News Tidbits 8/20/16: Another Campus Coming?

20 08 2016

Fairly quiet week, but still a few things going on-

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1. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds followed up on the pile-driving underway at the 210 Hancock site in Ithaca’s North Side neighborhood. Admittedly, no one wants to live next to a site while hearing and feeling the bang of the pile-driver against the piles being inserted into the ground. Thankfully, this phase of the affordable housing project should be wrapped up by the end of the month. Lecesse Construction’s subcontractor, Ferraro Piling and Shoring of rural Erie County, is inserting 10-15 piles per day between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM, and about 170 piles will be used in the project. Not fun for the neighbors, but this too shall pass.

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2. The town of Ithaca’s planning board had their close look at the Sleep Inn proposal for Elmira Road. They were not impressed. The primary complaints were that it was a one-sided design (meaning the front received significantly more cosmetic attention than the rear and sides), that it was big and that it was ugly.

The architect of the 70-room hotel, Joe Turnowchyk of HEX 9 Architects, responded with “all corporate hotels are basically ugly”, which isn’t the kind of response that will be well-received. It was followed with “[He thinks] that if they’re going to put more money into the front of the building, they shouldn’t need to address the rear”, which isn’t a good response either, because the rear faces the Black Diamond Trail.

Outsider looking in, one interpretation of the board’s commentary is that the stone and brick is fine, but they want less of a slab and more articulation – the recently-opened 64-room Best Western Plus in Cortlandville comes to mind. The massing is broken up, and architectural details and brickwork add visual interest, giving it aesthetic appeal even though the road is 40 or 45 MPH over there. The minutes note a comparison to an Arizona Sleep Inn to show what can be done with Choice Hotels brands. Anyway, the decision was tabled, with a revised design presentation planned for a September meeting.

3. New to the market this week – a duplex and five-unit mobile home park in Varna being marketed for “development potential”. The site is a one acre parcel at 10 Freese Road in Varna, touted as “perfect for townhouses or apartments”. Since the late 1980s, the “Wayside Mobile Home Park” has been the property of Ithaca attorney Ray Schlather, who was an ardent opponent of West End density and waterfront rezoning a few years back.

Zoning is Varna Hamlet Traditional District (VHTD), and it gets a little weird density-wise – per the guidelines, and being one acre, a developer could do four single-family homes, six townhouses, six condos, or three rental apartments, max 30% lot coverage. If LEED Certified, add 2 S-F homes, 2 townhouses, 1 condo, or 4 apartment units respectively. Lastly, there’s a redevelopment bonus, which honestly appears to be at the town’s discretion. If awarded, add another home, 2 townhouses, condo or 4 apartments. So in theory, max build-out for a green redevelopment is either 7 single-family houses, 10 townhouses, eight condos or eleven rental apartments on that acre of land. No idea what happens if they’re combos thereof.

Anyway, the property is being offered at $219,000, just a little over the $192,500 tax assessment.

4. So this is intriguing – the city of Ithaca Common Council will be taking a vote next Wednesday to take $150,000 from the $500,000 Capital Project fund to relocate and build a new Fire station #9, and fund two consolidation studies. One would consolidate the city hall, the Central Fire Station, Station No. 9, and Police HQ into a government campus at the site of the Central Fire Station at 310 West Green Street; the second is to study a centralized facility shared by water/sewer and streets/facilities. There’s a lot that need to be considered as part of the government campus study, which would likely involve buying neighboring properties, or building skyward. Also worth noting, the fire station parking lot is part of the Downtown West historic district. Anyway, look for a lot more discussion if the money is awarded and the study gets underway.

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5. This week’s eye candy. Folks on Orchard Place asked for more detailed renders of the proposed two-family home at 123 Eddy Street, and here they are. Medium yellow Hardie board with white trim was the original plan. It appears that after the original drawing was submitted, the roof was realigned and one of the west-facing (front) second-floor windows was removed.

Note that this is just the planning board lot subdivision approval – although a single two-family home is typically too small to trigger planning board’s site plan review qualifications, the design still has to be approved by the ILPC and the Board of Zoning Appeals.

6. Case in point – If you live in Fall Creek, you might notice a new two-family house in the coming months. The Stavropoulos family, owners of the State Street Diner, just purchased the house for sale at 1001 North Aurora Street (above asking price, which is, for better or worse, quite common in Fall Creek) and plans to replace it with a duplex. Tompkins Trust gave them a $400,000 construction loan on the 18th. It’s a little different from the Stavropoulos’ typical M.O., which is to buy an existing house and do major renovations, as they did at 318-320 Pleasant Street and 514 Linn Street. This one looks like it will be a completely new build. No BZA, ILPC or Planning Board approval is required here, just staff level approval from the city.

7. Somewhat interesting Planning Board meeting next Tuesday. Here’s what in the bullpen:

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01
3. Subdivision Review 6:20

A. 123 & 125 Eddy St. (shown above)
Applicant: Nick Lambrou
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency PUBLIC HEARING Determination of Environmental Significance Recommendation to BZA

4. Site Plan Review 6:40
A. Project: Mixed-Use Building (Harold’s Square)
Location: 123-139 E. State St. (The Commons)
Applicant: David Lubin for L Enterprises, LLC
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes

So I wrote about these changes for the Voice. The Planning Board resolution calls for modifications to the new design. The board mandates glass block for the elevator shaft on the north and lower west facades, restoration of the terra cotta cap and vertical bands on the Commons-facing facade, and restoring a deleted window from the East facade above the Sage Building. Could really used some updated renders right about now.

B. Project: Mixed-Use Building — Collegetown Crossing 6:55
Location: 307 College Ave.
Applicant: Scott Whitham for
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes (Landscape)

Project Description: Some slight tweaks here to the pedestrian walkway, mostly changes “simplifying and altering materials for the landscape”. The curvy benches are now straight, and the trees were eliminated in favor of shrubs because of concerns of branches extending onto the fire station’s property.

C. Project: Apartment Building 7:05
Location: 201 College Ave.
Applicant: Noah Demarest, STREAM Collaborative, for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Amended Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance, Request for Zoning Interpretation & Appeal Consideration of Final Site Plan Approval

Dunno what to say about this one at this point, since this is unfamiliar territory for everyone involved. We’ll see what happens.

D. SKETCH PLAN: 607 S. Aurora St. 7:35

The new project of the month is for 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill. It’s a single-family home on a 0.7 acre lot owned by Lou Cassaniti, the hot dog vendor on the Commons, but rumor mill says the applicant is Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals. Zoning is R-2a, which is detached single-family and duplex. Semi-educated guess, given lot size, zoning and rumored developer, the plans are small-scale infill, maybe subdividing the existing lot to build a duplex or two.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50

5. Old/New Business 7:55

A. Chain Works District Redevelopment Project DGEIS: Special Planning Board Meeting, August 30, 2016, 6:00 p.m. to Review Comments/Responses
B. Maguire/Carpenter Business Park Temp. Mandatory Planned Unit Development (PUD): Public Information Session, Wednesday, August 31, 2016, 6:00 p.m., Common Council Chambers





News Tidbits 8/13/16: The Forward Advance

13 08 2016

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1. In the news, Neil Golder’s lawsuit against the planning board and the 201 College project was dismissed on technicality. The Tompkins County State Supreme Court decided that since the lawsuit was based on preliminary site plan approval and not final site plan approval, the project was subject to further changes and that it wasn’t appropriate for the court to hear this case at this time. So in other words, Neil will probably file his lawsuit again if/when final approval is granted, since changes between preliminary and final are unlikely to be significant. The scorched earth approach will likely continue.

It’s going to be a couple of weeks before that happens. In what the Times described as “an odd move”, the project is heading before the BZA for a zoning interpretation. Even the city’s planning department director, JoAnn Cornish, thinks it was a strange move on the board’s part, and one that kind of upends her department’s authority since they had looked at the facade length and decided it fit the zoning. More about the planning board’s (John Schroeder’s) odd decision and reasoning here.

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2. Looks like there’s a twist in Tompkins County’s plans to redevelop the NYS DOT site on the Ithaca waterfront. The DOT is no longer looking at moving to Enterprise Drive in Dryden, even though they bought the land there in 2005. Now they’re looking at a site along Warren Road up by the airport. So close to the airport, in fact, they apparently needed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to sign off on it. The FAA has agreed to a location and the DOT is working out a long-term property lease. The cost of moving is now estimated at $11-$12 million, slightly less than the $14 million estimated for the Dryden location in the Fisher Associates study, but estimates being as they are, it would be prudent to keep an eye on those projections.


3. The Dryden town planning board recently reviewed plans to convert the former Stevens Furniture at 2085 Dryden Road into an auction house specializing in books. The 10,000 SF would be renovated with no substantial exterior modifications. It’s a fairly small, unobtrusive plan, and by itself not much of a write-up.

However, this project is being proposed by Danby’s David Hall. The same David Hall who wanted to create the Summit Enterprise Center on Danby’s Gunderman Road, and led to all sorts of rancor among town residents and officials. His company, National Book Auctions, was to be one of the tenants of the business center. Danby’s planning board notes are online up to June only,  so the question is, is the Danby plan still moving forward and this is a case of filling a pressing need, or is the Summit project done and out?

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4. For this week’s eye candy, here’s the first image of the two-family home that Collegetown landlord Nick Lambrou wants to build at 123 Eddy Street. Jagat Sharma is the architect. The land is currently a double lot with 125 Eddy, and at present it’s part of the lawn. A planned subdivision would create a building lot on which Lambrou could put up the home. As part of the East Hill Historic District, the design has to pass ILPC muster, and at a glance, the projecting window bays (not sure they meet the definition of bay windows?), porch and comparably-pitched roof should help.

Note the lack of a garage. The street is up to 13 feet below the houses on that block, and there are no off-street parking spaces planned for either of the 3-bedroom units. The BZA would have to grant a zoning variance for a deficiency of two spaces.

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5. Tiny Timbers and the Evergreen Townhouses were both up for review by the town of Dryden’s Planning Board. Tiny Timbers once again had only a few minor quibbles among board members, who voted to approve the sketch plan and send it to the Dryden ZBA. The Evergreen Townhouses had much more resistance, but the PUD concept was approved with some stipulations on fleshing out the project further before it may continue in the process. In Dryden, the town board gives final approval to project proposals, so both of these are moving along, but not fully approved just yet. In the meanwhile, Tiny Timbers is finishing construction on prototype #2.

6. Someone’s had a busy week. On Wednesday, a Rochester-based LLC picked up the Chateau Claire Apartments, a ca. 1960 64-unit apartment complex in the village of Lansing, for $5.3 million. The same day, a second Rochester-based LLC picked up the adjacent 37,400 SF shopping center for $1.3 million. The properties are collectively assessed at just under $6 million, so the purchase price seems pretty reasonable for a decent if not especially desirable stretch of property.

With a little digging, it turns out under the LLCs, the sellers were the same for both, and the buyers the same for both. The sellers were the Goldberg family who owned Bishop’s of Ithaca, a home improvement store. After enjoying success with growing Bishop’s into a small chain, Stan Goldberg turned to development and was a major local developer from the ’60s through the early ’90s. He sold Bishops to his employees in 2003, and passed away last year. The buyer was Park Grove Realty, a startup real estate firm out of Rochester staffed by former Conifer LLC employees and making waves for proposing a 140-unit apartment complex on Bomax Drive two miles away. A little piece of old Ithaca fades, and a newcomer makes their first foray into the region.

Park Grove has taken out a $1.14 million construction loan to renovate the Chateau Claire units – kitchen and bathroom remodeling, washer-and-dryer installations, roof repair, new balconies, gutters, landscaping and lighting.

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7. And the other big sale(s) of the week, also from Wednesday – Ithaca Downtown Associates LLC, the Patel family, finally purchased the properties for the 131-room Hilton Canopy hotel project. $1.8 million to the IURA for the parking lots at 320-324 East State Street, and $2.05 million to local landlord Joe Daley for the parking lots on the former Strand property at 310-312 East State Street. This marks a big step in moving the 77,800 SF, $20+ million project forward.





News Tidbits 8/6/16: Big Ideas and Small Additions

6 08 2016

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1. Some of you might remember that Chemung Canal Trust Company was embroiled in a legal battle with Ithaca Renting (Jason Fane) over the terms of their lease of 12,000 SF on the first floor of Bank Tower on the Commons. Welp, the courts have issued their decision, and it looks like Chemung Canal lost. The Elmira-based bank had to revise their quarterly earnings report after losing the dispute with their former landlord. The terms of the payout have yet to be determined, but Fane was seeking $4 million, which is in the same ballpark as the cost of Fane’s renovation of the top floors into 32 apartments. CCTC is still looking into an appeal.

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2. It hasn’t been a secret that the price of real estate in Collegetown is getting enormously expensive. First John Novarr dropped $5.3 million on 215 College Avenue. Then Todd Fox forked over $2.65 million in June for 201 College Avenue. Now it’s Novarr’s turn again, handing over $4.75 million on the 2nd for 119, 121 and 125 College Avenue (or more specifically, an LLC filed to an address used by Novarr for his many LLCs). The three houses are collectively worth about $1.655 million, per the county assessor. Here’s a tip for readers – if you’re looking at a built property that’s recently sold, if it was purchased for more than double the existing tax assessment, the property was most likely sold based on its development potential. Less than that but still well above assessment, and it’s more likely major renovations/gentrification/Fall Creek/not being torn down.

Anyway, we already have an idea what’s planned – Novarr wants to do 50-60 units of faculty townhouses on the site, a 3-4 story, $10 million project.

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3. The other big sale this week (using that term subjectively, since someone just paid $1.25 million for a Cayuga Heights mansion) was 1015 Dryden Road out in Varna. Modern Living Rentals (Todd Fox/Charlie O’Connor) has had this 5-unit rental property on the market for a little while now, initially for $650,000, then $599,000.  The buyer “Finger Lakes Wrestling Club Inc.”, agreed to purchase the property on August 2nd for $555,000. MLR purchased the property for $425,000 in 2014. The wrestling club is listed as a non-profit serving youth training and competing in wrestling, and their plans for the property are unknown – the sale comes with plans for a pair of duplexes (4 units total), and the triplex designed by STREAM Collaborative shown above. I’ve heard of non-profits renting out real estate assets to fund their endeavors, so maybe that’s the plan.

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4. A pair of housing newsbits. Per the ILPC, the former Paleontological Research Institute  at 109 Dearborn is ready for its next phase of renovation into a rather swanky two-family residence. Background on the property from last August here. Long story short, it’s a gut renovation of a non-contributing structure of a historic district, the commission didn’t have much to say when it presented last year. This time around, the applicant wants to trade out the lower-level shingles for stucco, and the west entrance bump-out has been eliminated; anecdotal evidence says the ILPC won’t be excited, but it’s probably acceptable, since non-contributing buildings generally have an easier go with the commission.

A little further south on East Hill, local landlord Nick Lambrou wants to subdivide the large lot of 125 Eddy Street in order to build a new two-family residence. Jagat Sharma is the architect-of-record for the proposed 123 Eddy Street, which is a part of the East Hill Historic District and would have to go through ILPC approval. It will also need to pay a visit to the BZA because it’s proposed without parking (although the CPOZ was removed last year, an East Hill property still requires a parking space every 3 bedrooms) and will need a variance. Offhand, the Planning Board likely won’t be roped in on this one, since one-and-two family homes usually only need to be approved by planning department staff. Lambrou and Sharma are frequent contributors, and have faced the ILPC together before, for the reconstruction of 202 Eddy Street after it was destroyed by a fire in early 2014. The focus right now is just getting the subdivision approved, the ILPC presentation and vote will come at a later date.

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5. STREAM Collaborative sent out their bi-annual newsletter, and there are a couple of interesting pieces worth re-sharing. There were brief items about the “Urban Cottage” at 228 West Spencer, Tiny Timbers and 409 College Avenue, as well as some info about 215-221 West Spencer. STREAM writes that Ed Cope has broken ground on the STREAM-designed 12-unit, 26-bedroom condominium complex. This must have been fairly recent, as the hillside was undisturbed during a site check a couple weeks ago. Anecdotally, a condo project in Ithaca needs 50% pre-sales (i.e. 6 units) in order to secure a construction loan, but there isn’t any loan on file with the county yet, so I can’t say with any certainty what the funding arrangement looks like. On the fully revamped webpage are some nifty interior renders, including the image above. Anyone interested in the 1-3 bedroom condos can contact Ed Cope at PPM’s website here.

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Also in the newsletter was an image from the latest set of Form Ithaca charrettes. “Buttermilk Village”, a working title for the South Hill neighborhood plan. The render above is looking northeast from the intersection of 96B and East King Road, with Ithaca College’s Circle Apartments to the upper left. Among the design features are a walkable town square, 2-4 story buildings, complete streets, and mixed uses with less dense residential further from the main roads. Some of the businesses like Sam Peter and Dolce Delight are in there to give that sense of familiarity. Most of this land is owned by Evan Monkemeyer, who’s still fuming from the College Crossings debacle. But rumor has it he’s working with another developer on a plan. It would be quite a feather in Form Ithaca’s cap if it looked something like this.





Upson Hall Construction Update, 7/2016

1 08 2016

There are two different facade installations going on here – the terracotta, and the aluminum. For the terracotta, the process goes like this. First, we have the gypsum sheathing, coated with a turquoise-colored water-resistive barrier. The ends of the aluminum clips are installed onto the sheathing, and then mineral wool insulation is attached between the clip. Then, the rest of the aluminum clip is attached over the mineral wool. From there, terracotta panels are hung up and secured to the clips. The aluminum window surrounds don’t need this type of work, so the panels are just hung as-is over the sheathing.

According to Cornell’s Upson Hall webpage, Phase I is nearing completion at this point. That means that floors 3, 4 and 5 are nearly finished inside and out, and work will shift towards the basement, the first and second floor. Some work has already been done in the basement with utility and infrastructure upgrades. It’s really quite a feat that the building is continues to be occupied while all the construction is going on, the work split between the top half and bottom half. Also, kudos to the faculty, staff and students who have to put up with the noise and multiple moves while the work takes place. The fully-renovated Upson Hall should be ready by next August.

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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.





Cayuga Meadows Construction Update, 7/2016

18 07 2016

Safe to say this is under construction. Work has commenced on Conifer LLC’s Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project on West Hill.

Cayuga Meadows is a 3-story, 58,500 SF apartment building with 68 units, 59 1-bedroom and 9 2-bedroom. The units will be available to individuals aged 55 and older, with incomes 60% or less or the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI in Tompkins County is about $53,000 per household, so a qualifying senior household would have an annual income of $31,800 or less. 7 units will be accessible to mobility-impaired individuals, and 3 units will be designed to accommodate hearing or visually-impaired occupants. Included in the plans are two covered patios, a community garden, and stormwater, lighting and landscaping improvements. 67 parking spaces will be paved behind the building.

The history of Cayuga Meadows goes back a few years, and has its share of twists. Originally, the project had been conceived as “Conifer West Hill” in 2009 as a component to a Cornell-led mixed-use development on about 36 acres of land across from Cayuga Medical Center. Rochester-based Conifer’s part in the plan has always been the same – affordable housing for seniors. But Cornell had other plans for the rest of the acreage.

In Spring 2010, there were three different site plans being floated – the consistent components were Conifer’s project, a 68-bed assisted living facility called “Terrace at Ithaca”, medical office space, small-scale retail, 106 park-and-ride spaces, and 4,000 SF for a farmer’s market. Depending on the plan, there were townhomes, a hotel school conference center, or other institutional space for Cornell. Mixed-use, definitely, but the plans weren’t that walkable, traditional neighborhood feel that the town is looking for these days – in fact, they were fairly conventional suburban sprawl. Cornell’s approach to planning was different in the late 2000s. By good fortune, Ithaca Builds locally hosted a copy of those site plans here.

For a combination of reasons (financial feasibility, changing priorities), Cornell ended up shelving its plans. However, it would be incorrect to say the university isn’t still interested in the site – they recently bought the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road, whose property had been awkwardly carved out of the rest of the site in a subdivision long ago. In the 2010 plans, Cornell had to plan around the house, not to mention worry about the occupants complaining about Cornell’s plans. So when it came on the market and sat for a couple months, the Big Red decided to pick it up in June for $157,000, probably on the belief that it could pay off through easier site planning and development down the line.

While Cornell filed away their plans, Conifer continued with theirs since the university was still willing to give them land as long as they built affordable housing. Originally, it was conceived as 72 units when it first received preliminary approval in April 2012, but was trimmed to 68 when final approval was granted in November 2013, in order to make the project a little less expensive, and provide a little more space to the community garden. Between preliminary and final approval, Conifer also had to apply for rezoning (Medium-Density Residential to Multiple Residence in May 2012), zoning variances (June 2012, for height and building setbacks), and public works approval for utilities services to be installed.

Then came another few years’ wait while financing was being secured. As covered on the Voice, affordable housing grants are very competitive, so it often takes multiple rounds of applications before a project is finally given grant money. In Conifer’s case, the last piece of the puzzle, tax-exempt bonds, didn’t come through until late January 2016. Cayuga Meadows is a $14.9 million project – about $8.3 million comes from NYS Housing Finance Agency bonds, and another $6.3 million from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. First Niagara Bank provided the Letter of Credit for the bonds. The project will pay taxes.

With the funding in hand, Cornell and Conifer formally agreed to a subdivision of Cornell’s land – 4.9 acres for the senior housing, and another acre for the Right-Of-Way for the new road. Cornell and Conifer had to agree on a few choices for new road names, which they submitted to Ithaca’s Codes Enforcement Director (Bruce Bates), who checks with the county to make sure there are no issues with the choices, and then the three parties agree on a final selection. Cayuga Meadows’ address will be “108 Aster Lane”.

There’s yet to be a color render hosted online, but the exterior will use fiber cement siding – Certainteed “Savannah Wicker” Dutch Lap Siding and “Cypress Spruce” cedar-like shingle siding. For the sake of examples, the Belle Sherman Cottages and Stone Quarry Apartments have also used Savannah Wicker fiber cement. The roof will be Timberline “Weathered Wood” shingles.

At the project site right now, work is underway on the foundation. The building’s footprint has been cleared, the foundation is excavated, and footers are poured for where the concrete will transfer the weight into the ground. Wooden forms are built along the perimeter for the stem walls, rebar is laid for reinforcement of the concrete, and the concrete is poured and left to harden (cured). Once the concrete has had a chance to harden, the forms are lifted off and work moves onto the next section. The building will be a slab-on-grade foundation, so no worries about excavating a basement here.

As a side note, it seems fitting that the residents with east-facing windows will have some pretty fantastic views of Cornell.

Through a joint venture with Conifer, LeChase Construction of Rochester will be serving as general contractor. The excavating has been subcontracted out to Neally-DeJong Excavating of Corning, and concrete work to Architectural Concrete Plus of Dundee (Yates County, northwest of Watkins Glen). Thanks to “Drill Deep” for the clarification.

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News Tidbits 7/16/16: Summer Storms of a Different Kind

16 07 2016

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1. It looks like the first round of funding has been filed for INHS’s 210 Hancock project. The $7,790,511 construction loan was filed with the count on July 11th, with the lender of record listed as “CPC Funding SPE I LLC”. CPC is the Community Preservation Corporation, a non-profit lending institution funded by 69 different lenders in a revolving loan fund in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. This includes big banks like Citi and wells Fargo, and smaller regional banks like Chemung Canal Trust. Since affordable housing isn’t intended to be a moneymaker, it’s difficult to get lenders to cover the construction costs of a project. CPC serves as a middleman, allowing multiple private lenders to engage in modest amounts of financing for affordable, multi-family housing.

The 54 apartments and 5 townhouses partially funded by this loan are expected to be ready for occupancy next summer.

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2. Things aren’t going well with the Old Library redevelopment. In Tuesday’s joint meeting between the ILPC and the Planning Board, some felt the current design of Travis Hyde’s DeWitt House proposal was too dull, some felt the previous design was best, and some fell in between. But, it seems like none of the three approaches has enough support to get a Certificate of Appropriateness, with a few of the members feeling that no design will work for the site because they feel they’re all too big. Frost Travis replied that the project can’t afford a major size reduction and still be feasible. Now the county’s getting involved since they selected the Travis Hyde proposal, and things are getting quite contentious.

Doing a quick check, for at least the previous iteration, the Travis Hyde proposal was about 85,600 SF, and the Franklin/STREAM condo proposal was 5 floors and 58,000 SF. Would residents have pushed Franklin/STREAM to reduce floors and potentially make the condo project infeasible? Who knows. If folks start clamoring for three floors or less, that will likely eliminate any proposals due to the cost of rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the county will have no viable options for a building in need of expensive repairs just to be usable. We’ll see what happens next month.

3. Namgyal Monastery has officially sold its city property. The house they owned at 412 North Aurora Street sold for $275,000 on the 13th, which is the same price it’s assessed at. Namgyal has purchased for the property for $150,000 in November 1992. A 2006 assets assessment placed the value of the Aurora Street house at $300,000, which might have been a bit generous.

On the one hand, the sale nets the monastery funds to continue construction of the new 13,000 SF facility on South Hill, which was recently selected to be a site of the Library of the Dalai Lamas. On the other hand, their webpage states they intended on keeping the Aurora Street house.

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4. The Ithaca Times’ Jaime Cone, new wind turbine laws in Newfield may effectively prohibit their construction. The town of Newfield decided to expand the radius of legally required unoccupied space from 1.5x the height of the turbine, to three times the radius of the propellers. In the case of the turbine that Black Oak Wind Farm (BOWF) was looking to put there, that raised the necessary easement support area from within 750 feet of the base, to 1,760 feet. Also, instead of 750 feet away from occupied structures, it’s 1,760 feet from any property line – in case anyone wanted to build on vacant land. Quoting Marguerite Wells, the beleaguered project manager of BOWF, “It makes it unbuildable…It’s a common way to outlaw wind farms in a town, to make the setback impossible.”

Apparently, things are so bad now, the town of Newfield voted to block a BOWF driveway that routed through Newfield to get to one of their Enfield sites. Given that a Tompkins County town is actively preventing and being malignant towards alternative clean energy sources and providers, it’s surprising there hasn’t been grater push-back from the sustainability proponents.

Overall, it’s been a rough month or so for green energy producers in Tompkins County – Ulysses is furious at Renovus and their solar panel installations, and Lansing’s planning board wants to vote in a moratorium on commercial solar panels.

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5. The county’s PEDEEQ (Planning et al.) Committee is voting next week to take $2,500 from the county’s contingency fund to host a housing summit this fall. Another $2,500 will come from the Planning Department. The purpose of the $55,000 summit is to take all the updated plans and housing needs assessments (the county’s, which is the big one, is due out next week) and figure out way to incorporate them into an updated county housing strategy. $45k comes from a Park Foundation grant. From the tone of the summit description, it doesn’t sound like the county’s affordable housing issues have improved since 2006, but we’ll see just how severe the housing issue has become when the study comes out later this month.

On a separate note, the county is looking to award the 23-bed Amici House project $225,000 in affordable housing grants, plus a loan forgiveness of $75,000 in pre-development costs.

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6. To round out this week of mostly unpleasant news, Mark Anbinder at 14850.com is reporting that the Marriott’s opening will be delayed from August 23rd to a likely opening in October, according to the director of sales. However, as extra padding in case of further delays, it appears won’t be taking further reservations for dates before mid-November. Unfortunately, this is well past Ithaca’s big tourist season, so it’s a safe bet to say neither Marriott nor the folks who had August and September reservations are pleased.








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