- By Dan Veaner
Planning Board members said Monday they do not think a proposed partially subsidized housing development is good for the Town of Lansing. What would have been a pro-forma vote on appointing the Planning Board 'lead agency' for reviewing the 'Lansing Trails Apartments' project proposed by Cornerstone Group turned into an impassioned discussion over fears of increased taxes and local crime. While many board members expressed reservations, Planning Board Chairman Tom Ellis was adamantly opposed to the project that could bring 128 rental units, most of them subsidized, to Lansing.
"I think this is bad for the Town," Ellis said. "I think it's a bad investment. I think it's a bad 'kickoff' use of that land. I'm having trouble finding something possible about this. Is this really the 'kickoff' project we want there, given that we know some local history about some of the other projects in the county? I'm struggling with (the Planning Board) being the lead agency for the Town. I think it's a bad proposal."
But Lansing Town Attorney Guy Krogh said the Planning Board has specific, limited authority to approve projects. Krogh said the Board does not have the authority to apply different rules to projects they do or do not like. He pointed out that the project does meet the expressed goals -- in planning documents and two Request For Proposals (RFP) -- of the Town to develop the land across the street from the Lansing Town ball fields.
"Because it's an allowed use as of right, they're entitled to do that in this zone," he said. "For well over a decade the Town Center Zone was intended to kick off this kind of density as the seed to kick off a town center. Whether they go forward, or someone else... you don't have the right to determine who takes advantage of the zoning. What you have the right to do is change your zoning."
Key objections by board members had to do with crime in similar projects and the tax impact to existing Lansing taxpayers because of tax abatements for a subsidized project and additional school children it would attract. At a presentation last week developers predicted the project could have as many as 43 school aged children, including 14 that already attend school in the district and 29 new students.
"That would be between six and eight hundred thousand dollars that the rest of the taxpayers have to come up with to make up with what (Cornerstone) is excused from because of the subsidized housing," said long-time Planning Board member Larry Sharpsteen. "Our concern about the anomaly with regard to taxes that is something we should all be concerned about. There's got to be some way we can incentivize these people."
Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne noted that the project might not necessarily mean more crime. He said it is up to the developer to make his case for the project and the management plan that is part of the development proposal, to differentiate it from troubled developments if he can. He reported that Cornerstone Group President Roger Brandt was planning to bring statements with crime statistics from other developments his company has built. But some board members wanted to gather their own data.
"The problem with that is they're selecting the ones that are going to respond," Sharpsteen said. "We want to find out from people that aren't happy with them."
Sharpsteen also said he was concerned about companies that milk profits from Lansing developments, then disappear. But LaVigne said he doesn't think that is the case in this instance.
"I think, as good business people, they don't want to have a bad product. I don't think it's going to be a 'dump and run'. "
LaVigne also argued that anyone can cause the kind of trouble associated with other, similar projects such as Poet's Landing, where he said Dryden police told him they respond to a variety of emergency calls daily, including drug problems.
"Affluent people have a drug problem, too," he said. "When I'm at the food pantry when you have a mother and a child you give unconditional love to the mother and hope that child is treated right so they're on your side when they're an adult. They break the cycle. Or do we just say those are 'those people'. The biggest concern is that all this has been exposed. That's the part people feel uncomfortable about. It's not just 'those people' because 'those people' are already next to you."
Planning Board members were frustrated when Krogh pointed out their authority to determine items such as a full-time, live-in manager, or washer/dryer stacks in apartments meant for seniors would be limited. Krogh noted it might be possible for the Town to incentivize the developers to agree to such concessions, but said the Planning Board's authority is limited to land use and site planning.
"It's either an approved allowed use or it's not," Krogh said. "The question is going to be whether that is an issue that is adequately documented and related to a land impact, as opposed to a business operational issue. If it's the latter then it's not a generally permissible site plan consideration. Site planning has to do with the impact on the land, not the actual management and operation of the business itself. For instance, as you all probably know from your training, there are issues with telling a restaurant how late it's allowed to be open."
Given that board members would have to rule on roads, lighting, sidewalks, and a narrowly defined group of issues planning boards may approve or disapprove, some members were concerned that the public be 'educated' about limitations to the board's authority, fearing residents would be angry with board members for approving a project they, themselves don't like.
"As Guy pointed out, it's really site plan issues that we should be reviewing when we look at this project," said Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long. "The operational aspects, whether they're good or bad, is something we're going to have to figure out how to address through the Town Board."
The board voted 6-1 to make the Planning Board 'lead agency' with Ellis voting no.