Ecovillage Construction Update 4/2015

21 04 2015

Up on West Hill in the town of Ithaca, work progresses on the “Common House” apartment building for EcoVillage’s third neighborhood, called TREE (Third Residential Ecovillage Experience, following its first two, FROG and SONG). Since the end of December, exterior finishes have made their way onto most of the 4-story building; offhand it looks like some type of composite siding along with wood paneling, which adds character and brightness to the building’s otherwise muted appearance. Some sections have yet to be exterior finishes applied, and the housewrap is still visible. Balconies are being built on the northwest corner, but have yet to begin installation on the southeast corner.

The Common House will hold about 15 units, ranging from studios to 3-bedrooms. My previous back of the envelope calculation suggests 25-30 bedrooms in the building. When the Common House is finished later this spring, the TREE neighborhood, with 25 owner-occupied homes as well as the 15 apartments, will be complete, two and a half years after the first homes started construction.Planning for the TREE neighborhood began in 2007, but financial setbacks and the late 2000s recession resulted in an extended incubation and planning process, including a revision that increased the number of housing units from 30 to 40.

Construction is being handled by a local firm, AquaZephyr, which received an award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy for a “zero energy ready” home constructed as part of TREE. The designs of the Common House and houses are the work of California architect Jerry Weisburd.

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Dairy One and Binoptics Construction Update, 4/2015

14 04 2015

Neither one is especially pretty, but the local benefits are substantial.

Over on Warren Road in Lansing, two business expansion projects are underway just across the street from each other. The first one is the Dairy One project at 720 Warren Road.

A quick walk-by of the site shows that the exterior of the building is complete, finishes have been applied, and the grass landscaping has been seeded and covered with straw to protect it from the wind and birds. The new research center looks ready for its spring opening.

The new “Northeast Dairy and Food Testing Center” is a 50-50 collaboration between local firm Dairy one Cooperative Inc., and Chestnut Labs of Springfield, Missouri. The  17,000 sq ft building is a $3.5 million investment and will add 11 jobs at the outset, 3 through Dairy One and 8 through Chestnut Labs. 4 more jobs would be added over the following two years if all goes to plan.

According to the TCIDA report, Chestnut opted for Ithaca as its first satellite office because of a desire to expand into the Northeast and its proximity to Cornell. The design by Syracuse-based Dalpos Architects.

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Across Warren Road on its west side, the new addition to Binoptics is underway. Technically the address for Binoptics is 9 Brown Road, but the property sits on the corner of Brown and Warren Roads.

The plywood has yet to be sheathed and covered in exterior facade materials, but windows have been fitted into the new one-story, 2,800 square foot addition.  The addition is pegged at a cost of $7.7 million, mostly on new equipment. The design of the addition is by Rochester-based Architectura P.C., who also did the Cayuga Medical Associates Building just south of the Route 13/Warren Road intersection.

BinOptics, a laser developer and manufacturer, sees the addition as part of its plan to add 91 jobs over the next three years, including 35 jobs this year as the new addition is completed.

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Ithaca Jobs Numbers Revised – Vindication Feels Good

19 03 2015
I predicted between 69,600 and 70,100. Looks like I’m right, for now.
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March is an important month for the Bureau of Labor Statistics; it’s the month where the previous three years’ of data are revised. For Ithaca, it’s yielded some very interesting results.

First off, the 2013 numbers have been revised from a yearly average of 69,000 to an average of 69,400, a 2.8% increase or 1,900 jobs more than the 2012 averaged job total of 67,500. The 2012 data were not changed.

Secondly, the 2014 total job numbers have also been revised upward, from an initial estimate of 69,150 jobs, to 69,650 in the Ithaca area in 2014. The gain seems paltry compared to 2013’s gains. 250 jobs, a 0.4% increase.

Looking at the data more closely, the 2014 data is, at a glance, alarming – November 2014 lost 1,000 jobs when compared to November 2013. December 2014 lost 1,500 jobs when compared to December 2013.

However, these results aren’t the result of changes in 2014. The Voice looked at archived reports of the initial jobs numbers for 2013 and 2014, which we’ve included below (values shown are in thousands – for example, 69.0 equals 69,000 jobs).

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Now here are the revised 2013 numbers and 2014 numbers:

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For visual reference, here’s a line plot and bar plot of the numbers.
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The large drop last Spring has been erased. The drop of 1300 jobs last May is now a gain of 700. Pretty big difference. Spring 2013 job numbers decreased slightly in the revision.Summer employment values were also decreased in both years, which means there is more seasonality to the Ithaca employment cycle than previously estimated.

Fall 2013, by the BLS’s account, had tremendous job growth, with November and December 2013 now tied at 73,700 jobs, the record employment figures in the Ithaca metro. A revision such as December 2013’s, where 2800 more jobs were added, is highly unusual. It is because of this revision that the 2014 numbers look so poorly – compared to the initial fall 2014 values, they were actually increased a little bit, just not as much as 2013’s were.

So what can we expect from the 2014 numbers moving forward? Being the “freshest” data, there is a very good chance they will be revised again next March. For the sake of example, the 2013 numbers were initially 68,000 at the end of 2013, then 69,000 in the March 2014, and now 69,400. We will need to wait and see if the fall 2014 figures are adjusted, and by now much.





Poking At the Jobs Numbers, Again

9 03 2015

11-24-2012 195

Talk about doom and gloom. One look at the Journal’s webpage and the pessimists are in for a treat. It’s no secret that Binghamton, Elmira and to a lesser extent Syracuse and Utica-Rome have suffering, declining economies. Upstate was the factory of the nation a hundred years ago. Now, for a number of reasons, manufacturing has shifted to the south, or more commonly, overseas. Ithaca’s neighboring metros are suffering.

I’m personally not a fan of the way the article is presented. It’s the highlighted piece of the Journal. But the title doesn’t really apply to Ithaca, and they acknowledge that if one reads the article. A lot of folks will only glance at the title, think it applies to Ithaca, and think that the Ithaca economy is tanking. Question dear reader, how many times have you read an article online, scrolled down to the comments and clearly see the comment of someone who read only part of the article, if any of it at all?

Here’s the Ithaca excerpt, which they title the “Ithaca Oasis”:

“Ithaca is the sole economic oasis in central New York. Since the recession, Ithaca’s private-sector jobs have grown by 10 percent. Only New York City has done better in the state, with nearly 15 percent more private-sector jobs in the same period.

“We have come back in terms of jobs in this most recent recovery,” said Elia Kacaypyr, who follows Tompkins County conditions as an economics professor at Ithaca College. “Things are better here than many of our neighbors.”

The reason for Ithaca’s resilience: an economy heavily dependent on education services and far less reliant on manufacturing. Education and health services alone added 6,800 jobs in the Ithaca region over the past 10 years, with 4,600 of those since the recession in 2008.

But that belies some underlying weakness, Kacaypyr said, notably in housing and retail sales.

Median home prices in Ithaca declined slightly in 2014 compared to 2013, and 2014 retail sales increased just slightly ahead of a 1.6 percent inflation rate. Also, the pace of Ithaca’s job growth is slowing.”

I guess if it was me, I’d have pushed for “Ithaca An Economic Oasis in Sputtering Upstate Economy”, or “Upstate Economy Suffers, Ithaca Rare Exception”. But what do I know; I’m a blogger, not a professional journalist.

Anyway, that last paragraph stands out to me – the IJ ran an article about that a couple of days ago, here. The report, prepared by Elia Kacapyr of Ithaca College, is mostly disappointing news, 0% growth in the local economy with most indicators staying steady with inflation. But I do want to make a couple of contrasting points to some of the data.

The jobs number stated in the article, which seems to be a major swaying factor in the ecnomic report, is a net gain of 100 jobs in 2014 (a 2013 annual average of 69,000, and a 2014 annual average of 69,150, which is rounded down). The data comes from the Federal BLS website here. I don’t fault working with the data in it current form, but I will note that the numbers are suspect.

All of the year-over-year job losses are in a period of February to May 2014. I’ve written about this before. This was covered on the Voice. You can darn well bet that a loss of 1300 jobs like the one reported last May would make the news. Then the Voice ran reaction articles from city officials and county officials.

The BLS numbers are up for revision. And because the numbers are generated via random sampling, that for a small community like Ithaca, may not be statistically significant, and the potential for misleading data is large. In Spring 2012, initial reports of a 4,100 job loss were revised to a gain of 1,100, a nearly 10 percent change to the overall total (I made note of the steep drop that time as well). Revisions to the 2014 data haven’t been fully implemented yet, and there’s still no evidence of large layoffs in the education and healthcare sector. Latest numbers from Cornell’s factbook show the university added 73 faculty and staff from November 2013 to November 2014 (1% growth), and Ithaca College’s headcount decreased by 18 (1% loss). No large layoffs in the Ithaca area were noted in the state’s WARN act database.

My honest expectation is that when the numbers are completely final, the number of jobs averaged out over 2014 will come out between 69,600 and 70,100. It still won’t be as much growth as 2012-13, but it’s a roughly 1% increase for the year. I could be wrong, but we’ll see.

The report suggests 400 jobs will be gain in 2015, and economic growth of 0.3%. I think that with Cornell’s recent budget issues, and the resulting slowdown in hiring it may cause, that’s a fair estimate.





The Dark Days of Dryden

3 03 2015

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In the 1990s, Dryden had a reputation for being the “Village of the Damned“.

That unpleasant moniker was received about fifteen years ago, when the town was afflicted with heinous, blood-chilling crimes. It’s like something Stephen King would have conjured up, as if Dryden was just down the road from Castle Rock. A description of the crimes in Dryden from 1989-1999 would be enough to fill a sordid crime novel. Needless to say, long-time residents of the town don’t take too kindly to the name.

Sometimes the moniker is applied to the Ellis Hollow murders of December 1989, to which I’m just going to supply the New York Times summary:

…a gunman tied up four members of a suburban family on Dec. 22, put pillowcases over their heads, shot them two or three times in the head and then set their bodies on fire.

After the state police rushed into a home on Feb. 7 to arrest two people in connection with the slayings, there was an initial sense of relief, mental health experts in the area said. But because the prime suspect, Michael Kinge, 33, was killed by the police in a shootout, many county residents now feel they will never learn why the Harris family was singled out.

A more explicit New York Times article can be found here. Making the event even worse, an investigator planted Kinge’s mother’s fingerprints at the crime scene, and she was in jail for 2.5 years until she was exonerated. She later sued the state, although the judge only awarded $250k of the requested $500 million because she was guilty of using the Harris family’s credit cards. The details and aftermath of the Ellis Hollow murders could fill a book.

The New York Times noted that it was part of a series of untimely deaths at the start of the 1990s – 9 fatalities in 3 months, 7 of which were homicides. The Ellis Hollow murders were the only cases in Dryden, and are separated from the other killings by a few years.

Dryden’s dark days began in earnest during the mid 1990s. Nothing I write will surpass E. Jean Carroll’s “The Cheerleaders,” a piece detailing Dryden’s suffering in those years, and well worth the read. But I’ll offer a quick rundown here.

– On December 29, 1994, 19-year old J.P. Merchant, angry at his ex-girlfriend, breaks into her family home and shoots her father dead. After the rest of the family escapes his attempt to kill them, he drives to a cemetery and shoots himself. Although in Cortland County, the children attended Dryden High, where the father was a football coach.

– On September 10, 1996, high school senior Scott Pace dies in a car accident. His brother Billy had died in a car crash the previous year.

– On October 4, 1996, High school juniors Jennifer Bolduc and Sarah Hajney are kidnapped, murdered and dismembered by the Hajney family’s next door neighbor, John Andrews. Although he was eventually caught, Andrews hung himself in his jail cell.

– On June 11, 1999, a drunk driving accident claims the life of 19-year old Katie Savino, a classmate of Bolduc and Hajney. Three months later, former classmate Mike Vogt commits suicide.

There’s nothing about Dryden that made it any more or less likely to suffer these crimes and losses; just an unfortunate series of events. The constant loss must have taken quite a toll on the town’s morale. By the end of the 1990s, it’s hard to imagine Dryden had much left in community spirit. Yet, life has gone on, and time has healed the wounds of the 1990s; the scars remain, but today the town is known more for its anti-fracking stance than for tragedies. Today, a memorial garden, scholarships, and a fundraising walk serve as reminders to a dark time the town has thankfully moved past.





Village Solars Apartments Construction Update, 2/2015

11 02 2015

The first three apartment buildings of the Village Solars apartment project in Lansing are fully framed, sheathed (I’m assuming the red panels are sheathing material), roofed, and windows and doors have been installed in most locations. The light-colored material might be a breathable wrap for weather/moisture resistance. It will be a little while before exterior finishes are applied and balconies are installed. When I visited last Saturday, the site was buzzing with the sounds of construction workers busy with tasks inside (probably rough-ins for things like plumbing and electrical), and ’80s hair metal streaming from a radio somewhere from within. Nothing like installing pipes while rocking out to Twisted Sister.

The Village Solars get their name from what the craigslist sales pitch calls “their passive solar design and energy saving features”. As far as I’m aware, they won’t have solar panels. According to Thomas Bobnick, the rental agent for the apartments, the first phase shown here will consist of 36 units (the final buildout will be close to 300 units). The design of the complex calls for at least eight, maybe ten buildings to surround a new pond that will be dug out of the undeveloped middle of the property – the advertisements call it “waterfront”, which it is, technically.

From the craigslist advertisements, one-bedroom units will rent for $1050-$1145 and be ready for occupancy by June 1st, two-bedroom units will rent for $1235-$1369 and be ready for tenants on May 1st, and three-bedroom units will rent for $1565-$1600 and be available on June 1st. These dates are pushed back a little from initial plans, which called for March and April occupancy; no doubt the severe winter has complicated the schedule. Looking at the photos, the two buildings under construction on the west and east ends look to be one style (balconies in the middle), while the center building is a different layout and design (end balconies). The price range for the two bedrooms is a little above the average two-bedroom unit in Ithaca ($1,165), but after accounting for the premium on new construction, the developer seems to be pricing for the middle tier of the market.

The Village Solars are being developed by local company Lifestyle Properties. Lifestyle is run by Steve Lucente of the Lucente family, who have been major builder/developers in Ithaca since the 1950s. No one word on the architect. Upstate Contractors of Syracuse appears to be handling the construction work.

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Boiceville Cottages Update, 2/2015

8 02 2015

It’s been about 2.5 months since my last trip through the Boiceville Cottages, but given that it’s winter (and a particularly cold and severe winter since the jet stream reconfigured in January), there has only been slow if steady progress with its 75-unit expansion. Since December, the timber homes with purple trim have been completed, four houses that were undergoing exterior build-out have now progressed to exterior detailing and interior finishing (the ones with green timber trim), and windows are being fitted into three homes that have sprouted from their slab foundations since the previous visit.

One of the things that stood out on this visit was that it’s now possible to walk all the way through the new phase thanks to the construction. Looking around at the snow on the ground, edges of the blue waterproof covering (which might be the covering of cement board being used to protect the slab insulation) could be seen poking out among the drifts. Using the (gas utility?) loops coming out from the foundations as a guide, there are perhaps a dozen poured concrete foundations, ready for construction as time and weather provide. There were approximately 25 units that were built in 2014, and with probably 10 complete by the end of March, 2015 looks to be on the same construction pace, maybe even greater. It might even be possible that the expansion will be completed this year. Inquiring minds would like to know if Bruno Schickel has any other expansions or colorful villages planned.

The Boiceville Cottages, built and managed by the Schickel family, are rather unusual as apartment complexes go. For one thing, there are the bright paint jobs, a sort of hallmark of the cottage units since the first set of 24 houses was built in 1996/97. The bright paint and the ornate woodwork have led to a nickname, “The Storybook Cottages“, which holds some weight, according to an article in Life in the Finger Lakes:

“Schickel said he was inspired to build his colorful cottages by a children’s book he read to his daughters almost 20 years ago. The book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, tells of a girl who, at her grandfather’s urging, travels to faraway lands seeking adventure. Later she moves to a cottage by the sea and works to make the world more beautiful by spreading seeds of blue and purple lupine. An illustration by the author shows the Lupine Lady’s house on a hill overlooking the sea. The small cottage is replete with finial and gingerbread. Seeing that illustration was the eureka! moment, Schickel recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got to design something like this!’”

Since the initial 24 units were built, a further phase of 36 units was undertaken pre-recession, and in the past couple of years the town of Caroline signed off on the next phase, a group of 75 that would more than double the size of the complex. The cottages have been built out at a steady pace, and at completion of this current phase, 135 units will be present on the Boiceville property. 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 Boiceville complex may be the largest population center in the 3,300 person town.

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