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

28 08 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





409 College Avenue (Student Agencies eHub) Construction Update, 8/2016

26 08 2016

The Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue has received its new glass curtain wall. The glazing seems to have just arrived judging from the brackets. New windows have yet to be installed in the center column, and there’s still other work on the exterior to-do list, such as the etched glass railing for the second-floor balcony, the brise soleil, and minor trim work.

Note that the top (fourth) floor appears to have also been redone. This was not in any of the renders, although the Planning Board’s Design Review panel probably had to sign off on it. It’s likely that this is one of the reasons why the renovation work has gone on longer than anticipated.

STREAM Collaborative is the architect, and on their website are some interior renders of the new eHub co-working space. A couple shots are embedded below, but more can be found on STREAM’s website here. Morse Construction Management is the general contractor.

EDIT: I asked STREAM’s Noah Demarest if the fourth floor was a last minute change. “Yes. Last minute change due to the facade being in far worse condition than we thought. It is completely rebuilt. We have technical drawings we submitted to staff but never updated the renders.”

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205 Dryden (Dryden South) Construction Update, 8/2016

25 08 2016

There will probably be one last follow-up group of photos. The exterior masonry work is ongoing, but according to owner/developer Patrick Kraft, the development team (Kraft, general contractor LeChase Construction, architect Jagat Sharma, etc.) is shooting for a Labor Day weekend completion. The ruminations and before/after photos can wait until that time. Meanwhile, the apartment units are occupied and the safety systems (fire alarm/sprinkler) are online.

The Cornell Daily Sun is reporting that the suites are occupied although there’s still some last-minute finishing work like painting, trim and custom window dressings. Common spaces such as the gym also have yet to be finished, according to 14850.com.

A quick glance shows that precast panels and AC units are being installed on the front of the building, while the back side appears to be completed. The steel rails between the rows of windows serve as heavy-duty anchors for the panels. The glass entryway for the first-floor retail space is still covered with plywood for the moment. No tenant has been announced for the 2,400 SF space, although Kraft hopes to land someone that will complement the Johnson School building going up next door.

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327 Eddy Street (Dryden Eddy Apts) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Number two on the follow-up of Collegetown mid-rises, the 22-unit, 53-bedroom Dryden Eddy Apartments should be open to tenants by this Friday. According to developer Steve Fontana, the issue was that the elevator had yet to be fully integrated with the fire alarm system, so the city couldn’t issue a certificate of occupancy until that was taken care of.

Also worth noting, Fontana has secured two tenants for the first-floor commercial space (originally it was supposed to be a gym, but those plans faded out at some point). The Papachryssanthos family, one of Collegetowns old greek families and the proprietors of the Souvlaki House two buildings down, will be splitting the 1800 SF into a liquor store (aptly named “Ithaca Wine and Spirits”) and a café called “Chatty Cathy”. The owners of the East Asian grocer Tung Fong retired, and the Pixel bar and Club Sudz laundromat have passed into memory.

While not as ground-breaking as 307 College, 327 Eddy still serves as a useful addition to Collegetown, offering density in an appropriate location and maintaining a wall-to-wall streetscape with its neighbors. The density will be an asset by providing additional foot traffic to neighborhood businesses, and (back-of-the-envelope estimate) there will be an additional $160,000/year in property tax revenues for the city, county and school district. The final product fits in with a nice design, though I personally prefer the originally-approved plan, with one more floor and a crown set back from the face in the shape of a triangular prism. The rectangular crown makes it look too similar to its neighbor down the road at 309 Eddy. Something I had not realized until now was that the rear (east) face was totally reworked as well, with bay window projections instead of the smaller “punch-out” windows, which comparing the two, seems to be an improvement. But I digress, taste is subjective.

The construction cost was at least $4.824 million, with financing provided by Tompkins Trust Company. G.M. Crisalli and Associates of Syracuse served as general contractor for the project.

Before:
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After:

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307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing) Construction Update, 8/2016

24 08 2016

Although Greenstar had yet to open this weekend when these photos were taken (it opened Tuesday), it’s safe to say that this project is complete. The plantings and outdoor benches for the pedestrian walkway are seeking the planning board’s approval for tweaks (straight benches vs. curvy benches, large shrubs in place of trees), and assuming they’re granted, those will be installed and rooted in a few weeks.

We could look at this project as a lot of numbers. Four years of planning. Six floors. $10.5 million construction loan. 46 units. 96 bedrooms. $1,000/month rent. 3,200 SF grocery store. 14 living-wage jobs created by said store. Two bus pull-off spaces. One parking space for delivery. Zero parking spaces for residents.

We could also get qualitative with it. Collegetown Crossing really was the pioneer of the new urban movement that has become more popular in recent years, both from livability and walkability standpoints as well as the financial perspective. Students have trended away from vehicle ownership in the past 15 or so years, from 50% in 2000 to 27% in 2012. Concurrently, there’s been a bigger emphasis on denser, mixed-use neighborhoods – malls and suburban apartment complexes are less popular than they were, and street-front shops with apartments above are making a resurgence, as the Commons and downtown Ithaca are demonstrating. Collegetown Crossing really helped to catalyze the conversation already underway, and no doubt had an influence on Collegetown’s hybrid form-based zoning code that did away with parking in the valuable core of the neighborhood. So the other new apartment buildings with active-use ground floors, Cornell’s Breazzano Center, and whatever else comes forth, they owe a hat tip to Collegetown Crossing and its developer, Josh Lower.

And speaking of hat tips, for all of the problems Hayner Hoyt has had this year, they deserve a big round of applause for finishing this project within its tight deadline, even with the other construction and logistical issues currently plaguing Collegetown. Jagat Sharma also deserves recognition for a project that looks pretty nice. When I was writing about the Collegetown delays in the Voice and speaking with Lower on the phone, he asked what I thought, and I said it came out better than I expected. Cue the awkward phone pause. What I meant was that the flat-looking perspective drawing doesn’t do the building justice, the built product is much more interesting to look at.

It looks good, the grocery and pedestrian alley enhance the quality of life for neighborhood residents, it replaces an unappealing two-story building, and it helps build the tax base. This project is a big positive.

Before:
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After:

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209-215 Dryden Road Construction Update, 08/2016

23 08 2016

Structural steel is rising at 209-215 Dryden Road, the site of the new Breazzano Family Center for Executive Education. In the past month, the steel frame has been built out to street-level and decking is being attached to what will be the ground floor. A 90-seat tiered classroom will be in the basement below the decking, and a second 90-seat tiered classroom will be built on top of the decking. In the third-to-last photo, you can see a large open space between the steel columns, which is where the building’s four-story atrium will be. Those steel columns next to Dryden South (205 Dryden) really are as close as they look – the finished walls of the buildings will be separated by just two inches.

Like much of Collegetown, the project hasn’t been without its problems. A construction worker was injured last month when his leg was pinned against a concrete form. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like the injury was too serious.

The six-story, 76,200 SF building is expected to open in summer 2017. Given the issues surrounding and delaying 201 College Avenue, this might be the only major building opening in inner Collegetown next year. About 200 Cornell staff will occupy the fourth through sixth floors at opening, and 350-400 Executive MBA students will attend week-long instruction sessions in the building during off-season academic periods (summer intercession and winter break).

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News Tidbits 8/20/16: Another Campus Coming?

20 08 2016

Fairly quiet week, but still a few things going on-

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1. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds followed up on the pile-driving underway at the 210 Hancock site in Ithaca’s North Side neighborhood. Admittedly, no one wants to live next to a site while hearing and feeling the bang of the pile-driver against the piles being inserted into the ground. Thankfully, this phase of the affordable housing project should be wrapped up by the end of the month. Lecesse Construction’s subcontractor, Ferraro Piling and Shoring of rural Erie County, is inserting 10-15 piles per day between the hours of 8 AM and 4 PM, and about 170 piles will be used in the project. Not fun for the neighbors, but this too shall pass.

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2. The town of Ithaca’s planning board had their close look at the Sleep Inn proposal for Elmira Road. They were not impressed. The primary complaints were that it was a one-sided design (meaning the front received significantly more cosmetic attention than the rear and sides), that it was big and that it was ugly.

The architect of the 70-room hotel, Joe Turnowchyk of HEX 9 Architects, responded with “all corporate hotels are basically ugly”, which isn’t the kind of response that will be well-received. It was followed with “[He thinks] that if they’re going to put more money into the front of the building, they shouldn’t need to address the rear”, which isn’t a good response either, because the rear faces the Black Diamond Trail.

Outsider looking in, one interpretation of the board’s commentary is that the stone and brick is fine, but they want less of a slab and more articulation – the recently-opened 64-room Best Western Plus in Cortlandville comes to mind. The massing is broken up, and architectural details and brickwork add visual interest, giving it aesthetic appeal even though the road is 40 or 45 MPH over there. The minutes note a comparison to an Arizona Sleep Inn to show what can be done with Choice Hotels brands. Anyway, the decision was tabled, with a revised design presentation planned for a September meeting.

3. New to the market this week – a duplex and five-unit mobile home park in Varna being marketed for “development potential”. The site is a one acre parcel at 10 Freese Road in Varna, touted as “perfect for townhouses or apartments”. Since the late 1980s, the “Wayside Mobile Home Park” has been the property of Ithaca attorney Ray Schlather, who was an ardent opponent of West End density and waterfront rezoning a few years back.

Zoning is Varna Hamlet Traditional District (VHTD), and it gets a little weird density-wise – per the guidelines, and being one acre, a developer could do four single-family homes, six townhouses, six condos, or three rental apartments, max 30% lot coverage. If LEED Certified, add 2 S-F homes, 2 townhouses, 1 condo, or 4 apartment units respectively. Lastly, there’s a redevelopment bonus, which honestly appears to be at the town’s discretion. If awarded, add another home, 2 townhouses, condo or 4 apartments. So in theory, max build-out for a green redevelopment is either 7 single-family houses, 10 townhouses, eight condos or eleven rental apartments on that acre of land. No idea what happens if they’re combos thereof.

Anyway, the property is being offered at $219,000, just a little over the $192,500 tax assessment.

4. So this is intriguing – the city of Ithaca Common Council will be taking a vote next Wednesday to take $150,000 from the $500,000 Capital Project fund to relocate and build a new Fire station #9, and fund two consolidation studies. One would consolidate the city hall, the Central Fire Station, Station No. 9, and Police HQ into a government campus at the site of the Central Fire Station at 310 West Green Street; the second is to study a centralized facility shared by water/sewer and streets/facilities. There’s a lot that need to be considered as part of the government campus study, which would likely involve buying neighboring properties, or building skyward. Also worth noting, the fire station parking lot is part of the Downtown West historic district. Anyway, look for a lot more discussion if the money is awarded and the study gets underway.

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5. This week’s eye candy. Folks on Orchard Place asked for more detailed renders of the proposed two-family home at 123 Eddy Street, and here they are. Medium yellow Hardie board with white trim was the original plan. It appears that after the original drawing was submitted, the roof was realigned and one of the west-facing (front) second-floor windows was removed.

Note that this is just the planning board lot subdivision approval – although a single two-family home is typically too small to trigger planning board’s site plan review qualifications, the design still has to be approved by the ILPC and the Board of Zoning Appeals.

6. Case in point – If you live in Fall Creek, you might notice a new two-family house in the coming months. The Stavropoulos family, owners of the State Street Diner, just purchased the house for sale at 1001 North Aurora Street (above asking price, which is, for better or worse, quite common in Fall Creek) and plans to replace it with a duplex. Tompkins Trust gave them a $400,000 construction loan on the 18th. It’s a little different from the Stavropoulos’ typical M.O., which is to buy an existing house and do major renovations, as they did at 318-320 Pleasant Street and 514 Linn Street. This one looks like it will be a completely new build. No BZA, ILPC or Planning Board approval is required here, just staff level approval from the city.

7. Somewhat interesting Planning Board meeting next Tuesday. Here’s what in the bullpen:

1. Agenda Review 6:00
2. Privilege of the Floor 6:01
3. Subdivision Review 6:20

A. 123 & 125 Eddy St. (shown above)
Applicant: Nick Lambrou
Actions: Declaration of Lead Agency PUBLIC HEARING Determination of Environmental Significance Recommendation to BZA

4. Site Plan Review 6:40
A. Project: Mixed-Use Building (Harold’s Square)
Location: 123-139 E. State St. (The Commons)
Applicant: David Lubin for L Enterprises, LLC
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes

So I wrote about these changes for the Voice. The Planning Board resolution calls for modifications to the new design. The board mandates glass block for the elevator shaft on the north and lower west facades, restoration of the terra cotta cap and vertical bands on the Commons-facing facade, and restoring a deleted window from the East facade above the Sage Building. Could really used some updated renders right about now.

B. Project: Mixed-Use Building — Collegetown Crossing 6:55
Location: 307 College Ave.
Applicant: Scott Whitham for
Actions: Consideration of Project Changes (Landscape)

Project Description: Some slight tweaks here to the pedestrian walkway, mostly changes “simplifying and altering materials for the landscape”. The curvy benches are now straight, and the trees were eliminated in favor of shrubs because of concerns of branches extending onto the fire station’s property.

C. Project: Apartment Building 7:05
Location: 201 College Ave.
Applicant: Noah Demarest, STREAM Collaborative, for Visum Development Group
Actions: Consideration of Amended Negative Declaration of Environmental Significance, Request for Zoning Interpretation & Appeal Consideration of Final Site Plan Approval

Dunno what to say about this one at this point, since this is unfamiliar territory for everyone involved. We’ll see what happens.

D. SKETCH PLAN: 607 S. Aurora St. 7:35

The new project of the month is for 607 South Aurora Street on South Hill. It’s a single-family home on a 0.7 acre lot owned by Lou Cassaniti, the hot dog vendor on the Commons, but rumor mill says the applicant is Charlie O’Connor of Modern Living Rentals. Zoning is R-2a, which is detached single-family and duplex. Semi-educated guess, given lot size, zoning and rumored developer, the plans are small-scale infill, maybe subdividing the existing lot to build a duplex or two.

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50

5. Old/New Business 7:55

A. Chain Works District Redevelopment Project DGEIS: Special Planning Board Meeting, August 30, 2016, 6:00 p.m. to Review Comments/Responses
B. Maguire/Carpenter Business Park Temp. Mandatory Planned Unit Development (PUD): Public Information Session, Wednesday, August 31, 2016, 6:00 p.m., Common Council Chambers








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