News Tidbits 6/27/15: A Bad week for YIMBYs

27 06 2015

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1. Starting this off with least controversial news-maker this week – John Novarr’s 209-215 Dryden Road project, which I wrote about for the Voice here and with site plan details and SPR/render links here. The first article’s a little helter-skelter as a write-up because there was a lot of frantic 11:30 PM fact-checking going on in an effort to get the news out.

The $12 million, 12,000 sq ft proposal is smaller than Collegetown Dryden, but more importantly, the project isn’t residential; it’s classroom and office space for Cornell’s MBA program, three floors for each of those uses. That definitely brings something different to Collegetown and its mostly residential focus. With assurances given that the property will be kept on the tax rolls, the initial opposition appears to mostly be related to the design, which to be honest, is rather avant-garde and an acquired taste (not one I’ve acquired, to be honest). However, bringing 200 staff and a few hundred professional students into Collegetown would be a real asset for businesses struggling to stay open amid the neighborhood’s 32/36-week profit window.

209-215 Dryden Road is within the MU-2 zoning from the looks of it, so a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seems unlikely at the moment. We’ll see what happens moving forward, this one could be a fairly smooth approvals process.

2. For a smaller developer, Ithaca-based Modern Living Rentals has been pretty busy this year. Along with 707 East Seneca Street and 902 Dryden, they have a modular duplex (3 bedrooms each, 6 total) currently under construction at 605 South Aurora Street in Ithaca city. A construction permit was issued back in 2014, according to the city planning report. The orientation is a little odd in that the new duplex is being built in front of the old home on the property, since the house is longitudinally centered but set back on its lot. Taking a guess, the intended market is likely IC students. The new units look like they’ll be ready for occupancy in time for the fall semester.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the Tompkins County Government Operations Committee – plans to sell a vacant lot to non-profit housing developer INHS. In its May minutes, the committee announced intent to sell a vacant, foreclosed parcel in Freeville for affordable housing. The property is described as a 1.72 acre parcel on Cook Street in the village, which through a little deductive searching, turns up the lot in the map above, just north of the Lehigh Crossing Senior Apartments. The minutes state that INHS is in the process of drafting up an acquisition offer for the county attorney.

Freeville is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This might be the first new rural project post-merger. The Lehigh Crossing Apartments have 24 units on 2.3 acres, so if INHS were to build at the same density, this site would be looking at something around 18 units. Not big, but not inconsequential, especially for a 520-person village.

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4. A decision to decrease sewer hookup costs in Lansing village also shares some details about a senior housing project in the works. The news comes from the Lansing Star, where the village voted to decrease its sewer hookup fee from $2,350 per unit to $1,000 for the first unit and $500 for each additional unit. Apparently the high fee was the result of the lack of a permitting process in the 1990s.

The article notes that the developer of a mixed-use request had requested a fee waiver because it would have cost $138,650 for their “59 units of senior housing”. Now it will be $30,000. Not as good as a waiver, but still pretty good. Lansing village only has one project that meets the description provided, the 87,500 sq ft Cinema Drive project covered here previously. The semi-educated guess back in May was 51 units, so the ballpark estimate wasn’t too shabby.

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5. It’s official, 327 Eddy is under construction. Asbestos removal has been completed and the Club Sudz building is coming down. The Fontanas hope to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by next August. In replacement of Club Sudz’ and Pixel’s 7 units and 2,500 sq ft of commercial space, the new 5-story building will bring 1,800 of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall the building was originally going to be six floors, but a floor was lopped off since it was approved.

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6. Updated renders for 215-221 West Spencer Street, coming right up. A little more detail on the facades, some window updates from the last version, and…well, honest personal opinion…it’s a very attractive design. Materials could underwhelm it, but as presented, it appears to be a lovely addition to South Hill. Good work STREAM Collaborative.

The 12-unit, 26-bed project plans to start construction next year. The project replaces an informal (dirt) parking lot.

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7. Touching on the Old Library decision briefly, a public meeting on the two proposals will be held Monday June 29th at 6:308:30pm at Greenstar’s “The Space” (700 West Buffalo Street). Douglas Sutherland will represent Franklin Properties (first image) and Frost Travis will be presenting for Travis Hyde. Should the County Legislature decide to take another vote to see if the stalemate will be broken, the next chance will be at their July 7th meeting.

EDIT: The public meeting scheduled for the 29th has been cancelled .

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8. Onto the thornier topics – Not sure what was worse this week, the reaction to the State Street Triangle project, or the INHS Hancock Street opposition. The objective, non-partisan write-up about the State Street project is on the Voice here. This and news piece #9 are opinion pieces, feel free to ignore them.

At least the State Street objections (latest renders here), I can understand the initial shock and recoil; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jive with that. Regardless, by Ithaca standards it is massive, 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms; if this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).

But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site. Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit”.

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, than a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely. Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:
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to this:

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Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

9. Now for 210 Hancock. Here is a project that’s been transparent, incredibly transparent, throughout their whole planning process. At first, there was little opposition. Now, it threatens the proposal, apartments, townhomes and all.

A wise man once told me in when I was preparing a piece, “There’s no point in talking about this with you, the public’s going to have issues with it either way”. At this point, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve read the petition, and I’ve read the facebook comments. It’s regrettable, to say the least.

A lot of the comments just seem to be misinformed. People saw the petition, thought that INHS was only building the apartments, and signed it. The petition was worded with charged and selective language. I’d like to take a few minutes out to refute and argue some of the commentary.

“there must be a safe place for children to play…”

“People need access to green space, yards and the ability to get outside directly from their living space.”

“I want my 3 year old to grow up in a neighborhood where he can safely ride a bike, play sports and walk his dog.”

You’re right. That’s why the project, as proposed by INHS and tweaked by the city Planning Board, builds a playground that blends into Conley Park without the threat of vehicular traffic (shown in the plan below). Adams Street and Lake Avenue would be removed, allowing kids living in the apartments and townhomes to go the playground without crossing any street.

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“I’m a lifelong resident, and I’m frankly getting tired of seeing all these areas getting bulldozed and developed…especially when we have dozens of empty/condemned houses and buildings just sitting around!”

The rental vacancy rate is 0.5%. A healthy market is 3-5%. Further to that, if there are dozens of homes, even if they were for sale, it’s still not enough to handle the demand, which is in the few thousands.

“inadequate parking planned.”

“The parking issue is already a problem. This will only make it worse.”

“I am a Fall Creek resident and do not want this area in our neighborhood to resemble Collegetown in density or difficulty in parking.”

84 parking spaces are required by zoning, 64 are proposed. However, only 22 spaces are expected to be used by the 53 apartments. In the parking study of INHS tenants, 41% of apartment tenants have 1 car, 12% of those have two. One of the reasons why INHS’s parking utilization is so low is that many of its apartments are rented by seniors – for example, Breckenridge Place is 60% seniors on fixed incomes. With limited mobility and/or income, many don’t maintain personal cars.

In a sense, although the Cornerstone project for affordable senior housing wasn’t selected by the Old Library site, the INHS project on Hancock Street may serve in some ways as a reasonable alternative.

“We don’t owe any developer a profit on their development.”

INHS is a non-profit community developer. The townhouses sold at Holly Creek over the past year were in the $105-$120k range. For comparison’s sake, the townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages sold for double that, and those aren’t even considered high-end (high-end would be the $410,000 townhomes in Lansing’s Woodland Park).

The reason why construction won’t start until Fall 2016/Fall 2017, with the apartments finishing up in Fall 2017/Fall 2018, is that they are completely reliant on government grants and donations from community supporters. The townhouses won’t start for a couple of years (their time frame is 2018-2020) because funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. Just like with the condominium debate, the government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. As for the rent-to-own option suggested by the petition writer, it’s speculative, complicated, and NYS/federal HUD will not provide grants for that type of property acquisition. INHS couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

“[need]assurance mixed income will be there”

It will. As I wrote in March:

“210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.”

“A 54 apartment high-rise is not the appropriate place for children to grow up, low income or not.”

“It is too dense and not suited to Fall Creek or Northside.”

“I moved to Ithaca and settled in Fall Creek to live in a small town.”

For starters, it’s harder to make housing affordable if there are fewer units on the a plot of land. Secondly, because the INHS project takes lead on the city’s right-of-way (ROW) on Lake Avenue and Adams Street, the calculated density per acre is 23.6 units per acre. Cascadilla Green, one block to the north, is 20 units per acre. Also note that units are 1 and 2 bedrooms per unit; most of the houses on blocks in Northside and Fall Creek are 3 bedrooms per unit.

What probably bothers me the most are some of the comments in the online petition for INHS.

“Shame on you “Ithaca Neighborhood Housing” for even thinking of creating something that will breed trouble…”

“This is an uncivilized proposal…”

“if all on welfare, this will invite crime…”

One of the reasons I harp on affordable housing is that I grew up in affordable housing. This 147-unit mixed-income complex in suburban Syracuse. Apartment 28E. I shared a bed with one of my brothers until I was 10, and even after my mother was finally able to buy a small ranch house, we shared a bedroom until he graduated and went to college two years before I did (by that point, we had moved on up to bunk beds). My mother did what she could. We were never more than working class, but she worked hard (still does) and made sure her kids worked hard.

At least some of the comments are kind enough to be “I want affordable housing but”. Others really make it sound like that those in need of affordable housing are a contamination of the community. Those statements aren’t worth debating. They’re just hurtful.

Anyway, this might be the longest news update I’ve done, so I’m going to wrap this up and detach from the computer for a while. There may or may not be a photo update Monday night, we’ll see.





Village Solars Apartments Construction Update, 6/2015

19 06 2015

Out in Lansing, the first phase of the Village Solars Apartments is starting to allow tenants to move in. Building “A” looks to be substantially complete, with tenant vehicles parked in the gravel lot, and a guy preparing a grill session out back. The unvarnished wood siding was a bit of a surprise, but it goes well with the natural color tones of the siding. Building “B” in the middle is due to receive its first tenants around July 1st, and building “C” on the east end might be planning an August 1st move-in date, based off the dates in the rental advertisements. These dates have been pushed back from the May and June dates that were noted back in the February post, and those had already been a push back from original dates in March and April. Further pushbacks are unlikely, if only because the developers risk losing out on the large and lucrative student market, which revolves around the start of the fall semester in late August.

Building “B” still has some sheathing showing, but is quickly attaching the remaining exterior trim, and building “C”, which is the same configuration as “A”, is still bare sheathing and waterproof wrap, but all of the windows and doors have been fitted. Without looking inside, I’d imagine “B” is polishing up the last interior finishes, while “C” is still installing appliances, flooring and the like. Interior rough-in probably wrapped up during the spring.

Judging from the revised Craigslist postings, Lifestyle Properties has had some success with filling the units, with some of the floor plans sold out. The one-bedroom units will rent for $1050-$1145, two-bedroom unis rent for $1235-$1369, and three-bedroom units will rent for $1565-$1650. Prices vary a little depending on what floor the unit is on, the higher up the more it costs.

Currently, some of the land has been cleared for the next phase (2 and possibly 21, which have 41 units and 10 units respectively). I checked with someone familiar with the project to ask when phase two would begin construction, and they said that there’s been talk of starting the second phase, but he wasn’t sure when it would start.

The Village Solars apartments are a large apartment complex located in the town of Lansing off of Warren Road near the county airport. The complex takes its name from what the Craigslist sales pitch calls “their passive solar design and energy saving features”. The four-phase project calls for an initial build-out of 174 apartment units, with a second addition yet to be approved that would bring the total number of units over 300. With the third phase of Collegetown Terrace yet to start, this is currently the largest residential project under construction in Tompkins County.

The Village Solars are being developed by local company Lifestyle Properties. Lifestyle is run by Steve Lucente of the Lucente family, who have been major builder/developers in Ithaca since the 1950s. No word on the architect. Upstate Contractors of Syracuse appears to be handling the construction work.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Construction Update, 6/2015

16 06 2015

At the Belle Sherman Cottages project site, the first five townhouses (lots 25-29) have had their modular units delivered and craned into place. Waterproofing sheathing can be seen on some of the dormers where the “Autumn Red” and “Savannah Wicker” Certainteed clapboard siding has yet to be installed. and some of the front-facing garages still have unsheathed plywood showing, with rough garage openings. taking a guess, it looks like the work crews are working from north to south (29 to 25) on the two-bedroom townhomes.

The units have a slightly staggered elevation, with the units decreasing a few inches as the row progresses southward. The change in profile makes each unit a little more visually distinct.

A couple walking by as I was taking photos pointed out how curious it was that only the center unit, lot 27, has a rear deck. But, optional features are optional features; que sera sera.

Next to lots 25-29 are the lots for the second set of townhouses, 20-24. The foundation for those homes has been excavated, and at some point soon, the water will be pumped out, footers poured, and the CMU block foundations will be laid for the new units.

On the other side of the property, the last of the marketed homes is under construction. Lot 11 is a “Classic Farmhouse” with Autumn yellow siding and the usual white trim. The four Simplex modular units have been delivered and hoisted onto the foundation (Jason at Ithaca Builds offers a great rundown of the modular units here). Over the next few weeks, the house will be sided, the interiors will be finished out, and the porch and remaining trim will be attached.

The first set of townhomes should be ready for occupancy this summer, and the second set might be ready by August but that seems like a stretch; I’d wager that early fall is more likely. One more single-family house, lot 9, is due to be marketed and built at some point in the near future; the project will then be fully built out, about 3.5 years after the model house was built.

The Belle Sherman Cottages project on East Hill consists of 19 single-family detached homes and 10 townhouses, developed by Skaneateles-based Agora Development and built by local company Carina Construction.

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140 College Avenue Construction Update, 6/2015

11 06 2015

Just up the street from 114 Catherine and a couple blocks from 202 Eddy is 140 College Avenue, also known as the John Snaith House. Since last fall, work has been underway on a 3,800 sq ft, 12-bedroom addition to the 1874 structure.

John Snaith was an English builder, stone cutter and architect who came to Ithaca in 1869 to do work on Ezra Cornell’s Llenroc mansion (under construction at the time) and other buildings for the nascent university. Snaith lived in Ithaca for over a decade. He built the original Ithaca High School (destroyed by fire in 1912) and did work on the Sage Mansion, where he was fired by the ever-impatient Henry Sage.

After Snaith moved to Albany, the house was used as a boarding house, a B&B in the 1980s, and a private single-family home. The house was rented out to a landlady and her boarders when it was partially destroyed by fire in 1894. Snaith rebuilt the home shortly before his passing in 1896, but redesigned the top floor with mansard trusses and added dormer windows. Today, it’s student-oriented housing.

The addition is a sympathetic design approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (the house was designated a historic structure in 2011), separated from the original house by a glass “hyphen” connector. In the photos below, the exterior work is virtually complete, with the lap siding fully installed, as are all the windows and doors. Interior finishing is seemingly all that is left. This one should be ready for its first 12 occupants shortly. As someone who had reservations about the addition, I will admit that it came out nice.

The project is designed by local architect Jason Demarest and developed by Po Family Realty, a smaller Collegetown landlord.

None of the larger projects in Collegetown are underway just yet. Hopefully in the next few months we’ll see work start at 307 College (96 beds), 327 Eddy (64 beds) and 205 Dryden (40 beds), and Collegetown Terrace is expected to start construction of its 300+ bed phase III this year. A quick check of the neighborhood showed that construction has not yet started on a 6-bedroom duplex planned behind 424 Dryden.

Then of course, we have Novarr’s demolition work on the 200 Block of Dryden Avenue. Once demolition is complete, the site will remain empty until whatever he proposes is approved and financed.

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202 Eddy Street Construction Update, 6/2015

9 06 2015

Work is progressing at 202 Eddy Street in Collegetown, where a reconstruction is underway to replace a historic building destroyed by fire in March 2014. Owner/developer Nick Lambrou announced plans to rebuild on the site shortly after the fire, with every intent of capturing the original home’s character. Being a part of the East Hill Historic District, the design of the replacement structure had to be approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC). After thorough review, the ILPC approved plans for a new 12-bedroom apartment building that completely replaces the fire-damaged building.

The new structure is a faithful interpretation of the original building, though it’s not an exact copy. An entrance door was repositioned, exterior emergency stairs will be internalized, and a chimney will not be rebuilt, but otherwise, its a close approximation of the original 19th century home. The architect is Ithaca-based Jagat Sharma, who has previous experience from the reconstruction of Sigma Pi’s house when it burnt down in 1995.

In these photos from Friday, most of the windows at least one of the doors have been fitted, and the exterior plywood is sheathed in Tyvek. The third floor, with its distinctive cupola, gives us a preview of the trim and siding – HardiePlank lap siding and half-round shingle siding, both in shades of green reminiscent of the original house, and “Arctic White” trim boards. Looking through the third floor window, there might be some drywall hanging underway, and judging from the first floor rough door opening, the interior lower floors may still be rough-ins phase.

202 Eddy is on the agenda this month by the ILPC; the council will conduct an inspection of materials just to make sure all is in good order, and as a prerequisite for issuing a Certificate of Appropriateness in July.

County records indicate the cost of construction is estimated at $750,000. Plans call for the new building to be completed and ready for occupancy by August, in time for the fall 2015 semester.

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Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 5/2015

20 05 2015

With three months filed away since my last trip out to the Boiceville Cottages, it seems like a good time for an update.

The pace of construction has picked up with the onset of the warm half of the year. The stucco homes with pea green timber trim have been completed. Three homes that were sheathed and had only a few windows fitted in February have progressed have now been fully fitted, stucco has been applied, and an attractive canary yellow timber trim is being attached to the new homes. Four more homes (stucco with teal timber trim) have started since last February, and these are not as far along – some of the red waterproof sheathing is still visible while the exterior finishes are being applied. Three concrete slab foundations, outlined with blue waterproofing (the covering might be for cement board being used to protect the slab insulation) are ready for new house construction in the near future. Suffice it to say, given the amount of disturbed land nearby, more slabs and more homes are a likely bet as we press on towards summer. So far, there looks to be at least 17 units completed during this calendar year.

A couple more community features have also been added – a small wooden footbridge now crosses the neck of the pond, and a simple, modern looking bus stop shelter has been built near the meeting house.

Boiceville is in the midst of a 75-unit expansion, which will bring the number of units on the property to 135. Most of the units are 1 and 2-bedroom cottages, built in clusters of three, although a few “gatehouse” rowhouses offer studios and 3-bedroom units. The initial 24 units were built from 1996-97, with another 36 units built in the late 2000s.

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News Tidbits 4/25/15: Long Week, Long Reads

25 04 2015

Grab the popcorn and sodas, folks, this will be a long one.

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1. Let’s start with some new and updated renders for the evolving 210 Hancock Street development that INHS has planned for the Northside neighborhood.

In each image, the top half is the old version, the bottom half the newest version. The lead image, an aerial rendering, shows that the houses haven’t changed much, though at the city and neighborhood’s insistence, Lake Street has now been closed off to all vehicular traffic in the refined proposal. The biggest structural changes have been in the apartment buildings – the color scheme of materials has been changed up quite a bit, and the partitions between the buildings have been re-worked to try and make the buildings appear less connected (one of the complaints raised was that they were too much like a wall; for this same reason, the buildings are slightly offset from each other, so no continuous face is presented towards the street).

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Looking closer at the individual apartment buildings themselves, the designs have been pretty thoroughly reworked. Different window layouts, different window sizes, different colors – about the only thing that’s been kept the same is the overall massing of each building. The plan calls for 53 1 and 2-bedroom apartments and about 65,000 square feet of space, of which 7,500 square feet will be covered parking. The included commercial space has been expanded from 8,200 sq ft in the initial proposal, to about 10,000 sq ft now. More renders of the newest iteration can be found here.

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No real changes yet in the for-sale houses that will be included in the project, apart from a palette change (previous render here – the new one is less bright, with darker earth tones). These are designed to blend in with the surrounding homes, and fall in INHS’s typical 2-3 bedroom, 1,100-1,400 sq ft range. The houses are townhomes in rows of 2-4 units, All sporting one or two-story porches. These will be built in a phase separate from the apartments. Certain affordable housing grants are geared towards owner-occupied units specifically, so the Neighborhood Pride lot will be split up into two parcels, one with the apartment rentals, one for the homeowners.

Questions and comments can be directed to the City Planning Office at dgrunder@cityofithaca.org.

2. Up in Lansing village, it looks like a proposed mixed-use project may finally be moving forward after years of incubation. “CU Suites”, a 3-story, 43,000 square foot project proposed by the Thaler family for a vacant lot on Cinema Drive, is asking the village to waive sewer connection fees. Presumably, this is about getting their finances in order before moving into the construction phase; there has been no news if funding has been secured yet. Something to keep an eye on this summer, certainly.

The Cinema Drive site was previously approved for a project of those parameters in fall 2012, consisting of two commercial spaces and a 39-unit apartment building, but that plan has not been carried out. The CU Suites proposal went before the village for “alterations and possible clarification” last December. No updated renders on the village website, but a site plan of the previously approved plan can be found here.

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3. Here’s some more details on the “not feasible as presented” Flatiron project. Readers might recall the 12-unit affordable housing proposal at 910 West State Street was given low priority for HUD Entitlement Grant funding.

From the presentation notes recently posted online:

“The project application is not fully developed, but probably represents more of an effort to start a conversation about the project. There is a great need for affordable housing in the community. The project was conceived to address the high cost associated with typical renovations to properties which make them unaffordable. The project would be located in an oddly-shaped trapezoidal building which [Ishka Alpern] would like to renovate to match its prior condition. It would be a very nice, unique addition to Inlet Island. Inlet Island has historically been a location for affordable housing and it is important to maintain that, before too many unaffordable projects are built there. Unfortunately, it is difficult to build affordable housing units without some form of funding assistance.”

In the Q&A the committee had with developer Ishka Alpern, no time table was given, and Alpern said he was open to waiting a year to refine it. It was also noted that once a commercial lease on the property expires in four years, an even larger project could be proposed, though it could be limited by the poor soils. While it appears renovating is the most feasible approach, the city was not impressed with the cost of investment per beneficiary – larger projects like 210 Hancock mentioned above have economies of scale going for them, costing less to build per unit. Smaller projects like the Flatiron need proportionately more assistance, making them less attractive for grant money. The city’s looking for the greatest good for the greatest number, in a sense.

In other news from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA), a private developer, Viridius Property LLC, is buying five duplexes with 10 units of affordable housing from non-profit Community Housing of Ithaca with the intent of keeping them low-to-moderate income, but retrofitting the buildings to run on renewable energy sources. Viridius, a company run by computer scientist and tech CEO Stuart Staniford and his wife, was established in early 2014, and has been on a buying spree as of late. They own $1.7 million in rental real estate assets now, these duplexes will raise it $2.7 million, and the goal expressed in a letter to the IURA is $5 million.

Quoting the letter sent to the IURA:

“Viridius is oriented to the “triple-bottom-line.” Although as a privately owned business
we will look to return on investment, we also seek to improve the environment and society. We
are particularly focused on contributing to the solution to climate change by converting the
existing building stock to be appropriate for continued use in the twenty-first century. At each of our properties, Viridius is removing the propane, natural gas, coal, or oil heating systems and replacing these with systems based on renewables. The specifics depends on the particular
building; to date, we have used pellet boilers and air source heat pumps. Viridius is also
developing our first solar panels at one of our buildings, and elsewhere acquires commercial
renewable power for electricity. Also, at our own residence we have deployed geothermal heat
pumps for heating and cooling and have all our electrical needs taken care of by solar panels on site. Viridius is certified as a living wage employer by the Tompkins County Worker’s Center
and has five full time staff at present in addition to the owners.

So it’s eco-friendly and/or affordable housing. Most residents will welcome the new fish into the local pond, even if all the property being acquired is a bit eye-raising.

Lastly from the IURA, the Carpenter Business Park on the north side is on the market for $2.85 million. Four vacant parcels on Third Street and Carpenter Park Road on the north side of the city recently sold for $2.216 million from “Templar LLC” based in Ithaca to “Ithaca Lender LLC” out of New Jersey, in what may have been a foreclosure sale. The address on file is associated with a company called “Kennedy Funding Financial LLC”, which is described as “one of the largest direct private lenders in the country, specializing in bridge loans for commercial property and land acquisition, development, workouts, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.” A google search turns up a legal notice between the two entities a few months ago.

gannett5

4. Construction is gearing up for the Gannett Health Center’s addition on Cornell’s Central Campus. Work on the project officially launched March 30th, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. Expect site clearing, excavation, and pile driving as we move through the spring and into the summer. The project will be broken into phases – Phase I focuses on new construction, Phase II on renovation of the current building, and Phase III concludes the project with reconstruction of the Ho Plaza entrance. About 75% of the material removed from the old building is expected to be recycled.

The architect of record is local architecture/Cornell alumni-filled firm Chiang O’Brien. There will be two additions, the four-story, 55,000 square-foot building featured above, and an additional 18,600 square foot addition that replaces the northeast side of the current building. The project also includes a new entrance and substantial renovations to the original 1950s structure (22,400 square feet of the existing 35,000), as well as landscaping, site amenities, and utilities improvements. The projected cost is $55 million, and the target completion date is October 2017.

The Gannett Health Center expansion has been a long time coming. Initial plans in the late 2000s called for a completely new building on site. HOLT Architects prepared a plan for a 119,000 square foot building, and an all-new building was also included in Cornell’s 2008 Master Plan. But once the Great Recession waged its battle on Cornell’s finances, the Gannett redevelopment was scaled back to its current form. According to a statement given by Gannett Director Dr. Janet Corson-Rikert to the Sun, the earlier plan had a budget of $133 million; the new addition and renovations are expected to cost $55 million.

The project is expected to create about 175 construction jobs and 40 permanent jobs (additional doctors, counselors and support personnel) when completed.

5.  According to next week’s Board of Public Works agenda, the approved 327 Eddy apartment project has been pretty heavily modified.

Here’s the old design:
327_eddy_rev2_1

Here’s what the developer is planning to build:

327_eddy_rev3_1

I must have missed something? All the sources I’ve seen have referred to this as a six-story building, not five. The side windows were added late in the approvals process, I think. Anyway, the project is going to the BPW because the developer wants to project the top centerpiece window as a bay window rather than having it set back from the front facade. This would push two feet (2′ x 12′ isoceles triangle) into the city’s right-of-way over Eddy Street,  and the board is recommending to the council that the mayor authorize (he says she should he should, sheesh) the intrusion for an appraised value of $3,073.84, based on an appraisal value from Pomeroy Appraisal Associates in Syracuse.

The decrease in size also comes with a decrease in units and rooms – from 28 units and 64 beds to 22 units and 53 beds. This is a double-edged sword – some might cheer the loss of size or like that the roofline is continuous with its northern neighbor, but it will be harder to stem the tide of single-family home conversion to student apartments if Collegetown’s core isn’t as capable of absorbing Cornell’s student population growth.

The included email in the agenda says the planning board recommended an overhang bay window. Personally, I feel it would make the building look clunky. But that’s just me.

maguire_fiat_1

6. Here’s another project being served up to the Planning Board this Spring. Additions and renovations to a car dealership down in southwest Ithaca’s suburbia. Site Plan Review and drawings here. The dealership is Maguire Fiat Chrysler. Plans call for combining two show lots into continuous lot and adding 20 spaces, adding a 1,165 square foot showroom addition, and new landscaping and signage, including a second freestanding sign for Fiat that requires a sign variance (the max allowed by zoning is one freestanding sign). Documents indicate all the work will cost about $360k and run from September to December of 2015.

Observant readers might remember that Maguires proposed a delaership/headquarters compound in Ithaca town late last year; but due to irreconcilable differences regarding standard zoning vs. Planned Development zone, the plan was tabled.

100_1474

7. Woof. Almost to the end. The Ithaca Planning and Development Board is going to have their hands full at next Tuesday’s meeting. Agenda here. Here’s a rundown of what’s in store:

– A minor subdivision to create a new home lot at 201-203 Pearl Street.

A. Approving the adjustment to the Carey Building design discussed earlier this week

B. Enhancements to the pocket park next to the Lake Street bridge (landscaping, paving)

C. Declaration of Lead Agency and discussion on INHS’s 210 Hancock project

D. Declaration of Lead agency, Public Hearing and Determination of Environmental Significance for the proposed Texas Roadhouse on Meadow Street

E. Declaration of Lead agency for the Tompkins Financial HQ – hopefully, we’ll get some detailed renders at the meeting

F. “State Street Triangle Project (Trebloc Building site)” – This will be huge. I cannot stress by excitement enough at seeing the Trebloc Building demolished – I have not hidden my dislike of it, and in nearly seven years of writing this blog, it’s the only building I’ve ever called an “architectural turd“.  Located at 301 East State Street, the Trebloc Building was built in 1974 during the age of Urban Renewal, and was originally supposed to be two floors. The city has been quietly desiring redevelopment of the prominent corner for years, and the site was upzoned from 60 to 120 feet in late spring 2013.

According to some praise-worthy sleuthing by David Hill at the Ithaca Journal, the developer is Robert Colbert in cooperation with Austin Texas-based Campus Advantage, a large-scale developer of student apartments. plans call for a 120-foot building on site, with first floor retail and student-oriented apartments above.

This will be a tremendous project by Ithaca standards. The developer clearly states on its website that it’s only interested in working with sites that will provide at least 100 units of housing. Assuming the Trebloc Building’s footprint of 13,569 sq ft, one story retail followed by eleven floors of apartments yields almost 150,000 square feet of residential space. Figure a loss of 15% for utlities and circulation space, and an average size of about 980 square feet for an average residential apartment unit, and one gets 130 units and an unknown number of beds that could conceivably add a couple hundred students to downtown Ithaca’s population, not to mention millions of dollars of taxable real estate.

There’s a lot that will need to looked at – utility loads, parking, vehicle circulation, aesthetic impacts, and numerous other attributes. But the city’s holding the door open about as wide as it can for this site, and it’ll be an exciting process.

G. “Sketch Plan: Cornell Fine Arts Library – Rand Hall Addition”

Written about previously, it looks like the city will get its first chance to review the project. But someone with a insider’s look has some pretty harsh comments for the plan to renovate Rand hall.

Cornell Architecture professor Jonathan Ochshorn wrote in to tell readers here about the plans for the Fine Arts Library. I’m including a link to his blog post on the project here.

To try and sum up Prof. Ochshorn’s post would do him an injustice, but suffice it to say, the library plans will only keep the brick shell of Rand – the windows will be replaced, and a large “hat” will be placed on the roof. One that bears strong scrutiny from the Planning Board, since there could be significant visual aesthetic impacts on the Arts Quad Historic District.

I’m gonna tie up this post here and sit on the other items until next week. More weeks like this and I’ll need an intern.








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