The DeWitt House Senior Apartments

25 08 2015

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Most of the time, writing up initial project pages is mostly background details, along with whatever scant details were included in the sketch plan. It usually makes for an exciting post, though occasionally lacking in details.

Now here we have the total opposite – a project where many of the details have already been gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Here we have the county legislature’s preferred development for the Old Library site at 310 North Cayuga Street, the DeWitt House Senior Apartments. It has a website, a completed Site Plan Review (SPR) application (here), and the county is heavily involved with the approvals process.

I’m not going into the debate between this and the Franklin proposal with this piece. It’s intended more as a project summary.

Plans call for a mixed-use, 4-story, 72,500 SF building. On the upper three floors are 39 1-bedroom and 21 2 -bedroom apartments aiming for the middle of the rental market, and serving renters aged 50 and older. Approximately 40 parking spaces will be provided, as well as CarShare and a shuttle. Along with the apartments, there will be community space on the southeast corner of the first floor (2,000 SF), new digs for senior services non-profit Lifelong on the west side (6,500 SF), and office/retail space facing Court Street (4,000 SF).

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The building will deconstruct the old library, and there are plans to reuse much of the foundation, steel, and possibly the brick from the 1967 structure. The one-story Lifelong building at 119 West Court Street, which dates from the 1950s, would also be taken down. The Lifelong annex building at 121 West Court Street, which dates from the late 1800s, would be renovated into a guest house for those visiting friends and family living in the apartments.

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HOLT Architects, which is among a few local firms to have accepted the Architecture 2030 Challenge, has designed the building to be carbon-neutral. Solar panels, rainwater collection from the roof, and a Combined Heat and Power system (CHP) are some of the green features.

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The project is being developer by local developer Travis Hyde Properties, and the design is the work of local design firm HOLT Architects. Contact info for both is provided here. TWMLA Landscape Architects, Esther Greenhouse, T.G. Miller Surveyors & Civil Engineers, Elwyn & Palmer Structural Engineers, and Delta Engineering are also providing services.

The SPR application indicates that the $14,000,000 building is aiming to launch construction in June 2016, and finishing up 12 months later. However, the timeline in the SPR says construction wouldn’t start until February or March of 2017, with completion in summer 2018. The renovation of the Lifelong Annex would be completed by the end of 2018.

The DeWitt House project will need not only approvals from the city Planning and Development Board, but also the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC), since the land is a part of the DeWitt Park Historic District.

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News Tidbits 8/22/15: Throwing Fuel on the Fire

22 08 2015

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1. Campus Advantage has released revised parking numbers for its 11-story State Street Triangle project. According to newly-released documents here, parking will be handled with a “four-point program”:

I. The primary component is that CA is negotiating a deal for 250 parking spaces in the upper levels of the Cayuga Street garage. The document notes an average surplus of 300 parking spaces per day.

II. The city is willing to let CA reserve up to 100 parking spaces in the Seneca Street garage.

III. CA has identified 75 underused spaces in the Green Street garage, but no formal deal is planned yet.

IV. Surface parking lots near Cornell and in other parts of the city that could handle parking for those who only need vehicles on weekends or for holiday trips.

Given typical student vehicle ownership rates of about 27% (27% of 620 = 167 spaces), point I will probably be enough to handle resident traffic. Commercial traffic, estimated to be about 64 spaces in the SRF Associates traffic study, would more likely be taken care of by point II or III. So the parking situation appears to be better thought out at this point. CA is also planning a bike share and an Ithaca carshare location. Whether it’s enough to please city staff, we’ll see.

The revised document notes construction traffic would enter the site from E. Green Street, and exit via Seneca Way and East Seneca Street.

Regardless, some of the reactions from city officials have been quite strong – the following quote comes from a report from 3rd Ward councilwoman Ellen McCollister from last month’s IURA meeting:

“Common Council may end up concluding it made a mistake when it re-zoned that part of the city without examining the issue more contextually and architecturally.”
State Street Triangle will be undergoing a public hearing at Tuesday’s city Planning Board meeting, and the committee will be going over the project’s City Environmental Quality Review forms. CEQR is the city’s more stringent version of SEQR, and is used to assess project impacts – basically, mitigating the issues created by the project, and making sure it’s a net positive for the community. No voting is expected.
State Street Triangle has also applied for CIITAP tax abatements, but the IDA meeting has yet to be scheduled.
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2. Quick update on 406/408 Stewart – a copy of the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) from last month indicates that council members are across the spectrum when it comes to 408 Stewart (bluish-white building above) still being historic, and if a new apartment building will be built on just the site of 406 Stewart (red building, destroyed by the Chapter House fire), or on the site of both 406 and 408. Members had to stress to themselves to look at historic value and reconstruction separately, and the purpose of the site visit was to help figure out a decision. There’s been no news yet, but we’ll see what happens.

3. Over in the village of Groton, a small development project is stirring debate of its own.

The project, proposed by Rick Uhl of Genoa, calls for four duplexes and four single-family homes, for twelve units total. The temptation is there to approach this with urban condescension, but for Groton, population 2,400, it’s a big deal.

The homes would be built on several already-subdivided lots on a new road coming off of Elm Street on the eastern boundary of the village. The original plan called for duplexes on the west side of the street and closer to the village center, while single-family homes would be built on the lots on the east side of the street.

The debate lies with proposed zoning changes in Groton – a zoning change currently being considered by the village would downzone parts of the town to single-family homes only. That includes the lots the duplexes are slated for.

The zoning has been a source of debate among homeowners in Groton, because a number of them own larger homes that they’ve turned into duplexes, living in one unit and renting out the other. Although the law grandfathers in current buildings, they worry it could be a hassle in the future. The county’s planning department has also expressed issues with the plan, saying that it creates numerous non-conforming lots and that it goes against the county’s comprehensive plan.

A compromise had been reached between the developer and planning board last spring, where duplexes would be built on the new street’s east side and single-family homes on the west side (so as to keep apartment dwellers from mixing with family homes), but more recently the village has made moves toward an all single-family plan anyway, which is creating some consternation since it tosses the compromise out the figurative window.

The Times notes that a decision on the zoning, and the compromise by extension, is expected at the September meeting of Groton village’s Board of Trustees.

4. Looks like there’s going to be a lull in activity in the town of Ithaca for the next few weeks. The Planning Board meeting for the start of September has been cancelled. The Planning Committee, which is comprised of the town board members and planning department staff, will be discussing a “family entertainment facility concept” for the intersection of Elmira Road and Seven Mile Drive, and modifications to the Planned Development Zone for the South Hill Business Campus (SHBC), an industrial and office park that reuses the old NCR headquarters.

A quick email with SHBC manager Linda Luciano says that the meeting will be to expand the business types allowed under the PDZ, because they were uncertain who would be interested when they first renovated the facility, and they wish “to support a more wide array of possibilities”. No expansion plans are on the table, although rough plans have been around for a while.

Readers might recall that Maguire dealership chain proposed a HQ and expanded facilities along Elmira Road and Seven Mile Drive, but the plan was dropped last December due to differences in opinion on appropriate zoning for the site. A mini-golf plan was also floated a few months ago, but later dropped from consideration.

5. Here’s something worth a short note – a vacant 2.01 acre commercial property in Dryden Village sold for $31,500 on Wednesday the 19th, well below its $150,000 assessment. The buyer is an LLC called “NBN Properties”, registered in July 2014. A separate document identifies the members of the LLC, one of whom is the president of John C. Lowery Inc., an Ithaca construction company.

At a glance, this story had appeared much more interesting – the P.O. Box NBN Properties is using once belonged to Ed LaVigne, who’s running for Lansing town supervisor. But LaVigne stopped using the P.O. Box in 2014, which allowed NBN to reserve it.

Regardless of who runs “NBN Properties”, the site is a potentially good location – Poet’s Landing was built just a few minutes’ walk away to the west, and the DOT has been aiming for a move next door on an adjacent 10.8 acre parcel to the north.  The county has paid for a feasibility study, now underway, for moving the DOT from the city waterfront to the location off Enterprise Drive in Dryden village (costs have delayed the move for years). This part of Dryden village has seen some other new businesses in the past few years, including a microbrewery and a Dollar General. If anything interesting comes along, expect a follow-up.

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6. Nothing “new new” coming up at Tuesday city Planning and Development Board meeting, but plenty to talk about. Here’s the agenda, a rundown of what to expect.

A. Subdivision – continued from last month, a subdivision at 106-108 Madison Street on the northside. The applicant seeks to create a lot for a new single-family home

B. 1. Harold’s Square, 123-129 East State Street

The project was approved two years ago this month, but no building permits have been filed. Under that circumstance, an approval is only good for two years. The applicant is looking for a re-approval with no changes. A contractor associated with the Cornerstone Old Library proposal estimated construction on the 11-story, mixed-use project would begin this fall. Harold’s Square developer David Lubin is seeking to bring retail, office space, and 46 apartments to the market.

2. INHS’s 210 Hancock Street affordable housing proposal is up for preliminary and final approval

3. Final approval for the Dibella’s proposed in Southwest Ithaca

4. Discussion on State Street Triangle, see above

5. Public hearing and possible prelim and final approval for John Novarr and Cornell’s 209-215 Dryden Road academic/office building

6. Sketch Plan – Old Library proposal, Travis Hyde. Not exactly new, but I’ll give it the standard project summary next week.

 





News Tidbits 8/15/15: Big Houses and Little Houses

15 08 2015

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1. In good news, INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development was granted all the necessary zoning variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The vote was 3-0 in favor; one board member abstained after expressing her distaste for the project. Variances were needed for the height (46.5 feet vs. the 40 feet legally permitted), the parking requirement (84 required, 64 planned) and loading zones for the three commercial spaces, which was granted at the previous BZA meeting. The project now moves on to the Planning Board again for preliminary approval.

210 Hancock also applied for $3.9 million in tax abatements from the Tompkins County IDA, and these were granted at last night’s meeting. According to the application, the tax abatement was requested because the commercial spaces and the pedestrian walkways along Lake Avenue and Adams Street can’t be covered by affordable housing grants. The foundation and high acquisition cost of the former grocery store were also cited as factors in the application.

Unfortunately, documents filed with the city indicate that the townhouses will no longer be for sale, they will only be rental units. INHS says that they received updated, detailed construction costs and the result is that it would be “infeasible to build and sell the townhouses affordably“. If there’s any silver lining to that, it’s that all the townhouse units will now be handicapped-accessible, and that they will be built at the same time as the apartment building (no need for subdivision or owner-occupied grant money, which is harder to get). Construction will be May 2016 to July 2017, rather than 2016-2019.

EDIT: INHS Executive Director Paul Maazarella sent an email this morning saying that the plans have been re-revised, and now 5 of the 12 units will be rentals. 7 of the units, all 2-bedrooms, will still be for sale. Quoting the email –

“This aspect of the project has many unknowns that still remain to be resolved, so we decided to take a cautious approach with the Planning Board and announce that they will all be rentals. Some of the challenges that we have for for-sale units on this site are:  very high land cost; the demo cost for the existing building; uncertainty about the availability of development subsidies; the type and cost of the ownership structure (condo, coop or HOA); the impact of high property taxes on affordability; and the overall development cost in relation to producing a unit at an affordable purchase price.  Since then, we’ve reviewed the numbers and reconsidered our earlier decision.

We have now firmed up a plan to keep 7 of the 12 units as for-sale units and make 5 of them rental units.  All 5 of the rental units will be 3-bedroom homes (the only 3-BRs in the project) and one of them will be fully accessible.
The 5 rental units will be clustered at the end nearest to Adams St.  The for-sale units will be closer to Hancock St.
The rental units will be built at the same time as the multifamily building.  We don’t yet know the timeline for the for-sale units.”

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On that note, here’s an updated render of the townhouses. Quoting the memo from Trowbridge Wolf,

“The townhomes at 210 Hancock will utilize architectural details in the porches and roof lines as well as a mix of materials and colors to provide architectural diversity. Architectural precedent will include homes built in the late 19th/early 20th century and characterized as “tudor”, “arts and crafts”, “American four square” etc. The goal is to design the 12 townhomes as if they were built over time with some unifying features that make them feel part of the larger 210 Hancock community.”

2. From townhouses to big houses. Here’s an attractive proposal for a renovation at 109 Dearborn Place in Cornell Heights. 109 Dearborn is currently a 3,800 SF storage building with an attached apartment unit, and has been since the 1960s; previously it was an office building for the Paleontological Research Institute, and built specifically for PRI in the early 1930s. The building was purchased from Cornell by Dr. J. Lee Ambrose (M.D., so he can get away with using ‘Dr.’ outside of his field without sounding pretentious) for $177k in 2012. Bero Architects of Rochester and Ellis Construction of Lansing are in charge of the design and build respectively.

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The proposal involves new roofing, dormers, roof extensions, and a gut interior renovation to be done in phases over the next few years. Being in the Cornell Heights Historic District, the project needs Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) approval. Since the building is considered non-contributing to the historic district (the age is right but being a purpose-built office building isn’t), ILPC may be a little less stringent with this project.

3. Staying on the theme of grand houses, a lakeshore homesite has received a multi-million dollar loan. The property at 1325/1327 Taughannock in Ulysses is right on the lake, and two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The loan, for $2.25 million, was filed on the 13th, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust.

The owner is a senior investment banker from New York with connections to Cornell. In other words, the type of person a lot of Ithacans love to hate. Looking on the bright side, this is an extra couple million for Ulysses’s tax rolls (my anecdotal finding is to tack on about 30% to hard construction costs to get the assessed value, and the hard costs here are $1.87 million…so $2.43 million). Single-family projects of this magnitude in Tompkins County are quite rare, they could be counted on two hands. It’ll definitely be worth a trip to see what this lakeside manse looks like as it moves towards its May 2016 completion.

4. Also in sales, the Carpenter Business Park was purchased by “Carpenter Business Park LLC” for $2.4 million from the lender that repo’d it from the owner earlier this year. Four parcels were purchased – all the land along Northside’s Carpenter Circle except for the community gardens and the building supply company. The LLC is registered to the same P.O. Box as Ithaca’s Miller Mayer law firm, and there’s no indication if there are plans for this site. But you’ll see something here if plans arise.

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5. The State Street Triangle public relations campaign begins in earnest – the CEO of Campus Advantage recently submitted an editorial in the Journal, and the Texas-based company has also launched a website, Ithacaliving.com. It’s as one would expect, it touts the economic impacts and the addition of housing to the underserved Ithaca market. For those who are more neutral, the site’s worth a look for some new perspective shots, courtesy of the folks at STREAM Collaborative. CA’s effort to assuage the concerns of city officials and the public has been lackluster so far, so we’ll see if this is a sign they’re willing to be more active and engaging.

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6. Over in Ithaca town, the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) is still underway for College Crossings. Only this time, the town acknowledges that plopping a building in the middle of a large parking lot doesn’t mesh with their comprehensive plan. The building is acceptable, but the site plan layout needs work seems to be the gist of the town planner’s review.

7. From the city of Ithaca Planning Board Project Review meeting next week, the phrase of the week will be “carriage house”. Specifically, two proposals in the city for accessory apartments in the style of carriage houses.

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Carriage houses were essentially garages for horse-and-buggies. The first proposal, at 201 West Clinton Street, is highly reminiscent of those long-gone days, and it needs to be since it’s in Henry St. John Historic District (more talk about the meticulous restoration of the main house here). The proposal is going up to the planning board for recommendations for a zoning property line setback variance at the next BZA meeting. The 650 SF, 1 bedroom garage/carriage house would replace a non-contributing garage from the 1960s. The architect isn’t stated in the documents.

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The other proposal is for 607 Utica Street in Fall Creek. The applicant is seeking demolish a rear garage in favor of a one-bedroom, 510 SF unit. In the zoning appeal application (one again for property line setbacks), the homeowner states “My goal has never been to become a landlord…I am hoping to do this only because the income from this would allow me to remain in the community”. Once again, the affordability problem is making itself known. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is responsible for 607 Utica’s “tiny house”.

As a matter of opinion, I think these are a great idea. These add to the housing stock, contribute income to homeowner-landlords living only feet away, they’re not obtrusive, and their small size lends well to modest, sustainable living. I hope they go forward.





News Tidbits 8/1/15: Tempers As Hot as the Temperatures

1 08 2015

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1. I asked someone familiar with the State Street Triangle how the presentations went this week. “About as well as could be expected” was the diplomatic response received in turn.

The Times, Journal and Voice all devoted coverage to the controversial project this week since its CIITAP application was up for review, as well as revised plans being brought forth to the planning board. The project draws detractors from different angles – some because of size, some because it’s student housing, some because of the tax abatement.

The tax abatement is what confuses me somewhat, for reasons related to the theory I wrote up a few weeks ago, which no longer holds water. My own personal thought was that a sort of economy of scale would kick in with greater site efficiency, negating the need for a tax abatement. That isn’t to say that they still couldn’t try for one, because it meets all the CIITAP requirements, just that they didn’t need it (it would have been proverbial “icing on the cake” if granted). But now they’re saying it’s the only way to move forward. I don’t know the financials and what their necessary ROI is (and probably never will), but I’d happily listen to an explanation.

But the point I made in the piece still holds true – if Jason Fane’s project a couple blocks away was rejected for not having enough of a community benefit, market-rate student housing, even that which generates an extra $7.36 million in taxes over a decade, is going to be a big stretch, unless they plan on using the sheer size of it as a selling factor. The city planning board doesn’t have to worry about the controversy, because the project conforms wholly to a central business district zone. It’s going to be the tax abatement issue that makes or breaks this proposal.

2. As part of its 10th anniversary feature, the Lansing Star did a nice retrospective of what’s changed in the past ten years in Lansing. When it comes to development, it isn’t especially kind:

“Lansing hasn’t changed much in ten years.  While grand plans for the future of the Town have been explored, not many have been realized.”

The article then goes on to detail how after the sewer initiative was defeated by public vote, a few developers banded together to try and fulfill the town center that Lansing was pushing for. Quoting the article, “the town government couldn’t get its act together to make that happen, even though it wouldn’t be footing the bill for the infrastructure (including sewer)”. About the only development initiative that has taken off is the Warren Road corridor, which was spurred mostly by threats of a major employer (Transonic) leaving the town (and Transonic paid for the sewer study). Meanwhile, the Star characterizes the village government as simply existing for “maintenance” purposes.

The paper notes some successes with parks and wildlife initiatives, but the highlight of the piece seems to be that Lansing is routinely failing to achieve its municipal planning and development goals.

3. Back in Ithaca city, plans are underway for the major renovation of a shopping plaza into professional office space for a local architecture firm. According to documents filed with the county, an LLC associated with HOLT Architects is spending $897,500 on the renovation, and another $415,000 for acquisition costs. The renovations will start in late August should be completed by March 2016. Tompkins Trust Company is providing the financing, and local company McPherson Builders is in charge of general construction.

From the press release published late Friday, HOLT chose the West End location for its walk-ability and centralized location. The building will be renovated into a net-zero energy structure for the 30-person architecture firm. No renders yet, but they’ll be included in a future news roundup when they become available.

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4. As written in the Voice, College Crossings at the corner of East King Road and Rt. 96B in Ithaca town is back to the board for revision number three. This one increases the project by a floor, 13,000 square feet and six more apartments. It’s been no big secret that developer Evan Monkemeyer’s had difficulties getting the project off the ground (he resorted to Craigslist for marketing the retail spaces), and given a total of 18,000 SF spread among 8 apartments (doing the standard 15% deduction for circulation/utilities, one gets over 1,900 square feet per apartment) these units are almost certainly geared towards IC students. A solid market since they’re next door, though not likely to elicit warm fuzzies from the neighbors (although based off the response on the Voice’s facebook, most people just don’t care; if only 210 Hancock had it this easy). Previous plans can be found here.

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Personal opinion, I’m a little disappointed in the revision. The mixed-use aspect is fine, but I was hoping the developer would tap into some of the ideas presented for the land by Form Ithaca instead of plopping a building in the middle of a 120-space parking lot. Monkemeyer owns a lot of acreage in adjacent land parcels, so this doesn’t bode well for a “walkable center” in Ithaca town.

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5. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) is armed with more 210 Hancock studies and analysis as it prepares to go in front of the city Board of Zoning Appeals next Tuesday. With the commercial loading space question settled, it leaves the height variance of 6.5 feet (40 feet zoned, 46.5 feet requested), and the parking variance of 20 spaces (84 required, 64 given). Original/full application here, new addendum analyses here.

The board requested additional information about pile driving and the parking situation. In response, INHS has conducted further analysis and shown that, 40′ or 46.5′, piles would be required either way. INHS has offered in its application to use a “vibratory oscillating” method of pile driving, where piles are vibrated into the ground rather than driven. This reduces noise (no hammer-like banging) and produces less overall vibration. Further parking studies found that 210 Hancock offers a greater percentage of parking than similar buildings like McGraw House, the Cayuga Apartments and Lakeview on Third Street, INHS’s parking study of its tenants was reiterated, and an analysis of its commercial tenants was given – the occupants will have 16 designated spaces from 7 AM to 5 PM, when the daycare and non-profit offices are in operation. After hours, they’ll serve as potential overflow parking.

It’s frustrating to think that a suburban market-rate project surrounded by a parking lot has no opposition, but a transparent project with affordable housing and a lot of community benefits gets so much grief.

6. For home-builders or those looking to build a palatial estate, here’s your latest opportunity – 5.45 acres at the end of Campbell Avenue in Ithaca city are up for sale. The area’s zoned for single-family homes, and the city is encouraging owner-occupied houses in that area. Previously, the property was seen as a potential 10-lot development in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but the plan was never carried out. The biggest barrier is probably that it’s West Hill, where neighbors have taken to going after their neighbors to keep them from subdividing and building homes.

7. Initially, this was going to be a Voice article, but when the revised plans were presented, no renders were included. The Voice’s more general audience wouldn’t be as interested in this piece. But if you’ve read this far, and you read this blog frequently enough, then you won’t mind clickable, expandable site plans (pdf here).

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The Hotel Ithaca is once again seeking to expand its offerings.

But this time around, it’s proposing to do in phases. Sketch plans presented at the Planning Board last Tuesday evening call for demolition of the two-story wings as before, but then the construction will be broken up into two phases.

The first consists of a five-story, 51,835 SF wing build on the northern side of the property, next to the gas station on the corner; the second phase, at a later, undetermined date, calls for three more floors on the hotel wing (bringing the new wing to eight stories and 81,600 SF), with a two-story, 18,300 SF conference center to be built on the corner of South Cayuga and West Clinton Streets.

The number of rooms in the addition has been unconfirmed, but given previous plans, it is likely to be little to no change from the current hotel, once the two-story wings are demolished. Until phase two is built, a parking lot would sit on the site of the future conference center.

The hotel is operated by Hart Hotels of Buffalo. Like several other Hart Hotels properties throughout the Northeast, the hotel has no chain affiliation, although the property was a Holiday Inn until the end of 2013. The 181-room hotel initially opened as a Ramada Inn in 1972, and the 10-story “Executive Tower” was completed in 1984.

Zoning at the site is CBD-100 (Central Business District), meaning that a proposed structure can be up to 100 feet (two floors at the least) with minimal required setbacks and no required on-site parking.

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Under plans previously presented three years ago, the Hotel Ithaca sought to demolish the two-story wings of the hotel, and in their place the hotel would would build a new 9-story, 115-room tower, a kitchen addition, and a 15,000 SF conference center. The demolition would have resulted in a loss of 100 rooms, so the net gain was a total of 15 hotel rooms.

The then-$18 million project had significant local support from business owners, because Ithaca lacks the ability to host mid-size conferences and conventions (midsize meaning about 500 attendees), which sends conventioneers elsewhere. Currently, the lack of meeting space limits conferences to about 250 guests. The addition of a convention facility is seen as a major benefit to downtown retail, as well as other hotels that would handle overflow guest traffic. Convention traffic typically happens during weekdays, when regular tourist traffic is lowest.

However, the project, which was initially slated to start in November 2012, has failed to obtain financing for construction. The project applied for and received a property tax abatement for the new construction, and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) even offered the possibility of a $250,000 loan if it would create a financial package that would allow the convention center to be built. But until now, there had been no indication of any plans moving forward.

 





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.

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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.





“Fun Facts” About the Ithaca Workforce

21 07 2015

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A few weeks ago, I did an article for the Ithaca Voice about how wages in Ithaca are only slightly higher than peer communities in upstate, yet they pay a lot more in rent.

This article isn’t going to focus on that, although I could certainly add a few more pages (or at least fix the embedded graphs issue in the first article). This “topic of the week” piece is intended to be more of a “fun facts” about the Ithaca labor market.

The data comes from the Department of Labor here. All figures date from May 2014.

– The major category that employs the most people in Ithaca is no surprise – “Education, Training and Library Occupations”, with 15.49% of the jobs in the Ithaca metro (the BLS estimates this category to have 7,660 jobs locally, but that would suggest only about 49,430 jobs in the region when their numbers elsewhere say 70,000…make of it what you will). This turns out to be the highest percentage for any metro in the entire country.

This category, which includes professors, teachers, librarians and teaching assistants, averages pay of $80,700/year locally, versus $46,660/year nationally. Not only is Ithaca the metro with the largest percentage of educators and librarians, it’s also the one with the highest wages – Ann Arbor (U. of Michigan) comes in second with $79,500. Ithaca’s quintessential college town vibe is strong.

– The occupational category with the highest average pay is no shocker either – Physicians and surgeons, who employ about 80 people locally and average a pay of just over $233,000/year. The national average is only a little lower at $224,000/year. They are followed by the 40 or so dentists in the region making an average of $205,000/year (national average $167,000/year).
– On the other end of the scale, fast food cooks make the least – the 140 estimated by the BLS make about $18,680 per year. Food prep, delivery drivers and laundry workers all make less than $20,000/year on average, and amount to 1,380 workers. The median salary for all jobs in the Ithaca area is $52,020/year.

– Some other rankings where Ithaca comes in the top 10 of the nation’s 381 metros: professional chefs (8th highest concentration in the nation), microbiologists (7th highest concentration), psychologists (5th) and editors (4th – here’s looking at you, Jeff).

– Now here’s a fun category – location quotient. Basically, how many times more likely a certain type of worker is in a given area versus the national average. For example, my field, atmospheric and space scientists, has a location quotient of 107.36 for the Boulder, Colorado – in other words, atmospheric and space scientists are 107.36 times more common  in Boulder than the national average. This is why we have a joke in my field that Boulder is like Mecca for atmospheric scientists – you have to visit at least once before you die, otherwise you can’t go to Heaven.

So what fields have the highest location quotients in Ithaca? Economics professors (24.53), Physics professors (14,49) and Fundraisers (14.03). And yes, Ithaca has the highest concentration of people in those fields out of any metro area in the country. Now I know why Cornell is so persistent with its donation solicitations.





News Tidbits 7/18/15: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

18 07 2015

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1. The Old Library conundrum continues. At last Friday’s meeting, the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. As it also turns out, absent legislators Peter Stein and Kathy Luz Herrera can no longer re-introduce the preferred developer vote because absent legislators can  only re-introduce a resolution for the subsequent county meeting – in other words, they didn’t put it up for a re-vote on the 7th, so that option is no longer available. Stein didn’t make a resolution, and Luz Herrera was once again absent from the meeting.

Now things get a little more haphazard. Individual legislators can introduce resolutions for a preferred developer, which Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne are doing for the Franklin/STREAM proposal (the 22 condos and medical office space, first image), and Mike Lane for Travis Hyde (the 60 apartments with space for Lifelong, second image). Either one would require eight votes in favor. Martha Robertson’s recusal makes the Travis Hyde proposal a little less likely to hit that magic number, but unless anyone’s had a change of heart, if Kathy Luz Herrera and Peter Stein don’t both vote in favor of the Franklin proposal, nothing moves forward. The county gets left with a building they can’t make a decision on and don’t want to keep.

The building needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations at this point, not to mention routine maintenance; the lack of a decision could be a weight on any legislator’s re-election prospects. If there is no decision, what happens next is anyone’s guess; spending money to mothball the building, demolition, or even selling the property on the open market. whatever the case, this is definitely not a comfortable position for the county to be in.

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2. Looks like the Amabel housing development in Ithaca town is undergoing some site plan changes once again. Quoting the web page, “[w]e recently came to the conclusion that it is far better to park the cars at each house then to have car parks within the common space, allowing 2 cars per house if needed. This also allowed for more guest parking spaces.” Rather than having a road go through the middle of the housing development, the development is now encircled by the road coming in and out of Five Mile Drive. I asked developer Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living LLC if those were garages facing the driveways, and the reply was “no, [but] they may be carports though.” As a result of the revised site plan, the project would need to go back in front of the Ithaca planning board for re-approvals.

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3. Recently, Finger Lakes ReUse has been working on plans to open a new “downtown” branch and HQ at the site of the former BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road on the edge of big-box land. The plans for the gut renovation of the ca. 1950 building (Ithaca’s first big-box supermarket) have been in the works for a while, and grants have been awarded to fund the project.

One thing that appears to be a recent addition, though, is a three-story, 20,000 SF office building. The building, described as the “Main Headquarters”, is strictly a conceptual proposal. The grant announced in December funds two new buildings,  the renovation and what could be either be the proposed 5,000 SF warehouse to the west of the existing building, or the “tenant space” occupied by Boris Garage at 210 Elmira.

The office building is an interesting idea, adding density to the often-underutilized Southwest Corridor and showing what future plans might be in store for the non-profit.

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4. It seems like there was an unpleasant surprise at this month’s IDA meeting – the motion from committee member Will Burbank to put a moratorium on all tax abatements until a county CIITAP is in place for local labor/construction unions and prevailing wage policy. For those unfamiliar, a moratorium is in this case a temporary prohibition of all new tax abatements. After considerable debate and a split opinion from committee members, the motion was rescinded until next month.

Speaking as a matter of opinion, it might seem like a good idea on the surface, but an all-out moratorium sounds more like a case of “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” as one of my professors used to say. Generally, the policy for businesses to hire the contractor with the best price and a strong record for quality, on-time work. Sometimes that’s a local business with local labor; sometimes it’s a company in Binghamton, Syracuse or Rochester. Hence the debate.

The problem with a moratorium is that it stops everything applying for a tax abatement, including projects that already have plans to use local labor. And to be frank, local governments have a terrible track record with moratoriums, frequently extending them because of bureaucratic red tape. I think the unions support the CIITAP idea, but a moratorium that could place even larger numbers of their membership out of work for 12 or 18 months is undesirable and politically damaging. Local labor is important, but a moratorium isn’t the best approach.

On another note, the IDA did unanimously approve the tax abatement for the Tompkins Financial Headquarters project.The 7-story, 110,000 SF building proposed for 118 East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca will likely start construction later this year.

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5. In economic news, Ithaca Beer had its informal groundbreaking Thursday the 16th for its expansion. The 23,800 SF addition by HOLT Architects will triple brewing capacity when it is completed in approximately eight months. The expansion at their site in Ithaca town is expected to create 22 new jobs.

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6. Also in Ithaca town, a senior living facility is looking to receive final approval on its expansion. Brookdale Senior Living is looking to obtain final site plan approvals for its 32-unit Clare Bridge Crossings expansion at 101 Bundy Drive on West Hill. Brookdale is planning to start construction of the one-story 23,200 SF addition this October, with the first tenants moving in around October 2016. There’s no mention of job creation in the application, but there is a letter of opposition from a Cornell professor concerned that new construction will be detrimental to current residents.

Noted previously here back in May, the Brookdale site is a PDZ that consists of two facilities at the moment – Sterling House is a 48-unit assisted living facility, while Claire Bridge Cottage is a 32-unit facility specializing in memory care (Alzheimer’s and dementia). The new building, “Clare Bridge Crossings”, is designed to bridge the gap between the two – patients who might be in early stages of illness and experiencing mild symptoms, but otherwise still capable of some degree of personal independence. The whole complex is in the process of being renamed to Brookdale of Ithaca.

The new building will be tucked between the other two structures, so it won’t be visible from the street. Along with the new building, there will be updates to parking, landscaping stormwater facilities, and the addition of a couple of courtyards between the buildings. The architect is PDC Midwest, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in memory care facilities.

7. Let’s end off this week on a high note. Chances of a Chapter House rebuild are looking good. The owner’s looking into reusing the walls that remain standing, and even what’s left of the floorplates. The idea is to have the building look like it did before (though perhaps with a modern fire suppression system, one imagines). Looking forward to sharing renderings as they become available.








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