News Tidbits 5/23: Cast A Discerning Eye

23 05 2015

1. Starting off this week’s round-up, here are some new renders of PPM Homes’s apartment project proposed for 215-221 West Spencer Street just south of downtown.

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Note that C & D are the same design, but mirrored. The general forms are pretty much the same as the original sketch plan, but the porch and windows have been altered and the rooflines have been tweaked on A and B to give the Spencer Street facade a little more visual interest.

The 12-unit, 4-building project is being described as a “pocket neighborhood”. The two upper buildings closest to West Cayuga will have three two-bedroom units here, and the lower buildings facing West Spencer have a combined four two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units, for a total of 26 bedrooms in the project. 12 parking spaces are provided as required by zoning. The owner is looking into remote net-metering of an off-site solar panel installation to provide all of the project’s electricity needs. The site will launch into the formal planning board review process next month.

The steeply-sloped 0.47 acre parcel has been vacant for several years, and currently sees use as an informal 12-space parking lot. The property was originally marketed for affordable housing projects only, but received no purchase bids. Once the affordable stipulation was removed, the parcel was marketed once again, and Ed Cope bought the parcel for $110,000 on March 6th.

The building designs are the work of local architect Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative.

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Random aside, I just found out that PPM’s Ed Cope is a Cornell biologist. And here I thought writing this blog and being an air quality scientist was an interesting contrast.

2. There might have been a day in not-too-distant past where someone said, “You know what Ithaca needs? Mini-golf.” Apparently someone heard those wishes. the Town of Ithaca’s Planning Committee will be looking at a possible zoning modification down near the intersection of Elmira Road and Seven Mile Drive that would allow a mini-gold establishment to move forward.

Stretching my memory here a bit, I seem to recall a mini-golf place up by Trumansburg, but if my google search is any indication, it closed a couple of years ago. I suppose there’s a niche to be filled.

Now comes the question of, “Does this fit with the town’s new Comprehensive Plan?” Here’s the description the town proposes for the Inlet Valley Gateway, including the area in question:

The Inlet Valley Gateway district is intended to be a setting for a mix of office, small-scale retail, hospitality, and tourism and agritourism uses, with low-impact light industrial, artisanal industrial, and skilled trade uses.
The scale, architecture and landscaping of future development will need to be carefully designed and articulated.

This area should retain a semi-rural character, with deep setbacks from arterial streets, wide spacing between uses, landscaped front yards, and vehicle parking sited on the side and/or rear of structures. Shared curb cuts will reduce potential conflicts with highway traffic. Sidewalks should follow streets, with connections to adjacent areas planned for residential development. Architectural design, landscaping, and site planning regulations should apply to all uses in this area, including industrial uses. Agglomeration of mechanical commercial uses, and incremental expansion of commercial zoning resulting in strip commercial development, will be strongly discouraged.

It sounds like that if the site is designed right, it could be a good fit. Probably a better fit than the Maguire’s dealership/HQ plan that was shelved a few months ago.

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3. Here’s a couple of photos of the new duplex being built at 514 Linn Street. Each unit will be 3 bedrooms, and the apartments will be completed this summer. The building is being built on the foundation of the previous home that existed on the site, which dated from the late 1800s and was a near-copy of the peach-colored house next door. 514 Linn is being developed by the Stavropoulos family, who run the State Street Diner.

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4. In an effort to win over the city, Texas Roadhouse is tweaking their proposed restaurant off of S. Meadow/13. Latest render here. Members of the planning board have previously expressed concerns that the original design had the entrance facing northward into the parking lot rather than the street, and that not enough attention was being placed on the street-facing west side. If the render is any indicator, the modified proposal still has a primary entrance on the north side of the building, but the street-facing side has a handicapped entryway, and the landscaping has been spruced up. Dunno if it’s what the board quite wanted, but they’ll decide if it’s good enough during their meeting next week.

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5. Looks like Pat Kraft’s Dryden South project (205 Dryden) has a website up and running. The 10-unit, 40 bedroom project will start site clearing in a few weeks, with excavation/foundation work going through the summer (according to an interview conducted by the Sun, Kraft hopes to have structural steel rising by the time students get back in late August). The 6-story, 65′ building will house Kraftee’s on its first floor, with two units of four bedrooms each on each floor above. units will be available for rent starting next August.

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A neat little detail from the site is this old conceptual sketch done by Jagat Sharma for the site. Note the April 2009 date at lower right; this project has been in the planning stages for years, even though it only hit the Planning Board last Spring. On a personal note, I’m glad this hulking box didn’t end up being the final design.

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6. For those interested in what’s going on with Simeon’s, here’s an updated sketch design of the rebuild, courtesy of the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC). The somewhat controversial side balcony/overhang is gone. About the only major difference between the original entrance and the rebuild is the location of the front door, which is now on the left (west) side instead of being in the center.

7.. Looks to be a quieter meeting for the planning board this month. No new sketch plans, and only one project, Texas Roadhouse, is being considered for approval. Here’s what’s up for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting:

IA. A minor subdivision to create a new home lot a 212 Hook Place on West Hill.

IB. A minor subdivision to divide a property on Hector Street on West Hill. The sisters applying for the subdivision are splitting the land among themselves but intend to keep both lots “Forever Wild”.

IIA. 210 Hancock gets its public hearing and possibly its Determination of Environmental Significance (which if okayed means that the project can be considered for prelim approval in June). I’m hearing there might be opposition mobilizing against the project. Given how transparent the whole design process has been, and that this is affordable housing in an urban area that struggles with housing costs, I’m going to be very, very disappointed if this happens.

B. Texas Roadhouse is up for Determination of Env. Signif. and possible Prelim/Final Site Plan Approval

C. Tompkins Financial’s new HQ will be reviewing parts of its Environmental Assessment Forms; no decisions expected

D. Declaration of Lead Agency (Planning Board agrees to conduct review) for the Maguire Fiat addition.

The board will also be conducting a review of State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) forms used in determining environmental significance.





Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 5/2015

20 05 2015

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

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

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

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

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The Three Proposals for the Old Library

28 04 2015

Hot off the press release, here are the latest renderings of the three remaining contenders for the Old Library site, along with a few details about each. Feel free to pick your favorite and leave a comment.

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I. The Rochester-based Cornerstone Group proposal, a 73,600 sq ft building called the “Dewitt Senior Apartments” (link here), would buy the library site for $925,000, build 63 residential units of senior housing (3 studios, 54 one-bedrooms, 6 two-bedrooms), and include 700 sq ft of community space for nutrition education by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Cornerstone is a Rochester based non-profit housing developer, and is working in partnership with non-profit group Cayuga Housing Development (CHD). CHD is directed by the same people as the Ithaca Housing Authority, who operate Titus Towers. The building’s design is by SWBR Architects of Rochester.

The Cornerstone proposal is the only one which features affordable senior housing, targeted at seniors making less than 80% of median local income, meaning less than $44k/year for a single person, or less than $50k/year for an elderly couple. Rents would range from $825/month studios to $1,200/month for a 2-bedroom. The developers would seek affordable housing tax credits, and asked for a non-binding letter of interest from the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, in which the IURA could offer a loan of up to $200,000 towards the development. The agency preferred a more nuanced approach of possible financial support if the project was selected, rather than supporting the project during the decision process. The proposal includes a 32-year PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes, like what Cornell uses) to “ensure rental affordability”.

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II. Ithaca based private developer Travis Hyde Properties proposes a 72,500 sq ft building with 60 senior apartments (21 2-bedroom and 39 one-bedroom), and would include space for senior non-profit group Lifelong, professional offices, and a community room (link here). The building uses a butterfly roof for rainwater collection and to keep the height as minimal as possible, and the three-story section is intended to respect the massing of the neighboring church. Lifelong occupies the first two floors of the western wing, with housing on the top floors. Commercial office space faces Court Street, and a one-story eastern wing holds shared space for both Lifelong and a community room. The units are market-rate. and Lifelong’s space at 121 West Court Street is renovated and kept on as an annex property. No purchase price is given, except to say “fair market value”.

Travis Hyde is currently developing the Carey Building addition, built the Gateway Commons apartment building, and further back, developed Eddygate in Collegetown. Travis Hyde teamed up with Ithaca-based HOLT Architects for their proposal. The project has been designed to achieve LEED Silver at a minimum, with LEED Platinum being considered.

What makes this proposal unique is that it’s the only one that includes space specifically for Lifelong.

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III. Syracuse-based Franklin Properties of Syracuse have teamed with a group of local firms (STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering, among others) to propose a “wellness center” for the library site, called the “West Court Lofts and Wellness Collective” (link here). This proposal is the smallest of the three proposals at 58,000 square feet and has the fewest number of units at 22, along with medical offices, a café, and a small community room. The first floor would have the cafe and some office space, and the second floor would be all medical offices. Senior housing would be built on the upper floors. In a major change from the previous proposal, the units are now intended to be higher-end condos for empty nesters and retirees.

Notably, this proposal is the only one that reuses the original library, although the building would be extensively modified. Members of the ILPC (Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council) liked this proposal because it keeps the 1967 library and its “intrinsic historic value”. The library site would be purchased for $925,000.

In sum, we have apartments for low and moderate-income seniors, higher-end senior condos, and market-rate senior apartments. Each is going after a different part of the Ithaca market.

Three previous contenders have pulled out of the process – Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services pulled out when they purchased the Neighborhood Pride site (the 210 Hancock project) and decided to focus on that. Integrated Acquisition and Development (IAD) dropped out next; their “Library Square” proposal was the largest at 90 units. IAD is, however, involved with the recently-proposed State Street Triangle project in downtown Ithaca. DPI Consultants submitted the only original proposal that included owner-occupied housing, but did not respond to the RFP after expressing frustration with the county’s frequent delays in the evaluation process.

The next meeting of the Old Library committee is scheduled for Thursday, April 30th at 9 AM in the county’s legislative chambers. 5 PM Meetings will be set up during May for developer presentations to the public (the first, a meeting for the Cornerstone proposal, will be held on the 1st; the Travis Hyde proposal will be presented to the public on May 8th at 5 PM, and the Franklin Properties proposal on May 12th at 5 PM. All will be in the legislative chambers). For those unable to attend, comments on the proposals can be emailed to the committee at Legislature@tompkins-co.org with the subject title “Old Library Property”.

For reference, here’s a copy of the criteria used to judge the project, and a rough timeline from here on taken from the county’s documents:

1. Staff score criteria identified in RFP including narrative explanation for each score ( Rank on a scale of 0 to 5 where 0 = did not address and 5 = addressed exceptionally well) – April

A. energy efficiency and carbon footprint, including impacts of proposed
demolition/deconstruction and/or remediation, of the project including any attempt to meet Architecture 2030 standards (e.g., 0 – meets current energy code, 5 – meets LEED Platinum or 2030 district standard)

B. quality of the overall program and conceptual design, including its compatibility with the surrounding historic neighborhood and how it addresses traffic, vehicular and pedestrian circulation and parking ( e.g., 0 – meets zoning code, 5 – setbacks and massing sensitive to adjoining property and street, design includes elements to address historic district, incorporates traffic and pedestrian features that will serve building occupants and minimize neighborhood impact)

C. responsiveness to community needs including housing and other uses, such as a community organization (e.g., 0 – does not specifically address a community need, 5 – provides housing addressing an unserved market segment, including a diverse population, includes mixed uses, provides a community amenity and houses a community organization)

D. positive economic/tax base impact (e.g., 0 – no net positive impact as requested subsidies outweigh benefits, 5 – large net positive impact including impact to tax base and downtown economy)

E. capability of the developer or development team to undertake, finance, and manage the project (e.g., 0 – development team experience doesn’t match project scope and financing plan is questionable, 5 – excellent development team with extensive comparable experience developing successful projects and financing plan is sound with little or no uncertainty)

F. demonstrated market feasibility of the proposed program (e.g., 0 – no evidence that market analysis has been conducted or that market for proposed uses is supported by demand, 5 – market well documented by community-wide and developer studies and costs are in line with market)

G. price/lease payments offered for the property (e.g., 0 – NPV does not meet county’s listed price without any rationale, 5 – NPV greatly exceeds county’s listed price)

H. plan for managing neighborhood impacts including noise and air quality during demolition/deconstruction/remediation and construction. (e.g., 0 – no substantive plan presented, 5 – plan presented that minimizes neighborhood impacts to the maximum extent possible both during construction and after project is occupied)

2. Committee reviews staff scoring and either confirms or revises. Post for public review. – April

3. Optional interviews; public comment period/hearing. – May

4. Committee considers proposals, staff scoring, and public comments and recommends a decision to the Legislature. – May/June

5. Legislature considers committee recommendation and makes a final decision. – June/July





Lofts at Six Mile Creek Construction Update 4/2015

22 04 2015

Heading back to downtown again, the “Lofts@SixMileCreek” (no spaces? no spaces…) apartment project is plodding away towards its anticipated late summer completion. From the outside, there’s been progress under all that protective plastic wrap – the first five floors have had their exterior walls framed and glazed (glass wall installation). The top couple of floors should be sealed up in short order.

According to an update from Jason at Ithaca Builds from the start of the month, walls and utility rough-in was underway inside the top floors, and drywall hanging and finish-work was beginning on the lowest floors of the apartment building. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance recently scheduled visits to the unfinished units as part of its Downtown Living Tour last Saturday.

Perhaps the most controversial thing about this project was when the rents were released at the start of the month – prices range from $1,220/month for a studio to $2,655/month for the largest two-bedroom on the upper floors. That got a lot of attention on the Ithaca Voice’s Facebook page, and much of it wasn’t good.

Jeff Stein, the Voice’s editor, followed up with an editorial saying that the criticism misses the point, the best way to alleviate the affordable housing crisis is to bring new units to the market at all income levels, which increases competition among landlords. Although I didn’t have a hand in the editorial, I support every word of it. Rents are high for this project, without a doubt. But the city not only needs units specifically for affordable housing, but units that will create competition for Ithaca’s burgeoning renter population.

With more units to better satisfy demand, landlords won’t be as able to charge premium prices on subpar units – inferior products will more likely be vacant. There would be a market push for owners to either upgrade their units to maintain a certain price point, or downgrade their prices to more affordable segments. Whether or not Ithaca will ever be able to get to that ideal balance between supply and demand is another story.

The Lofts at Six Mile Creek project consists of a a 7-story, 49,244 square foot structure that will contain 45 rental apartment units: 3 studios, 21 1-bedroom and 21 2-bedroom units. The building is being developed by Bloomfield/Schon + Partners out of Cincinnati, and construction is being handled by Turnbull-Wahlert Construction, also based in Cincinnati.

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Carey Building Construction Update 4/2015

20 04 2015

Readers living or working in downtown might have noticed the lack of progress on the Carey Building, where a five-story addition is underway on top of the two existing floors.

A look at the site shows that the underpinning (foundation-strengthening) process has been completed and covered up, but work doesn’t appear to have moved much farther than that.

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Well, there’s a reason for that. The building plans can’t move forward as approved.

The currently approved design calls for interstitial space between the second and third floors. Interstitial space is an intermediate space between floors sometimes used for housing mechanical equipment. These type of designs, while expensive, are often employed in multi-floor lab or hospital space, where remodeling or re-purposing of floor space is common. The existing second and new third floors of the Carey Building are used/will be used for business incubator space, where that type of flexibility is a huge asset.

Unfortunately, it also doesn’t comply with code, which no one realized until recently.

The new plan is to put in what’s called a plenum space between the third and fourth floors. A plenum space is between the structural floor and a dropped ceiling or raised floor, and it’s used to house HVAC, communication cables, or other mechanical equipment. The change in layout will result in an increase in building height from 77 feet 10 inches to 83 feet.

A few other modifications are also planned – a glass railing on the third floor will be changed to metal, and juliet balconies are being removed from the northern facade (back side, facing the new hotel) because the removal of an old chimney during the foundation-strengthening forces the need for an area variance that the developer doesn’t want to pursue. The old chimney encroached on the rear setback, but with it gone, that grandfathered privilege went with it. The top floor southern balcony (front side) may also be removed as a cost-cutting measure down the line. An emergency stairway for the sixth and seventh floor has been moved from the exterior to the interior.

These changes have to be approved by the Planning and Development Board, as well as the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Planning Board is set to review and make its decision later this month; the BZA, probably early May.

Here are some new renders with the proposed revisions (more in the link):

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And here are the old ones for reference:

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The Carey Building addition will add a third floor and 4,200 sq ft to the Rev business incubator (nearly doubling it to 8,700 sq ft), and on floors 4-7, there will be 20 apartments. Floors 4 and 5 will have 16 studio apartment units that average only 400-500 sq ft, their small size enabling them to be rented at a lower price. The 4 units on floors 6 and 7 will be larger 2-bedroom units. The $4.1 million project is being developed by local firm Travis Hyde Properties and built by LeChase Construction.





Stone Quarry Apartments Construction Update, 4/2015

15 04 2015

Substantial progress has been on Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s (INHS) Stone Quarry Apartments project on Spencer Street on South Hill. Photos from April 5th show that the sixteen 2-story townhomes and 19-unit, 3-story apartment building have been fully framed, sheathed with Tyvek weather wrap, and have windows installed.

Exterior work continues as clapboard siding is installed on the new units. The color selections here are in many cases the same as those found at the Belle Sherman Cottages on the east side of town – the beige-tan window trim is the previously mentioned “Savannah Wicker”, and the brown-orange color is “Mountain Cedar”. “Light Maple”, “Autumn Red”, “Pacific Blue” and “Sable Brown” round out the color selections.

Without actually going inside, it’s a safe bet that interior is moving along with rough-ins and wall framing, maybe even drywall and finish work on the lower floors. The apartments are expected to be completed in October 2015.

The Stone Quarry project consists of 16 two-story townhouses (2 rows, 8 each), and a 19-unit, 3-story apartment building on the northern third of the property. Specifically, the breakdown of unit sizes is follows:

16 three-bedroom Townhouses
2 three-bedroom Apartments
11 two-bedroom Apartments
6 one-bedroom Apartments

As with all projects by INHS, the units are targeted towards individuals with modest incomes, with rents of $375-$1250/month depending on unit size and resident income. While affordable housing is generally welcome and sorely needed, Stone Quarry had a number of complaints due to size, location and lingering environmental concerns.

The build-out is being handled by LeCesse Construction, a nationwide contractor with an office in suburban Rochester. The design is by local firms HOLT Architects and Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects.

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707 East Seneca Street Construction Update 4/2015

10 04 2015

Another infill project is underway in the East Hill Historic District between Downtown and Collegetown. 707 East Seneca, like 202 Eddy Street and 140 College Avenue, had to go through the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council for approval, along with getting approval from the planning board and zoning board for an area variance (the lot was too small). After informational and voting meetings by different boards throughout the fall and winter, all the approvals have been granted.

The ILPC-approved design is made to be compatible with the historic homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s that surround the building. 707 East Seneca was originally the playground area for the now-closed East Hill School, and the lot was given to the city in 1982. The property fell into disuse, and the playground into disrepair.  The city voted to put the lot up for sale through the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) last summer, and the lot was sold for $130,000 on December 22nd (the market asking price was $175,000, and the assessed value of the land is $100,000, so the final price looks pretty reasonable).

The apartment building planned is a 3-story, 6-unit, 18-bedroom structure with 4 garage parking units in a basement built into the hillside, and five surface parking spaces. According to documents filed with the city, target completion is July of 2015. Note for the included renders, the black-and-white image with the small basement windows is the final design, but the colors are the same as the lead rendering.

Without getting a good look at the back of the now fenced-off property, it looks like the site has been cleared and excavation is underway for the retaining walls and foundation. Being a sloped site, retaining walls will be built on the west edge of the property (right side of the photos) and for tree wells, and the east portion will use a sloped bank built using fill material. Offhand, I think I remember seeing that the building itself will be assembled from modular pieces, craned into place on the foundation over a day or two, not unlike the method used at the Belle Sherman Cottages.

The design of the building is by Schickel Architecture of Ithaca, and the developer is Ithacan Todd Fox.

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