- By Dan Veaner
The Lansing Meadows Project site plan was approved by the Village of Lansing Planning Board Monday, clearing the way for developer Eric Goetzmann to begin construction before the July 31 deadline once a few conditions are met. But the troubled project only gained approval by the skin of its teeth after a lengthy discussion of the proposed roadway that Village Engineer Brent Cross said does not meet Village road specifications. Cross said that from an engineering standpoint he could not recommend accepting it, especially because Goetzmann had expressed his desire to dedicate the road to the Village, which would make it a public road. Code Enforcement/Zoning Officer Adam Robbs concurred.
"As the Code officer I cannot recommend it," Robbs said.
The issue has to do with the sharpness of two curves on what will be a low traffic volume, two lane road. The road will have two access points on Oakcrest Road, essentially providing a small, squat half-circle so residents and their guests can drive in and out. But Cross said that with the sharp curves speed limit is an issue. He explained the State determines the range of speed limits a municipality may impose. By default the speed limit on this road would be 30 miles per hour, although Cross said the Board of Trustees has the authority to lower it to 25. But he said he could not recommend that the road become a public road unless the speed limit were reduced to 15 miles per hour, which is not permitted by the State.
"Overall as far as the development is concerned, my recommendation is yes," Robbs said. "I like the development. My concern is certain aspects of it that don't meet our local zoning law or subdivision law or design characteristics for roadways. That's my job, to bring that to you."
"I say we take the issue of the road out of it now, say it's going to be a private road and not a public road," suggested Planning Board member Jim McCauley.
In fact the proposed road will be a private road unless Goetzmann successfully dedicates it to the Village. The Village Trustees have complete control over whether or not the dedication is accepted. If they do not accept it, the road will remain private. That would leave the developer with the responsibility for plowing and maintenance, and with whatever liability that entails, which Goetzmann said he is willing to take on if allowed to begin construction.
"If you take the road out of it I have no other concerns," Robbs said. Cross said he feels the same.
But some board members were concerned with the liability issue, saying that approving the site plan as-is could make them liable if accident victims chose to sue. Village Attorney William Troy allowed that there could be some liability, but noted that liability is a concern in any situation if someone wants to sue.
"The concern has been raised about your exposure to a lawsuit," Troy said. "You can't go through life always worrying about that. But you should know that the concerns that were raised about approving it still exist if you approve it with this road as it exists, even though it's a private road. I don't think that's much of a case, but I have to tell you in all honesty you're not immunizing yourself from a suit."
Goetzmann said that he has been working with the Village Superintendent of Public Works John Courtney, and Cross on the various issues, including the road, and said there is no other way to fit the pieces of the project onto the property. He said he will try to dedicate it to the Trustees, but acknowledged that they might not accept it.
"I'm building this road based on what you asked me to do," he told the Board. "This is the only plan you've allowed me to build, so I'm taking this forward and I've had (the road) laid out to do this. The comments I've had from John and Brent and everybody else are based on the law. You have one choice - you can make your case to the Trustees and if they accept it, they accept it. If they don't they don't. You have the ability to approve this plan tonight, and right now it's not a public road."
Building the senior housing project was a condition of allowing the construction of BJ's Wholesale Club in 2012. the idea was that it would provide a community for seniors who could walk to nearby shopping in and around the mall, and that the neighborhood would provide a gradual transition from the high trafficked commercial zoning in the mall area to residential zoning areas to the north.
But years of negotiating with the Army Corps of Engineers to relocate wetlands in order to make the site more usable, and a slew of design changes held up the project, with Planning Board members becoming angrier as the project strayed from the original neighborhood-style design they had originally approved. The current design has most of the elements of that original plan with the most notable exceptions being that it is now a 20-unit plan rather than the original 12, and no bird sanctuary is contemplated.
Planning Board members said they are pleased with the newest design, but mistrustful of Goetzmann because of the volume of changes he had made over the years. To insure that the project would be built as proposed, last April the Planning Board imposed a start date of July 31st as a condition of the special permit, with July 31, 2020 the agreed-upon completion date. But Goetzmann could only make his deadline if the Board approved the site plan and Robbs issues a permit. For much of Monday's meeting it looked as if the site plan would not be approved, solely on the grounds of the road design.
On the grounds that the road is privately owned unless the Trustees accept its dedication to the Village at some future time, acting Chair Lisa Schleelein put it to a vote. She voted yes along with McCauley and Monica Moll, who was filling in for Chairman Mario Tomei. Carolyn Greenwald and Michael Baker voted no.
Goetzmann says that as soon as he can obtain the permit from the Village his contractor is ready to begin work on grading the property.