- By Dan Veaner
The Village of Lansing Trustees passed a law Monday that will 'down-zone' a 20 acre parcel on Bomax Road, not far from Warren Road, from business and technology use to high density residential. Many residents joined Janet Jonson and Lisa Bonniwell, of IJ Construction of Ithaca to protest the proposed zoning change. Their developments include Lansing trails 1 and 2 and the Janivar Road neighborhoods that were conceived by Janet's husband, developer Ivar Jonson. This was the third time the Village Hall was packed with neighbors opposing the change, including a public hearing in late October, and a Village trustees meeting in September.
"It's a change from a higher density use to a lower density use," Mayor Donald Hartill said. "Business and technology is a higher traffic,, higher coverage use than high density residential. Your neighborhood is a part of the Village. Our job is to consider the entire village, not just a particular neighborhood. i know there is a great deal of concern about possible projects that could happen if the zoning is changed."
Neighbors said they fear their property values will go down if a 140 unit upscale apartment is built near their neighborhood. Residents worried about increased traffic, safety concerns, and challenged the need for new apartments in the Village. Bonniwell said her company hadn't even begun phase three of the four phase Lansing Trails, and that the apartment project so near her own would make it much harder to successfully complete the final phases.
But Trustee John O'Neil said that it has been 30 years since that project was begun, implying that a future nearby project is not the reason Lansing Trails is not complete. Janet Jonson emotionally argued that her late husband's vision was being threatened by rezoning the parcel. Hartill replied that he had the greatest respect for Ivar Jonson and what he wanted to accomplish.
"I know there is going to be a great deal of disappointment as a result of this," he said. "I hope that is not the case, but we are a village and we do have needs. I am happy to support in whatever way I can to make sure that Lansing trails 1, 2, 3, and 4 are a success. Period."
The Trustee's rationale and the timing of the zoning change were challenged by residents, but Trustees said that the change makes sense because it is in keeping with a Village strategy of gradual buffers between residential and commercial parts of the Village. Another project immediately north of BJ's Wholesale Club at the Ithaca Mall is an example of such a buffer. The senior housing project will include up to 12 units, a wetlands, and a natural area between the high traffic commercial area and residential zoned areas along Triphammer Road to the north. While neighbors insisted that the project proposed on Bomax Road would bring more traffic than commercial development would, Hartill said that the down-zoning would mean less.
"I have spent a significant amount of time trying to understand all sides of the puzzle," he said. "It is not an easy puzzle to understand. There are arguments strongly in favor. There are arguments strongly opposed. There is the question, 'why don't you put it some place else?' That's always a convenient way out of a tricky situation."
Hartill said that the Village could almost certainly expect litigation challenging the new law. After about 20 minutes the Board left the meeting room to consult Village Attorney David Dubow, claiming attorney/client privilege. When they returned they seemed determined to move forward.
After much discussion the Board conducted an environmental review of the potential impact of the rezoning. Once the review was accepted Hartill invited comments from each Trustee.
Trustee Gerry Monaghan said he had attended a recent Tompkins County Council Of Governments (TCCOG) meeting at which it was said that 250 new housing units must be created every year to keep up with the housing demands of the county, and that currently only about 150 are being built.
"That clearly indicates this will be an opportunity for the Village of Lansing to participate in filling that need. I understand it doesn't make people happy. But I have to follow the wisdom of the Planning Board which clearly recommended this would be a positive change, not only for the Village, but for that area."
"The one thing that is very clear, which I am saddened by, is that we don't have a larger demand for business and technology parcels," Hartill said. "Somehow we've come to a point in our economy here that there is no longer a strong desire to build that. The last new structure in the business and technology district was in 2005. So with great reluctance I have to support this proposal."
The board approved the new law 5-0.