News Tidbits 8/1/15: Tempers As Hot as the Temperatures

1 08 2015

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1. I asked someone familiar with the State Street Triangle how the presentations went this week. “About as well as could be expected” was the diplomatic response received in turn.

The Times, Journal and Voice all devoted coverage to the controversial project this week since its CIITAP application was up for review, as well as revised plans being brought forth to the planning board. The project draws detractors from different angles – some because of size, some because it’s student housing, some because of the tax abatement.

The tax abatement is what confuses me somewhat, for reasons related to the theory I wrote up a few weeks ago, which no longer holds water. My own personal thought was that a sort of economy of scale would kick in with greater site efficiency, negating the need for a tax abatement. That isn’t to say that they still couldn’t try for one, because it meets all the CIITAP requirements, just that they didn’t need it (it would have been proverbial “icing on the cake” if granted). But now they’re saying it’s the only way to move forward. I don’t know the financials and what their necessary ROI is (and probably never will), but I’d happily listen to an explanation.

But the point I made in the piece still holds true – if Jason Fane’s project a couple blocks away was rejected for not having enough of a community benefit, market-rate student housing, even that which generates an extra $7.36 million in taxes over a decade, is going to be a big stretch, unless they plan on using the sheer size of it as a selling factor. The city planning board doesn’t have to worry about the controversy, because the project conforms wholly to a central business district zone. It’s going to be the tax abatement issue that makes or breaks this proposal.

2. As part of its 10th anniversary feature, the Lansing Star did a nice retrospective of what’s changed in the past ten years in Lansing. When it comes to development, it isn’t especially kind:

“Lansing hasn’t changed much in ten years.  While grand plans for the future of the Town have been explored, not many have been realized.”

The article then goes on to detail how after the sewer initiative was defeated by public vote, a few developers banded together to try and fulfill the town center that Lansing was pushing for. Quoting the article, “the town government couldn’t get its act together to make that happen, even though it wouldn’t be footing the bill for the infrastructure (including sewer)”. About the only development initiative that has taken off is the Warren Road corridor, which was spurred mostly by threats of a major employer (Transonic) leaving the town (and Transonic paid for the sewer study). Meanwhile, the Star characterizes the village government as simply existing for “maintenance” purposes.

The paper notes some successes with parks and wildlife initiatives, but the highlight of the piece seems to be that Lansing is routinely failing to achieve its municipal planning and development goals.

3. Back in Ithaca city, plans are underway for the major renovation of a shopping plaza into professional office space for a local architecture firm. According to documents filed with the county, an LLC associated with HOLT Architects is spending $897,500 on the renovation, and another $415,000 for acquisition costs. The renovations will start in late August should be completed by March 2016. Tompkins Trust Company is providing the financing, and local company McPherson Builders is in charge of general construction.

From the press release published late Friday, HOLT chose the West End location for its walk-ability and centralized location. The building will be renovated into a net-zero energy structure for the 30-person architecture firm. No renders yet, but they’ll be included in a future news roundup when they become available.

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4. As written in the Voice, College Crossings at the corner of East King Road and Rt. 96B in Ithaca town is back to the board for revision number three. This one increases the project by a floor, 13,000 square feet and six more apartments. It’s been no big secret that developer Evan Monkemeyer’s had difficulties getting the project off the ground (he resorted to Craigslist for marketing the retail spaces), and given a total of 18,000 SF spread among 8 apartments (doing the standard 15% deduction for circulation/utilities, one gets over 1,900 square feet per apartment) these units are almost certainly geared towards IC students. A solid market since they’re next door, though not likely to elicit warm fuzzies from the neighbors (although based off the response on the Voice’s facebook, most people just don’t care; if only 210 Hancock had it this easy). Previous plans can be found here.

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Personal opinion, I’m a little disappointed in the revision. The mixed-use aspect is fine, but I was hoping the developer would tap into some of the ideas presented for the land by Form Ithaca instead of plopping a building in the middle of a 120-space parking lot. Monkemeyer owns a lot of acreage in adjacent land parcels, so this doesn’t bode well for a “walkable center” in Ithaca town.

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5. Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) is armed with more 210 Hancock studies and analysis as it prepares to go in front of the city Board of Zoning Appeals next Tuesday. With the commercial loading space question settled, it leaves the height variance of 6.5 feet (40 feet zoned, 46.5 feet requested), and the parking variance of 20 spaces (84 required, 64 given). Original/full application here, new addendum analyses here.

The board requested additional information about pile driving and the parking situation. In response, INHS has conducted further analysis and shown that, 40′ or 46.5′, piles would be required either way. INHS has offered in its application to use a “vibratory oscillating” method of pile driving, where piles are vibrated into the ground rather than driven. This reduces noise (no hammer-like banging) and produces less overall vibration. Further parking studies found that 210 Hancock offers a greater percentage of parking than similar buildings like McGraw House, the Cayuga Apartments and Lakeview on Third Street, INHS’s parking study of its tenants was reiterated, and an analysis of its commercial tenants was given – the occupants will have 16 designated spaces from 7 AM to 5 PM, when the daycare and non-profit offices are in operation. After hours, they’ll serve as potential overflow parking.

It’s frustrating to think that a suburban market-rate project surrounded by a parking lot has no opposition, but a transparent project with affordable housing and a lot of community benefits gets so much grief.

6. For home-builders or those looking to build a palatial estate, here’s your latest opportunity – 5.45 acres at the end of Campbell Avenue in Ithaca city are up for sale. The area’s zoned for single-family homes, and the city is encouraging owner-occupied houses in that area. Previously, the property was seen as a potential 10-lot development in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but the plan was never carried out. The biggest barrier is probably that it’s West Hill, where neighbors have taken to going after their neighbors to keep them from subdividing and building homes.

7. Initially, this was going to be a Voice article, but when the revised plans were presented, no renders were included. The Voice’s more general audience wouldn’t be as interested in this piece. But if you’ve read this far, and you read this blog frequently enough, then you won’t mind clickable, expandable site plans (pdf here).

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The Hotel Ithaca is once again seeking to expand its offerings.

But this time around, it’s proposing to do in phases. Sketch plans presented at the Planning Board last Tuesday evening call for demolition of the two-story wings as before, but then the construction will be broken up into two phases.

The first consists of a five-story, 51,835 SF wing build on the northern side of the property, next to the gas station on the corner; the second phase, at a later, undetermined date, calls for three more floors on the hotel wing (bringing the new wing to eight stories and 81,600 SF), with a two-story, 18,300 SF conference center to be built on the corner of South Cayuga and West Clinton Streets.

The number of rooms in the addition has been unconfirmed, but given previous plans, it is likely to be little to no change from the current hotel, once the two-story wings are demolished. Until phase two is built, a parking lot would sit on the site of the future conference center.

The hotel is operated by Hart Hotels of Buffalo. Like several other Hart Hotels properties throughout the Northeast, the hotel has no chain affiliation, although the property was a Holiday Inn until the end of 2013. The 181-room hotel initially opened as a Ramada Inn in 1972, and the 10-story “Executive Tower” was completed in 1984.

Zoning at the site is CBD-100 (Central Business District), meaning that a proposed structure can be up to 100 feet (two floors at the least) with minimal required setbacks and no required on-site parking.

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Under plans previously presented three years ago, the Hotel Ithaca sought to demolish the two-story wings of the hotel, and in their place the hotel would would build a new 9-story, 115-room tower, a kitchen addition, and a 15,000 SF conference center. The demolition would have resulted in a loss of 100 rooms, so the net gain was a total of 15 hotel rooms.

The then-$18 million project had significant local support from business owners, because Ithaca lacks the ability to host mid-size conferences and conventions (midsize meaning about 500 attendees), which sends conventioneers elsewhere. Currently, the lack of meeting space limits conferences to about 250 guests. The addition of a convention facility is seen as a major benefit to downtown retail, as well as other hotels that would handle overflow guest traffic. Convention traffic typically happens during weekdays, when regular tourist traffic is lowest.

However, the project, which was initially slated to start in November 2012, has failed to obtain financing for construction. The project applied for and received a property tax abatement for the new construction, and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) even offered the possibility of a $250,000 loan if it would create a financial package that would allow the convention center to be built. But until now, there had been no indication of any plans moving forward.

 





News Tidbits 7/11/15: Trying to Make A Dent in the Housing Deficit

11 07 2015

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1. We’ll start this off with a brief data map, courtesy of Curbed NY. The Urban Institute, a DC think tank, quantifies the country’s affordable housing problem with a detailed study that lays out, county by county across the whole United States just how many units are affordable to what it labels “extremely low-income” (ELI) households, who make 30% or less of county median income. In Tompkins County, this means families of four making $23,200 or less during 2013, the latest year for which data is available. The full report comes with an interactive map.

Nationwide, the numbers aren’t very good – in 2013, only 28 of every 100 ELI families could find affordable housing, down from 37 out of every 100 in 2000. In Tompkins County, the situation is even worse – it’s gone from affordable housing being available for 19 out of every 100 ELI households in 2000, to 16 out of every 100 ELI households in 2013. There was only two other counties in the northeast that fared worse – Centre County, PA, home to State College and Penn State, and Monroe County, PA, a far-flung NYC commuter county.

While much of the talk about affordability focuses on the middle class getting priced out, it’s worth noting that the tight housing market and college-centric rental market have had a continued negative impact on what little housing there is for the poorest tiers.

2. Staying on the topic of affordability,  the county is all set to sell a foreclosed vacant lot in Freeville to INHS for the express purpose of affordable housing. This was first mentioned on the blog a couple of weeks ago. The 1.7 acres of land off of Cook Street in Freeville is assessed at $25,000, but the county is generously selling the land to INHS for the low price of $7,320, which is the amount owed on back taxes and “required maintenance”. This project would be next to Freeville’s other affordable housing complex, the 24-unit Lehigh Crossing senior apartments south of the parcel. Those were built in 1991 and are managed by a for-profit developer out of Buffalo (Belmont Management).

As noted previously, the village of Freeville (population 520) 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 is likely to be the first new rural project post-merger, and the first new affordable housing development outside of Ithaca in several years. BHTC had a string of failures prior to the merger. For INHS, after the controversy with Stone Quarry and 210 Hancock, taking on a development site that’s likely to have less opposition will be a welcome change of pace.

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3. No full decisions from the Board of Zoning Appeals on the 210 Hancock project, but there was plenty of acrimony. Of the three requested variances (height, parking and commercial loading), only the commercial loading variance was granted at Tuesday’s meeting, with the height and parking up in the air until additional information is received about pile driving impacts and winter odd-even parking. INHS has just over two months to submit the additional information.

The same vitriolic sentiment could be applied for the Old Library proposals, where legislator Martha Robertson has been called out for a possible ethics violation, and emails on the Fall Creek Neighborhood Association listserve have turned unpleasant. All in all, it’s been a pretty harsh week for anything related to development in or near Fall Creek.

Some of the 210 opposition is upset that they’re being perceived as “classist”, but when the gentleman leading the opposition posts tweets like this to the #twithaca page for all to see, a negative reaction shouldn’t be a surprise. As for the old library debate, the legislature’s Old Library Committee met on the morning of the 10th, but no endorsements were made.

4. A couple of details worth noting for ILPC’s meeting next Tuesday – “early design guidance” for work planned at 201 W. Clinton Street, and “discussion” about 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue in Collegetown.

201 West Clinton, also known as the Hardy House, was built around 1835, and was previously the home of the local Red Cross chapter from about 1922-2011. After the ARC moved out, it was restored and converted back to a private residence. The house was more recently reviewed/approved for solar panels, and I dunno what’s in store for this next round.

As for 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue, those would be the addresses for the historic (ca. 1898) three-story red-shingled apartment house destroyed during the Chapter House fire last Spring, and the fire-damaged but still-standing apartment house to its north. They are/were operated by CSP Management, the same folks tending to the Simeon’s project. So let’s keep hopes up for a possible rebuild faithful to the original 406.

If you still need your weekly dose of crazy, here’s a rather paranoid screed submitted as part of an application to the ILPC. I can only imagine the committee’s initial reaction to this.

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5. Time to move another Collegetown project into the “under construction” column – 307 College Avenue, a.k.a. Collegetown Crossing, will hold a formal groundbreaking on Monday at 10 AM. The 46-unit, 96-bedroom project was approved last September after a years-long debate over parking; the project was only able to move forward when the new Collegetown zoning went into effect last year. Expect a 12-month construction period, with occupancy likely in August 2016. Collegetown Crossing, which also includes a 4,000 sq ft Greenstar grocery store branch, a pocket park and a TCAT transit hub, is being developed by the Lower family and their company Urban Ithaca.

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6. Looks like we’re on to another iteration of the proposed pair of duplexes at 112 Blair / 804 East State Street in outer Collegetown. Updated file here, previous plans here. It kinda feels like there’s a disconnect going on – the neighbors basically don’t like the houses for being boring pre-fab duplexes; the developer, Demos/Johnny LLC (Costas Nestopoulos), doesn’t want to change that, but is willing to adjust the site layout and invest in extensive landscaping in an effort to hide them. The two sides have met and they seem close to a compromise.

Rather unusually, the 12-bedroom project (4 units with 3 bedrooms each) will open to student tenants in January 2016, after a construction period of September-December 2015. Being a small project, there will probably be enough intersession shuffling to make it work.

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7. Here’s another small project getting a revision – the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler addition down in bog box land. Still adding 20 display spaces, but the addition has grown from 1,165 SF in the last version to 1,435 SF, include a small 418 SF second story intended as a lunch room. This project, which will need an area variance, is also looking at September-December 2015 buildout.





The Case For More Housing

7 07 2015

Last week, Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick and county Legislator Martha Robertson issued an opinion piece on the need for more housing, and especially affordable housing, in the city and county. There were two, fairly simple reactions to the article – readers believed it and agreed there was a housing issue, or they thought it was bunch of lies.

Being a data-driven person, I decided to delve a little deeper into the numbers behind Myrick and Robertson’s claims.

Let’s start with the 2006 housing study that was cited in the article. According to that study, performed by Vermont-based Economic & Policy Resources Inc. (EPR), 2,127 rental units and 1,767 owner-occupied units would be needed by the end of 2014, for a total of 3,894. These numbers were determined using the 2005 housing deficit (871 units), economic trends and population/demographic trends.  Some readers may remember the quote of “4,000 units of housing” cited in news pieces back in the mid-2000s, and this is where it comes from.

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Using data from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s State Of the Cities Systems (SOCDS) Database, new housing permits were pulled for the same time period as the study’s projection, 2006 to 2014. From 2006 to 2014, Tompkins County added 1,124 single-family homes and 910 multi-family housing units (apartments and maybe a few co-ops or condos), for a total of 2,034 housing units. In what is a surprise to no one, the majority of multi-family housing was built in the city of Ithaca, and the majority of single-family homes were built in surrounding towns. The county had 40,069 housing units in 2006, so in that nine-year span there was about 5.1% growth in housing units, to 42,103.

The EPR study stated that 3,894 housing units would be required. With 2,034 units actually built, that means only 52% of the housing needs identified by the study were met. Breaking it down further, homeowners, occupying mostly single-family properties, fared a little better – with 1,124 built of the 1,767, that meant 63.6% of the homes that were needed based on 2006-2014 projection were built. However, for rental units, which are mostly multi-family housing, it was only 910 of the 2,127 needed – 42.8%. Not even half.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the economy slowed down or population growth leveled off, but neither of those occurred. Even with the recession a few years ago, job totals have increased quite a bit, with over 6,000 jobs have been added to the county since 2006. The population has also increased – Tompkins County had 99,997 residents in 2006, and in 2014 it was estimated to be 104,691. Rather oddly, the county added 3,049 housing units from 1997-2005, the previous nine-year period, but only 3,482 residents. Population growth has climbed even as housing construction has dropped.

Perhaps most importantly, the 2006 EPR study never accounted for changes in student population. It assumed net zero change for the purpose of the study, which focused on permanent residents. Unfortunately for the housing situation, there’s been a huge growth in student population. Cornell added 2,040 students from 2006 to 2014. Ithaca College added a more manageable 178 students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average rental unit in Tompkins County houses 2.14 people. The county’s staring down 1,036 units it didn’t plan for, and as noted in the opinion article, Cornell plans on increasing its enrollment further.

For the record, IC has added student housing in the period from 2006 to 2014 – an addition to the Circle Apartments south of campus, which opened in 2012 and increased campus housing capacity by 138 beds. While South Hill students are driving up housing demand, the overall impact is minor.

In contrast, when Cornell rebuilt its West Campus Housing during the 2006-2014 time period, there was no net increase in the total number of beds. The Big Red has had no gain in student housing since new dorms opened on North Campus in 2001. With the impending closure of the 480-bed Maplewood Park student housing complex, the situation may get worse. No one can force Cornell to build new housing, but their burgeoning student population does add a substantial strain to the market.

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Given the numbers above, Tompkins County fell 1,860 units short of its 2014 housing goal; add in the unexpected influx of college students, and the number rises to 2,832. It wasn’t good to have some affordability problems when the county was 871 units short of a balanced market in 2005; at the 2014 deficit of 2,832 units, the impacts become much more severe, which is why housing affordability has become such a big issue.

Myrick and Robertson’s column might be an opinion, but the statistics give their opinion a lot of weight.





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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