"There is certainly that potential," says Town Planner Jonathan Kanter. "The fact is that if a public sewer does end up going into South Lansing it's probably going to be more likely to be connections down through the Village of Lansing down into the Cayuga Heights plant than to build a new plant."
A recent telephone survey confirmed the conventional wisdom that Lansing residents like the Town the way it is, with development contained in the south in order to protect farm and natural lands in the north. A goal behind the town center idea was to reduce the kind of sprawl that has dotted the southern part of the town while adding to the tax base in a controlled area. Despite that, sprawl continues at what some have criticized as unrealistic.
Also without sewer the town center is far from dead. Developers are expressing interest in building on the site across Route 34 from the Town Hall. Two developments that were contingent on sewer are still possible without it. A group of local developers are considering paying for a package plant, a small sewage treatment plant that would serve the town center properties including existing businesses near the intersection of Triphammer and Auburn Road.
Last year town officials circulated a Request For Proposals (RFP) to developers, and received two responses. One was for a senior facility similar to what had been proposed before the sewer project was killed. The other was a more comprehensive vision.
"I think what a lot of people don't realize is the RFP itself was, in a way, a design manual for how the Town wanted to see things work there," Kanter says. "There was a lot saying, 'Here is our concept. This needs to be a walkable community. It needs to have a mix of uses. It needs to have housing to make it realistic to have some small businesses there. So there was really quite a bit in there that started to put the design and planning framework that had been developed up to that point into one document."
With a comprehensive plan revision possibly as much as a year away the RFP and the existing comprehensive plan are the blueprints for what might be built there -- if the town government is willing to make it happen.
"In a way it was a compromise in a good way to say here's what we know so far," Kanter says. "Let's go out and see what actual real-world developers are able to do here. It's pretty interesting that we have four groups interested."
A stated purpose of the failed sewer project was to attract denser residential development in a town center in South Lansing, which would, in turn, attract businesses to locate there. A light industrial and business park was also considered. The golden ring is business development, which pays more in taxes than it receives in services.
"In effect residential development doesn't really pay for itself," Kanter explains. "It actually costs more in services that the Town is going to get back. Agricultural uses are probably the best uses for the Town because they do pay taxes and they get very little back in the way of services. Light industry and research and development is also pretty good in terms of the tax base. But residential, not so much."
Unfortunately all the developments in progress are residential. Unless there is action on the town center land soon, more and more large housing developments will dot the town. At least a couple of hundred EDUs (Equivalent dwelling units, which may be a standalone house or an apartment or condominium) are either approved or close to approval, representing millions of dollars in development. Hundreds more have been proposed. Kanter notes that lots in Lansing are expensive, even without sewer, with some going for around $70,000 for an acre lot in prime locations.
If that kind of growth goes unchecked Lansing stands to lose the identity and character residents say they love. The southern part of the town will fill up with residential developments, mostly townhouses and multi-family projects. That could mean the town will become a haphazard suburb of Ithaca.
"Whether it will happen that way, I don't know," Kanter says. "It's hard to prevent it because a lot of it has happened already. But there are so many beautiful parcels that if large chunks of it could be kept for future generations it would be awfully nice. There are some beautiful spots off of Triphammer Road and East Shore Drive, some views of the lake that would be nice to keep for future generations. But there's a lot of development pressure, some slow but steady growth."