When BJ's Wholesale Club was built part of the agreement developer Eric Goetzmann had with the Village of Lansing was that he would construct senior housing north of BJ's that would act as a segue between the active commercial mall area and residential areas to the north. At the time the idea was that walking paths, a possible bird sanctuary, and wetlands would be part of the package. Three significant design changes and several minor changes later, the project is almost ready for construction, but may be delayed another building season depending on whether the Village Planning Board declares the new design a minor change or a major change to the Planned Development Area (PDA).
"It's been a long road to get here," Goetzmann said at Tuesday's Planning Board meeting. "I've listened to your comments in the fall and October and November. There has been a lot of discussion here on the Bomax issue I went back to the architects and they completely redesigned it to get back to what we committed for, 12 units. We spent quite a bit of time trying to make each unit more practical, larger in size, with larger interiors. I think it's completely different from what's out there. And I think this falls more in line with what we've heard in the past about what you like and what you don't like. I think this incorporates a lot of those design aspects you were looking for. We're excited to move forward with this. It makes sense."
Planning Board members seemed very pleased with the new design, especially in light of their extreme displeasure with a previous proposal for a boxy three-story, 30 apartment building that Goetzmann proposed in July. The new design incorporates 12 two-bedroom apartments targeted at renters 55 and older. Two two-story buildings would each have six apartments, each with its own garage. While the original design, also for 12 units, covered most of the 4.5 acre parcel, the new design is on 1.1 acres of the west side of the parcel, north of the BJ's store and close to Lansing Fire Station #5 on Oakcrest Road.
"I do like the design," said Planning Board member Lisa Schleelein. "I think they're very attractive. What I'm not liking is how they're sited. I'm wondering what you're going to be putting on the rest. If this is successful is the plan to build more of this sort of thing going up the hill?"
Goetzmann said that he has no such plans, and that the Planning Board should declare the new design a minor change, because it has the same impact on the site that the original plan did: 12 attractive apartments. He said if a minor change could be approved now he envisions starting construction around May 1st.
But Planning Board members said they weren't sure it is a minor change because of the remaining 3-plus acres. Despite Goetzmann repeatedly insisting he has no plans for that land, Planning Board members couldn't believe that he or some future owner wouldn't want to develop the space, and that, they said would make this proposal a major change.
"It just looks too obvious," said Planning Board Chair Mario Tomei. "There's got to be some other thought going through your head about what that green area is going to be. Are you willing to share it?"
Goetzmann lamented, not for the first time, that he is a commercial developer, not residential, and that this project has cost him much more time and money than he ever anticipated. He suggested his inexperience with residential development has caused the problems he has faced getting the project approved, and said he has no interest in any further residential development after this commitment is fulfilled.
Goetzmann replied, "I don't have anything, Mario. I need to get these 12 built. To get these things done, and then I'm going to be done with this. I don't have any other plans for the future. I've listened to what you've said. I've never pushed anything. The last plan I brought here was 100% within the code. If I wanted to come back and fight it I could have done that. You had a reaction to it, and I understand. I do commercial development, not residential. But I agreed to it as part of (the overall plan to build BJ's). I made a commitment to get these things done, and I want to get them done."
A large part of the holdup has been Goetzmann's negotiations with the Army Corps of Engineers over the location of wetlands on the property. Goetzmann spent a large amount of money and years negotiating a workable solution that would make way for more units on the property. Eventually it was agreed that wetlands could be relocated to another site, which appeared to clear the way for a final design and commencement of construction. An updated plan would have created 24 units, still in smaller, attractive buildings. But his proposal last July to rezone about 20% of the property for commercial use was not well received by the Planning Board. nevertheless, with support from Mayor Donald Hartill, the change was approved.
The Board also expressed concerns about the number of proposed curb cuts, the placement of the buildings, and
"If I were buying an apartment I would rather be up by a little coffee shop than behind BJ's,said. "We wanted that buffer between BJ's and your units whether it was residential there or not, so when people are driving down Oakcrest they wouldn't see the back of the building. It just seems like it would be more desirable if it were on the other end."
Code Enforcement/Zoning Officer Adam Robbs said he could not recommend voting on whether the new design should be considered major or minor without further study. He said that in light of two lawsuits recently brought against the Village he wanted to make sure that whatever procedure is followed and determinations made strictly protect the Village.
The lawsuits were brought against the Village by The Heights Of Lansing Develpment, LLC, claiming that Village officials had 'spot-zoned' a parcel on Bomax Road where Park Grove Realty, LLC hoped to build a 140 rental townhouse unit project. that project was held up for months as first the lawsuit, and then an appeal went through the courts. The Village won both proceedings.
Planning Board members took Robbs' recommendation, and said they will consider the issue at their next meeting.