News Tidbits 5/16: Smart Developments, or Sprawl?

16 05 2015

Looks like this is going to be one of those longer roundups. I’m excited and intimidated at the same time.

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1. First off, I’m going to lead off with renders of the new Tompkins Financial Corporation. Write-up on the Voice here, more drawings here, traffic study here, cover letter here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here.

Rather than describe it in neutral generalities as I did with the Voice article, I’m going to afford the right to be a little subjective. The design is respectful of its neighbors through the use of brick and stone veneer. There’s no real surprises in the design, and corporate buildings tend to be pretty conservative anyway. At 104 feet (100 to the rooftop, and then 4 feet for the roof parapet), this will make a dent in the Ithaca skyline, but once again, it respects and balances out it neighbors by being a little taller than the DeWitt Mall, and a little shorter than 121′ Seneca Place. On a spectrum, the street front is on the nice side though not fantastic; a bank branch and some offices will engage with the street only modestly, but it’s much, much better than the drive-thru there now. The new building is built to the sidewalk, has an urban form, it’s a multi-million dollar private investment and a lot of other things that most upstate mayors would sell their mothers to get. The project is still shooting for a summer approval and construction starting not long thereafter.

One concern I have is that this will offload tens of thousands of square feet of office space onto the Ithaca market. Office space is one of the weaker sectors of the local market, and this may exacerbate the situation. It could cause some problems come 2017, and maybe with projects still in the pipeline such as Harold’s Square, which is shooting for a fall start after two years of trying to secure financing. I think that in the longer term, a few of the spaces such as the Seneca Building (121 East Seneca) might be ripe for a residential conversion.

With that concern noted, I think the parking situation will be okay. Since most of the jobs are shuffling around downtown, there’s not going to be a huge influx of workers. Offhand, I think the numbers are low double-digits (20 or 30) for transfers from Lansing into the city, and then the 77 brand new jobs created over the next several years.

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2. And then there were none. With the sale of the last of their townhomes (lots 20-24), the Belle Sherman Cottages have technically sold out. I say technically because Lot 9, the new cottage design on the southwest corner of the parcel, has yet to be marketed let alone sold. I followed up with an email to developer Toby Millman of Agora Home LLC, and he replied that “[w]e are still working on the plans for that home and expect to release if for sale in the next month or so.” So keep an eye out for that.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency – the city recently showed off the 6-acre parcel it owns on Cherry Street to an employer looking to relocate 250 employees to the property, buying the lot and building a one-story “campus setting” over the whole six acres. This may or may not be the same one previous mentioned in the March minutes, regarding an inquiry from a business located outside the city. Since the parcel may have been shown in January or February, it seems that the two are likely the same entity.

This isn’t the first piece of news regarding some potentially major work in this isolated section of Ithaca’s West End – scrap steel mogul Ben Weitsman has also been rumored to have plans, and improved access from the Brindley Street Bridge would aid in redevelopment of this part of the city.

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4. The planning board is cautiously enthusiastic about the State Street Triangle development. Per the minutes from the April meeting, they want the building to be as iconic as possible; board member John Schroeder went as fall as to suggest inspiration from the Carson Pirie Scott Building in Chicago:

Another member suggested a decorative crown. If my notes are right, a crown could exceed zoning as long as it’s not habitable space. Some other suggestions include a setback on the upper floors, and looking into incorporating other forms of housing.

5. A quick follow-up on the proposed removal of some lot setbacks at the Nate’s Floral Estates trailer park – according to a tweet from Ithaca Times writer Josh Brokaw, the removal would allow an extra 18 lots for manufactured housing. The trailer park currently has 112 lots, and it’s been noted to have a substantial waiting list. Nate’s Floral Estates serves as senior housing, so this is one way to make a dent in the affordable housing problem.

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6. It’s not too often you see someone request a zoning interpretation. At 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill, that’s exactly what local architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is doing on behalf of developer Todd Fox. Fox would like to develop the land with apartments (and he’s no stranger to South Hill, having built a couple duplexes on Hudson Street a couple years ago), but can’t. The city won’t allow construction in the “fall zone” of cell towers, which they define as twice the height of the tower. At 815 South Aurora, a 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel undevelopable. The developer got a hold of two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting), both of whom determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development. It’s an interesting case, and the result could be a sizable apartment complex down the pipeline. Stay tuned for the BZA review in June.

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A couple other minor projects are up for zoning variances on parking – a small 2-bedroom house planned for 228 West Spencer is seeking a variance because the builder (Ed Cope of PPM Homes) says there’s no room on the hilly lot, and Todd Fox is requesting a parking variance for a 2-bedroom basement apartment to be built at 108 Ferris Place, saying that its central location and easy bus access should make having a car unnecessary. Coincidentally, architect Noah Demarest is handling both appeal applications.

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7. To wrap things up, here’s the latest agenda from Ithaca town. There doesn’t appear to be anything too exciting going on next Tuesday. Cornell is renovating its softball field on East Hill with improved site access, a new restroom and ticket office, and replacing the existing bleaches, dugouts and press box. The 32-unit Clare Bridge assisted senior living project that was discussed last week will be reviewed. There are also sketch plans to be presented for a propane refueling station and sales office to be built on a vacant lot on Elmira Road/Rte. 13.

The planning board will also be reviewing plans to subdivide the Troy Road parcel that was once slated for a major residential project. The seller (Paul Rubin of Florida) apparently has a buyer for the triangular chunk of land south of the power lines (which can be seen in the old render above). With no explicit plans for either plot of land, there’s little reason to deny the subdivision at this time.

Personal opinion, I don’t like the direction this is going. It’s a real shame that the revised 130-road Troy Road project didn’t continue pursuit of approvals, it had really started to coalesce into a decent proposal. But now there’s a possibility where the land gets divvied into multiple chunks with homes scattered on it like bird crumbs. Single-family and duplex homes don’t have to go through board review, so there’s a lot less oversight when the land gets divided among multiple owners and built out in a piecemeal fashion. The last thing the town needs is expensive, sprawling, ecologically insensitive development.

 

 

 

 





Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 4/2015

12 04 2015

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

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

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News Tidbits 2/28/15: The Big Chill

28 02 2015

1. We’ll start this off with a little investigative work. A large medical office building at 821 Cliff street sold for $945,000 on February 23rd. The sale also came with two other adjacent parcels of undeveloped land, totaling just under 5 acres. Primary Developers Inc. (local developer Mauro Marinelli) sold the building and lots to an LLC with the oh-so-patriotic name “American Blue Sky Holdings LLC”. A little digging reveals the LLC is registered to a Lansing address that is also used by a renting company called Red Door Rentals. This company has never been in the news previously, and its website is nothing but a title page and an email address. A little more digging shows that it’s a recently-launched local business managed by Greg Mezey, a Cornell employee (and alumnus, as his name is familiar to me from when we overlapped as students several years ago). Red Door Rentals has 3 properties and 19 bedrooms, so this purchase is surprisingly large for a small rental company. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on this, watching to see if there’s any intent to redevelop the parcels, or if the LLC is just going to stay the course. Although the healthcare industry is a growing sector with stable tenants, a possible site redevelopment isn’t out of the question – previous owner Marinelli had plans approved in 2007 for a 44-unit apartment complex on a vacant parcel just north of the sold properties, but the project, called Bella Vista, was never built.

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2. Well that was fast. It’s hardly been a week and 2 of the 5 units (the middle one and the second from right, lots 21 and 22) in the second phase of the Belle Sherman Cottages townhouses have already been reserved as of the 25th. These are not cheap, they’re going for near $300k. Taking guesses – wealthy parents of Cornellians, or permanent residents?

It may seem like these are a frequent topic of this blog, but that’s because unlike many local projects, they have a strong and regularly updated online presence, which makes my work much easier.

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3. There hasn’t been much news about the Old Library site as of late, because the four entities invited to submit detailed proposals have until March 20th to get all their paperwork in. But one thing worth noting is that the Cornerstone project, the only one which has an affordable housing component, is asking for a non-binding letter of interest from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. If selected, the IURA could offer Rochester-based Cornerstone and its partner the Ithaca Housing Authority up to $200,000 towards the development of approximately 70 affordable housing units.

In terms of community support, the Cornerstone project has garnered little interest, with the eco-friendly Franklin/O’Shae proposal and the DPI condo proposal receiving the most support. While this is the only project that offers affordable housing units, they’re apartments rather than purchasable units, and every proposal submitted in the RFEI misses the county’s (overly high) expectations in some form.

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4. It’s not uncommon to find apartments through Craigslist, but at least one stalled local project is trying to find retail tenants through the online classifieds website. The project in question is the “College Crossings” development, which comes up in news updates once in a great while – since approval in 2012, the site has been cleared, but not a whole lot else has happened. The second floor was revised from office space to 2 apartments with 9 beds total, which is arguably a better fit and easier to finance in the Ithaca real estate market, and the developer (Evan Monkemeyer of Ithaca Estates Realty) claims to have two of its six retail spaces leased (for a Subway and a Dunkin’ Donuts), with a potential lease on a third space pending – as the site has claimed for months, if not years.

Apparently, the developer is now turning to Craigslist to lease the remaining spaces. Will it be effective? Maybe. It seems the project’s not totally dead, but there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of this mixed-use shopping center ever coming to fruition.

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5. Looks like we’re about to shatter the old record for the coldest month ever recorded in Ithaca. Thanks to that -22 F Tuesday morning (the last time Ithaca was that cold was January 22, 2005; in fact, I can only find 10 days that were colder in the entire 122-year record), the monthly average stands at 10.6 F, 0.7 F less than 1979. Saturday will not be enough to warm up the average, so February 2015 will go down as the coldest month in Ithaca’s recorded history. Yay?

 





News Tidbits 2/21/15: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

21 02 2015

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1. Looks like marketing has started for the second set of townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages project. Local real estate listings have two of the yet-to-be-built townhouses listed for $275k and $310k. The base-equipped units have 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and 1,325 sq ft of living space. Unlike the first set of townhouse units, these units have the garage in the back. The first five townhouses have sold out and are ready to begin construction when the weather permits. This second set of five, lots 20-24 (aka the 200 Block of Walnut Street), will likely see construction later in the year, depending on how well the sales go. They probably don’t need to worry, the first set sold out in a matter of weeks.

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2. For those that haven’t seen it, the Ithaca Times did an excellent piece this week regarding the murky political issues with Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project. Readers may recall that the project applied for tax abatements, but was rejected by the county IDA. The argument is that there was political interference with the decision, and the interference has been masked by statements incongruous with the CIITAP application process (ex. saying that the project was rejected for not being mixed-use, which is not a stipulation in the CIITAP application). The Times builds a pretty significant case that politics are infiltrating the process, manifesting as last-minute demands, and threaten to cut off development in downtown Ithaca, where land values and more stringent community demands make projects more expensive. Nathan Lyman, Jason Fane’s lawyer in the Clinton matter, has sent a letter to the city with his criticisms of the way program and the way local officials dealt with the project; an online copy can be found here.

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3. Some minor tweaks to the 6-unit, 18-bedroom 707 E. Seneca project: basement windows to try and break up the monotony of its concrete block base. Apart from that, the color descriptions, facade details and finishes look to be unchanged from the earlier plan (first image). The project, planned for a vacant parcel that was one an abandoned school playground, is due to receive final site approval at next week’s planning board meeting. Developer Todd Fox hopes to have the project complete in time for the 2015-2016 academic year.

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4. Taking a gander at the upcoming planning board meeting, here’s what there is to look forward to:

– A. More talk about the Marriott signage – Marriott corporate wrote in to say that they’re not going to change their rooftop corporate signage just because Ithaca wants to be unique, but they are open to shrinking it so that it’s less prominent. The hotelier also said they would be open to some degree of “interpretation” with the street-level signage.

– B. Final Site Approval for the Canopy Hilton – This might be delayed again due to a potentially huge problem on the horizon. The CSMA (Eagles Building) next door sent a letter opposing the use of its rear parking lot for a utility easement by this and the Carey Building, because it could hamper their own theoretical expansion plans. In the letter, they have said they would allow the easement if they get to take the land between them and the Carey Building, which is what the Hilton intends to use as their driveway. It would be a major rearrangement of the Canopy site plan (and potentially prohibited by the city’s transportation engineer since E. Seneca is one way), and these moves by the CSMA could impact work on the Carey Building as well. The city already granted an easement late last month to the Carey Building for the municipal parking lot between CSMA and the Carey Building, and work’s already begun, so it’s unlikely that parking lot’s ever going to be reopened. Everyone loses.

I can’t tell who at the moment, but considering the Carey and Hilton projects have been under review for nearly a year, the timing of this is awful, someone really botched up here. This could be a very nasty fight. Let me grab the popcorn.

– C. Declaration of Lead Agency/Environmental Review of the Lake Street Bridge Replacement and neighboring pocket park

– D. Final Site Plan Approval for the 5-unit, 3 building project at 128 West Falls Street

– E. Final Site Plan Approval of the Upson Hall Renovations on Cornell’s Campus

– F. Final Site Plan Approval for the 6-unit 707 E. Seneca project (item 3 up above)

– G. Sketch Plan presentation of INHS’s 210 Hancock/Neighborhood Pride Redevelopment

– H. Sketch Plan presentation for the Simeon’s/Griffin Building Reconstruction (seen above, courtesy of Jason K. Demarest Architect)

Subdivision review will also take place for the duplex proposed behind 424 Dryden Road, and paperwork has been filed for another subdivision to create a lot for a new single-family home (203 Pearl Street) by slicing off the north portion of 201 Pearl’s lot. The Pearl Street subdivision won’t be reviewed until the March meeting.

5. Another Ithaca Times piece, this one about strong opposition to a proposed expansion to a spiritual wellness/meditation center on Turkey Hill Road. the expansion calls for 10-12 beds for overnight visitors, but neighbors are fiercely against it for noise and traffic concerns.The architect for the expansion is Noah Demarest of local firm STREAM Collaborative, but there’s no renders of the proposed expansion on the website just yet (but their website is updated pretty regularly, so it’s only a matter of time).

Good heavens. This is one of those weeks where it seems everyone in Tompkins County hates everyone else that lives in Tompkins County.

 





Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 2/2015

16 02 2015

It feels a little surreal to be walking down Walnut Street (fun fact, there was originally a Walnut Street plated for Ithaca’s West Hill in the mid-1800s) and have it fulled out with homes on either side. Yet that is indeed the case. It’ll be easier at this point to count what’s not yet built in the Belle Sherman Cottages development – the townhouses (10 total, 5 due to start this Spring and 5 yet to be marketed), the new cottage design for the not-yet-marketed lot 9, and lots 11 and 12), which are sold and probably awaiting the arrival of warming weather before the foundations are excavated, poured and CMU block is laid. Heck, they might already be poured, but hidden under several inches of snow. So 16 of the 19 houses are built, with a couple of those, like lot 17, undergoing interior finishing and still in need of a little porch/column paint work before being turned over to their new owners. If you’re interested in learning more about the construction process, there’s a little more info in my previous post here, and on Ithaca Builds here.

Every couple of weeks, another sale shows up in the county property records, typically in the range of the low 300s to low 400s. Formal sale isn’t happening until a house is move-in ready (I suspect that while underway, a “sold” lot is actually reserved with a down payment), so following the county’s record of transactions is a useful indicator of progress. According to the Belle Sherman Cottages facebook page, Skaneateles-based Agora Homes and Development intends on completing the 29-unit development in 2015.

Veering into editorial territory here, I’ll admit that I was pessimistic about the project early on, thinking it was too much money for what was provided. But in retrospect, I think this is the right type of single-family housing for more suburban parcels, such as other sites in Ithaca town near the city line. Much of the zoning locally is designed to favor of large lots and large price tags. I wouldn’t call these affordable by any stretch, but they’re somewhat closer to the median value than most other single-family homes going up. Being this close to Cornell also adds a premium on their price tags; perhaps on a site in South Lansing or South Hill, they’d be somewhat less expensive. They’re a good (better?) alternative to the sprawling cul-de-sacs that seem to be the norm for housing developments in suburban Tompkins County. I think that, in the same vein of this project, though with more of a “green” sheen, the Amabel site in southwest Ithaca will be the next single-family development worth watching.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 11/2014

4 12 2014

Over in Belle Sherman, work continues on its namesake housing development, the 29-unit Belle Sherman Cottages. From a glance, some site clearing might be taking place for the first set of five townhouses (lots 25-29), which are aiming for an April 2015 completion. Several homes are in various stages of construction, with some still wrapped in breathable plastic, and others undergoing final exterior and interior work. Since September, lot 18 (Craftsman Bungalow), lot 15 (Craftsman Farmhouse), lot 10 (Craftsman Farmhouse) and lot 3 (Craftsman Farmhouse) were completed or are nearly completed, while lot 17 (Victorian Farmhouse) and lot 5 (Classic Bungalow) are underway. That’s six houses in less than three months. Carina Construction and Agora Home and Development more than outdid my September estimate of 1-2 more homes before the end of the year.

For comparison’s sake, in December 2013, there were five complete houses and two more underway, and the model house was built all the way back in May 2012. Now the total number of homes built or being built is 14. The project had a great sales year and it shows. Speaking of sales, all houses except lot 9, a new design yet to be published, have been sold. All 5 units that comprise the first set of townhouses have sold as well. Marketing has not begun for the 5 units in the second set of townhouses, lots 20-24.

One of the unique features of this project is that unlike traditional on-site frame construction, these houses are assembled from modular units. The modular pieces are sourced from Simplex Homes in Scranton and trucked up to Ithaca for installation. Once the concrete block foundation has been assembled, the four modular pieces for each home are craned into place, and once the pieces are leveled with the rest of the structure, the adjoining walls and ceiling are secured with steel plates. Interior work goes on while siding, porches and other features are built onto the assembled house. This allows for a faster construction process and cuts down on finishing costs.

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News Tidbits 11/1/2014: Houses Going Up Like Weeds

1 11 2014

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We’ll start off this week in suburbia. In Lansing, discussion continues for the 102-unit “Cayuga Farms” townhome development, and now we have some more numbers to throw around. According to the Limited Environmental Assessment Form (LEAF), we’re looking at about 25.2 disturbed acres built out over 4 phases – the first starting as soon as approvals are in hand, and the last due for a completion all the way out in October 2021, partially because the last phase on the south side of the property will be accessed by a proposed public road. The north end gets developed in phase I, with 44 units. Apart from that sizable project, the Lansing town planning board isn’t too busy, with the other discussion item being two duplexes (4 units) on a former mobile home lot.

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2. More in housing, this one from the town of Ithaca. According to its developer (Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living), the 31-unit eco-friendly housing development just southwest of the city-town line will begin formal marketing in summer 2015 at the earliest. It’s also going under a redesign of the site plan, so the above plan won’t be current for long. Just have to wait and see what the revised product looks like.

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3. Sales have been robust with the Belle Sherman Cottages townhomes – two more sold between the 17th and 27th. That’s pretty darn impressive for a housing development in upstate. One of the last houses sold as well, leaving just one home lot, the yet-to-be-released new cottage design. If sales for the first set of 5 townhomes went that fast, I imagine that when marketing for the other 5 begin, they’ll be sold out within weeks.

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4. New renders for INHS’s at 402 South Cayuga Street. Still 4 townhomes, but the design from local firm TWLA (Trowbridge Wolf) is completely new. Affordable housing is always welcome on a vacant lot near downtown. But I like the previous design better. If I remember right, they are 2 bedroom units, and set for a fall 2015 completion.

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5. Last but certainly not least – a few more details about the two-part 304 College Avenue project, first shown yesterday. The Sun was kind enough to do some legwork and reach out to the real estate company, and for that effort we now know that the Avramises are shooting for a June 2016-August 2017 construction period for the 6-story building at 304 College. The Catherine Street structure may be built concurrently, but that is yet undecided. Like many of the new buildings, it’s intended to be focusing on the high end of the rental market, although it’s too early to specify actual rent prices. It includes a small amount of parking, which I’m sure will cost a mint. Declaration of lead agency is expected in early 2015 with approval some time in the spring, if past experience is any indicator.

It may seem unusual to propose such a far-flung construction date, but I suspect it has everything to do with costs and logistics. 114 Catherine and its 17 beds will be underway in the first half of 2015, and by summer 2015, 205 Dryden (Dryden South, 40 bedrooms), 307 College (Collegetown Crossing, 96 bedrooms), and 327 Eddy (64 bedrooms) will be underway. Labor will be at a premium, and since they’re within a couple of blocks of either, materials movement is going to be complicated. The Avramises may be hoping to start as other projects finish up, logistics improve and labor frees itself up. Problem is, Collegetown Terrace phase III starts in late 2015 and will run through 2017, so the construction labor market is going to be well-tapped regardless of whether they start in 2015 or 2016.








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