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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Tompkins County’s Comprehensive Plan

3 02 2015

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In keeping with the recent talk of Comprehensive Plans, Tompkins County has just released their new plan, their first since 2004. That might not seem like a big deal, but in that time period, the county has probably added 4,500 residents and a couple thousand housing units, so it’s more important than it might seem at first glance (for the sake of comparison, every county community except Ithaca city has made a plan since 2000; the city’s dates from 1971). Currently, the plan is in review and up for adoption by the County Legislature at their meeting on the 17th. The 109-page document has been in the works since the fall of 2013.

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Generally, the county doesn’t play a big role in what does and doesn’t get built in its constituent villages and towns. Building projects are required to get county input, but the county isn’t about to stop anything, nor does it have much authority to (unless you’re applying for tax breaks, like Jason Fane’s 130 E. Clinton project). Perhaps the largest point of contention at the moment is the intermunicipal NYSEG natural gas pipeline, which Lansing wants and needs to sustain its growth, but the county has issues with, saying it could upset their green energy goals. On the opposite end of the scale was the Cayuga Ridge project for the Biggs parcel, which the county planned to sell to an affordable housing developer, but received significant blowback from the West Hill community. Cayuga Ridge was later cancelled when a site check by the developer revealed more wetlands than previously thought.

Anyway, back to the plan. It’s available in small chunks on this page, or for those whose internet connection can handle all 109 pages at once, here it is.

The general theme here from a housing standpoint is to fill in the spaces within the city, villages and hamlets. There’s a strong push on the county level to keep farmland from being scooped up for new development – a major threat, considering some of the cheapest land to develop in the county happens to be far-flung agricultural properties, where a relative lack of neighbors and shoestring small town planning boards can make for a quick and easy process. The logic is, if development takes place in communities that are already settled and already have employers and amenities, it limits the need for getting into a car for every trip, and makes for a more “sustainable” environment and stronger communities. Urban/infill development also makes for a lower tax burden per new unit added – there’s no need to pave new roads or extend utility lines.

The county is also becoming a bigger proponent of mixed-use development – apartment buildings with retail on the first floor, projects that have space for both homes and offices, and so forth. The logic is the same as before – if it’s convenient, people are more likely to walk, and patronize their own community. Trends in smaller households leads to the county’s suggestion of smaller housing units, as well as more senior housing for the greying population that chooses to “age in place”.

This all sounds great on paper, but there are many issues in practice. Anti-development sentiment, the ideal candidates for development aren’t for sale, outdated municipal zoning and so forth.

Economically, the county plans on sustaining its biggest contributors, education and healthcare, while making an effort to diversify with incentives towards manufacturing, high-tech/tech startups, food processing, agriculture and tourism. Specifically, they’re hoping to leverage the Cornell tech scene into permanent jobs and new economic development, which has met with some success, though nothing on the scale of, say, Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle. The high taxes, isolated location and lack of access to capital are major hurdles in an area that has plenty of brain power to tap into. The county is hoping to alleviate some of the burden by utilizing the state’s STARTUP NY program, and supporting resources like the new Rev business incubator in downtown Ithaca.

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The county only seems to be expecting 3,000-6,000 new jobs in the next ten years – a number that seems a little conservative, if recent growth is any indicator. The county (aka the Ithaca metro, following the Federal BLS) has added 8,400 jobs since December 2004 (63,700 jobs in December 2004 to 72,100 in December 2014).

On an individual scale, the county is seeking to expand broadband internet infrastructure and maintain the airport, which has seen a sharp decrease in travelers over the past year, putting its long-term feasibility at risk. There will also be continued funding towards planning studies (a study examining the NYS DOT relocation from the waterfront is the latest example), tourism advertising and tax abatements when appropriate.

Finally, the county expounds the affordable housing issue, noting that 38% of renters and owners are above the “affordable” threshold, there are over 15,000 in-commuters, and very low vacancy rates creates a disincentive for slumlords to fix up their overpriced properties, which in turn makes communities less energy-efficient. Unfortunately, the county doesn’t offer many solutions. They note an affordable housing fund paid into by itself, the colleges and the city of Ithaca, put the partnership is set to expire this year, and the future is uncertain. The other is “increasing community support for the construction of more housing units”, which is much easier said than done.

There also sections on encouraging mass transit and alternative (non-car) commuting, natural resource preservation and wetland management, but those are too close to my day job for me to want to write about. But in sum, the theme is infill development in the hamlets and established areas, make the area more eco-friendly, preserving farms and green space, trying to expand affordable housing options and continue growing the economy. All of which are great goals, but given that these interests can conflict with each other, there will likely be many debates over the next several years.

 





News Tidbits 1/24/15: Down On the Waterfront

24 01 2015

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1. This week, the county decided to move forward with a feasibility study for moving the NYS DOT site from its current location along the inlet to a site in Dryden. The $78,000 award (of which $56,000 is covered by a state grant) was made to Rochester-based Fisher Associates, who are leading a group that includes NYC-based HR&A Advisors, local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects, and Binghamton-based BCK/IBI Group Architects. Seven companies/consortiums vied for the study.

Readers might recall an RFP was issued back in July for the feasibility of moving the NYSDOT maintenance facility, which would make available a large and desirable property that the city would like to see redeveloped. The study is due to be completed in May, and if it looks like the move is doable (i.e. the county and city can cajole the perenially-reluctant DOT), the site could be sold to the highest bidder and begin redevelopment in early 2017.

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2. In keeping with the waterfront theme, here’s a couple interesting chunks of info from the IURA Governance Meeting agenda for the 21st. In a discussion of revenue-generating opportunities,  the IURA notes redevelopment opportunities on some of its parcels – one, 324 E. State Street, is already planned out, it’s the site of the 123-room “canopy Hotel” by Hilton.  Another is 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard (red outline in the above image), which could occur in conjunction with a state-owned neighboring parcel owned at 508 Taughannock Boulevard (orange outline), a property in the process of being purchased by the city. Though 410-426 has been noted to have environmental contamination, the interest in the waterfront and Inlet Island recently (323 Taughannock, Lehigh Valley House, 206 Taughannock) leaves the door open to a developer with the means and interest. This will be a site to keep an eye on in the long-term.

Also worth a brief mention is the planned purchase of a small vacant lot at 420 N. Plain Street. The house on that site was demolished after it was sold to NYSEG in 2011. What will most likely happen is a transfer of the property to INHS for redevelopment into a 1 or 2-family home.

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3. The first run of the December job numbers are out, and Ithaca is sitting pretty. When compared to December 2013, the Ithaca metro added 1,200 jobs, an increase of 1.7%. For the month, Ithaca’s growth in New York State was surpassed only by New York City’s 2.3%. For the whole year of 2014, preliminary figures suggest that Ithaca’s 1.8% job growth was the fourth-greatest of the 14 state metros, following NYC’s 2.7%, Kingston’s 2.2% and Albany-Schenectady-Troy’s 2.1%. Kingston is an even smaller job market than Ithaca, Albany is nearly 6x larger (and is growing thanks in large part to its tech boom), and NYC is NYC, dominating the state with nearly 100,000 more jobs year-over-year, thus solidifying control over the state, northeast, USA and perhaps in their minds, world and universe.

The federal BLS website has yet to be updated as of today, so I can’t give the breakdowns on what market sectors gained jobs.

On the one hand, the numbers are auspicious, the region is growing economically. On the other hand, when the entire county adds a couple hundred housing units per year, this is exacerbating the housing problem. At a glance, I’d suggest there are more commuters from the surrounding counties than there were in December 2013.

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4. I stumbled upon these a couple of weeks ago, but they keep slipping off the radar. The above images are samples of the work being done by local architecural firm STREAM Collaborative for the proposed 130-unit development off of Troy Road in the town of Ithaca. The project consists of apartments, townhouses and single-family homes targeted towards the “middle-income demographic”, according to the architect’s website. I don’t know how relevant these drawing are the current design (the site plan looks current), but the images make for some nice eye candy.

I think it would be really cool if the apartment buildings rotated between the four styles in the last image – one craftsman apartment building, one stick victorian, and so on. Variety is the spice of life, the old saying goes. What say you, dear readers? Any one design more preferable than the others?

5. It is a sad day – not a single new sketch plan is schedule for next week’s Planning Board meeting. That’s the first time that’s happened in several months at least. This week’s town of Ithaca Planning Board meeting was cancelled, and the town of Lansing is only reviewing 7 lots of a new lakeside housing development (Novalane). It has all the makings of a dull week ahead. A shame too, given that a developer usually has to have several meetings with the Planning Board, it would make sense to propose something now if they wanted to get started during the warmer months of 2015.

But not all is doldrums and scanning news feeds. From an IURA meeting, the Dept. of Planning, Zoning, Building and Economic Development released its annual report. There were a couple projects I was not aware of, that have yet to go under review but are nevertheless out there for analysis, and one of those will be shared here on Tuesday.

A few brief notes:

*The city noted that TJ Maxx is moving into the city, so I’m making an educated guess that the Lansing location will be shutting down once the new space next to Hobby Lobby is ready.

* The Ithaca Gun apartment proposal, while not under any formal review at the moment, is described as having 50 units.

*The department still considered 130 E. Clinton an active project – although it is approved, don’t expect much.





News Tidbits 1/3/2015: Ringing In the New Year

3 01 2015

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1. Leading off this week, here’s an article from the Lansing Star discussing a transportation study for Lansing. While I can’t say transportation studies are my cup of tea, the map of proposed developments certainly caught my eye.

Most of the large-scale developments are associated with the quagmire known as Lansing Town Center, and most of the smaller circles are single-family housing tracts. I dunno how much I trust this map though, because I thought the ~30 lots of Lake View/Whispering Pines/Cayuga Way were all the same project, and Cottonwood’s 20 lots only exist on maps. The 400+ units down towards the airport will make the intersection of Warren and Rte. 13 even more heart-racing. My back of the envelope math says the total number of units that I’m aware of is about 600 outside the town center projects, with more in the pipeline according to the town planning board’s latest minutes. That’s pretty impressive for a town that averages 25-30 units per year. This all makes for exciting math, but I have serious concerns that Lansing doesn’t know how to manage its growth.

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2. Normally I don’t write about just one house. Unless it’s the one lot in Ithaca town where adjusting the property line made it buildable, and drove the neighbors crazy. Then I write about it. Looks like that parcel on Tudor Road sold and an unassuming ranch-style home is under construction. I wonder if the six vacant lots on nearby Circle Lane will ever be developed.

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3. In typical Cornell fashion, reams of documentation have been provided for their upcoming Upson Hall renovation, which is due to go up for site plan review by the Planning Board in late January. I’ll boil it down to a few salient details. From the application, here are the numbers: the estimated cost is $40 million. The additions at the entrances will result in a net increase of 4,000 sq ft (Upson Hall is about 160,000 sq ft). The construction time frame is June 2015 to September 2017. There will be no additional jobs after completion, but about 150 construction jobs will be supported by the project (with at least 40-60 on-site on any given day). Here are elevations and renders, existing conditions, utility and demolition plans, floor and roof plans, phase 3 landscape drawings, the planning board presentation for January, construction stage diagrams, more staging and landscape plans, and a profile of the terracotta to be used in the new facade. It’s Cornell – where most applicants don’t provide enough info, Cornell overwhelms (not unlike a “shock and awe” military doctrine).

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4. For those of you looking for your greasy drive-in food fix – The corporate parent of Sonic Drive-Ins is actively looking for an Ithaca franchisee. As part of its upstate NY roll-out, they’ve developed a new corporate design (pictured) that is more appropriate for the local climate, with large interior seating areas. Start-up costs are typically pegged around $500,000, with a total investment closer to $1.5 million. So if you know someone with restaurant experience and a cool million just lying around, Sonic would like to talk with them.

5. The Ithaca Times has come out in opposition of the IDA’s vote to not grant tax abatements to Jason Fane’s 130 E. Clinton project. This must be one of those rare times we agree. I do appreciate that they called out the steep slope argument, which is bull crap. They also point out that the door is open to an Article 78 lawsuit from Fane, if he’s feeling vindictive and that the IDA decision was made unjustly. Is there a chance he’ll do that? Yes. Is there a chance he’ll win? Also yes, if his lawyers can prove the decision was based on character judgement rather than the project itself. The project may be cancelled, but I don’t think Fane is done quite yet.





EcoVillage Construction Update, 12/2014

29 12 2014

Heading over to West Hill, construction continues slowly but steadily on EcoVillage’s 4-story Common House/apartment building as part of its third neighborhood, TREE (Third Residential Ecovillage Experience, following its first two, FROG and SONG).  I can’t seem to find any specific values for the number of bedrooms in the apartment building, but there are 15 units ranging from studios to 3-bedrooms. However, using a little math and deduction, a rough estimate can be established. EcoVillage claims 160 residents in its first two neighborhoods, which have 30 units each (total 60), and they expect 240 residents when the 40-unit TREE neighborhood is complete. That gives 80 residents in 40 units, of which 25 of those units are houses. Houses tend to have more occupants than apartments (2.1/house vs. 1.7/apartment from the 2010 county census), so I think 25-30 residents is a fair estimate for the apartment building.

Interior work is underway and all the windows and doors are fitted into place. Exterior finishes and balconies have yet to be installed. The houses are all complete and occupied. 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 apartment building is scheduled to be finished this spring. Setbacks stemming from building code requirements pushed it away from its original fall 2014 completion date.

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Boiceville Cottages Update, 12/2014

23 12 2014

Work continues out in Caroline at the site of the Boiceville Cottages apartment complex. Passing through Ithaca’s southeastern commuter town on the 21st, it appeared that a large number of apartments were underway – three were undergoing interior work and exterior detailing, four were being framed, and the concrete slab foundations of at least nine more had been poured, their wooden forms still in place. Since my last visit in September, a maintenance garage and three more cottages have been completed. It would appear from my photos that about 25 units (15 cottages and 2 5-unit gatehouses) have been completed so far in 2014.

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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