News Tidbits 5/21/16: Building Bridges, or Burning Bridges

21 05 2016

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1. 209-215 Dryden Road has a name: the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education. Let’s just call it the Breazzano Center for short. The name comes as part of a $25 million donation from Cornell MBA alum David Brezzano ’80, and is named in honor of him and his three sons, all recent Johnson School graduates. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the donation will “substantially support” the building’s construction, which construction loans on file with the county have pegged at $15.9 million. Breazzano is the president of money management and investment firm DDJ Capital Management, and did his undergrad at Union College in Schenectady, where he serves as trustee.

John Novarr is the developer for the 6-story, 76,200 sq ft building, and Cornell will occupy 100% of the structure on a 50-year lease.

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2. So, something weird is going on. The city BPW is set to discuss an encroachment for the Chapter House reconstruction at their meeting on the 23rd. However, all the paperwork included in the agenda dates from before the sale and refers to the previous owner. So either the new owner is pursuing the encroachment and the information hasn’t been updated, or this is outdated/no longer being pursued and no one’s updated the BPW paperwork. I tried calling the project architect (Jason Demarest) but he’s out of town until Saturday, and this publishes Friday night, so…dunno. Hopefully someone can provide some insight. For the record, the encroachment is for the first-floor roof overhang over the sidewalk, and will cost the developer $33,812.28.

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Open question, would a brick-for-brick rebuild had to have paid for this encroachment as well? It existed with the original structure, this was designed with heavy ILPC input, and given that project costs seem to be why this is in jeopardy…it just seems like an unnecessary obstacle. I know it’s a new build, but it’s replicating a previous encroachment for the sake of character. It seems like the project is being financially punished for that.

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3. For this week’s eye candy, the above image appears to be the city’s proposed redesign for the Brindley Street Bridge over on the West End. Pretty similar to existing newer or renovated bridges in the city (Clinton Street, South Aurora Street), with older-style lamp posts and stylized concrete railings.

Alternative 2 calls for a pedestrian bridge to replace the existing Brindley Street Bridge, which was last renovated in 1952. A new bridge for vehicle traffic would be built south from the intersection of Taughannock and West State Streets, over the inlet, and intersecting with Taber Street. The project is expected to go out to bid next year, and completed in 2018.

4. Per the Ithaca Times, the Taughannock Farms Inn out in Ulysses has some expansions and renovations planned since new ownership purchased the property back in February. Along with a bistro for lighter fare, an electric car charging station and a dock, the Times introduced plans for a 2-story, 200-person event center that would be built on the Inn’s property. The purpose of the event center is to provide additional space for events like weddings and formals, and to capture a bit of the mid-week business meeting and convention crowd. The inn itself has 22 guest rooms in five buildings.

The original inn building dates from 1873, when it was a “summer cottage” for John and Molly Jones of Philadelphia. The Joneses also owned Taughannock Falls at the time, though they would eventually deed it over to the state in the mid 1930s to create the park. The current owners are only the fourth in the 143-year history of the property.

5. A couple of big sales in Tompkins County this week. The first one was 308 Eddy Street, a 12-bedroom apartment house in Collegetown. The Lambrou family, one of Collegetown’s medium-sized landlords at ~400 beds, sold the property to the O’Connor family (a smaller landlord family) for $1,225,000 on the 18th. The O’Connor don’t tend to develop their own properties, and 308 Eddy was receently re-roofed anyway, so don’t expect any changes here, but take it as a demonstration of what a captive rental market, high land values and high taxes will do.

The other big sale was outside of Ithaca, at 1038-40 Comfort Road in Danby. A purchaser bought several land and cabin properties being touted as a high end B&B for $1,300,000. The purchases are a couple from Florida, one of which founded the Finger Lakes School of Massage in the 1990s and now heads an aromatherapy institute.

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6. According to a report from the Dryden town board liaison to their planning board, the Varna Community Association’s reception to “Tiny Timbers” at the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads has been mostly positive, apart from minor traffic concerns to the 16-house project. More lukewarm was the reception to the 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden, where concerns were raised about having enough green space, and whether it was too far outside Varna to be an appropriate location.

The neighbor two doors down has already started to fight the project, and this is probably going to play out like 902 Dryden did over the past several months. Here’s a pro tip when you’re writing up that angry screed – please stop arguing that renters are second class citizens. Just stop.

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7. Therm Incorporated will be presented plans for a stand-alone 20,000 SF manufacturing facility to the town board next week. The addition will be located at their property at 1000 Hudson Street Extension, between its main building and the quonset huts. In a rarity, the industrial-zoned property won’t need to heard to a zoning board – no variances required. The new building will replaces a 3,434 SF ceramics studio. As previously reported on the Voice, Therm expects to create 10 jobs with the expansion. Therm, located at its current facility since its founding in 1935, specializes in custom machining, primarily for the aerospace and industrial turbine industries.

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8. Not a very exciting agenda for the Ithaca city planning board this month.

1. Agenda review
2. Floor Privilege
3. Special Order of Business: Incentive Zoning & Site Plan Review Discussion (Lynn Truame)

4. Subdivision Review
A. Minor Subdivision, 312-314 Spencer Road, Charlie O’Connor (MLR)

5. Site Plan Review
A. Sketch Plan, Two Duplexes at 312-314 Spencer Road

This came up back in March – Charlie O’Connor plans on re-configuring vacant street-facing property behind two houses to build two duplexes near Lucatelli’s. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Originally, this was at the end of the agenda as sketch plans usually are, but the agenda was revised so that the sketch plan would be allowed to go first.

B. 201 College Avenue – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

C. Elmira Savings Bank, 602 West State Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

D. Brindley Street Bridge, seen above – revised FEAF review (parts 2 and 3), recommendations to lead agency (BPW).

6. Umpteen million zoning appeals, none especially contentious
7. Chain Works DGEIS Review, Update Schedule and Special Meeting Schedule.





New Tidbits 5/14/16: A Land Subdivided

14 05 2016

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1. This week, the city rolled out a strategy memo for “Design Guidelines” for Collegetown and Downtown. The city held focus meetings back in March with Winter & Company, a Boulder-based urban design and planning firm with experience in cities and college towns from coast to coast. No specific individuals are mentioned as being part of the focus groups, but the focus group meetings consisted of “residents, property owners, developers, architects, design professionals, Planning and Development Board members, Common Council members, and City staff.” The memo is meant to help guide continued discussion of design standards, and to identify key issues in each area that could arise with planning and implementation.

The feedback from the focus groups shouldn’t come as a surprise – use high quality materials, respect historic character but don’t emulate it, recognize that development costs in Ithaca are very high, promote walkability and active street use, encourage parking lot infill, define transition areas between smaller-scale neighborhoods and denser cores, and so forth.

One of the major components being reviewed is whether design guidelines should be mandatory or just a set of recommendations. The city has a design review process that comes into play for certain projects like those on the Commons, but otherwise it’s non-binding unless the BZA or planning board mandates it as part of approval. Regardless, more meetings are expected as the guidelines are fleshed out.

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2. The Ithaca Times is checking in with the Al-Huda Islamic Center plan for Graham Road in Lansing. Fundraising is still underway for the 4,828 SF mosque, which according to a member of the Al-Huda board of Trustees, is expected to cost between $650,000 and $1 million, per contractor estimates.

Fun fact of the day, Islamic law prohibits mosques being paid for with funds that collect interest (tainted by usury). Everything must be paid for up-front and in full.

The village of Lansing has already signed off on the mosque plans, and the vacant land at 112 Graham Road is bought and paid for. Pretty sure the above drawing is outdated, but I haven’t seen an image of the latest plan available online. The Times has an interior shot of the current plan to accompany their story.

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3. The town of Ithaca passed the nine-month moratorium on two-family dwellings by unanimous vote at its meeting this week. Anyone seeking to build a duplex in the town of Ithaca will now have to wait until February 2017 for a building permit, unless “unnecessary hardship” is demonstrated by the law’s imposition. The law was driven by the construction of multiple 2-6 unit student-oriented structures east of Ithaca College in the Kendall/Pennsylvania avenue area, which they felt was undermining the neighborhood’s character. Earlier versions of the law called for a year’s length, but the town received numerous complaints that a year would actually hit two construction seasons, 2016’s and 2017’s.

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4. Also in lawmaking, the bike lanes proposed for the 300 and 400 blocks of Tioga Street in downtown have been shot down in favor of sharrows, 3-2. This comes after strong advocacy by city bicyclists and some planning and sustainability groups, and strong opposition from some elderly and disabled advocacy groups, suburban neighborhood residents and the town of Ithaca’s town board.

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5. One of the many issues that faces large-scale planning and development in Tompkins County is that, over the many decades, land has been heavily subdivided and sold off between many different owners, with the properties often passed down or even traded, leaving records piecemeal. With so many owners, some untraceable, it can become logistically difficult, especially if not everyone is on board with a plan.

In front of Moe’s down in big box land, the county owns a 0.3 acre parcel of land previously a part of the flood relief channel. Since 2005, Benderson Development has rented the land as part of its shopping complex – now they just want to simplify things and buy the land from the county. With an offer of $112,500, which is $17,500 over the county’s assessment, and with the county’s 2005 confirmation and 2016 re-affirmation that they have no public use for that slice of land anymore (much of the channel’s land has already been incorporated into other parcels), they’re planning to finalize the sale at the Legislature’s meeting next week.

6. If you glanced at the Voice, you know there’s a plan cooking for 36 townhouse units east of Varna. But according to Dryden’s town planner, that’s not the only project that’s been brought forth to the town. A different applicant brought forth a plan for 20 single-family homes on 9 acres near the intersection of Route 13 and Mineah Road, a rural stretch between Varna and the village of Dryden. The units, expected to be rentals, are allowed as of right in Dryden’s mixed-use zoning – if it’s under 4 units/acre, it doesn’t need a special use permit, or even site plan review. A check of property records reveals several parcels owned by Ryszard Wawak, a Lansing businessman who picked up the land a number of years ago and has already built a duplex (2-bedrooms each) and a 5-bedroom house on subdivided parcels.

If you happen to start seeing houses popping up between Dryden and Varna, it’s probably this project slipping under the radar.

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7. Taking a glance at the Ithaca Projects Review committee meeting agenda, the Elmira Savings Bank and 201 College Avenue projects will be undergoing review before heading to the planning board meeting later this month, and the subdivision/reconfiguration to build two two-family houses at 312-314 Old Elmira Road will also be reviewed. There are also a boatload of zoning variances being sought for various projects – Marriott signage, an apartment reconfiguration on Farm Street, a basement home salon on Center Street, a home addition on Cobb Street, parking variances for 121 West Court and a area variance for an existing carport on Grandview Avenue that was apparently never approved by the city when built in 1973. In total, there are nine. It’s times like this that the city would benefit from a simplified zoning code.





News Tidbits 4/30/16: Sticking to the Plan

30 04 2016

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1. So, let’s start off with the bad news. Chapter House might not be happening. Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times had the scoop, though not for a lack of trying on the Voice’s part – rumors had arrived in the inbox well before the Collegetown construction roundup article. I’ve reached out to Jerry Dietz, the building manager for the Chapter House project, four times over the past couple of weeks, without response. One of those was an in-person visit that went un-received. My Voice editor and colleague Jolene Almendarez has also been trying to do her share of contacting relevant parties, to no avail.

Anyway, personal discontent aside, The co-proprietor of the Chapter House (and the only one willing to say anything on record) says that he believes a sale of the 400-404 Stewart Avenue property is imminent, with the potential buyer being the next door neighbor of the also-destroyed 406 Stewart Avenue. The claim is that a more cost-efficient plan would be put forth, which could eliminate the Chapter House from its plans.

One thing to keep in mind is that the property is on the edge of the East Hill historic district – the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission can control just about every aspect of the exterior, but they don’t have say over use any more than zoning permits. They can stipulate the extra expense of appropriate material and image, but they can’t stipulate a bar (and a lot of commission members would be uncomfortable with that anyway). Dunno how much the insurance money was, but the finances just may not work. It would be unfortunate, but as they do in golf, they’ll play the ball where it lies.

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2. Noting, briefly. Evan Monkemeyer, the developer behind the cancelled College Crossing project, might be partnering with another developer to create and put forward a plan for the corner of Route 96 and East King Road. This is according to the town of Ithaca’s planning staff. Monkemeyer has not hidden his discontent after his suburban-style mixed-use project became the subject of heavy debate because the site plan, originally approved in 2007, no longer meshed with the town’s interests, which had evolved to more New Urbanist formats put forth by the 2014 Comprehensive Plan and the Form Ithaca charrettes. Monkemeyer owns about 64 acres on the northeast side of the intersection, and more than 15 acres as part of Springwood on the southeast side of the corner. In other words, virtually all the divvied up land and conceptual buildings on the lower right side of the charrette image. This could be something to keep in eye on over the coming months.

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3. Here’s the latest iteration of the Maplewood Park site plan. A lot of changes from the previous version. To sum up the changes, the apartment buildings, 3-4 stories, have been pulled back from existing homes, the townhouses and stacked flats have are more centralized and closely clustered, and mixed-use retail/apartment planned for the city is now in the town, all the city has in its portion is green space and perhaps a small service area/ bus shelter.

Also note the secondary road that terminates right at the edge of the Maple Hill property. Chances are very good that would feed into a phase II that redevelops the Maple Hill property.

The large parking lot in the southeast corner doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of the plan, previous versions had the parking more dispersed. Since Cornell has an idea of the number of residents it wants for the project to be feasible to build and affordable on grad student stipends (850-975, centering around 925 beds in 500 units), if housing is decreased in one part of the parcel, they’re going to have their development team make up for it somewhere else. One of the bigger points of contention seems to be Cornell trying to avoid drawing traffic in by keeping larger buildings further out, while neighbors from various angles try and push the units as far away from them as possible.

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Maplewood has a website up sharing meeting notes and presentation materials here. Future meeting information will also be posted to the Maplewood website. The project will be filling out an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) not unlike Chain Works, because of the project size and potential for adverse impacts (and therefore the need for proper mitigation before plans can be approved). The scoping document for the EIS, which is an outline that says what will be written about where, is on the town’s website here.

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Just for the record, the print version of a recent Maplewood write-up on the Times claimed to have a quote from me. It was not. The online version of the piece has the corrections. The quote wasn’t even something I would say, because I don’t think Cornell attempting to house a greater number of its graduate and professional students is an “unsustainable development goal”. Quite the opposite, it’s crucial they do that to relieve some of the pressure on the rest of the local housing market.

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4. Looks like some of the IURA’s recommended funding Action Plan is out. Habitat for Humanity gets the full $75,000 request, as does INHS with the $100,000 requested for their new single-family build at 304 Hector Street. Most of the 202 Hancock project, the seven for-sale townhouses, was recommended for funding – $530,000 of $567,000, ~93.5% of the request.

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5. At the Common Council meeting next Wednesday, the city is set to vote on reducing the fall-zone radius for cell phone towers, from double the tower’s height (200% of tower height), to 120% of the tower’s height. The move will potentially allow an iteration of Modern Living Rentals’s 815 South Aurora project to move forward with further planning and review. The 87-unit project was planned on the assumption of 100% tower height plus ten feet, so in the case of the 170-foot South Hill cell tower in question, the law would call for a 204 ft. radius, not 180 ft. as the developer hoped. But still, it’s a lot less than the 340 ft. it currently is. The developer may seek a smaller project, build taller, a greatly-revised footprint, or other options. We’ll see how it plays out.

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5. House of the week. Back in March, it wasn’t certain whether 201 West Clinton’s “sawn-and-batten wood” would be left unpainted, or painted yellow. Looks like the former is correct, based on the east face of the 1-bedroom carriage house. The ZIP panels were still exposed on the other faces when I shot these photos, but based off what could be seen through the windows, interior work is progressing nicely, and the garage door has been attached. Local architect Zac Boggs and partner Isabel Fernández are building the 520 SF addition atop an existing 1960s garage.

 





409 College Avenue (Student Agencies eHub) Construction Update, 4/2016

26 04 2016

Not a new construction, but a major renovation. scaffolding is up as the Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue undergoes major interior and exterior renovations to its second and third floors. As previously reported on the Voice, 9.660 SF is being renovated to make way for eHub, a co-working and business incubator space for startups founded by Cornell affiliates – students, faculty and staff. The project is part of a collaboration with the Entrepreneurship at Cornell program (eShip), and for its part, Cornell renovated about 5,000 SF of space in the Ag Quad’s Kennedy Hall to complement Student Agencies’ plans.

As part of the renovations, 409, which was built in 1985, gets a major facadectomy – out with the brick and its punch-out windows, in with the glass curtain walls of fixed-frame window units with metal and granite detailing. The renovations will also add a rooftop patio space to the second floor. The project had to go through Design Review since it’s a major exterior change to an MU-2 building in Collegetown, and it ended up being one of the rare cases where the planning board encouraged a more bold design. The original design can be found here. The posters on the netting are the only copies of seen of the approved final design.

The Bike Rack, 7-Eleven, and Student Agencies will remain option while the renovations are underway.

STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering designed the renovations (project design and energy efficiency improvements), and Morse Construction Management is the general contractor. All three firms are based out of Ithaca. The total cost for 409’s renovation is about $2.8 million.

Plans call for a May opening.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 4/2016

25 04 2016

Collegetown Crossing is starting to show its face. Windows are being installed, and the CMU walls are on display. The mostly glass front facade has yet to go on, and brickwork will eventually go over the Tyvek housewrap on the 4-story, CR-4 portion of the portion. As mentioned in the Voice piece, a construction worker on-site said that interior work is focused on interior wall framing, sheet-rock hanging, and electric rough-ins at the moment.

According to building developer Josh Lower of Urban Ithaca, the project is being included as a part of a city grant application related to public transit, though it’s not something I’ve heard much about. It definitely fits the bill – designated internal bus shelter and pull-off space for up to two buses, a pedestrian through-fare and pocket park that connects College Avenue and Linden Avenue, ample bike racks (12 spaces required, 24 being provided), 3,200 SF grocery store on the first floor and Ithaca Carshare is but a couple hundred feet away.

There are a couple smaller retail spaces included as part of the project, but there hasn’t been any indication as to whether they have tenants lines up.

Like Dryden South and the Dryden Eddy Apartments, Collegetown Crossing plans to open in time for the fall semester. Ithaca’s Jagat Sharma is the architect, and Hayner Hoyt Corporation out of Syracuse is in charge of the build-out.

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205 Dryden Road (Dryden South) Construction Update, 4/2016

25 04 2016

Another project in the mad dash for a summer completion (7/7/2016) is Pat Kraft’s mixed-use building at 205 Dryden Road, the “Dryden South” apartments. Workers under the direction of Rochester’s LeChase Construction are building up the reinforced concrete frame, and you can see steel rebar poking out of the fourth floor, which will be wrapped in wood forms and encased in concrete, with enough rebar poking out at the top to tie-in to future sections. The construction crane comes from C.P. Ward, a construction contractor in suburban Rochester. On the outside, the CMU walls are being assembled; not a whole lot of aesthetic effort is being put into the appearance of the east wall because it will be hidden by the 209-215 Dryden project within months of completion, although the renders show slit-windows on the building’s east face.

Kraftee’s was slated to occupy the first floor retail space, but the space is now being retooled. The project is in MU-2 zoning, and is legally obligated to have “active use” commercial on the 2,400 SF first floor: hotel, bank, theater, retail, and/or food service.

It looks Dryden South’s website has been overhauled. Apparently, if the building isn’t ready by August 1st, Kraft will refund renters twice the daily rent until the building is issued a certificate of occupancy. Rents range from $1190-$1350 per month, per bedroom, which is quite expensive, but this is also Inner Collegetown, which has the highest real estate values in the city.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 4/2016

25 04 2016

Here are the latest photos for Steve Fontana’s mixed-use project at 327 Eddy Street. Work is up to the fourth floor in the front, and it looks like interior wall framing is underway on the lower floors, along with utilities rough-ins on the lowest levels. The rear section is further behind, steel is rising but workers have yet to move beyond the first floor. Progress should be happening fairly quickly from here on out, as the building needs to be ready for occupancy by the start of the fall semester. According to Fontana’s website (conveniently linked with the shoe store), unit prices range from $930 to $1250 per bedroom. The website doesn’t give any indication on how many units have been reserved.

There seems to be a slight discrepancy as to whether the project has 53 or 56 bedrooms in its 22 units. Counting on the webpage didn’t help, and the floor plans on the city’s website date from the 6-story, 64-bedroom version. A quick check shows my source was a Cornell Sun article from February 2015, no longer online. If anyone knows which number is accurate, please chime in.

A little more info can be found in last week’s Voice round-up here.

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