food processors, technology firms and light manufacturing. The land itself is zoned industrial, but the city’s comprehensive plan calls for waterfront-focused mixed-use, so in practice the zoning is obsolete, due to be updated as the city continues with neighborhood-specific comprehensive plans over the next 12 months. That sort of creates a grey area where, if a potential buyer has a plan in mind, they’d probably be better off pitching it to City Hall and JoAnn Cornish first, and gauging reactions.

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3. Well, this was pretty quick. Local developer Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals has secured funding for his 2-building, 4-unit project at 312-314 West Spencer Road, on vacant land subdivided from two existing houses. The two two-story duplexes received a $250,000 construction loan from Bryan Warren of Warren Real Estate on Friday the 15th. Noah Demarest designed the two stacked flat-type apartments, three bedrooms per units. SPR documents stated an August 2017 opening, but with this funding in hand, it might be sooner.

4. Also receiving a construction loan – $450,000 at 322-24 Smith Road in Groton town, the site of a “canine events center“. The Bank of Groton is the lender. The 17,320 SF facility was built last year, so either this is some other site improvement, or the filing is really late. Also, canine event centers are a thing. The more you know.

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5. This could be called a “scorched earth” approach. Neil Golder has a lawsuit against Todd Fox and the city of Ithaca Planning Board over the 44-unit, 74-bed 201 College project, saying the decision was capricious and that the project should require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The court’s ruling will be released August 8th.

I’ll be frank – while this project matters a lot to Neil, as proposals go it’s a fairly routine midsize ($5 million -$15 million) project, like any of the other Collegetown buildings underway, like Hancock and Stone Quarry, like the Old Library site, the Carey addition or the Hotel Ithaca addition. The board declares lead agency for SEQR/CEQR review, they identify issues, and it’s the applicants responsibility to resolve them to the board’s satisfaction. If that has been done, a negative declaration is issued, and approval can be considered, as is the case here. An EIS only comes into play for projects that pose truly significant detrimental impacts to a large population if the issues aren’t effectively mitigated – hence why Maplewood Park, Cornell’s 880-bed housing development, and the multi-million square-foot Chain Works District are the only two active projects required to complete an EIS. Past precedent suggests Neil doesn’t have much of a case.

We’ll file this with the Times’ write-up about the fight over the Old Library, and the fight over Maplewood. Short summary, everyone’s on the warpath this week.

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6. This week was focused on doing write-ups about the county housing study for the Voice, but that was before the county pulled nearly all the materials offline. Boo, Tompkins. Anyway – here’s a few details from the special needs interviews that I had planned sharing in this update – Catholic Charities has procured a 4-bedroom house, INHS’s Paul Mazzarella says his organization is looking at introducing a new project in 2017, and TCAction has early plans for a second, 15-bed facility, separate from their Amici House project.

7. The town of Ithaca is planning to put out a “request for qualifications for professional services” to conduct an economic feasibility study of the Elmira Road / Inlet Valley corridor southwest of the city.  The official vote to move forward will be at the Tuesday meeting, with bids due by some point in September. The $60,000 study (half town, half NYS ESD) will be an economic feasibility study and development plan designed “to enhance its distinct characteristics by fostering and building on the assets that currently exist, rather than enabling expansion of the city’s urban and regional development”. In other words, the town would like to expand on its idea from the Comprehensive Plan – artisanal and cottage industries, “maker spaces”, some lodging and light industrial. We’ll see what they come up with, which will have to relate to the new form-based code the town is planning to implement.

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8. Fairly light agenda for the city planning board next week – not a whole lot of decision making expected.

1.        Agenda Review     6:00
2.        Privilege of the Floor    6:01
3.        Site Plan Review

A. Rooftop telecommuncation facility on top of Island Fitness – Declaration of Lead Agency, public hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval
B. 201 College – “No Action — Applicant’s Response to Site Plan Review Issues”. Originally this was supposed to be final site plan approval, which may or may not be impacted by the whole lawsuit spiel.
C. City Centre (shown above) – “No Action — Applicant Response to Planning Board Comments”
D. SKETCH PLAN: Amici House — Tompkins Community Action Expansion at 661-711 Spencer Rd – I had heard this one might be four floors, and INHS has a hand in it. We’ve seen the site plan for a while now, so this isn’t going to make a big splash.





Holiday Inn Express Construction Update, 7/2016

21 07 2016

The Holiday Inn Express at 371 Elmira Road is looking more like the final product. From the back, you can see what the Exterior Insulation and Finish System (EIFS) installation process looks like – after the first moisture barrier comes insulation foam board, then comes the adhesive, fiberglass mesh, a base coat and the finish coat. On the north face, stone veneer is being installed on the first floor, and it looks like they’re doing the concrete and foundation work for the canopy and planters. The roof is still covered with temporary plastic sheeting, but will be finished with Isogard cover board, and a single-ply EPDM (synthetic rubber coating) finish. The 79-room hotel’s supposed to be open by late August, if the initial construction schedule is still correct.

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DiBella’s Construction Update, 7/2016

20 07 2016

I get a lot of questions about this one, probably because it’s in such a highly visible location. DiBella’s has made pretty good progress on their new 3,400 SF shop just north of the Ithaca Shopping Plaza on Route 13. The new building has been framed out and sheathed; the dark yellow coating is a spray foam used under brick to provide insulation, and create a protective barrier between the water-absorbing brick, and the layers underneath. The spray foam was also used for the Griffin Building (Simeon’s) reconstruction. Door and window fittings, brick-laying and exterior details will follow.

The inside still needs to be roughed out, it’s just the exposed frame at this point. But A&E Construction has made pretty quick work of it so far, and the dry spring and early summer have been useful from a construction standpoint. Things look to be on schedule for a late fall opening.
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