- By Dan Veaner
John A. LaVine is the chairman of the Village of Lansing Preservation Party, registered with the NYS Board of Elections on January 6th. LaVine is also running for one of the two Trustee seats on the Village Board. He has lived in the Village of Lansing on and off for fifteen years. LaVine is a state certified general real estate appraiser. His grown daughter lives in Washington, DC.
For 20 years LaVine was a committeeman in the 17th ward in the City of Syracuse. Several years ago he ran for County Legislator in Onondaga County. Originally his fiancé Tatyana Duval was to run for Village Trustee, on a platform of creating harmony in new developments to be achieved 'with consideration and support of the Village of Lansing community so our village would only flourish'. LaVine replaced her on the ticket after she fell ill.
Lansing Star: Why are you running and what will make you a good Trustee? What qualifications do you bring?
John A. LaVine: As a state licensed general appraiser I've had a lot of experience with these types of issues: with appraising real estate; with renovating it; leasing it... all types of real estate: places of worship, commercial buildings, convenience stores, houses, marinas, golf courses -- you name it, I've appraised it. I have a lot of experience with different types of properties such as exist in the Village.
Everybody seems to want to have a mantra. In the mantra of our party, what we really care about -- if there's a foundation for a house, which there should be, a good foundation, this is our foundation. It comes from the Village Comprehensive Plan:
"A Village Committed To Planned Development: The importance of our Village history cannot be overstated‐‐the Village of Lansing was founded for the sole purpose of creating a government that would adopt a zoning ordinance and regulate land use. It was the strong desire of residents to establish regulations to control planning and development and preserve the integrity of residential areas in the face of commercial expansion. The original purpose for the formation of the Village continues to provide the foundation for its current and future development. The Village government remains committed to careful development and strict zoning to manage land use and growth."
I want to ask you about the “elephant in the room” -- this is the issue that may have been the spark for the formation of your party...
There's a spark to every issue, usually in these kinds of things. But it's not the only issue. There are other issues along Triphammer Road. And the erosion of this insulate Village existing board against listening to what the Village residents have to say, versus people that don't live in the Village.
...If the zoning change on the Bomax Road lot were to be voted on a second time, and you were elected, how would you vote and why?
I'd vote to repeal it and return the zoning to what it was prior to their decision. I love our neighborhood. In many ways it's unique. My fiancé moved there 20 years ago when Ivar Jonson built those houses. She moved there because of the cleanliness of the air, of the trees... the neighborhood was pristine. There wasn't heavy traffic. She didn't want to live on a country road with cars going by 55 miles per hour.
She wanted to live in a place that was quiet, that was clean, that was protected. When you are talking about 140 units, many of which are going to have three bedrooms, some are going to have two bedrooms, I understand. So there are going to be three cars per unit. There's only going to be one garage in each unit. They're all going to be jammed in there. It's going to increase the traffic tremendously. It's going to increase the transience of the neighborhood, the quiet of the neighborhood, the peacefulness of the neighborhood.
I have every right, and so does she, to protect our neighborhood against this. Anybody that says that we don't is wrong -- they're just plain wrong, in my opinion. They're deluded.
I know people say, oh well it's going to be good for certain entities. There was a guy around the corner on Triphammer Road that owns a bar. He said 'it's going to be great for my business'. I don't disagree -- there are winners and losers in everything. But we are going to be losers, in my opinion, so I think we, in this legal and logical manner, have the right, and she has the right... she was the one that asked me to help her with this. It wasn't my idea, but when she became ill I filled in for her and I helped her, because she was adamant against it, and I love her.
I don't like it either. Would I have done anything about it if it wasn't for her? Yes, maybe. When you love somebody you help them. You do as they ask. And that's what I'm doing.
If (Village Planning Board member) Deborah Dawson doesn't like it, or somebody like that doesn't like it, too bad. I'm not covering up the fact that the first order of business will be to repeal or reverse that decision. But there will be other orders of business.
That's my next question: what key challenges do you see the Village facing in the next two years?
To preserve our village. The village taxes have gone up 18% this year. And the reason for it is that this particular village board doesn't want to cooperate with the Town very much. I talked to the Town Supervisor, Ed LaVigne, about it and he said to me, "We offered to plow their streets but they have a Village Barn now and a plow." We pay town taxes. If they want to plow our streets, God bless them. What do we need to be in the plowing business for?
And they're profligate. They had a village hall, and then they built this new one. It's not particularly any bigger than the new one. It just has higher ceilings.
We stand for more cooperation with the Town. At some point, maybe, if things seem to work out and everybody's comfortable with each other, as Governor Cuomo says, then we would consider more and more cooperation until we get to the point of (village) nonexistence, a merger.
We're going to work closely with Ed. Ed is a good guy. We've gotten to know each other. And Lisa Bonniwell, who is running for Mayor, has known him for years.
The Highgate part of the Village is on the other side of Route 13. That is almost symbiotic with Cayuga Heights. There is a place that could benefit from more cooperation with Cayuga Heights to be quite frank with you about it.
You've got to understand something: there are over 1,460 apartments in our village already. We are going to fight, not just for our neighborhood, but for all single family homes. If our village doesn't have enough apartments already then I don't know what does.
And we're going to work with the mall owner. There are rumors it may have changed hands. And there are rumors that they're going to de-mall it. That's a real estate term that means they tear the center of it out and build apartments there, too. It they're nice, classy apartments -- classy with maybe some restaurants on the first floor -- we want to work with them and make it easier for them to do that.
They recently got their assessment reduced (by $10 million). That hurts the Village, it hurts the Town... the County gets a little less money. We want to work with them. We want to work along the North Triphammer corridor and smooth the zoning out there a little bit. There are things we want to do, but we want to work more closely with the Town in a symbiotic way than this board.
This current board is in its own bubble. They've been there for so long and they're so entrenched that it is a political machine that feeds on itself and feeds itself.
What would you like to make happen that the current board has not worked on? (If incumbent also what have you worked on so far?)
I think the current board has worked on a lot of good things. I think the improvements on North Triphammer Road with the nice street lights and the new sidewalks was a good thing that they did. it gave the Village more of a heart than it had before.
It was kind of a village without a village in a way.
Yes. It's a village without a village. But it gave the Village a little more center. I thought that was a good thing.
I think some of their initiatives with small parks are OK. That little Horizon park with that small swimming pool, I think, is an understatement for that neighborhood. I think we could do a lot better with that. But some of the things they have done are admirable. It hasn't all been a nightmare.
We'd like to work with some of the apartment owners over on the other side of Route 13 to try to give them ways to fix up some of those apartments. We want to work with the apartment owners on Dart Drive, or go after them with code violations, because those apartment have turned into a travesty. It looks like some awful housing project someplace or other.
Because there are so many apartments we want to work harder with them, but at the end of the day our emphasis is going to be on preserving the village's one-family housing structure. That's where we're coming from. We will not sacrifice that to anything or anybody.
The Greenway Committee has been working on this new park on Northwood Road. The Greenway has been a major initiative in the Village for a long time.
Thanks to Ivar Jonson, who started it all in our neighborhood. The Lansing trails was named because it has walking trails all around. The Village has been a beneficiary of a land grant from a private person around the corner from Janivar Drive, which is going to be connected with more trails and turned into a park. The trails will be increased. We'd like to have more and more of that -- and not just trails, but we're into bike paths, too.
And what about parks? Do you think there are enough parks now with this new one? And will Poison Ivy Point ever be a park? The issue is getting a right of way for walkers to cross the railroad tracks to get to Poison Ivy Point. At the moment it's only legally accessible by boat.
I have a very close friend in the Governor's office. I will go to him and have the Governor personally intervene for a right of way. Also I've known Joe Mareane for years, the County Executive here. He used to be the assessor in Syracuse. I can talk to him, too. But I'd rather go through the Governor's office, because when the Governor calls the railroad, that gets the train moving.
At this point with most Village business-zoned areas built out, what should the Village do to support business here?
You need to work with these mall owners, whether the mall's changed hands or not -- we need to work with them. We need to make it easier for them to update the brick and mortar, because a dying mall does not satisfy the needs of village residents. There are things you can do with these malls, especially if you can get some incentives for them, like they did with that mall in Fayetteville which was completely kaput until they de-malled it. Now it's thriving.
We need to work along the North Triphammer corridor to try to figure out ways to make it look smoother and happier. They did a good job with the street lights and trees. So now we have to work with property owners and see if we can make it a little more pleasant.
We're not looking to build the Village out. We're looking to make the Village more user-friendly, more happy, more relaxed. We're not looking for more commercial development in the Village. We have enough. We're looking for the right kinds of development that serve and satisfy our single-family homeowners in the Village. We feel, at the end of the day, they're the ones who are being neglected. They're the ones that really make the Village a village.
If you walk away from them and just commercialize, build apartments, have gas stations and beauty parlors and haphazard development, it takes away from the heart of the Village, the soul of the Village, which is what the single-family people bring. These are the kinds of people you want around.
I carried petitions to get signatures to get us on the ballot, and I had this idea: let's go into these apartments and get lots of signatures, because everybody lives right next to each other. So it's winter time... I'm not a young guy any more. When I was in my young 20s I was a dynamo with this stuff!
I've got to be honest with you. I'd retired from politics when I came to live with my fiancé. I resigned from the Democratic committee -- I'm still a Democrat, but I'm not a committeeman any more. I didn't care about it any more until this happened. I have nothing to hide about it. I had no desire to run for office. Then when I became chairman of this party because my fiancé asked me to, I put the ticket together. And she was running on the ticket. I'm just here because it worked out that way.
One of the central rallying points for any community is its school district. A lot of people move to the Town because of the quality and size of the schools there. For Villagers, some are in the Lansing school district and most are in the Ithaca district. Would you favor redistricting so that all of Lansing (including all of the Village) is in the Lansing school district, or all in the Ithaca district?
It would be fine with me if it were, and it probably should be. But my jurisdiction would not have anything to do with the school board's. As a village trustee all I can do with school boards is to try to befriend them and give them my advice, but I would have no authority to do it. School boards are their own animals, so all I could do would be to be a bully pulpit.
I would be a bully pulpit. I would tell them what I think just like everybody else does. But over all my years experiencing school boards, they have a tendency to do what they want to do. I certainly could give them my advice, and I would work at that.
The idea of the Village being in the Lansing School District and not in the Ithaca School District -- as the years have gone by, the Lansing School District has gotten way better. At the same time the Ithaca School District decided to drive kids from parts of the Village all the way downtown to Beverly J. Martin, for some reason -- which, by the way, was the only school in the entire city that was on the State's 'bad school' list.
Village officials say the Village will never merge with the Town and there is no cost benefit in doing so. Town officials say there is a cost benefit and the cultures and values of the municipalities are much closer together than they were when the Village was formed. You've already answered about your view on this.
The Governor's initiative is clear and strong. He wants all these governmental entities to think about consolidating. Because we want to do a good job, we would certainly look into it, work in that direction, and, if all goes well... I don't see how it wouldn't. When I talk to this town supervisor anyway, it's very cordial. The guy even said to me, "I offered to plow the roads but he didn't take me up on it." What do we need to be in the plowing business for? If they want to do it -- if they didn't want to do it, it would be different.
The part I didn't ask you before has to do with the culture of the two Lansings. Whenever I have asked about this before I have been told by villagers that the culture of the Village is too different from the culture of the Town. Do you think that's true?
Yes and no. The culture of the Village is rather liberal-Democrat. The political culture of the Village - is that what you're talking about?
Well, I'm talking about the culture culture. The political culture is certainly part of that, but I'm talking about the community point of view. For example the board meetings in the two Lansings have very different tones, with the Town Board more sleeves rolled up, get the business done, and the Village Board similar to an academic discussion of things before legislating.
Village Boards are more like juries. There's a question and they all give their opinion and they discuss it. In some ways town boards are like that, too, but a town board is a bigger entity. It covers more area.
But philosophically the Preservation Party -- us -- are more kindred to the town philosophy, which is the environment, the non-commercialization, the protection of single family homes. If we had farms we would want to protect them, too, like the Town's Right To Farm law. So philosophically we are less likely to cause pollution, commercial activity... even the commercial activity we have, we want to work with them to make it happier to drive by.
I don't think there's a big rift between the two. The Village has over 1,450 apartments, so people who live in single-family homes are outnumbered by them. As I was going to tell you, when I walked through the apartments to get signatures I had the street sheets with me listing the voters... I knocked on a door and somebody opened it I'd say, "Is this person here?" They never purged the roles. That person hasn't been here for ten years.
So all these people are registered to vote in these places, and none of them are there any more!
Let me ask you about taxes. There are two pieces. First the Village taxes are going up.
The other piece is Mayor Hartill has been trying to get town taxes reduced for Villagers for parity between taxes and services rendered. Those are the two pieces.
The Village has a lot of commercial uses. The Village is part of the Town. The Town is willing to do more for the Village. The Village, being part of the Town, has an obligation to the Town to pay whatever taxes are statutory. These are statutory matters. This isn't something that's worked out in the back room between two people.
It's a statutory system, because the State operates with equalization rates. Taxes are paid to the County, taxes are paid to the Town, and it's all worked out according to law and statutory issues. The Town just got a new supermarket down the on the corner, Lansing Market. So the Town gets a few more commercial uses, but most of the commercial use in the Town is in the Village.
Just like, if you go to Skaneateles, that village pays lots of taxes to the Town of Skaneateles. But there youo have a lot of huge houses that are on the lake. It's not as pronounced here. Here the Village and the Town is more rural. The Town is quite rural. It's just something that happens because it's the nature of the beast. The Village is an integral part of the Town. People in the Town come to the Village. They eat in the Village restaurants. They probably shop in the village supermarket and go to the village pharmacy. So it's all part of the same parcel.
I could look into it now, but as I sit here now... if anybody is profligate it is the Village itself. They built this nice new Village hall -- it looks like a train station. Then the Town offers to plow the roads and the Village goes out and buys a plow. Then they have to buy a garage to put it in and a place where they keep the salt.
If they were really concerned about all this we would look for ways to merge services with the Town. It could be purchasing... it could be all kinds of ways to save money for the Village, and also, maybe for the Town. This could all be worked out with more cooperation.
What would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't already discussed?
I've been involved in politics all my life in one way or another. Even though I wasn't going to run, I decided to do it. In many ways it's an act of love and service. Although the other side is going to say I'm a single issue candidate, I'm not. I'm a well rounded, open minded, nice person that wants to get along with people. I don't have my mind made up about anything except for on particular issue. I'm very open minded about everything else.
I want to get along. I want to be useful. I want to be honest. And I want people to access me, even if it's just for a barking dog next door. I'm doing this because I've done it all my life. And even though I wasn't going to do it, it's an act of love and service for me.