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ltc_120A vision was presented to the Lansing Town Planning Board Monday that could begin to make a town center a reality as early as a year or two from now.  NRP Group's Vice President of Development Chris Dirr presented a comprehensive proposal that could eventually mean 420 new housing units including a mixture of senior market rate and affordable apartments, patio homes, cottage style senior housing, and garden style units, as well as green space, parks, a dog park, and commercial and professional buildings and a business and technology park.

"It's a terrific idea," Planning Board member Larry Sharpsteen said.  "It's just exactly what we were hoping for for this land for as long as we've been talking about it."

While the idea of a town center has picked up a lot of traction recently, it has reached a delicate crossroads.  The key is infrastructure, especially sewer, because that allows denser development necessary to make the project attractive to developers, as well as focusing development in a central zone in order to protect farmland, especially in the north of the town.

It's a chicken or egg dilemma: in order to get better interest rates on loans for the sewer you need more residential dwelling units, but you need sewer in order to get those units built.  For that reason Dirr and Lansing Economic Development Committee Chairman Andy Sciarabba are advocating an aggressive schedule that would allow NRP to get into a tax credit funding round in mid-summer to finance an affordable housing portion of the project.

tc_nrp_mapThe Town would build the main roads, and the developer would build all other roads. The two highlighted areas are targeted for early development. A dog park would go in the green area on the lower right, and retail and professional buildings would form a small shopping center in the red and orange areas.

The project closely matches goals set out by the community in 2010 when a Town Center Committee solicited ideas from town residents.  It would integrate a new town center with existing amenities including the Town Hall, library, and park and recreation facilities including a dog park.  It would centralize residential development with a central shopping area that could include a grocery market, the Lansing Farmers Market, a pharmacy, coffee shop, and other neighborhood-style retail opportunities, as well as a walkable neighborhood with greenspace and public space, all with unified planning and design values.  A business and technology park would round out the town center in the northern portion of the property.

Lansing Supervisor Kathy Miller noted that two town center meetings in 2010 attracted many residents who gave input on what they want in a town center.  Those meetings led to the development of a speculative plan that is not much different from the one NRP presented Monday.

"These were the things they said they wanted," she recalled.  "They said they wanted senior housing.  They said they wanted affordable housing for young people.  They said they wanted a grocery store, a doctor's office, child care.  They wanted a coffee shop.  And everybody said the same thing: they wanted it here because they don't want sprawl.  They don't want to see farmland taken.  they want to see it here in the town center."

Dirr noted that both Tompkins County and New York State have acknowledged a need for affordable housing.  He said that the cost of gas is going to continue to rise, making it more desirable to live closer to work.

"The cost that people have to pay to travel to where they work and live is going to be higher and higher," he said.  "That is going to going to disproportionally hit communities that have high area incomes like Lansing and Tompkins County."

tc_nrp_mktrateMarket rate senior rental units could look like this building NRP developed for an earlier project.

While the entire plan was not characterized as a fait accompli, Dirr said his company is ready to get started on two elements within the coming year.  A market rate senior apartment building and affordable senior cottage style housing would be first to be constructed.  Funding would need to be lined up for the affordable housing, but Dirr affirmed that NRP is ready to start on a market-rate senior apartment building.

"That's a deal that is ready to go today," Dirr said.  "The financing is set up.  It there were sewer capacity it could be developed immediately.  The affordable project is financed with tax credits.  In getting tax credits developers agree to limit the rents, irrespective of what the market would bear.  Typically the rents can't exceed 60% of the area median income.  The market rate units have no cap on what the rents can be.  Rents can be what the market will bear."

Planning Board members huddled after the presentation to find a solution that will allow the projects to meet funding deadlines, while conforming with town zoning ordinances.  One of the issues raised is that part of the project would be more dense than current zoning allows.

"I wish more people could have been there, because I was ver proud of the Planning Board," said Town Councilman Ed LaVigne at an Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday.  "They sucked it up and stayed at 9pm and said, 'Let's resolve this thing and find a solution to this problem.'  You had two lawyers there and they bounced ideas off of Lin and Larry and people who have all this knowledge.  They've been wanting this for 30 years and all of a sudden you are this close.  They came to a resolution on how to resolve this problem."

Planning Board member Tom Ellis said that he thinks the proposal is coming too soon, and that it would be more appropriately presented in six months, allowing time for more information and input.  But Miller says the sewer could be dependent on more Equivalent Dwelling units (EDU) and signing contracts for these projects contingent on a sewer being built would help get more favorable funding for the sewer project.

"First of all we're trying to get sewer," Miller said.  "What we're trying to do is come up with some concrete options.  Then we'll have meetings with everybody and decide what we think Lansing needs and wants.  You're the first to hear this."

Tuesday the sewer committee met to try to figure out ways to finance their project to make it affordable.  After a larger sewer project failed in 2008 much of a $4.2 million of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) grant was withdrawn.  Less than half was applied to the Warren Road sewer project, and the rest went back to the State.

That 2008 project would have cost homeowners an estimated $900 per year until the initial load was paid off, and Sciarabba says that the new project won't be accepted by property owners unless the committee can get that cost down to the five or six hundred dollar range.

tc_nrp_senaffordNRP's Chris Dirr presented this as an example of an affordable senior housing unit.

Last week the committee considered expanding the proposed sewer district boundaries to bring service to more households and raise the number of residential EDUs to help funding prospects.  But Tuesday they decided to stick with the boundaries of the plan they have, in part because they learned that school properties are considered residential for the purposes of determining funding.

It's a delicate balance.  The sewer needs at least some of the proposed development to help lower its cost.  The development depends on sewer being available.  The availability of a shovel-ready project could make funding more obtainable.  If all these pieces fit together construction could begin as early as next year.  If they don't, it could be years before another sewer project might become affordable, pushing the town back to square one.

sewer20120131-c400The light area on this map shows the proposed sewer district. Tuesday Sewer Committee members decided to keep the boundaries of an initial sewer district as shown.

To that end Lansing officials are pulling together to try to make a town center a reality today.  Planning and Town Board members are largely on the same page where the town center is concerned, and committee volunteers and stakeholders are all trying to find ways to move a project forward.

If everything does come together the town will need to find a way to build its sewer, and build the main roads on the 156 acre property across the street from the Town Hall and ballfields.  The town also has to complete the purchase of that land from the State.  The purchase price for the land and cost of infrastructure will be recovered as the town sells parcels to developers.

"It was in 1995 and prior to that that this concept was put together," said Planning Board Chairman Lin Davidson.  "Everything that was envisioned is pretty close to this project.  This is precisely what we asked for in 1995, but with a few more units.  At least for the people that came to the meetings, this is it."

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