News Tidbits 2/13/16: A Week of Uncomfortable Prospects

13 02 2016

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1. We’ll start off this week with some zoning and land-use discussion. the village of Lansing, which tends to have a very tight grip on their zoning, modified their code for a new addition, called “Commercial Medium Traffic” (CMT). The zone, which has taken about two years to get to this point, will override what is currently zoned a Commercial Low Traffic (CLT) area. As a result of the rezoning, some previously-okayed uses in their CLT zone – clinics, group homes, construction storage, sit-down restaurants – have been removed, but adds cafeterias and assisted living facilities. Splitting hairs, one supposes. Looking at the use guidelines, about the only big use the CMT allows that CLT doesn’t is “small-scale sales” like boutique shops, and “low-traffic food and beverage”, which covers bars and sit-down restaurants.

The reason for this change comes from a couple of angles – the village has a number of vacant or underutilized parcels in the affected area, which they feel is detracting. Developers have approached the board about building retail/restaurant space on some of the land, but that would have required rezoning to commercial high traffic. But the high traffic zone also allows “hotels and big boxes”, so the village needed an in-between. Now it’s finally in place.

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2. Now for another land use debate. The town of Ithaca has authorized doing an analysis on what a fair bid would be for the development rights of 33 acres of land off of Seven Mile Drive and Route 13. These parcels are currently farmed by the Eddy family, and a mini-golf facility was previously proposed on one of the properties. Before that, they were to be included in the 2014 Maguire development before the Maguires pulled their project, partially because the town said the dealership and headquarters proposal wasn’t in line with their new Comprehensive Plan.

The problem is, neither is this. The town would buy this with the intent on keeping all of it farm fields. The comprehensive plan called for TND Medium Residential (townhouses, elder cottages, small apartment buildings and compact single family) and the “Inlet Valley Gateway” (quoting the plan, “intended to be a setting for a mix of office, small-scale retail, hospitality, and tourism and agritourism uses, with low-impact light industrial, artisanal industrial, and skilled trade uses”). The concern is, if the town starts displacing development from the areas recommended, developers will start looking at areas where it’s not recommended.

For the record, the 22.38 acre parcel is for sale for $425,000, and the 10.59 acre parcel is for sale at $325,000. The assessed value is only $188,800 total. The development rights will probably fall somewhere between. This definitely isn’t as cut-and-dry as the 62 acres the town picked up for $160k in December. The town will have an idea of the cost for the rights later this year.

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3. A few notes from this week’s TCIDA agenda. The Hotel Ithaca project is up for final approval of its tax abatement, which given that the public meeting drew not a single commenter, shouldn’t have any issues going forward. 210 Hancock also has some slight tweaks to its agreement, and Simeon’s is applying for a sales tax exemption on construction materials and refurbishment. The $660,000 project’s exemption would be worth $27,079 by their calculation. Simeon’s estimates 27 jobs at opening, and 14 new positions over 3 years, about half of which appear to be living wage. The tax exemption amount is small enough that it seems like a non-issue, but we’ll see what happens if the application is accepted and a public hearing scheduled.

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4. From the city Planning and Economic Development Committee – the Commons street-level active-use ordinance and the waterfront Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development (TM-PUD) were moved to go ahead to the Common Council next month. More on the Commons ordinance here, and the TM-PUD here.

Committee members were favorable to an amendment to the cell phone tower fall-zone law, though perhaps not in the most ideal way for Modern Living Rentals’ 87-unit 815 South Aurora proposal. On the bright side, a draft law for circulation could be ready by April. On the not so bright side, the city’s going with the 120% value used by other municipalities – that would give the 170 ft. tower near the project site a 204 ft. no-build fall zone instead of the current 340 ft. (200%), but it’s still greater than the 180 ft. MLR requested. This means the project would probably need to be revised somewhat if that’s the version of the law that moves forward. But, something would be better than nothing.

Oh, and the chicken law was voted for circulation, which opens the possibility of a council vote in April, for 20 test subjects in a pilot program.

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5. The Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency is in a bit of a dilemma. INHS’s 402 South Cayuga project, which has 4 units of affordable owner-occupied housing, is stalled. The construction costs are rapidly rising out of the range of feasibility. The only way it moves forward is if it’s a rental project, which is easier to finance.

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Ostensibly, the IURA would like owner-occupied housing. And a rival proposal has been offered by local architect Zac Boggs and his partner, former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández. It would offer four rentals for 2 to 5 years, and then go up for sale – in the $180-$230k range, which is somewhat more than the $110-$130k range typically offered by INHS. So what do you do? Sacrifice some affordability for some home ownership, or vice-versa? The IURA needs to figure that out. Additional renders and cover letter here.

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6. I think this is the ninth iteration of the Canopy hotel; quite possibly the most version of a single project I have on file. What’s changed since last time? Well, the inset panels in the northwest wall are back. Some cast stone was added to the base,  the second floor rood deck was tweaked, a cornice element was added to the mechanical screen, and the trellis and driveway pavers were revised. It looks like an improvement, and hopefully one that Baywood Hotels can bring to reality after being stuck in finance limbo for so long. Additional imagery here, cover letter from local architectural consultant Catherine de Almeida here.

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7. The Times’ Michael Nocella ran a really nice piece this week looking at the past, present and future of development in Varna. According to the article, Modern Living Rentals (my sympathies to Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox, since all of their projects seem to be wrapped up in one debate or another) needs a unanimous vote of approval for the 8-unit, 26-bed addition to 902 Dryden Road to be able to move forward (a 6-bed duplex already exists on the property). In Dryden, the five-member town board does the vote, and the current Dryden town supervisor helped close the sale of the parcel to MLR, so he must recuse himself. Shooting it down at this point, after the project’s cut its size by 40% from 18,000 SF to 11,000 SF, would be very unfortunate, and create an uncomfortable disconnect between the Varna Master Plan designed with community input, and what the board thinks Varna should have.

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As mentioned in the article, the northeast corner of Rt. 366 and Freese Road is one of those parcels where the town and Varna residents think development should happen, but really isn’t feasible. I remember when Todd Fox shared his proposal (STREAM Collaborative’s drawing above) with the town for that corner, and the reception was very positive, much more so than the owner’s earlier plan for 20 modular townhomes. Then not long after, everything ground to a halt. MLR decided not to buy the parcel after it turned out the land was incredibly unstable (there used to be a huge pile of material on the site, dubbed “Mount Varna”; the story of which gets written about extensively on the Living in Dryden blog, since Simon St. Laurent and the owners had quite the feud going). The chances of anything but grass growing on that corner is pretty low.

So, with the former “Mount Varna” land in mind, a master plan is not an exact thing; if it shows for three sets of five townhouses on a parcel, that’s not what may necessarily may happen. It just indicates the kind of density and scale of development the plan deems appropriate. 902 Dryden isn’t drawn on the master plan, but the plan welcomes the idea of townhouses on Forest Home Drive, which 902 abuts. So a vote in favor of the 8 new townhouses is, indirectly, a vote of support in the Varna Master Plan.

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8. The town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee will be looking into writing up and establishing a moratorium on all 2-unit residential buildings at its meeting next week. Doesn’t specify location, or rental vs. owner-occupied; just a ban on buildings with two units.

On the one hand, this is probably an attempt to curb student housing being built near IC; the town’s Planning Committee chair is someone with a long history of fighting development, and is seeking greater input on the Planning Board’s discussions. Students and student-amenable housing are just his favorite topics as of late. But the agenda doesn’t specify the type of unit or location, and that is very concerning. From a number of reasons, a broad-brush moratorium, without regard to neighborhood or owner occupancy, doesn’t seem like a good idea.

1) If the goal is to limit student housing, only a small geographic subset of the town is really necessary. IC students, which seem the primary cause of concern, congregate only in the neighborhood adjacent to campus.
2) The moratorium could harm affordable home-ownership. In a number of cases, one unit is occupied by the owner, and the other is rented out as a source of income.
3) Limiting new supply keeps housing costs high and pressures them to rise higher, since demand will not be altered by the moratorium.
4) The town only permits a small number of units each year. In 2014, it was 10 single-family and 2 2-unit properties (so, 14 units total). In 2013, it was 25 single-family, 10 2-unit. The preliminary 2015 numbers are 21 single-family, and 3 2-unit. There were no permits for structures with 3 units or more.

I asked Ithaca town planner Dan Tasman, and while his email notes that it’s targeted at student rentals, it doesn’t assuage my concerns of being too broad of an execution.

“The Town’s zoning code allows accessory apartments in some zones.  The intent is to let a resident have a close family member or friend live with them, or a tenant to help pay the mortgage, in a space that’s more private.  Basically, an in-law apartment.  However, a few builders are taking advantage of the privilege.  They’ll build a house with an accessory apartment, and rent out both units, with student tenants in mind.

There’s also concern about a growing number of “student specials” — very utilitarian duplexes, purpose-built for student rental.  There’s quite a few of them on Pennsylvania Avenue and Kendall Avenue, near Ithaca College.  Their design and siting can often seem institutional, and out of place with the neighborhood’s residential character.”

I’m not a proponent of moratoriums at all, but I’m hopeful this proposal isn’t as broad as it looks. If the net is cast too wide, this is going to do a lot more harm than good.

 





Plans Shift into Gear for Maguire Dealership on Carpenter Circle

9 02 2016

This write-up is intended to be an exploration of the project itself. An exploration of the controversy will be heading to the Voice.

Let’s start with a little backstory. Carpenter Business Park was formally established in the early 1990s during the Nichols administration, when the city was hoping to pull industrial and commercial business from the burgeoning suburbs back into the city. Up to that point, the land had been mostly vacant space and earlier on, an informal garbage dump. The community gardens lease began in the late 1980s. Ithaca has had plans to develop an industrial park on the site since the 1970s, but the problem is that the site is relatively small and isolated with one only access road (Carpenter Circle). So no one touched it for over a decade.

In the early 2000s, a company under the name Ithaca Templar LLC bought several of the parcels for $2.2 million, but the land remained vacant and the properties eventually went into foreclosure. The foreclosing lender put the land back on the market last spring. Enter Carpenter Business Park LLC, and the $2.7 million August and September land/building sales that my colleague Nick Bogel-Burroughs covered for the Voice. Nick provides a great background on the land sales and initial city reaction to the then-rumor that the Maguires had purchased the land.

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Now a little background on the Maguires. The Maguire family of auto dealerships, started in Trumansburg in 1977, is the eleventh-largest employer in the county with over 420 staff. Phil Maguire and company previously approached the town of Ithaca with the idea of developing a headquarters and series of dealerships on Route 13 near Seven Mile Drive. However, the town board wanted to make the area a PDZ, while Maguire wanted an outright rezoning, which would have given the company more freedom with the way they used the site. The two parties couldn’t come to terms, and the proposal was tabled. Had it been a few years earlier, the plan probably would have been more acceptable, but as proposed it was counter to the small business and low-density residential the town was envisioning for the Inlet Corridor in its newly-passed Comprehensive Plan.

Meanwhile, in the past few years, the city’s been trying to figure out how to redevelop the Waterfront, and Carpenter by extension. Currently, it’s industrial land. Commercial buildings need only be 2 floors to be legally permitted, but residential is not. Waterfront mixed-use zoning had been floated in late 2013 and early 2014, but several city officials and at least one common council member shot the idea down. Then came last June’s Form Ithaca charrettes of what could be done under the ideas of the new 2015 Comprehensive Plan, and the passage of the plan itself. The dense, mixed-use, walkable allure grew stronger and has become the city’s official stance, but the zoning has yet to be updated as the plan recommends. The city does allow for Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) on industrial land that could allow residential use, but only at the Common Council’s discretion.

So in the current case with the waterfront, it’s another situation where the core of the issue is that the proposal conflicts with a newly-passed Comprehensive Plan. It’s hard not to feel a little sympathetic towards the Maguires, who seem to suffer once and again from awful timing.

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Timing and location issues noted, it’s an otherwise very attractive proposal as car dealerships go. Above is a copy of the site plan. The area to the upper right is the NYSDOT redevelopment with the preferred layout; essentially a placeholder, since development is years off, if it ever happens. The Maguires propose a $12 million, 50,000 SF LEED Gold building with rooftop gardens, solar panels, extensive landscaping, rainwater harvesting, and a solar-powered battery charging station for electric cars. This location would sell the Ford, Lincoln and Nissan brands. The site proposes employee, service and some car display parking where power line ROWs prevent construction of permanent structures.

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The project, with a proposed launch later in 2016, is intended as a Phase I – Phase II would renovate the current Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership at 504 South Meadow Street into the new Hyundai/Subaru location (at a cost of $5 million), and then Phase III would expand the Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram location into the old Hyundai/Subaru space (cost of $1 million). The three-year set of plans would result in about $18 million of investment.

Community benefits would be complimentary parking for the community gardens and farmer’s market, and sales and tax revenues. A report from TCAD suggests an increase of $340,000 annually in property tax revenue, and $436,000 annually in sales taxes ($776,000 total, of which the city’s share is about $294,000). TCAD projects the direct creation of 57 jobs when all phases are completed, with an average annual wage of $44,300. TCAD also predicts 13 spinoff jobs.

So, it looks like a great project. But it’s the location issue that will drive the controversy.

Along with the Maguires, local firms TWMLA, T.G. Miller P.C., and Schickel Architecture are working together on the proposal.

 





The Future is Now? Another Look At Form-Based Zoning

9 02 2016

It looks like plans are starting to come together for the form-based zoning that is being considered for the Town of Ithaca. Form Ithaca, whom have been working pretty closely with the town on their new plan, released the results of a study on their website last month. Based on the date of the PDF (the 22nd), it looks like it went up before the neighborhood plan meeting, and the write up on that meeting will make it into the Voice at some point.

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One of the key things that the code seeks to establish is to simplify the code from the current use-based setup (called ‘Euclidean” after the Euclid, Ohio court case that established its legality) to something based on size and shape. The current setup handles mixed-use projects poorly, and PDZ and PUDs create a whole lot of paperwork and eat up time the town could spend handling other issues. Another problem is that the Euclidean zoning purposely establishes work areas away from residential zones, which encourages car-dependent, parking-heavy types of development, the kind that are more expensive to maintain, more environmentally demanding, and increasingly out of favor, especially with younger demographics.

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The above map is a rough idea of where Form Ithaca feels development would be best directed. The darker greens are either prohibited (O1, Preserved Land) or strongly discouraged (O2, Reserved Rural). Then from G1 to G3S, you have increasing levels of support for development and dense development. The only “new” neighborhoods established by the G3 zone are the South Hill Center (the 96B/King road intersection) and Cornell’s Maplewood Park east of the city. As already mentioned in the Maplewood writeup, Cornell’s pursuing a PDZ for the new urbanist project they have planned because their timing is a little quicker than Ithaca town’s – waiting for the new zoning would delay the project.

The plan also calls for retrofitting suburban areas, G3S. The 96B/South Hill Corridor,East Hill Plaza, and the city’s Southwest Corridor and Waterfront are targeted. The 96B corridor is currently undergoing a pedestrian and traffic study in part because the town wants to figure out how to protect pedestrians and encourage pedestrian-oriented development in what’s currently a suburban layout.

Recently, there have been privately-developed plans that haven’t been on board with these ideas. On the one end of the spectrum, early incarnations of the Troy Road housing development that was cancelled, which called for 200+ units in a “Restricted Growth Corridor”, a proposed type of zoning that suggests clustered development with substantial open space requirements. The project had been redesigned and reduced to fit 130 units in cluster zoning, but it was then cancelled. On the other end of the spectrum, the town is currently weighing a proposal to purchase agricultural easements on Eddy Hill Inc.’s farmland, which comprises most of the yellow on the southwest side of the town. That would prevent development in an area where development is thought to be more suitable.

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The above image is a proposed zoning setup for the South Hill center. Neighborhood Edge defines more typical single-family home development (T3), Urban Neighborhood towards a Fall creek type of density (T4, townhouses, duplexes/triplexes, closely spaced single-family homes), and Main Street would be more akin to the State Street Corridor (T5), first floor commercial or other active uses with apartment and condos on the couple floors above.

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There’s also an image regarding the Waterfront plans, but given the Maguire proposal, I’d rather wait until the dust settles and there’s a better idea of what’s going to happen.

This is all conceptual, and there are pros and cons – while it encourages less driving and establishes an activity hub in the town, it’s been noted that mixed-use can be more expensive to develop, which may be passed on to the occupants. Also, rezoning can impact current owners and create some tensions. Telling someone that density is encouraged in view of their house may not go over well, just as the landowner planning to sell to a housing developer may not be amused to find himself at odds with the town’s plans. But, given the issues facing Ithaca and Tompkins County, proposing something that attempt to address affordability, demographic and environmental issues is better than proposing nothing.

 





News Tidbits 2/6/16: Good Ideas and Bad Ideas

6 02 2016

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1. Let’s start with the big news this week, Cornell’s long-incubating plans to redevelop Maplewood Park. Official write-up on the Voice here. Personally, looking at the viewer stats, I’m a little disappointed that this has gotten as little attention as it has, since it’s a very large, very important project. But I suppose it’s a double-edged sword, because invariably, when a project does get a lot of attention, it’s because it’s a huge controversy (State Street Triangle, Black Oak wind farm, 210 Hancock, and so on).

There’s a lot to like about the plan (found here on the town’s website). Dense, walkable, a little mixed-use (more office or retail would be nice, but given that it’s tax exempt space, the more space there is the more controversial this project would likely be). Buildings aren’t too likely to cause controversy, since they’re 4 floors at most and they’ll be designed to blend in (“echo the surrounding neighborhood with the use of contemporary features”, per the narrative). Most of the comments on the Voice article describe Cornell as the great Satan, but one reader did express desire for the bigger, taller buildings to be central to the parcel, with townhouses on the outside. As a relatively untrained observer, it would seem that would be best from the perspective of trying to minimize appearance as much as possible, but it would also encourage vehicular traffic towards the center of the parcel, and negatively impact its pedestrian orientation. I haven’t seen any reactions from local planners, but I am curious what their first impressions are.

When writing up Tuesday’s article, my thought was that this was “Phase I”, Ithaca East/Maple Hill was “Phase II”, and East Hill Plaza/East Hill Village was “Phase III” with a 2019 or later start; but the rumor mill is circulating that work on the first parts of East Hill Village may be concurrent with Maplewood Park. We’ll see what arises in the coming months.

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2. When those units come online in 2018, it’ll be a big step towards reducing the deep housing deficit. But in the meanwhile, the housing market will be uncomfortably tight. Which is why it’s good to see some pooled city/county/Cornell money being disbursed for affordable owner-occupied housing. The Community Housing Development Fund proposes that the city give $80,000 towards Habitat for Humanity‘s “Breaking Ground” duplex at 101-107 Morris Avenue in Northside (208/201 Third Street), and $85,000 to INHS for the seven moderate-income owner-occupied townhouses at 210 Hancock, and an affordable 1368 SF single-family home at 304 Hector Street on West Hill. Cornell will give $235,000 towards the townhouses and Hector Street home, but $100,000 of that is a re-allocation of funds from the cancelled Greenways project. The county is giving $100,000 towards six rental units at 210 Hancock.

Claudia Brenner has designed most of INHS’s homes in recent years, but this time around it looks like Noah Demarest of  STREAM Collaborative penned the home design. This is a revision of the previous render, if memory serves correctly; INHS had wanted to build the home last year, but construction costs as high as they are, the non-profit held off.

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3. In other news, the county’s Government Operations Committee was to make a decision on the Biggs Parcel this week, but decided not to. It’s set to the return to the county’s agenda at the meeting on March 2nd. The ICNA has submitted a purchase offer (sum undisclosed) for the 25.5 acre parcel. The offer from Roy Luft to combine the parcel’s cluster zoning rights to build senior housing on his property at 1317 Trumansburg Road still stands, as far as I’m aware. Update – From the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas, the Luft proposal has been dropped due to “size and complexity”.

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4. Courtesy of the city, some more details on Cornell’s Ag Quad renovation. Site Plan Review (SPR) application here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, project specs here, drawings here. Formally, the project is referred to as the “Cornell Ag Quad Utility & Landscape Project”, since the project also involved major utility upgrades and repairs under the quad. The work planned calls for new steam lines, a telecom duct bank, new sanitary piping and water lines underground, and above ground there will be new paths, light posts, pedestrian plazas with stone benches, fire apparatus access path, blue light phones and a loosening of the soil compacted by other construction projects (such as the staging area for Warren Hall while it was under renovation). Most trees will be preserved, except for a few that stand where the new utilities and fire lane will go.

The project cost is $3 million on the SPR, with a rehabilitation period from April 2016 to July 2017, divided into two phases. No new permanent jobs, but about 25 construction jobs will be created. MKW + Associates LLC of New Jersey is serving as the consulting landscape architect.

On a side note, at least we can be fairly sure now that Cornell does plan on taking down the surge academic buildings at some point for a future permanent building.

5. Ithaca wants to build bridges. Physically, anyway. The city will hold a public information meeting next week 2 PM Wednesday on replacing the deteriorated single-lane Brindley Street bridge on the west side of the city. The bridge, which dates from 1938 and was last modified in 1952, is functionally obsolete and in dire need of rehabilitation.

Currently, the city is weighing two plans – a $2.43 million replacement of the old one-lane steel bridge with a two-lane bridge with sidewalks and shoulders for walkers and bikers, and a $2.59 million plan that extends two-lane Taughannock Boulevard through a parking lot, over a wider span and intersecting with Taber Street, leaving Brindley a single-lane bridge. While more expensive, this option diverts most traffic away from the awkward six-way intersection Brindley has with West Seneca and West State Streets. The nitty-gritty can be found in the design report here. It would also be of significant benefit to the Cherry Street industrial park and future waterfront development by improving access to the area.

Whichever plan moves forward will be decided by April, with construction from May-November 2017. Most of the project costs will be covered with federal funds, with some state funds and municipal bonds covering the balance (80/15/5% respectively).

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6. Some progress on 902 Dryden, perhaps. From the town of Dryden Town Board minutes, The number of new units is down, from 12 to 8, and only 26 new bedrooms from the previous 38. The overall square footage is also down, from 18,000 to 11,000 SF, with 26 parking spaces, 1 per bed. So that render above from December is outdated (although the color scheme is nice and bright, hopefully that carried over), there are two units on the right and six on the left, as well as the existing duplex.

As a result of the smaller project, one of the casualties is the net-zero aspect, because the initial cost for installing the solar panels outweighs the decreased revenue. Heat will be all-electric with the opportunity to install solar at a later date, if it pencils out. As for the opposition, it definitely sounds more muted in the town minutes, one neighbor seems intent on forcing enough site studies to break the bank, but overall the commentary reads muted to positive. The minutes don’t indicate if the public meeting is finally closed and if a vote to approve the project can be taken later this month.

7. Looks like Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times was able to get the Maguires to open up about their plans for Caprenter Business Park. In a phone call with Brokaw, Phil Maguire confirmed plans for a $12 million, 40,000 SF Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership, which will then allow them to proceed with renovations of their properties down by Wegmans. While they estimate about 70 jobs would be created and that it will be designed to be “inlet-worthy”, the problem remains that a car dealership flies in the face of the mixed-use urban environment that the city had been envisioning for the waterfront. One valid point does get raised though – side-by-side NYSEG power lines overhead would have to be buried for many building projects on the Circle (but not for parking lots), which gives any developer an extra several hundred thousand dollar expense in the development process.

Sketch plans are expected to be shown at the March Planning Board meeting later this month, about the same time the Common Council is expected to adopt the temporary PUD zoning that would give them say over any projects proposed in the waterfront area. Expect this dealership proposal to be a very heated and occasionally uncomfortable debate.

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8. What’s on the agenda for next week? Not a whole lot new. The city’s projects memo doesn’t have any new projects, unless you count Island Fitness redoing their parking lot. There are a few more renders for the Cherry Artspace, as well as some project details – $200,000 construction cost, 1,944 SF building by Claudia Brenner with seating for up to 164 on the lower level, 2 jobs created, May – October 2016 buildout.

The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission has some minor old business to attend to, and what likes some discussion over the recently-purchased home at 410 North Cayuga will be introduced (chances are, it’s something like window or roof replacement, maybe an add-on room). Discussion is planned for 311 College Avenue, the old firehouse home of the Nines, but this is also likely to be minor.

The town of Lansing’s planning board also has a meeting next week, but the only item of discussion is the Mirabito petroleum storage facility on Town Barn Road.

 





Cornell Finally Moving Forward on Maplewood Plan

3 02 2016

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Finally, finally, some real news. Cornell, through its Chronicle news outlet, has issued a statement regarding plans for the Maplewood Park Apartments replacement. Let’s look at the most important details.

– Cornell will be partnering with collegiate housing developer EdR. Cornell will own the land, but EdR will finance, construct and manage the development.

– Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with a summer (August) 2018 opening.

– Approximately 850 bedrooms are anticipated in the first phase, which is only for graduate and professional students. No undergrads here.

– Designs and unit mix are not yet finalized

– To quote Jeremy Thomas, Cornell’s senior director of real estate: ““Our goals for this site are to foster a close-knit neighborhood feel, while connecting this community through walkways and outdoor spaces to the university and surrounding neighborhoods, including the East Hill Plaza area where we are planning future mixed-use development.”

– EdR and Cornell will be meeting with neighborhood groups, the local landlords’ association, and since the project will contain a sizable portion of family housing, the ICSD.

Now, with all that acknowledged, let’s do a little more research. First, the developer. EdR (formerly Education Realty Trust) is a Memphis-based student housing developer following in the steps of Campus Advantage, CA-Ventures, and others who have tried and failed to make their way into the Ithaca market. The difference is, apart from EdR also being a Real Estate Investment Trust that finances its own projects (REITCampus Advantage was not, nor was Campus Acquisitions before it was bought), the company has Cornell’s blessing and the proposal is on Cornell land, which are very, very important cards in their hand. It would take a huge flaw to make local officials come out against this project, which will address a critical student housing shortage at the university.

EdR has been through upstate a few times before, though not in Ithaca. They developed and manage student housing for SUNY ESF in Syracuse (454-bed Centennial Hall), and developed two private apartment complexes adjacent to Syracuse University, the mixed-use 312-bed Campus West project, and the 423-bed University Village Apartments. They have a mix of arrangements with different schools – the SU projects are totally private, but Centennial Hall is owned by ESF and managed by EdR, an arrangement that sounds pretty similar to what Cornell will be doing.

Looking at the profile, I can’t find too much of a pattern in the choice of architects. In many cases, they’re local (the Univ. of Kentucky projects used Sherman Carter Barnhart, a Lexington firm, while University Village and Campus West used Holmes King Kallquist, a Syracuse firm), but there’s a few wild cards from outside a region – Centennial Hall used WTW Architects of Pittsburgh. In sum, it looks there might be a slight preference towards firms local to a project site, but apart from that, the chosen designers are literally and figuratively all over the map. EdR looks to have focused on mixed-use, compact and urban-friendly projects with their more recent partnerships.

As for price range, we’re talking some serious coin being tossed around. The Syracuse projects, which are half the size of Cornell’s project, cost $28-$30 million. EDR, in its own press release yesterday, estimates the project will cost about $80 million. Or course, it will be tax-exempt, but that much money translates to a lot of construction jobs, and Cornell is a strong supporter of trade unions. Local companies might get in as subcontractors, but with a project this large, one of Cornell’s preferred circle of general contractors (Welliver, Pike, LeChase) will most likely tackle the overall buildout.

Now, thinking about the project itself, if it’s 850 beds (rough assumption of one bedroom per person), that’s almost twice the capacity of Maplewood and its 394 units/480 beds. Maplewood is 109,000 SF of usable space (122,000 SF gross) and sits on 16.02 acres. So the current density is about 24.6 units/acre, or 30 beds/acre, in one-story buildings that cover the vast majority of the site.

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The 2008 Master plan, if it’s any indication, calls for 15-30 units per acre (the number of beds is left up to interpretation) and up to 400,000 SF of space in 2-4 story buildings, creating a more campus-like appearance by going vertical instead of spreading out as the current Maplewood does. While the layout in the plan was totally conjecture, the specs are not. The town of Ithaca zoning (High Density Residential) caps it at 36 feet, but Cornell could probably get a floor or two of variance without much difficulty – the town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan recognizes Maplewood as one of the appropriate sites for “Traditional Neighborhood Development High Density“, dense mixed-use thoroughly integrated into the surrounding street fabric, 6-30 units/acre but averaging 8-16 units/acre with 10-20% open space.

There’s one last detail to mull over in all of this. According to the city, Cornell will be exercising its right to take back the Ithaca East apartments to the east and northeast of Maplewood (I spoke/emailed with Abbott about this a few days ago when the city docs were released, so…convenient timing). According to property manager Bruce Abbott, Cornell renews every June and he has two years to finish out his management of the property, so Cornell won’t take over Ithaca East until June 2018 at the earliest – which would be just in time for a second phase if Cornell desires, right as phase one is finishing up. Cornell also purchased the homes between Maplewood and Ithaca East, in 1998 and 2013. So looking further ahead, here’s an adjacent 8.2 acres that seems likely to fall under the Big Red development radar in the next couple years, not to mention future plans for East Hill Plaza. EdR is going to be very busy over these next few years.





News Tidbits 1/30/2016: A Doozy of a Week For All the Wrong Reasons

30 01 2016

I’m not going to lie – this was a rough week. For those who like old buildings, the city tore down 404 West Green and 327 West State this week. For those who are consider themselves eco-activists, Black Oak wind farm is on life support. State Street Triangle is likely cancelled, the Printing Press Lounge is off the table, Cornell continues to pour most of its attention on its new New York City campus, and a grocery store and a downtown shop are closing their doors and putting people out of work. There have been better weeks for news round-ups.

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1. State Street Triangle isn’t dead per se, but it’s indefinitely stalled. I think the best headline goes to the Ithaca Times since they’re the most accurate. From chatting with planning consultant Scott Whitham, who’s involved with the project, it sounds like the impasse is the result of Campus Advantage wanting to pay less for the site since they can’t build as large of a project, which would decrease their revenue. The contract for the land purchase from Greenstate Properties/Trebloc Development (Rob Colbert) was up for re-negotiation after the December expiration, but neither side wants to budge on what they feel the price should be. So nothing can move forward without a deal between the two parties. I reached out to Colbert Wednesday, but the secretary paused for a minute and then said “he’s, uh, busy in a meeting, care to leave a message?” So he’s probably not going to say anything further.

Could it move forward? Possibly, it could be revived if a deal is made. But as things are, it’s stalled and it’s outside the control of any community group or government authority. It’s definitely a shame from the standpoint of Ithaca’s worsening housing crisis because it’s less that will be entering a market flooded with students, people moving here for work, and wealthy retirees who have apparently decided this is the Asheville of the north. And given the battles of “structural racist gentrification” and “uncivilized crime-producing trouble-making affordable housing“, where everything is accused of being one or the other, I’m not especially hopeful at the moment.

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2. Now for something that is definitely dead in the water – The Printing Press Lounge. Developer Ben Rosenblum had wanted to put a jazz lounge in a 7700 SF industrial warehouse at 416 East State Street, but neighbor objections to noise and traffic proved a little too much for the Board of Zoning Appeals, whose members appeared unlikely to support necessary variances for the vacant facility. So the developer pulled the lounge proposal, but the office space and apartment are still under consideration.

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3. Also from the same phone conversation as State Street and Printing Press – the Canopy revisions were approved, so at least there’s a good chance that will be breaking ground this Spring. The Chain Works review schedule was also approved, although given the couple emails from the Voice article, the public review period is going to be groan-inducing. One of the letters commanded that nothing should be done there and it should be kept as is because it encourages traffic and “its density is ruining Ithaca”. They might have meant size, but density is a buzzword at the moment. Apparently, they also overlooked the fact that it’s already built and won’t be fully cleaned of toxic chemicals until a reuse plan is in place. The development team will have to respond to all of these comments, perceptive or not.

4. In real estate sales, an LLC in suburban Corning picked up the former Tim Horton’s and Cold Stone Creamery space on Elmira Road. 0.74 acre 407 Elmira sold for $640,000 on January 22nd. A little research into the rather exotically-named “Armiri LLC” shows that they were previously registered at an address home to an Econo Lodge, and that the owners have about 70 or so other LLCs related to hotels and the hospitality industry. A little more digging, and the owner turns out to be Corning-based Visions Hotels, a developer of suburban chain hotels with location from Albany to Buffalo. So if I were to make a guess, the five-year old Tim Ho’s building won’t be long for this world, and a suburban hotel is likely to rise in its place in a couple years. But we’ll see what happens.

5. Meanwhile, just up the road, Maines will be shutting down their store at 100 Commercial Avenue. The 26,146 SF building was built for the Binghamton-based grocery chain in 2010. February 7th will be the last day. Although there don’t seem to be any figures online, the move will likely put at least a couple dozen people out of work. A phone call and email to Maine’s asking for employee totals and reasons for closure were not returned.

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6. Let’s talk about money. The construction loan docs for Collegetown Terrace Phase III were filed with the county this week. The price? A cool $39.25 million, from PNC Bank. That’s just for 247-unit, 344-bed Building 7. Previously Valentine Vision Associates LLC (John Novarr/Philip Proujansky) received $50 million on 8/22/13, $50 million on 7/1/2014, and $50 million on 11/20/14. Do the math out, and $189.25 million in loans is a lot of money. Then again, this is also a 1,200+ bed project.

The latest loan docs require an opening by fall 2018, but expect it to be about a year sooner than that, August 2017.

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7. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council has approved the Chapter House plans. All that’s needed at this point are the Building Department permits, which are technical and just require that everything will be built up to code. Things are looking good for that February construction start.

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8. Something to look forward to at next month’s Planning Board meeting – further discussion of Cornell’s renovations to Hughes Hall. Planning Board Presentation here, drawings here, Site Plan Review application here. KSS Architects, with offices in Philadelphia and Princeton, will be in charge of design. KSS has been to Cornell’s campus before, having designed some of the Hotel School additions and part of the previous phase of law school renovations. Local firm TG Miller is handling the engineering work. The project is expected to cost $10.2 million and construction would go from June 2016 to July 2017.

Quick refresher, the plan is to renovate 4 floors of what were previously student dorms into academic office, admin and student organization space. Cornell anticipates about 200 construction jobs will be created, but nor more than 80 at any one time, and 20-40 on-site most days. No new permanent jobs, limited visibility, and minimal transportation/ground impacts will limit much of the customary Planning Board debate.

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9. Meanwhile, New York City outlets are reporting on the progress of Cornell’s massive new tech campus in New York City. The Real Deal is reporting Snøhetta, an Oslo/NYC architectural firm, will design the Verizon Executive Education Building. The other three buildings underway are the Bloomberg Center, The Bridge, and CornellTECH Residential, which are the work of Morphosis Architecture, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, and Handel Architects respectively.  300 students and 200 faculty/staff  will move into the new 26-story dorm by August 2017. Verizon paid $50 million for their naming rights, and billionaire former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg paid $100 million, making up a sizable portion of the $590.6 million donated to Cornell over the past year. Once the initial wave of construction is complete, it’ll be worth seeing how donations break down – years ago, MetaEzra noted that Weill Medical received an outsized proportion of charitable giving.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist, but there are times when Living in Dryden blogger Simon St. Laurent’s thought piece seems uncomfortably relevant.

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10. At the county’s PEDEEQ Committee meeting Friday (PEDEEQ being the acronym for the unnecessarily long Planning, Economic Development, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee; agenda here), the county did two things worth mentioning here. One, they awarded the $35,000 airport industrial park feasibility study to the team of Clark Patterson Lee of suburban Albany, and Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates. Two, they passed a resolution calling for “the Timely Development of the Black Oak Wind Farm” project in Enfield.

The Black Oak opposition really seems to have picked up momentum after one the major landowners involved with the project pulled out. Neighbors in the area are actively attacking the project by calling it a danger to human health and a destructive environmental menace financed by wealthy out-of-towners (a shot at Ithaca), and the wind farm’s executive board is struggling to address these accusations in the revised environmental review due to be completed in April. For the local eco-activist crowd, this is an unwelcome and unusual position to be in because more often than not, they’re the ones opposed to development. The county legislature, which has several green activists, is doing what they can by giving verbal support, and a subtle sort of wrist-slap to the opposition. Dunno if it will work, but we’ll see what happens this spring.

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11. Here’s the sketch drawing for Elmira Savings Bank’s new West End Branch at 602 West State Street. It would appear the plans call for a modern addition to the north side of the building, and renovation of the rest of the two-story restaurant into office/service space. Local companies TWMLA and HOLT Architects are handling the design.

According to the Twitter feed of the IJ’s Nick Reynolds, the building plan was received well enough at the Planning Board meeting, but the rest of the plans call for demo of the other buildings, including the affordable housing that had some folks up in arms, for a parking lot. That didn’t go over very well. Demolition of low-cost housing for parking is going to be about as welcome as a Hitler costume at a bar mitzvah. Expect another trip to the board with some revised plans.

12. The Dewitt Park Inn is for sale for $950,000. Owners Tom Seaney and Nancy Medsker are selling the property they purchased for $320k in January 2012 and renovated into a high-end bed and breakfast. The two were vocal advocates for the popular though foregone Franklin/STREAM condo proposal for the Old Library site, although Medsker didn’t do the debate any favors when she decided to trash her rear neighbor, senior services non-profit and Travis Hyde project partner Lifelong in a letter to the Ithaca Journal. The county has the Dewitt Park Inn assessed at $575,000.

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13. Nothing too exciting for the town of Ithaca planning board agenda next week. The town’s planning board will choose whether or not to sign off on the review schedule for Chain Works, and they have to re-approved plans for a smaller parish center at St. Catherine of Siena in Northeast Ithaca. According to the provided docs, the parish center has been reduced from 10,811 SF to 8,878 SF due to rapidly rising construction costs (seems to be a common refrain these days).

 

 





Comparing and Contrasting the Canopy Hotel Designs

26 01 2016

Now with Chain Works published and State Street Triangle covered, it’s time to turn to another project undergoing some major changes, the already-approved Canopy Hilton hotel slated for downtown Ithaca. The cover letter from local project consultant Scott Whitham can be found here, new drawings/renders here.

Some of the figures stay the same – the height, for instance, is still 80′, 92′ to the top of the rooftop mechanical. Some figures have changed a little bit – the gross square footage (GSF) has gone from 74,475 SF to 77,844 SF, which is an enlargement of about 4.5%. The number of hotel rooms has also increased, from 123 to 131.

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It looks like the bumpouts (“nooks and crannies”) were reworked, which would explain the revised square footage. The biggest changes appear to be along the western and southern (left and bottom) faces. The cafe patio and restaurant patio are still in place, but it looks like the shade/rock garden went out in favor of a delivery area.

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The second-floor rooftop terrace has also been revised. It looks like the area itself has been reduced (assuming those are skylights at the corners), and the fire pits also appear to have been removed. Although not shown, terrace plantings are visible in the elevations.

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The internal arrangement has been jostled quite a bit. The hotel bar and cafe used to be towards the south side of the building, now its towards the east. The 2000 SF of standalone restaurant/retail that fronted Seneca Way is also gone, replaced by an expanded house offering. The second floor fitness center has been moved to the first floor where food prep and employee areas used to be, and the soaring two-storm meeting room was also axed.

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The outside has also been thoroughly revamped. The original plans called for “buff”-colored brick veneer, pre-cast masonry on the first floor, metal panels for the cornice and “Nobills Grey” fiber cement siding. The new scheme replaces most of the buff brick veneer with “modular” and “canyon smooth” brick veneer, topaz and “Topaz” and “Nobills Grey” fiber cement panels, and metal coping. Both plans use warehouse-style aluminum windows, although they’ve been reshaped in some areas (northeast corner for instance).

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As a matter of personal opinion, the new design feels like a step back in a lot of ways, for example when looking SE as in the renders above. But the project had also struggled to obtain financing due to rapidly rising construction costs, which is what brought on a lot of the “value engineering”. For the record, there is financing in place now, whatever that finite amount is. If I were a hypothetical planning board member, I’d be thinking of recommendations that limit cost increase but still improve the appearance. I’d rather see the cornice atop the new southern stairwell go, and have the indents return on the NW fiber cement wall.

Another question that comes to mind offhand has to do with how this affects CIITAP. It doesn’t seem likely this has to go through the whole process again, but would these changes also have to be approved by the IDA as well? Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can chime in.








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