- By Dan Veaner
After almost a decade of project revisions the Lansing Meadows senior housing project near the Shops at Ithaca Mall finally began construction last year. As the developer has been working to meet the construction completion deadline, it seemed like changes to the project were locked in. But in January Arrowhead Ventures Developer Eric Goetzmann went before the Board to ask for another kind of change -- to subdivide the six triplexes in order to allow the sale of the individual units. Goetzmann was on the Village of Lansing Board of Trustees meeting agenda Monday, ostensibly to make his case for the subdivisions, but instead told the Board that an objection from the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) has stalled the subdivision request.
"I'm not sure where that comes from," Goetzmann told the Trustees. "We've had calls into their counsel, we've sent emails trying to understand it further. I think you were also copied in the letter. So we need to understand it. With that said, um, I'm not going to take any more time with the Trustees tonight. It's another delay that we have, which is unfortunate. We need to understand what it is and we'll be back to you."
Goetzman told the Trustees he had received a letter from the IDA earlier Monday that included an objection to Goetzmann's plan to put the units up for sale. He said he had been on the phone to his attorney for a couple of hours before the Trustee meeting, and that they had placed calls and emails to the IDA's counsel to try to get clarification on the objection.
The senior (55 and up) housing project, a condition of the Planned Development Area (PDA) that Village of Lansing officials stipulated when they approved the construction of BJ's Wholesale Club, will include 18 townhouses in six buildings. Over the course of nine years the developer brought about nine major changes to the plan, each one rejected by the Village Planning Board as straying too far from the play they originally approved. A version of the current plan was approved in mid-2018, but more changes led to the current 6-triplex plan.
Last January Goetzmann and Construction Manager Jim Bold approached the Trustees to request what they characterized as a minor adjustment to the PDA that would subdivide the property into 18 lots that would enable them to sell the townhouses, rather than rent them as originally planned. They said a changing housing market motivated their request.
All of the changes irritated Village officials, who approved the BJ's project with the condition that the senior housing project would provide a kind of buffer, gradually going from the high density commercial mall area to residential areas north of the mall. Planning Board members liked the original cottage-like community plan for 12 units, but had objections to most of the subsequent plans. Goetzmann said that changes to the amount of buildable space due to an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to relocate wetlands, plus changes in the housing market and a desire to bring greater density to the project in keeping with village and county goals led to the various plans.
The final 18-unit plan was approved by the Planning Board in June of 2018, but Planning Board members attached a completion deadline of July 31, 2020 to insure the Village would get its buffer community.
But Mayor Donald Hartill said that this latest issue is between Goetzmann and the IDA. He said the Village may approve the subdivision plan if Goetzmann can convince the IDA to allow the sales without endangering his agreement with the County for incentives.
Tompkins County IDA Chairman Rich John told the Lansing Star Thursday that on the advice of the IDA attorney he can not say much, but said the IDA attorney is in communication with Goetzmann's attorney.
"It's really good to see some construction taking place," he said.
Village officials have often expressed their concern that if the deal with the IDA is revoked that the project would no longer be adequately funded, and the Village would not get its senior residential community. Hartill noted that the original agreement was for rental units, but added that the Village can be happy with rentals or sales. He said the issue is a question does not have an obvious answer.
"Both are desirable," Hartill said. "If the units are sold there is better maintenance, perhaps. There's also a certain investment in the community. So maybe we could get a couple people to volunteer for Planning Board or a Board Of Zoning Appeals, or even the Board of Trustees. That's one of my real concerns -- getting people involved in the Village. We've been very successful and keeping things running, but we're all getting older. So we'll just have to let it play out."
Goetzmann said he would get back to the board once the rental vs. sales issue has been resolved with the IDA. Meanwhile construction continues in an effort to make the completion deadline. Laborers were working on the roof of the third building this week.