News Tidbits 9/24/16: The Implicit and the Explicit

24 09 2016

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1. Over in the town of Dryden, it looks like Buzz Dolph and STREAM Collaborative’s Tiny Timbers project is up for preliminary approval. The site plan hasn’t changed much, just slight modifications for a dumpster/recycling enclosure and a bus pull-off. However, the home options have been expanded a bit. There will be five options, ranging from a 1-story 525 SF home starting at $99,500, to a 1,050 SF model priced at $184,500. Design specs (flooring, finishes, HVAC) can be found here.

Along with Tiny Timbers, Dolph is planning a similar, smaller project near his house on Quarry Road in Dryden town. That $800,000 project, called “Quarry Ridge Cooperative“, consists of two duplexes (four units), all owner-occupied. The homes will be connected to a shared driveway and carport through breezeways. Back of the envelope calculations suggest these units will be around 1,000 SF each. The 2.26 acres will be collectively owned by the four homeowners.

2. On a related note, another sister project to Tiny Timbers is being prepped for a site on the city’s portion of West Hill. Dolph et al. are looking to do a similar development to the one in Varna on a 5.45 acre parcel at the south end of the 400 Block of Campbell Avenue, which was noted in a weekly news roundup when it hit the market back for $195k in August 2015. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds touched on it in a through write-up he did earlier this week. The comprehensive plan calls this portion of West Hill low-density residential, less than 10 units per acre. Current zoning is R-1a, 10000 SF minimum lot size with mandatory off-street parking, although maybe a cluster subdivision would come into play here. The Varna property is a little over 6 units per acre. If one assumes a similar density to the Varna project, the ballpark is about 35 units, if sticking to the 10000 SF lot size, then 23 units.

On the one hand, expect some grumbling from neighbors who won’t be thrilled with development at the end of their dead-end street. On the other hand, these small houses are modestly-sized and priced, they’ll be owner-occupied, and if the Varna site is any indication, the landscaping and building design will be aesthetically pleasing.

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3. I dunno if I’ve ever seen such strenuous contention between the planning board and the city’s planning department. The planning board’s objected to Zoning Director Phyllis Radke’s determination that the project is legal per the Form District MU-1 Zoning.

The document put forth by John Schroeder and approved by the board rests on the following interpretations:
-in cases where the zoning isn’t explicitly stated in denser zones, it should rely on what is stated in less dense codes, and interpretations of the introductory “purpose and intent” section of the code, which qualifies similarities of form and scale if the numbers and dimensions for facade length aren’t explicitly stated.

-The argument also draws debate towards the unstated but implied interpretation of street facade, which refers to the building’s primary face, vs. building facades facing both streets. The board’s filing argues that the Bool Street facade was intended as a primary facade early on.

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-Unlabeled parts of the diagram, such as MU-1’s, have no meaning. Even if they could give the impression of longer facades, it’s not the intent of the code.

The document goes on to say that Radke “invented claims unsupported by the text”, uses “tortured logic” and “silly conclusions”. Ouch.  Since interpretation is not a cut-and-dry matter of clear definitions, so we end up with an argument from both sides that relies on an interpretation of ambiguities, something more akin to a court room. A curious result of this discussion is that the Planning Board had to send out a letter to neighbors saying they would be arguing zoning determinations, which are going to be far out of most readers’ expertise, as the precise details and intent of the 2014 zoning will be the primary driver of this debate.

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4. The Ithacan is reporting a mid-to-late October opening for the Marriott, the Journal is reporting November. Presumably, one of them is correct. The delay from the original August opening is attributed to a labor shortage. Hiring is currently underway for the 159-room hotel and its restaurant, which according to the IJ, are expected to employ 50 to 60 in total. About 75% will be full-time, and wages are expected to run from $10/hr + tips for wait staff, to $18-$19/hour, with the hope that a premium paycheck compared to similar positions at other local hotels will translate to a premium experience for guests.

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5. It looks like TC3’s Childcare facility is well on its way to reality. At least $4.5 million has been secured for the $5.5 million project and its scholarship endowment for students with children. $2.5 million for that was recently received in a set of state grant and funds, according to WHCU. Another $2 million comes from benefactor Arthur Kuckes, for whom the new facility will be named.

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6. It’s been a while since I’ve done house of the week. So, here’s a new house underway on the 200 Block of Pearl Street in the city’s Bryant Park neighborhood. Ithaca’s Carina Construction is doing their modular magic here, the pieces have been assembled and most of the siding and roof trim has been attached. Not 100% sure if there will be a porch, the lack of siding above the door suggests it’s a possibility.

To be honest, when I was going through my list of single-families underway, I was mostly finding that Carina dominated the list. Since Avalon Homes went under, and most stick-builds are beaucoup bucks due to higher labor and materials costs, Carina’s offerings have broad appeal in Ithaca’s isolated, tight home market.

The lot was created four years ago by a subdivision of 222 Miller across the street. Since then, it exchanged hands a few times before a local realtor sold the property for $130,000 in July to a family who relocated to the area from Texas.

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7. The Planning Board Agenda is up, and it’s the shortest in ages, thanks to that special meeting last week. Here’s the rundown:

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

 3.  Subdivision Review

A. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                      6:15
Location: 404 Wood St.
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency  – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Recommendation to BZA

A minor subdivision to split a double-lot in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood into two lots, one with the existing house and one that would be used for a new house or small apartment building. A variance for an existing rear year deficiency of the house would need to be approved (the rear deficiency wouldn’t be affected by the new lot which is on the east side, but it’s a legal technicality).
B. Project:  Minor Subdivision                                          6:30
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance
Touched on this one last week. Deconstruction of an existing single-family home for two two-family homes, each on its lot.

4. Site Plan Review

A. Project:  Two Duplexes                                              6:45
Location: 1001 N. Aurora St. (Tax Parcel # 12.-6-13)
Applicant: Dan Hirtler for Stavros Stavropoulos
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency – PUBLIC HEARING – Determination of Environmental Significance – Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval

B. SKETCH PLAN:  Townhomes & Apartments at 119-121 & 125 College Ave.        7:00

I’ve spilled some electronic ink on this project before – Novarr’s $10 million project for faculty townhomes and apartments. Rumor mill says “modern-looking” and “glassy”, which given Novarr’s fondness for ikon.5 architects (his guest house is on the main page of their portfolio), that isn’t a surprise. The three parcels are CR-4 zoning, so 4 stories and 50% lot coverage allowed. Previous estimates were for 50-60 units. I’d say the biggest uncertainty in approvals comes from the existing apartment houses, which haven’t been declared historic, but former councilwoman Mary Tomlan and the Planning Board’s John Schroeder recommended for consideration in 2009 (only 15 of the 31 suggestions were considered, and only 2 received historic designation, Snaith House and Grandview House). Novarr’s been amenable to compromises before (see Collegetown Terrace), so we’ll see what happens here.

5. Zoning Appeals
• #3044, Area Variance, 170 Pearsall Pl.
• #3046, Area Variance, 404 Wood St.
• #3048, Appeal of Zoning Determination, 201 College Ave.                                 7:30

 





News Tidbits 9/17/16: Point By Point

17 09 2016

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1. Starting this week off with the Maguires again. Although there was significant vocal opposition from planning committee members to the proposal, they decided to postpone the decision for another month. It would have been more merciful and understanding if they had just declined to continue, but the committee voted 4-1 against making a decision at their Wednesday night meeting, citing to need to process public comment. Most of the comments in favor of the proposal mostly spoke highly of the Maguires as employers and economic drivers (and even some of the opposition did as well), most of the opposition focused on the plan not meshing with visions for what they want the neighborhood to become. The board will consider a resolution against the project next month, but it sounds like the decision has already been made.

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2. This will be something of an unusual month. Along with the typical retinue of meetings, the Planning Board will have a special meeting next week to weigh in on the next round of Chain Works District EIS public comments, approve some slight revisions to 210 Hancock, and zoning determination for 201 College Avenue.

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The changes to 210 Hancock are noticeable but minor. On the landscaping side, the concrete curb around the playground is proposed to be removed as a cost-saving measure, a fence separating the for-sale and for-rent townhouses will be removed and a fire lane put in, and the Lake Avenue paving will be changed up to match the waterfront trail. For the buildings, the 54-unit apartment building would have some windows tweaked or removed to standardize sizes (reduce cost) and fire safety concerns, and some of the yellow metal panels would be replaced with brick for cost and ease of installation. No changes are proposed to the townhouses.

As for 201 College, City Zoning Director Phyllis Radke issued a determination that 201 College is compliant and permitted by MU-1 zoning. She also states a number of concerns with the Planning Board’s handling of the review. Among the reasons cited are:

  • Pre-site plan review in November 2015 by zoning and planning concluded the project met CAFD guidelines.
  • Facade isn’t defined in the CAFD document. Building length and facade length can be interpreted as two separate measurements.
  • Facade length did not come up as a concern until July, four months after meetings began, after design review by the board, and after prelim site approval had been granted.
  • The building meets the conceptual guidelines provided in the zoning. While there are concerns about (yet unwritten) design standards and activation of both street facades, there’s nothing in the code for MU-1 that explicitly limits facade length on any side other than the primary face. There is, however, in MU-2. So secondary street facade length was stated in the code for one zone, but in no others. Even though it’s been argued as an ambiguity, the board did not consider secondary street facade length in its review of a CR-2 zoned duplex at 319 Oak Avenue in early 2015. The activation requirements apply only to the primary face for non MU-2 structures. If the board decided it was still ambiguous, Hess Realty Corp. vs. Town of Rotterdam (1993) says that ambiguities must be resolved in the favor of the property owner.
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  • The 2009 vision guidelines that people keep citing, and Neil uses on the “Save our Soul” facebook page – not only do they suggest taking down Neil’s house, they also have building lengths running the entirety of Bool Street.

With all that noted, even if it’s decided the project is in fact legal and doesn’t need a trip to the BZA, it likely won’t be moving forward this year, if at all. Visum couldn’t start in time for the desired August 2017 completion, and the project and site are for sale. For a potential buyer, though, it would be of significant benefit to have the zoning debate resolved before any sale occurs.

3. Out in the towns, there’s not a whole lot of development discussion in next week’s agendas. The town of Ithaca will continue its review of Maplewood Park (running behind schedule at this point) and issue a couple of lot subdivisions, neither of which are expected to be a big debate.  The town of Dryden received plans for a 10,500 SF self-storage facility for the vacant northeast corner of Freeville Road and Enterprise Drive. The 70′ x 150′ warehouse will house 121 units, and about 7,500 SF will be climate-controlled. The project will cost about $350,000. There also plans for an Open Development Area (ODA) on Dryden’s Scofield Road. ODA means an ROW or easement is required for building permits, and the town has to review the plans – nothing’s been filed yet.

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4. A pair of construction loan agreements worth noting this week. The first is Storage Squad’s facility going up at 1401 Dryden Road east of Varna. According to a filing on the 12th, the company received a construction loan of $1.4 million from Tompkins Trust. That money will be used to finance the build-out of their 79,600 SF storage facility already underway. The second is the Dollar General being built at the corner of Route 34/East Shore Drive and Cayuga Vista Drive in Lansing. Primax Properties (under the name Sea Mountain Ventures II LLC) received a $956,000 loan to build the 9,100 SF retail store, which is also under construction. that loan was also filed on the 12th. The lending institution is BB&T, a major regional bank in the Southeast. Primax is headquartered in Charlotte, and BB&T is headquartered just 90 minutes up the road in Winston-Salem, so in this case, it’s less about a bank being interested in Ithaca, and more about two major companies located near each other and having an established business relationship.

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5. So the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency’s Economic Development Committee selected the $3.7 million Seneca/Corn proposal to submit to the state for the Restore NY 4 grant. And I feel a bit embarrassed because the Voice story, comparing the Seneca/Corn proposal and the State Street rehabs, ran after the decision was made, so it comes off as a bit clueless thanks to timing. Anyway, the application will be looked at by the Planning Committee, and submitted in early October. If all goes well, funding could be granted by the beginning of next year, with the renovated Wyllie’s and the Ithaca Glass overbuild ready for tenants by early 2018. Ed Cope is the developer, STREAM Collaborative the architect.

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6. For sale this week, and for the budding entrepreneur – 2,310 SF neighborhood commercial retail at 402-04 West Court Street in the Washington Park neighborhood. Talk about a change. When I started at Cornell ten years ago, this was “The Corner Store”, and it was severely run down. I don’t remember the florist sign, but everything else in the assessment photo below fits my memories from the mid 2000s.

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During the past ten years, the bump-out was renovated, then the building was repainted, and The Corner Store became the “Red and White Cafe“, a highly-regarded neighborhood fish fry and seafood restaurant. According to the listing, the major renovations came about three years ago. County records indicate the property last exchanged hands in 1988. Along with the retail space comes 432 SF of storage.

The listing is asking for $975,000, but that would be for building and business – the building and lot are valued at $120,000, so any potential buyer is going to be much more interested in the cafe than the building.





News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.





News Tidbits 8/27/16: A Week of Questions

28 08 2016

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1. Let’s start off with a planning board recap. The subdivision at 123-125 Eddy Street was reviewed. My Voice colleague Mike Smith called any proposal for that part of Eddy “masochist“, and the Journal’s Nick Reynolds had some fun with it as well. Councilman Graham Kerslick paid a visit on behalf of Orchard Place, both as a resident and as spearhead for the wealthy, owner-occupied enclave’s opposition to the two-unit house due to parking and concerns about renters. There’s virtually no process to stop lot subdivisions, since those do not have physical impacts. If the lot meets legal specs, the board is obligated to pass it. They can, however, request a site plan review for the house.

201 College’s discussion was interesting. It takes some moxy to say “Historically, Collegetown has always been a dump,” but the comment isn’t without merit. The neighborhood has effectively functioned as Cornell’s housing annex since the first boarding houses were built in the late 1800s, and owner-occupancy, never a strong presence to begin with, steadily disappeared after World War II. Many of the structures venerated now were seen as cheap and ugly in their early days. The argument provided by Fox was that historic character should be defined by the social fabric of the neighborhood, not by physical appearance. Collegetown has always been primarily a student neighborhood, and he feels his project offers a high-quality addition to maintain that student-centric social fabric. He even called out Neil Golder, the project’s primary opponent and a former student renter who eventually bought his house: “The only thing that’s out-of-character in the neighborhood is Neil’s house and demographically, Neil.”

What followed was essentially a debate on legal issues, which occasionally became heated. In the end, the board agreed to draft a zoning appeal, so now it’s onto consideration of final site plan approval, which hinges on Board of Zoning Appeal interpretation on whether or not the building is in compliance with the zoning code. In other words, on 9/6, the project team is basically going to ask, “hey does everything meet the code,” the BZA says “yes/no”, and if yes, final site plan approval is granted. Very convoluted.

On a happier note, Harold’s Square’s changes were approved, and developer David Lubin announced that with that in hand, he has the funding secured to begin construction this fall. There had been been some debate about the architecture beforehand, which threatened to derail the plans, but the issues were ironed out.

2. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency will be reviewing an application for a new microbrewery in the city’s West End neighborhood. Liquid State Brewing Company would be located in 5,000 SF of leased, renovated space in the Cornell Laundry Building at 521 West State Street. The brewery would initially focus on hoppy ales with a local distribution to stores and restaurants. There will be a taproom, outdoor patio, food truck events and a small amount of merchandise for sale.

Proposed by former Ithaca Beer brewer Ben Brotman and Jamey Tielens of Trumansburg, the project would create 2.5 jobs, over or just about living wage. The written paperwork includes the two brewers and a cellar specialist, for 5.5 jobs. If approved, the brewery would open in early 2017.

Liquid State is looking for a $70,000 loan towards their $620,000 project. For the record, there will be no link provided to the application because it contains sensitive tax and financial information about the applicants. The IURA tends to be a bit dicey about things with alcohol involved, but the locally-made aspect will help sell the project to the committee.

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3. Also on the IURA Agenda, the Restore NY grants. As written about in the Voice back in July, there were ten suggestions for nine projects. Four were dropped – Josh Cope’s hostel proposal, INHS’s Elm Street project, Novarr’s project, and the renovation of 224 West Spencer. 310 West State, 121 West State and 139 East State Street (part of Harold’s Square) were bundled into one grant application called the “State Street Historic Buildings Rehabilitation”, requesting $500,000 for $3.7 million in projects. The other application, for 109 North Corn Street (Wyllie’s, above) and 413-415 W. Seneca, are part of the “Seneca/Corn Street Buildings Rehabilitation”, $500,000 for $875,000 in projects. At a glance, the State Street plans look to have a pretty strong application, but we’ll see what the state thinks after they’re submitted this fall.

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4. Here are the 15 or so pages of comments received on the Chain Works District DEIS. Some are really good questions or comments, some aren’t, some conflict with each other – it’s the nature of the beast.  The Planning Board’s Special Meeting on Tuesday is mostly just to review comment summaries, and several more meetings will be scheduled through September and October.

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5. So I had the unpleasant task of breaking the news this week of the largest single layoff or facility closure in Tompkins County in seven years. The loss of 185 well-paying jobs is not something to take lightly, even if this area is in general faring well economically. Even worse, the Journal is reporting that TCAD never even saw it coming, they were blindsided. At least with Emerson in 2009, the writing has been on the wall for several years, especially after they transferred their senior corporate jobs to Kentucky in 2007. Here, everyone’s just been blown back. Mettler Toledo Hi-Speed paid over $100k in taxes annually, and was a big supporter of the local United Way chapter, so it has a lot of negative impacts spread out on Dryden and the county. Not a good week.

If anything, this is a sobering reminder that economic development is multi-pronged – attracting new business with new job opportunities is the obvious part, but maintaining an environment that nurtures and supports the existing workforce is just as important.

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6. Giving credit where credit is due, the Journal’s Nick Reynolds did a nice write-up on the Carey Building overbuild on the 300 Block of East State Street. The article ends with a not-so-subtle teaser that Travis Hyde Properties might be bringing forward a residential proposal for the Ithaca Gun site some time next Spring, something that has been in the making in one form or another for a decade-plus (they’ve held off in the past couple of years because the city had to finish cleaning up adjacent soils).

One note of discomfort is that the article refers to the Ithaca Gun site as “its next project”. What is that saying about the Old County Library site?

7. Nothing too exciting in real estate sales this week. “SCF Realty Capital LLC” paid $6.6 million to Drake Petroleum for three gas stations – $1 million for the Sunoco on W. Main in Dryden village, $1.9 million for the Xtra Mart on Dryden Road, and $3.6 million for the recently-renovated Xtra Mart on Route 34B near the Lansing town offices. County tax assessors had them valued at $2.35 million collectively. I’m not familiar with the sales dynamics of convenience stores/gas stations, but that’s an impressive differential.

SCF stands for “Stonebriar Commercial Finance”, a company that specializes in middle-market commercial real estate finance over a wide spectrum of industries, with sale-leaseback options for clients. A copy of the deeds were sent to the corporate offices of Mirabito Energy, and a check online indicates Mirabito is buying 31 gas stations in three states, part of a corporate divestiture of locations by Drake’s parent company, Global Partners. So, the Xtra Marts are becoming Mirabitos.

Speaking of gas stations, land for sale at the Rte 13/Rte 34 split in Newfield sold this week to an LLC representing the Marshall Companies, a Weedsport company that runs Pyrus Energy and the Pit Stop Convenience Store chain.





Village Solars Construction Update, 8/2016

23 08 2016

Continuing to take photos during a pouring rain is not one of my wiser choices.

The Village Solars project in the town of Lansing continues its forward march. Phase II, which consisted of three buildings (D, E, G/H) and 41 units, has been completed and has welcomed its first tenants. Skipping over Phase IIA’s mixed-use building (F), construction is underway on Phase III and its two 18-unit buildings. Building “I” is the one further along, the foundation poured and the first floor framed out and sheathed in Croft Lumber housewrap. Building “J” is a little farther behind, with excavation and concrete forms still being used to hold the pours in place. Once the foundation walls are complete, the slab will be poured, left to cure, and if the cured concrete is satisfactory, then wood frame construction can begin. Construction of “I” began after “D” was completed in May, and “J” looks to have started work as “E” and “G/H” wrapped up more recently in June and July.

The Village Solars project appears to have inspired a similar project in the Albany suburb of Latham, consisting of an office building and two buildings with 21 apartment units. According to the Lucentes (the family that runs Lifestyle Properties and the developers of the Village Solars), the president of Sunrise Management is an old family friend, so the inspiration isn’t as unusual as it looks at first glance.

Expect buildings “I” and “J” to be ready late next spring or summer. Phase IIA is an unknown, and Phase IV and its 3 buildings/51 units will probably be on a 2017-18 construction timeframe. Long-term plans call for a second set of phases that would result in another 140 or so units, for a total of over 300.

According to Lifestyle Properties’ facebook page, there a few units left in the current build-out: a one-bedroom at $1105/month, some two-bedroom units starting at $1275/month, and three-bedroom units starting at $1580/month.

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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.