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Lansing Meadows Front Elevation

After several confrontations that Village Planning Board Chairman Mario Tomei characterized Tuesday as 'slug-fests' the Board and developer Eric Goetzmann were finally in agreement on a new design for the Lansing Meadows senior housing project.  Building a residential housing project for seniors who might want to walk to the mall, the Ithaca Y, doctors offices or other nearby businesses was a condition, over seven years ago, of being allowed to build the BJ's Wholesale Club building.  After a large number of designs, each less palatable to the Planning Board than the last, board members said they like the newest plan, and may vote to issue a special permit to construct it as early as April 9th.

"People are on board and I have seen good comments," Tomei said.  "This is something that we've been asking for.  So we're going to try to keep this on a positive level and hear about what this is.  Because it took so many years and so many changes, the definition of what we were looking for got lost.   That's why we had some really hot meetings.  I think we're at a point now where we have a meeting of the minds."

The new plan came from a meeting between Goetzmann and Village officials last week at which they reviewed all the plans that began with 12 cottage-style units and at its most extreme proposed a 30 unit, three story building on the site.  After the last plan that would place two six-each unit, two story buildings on one end of the Oakcrest Road property, leaving most of the land free for possible future building, Planning Board members said they had had enough.  They complained that the upper story apartments were not senior-friendly, had grave concerns about future development of what they called 'barracks-style' buildings, and said that the 'neighborhood aspect' of the project had disappeared in favor of just getting more units into the space.

The new plan, based on one that Goetzmann proposed about a year ago, includes a a single road, 10 duplex homes, with approximately 1,500 square foot two-bedroom apartments, each with a one car garage and 25 foot driveway, and a back patio.  The project uses the entire plot of land, so there will be no room for future development there.  Board members acknowledged that some details like the exact square footage might change by necessity as actual plans are crafted, but Goetzmann and board members agreed that they could go forward with the new plan once a few minor details are ironed out.

"We like the fact that it fills up the entire piece of property," Tomei said. "We like the fact that there is a loop road that is more pleasant looking than somebody looking down a barracks.  They're one story, which definitely meets the definition of senior housing.  There is no question that this is more ADA compliant."

lansing Meadows Senior Apartments10 duplexes on a semi-curcular road will hold 20 two-bedroom apartments. The project will act as a buffer between BJ's and residential neighborhoods to the north. The empty land shown to the right (east) of the project will be used for a small business such as a coffee shop that residents can walk to.

Throughout the process Goetzmann has argued that increasing the density was his goal, and that objective is in line with a 2006 Tompkins County Housing Needs Assessment that called for 2,500-plus new homes, many of them 'affordable'.  A new assessment was published in 2016 that, among other things, calls for more senior housing units.  The new plan raises the number of units from 12 to 20, but falls short of the 36 units a fully built out version of the last plan may eventually have brought to the site.

But Planning Board members were primed to be critical after the three-story idea was categorically rejected.  While they initially liked the look of the two two-story buildings, they quickly changed their minds, accusing Goetzmann of abandoning the promises he made as a condition of building BJ's.  Current and past board members scolded him over the last handful of meetings, and took action to delay or possibly halt the project by declaring the plan was a major change.

Last week Tomei, Codes Officer Adam Robbs, and Goetzmann met to review every plan that had been put forward over the past seven years.  Goetzmann says that each plan met district regulations and could have been issues a special permit.  But he reached a compromise with Village officials when he agreed to base the new plan on one that was presented around the same time the Planning Board reluctantly agreed to rezone a piece of the property from residential to commercial, ostensibly for a coffee shop, diner, or other walkable amenity to enhance the residents' lives.

Goetzmann said that he does not like the new plan, but he wants to get the project approved and built, and this plan addresses the Planning Board's concerns.

"Clearly my aim as a developer is to try to increase the density," he said. "I still think it's the right thing for this area.  there's a different belief by the Village.  I'm not going to press that any harder than I already have.  It's adjacent to the commercial area and adjacent to a lot of things, but clearly the Board would like to see something different.  This is not what I traditionally would have liked to have had with all the work we put into the infrastructure to make this thing happen.  But I believe this addresses a significant number, if not all of the requests the Board has made."

Goetzmann agreed to the new plan even though it might cost him in terms of the time it will take for rents to pay back his investment, which not only includes the cost of a myriad of plans, but also more than $300,000 in expenses and six years working with the Army Corps of Engineers to relocate wetlands to a salt marsh near Montezuma, thus allowing more land area for the Lansing Meadows project.  Robbs praised Goetzmann for being willing to go forward with the plan, despite the financial impediment.

"This is not the developer-friendly design," Robbs said. "This is not a money-making design that Eric had planned.  This is a big step forward that he's coming back with something more appropriate, or what the Village wants.  This meets a number of the requirements or concerns that the Village has."

Goetzmann asked board members to approve the special permit as quickly as possible.  He hesitantly said he still hopes to build the project during this year's construction season, noting that the longer he has to wait to put the project out for bids, the more expensive it will be as contractors' schedules fill up and doing more projects require them to hire more workers.

"Yes, I would like to do it as soon as possible, because right now I'm at the point where once I get the approval I'm not going to spend more money on designs," he said. "About ten weeks for the architects to produce the drawings.  Then needs construction drawings for infrastructure."

Tomei said that the board could not approve the special permit Tuesday, but would put it on the agenda for the next board meeting on April 9th.  He said that resolutions to be voted on must be written, and some minor details spelled out, and added that Tuesday was the first opportunity the public had to weigh in on a 20-unit project, rather than the 12-unit one that had been discussed when the public hearing was opened about a month ago.  While Goetzmann said that he doesn't think the plan is the best use of the property, Tomei reiterated that the Board is pleased with the new plan, which largely meets the goals they had for a walkable senior neighborhood that would act as a buffer between the commercial mall area on Triphammer Road and residential areas to the north of Oakcrest Road.  Both agreed that the plan meets the Planning Board's desires.

"This should be so simple," Goetzmann concluded. "It turned into a very long complicated ordeal.  That was not my intention.  I think this does (all the things the Planning Board said they wanted to meet Village goals).  It isn't what I would want to do.  Is it what I think makes sense?  I don't think so.  But there is a very strong opinion here that it is.  Just for the record, this change is not my change.  All the rest of them were.  This was predicated on what you wanted."

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