- By Dan Veaner
The Lansing Meadows development took another step backwards at a public hearing Monday as the developer and the Village Of Lansing Planning Board's differences seemed to increase. The senior housing development was a condition of a Planned Development Area (PDA) that allowed construction of BJ's Wholesale Club. But as Arrowhead Ventures developer Eric Goetzmann continues to offer changes, Planning Board members said that they want the whole project to be considered by the Village trustees to determine whether the current plan serves the original intent of the PDA.
"We already determined that this is a major change," said Planning Board chairman Mario Tomei. "We're going back to square one with the developer as to what we need to see. We want the input from the Board of Trustees."
After more than a half dozen years that included several changes from the original sprawling 12 unit neighborhood, Planning Board members accused Goetzman of reneging on his promises for at least 12 senior housing units, a bird sanctuary, wetlands and trees in a buffer that was intended to provide a gradual segue from high density commercial activities at the Ithaca Mall and BJ's northward to more residential areas.
The first of two changes brought to Monday's public hearing was moving two six-unit (each) apartment buildings from the west to the east side of the lot, making it easier for older residents to walk to shopping and the Ithaca Y. This was in response to Tomei's insistence at the last Planning Board meeting that the long walk from the west side made no sense for elder residents.
The second change hit a nerve with planning board members. While the original plan utilized the whole plot, the new plan places the two two-story buildings on one edge of the lot. Planning Board members objected partially on the grounds that second story apartments without elevators are not conducive to senior living. But they were even more concerned about what that meant about the future of the property. They repeatedly said they would accept something along the lines of the original plan, which would have been cottage-style residences along a loop road that ran across the whole property. But they worried they could potentially end up with a row of apartment buildings instead of the neighborhood Village officials originally envisioned, and that future building would cover space that would have been a bird sanctuary.
"Every meeting I have attended where you have talked about this you have said, 'I am a commercial developer. I don't do residential," said Deborah Dawson, who resigned from the Planning Board this year when she began her first term as a county legislator. I just want to get my 12 units done and I want out. Has the plan changed?"
Goetzmann replied, "We're looking to build 12 units and if we're successful we're looking to build some more."
Goetzmann argued that the Planning Board is not being asked to change the PDA, but instead to amend the special permit that would allow him to go forward with his plan. He said that is entirely within the purview of the Planning Board, and that his project meets all the requirements. He said that changes to the property and what building is allowed there, largely due to changes to wetlands requirements and his subsequent negotiate to relocate wetlands that increased the amount of buildable land, are the reason for the various changed plans.
"Yes, it has changed over time because what you can build on the property has changed dramatically," he said.
But Planning Board members disagreed. Planning board member Lisa Schleelein said that the current plan does not meet all the conditions of a special permit application. And planning board member Michael Baker accused Goetzmann of outright lying when he made various promises to the board.
"I think the developer wants to build what he wants to build, not what people think is appropriate," Baker said. "The Board has an idea of what the intent and characteristic of what that area should be. I respect everyone's comments. One of the things that I don't appreciate as a community member and a board member is people coming to the board and -- call it what you will... call it being misleading, being unsure... I would call it lying. Comments have been made here over the past few months about this piece of land and I would classify those as lies."
The Planning Board voted to consider the apartment building solution a major change to the special permit application at its previous meeting. That essentially restarted the project, killing the developer's hope that he could begin construction in May. The Planning Board said they would send the question back to the Board of Trustees, which is likely to delay the project still further.