News Tidbits 2/6/16: Good Ideas and Bad Ideas

6 02 2016

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1. Let’s start with the big news this week, Cornell’s long-incubating plans to redevelop Maplewood Park. Official write-up on the Voice here. Personally, looking at the viewer stats, I’m a little disappointed that this has gotten as little attention as it has, since it’s a very large, very important project. But I suppose it’s a double-edged sword, because invariably, when a project does get a lot of attention, it’s because it’s a huge controversy (State Street Triangle, Black Oak wind farm, 210 Hancock, and so on).

There’s a lot to like about the plan (found here on the town’s website). Dense, walkable, a little mixed-use (more office or retail would be nice, but given that it’s tax exempt space, the more space there is the more controversial this project would likely be). Buildings aren’t too likely to cause controversy, since they’re 4 floors at most and they’ll be designed to blend in (“echo the surrounding neighborhood with the use of contemporary features”, per the narrative). Most of the comments on the Voice article describe Cornell as the great Satan, but one reader did express desire for the bigger, taller buildings to be central to the parcel, with townhouses on the outside. As a relatively untrained observer, it would seem that would be best from the perspective of trying to minimize appearance as much as possible, but it would also encourage vehicular traffic towards the center of the parcel, and negatively impact its pedestrian orientation. I haven’t seen any reactions from local planners, but I am curious what their first impressions are.

When writing up Tuesday’s article, my thought was that this was “Phase I”, Ithaca East/Maple Hill was “Phase II”, and East Hill Plaza/East Hill Village was “Phase III” with a 2019 or later start; but the rumor mill is circulating that work on the first parts of East Hill Village may be concurrent with Maplewood Park. We’ll see what arises in the coming months.

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2. When those units come online in 2018, it’ll be a big step towards reducing the deep housing deficit. But in the meanwhile, the housing market will be uncomfortably tight. Which is why it’s good to see some pooled city/county/Cornell money being disbursed for affordable owner-occupied housing. The Community Housing Development Fund proposes that the city give $80,000 towards Habitat for Humanity‘s “Breaking Ground” duplex at 101-107 Morris Avenue in Northside (208/201 Third Street), and $85,000 to INHS for the seven moderate-income owner-occupied townhouses at 210 Hancock, and an affordable 1368 SF single-family home at 304 Hector Street on West Hill. Cornell will give $235,000 towards the townhouses and Hector Street home, but $100,000 of that is a re-allocation of funds from the cancelled Greenways project. The county is giving $100,000 towards six rental units at 210 Hancock.

Claudia Brenner has designed most of INHS’s homes in recent years, but this time around it looks like Noah Demarest of  STREAM Collaborative penned the home design. This is a revision of the previous render, if memory serves correctly; INHS had wanted to build the home last year, but construction costs as high as they are, the non-profit held off.

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3. In other news, the county’s Government Operations Committee was to make a decision on the Biggs Parcel this week, but decided not to. It’s set to the return to the county’s agenda at the meeting on March 2nd. The ICNA has submitted a purchase offer (sum undisclosed) for the 25.5 acre parcel. The offer from Roy Luft to combine the parcel’s cluster zoning rights to build senior housing on his property at 1317 Trumansburg Road still stands, as far as I’m aware. Update – From the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas, the Luft proposal has been dropped due to “size and complexity”.

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4. Courtesy of the city, some more details on Cornell’s Ag Quad renovation. Site Plan Review (SPR) application here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, project specs here, drawings here. Formally, the project is referred to as the “Cornell Ag Quad Utility & Landscape Project”, since the project also involved major utility upgrades and repairs under the quad. The work planned calls for new steam lines, a telecom duct bank, new sanitary piping and water lines underground, and above ground there will be new paths, light posts, pedestrian plazas with stone benches, fire apparatus access path, blue light phones and a loosening of the soil compacted by other construction projects (such as the staging area for Warren Hall while it was under renovation). Most trees will be preserved, except for a few that stand where the new utilities and fire lane will go.

The project cost is $3 million on the SPR, with a rehabilitation period from April 2016 to July 2017, divided into two phases. No new permanent jobs, but about 25 construction jobs will be created. MKW + Associates LLC of New Jersey is serving as the consulting landscape architect.

On a side note, at least we can be fairly sure now that Cornell does plan on taking down the surge academic buildings at some point for a future permanent building.

5. Ithaca wants to build bridges. Physically, anyway. The city will hold a public information meeting next week 2 PM Wednesday on replacing the deteriorated single-lane Brindley Street bridge on the west side of the city. The bridge, which dates from 1938 and was last modified in 1952, is functionally obsolete and in dire need of rehabilitation.

Currently, the city is weighing two plans – a $2.43 million replacement of the old one-lane steel bridge with a two-lane bridge with sidewalks and shoulders for walkers and bikers, and a $2.59 million plan that extends two-lane Taughannock Boulevard through a parking lot, over a wider span and intersecting with Taber Street, leaving Brindley a single-lane bridge. While more expensive, this option diverts most traffic away from the awkward six-way intersection Brindley has with West Seneca and West State Streets. The nitty-gritty can be found in the design report here. It would also be of significant benefit to the Cherry Street industrial park and future waterfront development by improving access to the area.

Whichever plan moves forward will be decided by April, with construction from May-November 2017. Most of the project costs will be covered with federal funds, with some state funds and municipal bonds covering the balance (80/15/5% respectively).

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6. Some progress on 902 Dryden, perhaps. From the town of Dryden Town Board minutes, The number of new units is down, from 12 to 8, and only 26 new bedrooms from the previous 38. The overall square footage is also down, from 18,000 to 11,000 SF, with 26 parking spaces, 1 per bed. So that render above from December is outdated (although the color scheme is nice and bright, hopefully that carried over), there are two units on the right and six on the left, as well as the existing duplex.

As a result of the smaller project, one of the casualties is the net-zero aspect, because the initial cost for installing the solar panels outweighs the decreased revenue. Heat will be all-electric with the opportunity to install solar at a later date, if it pencils out. As for the opposition, it definitely sounds more muted in the town minutes, one neighbor seems intent on forcing enough site studies to break the bank, but overall the commentary reads muted to positive. The minutes don’t indicate if the public meeting is finally closed and if a vote to approve the project can be taken later this month.

7. Looks like Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times was able to get the Maguires to open up about their plans for Caprenter Business Park. In a phone call with Brokaw, Phil Maguire confirmed plans for a $12 million, 40,000 SF Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, which will then allow them to proceed with renovations of their properties down by Wegmans. While they estimate about 70 jobs would be created and that it will be designed to be “inlet-worthy”, the problem remains that a car dealership flies in the face of the mixed-use urban environment that the city had been envisioning for the waterfront. One valid point does get raised though – side-by-side NYSEG power lines overhead would have to be buried for many building projects on the Circle (but not for parking lots), which gives any developer an extra several hundred thousand dollar expense in the development process.

Sketch plans are expected to be shown at the March Planning Board meeting later this month, about the same time the Common Council is expected to adopt the temporary PUD zoning that would give them say over any projects proposed in the waterfront area. Expect this dealership proposal to be a very heated and occasionally uncomfortable debate.

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8. What’s on the agenda for next week? Not a whole lot new. The city’s projects memo doesn’t have any new projects, unless you count Island Fitness redoing their parking lot. There are a few more renders for the Cherry Artspace, as well as some project details – $200,000 construction cost, 1,944 SF building by Claudia Brenner with seating for up to 164 on the lower level, 2 jobs created, May – October 2016 buildout.

The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission has some minor old business to attend to, and what likes some discussion over the recently-purchased home at 410 North Cayuga will be introduced (chances are, it’s something like window or roof replacement, maybe an add-on room). Discussion is planned for 311 College Avenue, the old firehouse home of the Nines, but this is also likely to be minor.

The town of Lansing’s planning board also has a meeting next week, but the only item of discussion is the Mirabito petroleum storage facility on Town Barn Road.

 





Cornell Finally Moving Forward on Maplewood Plan

3 02 2016

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Finally, finally, some real news. Cornell, through its Chronicle news outlet, has issued a statement regarding plans for the Maplewood Park Apartments replacement. Let’s look at the most important details.

– Cornell will be partnering with collegiate housing developer EdR. Cornell will own the land, but EdR will finance, construct and manage the development.

– Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with a summer (August) 2018 opening.

– Approximately 850 bedrooms are anticipated in the first phase, which is only for graduate and professional students. No undergrads here.

– Designs and unit mix are not yet finalized

– To quote Jeremy Thomas, Cornell’s senior director of real estate: ““Our goals for this site are to foster a close-knit neighborhood feel, while connecting this community through walkways and outdoor spaces to the university and surrounding neighborhoods, including the East Hill Plaza area where we are planning future mixed-use development.”

– EdR and Cornell will be meeting with neighborhood groups, the local landlords’ association, and since the project will contain a sizable portion of family housing, the ICSD.

Now, with all that acknowledged, let’s do a little more research. First, the developer. EdR (formerly Education Realty Trust) is a Memphis-based student housing developer following in the steps of Campus Advantage, CA-Ventures, and others who have tried and failed to make their way into the Ithaca market. The difference is, apart from EdR also being a Real Estate Investment Trust that finances its own projects (REITCampus Advantage was not, nor was Campus Acquisitions before it was bought), the company has Cornell’s blessing and the proposal is on Cornell land, which are very, very important cards in their hand. It would take a huge flaw to make local officials come out against this project, which will address a critical student housing shortage at the university.

EdR has been through upstate a few times before, though not in Ithaca. They developed and manage student housing for SUNY ESF in Syracuse (454-bed Centennial Hall), and developed two private apartment complexes adjacent to Syracuse University, the mixed-use 312-bed Campus West project, and the 423-bed University Village Apartments. They have a mix of arrangements with different schools – the SU projects are totally private, but Centennial Hall is owned by ESF and managed by EdR, an arrangement that sounds pretty similar to what Cornell will be doing.

Looking at the profile, I can’t find too much of a pattern in the choice of architects. In many cases, they’re local (the Univ. of Kentucky projects used Sherman Carter Barnhart, a Lexington firm, while University Village and Campus West used Holmes King Kallquist, a Syracuse firm), but there’s a few wild cards from outside a region – Centennial Hall used WTW Architects of Pittsburgh. In sum, it looks there might be a slight preference towards firms local to a project site, but apart from that, the chosen designers are literally and figuratively all over the map. EdR looks to have focused on mixed-use, compact and urban-friendly projects with their more recent partnerships.

As for price range, we’re talking some serious coin being tossed around. The Syracuse projects, which are half the size of Cornell’s project, cost $28-$30 million. EDR, in its own press release yesterday, estimates the project will cost about $80 million. Or course, it will be tax-exempt, but that much money translates to a lot of construction jobs, and Cornell is a strong supporter of trade unions. Local companies might get in as subcontractors, but with a project this large, one of Cornell’s preferred circle of general contractors (Welliver, Pike, LeChase) will most likely tackle the overall buildout.

Now, thinking about the project itself, if it’s 850 beds (rough assumption of one bedroom per person), that’s almost twice the capacity of Maplewood and its 394 units/480 beds. Maplewood is 109,000 SF of usable space (122,000 SF gross) and sits on 16.02 acres. So the current density is about 24.6 units/acre, or 30 beds/acre, in one-story buildings that cover the vast majority of the site.

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The 2008 Master plan, if it’s any indication, calls for 15-30 units per acre (the number of beds is left up to interpretation) and up to 400,000 SF of space in 2-4 story buildings, creating a more campus-like appearance by going vertical instead of spreading out as the current Maplewood does. While the layout in the plan was totally conjecture, the specs are not. The town of Ithaca zoning (High Density Residential) caps it at 36 feet, but Cornell could probably get a floor or two of variance without much difficulty – the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan recognizes Maplewood as one of the appropriate sites for “Traditional Neighborhood Development High Density“, dense mixed-use thoroughly integrated into the surrounding street fabric, 6-30 units/acre but averaging 8-16 units/acre with 10-20% open space.

There’s one last detail to mull over in all of this. According to the city, Cornell will be exercising its right to take back the Ithaca East apartments to the east and northeast of Maplewood (I spoke/emailed with Abbott about this a few days ago when the city docs were released, so…convenient timing). According to property manager Bruce Abbott, Cornell renews every June and he has two years to finish out his management of the property, so Cornell won’t take over Ithaca East until June 2018 at the earliest – which would be just in time for a second phase if Cornell desires, right as phase one is finishing up. Cornell also purchased the homes between Maplewood and Ithaca East, in 1998 and 2013. So looking further ahead, here’s an adjacent 8.2 acres that seems likely to fall under the Big Red development radar in the next couple years, not to mention future plans for East Hill Plaza. EdR is going to be very busy over these next few years.





News Tidbits 1/30/2016: A Doozy of a Week For All the Wrong Reasons

30 01 2016

I’m not going to lie – this was a rough week. For those who like old buildings, the city tore down 404 West Green and 327 West State this week. For those who are consider themselves eco-activists, Black Oak wind farm is on life support. State Street Triangle is likely cancelled, the Printing Press Lounge is off the table, Cornell continues to pour most of its attention on its new New York City campus, and a grocery store and a downtown shop are closing their doors and putting people out of work. There have been better weeks for news round-ups.

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1. State Street Triangle isn’t dead per se, but it’s indefinitely stalled. I think the best headline goes to the Ithaca Times since they’re the most accurate. From chatting with planning consultant Scott Whitham, who’s involved with the project, it sounds like the impasse is the result of Campus Advantage wanting to pay less for the site since they can’t build as large of a project, which would decrease their revenue. The contract for the land purchase from Greenstate Properties/Trebloc Development (Rob Colbert) was up for re-negotiation after the December expiration, but neither side wants to budge on what they feel the price should be. So nothing can move forward without a deal between the two parties. I reached out to Colbert Wednesday, but the secretary paused for a minute and then said “he’s, uh, busy in a meeting, care to leave a message?” So he’s probably not going to say anything further.

Could it move forward? Possibly, it could be revived if a deal is made. But as things are, it’s stalled and it’s outside the control of any community group or government authority. It’s definitely a shame from the standpoint of Ithaca’s worsening housing crisis because it’s less that will be entering a market flooded with students, people moving here for work, and wealthy retirees who have apparently decided this is the Asheville of the north. And given the battles of “structural racist gentrification” and “uncivilized crime-producing trouble-making affordable housing“, where everything is accused of being one or the other, I’m not especially hopeful at the moment.

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2. Now for something that is definitely dead in the water – The Printing Press Lounge. Developer Ben Rosenblum had wanted to put a jazz lounge in a 7700 SF industrial warehouse at 416 East State Street, but neighbor objections to noise and traffic proved a little too much for the Board of Zoning Appeals, whose members appeared unlikely to support necessary variances for the vacant facility. So the developer pulled the lounge proposal, but the office space and apartment are still under consideration.

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3. Also from the same phone conversation as State Street and Printing Press – the Canopy revisions were approved, so at least there’s a good chance that will be breaking ground this Spring. The Chain Works review schedule was also approved, although given the couple emails from the Voice article, the public review period is going to be groan-inducing. One of the letters commanded that nothing should be done there and it should be kept as is because it encourages traffic and “its density is ruining Ithaca”. They might have meant size, but density is a buzzword at the moment. Apparently, they also overlooked the fact that it’s already built and won’t be fully cleaned of toxic chemicals until a reuse plan is in place. The development team will have to respond to all of these comments, perceptive or not.

4. In real estate sales, an LLC in suburban Corning picked up the former Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery space on Elmira Road. 0.74 acre 407 Elmira sold for $640,000 on January 22nd. A little research into the rather exotically-named “Armiri LLC” shows that they were previously registered at an address home to an Econo Lodge, and that the owners have about 70 or so other LLCs related to hotels and the hospitality industry. A little more digging, and the owner turns out to be Corning-based Visions Hotels, a developer of suburban chain hotels with location from Albany to Buffalo. So if I were to make a guess, the five-year old Tim Ho’s building won’t be long for this world, and a suburban hotel is likely to rise in its place in a couple years. But we’ll see what happens.

5. Meanwhile, just up the road, Maines will be shutting down their store at 100 Commercial Avenue. The 26,146 SF building was built for the Binghamton-based grocery chain in 2010. February 7th will be the last day. Although there don’t seem to be any figures online, the move will likely put at least a couple dozen people out of work. A phone call and email to Maine’s asking for employee totals and reasons for closure were not returned.

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6. Let’s talk about money. The construction loan docs for Collegetown Terrace Phase III were filed with the county this week. The price? A cool $39.25 million, from PNC Bank. That’s just for 247-unit, 344-bed Building 7. Previously Valentine Vision Associates LLC (John Novarr/Philip Proujansky) received $50 million on 8/22/13, $50 million on 7/1/2014, and $50 million on 11/20/14. Do the math out, and $189.25 million in loans is a lot of money. Then again, this is also a 1,200+ bed project.

The latest loan docs require an opening by fall 2018, but expect it to be about a year sooner than that, August 2017.

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7. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council has approved the Chapter House plans. All that’s needed at this point are the Building Department permits, which are technical and just require that everything will be built up to code. Things are looking good for that February construction start.

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8. Something to look forward to at next month’s Planning Board meeting – further discussion of Cornell’s renovations to Hughes Hall. Planning Board Presentation here, drawings here, Site Plan Review application here. KSS Architects, with offices in Philadelphia and Princeton, will be in charge of design. KSS has been to Cornell’s campus before, having designed some of the Hotel School additions and part of the previous phase of law school renovations. Local firm TG Miller is handling the engineering work. The project is expected to cost $10.2 million and construction would go from June 2016 to July 2017.

Quick refresher, the plan is to renovate 4 floors of what were previously student dorms into academic office, admin and student organization space. Cornell anticipates about 200 construction jobs will be created, but nor more than 80 at any one time, and 20-40 on-site most days. No new permanent jobs, limited visibility, and minimal transportation/ground impacts will limit much of the customary Planning Board debate.

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9. Meanwhile, New York City outlets are reporting on the progress of Cornell’s massive new tech campus in New York City. The Real Deal is reporting Snøhetta, an Oslo/NYC architectural firm, will design the Verizon Executive Education Building. The other three buildings underway are the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, and CornellTECH Residential, which are the work of Morphosis Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, and Handel Architects respectively.  300 students and 200 faculty/staff  will move into the new 26-story dorm by August 2017. Verizon paid $50 million for their naming rights, and billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $100 million, making up a sizable portion of the $590.6 million donated to Cornell over the past year. Once the initial wave of construction is complete, it’ll be worth seeing how donations break down – years ago, MetaEzra noted that Weill Medical received an outsized proportion of charitable giving.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but there are times when Living in Dryden blogger Simon St. Laurent’s thought piece seems uncomfortably relevant.

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10. At the county’s PEDEEQ Committee meeting Friday (PEDEEQ being the acronym for the unnecessarily long Planning, Economic Development, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; agenda here), the county did two things worth mentioning here. One, they awarded the $35,000 airport industrial park feasibility study to the team of Clark Patterson Lee of suburban Albany, and Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates. Two, they passed a resolution calling for “the Timely Development of the Black Oak Wind Farm” project in Enfield.

The Black Oak opposition really seems to have picked up momentum after one the major landowners involved with the project pulled out. Neighbors in the area are actively attacking the project by calling it a danger to human health and a destructive environmental menace financed by wealthy out-of-towners (a shot at Ithaca), and the wind farm’s executive board is struggling to address these accusations in the revised environmental review due to be completed in April. For the local eco-activist crowd, this is an unwelcome and unusual position to be in because more often than not, they’re the ones opposed to development. The county legislature, which has several green activists, is doing what they can by giving verbal support, and a subtle sort of wrist-slap to the opposition. Dunno if it will work, but we’ll see what happens this spring.

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11. Here’s the sketch drawing for Elmira Savings Bank’s new West End Branch at 602 West State Street. It would appear the plans call for a modern addition to the north side of the building, and renovation of the rest of the two-story restaurant into office/service space. Local companies TWMLA and HOLT Architects are handling the design.

According to the Twitter feed of the IJ’s Nick Reynolds, the building plan was received well enough at the Planning Board meeting, but the rest of the plans call for demo of the other buildings, including the affordable housing that had some folks up in arms, for a parking lot. That didn’t go over very well. Demolition of low-cost housing for parking is going to be about as welcome as a Hitler costume at a bar mitzvah. Expect another trip to the board with some revised plans.

12. The Dewitt Park Inn is for sale for $950,000. Owners Tom Seaney and Nancy Medsker are selling the property they purchased for $320k in January 2012 and renovated into a high-end bed and breakfast. The two were vocal advocates for the popular though foregone Franklin/STREAM condo proposal for the Old Library site, although Medsker didn’t do the debate any favors when she decided to trash her rear neighbor, senior services non-profit and Travis Hyde project partner Lifelong in a letter to the Ithaca Journal. The county has the Dewitt Park Inn assessed at $575,000.

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13. Nothing too exciting for the town of Ithaca planning board agenda next week. The town’s planning board will choose whether or not to sign off on the review schedule for Chain Works, and they have to re-approved plans for a smaller parish center at St. Catherine of Siena in Northeast Ithaca. According to the provided docs, the parish center has been reduced from 10,811 SF to 8,878 SF due to rapidly rising construction costs (seems to be a common refrain these days).

 

 





1325 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 1/2016

16 01 2016

Quick progress report on the multimillion-dollar lakeside manse going up at 1325 Taughannock Boulevard in the town of Ulysses. Since November, most of the roof has been shingled or finished with metal panels, and the newly-completed hand-laid stone chimney looks nice. The Green Guard Raindrop 3D housewrap is still showing in most places, but you can see wood siding on the side of the garage in the first shot, and what looks like wood shingles on the second-floor bump-out in the second photo. From the rendering shown at the project site and from Farmington-based New Energy Works’ website, it looks like many of their design use a combination of shingles and lap siding, which gives some visual interest to go along with the warm look of fresh wood. The housewrap has been furred out to prevent dampness and to attach the wood siding.

The construction loan paperwork says this project will be finished no later than the end of May, but it will likely be a little sooner than that. As I finishing up taking photos, a gentleman in a Honda pulled over to drop off some paperwork (before I asked if he was the future homeowner, I felt my face burning because I was worried it might be the owner asking who the heck was taking photos of his house), and he thought it was due to be finished by the start of May.

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News tidbits 1/16/2016: The Not-So-Best Laid Plans

16 01 2016

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1. It isn’t exactly a shock that Elmira Savings Bank is pursuing plans for the $1.7 million in properties it just acquired on the west 100 block of Meadow Street between West State and West Seneca Streets. That being said, sending out 30-day eviction notices wasn’t a very good idea from a public relations standpoint.

Technically, it’s all above the law – the three tenants affected were on month-to-month leases, according to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal, and one had an expired lease and was in the process of relocating. The bank wasn’t interested in renting out the properties and decided to clear them out. That is plausible, if a little brusque – even if they had put forth a proposal for something at the next Planning Board meeting, approval would take months, in which case they could eased the tenants out of the current property. But instead, they ended up with a petition that, while mostly reading like a speech from the Politburo, does make the valid point that this was conducted poorly. Then it hit the airwaves, and the bank has gone into major damage control mode, giving the tenants until the end of March and reimbursing them $1,000 for the trouble.

Looking at some of the comments on the Voice, there is a lot of outcry against gentrification, but there’s not a whole lot the city can do to prevent that – even if Elmira Savings Bank didn’t build a thing and sold the buildings to someone else, the rapidly rising property values around the city would push the renters out, albeit more subtly, and the city can’t make a law that says someone can’t move in. Plus, as seen during the 210 Hancock, Stone Quarry and Cayuga Ridge debates, there’s a lot of pushback locally against affordable housing. Arguably the best solution going forward is to work an inclusionary zoning ordinance into law so that when Elmira Savings Bank does decide to build (and it’s more of a when than an if), that a few of the units be made available to those on more modest incomes.

Just to touch on that real quick, according to the Journal, the old Pancho Villa building at 602 West State Street will become a bank branch for ESB in the short-term, and plans are being considered for a mixed-use project at some point down the line (two months, two years, who knows). The zoning is WEDZ-1a, allowing for a five story, 65′ building, but there might be tweaks to that depending on the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

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2. Keeping a focus on the west side of the city, the Planning and Economic Development Committee voted to circulate a proposal for a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Urban Development” (TM-PUD) over the waterfront. The reason for this is one part proactive, and one part reactive.

What the TM-PUD does is, for an 18-month period starting the day of Common Council approval, it gives the Common Council the right to oversee and if necessary vote down projects that it thinks will not be appropriate for the waterfront. The study area is currently a mix of zones: Waterfront (WF-1, WF-2), Southwest Mixed-Use (SW-2), Park (P-1) and Industrial (I-1). When the Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2015, it promoted a more walkable, dense, mixed-use waterfront. Therefore, some of the zones are outdated.

The city’s planning department is still in the process of drawing up specifics for how to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s walkable urban waterfront, but in the meanwhile, some of the zones don’t match up with the direction the city wishes to proceed. Take, for example, the industrial space on Cherry Street and Carpenter Circle. By zoning, residential uses aren’t allowed, although the city would like to see mixed-uses with condos and apartments in their vicinity. The planning department needs time to figure out the what and where on zoning so that those uses can be proposed without a developer spending extra months in front of the Planning Board and BZA, which can drive up costs and make construction financing more uncertain.

So that’s the proactive, benign part – the city needs time to plan out the zoning laws for the dense waterfront they want. Now comes the reactive, cynical part.

It’s a not-so-secret secret at this point that the Maguires are looking hard at Carpenter Circle for their car dealership headquarters and multiple sales outlets. Since Carpenter Business Park is zoned industrial, and Ithaca city zoning allows commercial uses in industrial space so long as they’re two floors, there’s a good chance they could build dealerships without the need of the BZA, and it would be an uncomfortable position for the planning board to have to debate a project that is totally legal but is something the city and much of the community doesn’t really want. So as a way to stall for time, the city’s pursuing this TM-PUD and giving the Common Council the authority to shoot down any unwelcome plans should they arise.

For comparison’s sake, there’s a similar scenario that is playing out in Ithaca town. The College Crossings project on South Hill was welcomed under the zoning and previous iterations had been approved, but after the town passed its 2014 Comprehensive Plan and attended the Form Ithaca charettes last summer, the planning board realized that a shopping center with a couple apartments above and in the middle of a large parking lot wasn’t something they really wanted anymore. While the project has been withdrawn, the process and debate has created a lot of discomfort, confusion and uncertainty, which is rather problematic given the area’s housing shortage. The town hopes to have some form-based zoning code ready this year.

So, looking back to the city, the occupants of 108 E. Green Street want things that are still illegal in much of the study area, but they don’t want a full-on moratorium because some spots like the Waterfront zones actually do accommodate what the city and many of its constituents want. The TM-PUD is an attempt to stave off the legal but undesirable projects until the revised West End zoning can go into effect.

Worth pointing out, at the meeting the boundary was changed to midway through the Meadow Street and Fulton Street blocks, rather than along Fulton Street. It may or may not affect Elmira Savings Bank’s parcels as mentioned above, but those long-term plans are in alignment with the city’s, so probably not.

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3. On a related note, the town is holding workshop sessions for those interested in designing a ped-friendly, mixed-use community for South Hill. The meetings are planned for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 26 to 28 at the Country Inn and Suites hotel at 1100 Danby Road in Ithaca. An open office has also been scheduled for 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 27. Form Ithaca will be in attendance at the sessions to help formulate the form-based character code proposed for the neighborhood.

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4. A revision to the cellphone tower law has taken one step closer to becoming reality. The city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to circulate a revised law that would reduce the size of the tower’s fall zone, where construction of any structures is prohibited. A revision to the current city law, which is twice the height of a tower, could potentially allow the 87-unit 815 South Aurora apartment project to proceed with planning board reviews and other BZA variances if necessary. Developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor of local company Modern Living Rentals have been pushing for a fall zone radius of 180 feet for the 170-foot tall tower, rather than the 340 feet as the current law mandates.

From the discussion, it sounds like the concern has less to do with this parcel, and more to do with the possibility of cell phone companies pursuing towers on open land in the northern part of the city where spotty reception has to be weighed against the aesthetics of the lake shore. Anyway, we’ll be hearing more about possible changes to this law in a month, but for back reading, here’s the Voice article from a few months back.

5. In quick news, CBORD’s move to the South Hill Business Campus looks like a go. A $2.45 million construction loan was extended on the 8th by Tompkins Trust Company. CBORD, a software company founded in Ithaca in 1975, will move 245 employees into 41,000 square feet of freshly renovated SHBC space from the Cornell Business Park later this year. The project, which totals $3.7 million, was granted $296,000 worth of sales tax abatements.
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6. From the city’s Project Review Agenda next Tuesday, plans for a facadectomy of the 1980s Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue. Student Agencies, in collaboration with Cornell, plans on dropping $183k on the facade work, as well as the $2.8 million or so for the interior renovations of the second and third floors for the new eHub business incubator space. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the design work, including the 9,660 SF of interior space. The work would go from January to April (the loan is already approved and most of the work is interior).

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If I may play armchair architecture critic, which I have no credentials to do, I think the patio area is great, but I’m opposed to the brise-soleil, the wing like feature that serves as a sunscreen. I feel like that its location above the third floor throws off the rhythm of the block, by being lower than the cornices on adjacent structures. It might be fine over the glass curtain wall alone, but as is it feels a little out-of-place. Just one blogger’s opinion.

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7. House of the week. 228 West Spencer Street in the city of Ithaca. Zero energy new construction, 2-bedrooms, on a rather difficult site. In the above photos from last weekend, the house has been framed and sheathed with Huber ZIP System plywood panels, the roof has been shingled, and doors and windoes have been fitted. The blue material on the concrete basement wall is Dow Styrofoam Tongue and Groove Insulation which protects against moisture and helps keep the heat loss to a minimum. The house should blend in nicely with its neighbors.

Ed Cope of PPM Homes is the developer, and Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

 





Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 1/2016

15 01 2016

Just a pass through Caroline to check on the latest progress at the Boiceville Cottages. At present, it looks like about six new houses have been framed out – the three furthest along (red-orange trim) are receiving their exterior stucco coats, while the three less further along (cobalt blue trim) look rather like shiny ornaments thanks to the aluminum facer on the Rmax Thermasheath polyiso insulation (previously some red-faced Atlas polyiso was used). Rigid thermal foam plastic insulation board is lightweight, easy to cut, provides decent fire and moisture protection and provides a very high degree of insulation from the elements, greatly limiting the transfer of heat outward. As compared to traditional plywood sheathing however, it’s not as strong, and because the water control is on the outside with the foam sheathing, there are limitations or extra steps that need to be taken before applying many exterior facade materials like wood or fiber cement.

The roof foam boards are covered in Feltex synthetic roof underlayment before the shingles are attached. Compared to traditional asphalt-saturated felt, the synthetic material offers greater moisture resistance, and they’re light-weight and high-strength. However, wicking, where water can be drawn up the roof and promote leaks, can be a big issue with synthetic roof underlayment, so it has to be installed correctly and carefully.

Another set of homes is still at the concrete slab and sill plate stage, but it looks like some wood stud walls will be going up shortly. Schickel Construction is aiming to have all 17 of the new units complete by the end of the summer.
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News Tidbits 1/9/2016: Better Late Than Never

9 01 2016

Call it the big news round-up. This is what I get for not writing my weekly roundup last week.

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1. We’ll start off with some bad news. The plans for a boutique hotel at 339 Elmira are very likely done and over with. The 37-room, 6,468 SF hotel announced in February 2014 was planned for the 0.59 acre former Salvation Army property on the Southwest side of the city. For whatever their reasons were, the developer, (Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Buffalo, decided put the property up for sale for $395,000. After several months, it finally sold at the discounted price of $300,000 to its next door neighbor, Arizona-based Amerco Real Estate, the parent company of U-Haul. Discounted is a relative term, by the way – Rudra had acquired the vacant property for $143,000 in a land auction in 2013. Back when Salvation Army was still there in 2009, the site sold for $175,000.

So with that sale to Amerco, it’s likely the property will be used for an expanded U-Haul parking lot. It’s unfortunate, but them’s the breaks. For what it’s worth, Rudra has commenced work with the other hotel they had planned, the 79-room Holiday Express at 371 Elmira Road, just down the street.

2. In modest but notable projects, the William George Agency in Dryden received a $2 million construction loan to conduct renovations and roof repairs to its cafeteria area. The non-profit residential treatment center for adolescents had secured building material sales tax abatements from the county to help cover their expenses (the project has originally been planned to start in Q1 2015). The agency, established in the 1890s, employs over 340, making it one of the larger private employers in Tompkins County.

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3. Thanks to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal for reminding readers that not every construction project is private. Noted in his writeup of projects that the city intends to fund this year – $430k in road repair projects, another $407k for parking stations, $1.3 million to replace Cass Park rink’s roof, $214k for design work for the new North Aurora street bridge, and $735k for design work for city dam reconstructions.

Perhaps most interesting to readers here will be the $500k that the city intends to spend on design and planning the new Station No. 9. With the awarding of funding from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the city can formally explore the possibility of a new fire station on a Cornell parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue. Once a new station is complete, the city could then sell the current Station No. 9, nearly 50 years old and in need of major renovations, to a private developer for redevelopment (the developer who expressed interest in the site is still unknown, but given Collegetown’s expensive real estate market, they must have really deep pockets).

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4. More talk of the Biggs Parcel. Jaime Cone at the Ithaca Times provides more details regarding neighbor Roy Luft’s proposal to build for-sale senior housing using the site. Luft is arguing his project is more environmentally friendly than the NRP project, it would take two to three years to come to fruition, that the units would be 700-1,000 SF, and he’s serious about building the senior housing, which is an under-served market. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, which has actively fought any sale, seems to at least be open to the idea, if not necessarily a fan of it.

For the record, since the ICNA doesn’t clarify it in their blog post, the county didn’t develop the NRP project. The county put out a request for proposals (RFP) just like they do with every other large development study or offering. Better Housing for Tompkins County and NRP happened to think they had a good project idea and responded to the RFP. It’s been made clear, multiple times, that the county has approached neighbors, Cayuga Medical, INHS and others for months, shopping the land around, and no one has made offers. To be completely honest, even if this land hit the real estate listings, it’s not as if anyone is clamoring to snatch this up; there’s demand to live in and near Ithaca, but land still takes several months to sell on average, and it’s not a stretch to think that developers would avoid this one after the NRP flaying. The county plans to start the listing process later this month if the ICNA doesn’t make an offer by the 15th.

Just a thought, but if $340,000/25.52 acres = $13,333/acre, and the acreage closest to Dates Road is probably developable, than shouldn’t that allow a ballpark fair-value estimate? I know NRP was to pay $500,000, but that had some transit and pedestrian cotingencies attached. Has the ICNA contacted NRP to ask how extensive the wetlands were, is the information on file with the county?

1317 Trumansburg is 10.17 acres, The Biggs parcel 25.52. Combined, they would be 35.69 acres. From the sound of it, Luft would like to reform the parcel boundaries to let his project, however big it may be, to move forward. The site is zoned low-density residential, which means a cluster subdivision can be 2.3 units/acre at maximum. Each structure can have up to 6 units. Taking a guess here, but Luft may be looking at more than 20 units, because anything less than 20 could be done with a subdivision of his current property. For comparison’s sake, the BHTC/NRP project was 58 units.

There is at least the potential that the county gets additional tax dollars from Luft’s project, and the woods would be protected, and there would be a happy ending to this story. But that’s dependent on both sides’ goodwill. Given the years of acrimony, that’s a big leap of faith.

5. For the restaurant-goers out there – Fine Line Bistro’s old spot at 404 West State has a new tenant called “The Rook” opening this month. Mark Anbinder provides the foodie rundown at 14850.com. Mid-tier American bistro/pub fare.

More importantly to this blog is the economic rundown, provided thanks to their application for a loan courtesy of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA). The three co-owners, all local restaurateurs, are seeking a $40,000 loan (3.5% interest, 6 year length) to complement their own dollars and a private loan. 8 hired staff (cooks/servers/dishwasher), but none living wage. With cash flow statements, restaurant plans, the menu, loan filings and resumes of the owners, this looks like a Cornell Hotelie’s senior class project.

It’s the IURA’s decision make, but at least it’s nice to know that good restaurant space in Ithaca is in strong demand.

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6. Out for bid, Cornell’s Ag Quad renovations. The bid filing estimates the budget at $6.6-6.8 million, and a construction timetable of late March 2016 to Summer 2017. Quoting the first write up from October:

“The $9.6 million project will be broken down into two phases, one that focuses on infrastructure, and one phase on landscape improvements (and being that much of the infrastructure is underground utilities, phase one could be described as churning up the ground, and phase two is making the upturned dirt pretty again). The renovations, which are set to start next summer and run through 2017, will include additional emergency phones, a rain garden, and outdoor gathering spaces in front of Mann Library and Roberts Hall (upper right and lower left in the above render).”

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7. Folks love a good rumor, and the Times’ Josh Brokaw had an interesting one to report in his 2016 futurecast regarding State Street Triangle

“Don’t think that the Austin-based developer is abandoning Ithaca, though a look at their previous projects shows this sort of downtown, mixed-use development is a new frontier for a company accustomed to building student housing mostly in green fields in the South and Midwest. CEO Mike Peter was spotted downtown at Mercado in December talking to consultant Scott Whitham; it wouldn’t surprise if the company came back this year with something conceptually similar—lots of rooms, ground-floor retail—but a much different look.”

Brokaw makes a reference to the inclusionary zoning slated for discussion next month, which is rumored to mandate affordable units in return for a larger footprint (rundown of how that works here). I also wonder if it will make reference to the “pillar” that Myrick mentioned previously – a taller, skinnier building, not as massive and perhaps only 3-4 floors over most of the site, and maybe a quarter of the site has a taller tower that’s 12 or 13 floors, whatever is permitted by the inclusionary zoning (strictly hypothetical, just one guess of many). Campus Advantage has plenty of time since they missed their original start date, but maybe later this year in the spring.

8. It’s always a brow-turner when a real estate listing is advertised as “a large corner lot ideal for a multi-unit development. In this case, it’s a 0.2 acre double lot at 404 Wood Street in Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood. The listing offers the ca. 1938 house and lot for $250,000 (tax rolls say the property is assessed at $125,000; the current owner picked it up for just $34,000 in 1993).

Playing with some numbers a little bit, there are a couple of options if a buyer wanted to build something. The first and probably easier option would be to subdivide the lot and build on the vacant corner parcel. That would give, per R-3b zoning regulations of 40% lot coverage and 4 floors, about 1400 SF per floor. That gives 5600 SF, and if one assumes 15% off for circulation/utilities and 850 SF per unit, you get a 5 or 6 unit building at theoretical maximum.

If one were more brazen and tear down the 1938 house, one gets about 3,485 SF per floor, 13,940 SF at max height. That allows about 14 units using the same figures as above. But that might be tougher for neighbors to swallow. Anyway, if it sells and it looks like there’s a possibility, it’ll get a followup in a future news post.

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9. Nothing to exciting on municipal planning agendas this week. The town of Lansing cancelled their meeting, and all the town of Ithaca had was a cell phone tower on West Hill. The city has a little more interesting. The duplex at 424 Dryden is examining unusual parking arrangements to save trees, and Habitat for Humanity is planning an affordable-housing owner-occupied duplex for vacant lots at 101-107 Morris Avenue in the city’s North Side neighborhood.

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Morris Avenue has always had a focus on worker housing. As described in Ithaca’s Neighborhoods by Carol Sisler (1988), local businessman Morris Moscovitch built 16 nearly identical houses in 1908 to house worker’s families. But, with the effects of urban decay and urban renewal, only one of those 812 SF houses (109 Morris) is still standing today.

What Habitat for Humanity is proposing is to take the vacant lots at 101-105 Morris and 107 Morris (total 0.138 acres), combine them and create two new lots that will face Third Street. The new lots would need a zoning variance since they’re not wide enough (30′ and 30.98′, 35′ required). Being Habitat, these might take a little while to build and they probably won’t wow anyone design-wise, but there’s a lot of value to be placed in their “sweat equity” approach, and affordable owner-occupied housing is in severe need in Ithaca. Planner George Frantz is handling the application.

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10. Lastly, for what is a very long post, the Hotel Ithaca’s revised CIITAP application to the Tompkins County IDA. Now that the project is approved by the city, they can work on a revised tax deal. According to the project memo, the sales, mortgage and property tax abatements will total $1.781 million on the $15 million project. The property tax abatement is the standard 7-year abatement, and will generate almost $1 million in new tax revenue during the abatement period. The project would retain 71 positions and create 21 new jobs, most of which appear to be less than living wage. The application does note, perhaps ominously, that non-approval would result in functional obsolescence – the hotel shuts down. The IDA plans to examine the application at their meeting in the county office building next Thursday.

 








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