ITHACA, N.Y.—Although Cornell is busy expanding its on-campus housing offerings, some developers still see opportunity in and around East Hill. This month, a Manhattan developer submitted plans for an expansion of the Auden Ithaca apartment complex at 216 Lake Street.
DMG Investments LLC of New York first arrived in Ithaca when it bought the Gun Hill Apartments in May 2019 for about $22.4 million. The firm was established in Manhattan as the American subsidiary of DoThink Group, a Chinese real estate developer. It has been quite active in Upstate New York recently, with an eye towards student housing markets near larger universities. DMG co-developed a 322-bed student apartment building in Albany with a second building currently underway, and the firm opened a 481-bed student apartment complex in Buffalo last year. All of their student housing properties operate under the “Auden” brand.
Not long after they arrived in 2019, DMG floated conceptual sketch plans to the city Planning Board for a new apartment building adjacent to the 30 year-old Auden Ithaca that they renovated post-purchase. However, the plans did not forward with a formal Site Plan Review submission until now.
Currently, 216 Lake Street is an undeveloped, sloped piece of forested land adjacent to Auden Ithaca’s parking lot. The plans submitted by Ithaca-based Whitham Planning and Design on behalf of the project team call for a 71-unit apartment building with 211 bedrooms, in a mix ranging from studios to four-bedroom units. Traditionally, student housing is referred to by bed rather than by unit count.
The new building would share amenities with the existing Auden complex, including a campus shuttle, the parking lot, and outdoor recreational space. A new patio and terrace seating would be built on-site, as well as street trees, landscaping, and retaining walls given the hilly location. On the inside, amenities would include lounges, a game room, and a tenant gym. As designed, the building steps up with the site, in three four-story sections built into the hillside. According to WPD’s Michele Palmer, “(t)he building design will be visually appealing, functional, and integrated into the steeply sloped landscape while being sensitive to the transitional location of this particular site.”
Drawings of the building provided with the SPR are minimal in detail, and are still a work in progress. The application states the building will be modular; the steel-stud boxes are assembled and partially outfitted at the manufacturer, trucked over and craned into place, and then finished out on the inside and outside. Exterior materials are to include a combination of light-tone and dark-tone materials, to include brick and a couple different forms of fiber cement panels. The building would comply with Ithaca’s Green Building Policy.
Zoning here is rather sensitive given nearby Fall Creek and its eponymous neighborhood, and is designated R-3a. In terms of massing and lot coverage, the building conforms; the elevation from average grade plane (the average of the sloped site) is 40 feet, and lot coverage is below the 35% threshold permitted. However, the project would seek a zoning variance for parking, with plans to share the existing Auden Ithaca parking lot (which is oversized because it used to be Ithaca Gun’s back when the factory was operating). With restriping and given the current excess, DMG estimates they would have 70-75 spaces available in the existing parking lot for tenants, which is still less than the 103 required by zoning, but a variance they hope to justify through their shuttle bus and the short “commute” to Cornell.
The estimated project cost comes in at $15.6 million according to the SPR filing. The apartment building would be built from September 2022 to June 2023, a fairly quick construction schedule, but not impossible given that modular construction tends to be more time-efficient and labor-efficient than a traditional stick-built structure.
Typically, Planning Board Review for a project of this size and in this location will take several months. It may be tricky as it’s a transition area between midrise apartments and the Fall Creek neighborhood, but the project’s zoning compliance with massing and lot coverage will help it during the site plan review. The board will be keen on a quality design for the modular structure, as well as thorough geotechnical and stormwater analyses, and making sure there’s no major on-site contamination from the former Ithaca Gun. Parking variances are usually obtainable with a strong Transportation Demand Management Plan (TDMP).
On the project team with DMG Investments and WPD are DMG Engineering/Design Management Group, the company’s in-house building engineering unit, Keystone Structural Group as Structural Engineers, Passero Associates as Civil Engineers, and Miller Rosentel Associates of Wilkes-Barre as project Architect.