News Tidbits 10/3/15: Lying in Wait

3 10 2015

1.We’ll start with a news piece out of the ‘burbs. Over in Lansing town, wealthy homeowners are accusing the town board and the town planning board of disenfranchising and ignoring them over concerns about the proposed Novalane housing development. Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star gives a very thorough rundown here.

Quick summary, Novalane is a 19-lot high-end housing development slated for farmland between two other high end housing developments, the mostly-built Lakewatch and Eastlake subdivisions, the first phase of which is comprised of seven lots on the west side of the parcel. The sticking point has to do with access roads for the new homes. The developer proposes to connect the two developments via the Smuggler’s Path cul-de-sac, which would extend down through an undeveloped lot in Eastlake and connect with Eastlake Road.

According to the town, the intent has always been to connect the two developments – but apparently, no one ever had a good idea where. Neighbors on Reach Run are incensed because they’re afraid of additional traffic on their road if the connector isn’t extended all the way, but if connected, Eastlake residents are opposed to cross-traffic they suspect will cut through to get to East Shore Drive. Aside from that conundrum, some neighbors have suggested being okay with the road if it went all the way from Smuggler’s Path to form an intersection with Waterwagon Road, but that doesn’t seem possible given the property lines of the Rec Club. At the very least, it would be a big burden in the development costs.

So on the one hand, here is a town that has struggled with planning issues. On the other, you have wealthy residents angry about construction vehicles accessing the one house currently under construction in Lakewatch, and prepared to sue the town over the potential of seven more houses. There’s also this gem of a line:

“We’re large taxpayers.  It’s an autocracy.  To be treated like that by our own representatives is incorrect and not acceptable.  Who are they working for?”

Maybe all taxpayers and not just the large ones? Just saying.

2. Switching over to another ‘burb, the proprietors of Storage Squad made their pitch to the town of Dryden, per the Ithaca Times. Storage Squad, a Cornell startup that has expanded to twenty cities, seems to have a rather unique take on the appearance of self-storage. For their facility planned at 1401 Dryden Road, the company wants to build 79,600 SF of space, 70,000 SF of which would be in five buildings consisting of 400 storage units. 315 units may join 3-4 years down the line. According to the presentation, there would be a Cornell-inspired clock tower, brick and ivy growing on the side walls. Paved entries, gated, and split-face concrete masonry units. Apparently, it was enough to win the town supervisor over. A special zoning permit will be required, but approval is expected later this fall. No word on whether they’ll keep the 150-year old house on-site.

3.  Must be a good week for Dryden. The eyesore at 76 West Main Street has been sold and has a construction loan approved to finish renovations. The Ithaca Voice article I did on the reno is here. I toyed with the idea of calling Dryden mayor Reba Taylor for a quote, but I figured I’d get a very generic statement it any at all, and in the interest of time the idea was shelved. I might get a response to one-third of the calls I make regarding development/real estate stuff, which can be frustrating but I’ve gotten used to it.


4. The Times’ Josh Brokaw brings out an update on the latest State Street Triangle news. The important details:

– CTB has agreed to take one of the commercial spaces. No word on how that would affect the North Aurora Street location a couple blocks away.

– The planning board didn’t have many words; One member suggested the curve portion was “too flat” and an arcade on the first floor (not the video game kind, but the archways over a walkway kind). A second brought up affordable housing, which the developers have given consideration, but isn’t in the current plan.

– In favor: the director of Cinemapolis, other developers, CTB’s owner and students. Not in favor – the head of Historic Ithaca, and councilman George McGonigal – who opposed the Stone Quarry Apartments, the waterfront rezoning, 210 Hancock and thinks the city can make Cornell build dorms. The Times has called him out as “anti-urban”. If a councilperson outside the first ward speaks out, it’ll get a lot more credence on this blog.



5. The city and Cornell gave an interesting presentation about development to the Collegetown Neighborhood Council this week. City planning director JoAnn Cornish gave a rundown of what’s planned, included the 102 apartments 302-306 College Avenue (phases one and two shown above). This one might still be in the hopper, but don’t expect it to move forward anytime soon – the developers (the Avramis family) have rented out the houses to be demolished through May 2017. It also seems like that one building would be in the 2017-2018 time frame, the second 2018-2019. So these two mid-rises are quite a ways out, assuming they’re still in the works. Also, Fane’s 12-story proposal for 330 College is still dead, but something more modest may come forward someday.

On another interesting note, Cornell’s lead planner, Leslie Schill, said the university may be looking into turning Eddy Gate and the Sheldon Court plaza into green spaces to offset the lack of parks in the neighborhood. Cornell might also renovate the Ag Quad into a richer pedestrian experience.

6. The Carpenter Business Park purchaser continues to intrigue. A company called Carpenter Business Park LLC, using a P.O. Box ties to the Miller Mayer law firm, has bought two more parcels after buying the four unused land parcels in the Carpenter Business Park for $2.4 million last August. This time around, the LLC purchased a nondescript one-story commercial building at 742 Cascadilla Street, and a nearby tiny silver of land between the Palisades Corporation and Cornell U. Press buildings for $304,000. It’s not clear what the buyer is intended to do with all these properties (we know it’s not a big box store), but it’s definitely curious. If something comes up, it’ll be shared here.


News Tidbits 9/26/15: Trying to Keep Tabs

26 09 2015

1. It’s rare for a substantial project to go completely under the radar from start to finish. Except that’s pretty much what happened with the following building.

Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) recently finished renovations to two of their dorms on their Dryden campus. Along with the renovation of about 41,000 SF of existing space, the two dorms were connected by a new 3-story, 10,000 SF addition designed by Ithaca’s HOLT Architects. The existing dorms sat at a 90° angle to each other, so the addition by HOLT creates a single, L-shaped structure, with the expansion holding common space and amenities. Binghamton construction firm William H. Lane Inc. handled the build-out. The image above comes courtesy of HOLT’s website.

Technically, it did come up once on the blog, but it was misinterpreted. When William H. Lane announced it was opening an Ithaca office to handle the growth in their Ithaca/Tompkins work, one of the examples given in the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin was a dormitory expansion at TC3. At the time, I had done a search for the project and filed an inquiry with TC3, but there was no response, and my search only turned up renovations underway for the main classroom building. I assumed there was a miscommunication, so…oops.

2. In real estate sales, it looks like a couple of the smaller developers were in buying mode this week. Lansing’s SDM Rentals (Scott Morgan, owner of SDM Landscaping) bought a vacant 2.93 acre parcel at approximately 455 West Dryden Road in the town of Dryden for $21,000 on the 23rd. If past behavior is any indication, Morgan will probably be looking to do rentals, likely a few townhouses on the property. Currently, Morgan is planning 8 duplexes (16 units) at 543 Asbury Road in Dryden, which may or may not have a zoning issue. Morgan is also building out on Bone Plain Road in Dryden, and owns the recently-built Meadowbrook Apartments (14 units in the form of duplex townhouses) at 393 Peruville Road in Lansing.

Meanwhile over in Danby, Chris Petrillose of Petrillose Properties picked up a 2.11 acre parcel along the 400 block of Troy Road for $34,000. Given that that area has seen a lot of scattered small-scale development (1 & 2-family homes) in the past few years, and that Petrillose finished work on duplexes in Ithaca town, a couple rental units seems likely.


3. How well was the Hotel Ithaca received? Let’s quote IJ Reporter Nick Reynolds’ Twitter:

Many sweet, way-over-my-head architecture burns thrown tonight. Let’s just say you guys aren’t getting a Hotel Ithaca update anytime soon.”

The primary complaint focus not on function but on form – according to the IJ follow-up article, materials and a dated design were dinged by board members (and comments about “LEED-certified stucco” and comparisons to the Bellagio didn’t help). NH Architecture’s portfolio tends to be the same general design, which means they’re going to have to go the extra mile on this one, or developer Hart Hotels might need to switch up their approach. Their Belhurst Castle Hotel design isn’t bad, so maybe they can channel some of that creativity into the downtown Ithaca site.

So rest assured, “Cornell PhD”, those cross-hatches aren’t making it off the drawing board anytime soon.



4. A few years ago (spring-summer 2012), the city planning board reviewed and approved a large project for the Ithaca waterfront called “Cascadilla Landing“. The three-phase, 183 unit project called for 6 units in duplexes, 11 townhouses, and the remainder to be built in 5-story apartment buildings designed by Ithaca architect John Snyder (the same gentleman behind the Carey Building addition). The first phase called for two buildings and 92 units, Buildings “C” and “D” (“C” shown above). So the project was approved and then…nothing. Never got off the ground.

However, the impending closure of Johnson’s Boatyard on Pier Road is piquing my curiosity. Now, initially it seemed highly unlikely because I thought Cascadilla Landing had never been fully approved (in fact, it received preliminary approval in September 2012 – thanks Noah). But since it was approved, all an ambitious individual would have to do is simply re-apply for approval if there are no changes to the plan (PB approval is only good for 2 years – part of the reason why Harold’s Square was back before the board last month). It’s still unlikely that the project is moving forward soon, but not impossible. A phone call to Snyder’s office and a call to Pier Road Properties (the developer as represented by accountant Andy LaVigne on the application materials) have so far not been returned.


5. Preliminary, but it’s nice to see work progressing on the Chapter house redevelopment. Voice article here. The key thing to stress here is that there are design studies, and they’ll be subject to the ILPC’s whims. It looks like making the fourth floor of the Chapter House habitable or not is something that’s still being debated, along with the plans for the still-standing 408 Stewart. It’s hard to believe that things will be ready in August 2016, given that there’s no formal application yet, and the languid pace projects like this go through the commission.

Also, it was extraordinarily difficult to get a hold of most of the relevant parties for the article. Neither architect responded, I couldn’t get a hold of city Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken…thankfully, Jerry Dietz was happy to assist, and although I felt a little bad calling ILPC Chair Ed Finegan since he has no formal part in the project itself, he was a big help. Both were keen to stress the preliminary aspect of this project, which hopefully came through in the article.

But I’ve just about had it with responding back to commenters on the Facebook article.



News Tidbits 9/5/15: Ithaca the Diva

5 09 2015


1. John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road has been given the green light. The city of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board approved the $12 million project at their August meeting. With approvals in hand, Novarr is free to start construction as soon as he has his construction loans, which should be no problem given that Cornell’s MBA program has agreed to occupy the whole building (though only about 70% of the space will actually be used at initial completion; the MBA program will fill out the building as their needs require). Conveniently, Novarr won’t have to worry about site demolition and asbestos removal because he cleared the site in May.

The 6-story, 73,000 SF building will begin construction in “four months” per the end-of-August Sun article, or November if the Site Plan Review (SPR) paperwork is still accurate. Completion of the building is anticipated for the second quarter of 2017. ikon.5 of Princeton, New Jersey is the project architect.

When filled out, the building will house 250 employees of the university, and 450 students of the Executive MBA program, who only attend classes in Ithaca during traditionally slow periods of the year (winter break and summer break; during the rest of the year, students attend weekend classes in the town of Palisades in Rockland County). To that effect, the project would go a long way in easing the strongly cyclical consumer traffic that makes it hard to do business in the largely-student neighborhood. Students also stay at the Statler while on campus, and staff and students will walk over from Cornell faculty/staff parking to get to the building.

Last month, the Tompkins County IDA approved a 50-year tax abatement for the project, in the form of a PILOT agreement. With the other option of Cornell buying the property and making it tax-exempt, the county has decided that something is better than nothing.

The project joins a slew of mostly residential projects under construction in the Collegetown neighborhood. 205 Dryden, 327 Eddy and 307 College are all underway, and several smaller projects were recently completed. The new investments total over $36 million, and with the exception of Novarr’s project, all the other projects will be taxed at full value.



2. Meanwhile, there have some mild hang-ups with another project. The solar-powered townhomes in Dryden are seeing some resistance, mostly from the nearby Cornell Plantations, and from neighbors opposed to rental housing in Varna. The Ithaca Times piece uses this dandy of a line:

“Resident Cheryl Humerez, whose family and in-laws both own homes that neighbor the proposed project, was disgusted by the thought of a rental development, which might attract college students, becoming her neighbor.”

Going beyond the “disgusted” comment, most of the students that would live this far from Cornell’s campus would be graduate and professional students. Undergrads are less likely to have cars and tend to live in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Cornell’s core (Collegetown, Cornell Heights and parts of East Hill). Graduate and professional students tend to be like any other 20 or 30-something living on modest wages. The chances of a “keggers on Tuesday” kinda place are virtually nil. Also worth pointing out, Dryden’s town supervisor called Humerez out on that comment, saying she was saddened that renters were being described as a problem.

Cornell Plantations, as represented by Todd Bittner, has more legitimate concerns about litter, the driveway location and stormwater drainage; but glancing at the town minutes, it looks like the “I know we need development, just not in this neighborhood” argument also makes an appearance.

The town board (in Dryden, it seems the town board oversees public hearings of the planning board’s agenda) is taking a more level approach; acknowledging that it’s a decent project, community input is important for good development, and by incorporating mitigation measures to assuage worried neighbors, this has the potential to be a worthy community asset. Expect this project to evolve as we go through the next couple of months.

Also noted in the town minutes are plans for a 78,000 SF storage facility next to NYSEG at 1401 Dryden Road. Plans from a Cornell startup named “Storage Squad” call for “high quality, attractive self-storage” with 400 storage units in the first phase. The project will need site plan review.


3. To anyone who’s passed by the vacant lot at 402 South Cayuga Street and wondered when INHS will start those for-sale townhomes: I’ve taken the liberty of checking. INHS director Paul Mazzarella stated in an email that “[t]he project is out to bid for a general contractor. The bids will be due next week. If the numbers are OK, we will start as soon as possible.” So barring any nasty shocks in the bids, the four-unit project (1 3-bedroom, 3 2-bedroom) will start in just a few weeks. As with other INHS projects, the units will be sold to qualified first-time homebuyers with modest incomes (anecdotally, that means the $40k-$50k range…it seems like half the buyers in the past year or so have been teachers in the ICSD).

4. In a rare bit of bad economic news in Ithaca, Ithaca College has announced its intent to slash about 40 staff positions from its workforce. This follows 47 job cuts in academic year 2014-2015, 39 of which were vacancies.

The cuts are part of an effort to bring tuition costs and help the college stabilize enrollment numbers, which have been sliding down lately. No faculty positions will be eliminated as part of the layoffs. IC currently has about 1,070 staff and 730 faculty, about 200 more than they employed a decade ago.


5. The rumor mill said that a reporter from the New York Times was in town last Friday, and apparently they liked what they saw; the piece in the NYT takes a very positive and gracious approach with Ithaca and its recent urban developments. If you haven’t read it already, the link is here.

[What follows is a spark-notes version of the Voice piece – I’ll update with links after the weekend holiday.]

More importantly are some useful details in the piece – one of which is that we now know the revised mix of uses for the 11-story Harold’s Square project calls for 86 apartments, up from 46 when it was first approved in 2013. The apartment units will be a mix of 1-bedroom and 2-bedrooms. Readers may recall that the project dropped two floors of office space in favor of two floors of apartments. The project also includes about 11,000 SF of retail on the Commons.

In a phone conversation with developer David Lubin, the current plan is to start construction of the $38 million project in early 2016:

“Rev will be out at the end of September. We’ll probably begin demolition after the first of the year, after the holiday shopping season, we don’t want to be a nuisance to Christmas shoppers. We’ll have pop-up store space available during the holidays. They’re not solid, but those are out plans. We’ll see how it goes”.

Also, the project will be going back to the planning board.

“The planning board re-approved the current design [last month]. However, there will be changes to the design, as we’ve changed the office space to apartments and they have different needs, window placement, things like that. When we’re ready, we’ll present those to the planning board. Not September and probably not the October meeting, but before the end of the year.”

The project was originally approved in August 2013, with a CIITAP tax abatement package approved two months later. However, putting a financial package together has been a task.

“These things take time,” Lubin stressed. “The Marriott, that needed 3 or 4 years before they started. It can be a slow process.”



6. For those keeping an eye on the Simeon’s reconstruction, expect to see some progress in the next couple of weeks. That’s according to an interview the Sun conducted with Simeon’s co-owner Rich Avery. The timeline has yet to be finalized, but the new restaurant space and luxury apartments are anticipated for completion by late next summer, with the resturant re-opening as early as February.


7. Gosh, it’s nice to have the Sun back in session. Also from the Sun, incoming Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett has formally announced plans for new student housing, among other graduate student initiatives. From the Sun:

“Following her discussion on maintaining and promoting diversity among graduate students, Garrett announced the creation of new graduate student housing.

“My team and I are committed to working with the GPSA to create an inclusive and rewarding [graduate and] professional student living environment,” she said. “Most immediately, I am working now with my team to work on critical housing needs.”

According to Garrett, since the University’s Maplewood Park Apartments — a graduate student housing facility located near the Veterinary School — is closing, the University is currently collaborating with private partners to create new graduate-student housing at the Maplewood site and to develop additional housing in the East Hill Village.”

Heads up folks, East Hill Village isn’t even a thing a yet, it’s just a concept from the master plan. Anyway, this goes along with Ithaca town supervisor Herb Engman’s comments to the county that Cornell is engaging with consultants to bring a plan forward. There’s nothing else known about the plans, and it’ll be a few years before any students start moving in to new Cornell-sponsored digs, but everything has to start somewhere, and Cornell’s created quite a deficit for itself when it comes to providing adequate amounts of graduate housing.

Also, note the “collaborating with private partners” bit – these may or may not be tax-exempt, we shall see what happens.


8. Here’s the latest update on State Street Triangle, courtesy of the Ithaca Times. I have to admit, although I technically compete for eyeballs via the Voice, I like Josh Brokaw’s writing, he tends to be a bit of a wiseass and it’s entertaining.

The big hang-up is massing. Not height, not tenant mix. A couple of ideas floated or suggested include height setbacks or overall reductions, and a redesign of the facade to make it appear more like separate buildings built next to each other.

According to Brokaw’s piece, some landlords are even questioning the need for new units, saying that all these new units could drive prices down.

Captain Obvious just arrived into port. By the way, given the recent growth in general and student populations and corresponding increase in demand for living space, if a landlord is having trouble filling their units right now, it’s probably not the city’s fault.

Campus Advantage has already spent $500,000 on the project, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to throw in the towel just yet. They were probably hoping for an approvals process as easy as their Pittsburgh apartment tower, but…live and learn.


707 East Seneca Street Construction Update, 8/2015

14 08 2015

By the time I had taken updated photos of the apartment building under construction at 707 East Seneca Street, most of the exterior work had been completed (looking at the photos closely, those might be some trim boards leaning next to the first-floor doorway). The work has shifted mostly to finishing out the interior, and then when the vast majority of work on the building is completed, landscaping and paving will follow. Everything looks to be on schedule for tenant move-in later this month.

For a look at interior progress photos, Modern Living Rentals has been posting occasional updates on their facebook page.

The building will have 6 3-bedroom units, 18 beds total. Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor of Ithaca’s Modern Living Rentals are the developers, and the design of the building, heavily influenced by its location in the East Hill Historic District, is the work of local firms Schickel Architecture and STREAM Collaborative.

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114 Catherine Street Construction Update, 8/2015

13 08 2015

One of the “secrets” of Jagat Sharma’s success in Collegetown is that he designs unobtrusive, good-looking projects on a restrained budget. Sharma can probably add 114 Catherine Street to his list of successes.

The next few entries are more or less just to clear out my portfolio and keep the blog updated with separate entries to make searches for individual projects easier. If you’ve been reading the Voice, you won’t see anything “new”, but you will get more photos and more information.

In these photos from the end of July, the work is nearly complete. A few workers were assembled around the concrete foundation, where the most visible corner will have an imprinted rectangular pattern for the sake of visual interest. The render I included this post was what I thought the version of 114 Catherine that was going to be built, but the corner windows aren’t as big, and the A/C units appear to be missing from the southward (front-facing) windows, and were moved to the side instead.

Workers are also busy with finishing out the interior, and the front door and stairs will be installed once it’s convenient. Landscaping will follow, and from there it’ll be ready for tenant occupancy later this month.

The building is being developed by Nick Lambrou of Lambrou Real Estate. Plans call for a 3-story, 4,180 sq ft structure with a 5-bedroom apartment on the first floor and a 6-bedroom apartment on the second floor and on the third floor. The building replaces a surface parking lot.

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 8/2015

11 08 2015

The last in the Collegetown trio of midrise apartment buildings underway, and the biggest, is Josh Lower’s Collegetown Crossing project at 307 College Avenue. Like 205 Dryden and 327 Eddy, it’s time to give this building its first progress report.

A telescoping boom crane looms overhead as work continues on the foundation of the new building. An excavator is at work digging down to the appropriate level for foundation piling. The two-story concrete masonry unit (CMU) box that previously stood on-site has been demolished. Apart from the murals, there won’t be much missed about the ca. 1980 structure. 307 College had been home to a branch of Kinney Drugs up until about 2006, and afterwards, its commercial space was partially occupied by Ithaca Carshare. The second floor contained several apartments. The Lower family, who run the Urban Ithaca rental company in Collegetown, bought the property for $1.725 million in 2007.

Plans for the property were first announced back in 2009, but with parking requirements still in place, the project would have needed a zoning variance of 57 parking spaces, which the city was uncomfortable with. The project stalled and was unable to move forward with further review until the city passed revised zoning codes for Collegetown in March 2014. There were actually two notable impacts as a result of the zoning code update – one, that it could be built in the first place; and two, that the rear portion, which had been six stories like the rest of the building, had to be chopped down to 4 stories since it fell into a different zone (the building straddles two lots; the rear one is part of the new CR-4 zoning, which only allows four floors, and the front portion is MU-2). This reduced the number of bedrooms from 103 to 98, and later, 96. The final plans were approved last September, and the groundbreaking ceremony was just last month.

Collegetown Crossing will have 46 apartments with 96 bedrooms when it opens in August 2016. Along with those units, the project will host a 3,200 SF branch of local grocery co-op Greenstar on its ground floor. Two smaller commercial spaces are also included. A heated bus shelter and a narrow “pocket park” traversing College Avenue to Linden Avenue will also be available for public use. With a true grocery store coming to Collegetown, residents have generally been in favor of the project.

There’s no construction loan on file, but the FEAF estimated $5 million to build. The grapevine says it actually might be more in the line of $7-8 million. Also a plus, there were no tax breaks requested or given.

Local architect Jagat Sharma can put another feather in his cap, as this project is another of his designs. Syracuse-based Hayner Hoyt Corporation will be in charge of construction.






327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update 8/2015

10 08 2015

Another Collegetown construction project is getting its first real progress report. This time, it’s 327 Eddy Street in Collegetown, also known as the “Dryden Eddy Apartments”.

Excavation has been underway for a little while now, since the old Club Sudz/Tung Fong Grocery came down earlier this summer. The Club Sudz building had been built around 1910 as a 3-story building, but the structure was partially destroyed by a fire in 1970, and only the bottom two floors were rebuilt.

These photos are nearing two weeks old now, but a more recent photo taken by Mark Anbinder shows steel sheet piles on site. The project will use “flowable fill” to a depth of three feet in its foundation. Flowable fill is an alternative to concrete and is often used in roadwork or as retaining wall backfill.

What comes in its place is a 5-story building broken into three stepped sections. As elevation increases going eastward, the building steps back to another five-story section. Initial plans approved in 2014 called for a 6-story building with a different crown treatment (which looked better, in my opinion). Somewhere along the way, the building lost a floor, and then very shortly before construction began, the crown was changed from a triangular prism to a glass box. Presumably, this doesn’t affect the appraisal for the crown projecting into the city’s right-of-way.

The new 5-story building will bring 1,800 SF of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market in August 2016. Longtime Collegetown landlord Steve Fontana (of the Fontana’s Shoes family) is the developer, Jagat Sharma is the architect, and GM Crisalli & Associates of Syracuse will be overseeing construction. A construction loan of $4,824,000 is being provided by Tompkins Trust Company.

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