Pin It
Village Solars

Developers Steve and Rocco Lucente were set to build an apartment building plus a community center in the current construction season.  Along with Steve's father they had a Planned Development Area (PDA) that included two different projects.  Steve and Rocco developed Village Solars on a portion of the property, and Steve's father had his own apartment development on the other portion.  The community building was sized for the Village Solars tenants' use.  But in March of 2018 Steve's father died.  That opened an opportunity for Village Solars to acquire that property from the estate and his step-mother and merge it into their project.  That would raise the potential population of their project, which prompted them to envision a larger community building that would be more than adequate to support the additional renters.  So they asked the Town for a waiver that would allow them to postpone building the community center for a year while the complicated estate is unraveled so their offer on the property could be considered.  They were forced to defend the request at Wednesday's Town Board meeting.

"It may look disorganized to some people," Steve Lucente said. "But join us at some of these meetings and see the complexity of what's going on.  The market has already decided. We are number one.  We've turned the entire Northeast (portion of Lansing) upside down. We've made history.  We're providing affordable housing that is spectacular."

If their offer is accepted, they will relocate the community center site to a location more central what will become an enlarged, single development.  The lower floor would have amenities like a restaurant, a work-out center, and other features, with apartments on the upper floors.  If not, they would build the smaller community center as already accepted by the Town.  In July the Town Planning Board recommended that the Town Board grant the waiver with the condition that, with the exception of the two to be built this year, no further apartment buildings would be allowed until the community building is completed and has received a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).

If the Town was willing to grant the waiver, a community center would be up and running by the end of 2021, although architect Larry Fabroni said Wednesday that they would want to open it earlier than the deadline, in July.  The Town Board voted Wednesday 3-1 to grant the waiver, but not before the Lucentes were challenged with many of the same concerns the Planning Board had already dealt with last month.

Councilman Joseph Wetmore grilled the Fabronis, noting there had already been a delay at an earlier time when their project scope expanded.

"My understanding is this is not the first delay of the community building," Wetmore said. "It was supposed to be scheduled at some prior point and it got delayed at that point.  This sounds like a similar thing.  You keep saying the project's getting bigger and, thus, the community center is getting pushed further and further down the line in terms of being built."

Steve Lucente said that if the first community center plan had been built it would have been inadequate to serve the tenants.

"It would have been a million dollar mistake," he said.  "We don't want to build a mistakes.  We've been fortunate to be working with the Lansing Town Board and Planning Board, and they've worked with us.  That's how we got here."

Wetmore challenged the Lucentes on why they talked to the bank about financing the two apartment buildings for this year and the new community center the following year last January, but only approached the Town last month for the waiver. 

"So in January you were telling the banks that you weren't going to be building the community center next," he said.  "I have no doubt that it's complicated and I know these projects take time to plan out.  What I'm confused about is why you're talking to your bank at the beginning of this year about not building the community center, and you wait until July to talk to the Town."

The Lucentes explained that the estate is very complicated, and it is still uncertain whether or not their offer will be accepted.  They said that in January they knew it had become possible to acquire the other property, and building the two apartment buildings while delaying the community center was only one option they discussed with the banks, but it was not a firm plan.  They said that as soon as they knew there was a possibility that their offer may be accepted they came to the Town to explain the situation and apply for the waiver.  Steve Lucente noted they have been good partners with the town, and said that Village Solars has been very successful in the market, essentially filling buildings with tenants as quickly as they can build them. He added that they still can't make the new plan happen without board approval and knowing whether the offer is to be accepted, which may not be for another few months. 

"I try to evaluate what's the worst case scenario," Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne said. "What if your waiver is granted, what is the worst thing that could happen? You build the two buildings this year, and you build a community center somewhere next year.  That's it.  As is anyone who wants to do business here, you are our partners.  That's one reason why our tax base is so healthy in certain areas.  So I ask again, what's the worst case scenario?  They're either going to build this community center where it's designed next year, or you're going to build this community center elsewhere next year -- either way."

LaVigne noted they have been good partners to the Town, which has helped stabilize the tax base during the time when the power plant lost over $100,000 of assessed value.  He praised the Lucentes for being flexible and changing their plans to meet market needs.

"I guess, in general, what we want is assurance that there will be a community center next year," said Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz.

"The board didn't compel me to have it," Steve Lucente said. "I wanted it because I need it for my project. The community center is the most important piece.  It's a unique building.  It's going to be the only duel-use building in the entire area.  We're going to have residential on the upper floors and commercial on the first floor.  What we want to do is build it right the first time."

Wetmore was not convinced.  He praised the quality of the apartments, saying he had toured the project.  But he said he has heard from residents that they thought they were going to have a community center years ago.  Lucente said they have never offered it as part of any lease,  Wetmore responded that nobody claimed it was part of a lease, but tenants thought there was going to be a community center soon, and it keeps being pushed back.  Lucente said it had only been pushed back once previous to the current request, and that both times circumstances justified the postponement as the project evolved.

After more back and forth, Supervisor Ed LaVigne called a halt to the discussion, saying that the same concerns were being discussed repeatedly.  He called for a vote.

LaVigne and board members Binkewicz and Doug Dake voted to approve the waiver, with Wetmore voting no.

Pin It