- By Dan Veaner
To date there have been at least five solid proposals for the town center land on Auburn Road across the street from the Lansing Town ball fields. More, really, but three were seriously considered in 2014 after the first Request For Proposals (RFP) got four replies, and another two this year that now have signed purchase agreements with two year options to buy. The 2014 proposals came to naught. Now it remains to be seen whether this year's crop of developers can turn their ideas into reality.
The benefits of dense residential development on that land could be many: an increased tax base that eventually could reduce the tax burden on existing property owners; increased density to provide a more solid market for local businesses such as Lansing Market, The Sub Shop, Rogue's Harbor, the two ice cream stands, Lansing Pizzeria, and Crossroads Bar and Grill. Eventually, with enough new residences, there may be a viable possibility of a small shopping area and/or some professional buildings, and/or a new light industry and technology business park (which, in turn would increase the tax base and potentially decrease taxes).
But when you hear the phrases 'affordable housing', 'subsidized housing' or, really, any housing near YOUR house, the red warning lights start flashing.
Crime. Economic growth. Crime. Economic Growth. It sounds like a gangster movie. But these are the fears and hopes Lansing is experiencing right now as it tries to determine it's future... without becoming so paralyzed that there is no future, as seemed to happen three years ago.
There is also a sensitivity about how high school taxes, in particular, are. Businesses are the best additions to the tax base because they use few resources. Houses and apartments could bring new kids into the school system, which isn't a particularly good math equation for taxpayers. Ideally you want new money to at least cover expenses -- like new classrooms and teachers needed for an influx of new students -- if not to bring taxes down for everyone else. One of the fears expressed for a currently proposed subsidized rental housing project is that existing taxpayers will have to pay more to support it, since tax abatements will mean the new residents won't begin to pay additional expenses children living there would incur to the school district.
In the worst case that could mean all Lansing's fears could be realized with the opposite of economic growth. It should also be noted that even the best of single-family developments bring new children, and taxes from those projects don't entirely pay for those kids' needs. That's why people with no children in school systems pay school taxes. It's how it works.
Affordable and/or subsidized housing are not necessarily bad for the community, especially if they are well managed. Tompkins County needs more housing that is affordable to workers who want to live here.
Still, there is something to be said for making smart development choices. The devaluation of the power plant wounded Lansing's taxed community severely. Perhaps the Town should be looking more closely at market rate housing for rent or purchase first. That is not to say there isn't room for subsidized housing in the town. It is to say, take care of the problem before moving forward with other approaches.
Is providing affordable or subsidized housing more important to Lansing than restoring a healthy enough tax base to relieve current property taxpayers? Or is tax relief the primary goal? What does Lansing really need right now?