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Lansing Meadows Development RenderingRendering showing what Lansing Meadows would look like driving down Oakcrest Road

The Lansing Meadows senior housing project looked like it may be headed for more delays Monday, when Planning Board members heard a presentation for an amendment to the PDA (Planned Development Area) that could raise the number of units from 20 to 30.  Arrowhead Venture's Eric Goetzmann requested that the board deem the amendment a 'minor change' that would allow him to begin construction on the larger number of units right away.  A 'major change' would require further review that would certainly delay construction, but Planning Board members were not convinced the change is 'minor'.  The last-minute change is one of a string of nine major changes to a PDA that would bring housing for tenants 55 and older as a condition of being allowed to build the BJ's Wholesale Club building about nine years ago.

"I think everybody sitting here would love to see this done, including the developer," said Planning Board chairwoman Lisa Schleelein. "But it's been a long time coming.  I spent some time going over the minutes over the last ten years, and in that ten year period we're on our second attorney, our fourth code officer, I lost count of the number of planning board members, but about eight have come and gone.  Out of the 160 meetings we have held in that time this issue has come before us 57 times."

Click here to see some of the changes Lansing Meadows has undergone in almost a decade of planning.
Goetzmann told the board that after receiving bids on the 20-unit project approved by the Planning Board almost a year ago, it proved to be too expensive.  He argued that the changes should be considered 'minor' because the footprint of the buildings has not substantially changed and the road is actually narrower than before.

"The bids were a lot more expensive than we were told they were going to be.  I submitted a minor amendment we're trying to modify," he said. "20 units in 10 duplexes were approved.  We want to amend that to have the same sized buildings we had before, but the duplexes become triplexes.  In order to make this happen a minor change we made was that we modified the road to a one-way road.  The buildings themselves are approximately the same width they were before -- they're just a little bit deeper."

But Board members said that a 50% rise in the number of units is not 'minor', and Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Chairman Rich John said that it could potentially trigger consideration of 'clawing back' a PILOT Incremental Financing (PIF) worth up to $2,321,000 of Recovery Zone Facility Bonds.

"I think the IDA is going to have difficulty with timing if this is a major change and has to go back over the whole process all over again.  It's been a nine year wait so far, and the last vote was very difficult, frankly," said IDA Chairman Rich John. "It was not an easy consideration a year ago when we looked at it going to 20 units.  If there's a major delay I'm not sure that the IDA wouldn't vote to do a claw-back at this point.  At 30 units it may be viable on its own and doesn't need the assistance of a tax abatement -- we don't know.  Last year we had a pretty contentious conversation about whether to go to 20 units.  The vote was 'OK, if the project would get built'."

John noted that the term of the PIF is nearly over, which prompted a discussion about where the money is, how much is left, and whether it was intended for infrastructure or to insure the project was completed.

Goetzmann said the Planning Board had suggested finding someone who knows how to build houses.  He recounted his long history working with the Planning Board and getting various major projects built in the Village with his project manager,  Jim Bold.  Listing some of the projects, most of them at the Ithaca Mall, which Goetzmann's company managed until it was sold recently, he cited permitting the original JC Penny building and expanding it to 18,000 feet; constructing the Best Buy, Borders, and Dick's.  Bold demolished the old Montgomery Ward building, and built the Target and Old Navy, and AC Moore building.  He demolished the old Hill's Department store, and built the 67,000 square foot Regal movie theaters.  Bold was involved in getting the permitting for BJs,but was hired to complete the 1 million square foot shell at Destiny Mall in Syracuse.

"I don't build houses, and I was told by architects I had plans that would work," Goetzmann explained. "We bid it out during the winter time, thinking it would be cheaper in the winter.  We bid it again and it came back too high.  Jim has also built a lot of homes, so I brought Jim back in on this.  He understands the construction process. He understands the design process.  He knows how to put the two together.  He is the one who came up with the idea for the triplex to make the cost work."

But nine years of changes that strayed from the original promise has worn Goetzmann's relationship with the Planning Board thin.  Board members wanted more information before voting, including an accounting of the IDA money.  Alternate Planning Board member Tony Ingraffea said he wants to understand how the project is funded, and what the abatement money is actually being used for.

"You received that tax abatement.  That's in the bank someplace and it's supposed to defer costs," Ingraffea recounted. "You came back last year and said 'we can't do it on 12, but we can do it on 20 -- I presume that's with the abatement helping.  Now you're saying we can't do it on 20 but we can do it on 30.  I'd like to see some numbers."

Village engineer pointed out that in addition to rising costs over the past decade mentioned by Ingraffea, Parcel A -- about 20% of the Lansing Meadows parcel that the Planning Board reluctantly rezoned at Goetzmann's request that he intended for a coffee shop or similar amenity within walking distance of the apartments -- also changes the potential for profit.  Board members said they would not approve any project on parcel A until the apartments are completed.

Schleelein expressed concern that if the IDA decides to take back the PIF money that Goetzmann might now have enough to finish the project.  Planning Board member Michael Baker said he wants to review the appropriate information before voting.  Board member Carolyn Greenwald said that a better understanding of how the IDA would act on the change makes it a 'major change' unless the Village knows for certain that there is enough money to complete the project.

IDA Vice Chair Martha Robertson said that one option would be for the IDA to reclaim the PIF money, leaving all decisions within the purview of the Village Planning Board.  But Schleelein and and John agreed they want to see completed.

"The IDA supported this project," John said. "It seems like it's a good project."

While Schleelein acknowledged that Goetzmann has a Planning Board-imposed deadline to complete Lansing Meadows by July2020, she wants to take the time necessary to make a good decision.  She said that even if the board deems the revision a 'major change' she thinks the project can be completed in time.

"I think this deadline of July 2020 is still doable if we make this a priority," she said.

Goetzmann cautioned that the further into the construction season we get, the harder -- and more expensive -- it is to hire contractors.  But Schleelein said more information is needed including confirmation from the US Army Corps of Engineers that wetlands relocation credits have been officially made, which increases the buildable land that makes the current project possible.

John promised to sound out the other IDA board members to get a sense of how they would vote if the Planning Board approves the increase from 20 to 30 apartments.

"We need some additional information," she said. "It centers around the IDA -- whether the need is still there to justify the money you've been receiving; how much money is left at this point -- we'd like an accounting.  And I thin we probably all agree we need to know where that money is, and much has been received, and what's left for the housing component.  Until we pin some of that down I don't think we can take this to a vote."

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