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.





News Tidbits 6/20/15: Big and Far, Small and Near

20 06 2015

Cornell Tech Passive Residential Building
1. In something not Ithaca but Ithaca-related, it seems like Cornell’s New York City-based Tech school is having quite a good week. Cornell announced that construction began earlier this month on a $115 million residential building at the Cornell Tech campus. the 26-story, 270′ tower is being built to passive house standards, the largest passive house building in the world.

According to an article in the New York Times –

“That means the building is able to maintain a comfortable interior climate without active heating or cooling systems, through the use of, among other things, an airtight envelope and a ventilator system that exchanges indoor and outdoor air. In climates like that of New York, however, standards allow small heating and cooling systems.

Making the Roosevelt Island tower airtight — creating what is essentially a giant thermos — was one of the biggest challenges, said Blake Middleton, the principal in charge and partner at Handel Architects, the building’s designer.”

The 350-unit, 530-bed building will house mostly graduate students, with some research staff and faculty also living in the tower. The apartments, designed by Handel Architects of NYC, are due to be completed sometime in 2017.

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As noted at Curbed, to celebrate the groundbreaking, partner/developer Forest City Ratner released new renders of “The Bridge“, the tech incubator building on the right that looks like and ice cube cleaved into two pieces. As one might imagine, the new renders come with token florid language and eye-rolling descriptions (“an ecosystem of companies”). The Bridge, designed by New-York based Cornell alums Weiss/Manfredi, is being designed to LEED Silver standards, which is still better than about 99.5% of Ithaca. Construction permits were filed in January.

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Last but not least, the $100 million Bloomberg donation, to name the first building “The Bloomberg Center”. The Bloomberg Center, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis Architects, will also open in 2017. To date (i.e. about three years since inception), philanthropy to the tech campus has totaled $685 million – and absolutely none of them care where you think the money would be better spent. Cornell hopes to raise $ 1 billion ($1,000,000,000) for the school by 2021.

For comparison’s sake, all of Cornell, Ithaca campus, Weill and Tech, raised $546.1 million in donations in 2014, and $474.9 million in 2013.

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2. Now to go from something big and far away to something small and local.  It’s been a while since we’ve heard about DiBella’s, the Rochester-based sub sandwich chain that had been eying Ithaca last November. They’re back, and the proposal has has some pretty substantial tweaks.

The building itself is still about the same size (~3,400 sq ft), but the design of the building has been reworked to a brick facade with an asymmetrical door/window configuration. The building is now contiguous with the main shopping strip, no longer isolated from the rest of the stores by a driveway. No decisions are expected to be made at the June Planning Board meeting, it’s more of an update for the board as to what’s going on, and to solicit input.

Marx Realty of NYC is developing the pad property, and local architect Jason Demarest (brother of STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest) is handling the design.

3. Shifting out to Dryden now; I don’t tend to write much about Dryden, since a lot of the local development is limited to single-family homes in semi-rural areas (and separately, bad things happen when I write about Dryden).

First, Dryden village. The village has seen quite a jump in population in the past couple of years thanks to the opening of the 72-unit Poet’s Landing affordable housing complex (affordable here meaning that it’s income restricted and rents range from the $600s/month for a 1-bedroom to about $900/month for a 3-bedroom). At least as far back as 2010, a second phase, at the time a 72-unit senior apartment building, was planned by Rochester-based developer Conifer LLC.

Glancing at the village’s outdated webpage, there were meetings in October about phase II. A little searching online shows the negative SEQR determination (meaning no major adverse impacts expected) was issued in February of this year. The determination announcement says that 48 more apartment units are planned for the land directly west of the current complex. The Poet’s Landing facebook page says that funding wasn’t allocated for the expansion this year, but they are hopeful for 2016.

It’s not the best location; affordable housing developments often vie for land outside of developed areas simply because the land is cheaper, but the trade-off is that residents are often isolated, especially if they don’t have money to maintain a car. Here at least the village’s main drag is close enough that residents aren’t totally isolated. And any affordable housing in Tompkins County is welcome.

4. Meanwhile, in Dryden town, there are a couple of projects going on. One involves the construction of 8 duplexes (16 units) at a 5 acre parcel on Asbury Road. Working with that piece of information, there was only one parcel that met the provided description – a property just east of the Lansing-Dryden town line that sold for $30k last August to “SDM Rentals”. Scott Morgan is given as the developer in the town documents.

SDM Rentals does have at least one other recently-developed property, the Meadowbrook Apartments, a set of at least 7 duplexes at 393 Peruville Road in Lansing for which he received a $1,000,000 construction loan in 2013 (2 were built in 2010), and rent for $995/month. The ones on Asbury Road will probably look similar.

The town notes that although the SEQR is still being prepared, the site was already being prepped with dirt fill, resulting in not one but two stop work orders. Looking online, it appears Morgan has a history of being a problem for local government, including a case in Lansing town where he was using a broken-down school bus for a pig barn.

5. Now for project two, a multi-unit project at 902 Dryden Road. I’m just going to link to the Ithaca Voice article in an effort to save time. 15 units, (2 renovated, 13 new), 42 beds, and a $1.5 million investment.

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I plan on touching on a couple of other minor Modern Living Rental projects at some point, but we’ll save those for a slower week.

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6. This week’s house of the week feature is 318-320 Pleasant Street on South Hill. The rear portion (foreground) is an addition, a duplex with 3 bedrooms each. Exterior siding is nearly complete, though some housewrap and plywood is still visible on the south (front) wall of the addition. A peek inside the interior showed that the drywall has been hung-up, but final details like carpeting have yet to be installed (several rolls of neutral-colored carpets lay stacked on the floor).  The owners of the 105-year old house are members of the Stavropoulos family, who run the Renting Ithaca rental company and the State Street Diner.

On a side note, the 200 Block of Pleasant Street must be one of the worst hills in the city. Walking it must be terrifying on icy days.

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7. The Old Library vote made quite a splash in this week’s news. With a 6-6 hung vote, everything’s up in the air. This is what I feared would happen.

There’s a couple of options to break this. Two legislators, Kathy Luz Herrera (D- District 2, Ithaca City/Fall Creek and Cornell Heights) and Peter Stein (D-District 11, Ithaca Town/East Ithaca), weren’t in attendance, and could call the measure back up for a vote. Herrera’s District is two blocks from the Old Library site, and Stein’s a retired Cornell professor, so although I shouldn’t be guessing people’s judgement, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine which of the two projects they’ll be swayed by. But if either one of them decides they dislike all three options, or if they split their votes, then everything will be stuck in limbo. At that point, it’s anyone’s guess – the building could be mothballed, or given that its HVAC and utility systems are at the end of their mechanical lives, it could even be demolished as a long-term cost-saving measure.

If the county does decide in favor of one proposal, it’s still a long road ahead – ILPC approval, Ithaca city planning board approval, and a variety of other measures, which could break the winning proposal. Both projects have potential challenges – with Travis Hyde, ILPC or the Planning Board may try and whittle down its units, removing the density lauded by some legislators, and perhaps the project will no longer be financially feasible. With the condos, one starts with a building that’s had asbestos and air quality issues in the past – one bad surprise in the renovation, and the project could be jeopardized, or at least priced well above the quoted $240-$400k. There are a lot of variables in either equation, and since they can’t all be quantified, both will have their risks.

I’m just going to hope that someone is able to bring new life to the site. I don’t want to see two years go to waste.

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8. Almost to the end. Here’s your monthly look at the Planning Board Agenda for next Tuesday:

– No subdivisions this month, but there will be a 15-minute public comment period on the city’s new Comprehensive Plan.

A. 210 Hancock will be giving an update on its plan and up for recommendation for the Board of Zoning Appeals for parking (64 spaces vs. 84 required) and height variances (46.5 feet vs. the legal 40 feet). Quoting the pre-prepared document, “The Board strongly recommends granting the requested variances.”

B. An update on DiBella’s as described above

C. Tompkins Financial Corp’s Headquarters will be open for public comment, determination of environmental significance (SEQR negative/positive), and preliminary approval for both phases

D. 215-221 W. Spencer will be reviewed for Declaration of Lead Agency (Planning Board agrees to conduct of State Environmental Quality Review)

E. “Collegetown Housing Project at Dryden and Linden – Update”. A.k.a. whatever John Novarr’s planning for that five-building stretch of Dryden and Linden he just deconstructed. Readers might remember this site was part of his Collegetown Dryden project proposed last July, but there’s no indication if it’s a revision of that, or a totally different approach. The one thing that is constant is the zoning – MU-2 for the three properties on Dryden and 240 Linden, and CR-4 for 238 Linden. Neither zone requires parking, MU-2 allows six floors and necessitates mixed-use (often interpreted as ground-floor commercial), and CR-4 does not have mixed-use requirements but the height is limited to four floors. Expect an urban-friendly six-story building fronting Dryden with a four-story setback on Linden.

F. “State Street Triangle (Trebloc) Mixed-Use Project – Update” Anything could happen. Height decrease, site redesign, fewer units, major design changes…we’ll just have to wait and see how the 11-story, 600-bedroom tower has evolved given the initial recommendations of the Planning Board.

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9. We’ll end this week on a happy note. Shen Properties LLC plans on launching their Simeon’s rebuild shortly; first and second floor restaurant space for Simeon’s, and five luxury apartments. The exterior will be a near-replica of the original facade of the Griffin Building, but the interior will be renovated to hold an elevator and a sprinkler system. In a quote to the Journal, property manager Jerry Dietz says to look for a reopening in the very late 2015 or early 2016 timeframe.





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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News Tidbits 6/6/15: I Give This Week A Frowny Face

6 06 2015

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1. I’m thinking there is a genuine lull in the pipeline at the moment. The city’s projects memo, which is the document that city departments receive and comment on before the actual Planning Board meeting, doesn’t have much for consideration for this upcoming month. The one projects that is being “newly” considered is the 12-unit, 26-bedroom PPM Homes proposal at 215-221 W. Spencer Street. That project is expected to receive declaration of lead agency (in other words, the planning board formally agrees to review it) at the June meeting. Being carried over from the previous months are the two duplexes for 804 E. State Street, the Tompkins Financial HQ, INHS’s 210 Hancock project and the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler expansion. None of those are up for final approval.

Smaller projects and subdivisions will often first show up in the memo ahead of the meeting, but not this month. What will be, will be.

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2. On the other end of the scale, this looks to be a busy month for the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council. Most of their agenda focuses on window repairs and other minor details, but they will be reviewing the Tompkins Financial HQ and the new drive-thru across the street. Although neither is within a historic district, I suppose it’s being reviewed for the sake of feedback and the possibility of a visual impact on the skyline as seen from historic districts.

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3. In Old Library news, a decision was expected last Tuesday…but, the decision was postponed. After committee members started sharing their differences in opinion. Pardon my cynicism, but that’s a perfect microcosm of those whole process. Frequently delayed and bound to infuriate someone come decision time.

In a perfect world, all three of those would be built in the city, because they all address different housing needs in Ithaca, and they would all likely be successful. But of course, there can only be one. We’ll find out next Tuesday morning.

4. The Ithaca town Planning Committee is verifying two things already noted in previous news round-ups. One, the 68-unit Cayuga Meadows project hopes to begin construction in the very near future, and two, the Troy Road housing project is dead.

The committee also brought up the possibility of a moratorium for certain parts of town – two areas described as having significant student populations. One is almost certainly the area of South Hill next to IC, the other is not stated (but likely has to do with Cornell). This is part of a larger conversation to keep IC students from living off-campus in student rentals. Students aren’t a protected class, so whatever extra bureaucracy or laws the town wants to adopt are technically fair game. I would imagine, however, it would much easier to do that to IC’s undergrads than the professional and doctoral students attending Cornell. Looking at the numbers, one has been increasing much more than the other, and it’s not the undergrads. This, I suspect, is where potential laws become problematic.

Anyway, the moratorium is seen as a last-ditch effort. But the possibility of it should be enough to raise eyebrows.

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5. Time for some more unhappy – the city Board of Zoning Appeals isn’t touching the 815 South Aurora Street application.  To recapitulate the salient details, local developer Todd Fox would like to build apartments on the land but can’t because the vast majority of the property is within the “fall zone” of a cell tower, which the city defines as twice the height of the tower. At 815 South Aurora, a 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel virtually undevelopable. Fox had two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting) analysis the case and they determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development.

The BZA said it was acting on the city attorney’s advice that the committee can’t override a council-approved law. Which means that Noah Demarest, the architect appearing on behalf of Todd Fox, will either have to go to the Council to have the law amended, or he and Fox will have to go through a full sketch plan and review process, and apply for an area variance for whatever firm plans they have proposed. Meeting with the BZA was seen as way to avoid having to shell out all that time and money and risk still being rejected because of the cell tower issue. There’s a risk with moving forward at this point, and it’ll depend on just how much risk the developer is willing to take on this potential project.

6. We’ll wrap up with something positive – FormIthaca, the citizen group advocating for form-based zoning, is doing their design charettes this week. I’m writing this on Thursday night since I will be doing 5-year Cornell reunion stuff on Friday, but I do plan on being in attendance Friday afternoon meeting and am looking forward to seeing/hearing what ideas the presenters have to share.

I can assure a certain town of Ithaca board member that I have a personal preference to small street setbacks, and it sure as hell isn’t because they’re “hipper”.

 

 





News Tidbits 5/30/15: Slow Week

30 05 2015

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Not much of a news roundup this week. Nothing new to report from the city except that the Texas Roadhouse was approved, and the only item on the town of Ithaca’s planning board agenda for next week will be the review of a subdivision to create a new home lot off of Hanshaw Road. With the lack of news acknowledged, there were at least a few things I wrote up for the Ithaca Voice this past week that will happily fulfill your reading time if you haven’t glanced over them already.

1. Maplewood Park Closure, Replacement Likely – To loyal reader “CS PhD”, I honestly had no idea what you were referring to in your comment on the Boiceville post until a Cornell press release reached by inbox a couple hours later. I did reach out to Ithaca East (old Maple Hill) manager Bruce Abbott, who told me that Cornell has a two-year notice in case of closure, which gets renewed by June 30th. In practice, that means that the 81-unit Ithaca East apartment complex won’t close until June 30th 2017 at the earliest, but Cornell has until the end of next month to decide whether or not to extend that to at least 2018. As Abbott mentioned in his email, “Currently, I have 70% Cornell graduate students [in the tenant mix], so I may be considered a resource to them [Cornell] while they are replacing Maplewood.  Otherwise, I have about 35 days before I know what the future holds.” And we shall see what happens; Ithaca East with its couple hundred bedrooms likely won’t be closed until that much replacement housing has been built and opened at the Maplewood Park site. 480 bedrooms will be tough enough for the market to absorb as it is.

Edit: In a follow-up email, Bruce Abbott corrected the dates – Cornell has to notify him by June 1st and a theoretical closing would be May 30th, 2017 at the earliest.

2. National chain Smashburger plans to open Ithaca franchise – Although no locations were given, a casual check suggests that it’ll be in a suburban location in an already-built space, although urban spots aren’t completely out of the question. A typical Smashburger is a little over 2,000 sq ft, and they don’t have drive-thrus. For example, the one in suburban Albany reuses what was once a Friendly’s. Smashburger locations typically employ about 25, and franchising requires a net worth of $1.5 million, including $500k in liquid assets.

No surprise, the Voice readers have been spirited in their assessment…it definitely didn’t help Fine Line Bistro’s closing was published this morning. The reaction isn’t quite as controversial as Texas Roadhouse, probably because not as many people are familiar with Smashburger. I look both forward and dread the day I write about Sonic (which is looking to come into the market), Trader Joe’s (of which I’ve heard nothing), or any other very high profile chain makes their move into the area.

3. Which Tompkins County towns are growing fastest? – Most towns reported growth year-over-year, and the census revised the 2013 numbers upward. Ithaca city now stands at an estimated 30,720, an increase of 706 since the 2010 census. Ithaca town, for which the Census Bureau includes Cayuga Heights, stands at 20,515, an increase of 585.

Now comes my gut check – I think the city numbers and town numbers a little high. I base that off of building permits. If I count the number of annual permits given in the federal HUD SOCDS database, I get 127 units (75 single-family homes and 52 multi-unit) for 2010-2014, and just 14 units, 10 single-family homes and two duplexes, in all of 2014. If one assumes 3-bedroom house and 2-bedroom apartments for statistics’ sake, then one gets 329 residents. Cayuga Heights add 27 units – 24 1-bedrooms in the current Kendal expansion, one two-unit (most likely the rear addition to 207 Kelvin Place), and one new home since 2010. I think that equates to about 33. So 362 total, only ~62% of 585. As for the city, there were 259 new units, of which only 12 were single-family homes. Using the same math as before gives 530 residents in new units, 75% of total. I’m not sure how things like renovations or reuse projects are handled, so the city might be within the margin of error on my back-of-the-envelope calculation. But for the town, probably not.

Long story short, take the population estimates with a healthy dose of skepticism.





News Tidbits 5/16: Smart Developments, or Sprawl?

16 05 2015

Looks like this is going to be one of those longer roundups. I’m excited and intimidated at the same time.

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1. First off, I’m going to lead off with renders of the new Tompkins Financial Corporation. Write-up on the Voice here, more drawings here, traffic study here, cover letter here, Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here.

Rather than describe it in neutral generalities as I did with the Voice article, I’m going to afford the right to be a little subjective. The design is respectful of its neighbors through the use of brick and stone veneer. There’s no real surprises in the design, and corporate buildings tend to be pretty conservative anyway. At 104 feet (100 to the rooftop, and then 4 feet for the roof parapet), this will make a dent in the Ithaca skyline, but once again, it respects and balances out it neighbors by being a little taller than the DeWitt Mall, and a little shorter than 121′ Seneca Place. On a spectrum, the street front is on the nice side though not fantastic; a bank branch and some offices will engage with the street only modestly, but it’s much, much better than the drive-thru there now. The new building is built to the sidewalk, has an urban form, it’s a multi-million dollar private investment and a lot of other things that most upstate mayors would sell their mothers to get. The project is still shooting for a summer approval and construction starting not long thereafter.

One concern I have is that this will offload tens of thousands of square feet of office space onto the Ithaca market. Office space is one of the weaker sectors of the local market, and this may exacerbate the situation. It could cause some problems come 2017, and maybe with projects still in the pipeline such as Harold’s Square, which is shooting for a fall start after two years of trying to secure financing. I think that in the longer term, a few of the spaces such as the Seneca Building (121 East Seneca) might be ripe for a residential conversion.

With that concern noted, I think the parking situation will be okay. Since most of the jobs are shuffling around downtown, there’s not going to be a huge influx of workers. Offhand, I think the numbers are low double-digits (20 or 30) for transfers from Lansing into the city, and then the 77 brand new jobs created over the next several years.

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2. And then there were none. With the sale of the last of their townhomes (lots 20-24), the Belle Sherman Cottages have technically sold out. I say technically because Lot 9, the new cottage design on the southwest corner of the parcel, has yet to be marketed let alone sold. I followed up with an email to developer Toby Millman of Agora Home LLC, and he replied that “[w]e are still working on the plans for that home and expect to release if for sale in the next month or so.” So keep an eye out for that.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency – the city recently showed off the 6-acre parcel it owns on Cherry Street to an employer looking to relocate 250 employees to the property, buying the lot and building a one-story “campus setting” over the whole six acres. This may or may not be the same one previous mentioned in the March minutes, regarding an inquiry from a business located outside the city. Since the parcel may have been shown in January or February, it seems that the two are likely the same entity.

This isn’t the first piece of news regarding some potentially major work in this isolated section of Ithaca’s West End – scrap steel mogul Ben Weitsman has also been rumored to have plans, and improved access from the Brindley Street Bridge would aid in redevelopment of this part of the city.

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4. The planning board is cautiously enthusiastic about the State Street Triangle development. Per the minutes from the April meeting, they want the building to be as iconic as possible; board member John Schroeder went as fall as to suggest inspiration from the Carson Pirie Scott Building in Chicago:

Another member suggested a decorative crown. If my notes are right, a crown could exceed zoning as long as it’s not habitable space. Some other suggestions include a setback on the upper floors, and looking into incorporating other forms of housing.

5. A quick follow-up on the proposed removal of some lot setbacks at the Nate’s Floral Estates trailer park – according to a tweet from Ithaca Times writer Josh Brokaw, the removal would allow an extra 18 lots for manufactured housing. The trailer park currently has 112 lots, and it’s been noted to have a substantial waiting list. Nate’s Floral Estates serves as senior housing, so this is one way to make a dent in the affordable housing problem.

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6. It’s not too often you see someone request a zoning interpretation. At 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill, that’s exactly what local architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is doing on behalf of developer Todd Fox. Fox would like to develop the land with apartments (and he’s no stranger to South Hill, having built a couple duplexes on Hudson Street a couple years ago), but can’t. The city won’t allow construction in the “fall zone” of cell towers, which they define as twice the height of the tower. At 815 South Aurora, a 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel undevelopable. The developer got a hold of two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting), both of whom determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development. It’s an interesting case, and the result could be a sizable apartment complex down the pipeline. Stay tuned for the BZA review in June.

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A couple other minor projects are up for zoning variances on parking – a small 2-bedroom house planned for 228 West Spencer is seeking a variance because the builder (Ed Cope of PPM Homes) says there’s no room on the hilly lot, and Todd Fox is requesting a parking variance for a 2-bedroom basement apartment to be built at 108 Ferris Place, saying that its central location and easy bus access should make having a car unnecessary. Coincidentally, architect Noah Demarest is handling both appeal applications.

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7. To wrap things up, here’s the latest agenda from Ithaca town. There doesn’t appear to be anything too exciting going on next Tuesday. Cornell is renovating its softball field on East Hill with improved site access, a new restroom and ticket office, and replacing the existing bleaches, dugouts and press box. The 32-unit Clare Bridge assisted senior living project that was discussed last week will be reviewed. There are also sketch plans to be presented for a propane refueling station and sales office to be built on a vacant lot on Elmira Road/Rte. 13.

The planning board will also be reviewing plans to subdivide the Troy Road parcel that was once slated for a major residential project. The seller (Paul Rubin of Florida) apparently has a buyer for the triangular chunk of land south of the power lines (which can be seen in the old render above). With no explicit plans for either plot of land, there’s little reason to deny the subdivision at this time.

Personal opinion, I don’t like the direction this is going. It’s a real shame that the revised 130-road Troy Road project didn’t continue pursuit of approvals, it had really started to coalesce into a decent proposal. But now there’s a possibility where the land gets divvied into multiple chunks with homes scattered on it like bird crumbs. Single-family and duplex homes don’t have to go through board review, so there’s a lot less oversight when the land gets divided among multiple owners and built out in a piecemeal fashion. The last thing the town needs is expensive, sprawling, ecologically insensitive development.

 

 

 

 








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