News Tidbits 4/18/15: Where Will Ithaca Grow From Here

18 04 2015

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1. Leading off this week’s news round-up, here’s a thorough piece by the Ithaca Journal’s David Hill looking at the boom in local construction. Many developers had good things to say about the city’s even hand on the market, but then there’s this gem from Jason Fane:

The new Collegetown zoning isn’t universally praised in all aspects. Major Collegetown and downtown landlord and developer Jason Fane welcomed the removal of parking-space minimums from much of the neighborhood. But he said the rezoning added other rules that run up costs, such as requirements for high ceilings and adding “further retail space to a market that already has too much retail space.”

Hmm. Too much retail space, or a notoriously poor landlord to retail tenants?

From the IJ article, we also learned that Jason Fane’s 12-story 330 College project has been mothballed, Travis Hyde’s Ithaca Gun redevelopment will be called “Falls Park”, and Frost Travis himself isn’t optimistic about condos in Ithaca:

No owner-occupied units are in the plans for the gun-factory site. It’s a challenging site, Travis said. “I have not found a way to support condominiums in Ithaca yet,” Travis said. “But I’m not going to stop trying.”

Mayor Myrick expresses optimism that some of the more far-flung outer Collegetown housing might revert back to family housing, but with Cornell’s rapidly growing student population, don’t count on it.

2. Following up my January post, it looks like Cornell’s AAP school is releasing the first rendering of the new Fine Arts Library. At a glance, it looks like the form of Rand Hall will be kept the same as it is now, although there’s no real indication at this point what the exterior will look like after the new library is built.

The architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. Herr Tschapeller has made some pretty wild looking staircases before (definitely not for the faint-of-heart), so this avant-garde design seems well within his normal repertoire.

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One concern I have is that Rand’s windows are reduced to single panes in the rendering. It may be an intention of the design or it might be because the windows aren’t the focus of the render, but I always thought one of the charms of Rand Hall was the many-paned windows are a characteristic of the early 20th “daylight factory” industrial style that Rand (built 1911) is representative of. I am surprised that Rand Hall is not a part of the Arts Quad Historic District as designated by the city, but at this point I wish it was.

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3. On a brighter note for historic structures, some work is finally getting done on the forlorn house at 102 East Court Street, just north of downtown Ithaca. Unfortunately, it’s not because the owner suddenly had a change of heart about the decaying 187-year old house, which sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. It’s because the city finally had enough of this crap and fined the owner, Ithaca lawyer Aaron Pichel, $5,000 last month, with threats to fine him another $15,000 if he didn’t bring the house up to code within six months.

I first wrote about this house in April 2012. Quoting that entry:

“Historically, the house is the “Judd House“. The house was built in 1828 – the same year Ezra Cornell had arrived in the budding town of Ithaca, which has hardly twenty years old. An estimate establishes the house as having about 3,100 sq ft, 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. Furthermore, the assessed value of the house is $190,000, although given its condition the land it sits on is probably worth more then the physical plant itself.

A casual online search reveals a photo from Cornell’s A.D. White Collection, which shows the house in a much better state of affairs in what the vehicle to the left suggests is the 1920s. Furthering searching indicates the house was most likely designed by Ira Tillotson, the same architect for the Clinton House, which is a contemporary to this home. The once-stately residence was built for Capt. Charles Humphrey, a veteran of the War of 1812, on what was then the corner of Cayuga and Mill Streets. The house and a long-removed barn were constructed for a cost of $2,105.56, which places the cost of construction likely somewhere in the upper six digits to $1 million-plus today. The name Judd House comes from long-time owners of the house in the 1900s, who apparently took great pains to keep the house in good shape. Sadly, that is not the case today.”

Plans filed with the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) by local company McPherson Builders indicate plans to restore the front porch to an “acceptable condition”, with new roofing and rafters, cornice reconstruction, replacement of the semicircle window above the porch columns, porch column stabilization and repaint, and restoration the northwest chimney to its original configuration (full length with capping, as seen with the other two chimneys in the above photo).

Yes, please and thank you. It’s a shame it had to come to this to get the needed repairs addressed, but at least the historic home won’t be at risk of destruction. The plans underwent review at the ILPC’s April 14th meeting.

4. Touching real quick on this week’s Chapter House disaster – it’s hard to say what will happen with the site moving forward. It and 406 Stewart Avenue were contributing members to the East Hill Historic District. Probably the best solution at this point would be a sympathetic new build, like the one happening with 202 Eddy Street a few blocks away. But there’s no guarantee that will occur.

Notably, the two buildings exchanged hands only a couple weeks ago. On April 2nd, two sales for $615k and $835k were recorded for two tax parcels consisting of the Chapter House and the apartment buildings on either side (the tax parcel for the Chapter House building is combined with 406 Stewart, the apartment building that burned down). An LLC in suburban Orlando sold them to an LLC in suburban Philadelphia. I doubt there’s anything nefarious here, but the new owner is probably feeling a bit shell-shocked at the moment.

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5. Nothing big going on at Ithaca College, but there will be a small project to keep an eye on this summer: a small addition to house an elevator between Textor Hall and Friends Hall. Being a small project without significant impacts, the town is prepared to waive certain requirements for preliminary and site plan approval – this should be a pretty quick approvals process.The planning board will review the project next Tuesday the 21st. Comments on the project can be made here.

 





206 Taughannock Construction Update, 4/2015

17 04 2015

Work has progressed at the site of the apartment project at 206 Taughannock Boulevard on Ithaca’s Inlet Island, where seven apartments and office space are being built from the gut renovation of a furniture store and warehouse. The changes on the exterior have been slow, but given this past winter, the focus of the past few months has probably been on the interior space.

Since November, a little more siding (best guess, fiber cement/Hardie board) had been installed on the exterior, and the industrial steel siding at the front side of the roof has been replaced with an irregularly-shaped plywood-and-housewrap structure. Looking at the window spacing, siding and trim boards already applied to the front of the building, this rooftop re-do is likely intended to break up the bulk of the old warehouse by giving the impression of individual buildings within the greater structure. It could look nice or it could look clunky, we’ll have to wait and see.

206 Taughannock was until 2014 the site of the Unfinished Furniture Store (otherwise called the “Real Wood Furniture Store“) owned and operated by the Zaharis family. From the county records, the building itself is a 9,156 sq ft structure originally used for retail and warehouse space and dated to sometime in the 1970s. The store closed last April when its owners retired, and a building permit issues a few months later. Photos of the store before renovation can be seen here at Ithaca Builds. Perhaps the biggest loss in this renovation is the removal of a rather attractive mural from the front of the structure.

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Next door, work continues on a satellite office for the Ithaca Police Department in the ground floor space of the former Lehigh Valley House, now a six-unit condominium. The Lehigh Valley renovation was done by local developer Tim Ciaschi, with design work by local architect Claudia Brenner.

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Two more Inlet Island projects are waiting in the wings, although only one is likely to start anytime soon. The 21-unit 323 Taughannock apartment project is expected to start construction this year, but no work appeared to be taking place when I checked the site at the start of April. Meanwhile, 12 affordable apartment units have been proposed for 910 West State Street in a project called “The Flatiron”. The developers, Alpern and Milton LLC, applied for affordable housing grant funding to help finance the project. However, the IURA has deemed the project a low priority because it wasn’t feasible as presented. The site as-is is shown below. The red building with the mansard roof would be renovated, and a structure of similar height and appearance would be built on the triangular lot to its left (west).

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Ithaca Marriott Construction Update, 4/2015

16 04 2015

It may not look like a whole lot has happened at the Marriott site downtown, but it is a very complex undertaking. One anonymous reader close to the project wrote in to describe the work being done on site in the past couple months:

“Foundation work is progressing nicely despite the weather. Contractors have installed steel H piles to [the] bedrock along the perimeter. Wood cribbing has been installed within the piles. The wood panels slide into the web of the H. The cribbing is backfilled and remains forever, securing the bridge area once complete. Another contractor is drilling tie backs to hold the cribbing in place. The rods are grouted in place to a depth of 20 feet or more. The rods anchor the wall in place so the structure can be built within the opened area. Caissons will be drilled in a few days. The caissons are massive open pipes that are socketed into bedrock, 25 to 30 feet below grade. The hollow caissons are filled with concrete and rebar. Concrete beams will be formed from the top of each caisson similar to floor joists. Then a few million tons of hotel will be constructed on top. The cantilevered design is impressive and makes for some very difficult design constraints. This building is a big sail that is side heavy.”

To paraphrase, and hopefully I have this right, the bridge is being secured by H-shaped steel bars, wood cribbing and filling material, and steel tiebacks are being used to stabilize the retaining wall. Per wikipedia, grouted tiebacks can be constructed as steel rods drilled through the cribbing out into the soil or bedrock on the other side. Grout is then pumped under pressure into the tieback anchor holes so that the rods can utilize soil resistance to prevent tieback pullout and wall destabilization. With the bridge and retaining wall established, caissons can now be drilled. Caissons are piles drilled to a sufficient depth to allow the weight of the hotel to be transferred from the weak soil above, to the stronger bedrock 25-30 feet below. The weight will be spread out over the piles with concrete beams on top of the caissons, allowing for the hotel above to be stable and secure.

The photos don’t show the level of work involved with building the retaining wall, and as of April 5th it doesn’t look like the caissons were being drilled just yet. But those look like caisson liners next to the excavator, so pile drilling will be underway soon.

The $32 million, 10-story, 159-room hotel is slated for an opening in Q3 of 2016 (July-September). The hotel will include a fitness center, a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, and 3,000 sq ft of meeting space.

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

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Stone Quarry Apartments Construction Update, 4/2015

15 04 2015

Substantial progress has been on Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s (INHS) Stone Quarry Apartments project on Spencer Street on South Hill. Photos from April 5th show that the sixteen 2-story townhomes and 19-unit, 3-story apartment building have been fully framed, sheathed with Tyvek weather wrap, and have windows installed.

Exterior work continues as clapboard siding is installed on the new units. The color selections here are in many cases the same as those found at the Belle Sherman Cottages on the east side of town – the beige-tan window trim is the previously mentioned “Savannah Wicker”, and the brown-orange color is “Mountain Cedar”. “Light Maple”, “Autumn Red”, “Pacific Blue” and “Sable Brown” round out the color selections.

Without actually going inside, it’s a safe bet that interior is moving along with rough-ins and wall framing, maybe even drywall and finish work on the lower floors. The apartments are expected to be completed in October 2015.

The Stone Quarry project consists of 16 two-story townhouses (2 rows, 8 each), and a 19-unit, 3-story apartment building on the northern third of the property. Specifically, the breakdown of unit sizes is follows:

16 three-bedroom Townhouses
2 three-bedroom Apartments
11 two-bedroom Apartments
6 one-bedroom Apartments

As with all projects by INHS, the units are targeted towards individuals with modest incomes, with rents of $375-$1250/month depending on unit size and resident income. While affordable housing is generally welcome and sorely needed, Stone Quarry had a number of complaints due to size, location and lingering environmental concerns.

The build-out is being handled by LeCesse Construction, a nationwide contractor with an office in suburban Rochester. The design is by local firms HOLT Architects and Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 4/2015

12 04 2015

Over at the Belle Sherman Cottages off of Mitchell Street, work is underway on the first set of five townhomes, lots 25-29. The CMU block wall foundations have been assembled and look ready for the Simplex modular pieces to be brought onto the site and fitted. The houses are built using four modules, but the size of the townhouse lots suggests these might have only two modules per unit. The townhouse units sold out fairly quickly, just a few weeks. Sales are underway for the second set of townhomes (lots 20-24), which are expected to be built this year as well.

Elsewhere on the site, the “Classic Bungalow” on lot 12 has been assembled and is undergoing lap siding installation (“Mountain Cedar” color, with a lighter “Savannah Wicker” tan color planned for the dormer). The porch is being assembled and exterior trim is being installed. If you’re interested in learning more about the construction process, there’s a little more info in my previous post here, and on Ithaca Builds here and here. Once completed, there will only be two unbuilt home lots, the already-sold “Autumn Yellowfarmhouse planned for lot 11, and the unsold and un-marketed lot 9.

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News Tidbits 4/11/15: Not Feasible As Presented

11 04 2015

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1. If my inbox has been any clue over this past week, there are some folks who are pretty unhappy with the results of the county’s Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Old Library site. One more applicant has dropped out of the process – DPI chose not to respond to the RFP. DPI had proposed 76 condos and 8 apartments for the site, a move that was cheered by some residents who spoke passionately about the new for purchasable housing in the city. That leaves three contenders of the original six:

-The Syracuse-based Franklin Properties project, now called the West Court Lofts and Wellness Collective, would renovate the existing building and include 22 residential condominium units (down from 32 units in the RFEI), medical offices, a café, and community room.

-The Rochester-based Cornerstone Group project, known as the Dewitt Senior Apartments, would build 63 residential units of senior housing (down from 70-80 units in the RFEI), and include community space for nutrition education by Cooperative Extension.

-The Ithaca-based Travis-Hyde Properties project would build 60 residential senior-focused units (up from 48 units in the RFEI), and would include space for Lifelong, professional office, and a community room.

There have been no renderings published as of yet, but there will be a stand-alone post when they show up on the county’s website. The three proposals will be judged against each other over the course of the next couple months. A quick glance at the judgement criteria can be found in the Old Library meeting notes here.

The next meeting of the Old Library committee is scheduled for Thursday, April 30th at 9 AM. 5 PM Meetings will be set up during May for developer presentations to the public. Comments on the proposal can be emailed to Ed Marx, the County Planning Commissioner, at emarx@tompkins-co.org with the subject title “Old Library Property”.

2. Local credit union CFCU (Cornell-Fingerlakes Credit Union) is making some moves by buying a retail commercial strip with an eye towards redevelopment. The property, 501-507 S. Meadow Street, sold for $1,555,550 on March 30th, well above its assessed value of $950,000. According to a statement taken by the Ithaca Journal, “the current intention is to ultimately use the site for credit union-related purposes”.

The one-story, 9,203 sq ft strip buildings date from 1980 and 1990 and previously housed a Thai restaurant and offices for Lama Real Estate, the business of previous owner Robert Lama. The site is currently zoned the suburb-friendly SW-2, but like much of big box land, it has been targeted for urban mixed-use in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. CFCU is currently headquartered in about 30,000 sq ft of office space in two 1990s office buildings at 1030 and 1050 Craft Road in Lansing.

In short, nothing immediate going on here, but definitely a property worth keeping an eye on.

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3. The proposal for a Texas Roadhouse on in Southwest Ithaca is getting a couple minor revisions. According to a cover letter from the restaurant chain, plantings have been revised to break up the expanse of blank walls, handicap ramps are now present in the new elevations, and signage has been tweaked. All in all, not a big change from the previously-shown drawings. It doesn’t look like this one will have too many issues moving forward.

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4. At the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) meeting on the 8th, the city voted to approve the sale of land at 320-324 E. State Street to Lighthouse Hotels LLC for construction of the new Hilton Canopy Hotel. Also up for discussion was the removal of 30′ setbacks on all sides of the special MH-1 zoning at the Nate’s Floral Estates mobile home park on the west side of the city. With the 30′ rear yard setbacks already in place and vegetative buffers installed by the big boxes to the south, it was felt by the city economic developer planner that the additional setback was redundant. The removal would facilitate setbacks reduced to 10′ on one side and 5′ on the other side, if I’m reading this right. According to the notes, the mobile home park has a waiting list of tenants. The proposal looks like it will allow a few more units in the park, though it looks pretty tightly packed as-is.

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5. According to the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) notes from the April 2nd meeting agenda, the board was not impressed with the Flatiron proposal. On page 6, it gives the project low pritority, with the description “not feasible as presented“. On the other hand, the INHS Hancock Street project was well received and given high priority.

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6. Looking at the March Planning and Development Board meeting minutes, 402 S. Cayuga Street has been approved, pending BZA approval of the variance (which was granted this week, if I have my notes right). The 4-unit, 9-bedroom project may be small, but it’s thoughtful infill and will help bring some affordable owner-occupied housing back into the city.

Approvals were also granted for the city project to replace the Lake Street this summer and fall, and refurbish the pocket park to its southeast. 210 Hancock was discussed without any voting, and sketch plans were presented for the TFC HQ downtown, and the 215 West Spencer Street apartment project, which have been written about previously. The board also discussed added additional questions to the CEQR (the city’s version of the SEQR used in project impact analysis), and the revised paperwork will be reviewed at a later meeting.

Oh, and on a more personal note, this totally made my day:

D. 2014 Planning Board Annual Report

[Senior city planner Lisa] Nicholas briefly walked through the annual report, observing it was a very busy year with a considerable number of additional housing units built. [Board member Garrick] Blalock asked if the annual report is publicized. Nicholas replied, no. Blalock replied it should at least be sent to the “Ithacating in Cornell Heights” and “IthacaBuilds” web sites. Nicholas agreed to do so.
I’ll be excited to have a copy. This would make scouting locations where construction photo updates are required a lot easier.

7. Wrapping this up with one final news piece, it looks like Dunkin’ Donuts is moving into the old Johnny O’s space at 406 College Avenue in Collegetown. So there will be one corporate coffee shop next to another corporate coffee shop and sharing a wall with a trendy fro-yo place. There’s probably a sociology thesis to be had in studying the changing retail scene of Collegetown.





707 East Seneca Street Construction Update 4/2015

10 04 2015

Another infill project is underway in the East Hill Historic District between Downtown and Collegetown. 707 East Seneca, like 202 Eddy Street and 140 College Avenue, had to go through the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council for approval, along with getting approval from the planning board and zoning board for an area variance (the lot was too small). After informational and voting meetings by different boards throughout the fall and winter, all the approvals have been granted.

The ILPC-approved design is made to be compatible with the historic homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s that surround the building. 707 East Seneca was originally the playground area for the now-closed East Hill School, and the lot was given to the city in 1982. The property fell into disuse, and the playground into disrepair.  The city voted to put the lot up for sale through the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) last summer, and the lot was sold for $130,000 on December 22nd (the market asking price was $175,000, and the assessed value of the land is $100,000, so the final price looks pretty reasonable).

The apartment building planned is a 3-story, 6-unit, 18-bedroom structure with 4 garage parking units in a basement built into the hillside, and five surface parking spaces. According to documents filed with the city, target completion is July of 2015. Note for the included renders, the black-and-white image with the small basement windows is the final design, but the colors are the same as the lead rendering.

Without getting a good look at the back of the now fenced-off property, it looks like the site has been cleared and excavation is underway for the retaining walls and foundation. Being a sloped site, retaining walls will be built on the west edge of the property (right side of the photos) and for tree wells, and the east portion will use a sloped bank built using fill material. Offhand, I think I remember seeing that the building itself will be assembled from modular pieces, craned into place on the foundation over a day or two, not unlike the method used at the Belle Sherman Cottages.

The design of the building is by Schickel Architecture of Ithaca, and the developer is Ithacan Todd Fox.

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