Brian Crandall, Staff Writer
The Ithaca Voice
“ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s safe to say this is under construction. Work has commenced on Conifer LLC’s Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project on West Hill.
Cayuga Meadows is a 3-story, 58,500 SF apartment building with 68 units, 59 1-bedroom and 9 2-bedroom. The units will be available to individuals aged 55 and older, with incomes 60% or less or the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI in Tompkins County is about $53,000 per household, so a qualifying senior household would have an annual income of $31,800 or less. 7 units will be accessible to mobility-impaired individuals, and 3 units will be designed to accommodate hearing or visually-impaired occupants. Included in the plans are two covered patios, a community garden, and stormwater, lighting and landscaping improvements. 67 parking spaces will be paved behind the building.
The history of Cayuga Meadows goes back a few years, and has its share of twists. Originally, the project had been conceived as “Conifer West Hill” in 2009 as a component to a Cornell-led mixed-use development on about 36 acres of land across from Cayuga Medical Center. Rochester-based Conifer’s part in the plan has always been the same – affordable housing for seniors. But Cornell had other plans for the rest of the acreage.
In Spring 2010, there were three different site plans being floated – the consistent components were Conifer’s project, a 68-bed assisted living facility called “Terrace at Ithaca”, medical office space, small-scale retail, 106 park-and-ride spaces, and 4,000 SF for a farmer’s market. Depending on the plan, there were townhomes, a hotel school conference center, or other institutional space for Cornell. Mixed-use, definitely, but the plans weren’t that walkable, traditional neighborhood feel that the town is looking for these days – in fact, they were fairly conventional suburban sprawl. Cornell’s approach to planning was different in the late 2000s. By good fortune, Ithaca Builds locally hosted a copy of those site plans here.
For a combination of reasons (financial feasibility, changing priorities), Cornell ended up shelving its plans. However, it would be incorrect to say the university isn’t still interested in the site – they recently bought the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road, whose property had been awkwardly carved out of the rest of the site in a subdivision long ago. In the 2010 plans, Cornell had to plan around the house, not to mention worry about the occupants complaining about Cornell’s plans. So when it came on the market and sat for a couple months, the Big Red decided to pick it up in June for $157,000, probably on the belief that it could pay off through easier site planning and development down the line.
While Cornell filed away their plans, Conifer continued with theirs since the university was still willing to give them land as long as they built affordable housing. Originally, it was conceived as 72 units when it first received preliminary approval in April 2012, but was trimmed to 68 when final approval was granted in November 2013, in order to make the project a little less expensive, and provide a little more space to the community garden. Between preliminary and final approval, Conifer also had to apply for rezoning (Medium-Density Residential to Multiple Residence in May 2012), zoning variances (June 2012, for height and building setbacks), and public works approval for utilities services to be installed.
Then came another few years’ wait while financing was being secured. As covered on the Voice, affordable housing grants are very competitive, so it often takes multiple rounds of applications before a project is finally given grant money. In Conifer’s case, the last piece of the puzzle, tax-exempt bonds, didn’t come through until late January 2016. Cayuga Meadows is a $14.9 million project – about $8.3 million comes from NYS Housing Finance Agency bonds, and another $6.3 million from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. First Niagara Bank provided the Letter of Credit for the bonds. The project will pay taxes.
With the funding in hand, Cornell and Conifer formally agreed to a subdivision of Cornell’s land – 4.9 acres for the senior housing, and another acre for the Right-Of-Way for the new road. Cornell and Conifer had to agree on a few choices for new road names, which they submitted to Ithaca’s Codes Enforcement Director (Bruce Bates), who checks with the county to make sure there are no issues with the choices, and then the three parties agree on a final selection. Cayuga Meadows’ address will be “108 Aster Lane”.
There’s yet to be a color render hosted online, but the exterior will use fiber cement siding – Certainteed “Savannah Wicker” Dutch Lap Siding and “Cypress Spruce” cedar-like shingle siding. For the sake of examples, the Belle Sherman Cottages andStone Quarry Apartments have also used Savannah Wicker fiber cement. The roof will be Timberline “Weathered Wood” shingles.
At the project site right now, work is underway on the foundation. The building’s footprint has been cleared, the foundation is excavated, and footers are poured for where the concrete will transfer the weight into the ground. Wooden forms are built along the perimeter for the stem walls, rebar is laid for reinforcement of the concrete, and the concrete is poured and left to harden (cured). Once the concrete has had a chance to harden, the forms are lifted off and work moves onto the next section. The building will be a slab-on-grade foundation, so no worries about excavating a basement here.
As a side note, it seems fitting that the residents with east-facing windows will have some pretty fantastic views of Cornell.
Through a joint venture with Conifer, LeChase Construction of Rochester will be serving as general contractor. The excavating has been subcontracted out to Neally-DeJong Excavating of Corning, and concrete work to Architectural Concrete Plus of Dundee (Yates County, northwest of Watkins Glen).”