- By Dan Veaner
When the building housing BJ's Wholesale Club was erected the deal was that a residential development for seniors 55 and older would be developed on the plot to the north. Construction began on the big box store in 2011, and the grand opening was the following January. But five and a half years later there is no senior housing development. That appeared to be ready to change last month until developer Eric Goetzmann asked the Village of Lansing Trustees to rezone part of the residential plot for commercial use to house a coffee shop or similar business that would enhance the housing development. Two weeks ago Planning Board members said they were dead set against it. But Monday it appeared that Mayor Donald Hartill and Planning Board Chairman Mario Tomei have come up with a compromise that may allow construction to begin this summer.
"I think we came to a conclusion that may past muster," Hartill said Monday at a Village trustees meeting. "I think a path forward that makes a lot of sense is to characterize it as a minor change (to the PDA, or Planned Development Area) but with conditions."
Hartill said the conditions would limit the kind of commercial use allowed on the property. The Village would approve a specific kind of business, working with Goetzmann to insure that only a small shop that fits the Village vision for the area, envisioned as a gradual segue between commercial and residential portions of the Village, be located there. After years of negotiating with the Army Corps of Engineers over the location of wetlands and $300,000 in expenses Goetzmann said the little shop would be a way of recovering some of that money while providing a convenient amenity within easy walking distance for residents of the new development as well as members of the nearby YMCA.
The Planning Board's opposition to the change came from an apparent misunderstanding about the process of making the change to the PDA. When Goetzmann approached the Trustees before petitioning the Planning Board, members of the latter board were angry that they had no warning that this would be proposed, noting that the original agreement was that the whole remaining plot was supposed to be residential as a result of Village's blessing for the BJ's project.
Hartill has been supportive of the change, saying that he is anxious for construction to begin as soon as possible to make the housing a reality. Indeed the current plan is to build 20 housing units in ten duplex buildings, eight more than were originally proposed, despite chopping off about 20% of the land for the coffee shop or whatever business ends up there. Hartill deflected the blame for the misunderstanding from Goetzmann to himself and Village Attorney David Dubow for 'not realizing' that Goetzmann should first have brought the plan to the Planning Board.
"I would have had the full discussion with them," Goetzmann said.
The compromise is far from assured. At its next meeting the Planning Board will consider the issue, with Goetzmann and Hartill present to answer questions. Specific concerns will have to be addressed.
"One of the issues that came up at the Planning Board, and certainly I have, is that given the fact that we initially discussed there would be no commercial entity on Oakcrest Road, there is a desire to shield this building as much as possible from Oakcrest," said Planning Board member Lisa Schleelein.
Tomei added that the Planning Board's desire is for residential road frontage not be interrupted along Oakcrest Road. Hartill said the setback for the shop would be quite a bit further from Oakcrest Road than the housing itself. He noted that would be one of the conditions. he added that conditions should include plantings that would help shield the new shop as well as BJ's from view.
If the Planning Board recommends the minor change with conditions Hartill proposed, the trustees will set a public hearing to take care of the rest of it. If that happens it is expected that a with an expectation that the Board of trustees would act on the change immediately after the hearing on May 1.
Tomei said the issue would be on the April 10th Planning Board meeting agenda
"I think that gets us on a time line that makes the construction start on the housing possible," Hartill said. "Every once in a while we can make progress."