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

20 08 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Zoning Appeals 7:50

5. Old/New Business 7:55

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





News Tidbits 7/30/16: The Unfortunate Surprise

30 07 2016

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1. Pretty much everyone was caught off guard by the planning board’s decision to send 201 College Avenue to the Board of Zoning Appeals on a previously-undiscussed zoning technicality. The issue has to deal with facade height in connection to the length of a continuous wall – the argument being pushed by board member John Schroeder is that, since there are primary walls on College Avenue and Bool Street, the H-shaped proposal isn’t technically valid and the deep indentation actually has to be two separate buildings, one slightly shorter than the other since the site is on a slope. This was the subject of a prolonged and heated debate, since the code’s pretty ambiguous in that regard, and (as shown below) the design elements shown in the form district booklet demonstrate buildings with architectural indents/setbacks.

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If recollection serves correctly, something similar came up in a previous discussion two years ago with 327 Eddy Street. The project fills the entirety of a sloped lot, but there was a hazy interpretation regarding one’s definition of floors and height where one could have called it 8 floors, so it had to be clarified and it became the average proposed height for cases with a sloped parcel. In this instance, there was one primary wall, on Eddy Street, which is why there’s just enough wiggle room left that a clarification request, however targeted it may be, is legally valid. The board agreed 4-3 to let the BZA issue a determination on 201 College, which could come anywhere from August 23rd to September 6th. That means a late September approval is maybe the best bet. That’s probably too late for an August 2017 opening, so whether or not the project would move forward (which could be immediately or in summer 2017 for a 2018 opening) if given approval is another question.

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There is one other thing that is worrying from an impartiality standpoint. John Schroeder and Neil Golder served together as Collegetown’s Common Council reps in the 1990s. Although Schroeder’s not the biggest fan of Collegetown development, he hasn’t raised this much of a concern over other projects, and Neil has been very, very active in his outreach. There could be an argument that he should have recused himself from the decision-making process, or at least have formally acknowledged his longstanding professional relationship with the project’s primary opponent.

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2. Also from the Planning Board meeting, further discussion of the Trebloc project. Those following the IJ’s Nick Reynolds’ Twitter know that there was some talk about big changes with a lot of wonk talk, and this is what it has to do with. My thanks to my colleague Mike Smith for his notes.

Basically, Newman Development is floating a few different approaches to the site layout. One calls for a plaza area on State Street (the “accordion” approach”), one calls for green space (the “courtyard” approach), and the third actually breaks it up into two separate buildings. In these theoretical layouts, the square footage and number of units is kept roughly equal. All three also keep at least some emphasis on the corner facing the Commons, because that’s where the concentration of activity is, and that’s what’s going to appeal the most to first-floor retail/commercial tenants.

Each approach comes with pros and cons. The “accordion” approach opens up the sidewalk, but it opens away from the Commons (i.e. not appealing to pedestrians or retailers) and makes unit design tricky. The “courtyard” approach has public-ish green space, but it would be in unappealing, constant shadow – even if the building were just a few floors, the low angle of the sun in the cooler part of the year would keep light from reaching the courtyard. The two building approach offers an alley that could be interesting, but would likely not see much use since there’s very little activity towards that block of Green Street. Given the flaws in each, the inclination is to stay with the current “fish hook” shape, but the developers wanted to hear the planning board’s thought before committing to a layout.

Planning Board responses ran the gamut. A few members supported the State courtyard option, or stepping back the portion on State Street but building taller portions on Green if there’s a need to compensate (zoning’s 120 feet, so there’s perhaps two floors they could feasibly do that with, like an 11-story/9-story/7-story step down, without having to make a trip to the BZA and throwing additional, funding-jeopardizing uncertainty in there). One board member asked about a courtyard on the roof. The project will be pursuing tax abatements, with the hope that with those, density and smaller units, they can appeal to the middle of the rental market.

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3. Thanks to Dan Veaner over at the Lansing Star, here’s a render and a site plan for the proposed Lansing Apartments / Parkgrove Apartments project for Bomax Drive in the village. The 19.46-acre property is currently owned by Cornell and is zoned to be part of its office/tech park. James Fahy Design Associates of Rochester is doing the design for the proposed 14-building, 140 unit project, and Park Grove LLC of Rochester is the developer, in tandem with retired Cornell Real Estate director and Lansing resident Tom Livigne.

According to the Star, “1,000 square foot one-bedroom apartments are anticipated to rent in the $1,300 to $1,400 range,  1,350 to 1,400 square foot two-bedroom apartments at around $1,600 to $1,700, and three-bedroom apartments up to 1,400 square feet would rent between $1,800 and $1,900.” The village of Lansing has to approve a zoning change from business to high-density residential in order for the project to move forward.

It’s a very auto-centric, premium-middle market project. For an area concerned about affordability and trying to move towards walkability and traditional neighborhoods, this really doesn’t seem like the most appropriate plan. It’s nothing against Livigne and Park Grove LLC, but I’m very critical of these kind of projects for just those reasons.

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4. It’s been a while since it’s last been discussed, but the 31-unit Amabel Project by New Earth Living’s Sue Cosentini has been approved by the state attorney general to start marketing units. According to a December presentation, the net-zero homes will range from 1600-2100 SF and market in the $385,000-$425,000 range. While that is a rather high price range, some of that cost would be paid off via energy savings, which could be up to a few thousand dollars per year compared to comparably-sized and priced older homes on the market, and other possible savings exist with water recycling and low-maintenance exterior materials. So the sales pitch becomes something of acknowledging the high up-front costs, but explaining the long-term savings.


5. The first of two state funding grants to not this week. Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS) has received a $1 million grant for a new 25-bed adult residential facility. The new facility will be built on the Trumansburg campus, which if these notes are correct, is actually two facilities, and this new one will be built adjacent to a 60-bed facility on Mecklenburg Road, near the county line a couple miles to the southwest of Trumansburg. An undisclosed number of jobs are expected to be created.

Founded in a Cornell U. fraternity house in 1972, CARS provides treatment, counseling, skills training and support services to help clients overcome addictions and rebuild lives. The current facility was opened in 2004.

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

Image Courtesy of Lansing Star

6. Also in state grants, Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport received $619,935 to build a flight academy building for the East Hill Flying Club. The new facility is expected to be built in the next 2 to 3 years. When the EHFC has moved in to their new digs, the existing hangar will be offered up to rent to other tenants. The new building will offer more instructional space, the ability to engage in training for twin-engine aircraft, and what the flying academy née club hopes will include state-of-the-art flying simulators.





News Tidbits 7/9/16: Land Ho

9 07 2016

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1. Starting off this week, a couple of new pieces regarding Ithaca’s waterfront. First, the city’s chances of picking up some prime waterfront real estate at a low, low price are gone, though not any fault of their own. Readers might recall that back in late May, the properties were about to be foreclosed on for unpaid taxes, and the county was discussing selling the parcels, worth over $630,000, to the city if the city paid off the $42,844 tax bill. Pretty sweet deal for the city, right?

But the owner, an LLC that has held the parcels since the late 1990s, managed to pay off the tax bill and an attached penalty fee, which means they get to keep the land. So, if the city had any plans for those parcels, they’ll be filing those away for a long while.

2. However, it looks like several properties are being put up for the sale in the city’s West End near the Waterfront. Local realtor Brent Katzmann has four properties listed – 321 N Fulton, a duplex on 0.11 acres for $144,800; 319 N Fulton, a single family on 0.04 acres for $109,875; 626 W Buffalo, a single family on a narrow and deep 0.15 acre lot, for $124,999; and 622 W Buffalo, a duplex on a narrow and deep 0.19 acre lot, for $134,800. The prices generally run at or up to 10% over the tax-assessed value ($130,000/$100,000/$125,000/$125,000). The currently owner is a Long Island-based LLC, led by a pair of New York City real estate lawyers, who acquired the properties from 2010-2012. Prior to them, many of the properties have been through a merry-go-round of owners over the past 10-15 years.

The properties are in fair to rough shape, and the marketing tactic being used isn’t renovation, but rather development potential. The four properties all fall within WEDZ-1a zoning, which is the city’s attempt at encouraging development on the West End. WEDZ-1a permits residential, commercial and mixed-use 2-5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage (100% if less than 50 feet on two sides – the Buffalo parcels and 319 N Fulton), and no parking requirement. The properties are not affected by the city’s TM-PUD.

The West Buffalo lots could be tough since the house in-between is owned by someone else, but deep lots and the corner of North Fulton and West Court offer some potential. Worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who they sell to.

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3. One less homebuilder around. Avalon Homes is closing up shop. The Ithaca-based company is selling off its lots and trying to wrap up the homes they have underway. Rumors abound as to why, but if firm, verifiable information can be obtained, there will be more to follow.

Avalon made its name doing stick-built built, with a focus on affordability and green construction. Avalon, a certified Living Wage employer, was the general contractor for INHS’s Holly Creek townhomes (shown above), and employed at least a dozen back in 2010.

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4. The Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be conducting another joint meeting on Tuesday the 12th at 5:30 regarding the Travis Hyde Properties’ proposal for the Old Library. HOLT Architects responded to comments from the ILPC at its last meeting that the design needed to be “quiet” by submitting the revised elevations seen below.

Mission accomplished? Armchair architect comment here, but the revised design is too far the other way. There’s a joke about the color beige, coincidentally similar to the new brick, being an adjective for “dull, boring, indistinctive“. I like the previous design with its wood-like fiber cement and characterful roofline, and I wonder if perhaps a revised color palette of that design, with maybe a few less full-sized balconies, would be a happy medium.

5. As announced on city of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be the site of a library and museum of the Dalai Lamas, the first of its kind outside of Tibet. The facility would be located on the 28 acres Namgyal owns on South Hill at its Du Khor Choe Ling monastery complex. Architectural plans and costs are still being determined, but a quote from Ngawang Dhondup, administrator for Namgyal’s facility, says that it will be larger than Namgyal, which has been underway since 2007 and will be about 14,500 SF when completed.

All in all it’s a great feather in Ithaca’s cap, but two things to be a bit wary of moving forward are the reactions and possible opposition from neighbors to what will be a very high profile religious facility, and given geopolitical issues, the reception to the Library of the Dalai Lamas may not be so warm from some denizens of cosmopolitan Ithaca.

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6. Way back in 2010 and early 2011, when the BJ’s Wholesale club was proposed in Lansing, one of the components of the proposal was to build 12 units of senior housing on land north of the then-proposed store. The project also called for wetlands, walking trails and a bird sanctuary on the undeveloped portion of the 11-acre property. Developer Eric Goetzmann (Arrowhead Ventures/Triax Group) faced considerable opposition to the plan since it involved big box retail and was housing outside of the density corridor, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application calling for a smaller PILOT was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (some of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

Well, the BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was just approved by the Army Corps, and the final permits expected shortly. With the wetlands taken care of, Arrowhead can begin to look towards the housing component, which they plan to put forward later this year for a 2017 construction date. As part of these plans, they want a one-year extension on the legal construction start for the housing from the IDA. Given that Arrowhead has met the other criteria and can demonstrate proof of progress on the wetlands, this probably won’t face much opposition. But eventually, it looks as if the village of Lansing will finally get those 12 units of senior housing.

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7 It looks like the Biggs Parcel is officially listed for sale. Local realtor CJ DelVecchio was selected by the county to manage the listing for the 25.52 acres near Cayuga Medical Center. The asking price is $275,000. The land comes with a conservation easement on the northwest side due to its proximity to a stream, and the wetlands near the center would be tricky to work with, because wetlands typically can’t be developed unless new wetlands are created, which is not cheap or easy to do.

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Readers might remember that this parcel has quite a history behind it. Declared surplus land by Tompkins County, the county had set up a tentative deal for a 58-unit affordable housing complex on the property, but the deal fell through after the wetlands were discovered to cover more area than previously thought.

Neighbors, via the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), have tried to force the county to hold onto the land to keep it from being developed. One of the big sticking points had been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county isn’t especially concerned at this point if the land gets developed or not, but they have made it clear that they want to sell it to a private owner that will pay taxes. The problem is, proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The ICNA did end up making a closed bid for the property, but the offer was rejected.

A neighbor to the south did propose reconfiguring the property to preserve the woods and build cottages on his back lot – by adding the Biggs land, he could have built more units under the regulations of the cluster zoning. But the plan fell through due to “size and complexity”, according to the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas.

The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the revised 2016 assessment brings that down to $240,000.





News Tidbits 6/4/16: A Stormy Summer Start

4 06 2016

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1. We’ll start this week off with a follow-up on the 201 College Avenue debate. All discussions of planning philosophy noted, one solid request, as reported by Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times, was to try and reduce the bulk from the College Avenue side, if not necessarily the building footprint. The above drawing was submitted by STREAM Collaborative’s Rob Morache earlier this week, with a cover letter describing the changes here. The modification reduces the building by 2 bedrooms, to 74, which to go by Todd Fox’s comment in the Times article, puts the project at the borderline of financial feasibility. The middle still pops out a little because that’s where the fire stairs are located. Some minor details were changed with the accent panels, and recessing the windows slightly on the south and west facades. For the record, the panels are Nichiha and Allura fiber cement, with painted metalwork and fiberglass window sashes.

Although now outdated, a shadow study for the previous design has since been uploaded by the city. There are two versions, with and without neighboring building shadows, here and here respectively.

Expect further detail refinements; the building is set to go in front of the Design Review Committee Tuesday morning.

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2. WSKG did a segment earlier this week on micro-apartments, with an interview with Frost Travis and the Carey Building project wrapping up on East State Street. A few details worth noting from the segment – 5 of the 20 rental units (which range from $1,225/month for the microunits to $2,699/month for a high-end penthouse 2-bedroom) are already spoken for and the building’s not even finished yet. For some reason, Monica Sandreczki says there will be about 35 residents at full occupancy, which is a big stretch since there are 16 micro-units and 4 two-bedroom units – going one person per micro-unit and bedroom, a better estimate would be 24.

The news piece also notes that the 201 College project contains micro-apartments – which is true, given that the building is 44 units and 74 bedrooms, and at least the early plans had a number of split-level 410-670 SF studio units.

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3. And 401 Lake Street will bite the dust. The Common Council voted 8-1 last Wednesday night to have structure demolished and the tax-foreclosed properties be designated as parkland. Cynthia Brock (D-1st) voted against the measure and preferred a sale for tax reasons, and her ward counterpart George McGonigal (D-1st) argued that the city was destroying historic working-class housing, though he ultimately supported the measure. Brock did take a whack at new affordable housing in the city, commenting that INHS is getting $75,000 for each townhouse, and Habitat for Humanity getting $75,000 for a duplex even with its volunteer labor, when there was a potential, cost-efficient opportunity for affordable housing designation with this unit. Josephine Martell (D-5th) seemed to be the strongest proponent for demo, stating that the unique potential to enhance the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be taken every opportunity of. The city bought the tax-foreclosed property from the county; the background on that is on the Voice here.

The funds for the demolition, estimated at $25,000, will come from the sale of IURA land to the Hilton Canopy project. That measure was approved 6-3, with Brock, McGonigal and Graham Kerslick (D-4th) opposed. With work on the Lake Street Bridge currently underway, demolition is not expected for at least a few months.

There was a thought exercise regarding the selling the falls’ parking lot to INHS for development of 3-9 units of affordable housing; it’s an interesting idea, since 401 and the adjacent are right next to the Falls, but the 0.55 acres of city property adjacent to the Lake and Lincoln Streets intersection is still over 200 feet away at its closest point.

4. The rare bit of news out of Enfield. A $612,000 building loan was issued by the Bank of Greene County to provide funds for renovating and expanding the volunteer fire station at 172 Enfield Main Road.

Give that Enfield issues no more than a handful of new construction permits each year, it’s about the only other thing going on apart from the Black Oak Wind Farm debate. One would think that arguments like “the wind does not blow as much as it used to” would be easily shot down and things would move forward, but instead it’s Marguerite Wells, the project manager for BOWF, getting raked over the coals. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do feel bad for her.

5. In case anyone was wondering – county planner Megan McDonald says the Denter housing study will be publicly available by late July.

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6. Here’s something intriguing from the county’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee agenda – a proposal to “Prepare airport land for future development“, seeking $500,000. None of the money comes from the county; it appears to be dependent on grants, or an interested developer. Which, given the fact that this shows up in budget docs going back to 2014, doesn’t exactly seem to be generating many queries.

The parcels are described as the “Cherry Road and Agway parcels”, which must be owned by the county since they want to lease out the land – but checking the deed records of parcels adjacent to the airport, there’s no record of an Agway in any of the deed histories. The parcels may be related to the properties in the airport business park feasibility study, shown above and awarded to the team of Clark Patterson Lee and Camoin Associates this past winter.

7. It’s unusual to see Cornell buying property these days, but this Friday, the university purchased the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road on Ithaca’s West Hill for $157,000. The house is a 19th century fixer-upper on 1.21 acres – Cornell owns the land surrounding it, some of which is being subdivided off to build the Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project. The house is assessed at $215,000, but the real estate listing notes it needs some work, and it’s been off and on the market for five years.

Several years ago, Cornell expressed intent to develop the 35 acres it owns into a mixed-use complex with a hotel institute, housing, offices and medical services, but the only part of the plan that ever really moved forward was Conifer’s project. I haven’t seen the plans in years, but I remember the early plans (there were a couple versions) were very sprawly; six, eight years ago, walkability was not as valued as it is now.

By buying the house, Cornell reduces its need to work around a neighbor and can incorporate the property into potential plans. This purchase would seem to suggest that Cornell still has strong interest in developing the rest of the West Hill property at some point. In the meanwhile, Cornell might rent it out while the school figures out what it wants to do with the acreage.

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8. House of the week. From the outside, 228 West Spencer Street is almost done, and the interior is fairly far along as well, with finishing work underway. Architect Noah Demarest says the house will be put up for sale in a few weeks, if everything goes as planned.





Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 5/2016

29 05 2016

Work on the exterior of the new wing of the Gannett Health Center is in the final stretch. The bluestone veneer is being attached, and the rails (also called “continuous anchors“) are on for the limestone veneer. It looks like insulation panels are still being installed on the upper levels of the west stairwell. When the insulation is attached, the rails are screwed on, the limestone panels are slid into place, and then they’re mortared or caulked into place with silicone.

Most of the work has shifted towards the completion of rough-ins and interior finishing, and the new wing should open for occupancy sometime later this summer (July/August). All operations will shift over into the new wing so that the next phase, renovation of the existing wings, can begin in earnest. The whole $55 million project will wrap up by October 2017.
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News Tidbits 5/21/16: Building Bridges, or Burning Bridges

21 05 2016

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1. 209-215 Dryden Road has a name: the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education. Let’s just call it the Breazzano Center for short. The name comes as part of a $25 million donation from Cornell MBA alum David Brezzano ’80, and is named in honor of him and his three sons, all recent Johnson School graduates. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the donation will “substantially support” the building’s construction, which construction loans on file with the county have pegged at $15.9 million. Breazzano is the president of money management and investment firm DDJ Capital Management, and did his undergrad at Union College in Schenectady, where he serves as trustee.

John Novarr is the developer for the 6-story, 76,200 sq ft building, and Cornell will occupy 100% of the structure on a 50-year lease.

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2. So, something weird is going on. The city BPW is set to discuss an encroachment for the Chapter House reconstruction at their meeting on the 23rd. However, all the paperwork included in the agenda dates from before the sale and refers to the previous owner. So either the new owner is pursuing the encroachment and the information hasn’t been updated, or this is outdated/no longer being pursued and no one’s updated the BPW paperwork. I tried calling the project architect (Jason Demarest) but he’s out of town until Saturday, and this publishes Friday night, so…dunno. Hopefully someone can provide some insight. For the record, the encroachment is for the first-floor roof overhang over the sidewalk, and will cost the developer $33,812.28.

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Open question, would a brick-for-brick rebuild had to have paid for this encroachment as well? It existed with the original structure, this was designed with heavy ILPC input, and given that project costs seem to be why this is in jeopardy…it just seems like an unnecessary obstacle. I know it’s a new build, but it’s replicating a previous encroachment for the sake of character. It seems like the project is being financially punished for that.

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3. For this week’s eye candy, the above image appears to be the city’s proposed redesign for the Brindley Street Bridge over on the West End. Pretty similar to existing newer or renovated bridges in the city (Clinton Street, South Aurora Street), with older-style lamp posts and stylized concrete railings.

Alternative 2 calls for a pedestrian bridge to replace the existing Brindley Street Bridge, which was last renovated in 1952. A new bridge for vehicle traffic would be built south from the intersection of Taughannock and West State Streets, over the inlet, and intersecting with Taber Street. The project is expected to go out to bid next year, and completed in 2018.

4. Per the Ithaca Times, the Taughannock Farms Inn out in Ulysses has some expansions and renovations planned since new ownership purchased the property back in February. Along with a bistro for lighter fare, an electric car charging station and a dock, the Times introduced plans for a 2-story, 200-person event center that would be built on the Inn’s property. The purpose of the event center is to provide additional space for events like weddings and formals, and to capture a bit of the mid-week business meeting and convention crowd. The inn itself has 22 guest rooms in five buildings.

The original inn building dates from 1873, when it was a “summer cottage” for John and Molly Jones of Philadelphia. The Joneses also owned Taughannock Falls at the time, though they would eventually deed it over to the state in the mid 1930s to create the park. The current owners are only the fourth in the 143-year history of the property.

5. A couple of big sales in Tompkins County this week. The first one was 308 Eddy Street, a 12-bedroom apartment house in Collegetown. The Lambrou family, one of Collegetown’s medium-sized landlords at ~400 beds, sold the property to the O’Connor family (a smaller landlord family) for $1,225,000 on the 18th. The O’Connor don’t tend to develop their own properties, and 308 Eddy was receently re-roofed anyway, so don’t expect any changes here, but take it as a demonstration of what a captive rental market, high land values and high taxes will do.

The other big sale was outside of Ithaca, at 1038-40 Comfort Road in Danby. A purchaser bought several land and cabin properties being touted as a high end B&B for $1,300,000. The purchases are a couple from Florida, one of which founded the Finger Lakes School of Massage in the 1990s and now heads an aromatherapy institute.

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6. According to a report from the Dryden town board liaison to their planning board, the Varna Community Association’s reception to “Tiny Timbers” at the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads has been mostly positive, apart from minor traffic concerns to the 16-house project. More lukewarm was the reception to the 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden, where concerns were raised about having enough green space, and whether it was too far outside Varna to be an appropriate location.

The neighbor two doors down has already started to fight the project, and this is probably going to play out like 902 Dryden did over the past several months. Here’s a pro tip when you’re writing up that angry screed – please stop arguing that renters are second class citizens. Just stop.

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7. Therm Incorporated will be presented plans for a stand-alone 20,000 SF manufacturing facility to the town board next week. The addition will be located at their property at 1000 Hudson Street Extension, between its main building and the quonset huts. In a rarity, the industrial-zoned property won’t need to heard to a zoning board – no variances required. The new building will replaces a 3,434 SF ceramics studio. As previously reported on the Voice, Therm expects to create 10 jobs with the expansion. Therm, located at its current facility since its founding in 1935, specializes in custom machining, primarily for the aerospace and industrial turbine industries.

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8. Not a very exciting agenda for the Ithaca city planning board this month.

1. Agenda review
2. Floor Privilege
3. Special Order of Business: Incentive Zoning & Site Plan Review Discussion (Lynn Truame)

4. Subdivision Review
A. Minor Subdivision, 312-314 Spencer Road, Charlie O’Connor (MLR)

5. Site Plan Review
A. Sketch Plan, Two Duplexes at 312-314 Spencer Road

This came up back in March – Charlie O’Connor plans on re-configuring vacant street-facing property behind two houses to build two duplexes near Lucatelli’s. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Originally, this was at the end of the agenda as sketch plans usually are, but the agenda was revised so that the sketch plan would be allowed to go first.

B. 201 College Avenue – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

C. Elmira Savings Bank, 602 West State Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

D. Brindley Street Bridge, seen above – revised FEAF review (parts 2 and 3), recommendations to lead agency (BPW).

6. Umpteen million zoning appeals, none especially contentious
7. Chain Works DGEIS Review, Update Schedule and Special Meeting Schedule.





New Tidbits 5/14/16: A Land Subdivided

14 05 2016

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1. This week, the city rolled out a strategy memo for “Design Guidelines” for Collegetown and Downtown. The city held focus meetings back in March with Winter & Company, a Boulder-based urban design and planning firm with experience in cities and college towns from coast to coast. No specific individuals are mentioned as being part of the focus groups, but the focus group meetings consisted of “residents, property owners, developers, architects, design professionals, Planning and Development Board members, Common Council members, and City staff.” The memo is meant to help guide continued discussion of design standards, and to identify key issues in each area that could arise with planning and implementation.

The feedback from the focus groups shouldn’t come as a surprise – use high quality materials, respect historic character but don’t emulate it, recognize that development costs in Ithaca are very high, promote walkability and active street use, encourage parking lot infill, define transition areas between smaller-scale neighborhoods and denser cores, and so forth.

One of the major components being reviewed is whether design guidelines should be mandatory or just a set of recommendations. The city has a design review process that comes into play for certain projects like those on the Commons, but otherwise it’s non-binding unless the BZA or planning board mandates it as part of approval. Regardless, more meetings are expected as the guidelines are fleshed out.

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2. The Ithaca Times is checking in with the Al-Huda Islamic Center plan for Graham Road in Lansing. Fundraising is still underway for the 4,828 SF mosque, which according to a member of the Al-Huda board of Trustees, is expected to cost between $650,000 and $1 million, per contractor estimates.

Fun fact of the day, Islamic law prohibits mosques being paid for with funds that collect interest (tainted by usury). Everything must be paid for up-front and in full.

The village of Lansing has already signed off on the mosque plans, and the vacant land at 112 Graham Road is bought and paid for. Pretty sure the above drawing is outdated, but I haven’t seen an image of the latest plan available online. The Times has an interior shot of the current plan to accompany their story.

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3. The town of Ithaca passed the nine-month moratorium on two-family dwellings by unanimous vote at its meeting this week. Anyone seeking to build a duplex in the town of Ithaca will now have to wait until February 2017 for a building permit, unless “unnecessary hardship” is demonstrated by the law’s imposition. The law was driven by the construction of multiple 2-6 unit student-oriented structures east of Ithaca College in the Kendall/Pennsylvania avenue area, which they felt was undermining the neighborhood’s character. Earlier versions of the law called for a year’s length, but the town received numerous complaints that a year would actually hit two construction seasons, 2016’s and 2017’s.

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4. Also in lawmaking, the bike lanes proposed for the 300 and 400 blocks of Tioga Street in downtown have been shot down in favor of sharrows, 3-2. This comes after strong advocacy by city bicyclists and some planning and sustainability groups, and strong opposition from some elderly and disabled advocacy groups, suburban neighborhood residents and the town of Ithaca’s town board.

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5. One of the many issues that faces large-scale planning and development in Tompkins County is that, over the many decades, land has been heavily subdivided and sold off between many different owners, with the properties often passed down or even traded, leaving records piecemeal. With so many owners, some untraceable, it can become logistically difficult, especially if not everyone is on board with a plan.

In front of Moe’s down in big box land, the county owns a 0.3 acre parcel of land previously a part of the flood relief channel. Since 2005, Benderson Development has rented the land as part of its shopping complex – now they just want to simplify things and buy the land from the county. With an offer of $112,500, which is $17,500 over the county’s assessment, and with the county’s 2005 confirmation and 2016 re-affirmation that they have no public use for that slice of land anymore (much of the channel’s land has already been incorporated into other parcels), they’re planning to finalize the sale at the Legislature’s meeting next week.

6. If you glanced at the Voice, you know there’s a plan cooking for 36 townhouse units east of Varna. But according to Dryden’s town planner, that’s not the only project that’s been brought forth to the town. A different applicant brought forth a plan for 20 single-family homes on 9 acres near the intersection of Route 13 and Mineah Road, a rural stretch between Varna and the village of Dryden. The units, expected to be rentals, are allowed as of right in Dryden’s mixed-use zoning – if it’s under 4 units/acre, it doesn’t need a special use permit, or even site plan review. A check of property records reveals several parcels owned by Ryszard Wawak, a Lansing businessman who picked up the land a number of years ago and has already built a duplex (2-bedrooms each) and a 5-bedroom house on subdivided parcels.

If you happen to start seeing houses popping up between Dryden and Varna, it’s probably this project slipping under the radar.

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7. Taking a glance at the Ithaca Projects Review committee meeting agenda, the Elmira Savings Bank and 201 College Avenue projects will be undergoing review before heading to the planning board meeting later this month, and the subdivision/reconfiguration to build two two-family houses at 312-314 Old Elmira Road will also be reviewed. There are also a boatload of zoning variances being sought for various projects – Marriott signage, an apartment reconfiguration on Farm Street, a basement home salon on Center Street, a home addition on Cobb Street, parking variances for 121 West Court and a area variance for an existing carport on Grandview Avenue that was apparently never approved by the city when built in 1973. In total, there are nine. It’s times like this that the city would benefit from a simplified zoning code.








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