- By Dan Veaner
Nine years, nine or ten significant project revisions, years of delay as the developer obtained a wetland relocation agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, a zoning change the developer asked for that was grudgingly granted Lansing Meadows looks more like a meadow than a senior rental-housing development. As a completion deadline looms over the stalled project, Arrowhead Ventures may be facing a delay that makes meeting that deadline impossible. With over a million in PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) Incremental Financing (PIF) dollars at risk, developer Eric Goetzmann is anxious to begin construction.
"The point where the project is today, it absolutely needs to move forward in a date-sensitive manner," said the project builder Jim Bold after about an hour of discussion. "Otherwise we can't meet the requirements for the IDA. I'm going to be absolutely straight-up about that. If we have to spend additional time with you that I absolutely do not want to spend... I want to come up with a way to put our arms around this project, and you guys say 'OK, let's go build this'."
Goetzmann and Bold brought yet another new plan to the Village of Lansing Planning Board Monday, that they said they hoped would be viewed as a minor change to the last plan for 20 units in ten duplexes that was approved. It was the second change they proposed since the 20-unit plan was approved. Last month they asked for ten triplexes with 30 units total, but both the planning board and IDA (Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency) members said that would be a mojhor change that could cause the IDA to 'claw back' funds granted in the PIF.
Nine years ago Lansing Meadows was conceived as a condition of allowing Arrowhead Ventures to build the BJ's Wholesale Club building. It was conceived as 12 cottages to be rented by tenants 55 and older, a wetlands and bird sanctuary that would act as a buffer between the high density commercial zoning at the mall and residential neighborhoods north of the project. It was thought of as a walkable neighborhood where seniors could walk to shopping areas, restaurants and amenities. The IDA granted a PIF in 2010, which would essentially put a portion of the taxes from BJ's aside to help finance the senior housing project.
Seems simple enough. But over the ensuing nine years around ten plans and the rezoning of about 20% of the property (now known as Parcel A-1) back to commercial use that the Planning Board very reluctantly recommended and was enacted into law by the Village Trustees created what may prove to be an insurmountable measure of distrust of Goetzmann by Planning Board members that has been expressed in openly hostile, and no uncertain terms.
"We've been in front of you with a number of plans," Goetzmann said. "We tried to get more density here. All the plans we brought back are all the result of comments you have given to us that we took into consideration."
|12 units? 20? 30? Click here to see how Lansing Meadows has changed over the past nine years. Beyond some moving of dirt, no construction has taken place.|
After an aborted attempt to get a 30-unit/10 triplex plan approved as a 'minor change' to the PDA last month, the developers obviously thought the 12-unit plan would be looked upon more kindly, as it was scaled back to the number of units proposed in the very first plan. But Planning Board members expressed four major concerns. First, they said a 40% reduction from the latest approved plan is not minor. Next they worried that a permit that took years to obtain from the Army Corps of Engineers had been allowed to expire. The permit allows wetlands to be relocated from the Village of Lansing site to an area in Montezuma. Some board members worried that the large empty spaces on the new plan indicate an intention by the developer to build more units in the future. Finally, board members expressed concern that if the IDA 'claws back' its funding that the project might be only partially completed.
"Our problem has been that every time nothing would happen, and then a new plan," said Planning Board Chairwoman Lisa Schleelein. "This is the ninth or tenth plan since we started. I am very concerned that I see a new plan here. If you want to turn this into green space forever, I would be so thrilled. But now we have this, frankly, half-assed arrangement because the Army Corps permit was allowed to expire. And we can start over here in a little corner. I want to see all the infrastructure in. We've had other situations in our village where the infrastructure didn't go in when it was promised, and it did not happen, and something interfered, and we have a big mess."
Goetzmann insisted that he has an agreement with the IDA that is contingent on completing the project by the July 31, 2020 deadline that the Planning Board imposed in the last revision of the PDA. But last month IDA Chairman Rich John said that a major change to the project could potentially trigger consideration of 'clawing back' a PILOT Incremental Financing (PIF) worth up to $2,321,000 of Recovery Zone Facility Bonds.
Goetzmann said Monday that he has a signed agreement with the IDA that sets July 31, 2020 as the deadline for completing the project, enabling him to keep the funding. He and Bold both said that the application to renew their wetlands relocation permit is under consideration and that they have been led to believe by the Army Corps of Engineers that it will be renewed.
But Planning Board members weren't convinced.
"From the village perspective that's between the developer and the IDA," Planning Board Member Mike Baker said. "But the Village would like to make sure that if the developer doesn't have funds from the IDA and has to fund it another way to have the funds needed to complete the project... and we don't end up with a half-built building, a shell, and two foundations."
Over the years the bird sanctuary piece of the original plan seemed to quietly fade away. Village Engineer Brent Cross brought it back to light Monday when he demanded, "Where's the bird habitat?"
"That's the wetlands part," Goetzmann replied. "It's been modified."
The new plan shows a one-way road with four triplexes. The wetlands that remain are mainly between the project and BJ's. Two large grassy areas are to either side of three of the four units. Bold said that if the Board agreed to designate the new plan a 'minor' change that theoretically he could begin building the western-most building immediately, but would have to wait for the Army Corps to issue the permit renewal before he could start on the other three units.
After more than an hour of discussion Bold said, "What I would respectfully request at the minimum tonight is, does it make what's in front of you a major or a minor change to the project? And decide where we go from here. From a utilities and infrastructure standpoint, those are all things that can be worked out."
"I'm not going to vote in favor of any more changes," said Planning Board Member Carolyn Greenwald. "I actually would like for the Planning Board to make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees that we amend the PDA and make A-1 residential, and limit building in the PDA to its original state. I think that's the vision of the Village that best fits our concept of where we want to go. This project, I don't think is going in the direction I thought was our objective. What's already in place is in place, but I can't support further proposed changes."
"Obviously we're not doing something right," Schleelein lamented. "So maybe we should have (required a performance bond). I don't think we've done you or us any favors by making certain concessions along the way."
After more argument Greenwald made a motion to designate the new plan as a 'major change' but Schleelein said she preferred to table the motion for the next Planning Board meeting because the IDA's monthly meeting was scheduled for Wednesday.
"In spite of the discussion saying we are not connected to the IDA, we are connected. I believe their monthly meeting is this week. So I would like to table your motion until we know what they plan to do," she said.
The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for June 25th.